In playing its illustrious role, Government College Umuahia has given so much and gotten very little in return from its beneficiaries. Over the years it may even seem to have been overlooked, but its old students are coming back to restore its lost glory. Chineme Okafor writes
The Government College Umuahia (GCU), was founded in 1929 as a secondary school for only boys. Its current site on the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road was reportedly chosen by an English educator, mathematician, and Anglican priest, the Rev. Robert Fisher who arrived Umuahia in 1927 to set it up.
When Fisher arrived in Nigeria, and acquired a 10 square miles (26 km2) land for the college in Umuahia, he was perhaps acting out the mandate given to him by the then British colonial government which had set out to establish three new secondary schools for boys – a school in Ibadan (Government College, Ibadan); in Zaria (now Barewa College) and in Umuahia, GCU. Fisher may not have held so much thought that GCU would go on to take up an enviable status in history of mankind.
The colonial government had decided to set up these extra three to take after the famous English public schools – Eton; Winchester; and Harrow Schools, 20 years after establishing Kings College, Lagos. The GCU however opened its gates to 25 students drawn from all parts of Nigeria and West Africa, but with catchment in Eastern Nigeria, and the Southern Cameroons on January 29, 1929.
From the time the GCU began first as a teacher training institute in 1929, and later converted in 1930 into a secondary school before becoming famous as the ‘Eton of the East,’ because as reported, it was located in Nigeria’s orient and was known for its elite standards and selectivity, it never looked back at the values it could offer to anyone who entered its gates.
As a former teacher at the Achimota College Accra Ghana, as well as an education administrator in Ghana, Fisher built up GCU, served as its first principal from 1929 to 1939 before he retired and left for England when the Second World War started. But before he left, he had established GCU as a school that drew students from among the best performing from Nigeria and Southern Cameroons.
From the teachings in its classrooms and laboratories, students consistently achieved high scores in examinations they entered. They completed academic courses in the arts and sciences. They also kept up with extracurricular activities such as cricket; hockey; handball and football.
As reports would have it, with the complement of two standard fields; cricket pavilions; seven lawn tennis courts; basketball court; and Olympic-size track field; as well as a nine-hole golf course; a botanical garden; and an aquarium, GCU didn’t start small but came prepared to educate and rollout students with inclusive personalities.
Remarkably from its efforts, GCU has produced a high number of literary elite who in their arts have influenced African literature more than any other educational institution in Nigeria. From Ben Enwonwu; Chinua Achebe; Elechi Amadi; Chukwuemeka Ike; Christopher Okigbo; to Kelechi Amadi-Obi; Chike Nwoffiah; and Laz Ekwueme amongst others, great art personalities have emerged from the gates of GCU.
Likewise, persons who have gone on to make humanity proud in their chosen endeavours of law; petroleum; politics; diplomacy and economics like Justice Charles Dadi Onyeama of the Nigerian Supreme Court and International Court of Justice, the Hague; Dr. Edmund Daokoru, a former oil minister; M.C.K Ajuluchukwu; Dr.Jaja Anucha Wachukwu; Nigeria’s first Speaker of the House of Representatives and First Republic Foreign Minister; Dr. Okoi Arikpo, Anthropologist and former foreign minister; as well as G.K.J. Amachree, former Solicitor General of Nigeria, have passed through GCU.
But years down the line, the general Nigerian malaise of poor maintenance culture gradually nibbled away the fortunes of the illustrious college, that it soon desired a serious facelift. The decline according to reports has its roots in the Civil War of 1967.
It was stated that after the war in which the school was closed down for the period, it became progressively difficult for it to live up its standard and very little from its library to laboratories; classrooms; dormitories; sports facilities; and other infrastructure for conducive learning were spared from the gradual decadence which was brought on it by funding challenges.
Nevertheless, its beneficiaries who live and work in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital city recently galvanised efforts to see how much of support they can extend to the trustee who have been given the mandate to revive the school, and place it back on a competitive edge.
Under the auspices of the Abuja Chapter of the Government College Umuahia Old Boys Association (GCUOBA), a fund raising dinner was held for the prestigious college when one of its heirs and Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Dr. Okey Enelamah was honoured for his appointment as a federal minister.
Tagged ‘Restoration of GCU’, the event was held at the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton Abuja. It had the full complement of the society’s crème de la crème like Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo; Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige; Minister of Budget and Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma; Minister of Science and Technology; Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi; former governor of Enugu State, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo; Director General Budget Office, Ben Akabueze; and Chairman of Wema Bank Plc, Pastor Ade Asekun.
Also in attendance were the former Nigerian ambassador to Argentina, Chief Empire Kanu; immediate past Managing Director of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc, Mr. Rumumdaka Wondi; Managing Director of the Sovereign Wealth Investment Company, Mr. Uche Orji; President of Kings College Old Boys Association Lagos, Mr. Hakeem Bello-Osagie; Director Finance and Accounts of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Chief Sonny Iroche; and General Manager, ICT of TCN, Chief Godson Azubuinne.
The event targeted to raise funds which would be used to restore GCU to its prior status of a world class centre for learning, equipped with facilities for modern learning.
According to the old boys association, the restoration plan would include a complete overhaul of the current facilities in the school, as well as processes for learning. It will also include an upgrade of the school’s scholastic and physical trappings, that way it will regain its competitive edge before other top schools in the country.
They said GCU was once a beacon of excellence and source of pride for the country, but that it was presently a shadow of itself. According to them, that lost glory and legacy which reflects in the long list of its distinguished alumni and their achievements in Nigeria and the world would be regained through their efforts.
To transparently accomplish these, THISDAY learnt that whatever GCUOBA Abuja Chapter realised from the fundraising would be remitted to the Fisher Educational Development Trust (FEDT) which global members of GCUOBA established and named after the school’s pioneer principal, to manage the restoration plan for GCU.
It was gathered that through a ‘Deed of Trust’ which GCUOBA signed with the Abia State government on December 22, 2014, all legal interests, rights and power pertaining to ownership; management; operation; control; and funding of GCU has been transferred to FEDT as a trustee.
To further give it a legal backing, the Trust as disclosed, was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). This secured ownership of GCU now allows the restoration of the school as a citadel of excellence to continue unimpeded under a good management style and sustainable funding through streams of donations and fundraising just the way GCUOBA Abuja Chapter recently did.