If I attempt to write about my alma mater in the way C.S Lewis wrote about Wyvern – his old school, I shall fail miserably. However, I can match Arrol Gellner’s description of a “finger-plan” school designed by Ernest Kump – the noted American School Building Architect in: My Old School is gone. Like Gellner, I can equally state his topic is apt to the School fondly referred, as “I.C.” After all, this school, once had an attraction for many of its alumni and a fascination for many parents with children of my generation or older ones. At least at my time, it was selective and many of the parents had a lot in common. In the majority were middle class Yorubas. Only a few of the boys’ parents were very rich. Some were poor and from their wards, that was evident. Yet, students mixed with comfortable ease. A common amour propre bound them together. Perhaps, it was the sufficiency of being at the school, which brought about the confidence. Many parents considered attendance of the school as a path to future success. Many may now have realised that success has a lot to do with Kismet and not mere attendance of a school. Is that assertion right? Methinks so, anyway. The parents were right in so much as many alumni held enviable positions in Civil Service, Education, Medicine, Judiciary, Commerce and other areas of human endeavour. In short, it was a time of organised decency, as it no longer obtains.
This treatise is set out to be a Pablum; it is not meant to provoke reactions of any form. It is the outpouring of memory. Nevertheless, it is my hope that some of the serious observations will challenge the way children are educated in our country.
In recent days, three events each with its own independent import struck me to ponder: why many of the alumni of this high school are bound by a common desire to resurrect the old school – which will never rise from its ashes. An assertion that I do not make lightly and to which, I shall return later. I state this belief due to a brush with the past as I took my son, who had never been to the school but had heard so much of it in England – to walk the grounds of the remains of what used to be a great school that his grandfather, father, uncles, older cousins and long standing family friends had once fraternised in. Aside, another event placed me on a table across a set of alumni, who were boys when they were men of valour and style. I refer to them as the last titans of the school. After their departure, the school was not the same. In my view, those who were not opportune to meet these ‘boys’ and their predecessors are not Igbobians. They attended the old shell, latterly destroyed by Alhadji Lateef Jakande – the visionless and decrepit former Governor of Lagos State.
If an alumnus did not meet Chris Borha, Adekunle Tuyo, Bolaji Williams, Lanre Ladipo, Akande (Sir Lama), Cole, Onyejekwe, Olonode, Alabi (Sex Machine), Cornelius Tay, Amagbe, Fashola, Imana, Ajetumobi, Tunde Dabiri, Billy Lawson, Henry Chuckwurah and their predecessors, then such alumnus went to a different school. Recently, at a funeral party, I had the fortune of sitting a table away from some of these great ‘boys’ who sustained the greatness of the school. As I sat away from Tuyo, Cole, Borha et al, I contrasted the pristine, polished and powerful control of English Language of Tuyo at such a young age to the scarred, fragmented and limited vocabulary of many of the prefects that succeeded his set. I concluded the descent of the school commenced after brawns at Head of School replaced brains.
The colourful Chris Borha is an exemplary display of mastery of logic, reasoning and collegiate debate. His fanciful flair for life; his organisation of ‘Soul Train’ on Saturday nights cannot be compared to any other. Even Onyejekwe, with his deep Igbo accented English had his own style; or could the dexterity by which Bolaji Williams became Head of School, when he was a day student be compared to those after him? Contrast Williams to the gauchely ‘Old Soldier’ Vincent and note how the school was relying on past glory. Well, that is my personal opinion of Mr. Vincent as Head of School. The time of Cornelius Tay with his Teen and Twenty publications can be compared to no other times and I concede a flash of colour was temporarily restored when Yemi Osibajo (Jebby) – now Attorney General, Lagos State, Fowler, Okotie-Eboh, Enahoro, Bola Shonibare, Tunde Sobamowo, Bola Ladipo, Morgan (Morgino), Dele Alake (Dalpy) – Information Commissioner, Lagos State, Richards, Yinka Asekun and ‘boys’ in their set determined mores. They embodied a freshness glowing from a dying ember. I recall their attempt to revive Soul Train, an enterprise in futility as it lacked the colour of ChrisBo or Odugbesan (Centi) and those before them.
Away from pedigree that sustained the school; I return to the belief earlier alluded. My peregrination to and at the school after almost thirty years brought no nostalgia but a deep disappointment. The question that ravaged my mind afterwards was whether I could in all seriousness consider the school for my offspring. Indeed, I wondered how many old boys now send their children to the school as my late father, Mr. Justice T.A.S Elias, Professor Ade-Ajayi, Olorugun Michael Ibru and too many others had done. As there is no attempt to pose difficult questions, as I did in my tenure as a school governor at a British School, writing about anything but aesthetics may be wrong. However, I shall dwell on the state of the school buildings not only at Igbobi College, my observation is applicable to most State schools in our nation.
