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By Tijjani Abdulsalam
It is generally believed that Nigeria’s education system currently thrives on past glory and that the ‘good ol’ days’ are light years behind. While this belief may not be totally out of place it could be refreshing to know that things have not always been this bad. In spite of the steady but certain decline, some of the older institutions still enjoy the benefits of the reputation they have earned over time and are still held in high esteem till date.
The list below is a profile of seven of Nigeria’s most popular and prominent public secondary schools as a means of remembering the good old days. The schools are mentioned in no particular order and the list should not be taken as a ‘best of schools’ list.
- Barewa College, Zaria
The present day Barewa College was established in 1921 by then Governor General, Hugh Clifford as Katsina College. Prior to 1949, when it was moved to the more central location of Zaria with the name Government College, Zaria, it was situated in Katsina. In 1971, the present name, Barewa College was adopted. The name, Barewa was meant to symbolize the swiftness and smartness of the gazelle (Barewa being the Hausa word for Gazelle) and as a kind of rebirth of the visions of the school’s founders.
Barewa College has an unmatched record: it is the only institution in to have produced five Nigerian Heads of States/Presidents; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Shehu Usman Shagari and Umaru Yar’ Adua. Other notable alumni include Professor Jibril Aminu (Professor of Cardiology, Diplomat and Politician), Nasir El-Rufai, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III and the legendary Umaru Dikko of the famed ‘Dikko Affair’.
- Government College, Umuahia (GCU)
This is another old star founded in 1927 by the British as one of a select group of schools modelled after the traditions of popular British schools, Eton College and Harrow School. It was known as the ‘Eton of the East’, due to its geographical location (in Nigeria’s east) and its extremely high standards. The school officially started in 1929 with 25 students as a Teacher Training Institute before converting to a Secondary School a year later. For three years during WW2, it was closed down and used as a POW camp where captured axis forces officers were detained. It was also closed down for the duration of the Nigerian Civil War.
GCU boasts of notable alumni such as Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ozumba Mbadiwe, Jaja Wachukwu, Prof Laz Ekwueme, the legendary Chinua Achebe and his childhood friend and poet, Christopher Okigbo, Chukwuemeka Ike, Elechi Amadi, Gabriel Okara and more.
- Government College, Ibadan (GCI)
GCI started same time as GCU in 1929 with 29 students and was established for basically the same reasons of scholarship and under the same circumstances. It is located in the hillside Apata axis of Ibadan. Like many other schools of that era, GCI was disrupted by WW2 and had to move base several times before resettling. Over the decades, it was revered among schools in Nigeria for its high academic standards and extracurricular feats. The school has an enviable pool of notable alumni to prove this. They include Dr Christopher Kolade (Former Ambassador to the UK), TM Aluko (Author and scholar), Cyprian Ekwensi (Author) and the first African Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka.
- Christ the King College, Onitsha (CKC)
CKC was at one time ranked No. 1 and 36 as best secondary school in Nigeria and Africa, respectively. The school was started in 1933 by Irish Catholic Missionaries based in Onitsha, present day Anambra State, as an all-boys secondary school. Between 1973 and 2009, it was owned by the State Government. Today, however, the present day CKC has gone back to where it belonged, to the ownership of the Catholic Mission. The school suffered an identity crisis between 1973 and 1976, after its name was changed to Heerey High School in honour of its founder. The original name was however restored in 1976.
The school, like most others suffered greatly during the civil was as most of its infrastructure was destroyed. Notable CKC Alumni include; Late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Pius Okigbo (renowned economist and older brother to Christopher Okigbo), Prof. Patrick Utomi and Peter Obi.
- Queens College, Lagos (QC)
Much of the credit for the establishment of QC in 1927 must go to the New Era Ladies Club, a group of enlightened women who were passionate about standard education for girls similar to what obtained at Kings College. QC started as Government Secondary School for Girls until 1928 when the present name was adopted. The school started at Force Road, near Race course (present day Tafawa Balewa Square-TBS) with 20 students, before moving to its present location of Yaba in 1958.
Notable QC Alumni include Professor Grace Alele-Williams (first female VC of a University in Nigeria), Prisca Soares (MD NICON), Suzanne Iroche (Veteran Banker and former CEO the now defunct FinBank Plc).
- Kings College (KC)
KC is arguably the most popular secondary school in Nigeria, probably due to its classy name, history, alumni strength or a combination of all. KC was established by an act of the British Parliament in 1909 as Kings School, and had Mr. Lomax as its pioneer principal. Among other things, KC was also meant to prepare students for the Matriculation Examination of the University of London.
Kings College is located on Catholic Mission Street, Lagos, close to the TBS. Due to population and space constraints, the present day Kings College has an additional campus for the two highest classes (SSS 2 and 3) in Victoria Island.
KC’s has an enviable list of notale alumni in different spheres of life. In public service; Anthony Enahoro, Alex Ekwueme, Adetokunbo Ademola, Ibrahim Gambari (Diplomat, former UN Permanent Representative), Claude Ake, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan. In Business; Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Udoma Udo Udoma, In Entertainment; Wale Adenuga, Audu Maikori, Cobhams Asuquo amongst many others.
- CMS Grammar School (CMS)
The CMS holds the undisputed record of being the oldest secondary school in Nigeria. It was started in 1859 by Babington MacAulay, with financial backing from the CMS Training Institute, Islington, UK. Babington was a Nigerian picked from the Fourah Bay College and sponsored to England to train as an Anglican Priest. After his return, he proposed successfully to Henry Townsend, the Superintending Anglican Missionary at that time, to start a high school in Lagos instead of being transferred to join one in Sierra Leone. In 1859, Babington started the CMS Grammar School with 6 students and four rooms at ‘Cotton House’ on Broad Street. He served as principal until his death in 1879. CMS is today located in Bariga, a suburb of Lagos.
Among CMS’s notable alumni are, Herbert Macaulay (son to the founder), Odumegwu Ojukwu (later transferred to Kings College), Otunba TOS Benson, Ernest Shonekan, Akintola Williams (distinguished chartered accountant) and brother, Frederick Rotimi Alade (FRA) Williams (Legal luminary), Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (Yes, Fela’s Father), Musicians Dare Art Alade and the ‘Gongo Aso’ master, ‘Nice’.