From Jude Chinedu, Enugu
In what could be described as a journey into the past, an emeritus professor of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) Enugu, Anthony Agu, recently went back to the primary school where his academic journey began.
Aged about five in 1946, Agu was admitted into the Sacred Heart Primary School, Akpugo, Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State. But in 2021, he returned to his roots, having become an emeritus professor and founder of the Department of Geography and Metrology, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, ESUT.
His visit brought smiles to the faces of over 200 pupils who were splashed with assorted gifts such as exercise books, pens, sharpeners, pencils, rulers, erasers, plastic files, fruit juice and biscuits.
Born around 1941 to the family of Mr Agu Ani and Wowo Nnamigwe Agu in the sleepy village of Onuobuo in Akpugo, Agu is one of the seven children in the family. His parents were both farmers. But in 1947, Mrs Agu began selling cooked yam and palm oil in the community market then known as Obuo.
The former Deputy Vice Chancellor of ESUT went down memory lane, narrating his experiences in school as a child. He recalled that he was frightened by the corrugated iron sheet used for the roof of the school on the day he set out for his first academic journey. He said that on getting close to the school, he succumbed to fear as the sight of the corrugated sheet scared him to his bones. According to him, he had thought the sky had fallen on the school so he ran away.
“I ran away but later on the blacksmith that resided there and some other people helped me to come into the school. When I came into the school, I found out that it was not a sky but rather an iron metal.
“The second thing I noticed in the school was that people could fight and I was very fond of fighting. I saw a boy called Emmanuel Ogbodu and Isaac fighting. I was excited that I could really fight within the school environment.”
Little Agu later became sick and was withdrawn from school, though be later resumed fully in 1947.
“The first prize I got from Mr Eze, our teacher in Primary One, was a cube of sugar after writing on the floor and sand. The teachers then were well disciplined but you dared not come late to school.
“On Monday, you would go to school; in the evening you would go to church that was established near our village. After that, you fetched firewood for your teacher against Tuesday.
“I might be up to six or seven years and we weren’t sure because people were not keeping date then as it is done today. But I think what they wrote for me was 1941. We were not very sure of the age.”
Asked why he chose to go back to his alma mater after so many years, Agu confessed that it was not as if he forgot the school.
He said: “I dream of that school all the time. I remember the school very often. I still remember the surrounding; the way we used to sing, march. I also remember the teachers with their discipline.
“I remembered my first result they said I passed and I remember the first time they were telling me that Aniakpugo (the village deity) was not the Supreme God. Rather, they said the Supreme God is the one who created heaven and earth and everything and he is in heaven.
“They told us that Jesus Christ is the only begotten son of God and came to this world like a human being like us and was born by Virgin Mary. I remember how they taught us to do the sign of the cross. We did it severally before we could learn it.”
The octogenarian also recalled that he developed the art of drawing in primary school, a skill that earned him a second position in the entire Enugu Catholic Diocese.
“That was in 1954. I was able to mould the statue of Virgin Mary and came second.”
Agu further recalled that while in Standard 6, one of his colleagues laughed at him because he was not good in Mathematics. The person had predicted that he would fail. To prove the person wrong, Agu made friends with the most brilliant boy in the class.
“So, for the final exam, we had to travel eight kilometres on foot from Akpugo to Agbani. We also went back to Agbani for our result. If you passed, you received your certificate. I collected mine and I thought I came 22nd but a friend of mine called me, Nnamigwe! Look at your result; it is 2nd. When I saw it, I jumped up. Second out of 35.”
Agu noted that he came back to the school to thank God because there was a time he thought he would never make it in life. He was fortunate to be retained as a teacher in the primary school for several years because of his performance in the final year exam.
He passed the teachers’ examination and later proceeded to the College of Education from where he rose to become a Professor of Geography.
Agu observed that a lot of things has changed since he left primary school. Recently the office of the headmaster of the school was burgled by criminals. Agu said this was an unthinkable incident in his days in school. “You dare not go into the headmaster’s office, let alone loot it,” he noted.
“The football field where we did play was overgrown with grass and trees. I was really disappointed. We used to play in that field and at the end we climbed mango trees,” he recalled with nostalgia.
But all isn’t about bad news, he noted. “Instead of the two buildings we had then, we have about five now. The oldest child now there could be about 13 and they are very small. Their attendance was poor.
“In 1960, the school had a population of 480 pupils but now, they are about 150. The place is almost deserted. There are too many buildings with no students.”
While in school, Prof Agu had made a lifetime friend, one Chief Christopher Nneji. Saturday Sun visited Nneji in his house at Coal Camp, Enugu and he spoke about his friend and close confidant. He succinctly recalled how he was able to form an unbreakable bond with Prof Agu.
He said though two of them were from very poor background, but that Agu was fortunate enough to further his education while he went into business after finishing primary school.
He expressed happiness that his friend visited their alma mater in a remarkable way and wished that he could also do the same in his lifetime.
Now 84, Chief Nneji also recalled that their friendship ring included Godwin Nnamoko, who represented Nigeria’s national football team, the Green Eagles in the 1960s.
Speaking glowingly of his friend, Nneji said: “Till tomorrow, our friendship cannot be equalled. I still call him every day and he also calls me the same way. We have been friends from primary school, though I finished a year before him. Prof was known as Nnamigwe, though we did not lay much emphasis on nicknames.
“He was very intelligent. I don’t know how to qualify his intelligence. None of us attended secondary school. Where will the money come from? Before you talked of secondary school, people would know how wealthy your family was.
“So, when I finished, there was no money for me to continue. I ventured into apprenticeship with one Jonah Aniegbunam from Agbani. This was in 1954.
“I am happy Agu pursued his academic dreams and attained all possible heights. He is a good man. He is equally a lucky man but he deserves all that he achieved.”