Government College Ughelli at 60


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



LUNARPAGES.COM and IPOWERWEB.COM - Despicable WebHosts - Read My Story





Government College Ughelli at 60



Victor Eromosele



culled from GUARDIAN, November 09, 2005


Education is not a luxury. The importance for society of developing the character and mental powers of teenagers, the so-called leaders of tomorrow, is beyond contest. Secondary education is designed to play the role and to lay firm foundation for tertiary education, vocations and professions. Success in life may well depend on the quality of secondary education.

The turning 60 of a 'once-great' secondary school in today's Delta State, Government College Ughelli (GCU) - which started in January 1945 as Warri College - provides a unique opportunity for sober reflection on all that has happened to Nigerian secondary education, particularly in recent times. While GCU and its old boys mark and celebrate the school's diamond jubilee, many see no spark of 'diamonds' or indeed anything substantial in the country's educational landscape for which to be really 'jubilant'. Yet diamonds ought to be forever.


GCU was once a centre for excellence. The 18th century writer James Bramston reminds us: "What's not destroyed by Time's devouring hand? Where is Troy?" May we not one day wake up to ask: Where is the old school? In common with most state-owned schools of its time, GCU succumbed to the adversity of changing times: gross under-funding, over-population, high student-teacher ratio, dilapidated and grossly inadequate facilities, widespread indiscipline and poorly paid and uncommitted teachers. The result is that what would at 60 have been sparkling diamonds have gathered dust so thick that it is now difficult to polish.


Polish we must. Should Nigeria still nurse ambition of progress among the comity of nations in an increasingly globalised world, it really has few choices. One such choice is according education a much higher priority than it does currently. For a county with a huge population, growing at an estimated three million annually, without quality education, great danger looms. Productivity and contribution to the economy is a function of education. Policy makers must be willing to set and sincerely pursue a realistic education agenda, guided by world class standards.

In the spirit of "education for all", some would argue against the rationale for 'elitist' schools such as GCU in its hey-days. In every race there would always be pace-setters. Arguing against centres for excellence is to say that in a race, we all must be laggards. Nigeria is on the receiving side of huge, unprecedented windfalls. It would do well to earmark some of them in improving education at all levels, both in terms of 'quality and quantity'. The beauty about the old government colleges is that very little incremental investment and some system reforms are essentially what may be required to bring them to world standard.


Well before the advent of the co-educational unity schools, educational centres of excellence for boys in the 1960s and the 1970s were the old government colleges at Ughelli, Ibadan, Umuahia, Afikpo, Keffi, and so on. Of course, Kings College, Barewa Colllege and Edo College were in the same league. In their heydays, these schools were not meant for the sons of the rich but for the best and brightest. What is wrong with restoring these schools with a long history back to centres of excellence fit for the 21st century? Honestly, nothing. We must create institutions in Nigeria where we nurture our geniuses.

Nothing keeps the old school tie going like nostalgia. As an old boy of GCU, this writer still fondly remembers his days at the school in the late sixties/early seventies. The school supplied school uniform, textbooks and notebooks. The Nigerian and expatriate teachers were highly qualified and business-like. Boarding was mandatory. The bell was law. Flouting school rules resulted in instant sanctions. There was order and an atmosphere for learning. A good balance was struck between academic and sporting activities and between recreational and extra-curricular activities. Everything worked and school was serious. School was fun. Library was well-stocked, laboratories were well-equipped and workshops had all the tools. Courtesy reigned. The school lawns were regularly mowed and the orchard flourished.

With the benefit of hindsight, did having a well-run school yield dividends? It did. "Accomplishments give lustre". (Lord Chesterfield). The list of accomplished GCU old boys will make a world-class Who's Who. A shortlist of famous, accomplished old boys will include Prof. John Pepper Clark, the literary giant; Prof. Itse Sagay, the international law expert who will be the Diamond Jubilee guest lecturer, Justice Emmanuel Akpomujere of Delta State and Prof. Obaro Ikime, the outstanding history scholar. Prof. Olu Akinyaju is a reputable Lagos-based medical practitioner and Prof. Friday Okonofua is the provost of the College of Medicine, University of Benin.

GCU has produced several captains of industry including Chief Jemine Akpieyi who was CEO of three subsidiaries of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) prior to retiring. Dr. Taiwo Idemudia headed NNPC's Crude Marketing Division after a spell in OPEC and later became the CEO of Nigerian Gas Company (NGC). Mac Ofurhie only recently retired as a Director in the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), having previously been CEO of NGC. Godwin Omene was the first Deputy Managing Director of Shell Nigeria and in retirement became the first CEO of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Godwin Adokpaye retired from Mobil as an executive director.

Boardroom guru, Gamaliel Onosode, Chairman of Dunlop Nigeria plc turned 70 slightly over a year ago. More recently Sam Amuka, publisher of the Vanguard turned 70. He once wrote in the seventies with the pen name, "Sad Sam" about the same time another old boy, Peter Enahoro wrote as "Peter Pan". The list is not exhaustive. No doubt, GCU produced great talents and has good reason to be proud of its past. The challenge now is that of reversing the decay of the present and the last two decades, which has hampered the school's ability to produce the best. Beyond cosmetic damage limitation, the Delta State authorities should seriously consider restoring GCU to the status of a genuine centre of excellence.

Addressing the UK Labour Party conference in 1996, British Prime Minister got his emphasis right when he said: "Ask me my three priorities for Government, and I tell you: education, education and education". How much more true for developing countries such as Nigeria? Education is important for human capital development. Nigeria must more than redouble its effort to get on the development fast-track.


Policy makers and those responsible for shaping education in Nigeria may draw inspiration from the words of nineteenth century poet, John Keats:


"A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Its loveliness increases; it will never

past into nothingness".


Like diamond, education is evidently a thing of beauty and always would be. May the value of education never be lost in a country of shifting-values. It is polishing time for dusty diamonds: those precious stones of pure crystallised carbon, the hardest natural occurring substance. There can be no doubt that quality education shares diamond's characteristics: precious, solid and luminous. For how much longer can we watch our precious educational diamonds continue to gather dust?


Nothing will pay a better tribute to GCU's British founding fathers, V.P.V. Powell and C.C. Carter, than the restoration of the old school to original standards of excellence, for which they expended their lives to establish and remembered even at death. We must not fail to mention our fellow countrymen who as principals worked so hard to uphold the standards: Demas Akpore and S.O. Egube, both of whom have also passed on. Not many old boys would forget in a hurry the great disciplinarian and educator, T. Osigbemi. Even while they teach, men learn. Their efforts must not be in vain.

Beyond memories and reminiscences of pleasant history, there is work to do. A new script is required to re-invent schools that produce quality people who would make a difference in the 21st century and give Nigeria a future. That is the diamond jubilee challenge. Let all hands be on deck for the great task of polishing dusty diamonds. GCU and 'Mariners', happy anniversary!



Eromosele, a chartered accountant, lives in Lagos.



horizontal rule

1999 - 2006 Segun Toyin Dawodu. All rights reserved. All unauthorized copying or adaptation of any content of this site will be liable to  legal recourse.


Segun Toyin Dawodu, P. O. BOX 710080, HERNDON, VA  20171-0080, USA.

This page was last updated on 10/27/07.