Ever watched African schools shown on Television abroad? It is a sickening display of children in windowless edifices and ramshackle structures not fit for human abode. Apart from private schools, there seems to be a connivance at educating our children in school buildings in dire need of makeover. Well, it may be over optimistic to expect broken window glass panes replaced or emulsion paint to make these buildings appealing; or toilets to function properly. Take a look at government buildings from where the affairs of our nation are directed. Apart from Abuja, the national landscape is littered with school buildings with broken windows and non-functioning toilets. The interesting aspect of this sad affair is that offices of the principals of the schools are easily spotted. The same applies to government buildings. The Commissioners’ offices like the school principals’ are well kept, whereas others in the immediate environment are not.
Educating children in well-kept surroundings teaches them to extend the responsibility to their home environments. Is it difficult to fathom children educated in these dilapidated buildings will not expect differently in adulthood? This perhaps explains why state governors or commissioners do not perceive the wrongfulness in civil servants working from dilapidated buildings. State Governments must consider reversing the decay of school buildings. Give the buildings makeovers. After all, how much is emulsion paint?
The attempt of various Old Students’ Associations across the nation to preserve old glories is attractive but weak. It requires statutory empowerment and it baffles that many people do not realise this simple need. I shall develop this line of thought later. These Associations are all over the place – whether at home or abroad. Let me make clear here. I am ambivalent about their usefulness in a country where governments have no continuity in their programmes. Now, that the current Lagos State Government has returned schools to their rightful owners, what stops another Mr. Jakande from reversing the policy? It is arguable that in a country where governments know it all, these Old Students’ Associations are only good to meet other old students; gossip and network with successful alumni.
But aside from the above, I return to the argument for a statutory imprimatur, which these Old Students’ Associations require to be effective. If we start from the premise that these Associations seek to preserve their old institutions, then unchallenged government policies defeat the objective. There is a requirement to sponsor amendments of Education Statutes and where statutes are inexistent – they need to be enacted to incorporate these Associations as stakeholders at par with Schools Inspectors. If that were to occur, such incompetence of Mr. Jakande’s Education policy would have been defeated at the Supreme Court – if it were to go that far.
Here is an anecdote. Up until recently, I served as a school governor at a London school. The times cherished the most as a governor was: Schools’ Inspection. The British Schools’ Inspector is a demigod of sorts, whose wisdom is rarely challenged. My crotchety attitude – a trait developed at Igbobi College forbid passiveness. I would study a draft report and its attached statistics to destroy the Inspectors’ conclusions of their inspections. The existence of a school depends on the Inspector’s report. I enjoyed asking inspectors to correlate the wisdom of a qualitative conclusion against the analysis of their own statistics. Long ago, I learnt statistics can be used as a drunk uses a lamp post – to support rather than illuminate. The point inhere, is that I challenged the Inspectors because legislations provide the powers to do so. These Old Students’ Associations will remain at the periphery of School Administration, if there are no legislations to enforce their positions.
This brings me to the exchange between Lagos State Government and Federal Education Minister in matters of the State Government’s intention to set up its own examination body. Has the State Government thought through the implications of its intended venture? To put it mildly, the intention is barmy, half-baked and irresponsible. In a country where there is no concinnity in national life, the international acceptability of the State Government’s Curriculum is not good enough to cause disharmony in the education of children. Consider the response of the Federal Education Minister: if all other States choose not to recognise qualifications from Lagos State because it is diametrically different to what obtains in the nation – what happens to the graduates from the State? It is fine to argue that the unacceptability of the qualifications would be political. This is of course the mainstay of the persuasion as to why the State Government must not proceed with its plan. A unified education system at this period of our development is better than orchestrating what may hinder children and embroil them in political problems that could be avoided. Lagos State Government should take its argument to the Council of States’ meeting. The problem with our education system is hardly about examinations and curriculum. It is about unpaid teachers’ unacceptable low wages and the whims of Governments to close down schools, at anytime it suits them.
Finally, I return to the earlier assertion that the glories of my old school may never return. This is my submission. If schools are a reflection of society – it follows that the assault of moral decadence in our society are reflected there. Correct? Also, a lawless society can least expect to turn out law-abiding children. Agreed? If the above two positions are tenable – the beau ideals of the past, if inculcated in children may in turn provide the society we have lost. But in truth, is that not craving Utopia? I know not. This is the reason for deference to Old Students who are committed at creating a semblance of what existed in the past. My position remains the same, though. Governments must incorporate statutory powers for the Old Students’ Associations and a decayed society cannot expect to train children in the morals it does not possess. When the Nigerian Society realises children of today are the adults of tomorrow, I shall be convinced that the next time I meet a child schooled in Nigeria, I will see another Chris Borha, Adekunle Tuyo, Tunde Dabiri, Tunde Sobamowo, Yemi Osibajo, et al. For now, as for me, my child will remain out of the walls of any State School in Nigeria.
The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.