MY alma mater, St. Anthony’s College, Ubulu-Uku, in Delta State, turned 60 last year. For a school founded by Catholic missionaries in 1956, you would expect it to have produced great men (and women as it enjoyed a spell of female enrolment for A-levels at a time). Yes, it has! It has produced professors, successful business people, professionals in all fields of human endeavour, clerics, you name it.
Tucked away at the precinct of Ubulu-Uku, a serene tropical and hugely forested community in the old Mid-Western Region (later Bendel State), the school was a dominant centre of academic and sporting excellence in the sixties and through to the seventies. It was the nursery for the making and shaping of men of unimpeachable character; professionals and business people who by dint of hard work and raw diligence pushed their way to the zenith of life, both in influence and affluence.
An old boy of the school, a distinguished colleague and the second Nigerian journalist to win the prestigious Nieman Foundation Fellowship for Journalists at Harvard, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, prior to the Diamond Jubilee chronicled some of the academic milestones and sporting landmarks of the school. It was a worthy historical adventure into the conquistadorial heights the school attained in those days when it was managed by its rightful owners – the Catholic Church.
In those days, mere passing the common entrance and being admitted into the school was itself a mark of brilliance. Being a student of the school and donning its uniform with the school badge (bearing the Latin words Emerge Et Adefica – Arise and Build) etched on the breast pocket conferred on one a tag of superiority over others.
Right from its infancy, emphasis was on the ‘total man’ concept of education. The school had standard laboratories and sporting facilities. And it was no surprise that in the WAEC exams, it was a given that the school would do well in all subjects.
In 1969, it attained a 100 percent pass in WAEC exams. In those days, scoring straight ‘As’ was almost a norm. While the school notched several laurels in sports, it did not sacrifice the quest for academic excellence. And it had several academic epaulets to show for its devotion and commitment with its student at various times emerging overall best in the whole Midwest.
Yet, as it excelled in academics so it did in sports. In 1969, it won the Mid-West football trophy for secondary schools. Mr. Eluemunor captured the narrative most succinctly: “The school emerged Adeola Table-Tennis champions in 1970 with Patrick Ugoji (now a Medical Doctor in Port Harcourt) as Captain; late Chris Okasia, Vincent Onyemem (Demso Baby) and Enujoko, now a Medical Doctor and others remained unbeatable until the competition finally stopped in the 1980s. Obiora Edward, in Lawn Tennis, won a silver medal in the 1973 National Sports Festival; with Otto Edward and Aninye Jonathan winning Silver in Table-Tennis.
“So, how does one explain the excellence streak? You could sum everything up in one word: “FACILITIES”. The school had over 500 metres by 500 metres field of lush evergreen grass with a football field in it (and space for two more football fields to spare) just behind the school gate and in front of the class rooms.
Then it had another standard field after the dormitories. It had two standard Lawn Tennis courts, six Table Tennis halls (one dedicated to each of the five hostels and a massive one with three standard tables) as central one. It had pitches for Basket Ball, Volley Ball etc”.
Suddenly, all of these facilities were gone. They disappeared as soon as government took over the school from the church. That transfer of ownership and administration meant that everybody and anybody was admitted into the school especially in 1979 when the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) government of Ambrose Alli made education free. And once it became free, it got worse. Academic excellence suffered diminution; sporting activities faded into the horizon of time.
And as years rolled by, the sports facilities became disused, decay set in and like a lit candle exposed to the vagaries of the wind, the flame and passion were blown away. The science laboratories and library suffered the same fate.
St Anthony’s College mirrors the fate of other schools in the state. But revival has come. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is turning the screw in a bid to restore the old glory of sporting and academic excellence that defined Delta State and its people. The government is focusing on skills acquisition as against certificate acquisition.
Three technical colleges in Sapele, Ofagbe and Agbor, have been upgraded and work is ongoing at Issele-Uku, Ogor and Utagba-Ogbe Technical Colleges.
Delta must take its rightful position as the nursery of skilled men, sporting outliers and persons of stunning intellectual depth. The humungous N11 billion spent on construction and renovation of classrooms and their concomitant equipment with relevant facilities deserve a commensurate reciprocal commitment from both students/pupils and their guardians.
The biting recession and heavy debt overhang has not helped matters in some states but at times like these, governors should adopt creative and cost-effective spending models. Okowa’s priority on agriculture, empowerment of small and medium scale enterprises as well as focus on active youth engagement has birthed about 41,532 direct and indirect private sector jobs through the programmes and initiatives of the MDAs.
Without a doubt, Okowa’s vista of a new Delta is paved with thorns due largely to the recession that hit the nation’s economy but there is an incandescent ray of hope that Delta is far gone on the road to regaining its glory as the repository of men and women of peerless excellence in their chosen fields. The average Deltan is a hybrid creation endowed with a superior DNA. It is little wonder that Deltans have thrived on the global canvas from sports to astronomy; financial management, business to medicine.
But the state has been a victim of its own unreasoned decisions which predates the Okowa era. Why on earth would local government councils in the state harbour a workforce of 55,000 personnel far more than Lagos and other adjoining states? This is a burden for any government especially in a season of economic atrophy. Local governments anywhere in Nigeria are not self-sustaining hence are chiefly dependent on receipts from federal allocations. Delta is no exception. The recent tiff between local government employees and their council chairmen over salary arrears calls for understanding, compromise and sacrifice.
Creating a new Delta is possible; reclaiming the old glory is feasible. The Governor has shown the will; the people must follow through. Let’s go there… to the future!