Theirs was a reunion filled with nostalgia and heavy emotions.
On December 30, old students of Aquinas Secondary School, Osuh, in Isiala-Mbano, Imo State, gathered to end 2019 on a high note. It was a meeting that took place at the school’s premises in Umunachi, along the Anara-Okigwe-Enugu highway. That was their first reunion since the school was founded in 1962.
Interestingly, many of the old students at the are already grandfathers and grandmothers. But they had more than enough reasons to come together to celebrate.
The inaugural reunion began at about 10am, characterised by frenzied moments of ecstasy and warmth. Many of the attendees embraced one another passionately. They had great moments of giving high-fives and of backslapping, intense and sustained rejoicing. It was electric, with many feeling young again, reliving and relishing their old days at school as youngsters, travelling back in time, some 40 to 50 years ago, when they first hit school.
Just before the Nigeria-Biafra Civil war broke out in 1967, some of the old students were already in school. Many of them at that time had their ambition either truncated or punctuated. Some fled home, some into the bush, some into trenches to fight in the war.
One of such old students was Engineer Clement Onyeyiri.
“I joined Aquinas Secondary School in Class 3 in 1970 as a boy soldier,” he recalled. “Soon after the war, we had to return to school, brushing aside the pain, the anguish of the time. My father wanted a good education for me; so he provided me with all the leverage I needed. Every one of us then had the discipline and the determination to succeed. So, we tucked everything that happened to us during the civil war behind us and soldiered on. We tried to have fun,” he reflected.
Two to three years after the restart, Aquinas Secondary School, founded by late Dr. A.G. Nwedo, the then Catholic bishop of Umuahia Diocese, announced that it was back on the beat for good. To the surprise of many, the school went on an upward climb on the academic ladder. The returnee students blasted off from the blocks, returning 100 per cent success year in, year out in school certificate examinations, with a handful of the students hitting the enviable distinction threshold. In no time, the school’s academic prowess had risen sky-high, and the news spread far and wide.
In no time, Aquinas Secondary School, which the then East Central State government (under the watch of the late Mr. Ukpabi Asika, as administrator) renamed Osuh High School, Osuh, had become a dominant institution. With its fame soaring mercurially, it began to attract students from far and near, competing intensely with other notable schools in the entire defunct Eastern Region.
Towards the end of the 1970s, Aquinas, under the watch of its charismatic principal, Rev. Fr. (Dr. )Simeon Okeke, now in his 80s, had fully sealed its place as one of the colleges of first choice east of the lower Niger, a feat made possible by its A-Class teaching staff. The school headlined this feat when it emphatically claimed the prestigious old Imo State schools quiz challenge in 1979. That alone compelled many parents to enrol their children and wards to drink from the intellectual spring the school had evidently become.
Now, 57 years down the road, Aquinas Secondary School has produced men and women of means and lofty accomplishments in every field of human endeavour, with the current president of International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Justice Chile Eboe-Osuji, as its standout old boy and brand ambassador. Others are fanned out across various lands and climes contributing to global growth.
But in the recent past decades, the unimaginable began to happen. Something went awry. Neglect crept in, with decay in tow. Evidently, things fell apart.
But just two months ago, the old students of Aquinas found new impetus. They planned an inaugural reunion – first to see one another again and then to make a difference in the affairs of their alma mater – Aquisco it is called.
From various zones and continents, they surged home in their numbers to answer the clarion call, with every zone contributing to stage the reunion.
They received goodwill wishes from many including the immediate past Imo State governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Dr. Chiji Colins. The Catholic Bishop of Okigwe Diocese, Dr. Solomon Amatu, the current proprietor of the school, sent representatives.
But the former governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, was present with his friends and associates. And there were various religious and traditional leaders, among them the old students, whose presence helped to send the reunion arena into raptures.
In his remarks, the chairman of the local organising committee of the event, Dr. Don Ogbonna, said: “The essence of the gathering was twofold. First, we realised that it was fitting for a school that has produced thousands of graduates 57 years after to bring its old students together. We all have built our careers and made resounding accomplishments and attainments, yet not much of such had robbed off on our alma mater.
“So, we felt we should jointly and severally support our school and ensure that the present students have something by far better than what we had in our days.
“We want to make a difference in the quality of teaching, learning and infrastructure. Already, we have had a series of commitments made by our old students with regard to rebuilding the school.
“Secondly, we wanted to meet ourselves again after many decades of graduation and to network to see ways of supporting one another and tapping from the pool of social capital we long neglected.”
The principal of the school, Rev. Fr. Theophilus Okafor in his speech said the day marked a “new turn in our lives, especially in the history of our institution. Some decades ago, our school was a small, struggling institution, but today, our graduates are widely spread across the globe in search of growth and knowledge. And their performance and positive impacts make the difference everywhere.”
Tracing the history of the school, he paid due tribute to all who had played various roles in grooming the students. He catalogued the achievements of the school over the years, but admitted that things had changed. He, however, expressed optimism that things would turn around and tasked the old students to make that happen.
“There are a number of challenges that still overshadow the progress made,” he said, “We are financially incapacitated. Such financially-demanding challenges include the renovation of the dilapidated structures like the classroom blocks, technical workshop, dining hall, school library, science block, and most especially the renovation of the principal’s lodge.”
He asked for regular water and electricity supply, books for the school library and a school bus.
His speech spurred the old students to spring up and pick various projects to tackle both individually and collectively. And that signalled a new dawn in the life of the institution.