Beze Adogu, MD, PhD, was educated at Jos, Nigeria and Cambridge, UK where he was a federal government national merit scholar and later named as Her Majesty’s Scholar in Medicine at Downing College, Cambridge, followed by successive nominations to prestigious Shell, Chevening, Cambridge and Wellcome scholarships. He was elected FWACP in 1987 and life fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1988. After medical research positions at Cambridge, UK and Brown University in the USA, he was named clinical professor of medicine at Medical College of Georgia.
Nemo Patriam Quia Magna Est Amat, Sed Quia Sua (Nobody loves his country because it is great, but only because it is his) — Seneca
The aphorism above is attributed to Lucius Annaeus Seneca, aka Seneca the Younger, a Roman politician and philosopher, whose pithy commentary continues to reverberate down the shafts of ancient history. One of the very few in all of human history to be universally recognized by a first-name mononym, he upheld the primacy of education – which in his days consisted of Latin, Greek, Logic, Drama, Oratory, Javelin and Combat – in restoring the “Dignity of Fallen Man”. It is a forlorn sensibility once championed by Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, which appears to have since withered across the unforgiving space of contemporary Nigeria.
A generation – and almost an entire civilization – ago, Dennis Memorial Grammar School, more commonly referred to as simply “Grammar School” by the cognoscenti, was a historical intellectual landmark, an Anglican secondary school sited at the confluence of the deceptively lazy Niger River and the uproarious chaos of Onitsha mercantilism. It was a contrasting iconography that would come to animate and, perversely enough, seem to define the essence of a Grammar School education. Named after Reverend TJ Dennis, an intrepid English missionary who had undertaken the largely thankless (and endlessly controversial) job of translating the Holy Bible into an “authorised orthographic” variant of the polyglot Igbo language, this old school has successfully nurtured generations of callow Nigerian youth into confident adulthood since 1925. Sporting an extraordinarily broad-based 18-subject academic curriculum, ranging from Civics & Current Affairs to Additional Mathematics, successful transit through each class obliged one to attain some degree of competence, if not mastery, of core material. In combination with a plethora of “extracurriculars”, Grammar School education contrived to produce graduates ready for the rigour of higher education or the challenge of self-employment. For me, as for most students, admission was often the beginning of an enduring love affair.
Despite the laurels and plaudits garnered over a century of achievement, Grammar School, the shining light on the Niger valley and the very first post-primary school in all of Igbo land, is presently in a state of significant disrepair. It beggars belief that this eminence grise which once bestrode Nigeria’s intellectual terrain like a colossus would have been allowed to go to seed. This is a school that had single-handedly produced an overwhelming majority of Igbo vice-chancellors, from KO Dike, doyen of African historiography and senior prefect of the class of 1936, through famed mathematician, JOC Ezeilo of the class of 1948, GO Onuaguluchi, from the class of 1944, Basil Oli, a renowned physicist of the 1955 set, Elochukwu Amucheazi (class of 1957), Ilochi Okafor, SAN (class of 1963), all the way to Greg Nwakoby (class of 1980). And that was when, to (mis)appropriate an extant Joe Bidenism, being a university vice-chancellor in Nigeria was a “f’ing big deal”. Over that same period, as regularly as clockwork, the old school posted a perfect 100 percent in all exit school certificate examinations, starting from the Cambridge School Certificate to the serial iterations of the hallowed London Matriculation, until the advent of the West African School Certificate, as the current staple. No less impressively, virtually all Igbo Anglican bishops are of Grammar School vintage: from Rev LM Uzodike (class of 1931) through Most Rev BC Nwankiti, Archbishop JA Onyemelukwe, Rev RNC Nwosu, Archbishop MSC Anikwenwa (class of 1958), Rev GN Otubelu, Rev EI Iheagwam (a scholar and priest of the finest tradition, in the ecclesiastical mould of Cardinal John Henry Newman), Rev KSC Okeke, Rev BP Udogu, all the way to Rev NC Obi (class of 1982).
Giving fillip to the Latin injunction “mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind resides in a healthy body), Grammar School would also effortlessly dominate the world of amateur sports, starting from the heroics of Emmanuel “Vancouver” Ifeajuna, who would attract iconic status following his gold medal-winning jump at the Vancouver Commonwealth games, captured in lithograph on innumerable “Olympic” exercise books as he scaled the bar, feet unshod, defying both gravity and expectations. He would, 12 years later, achieve lasting notoriety as the lead putschist in the January 15 coup. Then, there were the East Central State soccer Academicals, with Grammar School winning unprecedented back-to-back statewide championships in 1975 and 1976. Several of her erstwhile soccer maestros would later earn national caps, a vast majority making a brief detour to either the Enugu Rangers or P&T’s Vasco Da Gama Club – the dominant professional soccer teams of that era – before proceeding to university at home or abroad. Soccer buffs would recall midfield virtuosos like Vincent “Macbeth” Chika, Emeka “Hercules” Ibekwe, Nwachukwu “Igariga” Onyekwelu, Nnamdi “Waski” Anyafo (later to be “re-baptized” by ace soccer commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, as “Policeman”, after successfully “arresting” the quicksilver Segun Odegbami during his salad days at IICC Shooting Stars). Even the schoolboy aliases would suggest a better-than-average familiarity with the cultural zeitgeist of that era. It was a team that would challenge the timeless legacies of CKC’s alliteratively-named Shagasha, St Theresa’s quartet of Godwin “Pele” Ogbueze, Kenneth “Kendo” Ilodigwe, Moses “Mogambo” Nweke and Damian “Arabi ChoCho” Odoh, as well as Arugo’s Pat Ekeji and Obed Ariri. Perhaps as an inevitable outgrowth of her strong Music curriculum, the first-ever commercially successful teeny-bop musical band in Nigeria, the “Dee-Mites” (which etymology was unmistakably derived from “Dengramites”), was founded at post-war Grammar School. It would feature a glittering array of talent, all of who would, remarkably, find success in other non-musical careers in adult life. Those were the true avatars of the Grammar School experience. That unique juxtaposition of staid tradition embodied in her Anglican heritage and restless improvisation as is common fare in the commercial epicentre that is Onitsha, would create an environment that boasts a capacity to transform “all manner of boys into a certain kind of men”. The creative paradox implicit in that wager would meet its tragic apotheosis in the deadly confrontation between two opposing alumni, each representing a totally different perspective of “engaged citizenship”, in the early hours of the ill-fated January 1966 coup d’etat: Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, at the head of armed insurrectionists at Lagos, versus Lt Col Arthur Unegbe, army quartermaster-general and a man of valour, whose resolute insistence on the inviolability of our army chain-of-command would ultimately cost him his very life.
