Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, has recalled how his school, Mary Knoll College, Okuku, Ogoja, Cross River State, declined to reabsorb him after the civil war ended 50 years ago. He spoke at the maiden convention of Izzi High School Old Students’ Association, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, on January 16, 2020.
“Fifty years ago, when the Nigerian Civil War ended, I and many others from the then East Central State who were in secondary school in the then South Eastern State before the war tried to go back to our previous secondary schools.
“I left my hometown Uburu for Mary Knoll College, Okuku Ogoja, where I was in class four at the start of the war in July 1967. It is of note that Mary Knoll College, Ogoja, was the first secondary school to be shut down at the beginning of the war because of its nearness to war.
“On arrival at the school, I was shocked to learn that no student from the then East Central State could be reabsorbed into any school in the then South Eastern State for that year 1970. This was painful for the principal, an expatriate reverend father of the Catholic Church, who could not do anything to help because the directive came from high quarters.
“Many things happened, as several efforts were made and I finally got admitted into Izzi High School, Abakaliki, which was then known as Izzi County Secondary School, Abakaliki. I find the reactivation of this association a very remarkable one. Nigeria is celebrating 50 years anniversary of the end of the civil war.
He talked about how students in the region were directed to move to a class ahead of where they were when the war broke out; thereby making them at Izzi High School have two streams of Class 5 called “Class 5 (Normal) and Class 5 (Special).”
He said those in science class did not make use of laboratories because of the dilapidation occasioned by war, hence, they made do with alternatives to practicals.
Addressing a crowd of current students and old students of the school founded in 1958 at the school’s old premises now occupied by the Faculty of Education, Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Abakaliki, the minister expressed joy that the association has been revived after several failed efforts.
He recalled how he led the association as its pioneer president-general for almost a decade before he left to contest election and become first civilian governor of Abia State. He regretted that the association lost its cohesion for nearly three decades.
Onu donated 10 laboratory kits, 10 HP laptops, two desktop computers and copies of 12 different books he authored, among others, to the school.
Located in Ishieke, Ebonyi Local Government Area, Izzi High School was the foremost secondary school in the old Abakaliki Division. A private initiative of a very popular local chief in the area, Chief Nwiboko Obodo, the school started as County Secondary School (COSCO) in 1958. It was managed by the Roman Catholic Church, until 1971 when the Government of the old Eastern State took over its ownership and management.
Chairman, Convention Planning Committee, Mr. Ignatius Unah, said the school, which started with 35, students became one of the best and most sought after secondary schools in the whole Eastern Nigeria: “The school started with one class of about 35 students, who were all boarders. Admission into Izzi County Secondary School was through a very competitive entrance examination followed by an oral/written interview conducted by the principal.
“The students were drawn from all over Eastern Nigeria and beyond. Mainly students of standard six classes who considered themselves intelligent applied to study in this school.
“In January 2000, following directives of Ebonyi State government, the great Izzi High School was relocated from its site opposite St. Nathy’s Catholic Church to the nearby Ndiebo Ishieke Community Primary School premises, opposite Ofor Ishieke Market, along Old Abakaliki-Enugu Road, to accommodate Ebonyi State Univeristy, Ishieke Campus. Government takeover of the school in 1971 renamed it Izzi High School. It has passed through several principals since its inception.”
Chairman of the board of trustees of Izzi High School Old students Association, Dr. Paul Ezeonu, appealed to the Ebonyi State government to hasten its relocation of the Ebonyi State University’s Faculty of Education to the institution’s permanent site to enable Izzi High School return to its original premises.
He stated that the convention was put together as part of efforts to give back to the school, which he said made them great in life: “Over the years, we heard nothing more about Izzi High School, which was the foremost/best school in Abakaliki Division. Today, we want to make Izzi High School great again. We use this opportunity to humbly request His Excellency, the great governor, to return the school to its original place.”
The convention was graced by many prominent ex-students, including former vice chancellor of Ebonyi State University, Prof. Francis Idike, who was the oldest student present, having entered the school in 1959 and finished in 1963.
Others were former members of the House of Representatives from Ebonyi State, Chief Innocent Ugochima and Peter Edeh, Chief Basil Egbo, Patrick Obasi, Chief Obidike Godwin, Prof. Ifeanyi Ike, Chief Chirs Mba, Chief Tony Muoneke and Chief Ferdinand Akpusi.