Alumni of Baptist High School, Orerokpe, in Bold Reunion

Omon-Julius Onabu

Globally, and from time immemorial, ideas that give rise to great things often do not ring loud bells. Indeed, some might appear like a joke between friends rather than surfacing in dramatic fashion. So began the decision by the 1972 to 1980 set of alumni of the Baptist High School, Orerokpe, Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State, to come together for a few days to brainstorm and reminisce on their good old days in college. Once the idea crystalized and gained traction, with many alumni belonging to the period, the choice of the serene Orerokpe town was a forgone conclusion.

The old boys and girls of the school began trickling into the immaculately clean Orerokpe town on Friday March 22. As some of the truly excited old students told THISDAY later, coming back, albeit a brief visit, to the very place and school they graduated over four decades ago was a lifetime experience worth the effort. Gradually, all their initial skepticism vaporized as recognizing the face of an old classmate, a co-member of the school football team, athletic club or school choir, triggered an eruption of excitement with laughter, backslapping and friendly jabs and school-kid “yabbings”.

Friday evening March 15, when the participating Baptist school alumni “came into residence”, the premises of Donville Hotels and Suites, a four-star hospitality facility in the heart of this Delta town, with a typical countryside ambiance, was practically set on fire. Ecstatic nostalgia enveloped the airy arena as the two young dreadlocked master comperes dug deeply into the musical library archives to unleash truly Old-School jams full of rhythm and melodic rhymes.

From reggae to calypso and rhumba to disco to rock to jazz; from highlife to blues to the so-called crossover, the assortment of music was rich and diverse and all-inclusive. Bob Marley; Majek Fashek; Jimmy Cliff; U-Roy; Eddy Grant; Dona Summer; Sisters Sledge; Fela Anikulapo Kuti; I-Roy & 90 Degree Inclusive; The Commodores; Lionel Richie; Brass Construction; Cool & The Gang; Michael Jackson and Mike Okri.

The pool of Old School music was simply so rich that even a cripple might have been pulled on to his feet that weekend evening at Orerokpe. The great array of music was certainly complemented and spiced up the evening get-together dinner and seat-out. Rume John Shamedje could easily have snatched the ‘Best Dancer of the Evening Award’!

Saturday, 16th March was easily the most action-packed and significant of the reunion. The day kicked off with a “Prayer Circle” by the Donville poolside. Peters Ejumudo and Fidelis Akioya, who are both now Christian ministers were on duty leading the hymns and praise-songs, and prayers.

At about 9.30am, the old students proceeded to their Alma Mater, some two kilometers away on the Old Warri-Eku Road towards the edge of the town. Someone observed that the school used to be located in the outskirts of Orerokpe. The area about the school is all built-up now. Today, even some modern buildings dot parts of the school compound apparently albeit illegally. Indeed, at least somebody is reportedly being prosecuted for encroachment and trespass on landed property belonging to the Baptist High School, Orerokpe.

The utter unkempt status of the once aesthetically attractive school was one that the old students all agreed was heart-rending when they walked to the premises. None of the four or five dormitories (boarding houses) was standing save one that has no roof and the walls have almost completely given way in the thick bush that has enveloped it.

There was excitement among the visitors at the sight of the school gate with a beautiful signpost. The Motto of the School in Latin, “Aut Optimum Aut Nihil”, translated, Either the Best or Nothing!

They happily posed for selfies, individual and group photograph with the signpost in the background. However, that excitement was replaced by palpable gloom as soon as they stepped into the school so overgrown with weeds that the routes to the two or three classroom buildings looked like footpaths through a bushy farmland in the Savannah. Although, the Chapel (church) building is no longer in use with grasses surrounding it uncut, the over 50 years old structure has no single crack to it. Some 45 years ago, neatly dressed students marched in lines to attend the mandatory Sunday services in this now deserted building.

Like little school kids, the visiting old students later sat down on the bar corridor of the classroom block overlooking the old assembly ground with to three tattered flags – National flag, School flag, Baptist Church flag. Here they brainstormed on the reality of the situation and the challenges going forward. The task is huge. Onerous. Mrs Christy Emore-Anuyah, with Messrs Oghenero, Emavwoyan, Johnson Mujakperuo (a son of the soil), Peter Ejumudu and Friday Udu, unfolded the rigorously itemized action-plan. This was discussed in considerable details and serious concern.

There were also lighter-mood individual contributions with Godwin Onos Idjakpo – now Professor in Delta State University (DELSU) – going down memory lane on his first day at Baptist High School, Orerokpe. He almost cracked ribs when he recalled how he was so fascinated with the new books given to him that he spent the whole night reading and memorizing numerous pages of what seemed to him like an anthology. It turned out that he had been cramping into his adventurously young brain the school’s collection of Christian hymnals!

Some of the participants gave their impression of the reunion and visit to Orerokpe Grammar School. For Mrs Ese Asagba-Oshevire, “When we were students then was a thing of pride. The school was well organized …. We’re really disappointed at the level of decay of facilities in the school now; but we’re praying regarding our next line of action. We want the school to stand again. Nevertheless, the reunion experience has been very memorable. We thank God for everything.”

Charles Osholo said he regretted nothing for rushing down to Orerokpe for what he thought was just an old students’ meeting to a plan for the Alma Mater. “I had to explain to my wife I’d be away for almost three days without adequate prior notice, but I have no regrets at all”, he said.

Chief Kingsley Okpoko Omonigho, Moses Efe Onojaefe, Ogbon Shanomi and Felix Apkaliko expressed similar sentiments about the reunion as they reminisced on the good old days as students in Orerokpe.

The Chairman of the organizing committee, Mr Oghenero Emavwoyan, shared much of sentiments of the old school when he spoke about the impression of the fact-finding mission. Speaking during the thanksgiving service at the First Baptist Church, Orerokpe on Sunday March 17 to draw the curtains on the two-day reunion, he said he was overjoyed, “as indeed every colleague was, for the opportunity to be alive and well to be part of the reunion.”

Emavwoyan thanked the church ministers and congregation for the warm reception but did not mince words in expressing the dissatisfaction of the generality of the Baptist High School alumni with “the unbelievable level of decay of facilities in the school”.

He is optimistic that the old students would be able to do more for their alma mater in the months and years ahead; that all hope is not gone regarding the resuscitation of the school and restoring its glory many decades ago. The present state of affairs whereby insects, rodents and even dangerous reptiles actually feel more at home than the hapless students is certainly unacceptable and required deliberate steps to address and reverse the situation.

In particular, he said that he was delighted that the head of the local church, Deacon (Dr) Raymond E. Akpojivi, was also an older alumnus of the school. He assured that they are looking forward to more collaboration between the authorities of the Baptist Christian mission in Nigeria, the relevant state government which graciously returned old mission schools back to their owners few years ago, and other stakeholders including the old students of the once-famed beautiful post-primary institution with an impressive student population and a sizeable academic and non-academic staff.

The thanksgiving and closing ceremony were highlighted by the recognition and presentation of some gifts to the few boarding students, who had happily joined the old students as they danced away to the melodious renditions of the choristers, especially in the Urhobo language. The five students at the thanksgiving could not have felt prouder and truly wanted mingling with these big mommies and daddies! Men and women who were many, many years ago wearing their school uniforms and being shepherded around all the vital aspects of academic, moral and extramural activities in order to fashion a fulfilling life in adult age.

Surely, a better future, even in this school, is really within grasp. Members of the 1972-1980 set of the Baptist High School alumni association have raised the hope and the bar of excellence.

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