In recognition of her upcoming centennial in January 2025, we, alumni and friends, from wide and near, have dedicated ourselves to establishing an endowment fund for our alma mater. This fund is not expected to replace the usual sources of funding infrastructure and instruction at Grammar School, but will be focused on identifying and supporting those practices that will foster scholastic excellence, both now and forever. It is the fondest hope of our alumni that we will recreate an exceptional Grammar School, not as a nostalgic replica of the 1970s but as an ambitious exemplar of what a 21st century school ought to be. Having been nominated by my fellow alumni as Executive Director of this endowment fund, I will be responsible for flying the flag of our alma mater. Even though my background, as is common knowledge to my fellow alumni, is neither in finance nor developmental economics, I do have an indefatigable zeal to recreate Grammar School as an institution of academic excellence for the ages. Its fruition will not happen by accident or happenstance, but only by “intelligent design”: through an unrelenting campaign to create the future we seek. My success – or failure – in this generational mission will be directly dependent on my ability to harness the goodwill of other well-meaning citizens of my country of birth, in reimagining Nigerian education at its very best. To achieve that purpose, I will seek the support of Nigerians of every tongue, tribe or tendency, in support of what will predictably be a long, arduous journey of two and half million steps. My commitment as the executive director of this bold initiative, is that all funds raised under this banner will be sacrosanct, utilised only for its intended purpose, and administered strictly as a true endowment fund. We will manage her affairs with sensitivity and integrity, in recognition that money – at least in my own experience, in North America – never comes easy, and ought to be treated with utmost respect for the sensibilities of each individual donor. To that end, I will impose certain constraints to my administration of donated funds: an ethical constraint never to benefit financially in any way from this Fund, and in that context, all my services and expenditure on behalf of this endowment effort, will be strictly pro bono publicum; a procedural constraint not to go beyond the mandate of the fund’s Board of Trustees, comprised of distinguished alumni, men of unimpeachable integrity and common purpose, who will serve as repository of the “common will” of our donors; and a substantive constraint to always direct my efforts primarily towards growing this endowment in order to achieve our fondest dreams for Grammar School.
Some 150 years ago, missionaries travelled through the artificial divides of time, race, geography, culture and circumstance, to bring the promise of Christ’s gospel of salvation to children of “another” dispensation. Those missionaries had nothing to gain, either materially or experientially, from that singularly one-way transaction. Most of them ultimately fell victim to social isolation, deadly tropical diseases as epitomised by malaria, importunity, and other unpredictable vagaries of life, including Reverend TJ Dennis, who died at sea on his way back to England following his eventful tour of Eastern Nigeria. Those men of faith gave of their own lives so that we, in turn, could see. It is now left to us as moral beings to repay that “blood debt” by making that exceptional gift of “deliverance” accessible to yet another generation of youth, and in that selfless effort, achieve the union of Heaven unto Earth.
As in all human affairs, this novel approach to educational sustenance will predictably go through Arthur Schopenhauer’s triple motif of acceptance: first, the concept will be seen as utterly ridiculous (why save for a “rainy day” when it’s already storming outdoors), before being violently opposed in the second stage, especially by those who are already resigned to or are indifferent to the decrepitude of the educational enterprise in Nigeria, before the third and final stage when the once-novel concept will be accepted as self-evident truth. This endowment fund will not fall prey to the so-called “Nigerian Factor”: the administrative process will be entirely transparent, the results will be potentially transformative, and every single dime will be exhaustively accounted for. It is encouraging to me that only four trustees, all alumni of this grand old school, have already donated in excess of $130,000:00 to help inaugurate this fund. So far, we have already raised in excess of $400,000:00 (US), all from alumni at home and in the Nigerian diaspora. Our goal is to reach $500,000:00 by the end of this calendar year, and hopefully, breach our target corpus of $2,500,000:00, by the year of our centennial, in 2025.
Our reprise, paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Henry V, should be, “once more unto the breach, my fellow alumni, just once more time…. close this wall up with our Igbo dead.” Or better yet, this time from the immortal Ayn Rand: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. We should not fail. We cannot fail. We dare not fail.
So help us God. E Pluribus Gloria