Charles Iyore, a partner at DNA Capital, writes from Darenth Kent, England. He can be reached by email at Dioncta@aol.com and +447932945002 (text only)
It is with a deep sense of history that the deck of the Government College Old boys in the United Kingdom will hold the first annual general school dinner outside of Nigeria – October 7, 2023, London Canary Wharf. The long history of attachment with England through cricket, Philip and Tacey of City Road London (est. 1826 as school suppliers), as well as, a time honoured tradition of cutting-off the tails, (assumed bearing rustic and outlandish ideas), of new entrants to the ship, with a laddish shout of “brine or no brine!”, will come alive.
Government College Ughelli was founded in 1945, first as Warri College in Warri before moving to its present site in Ughelli in 1947. In the early stages of establishment, the school was run simultaneously with Edo College Benin City and Government College Ibadan by Mr. Villiers Barcham Vaughan Powell (1904-1989). The Western regional government pre-independence, set out deliberately to train men needed for the technical and leadership workforce, that would husband the abundant natural resources and deliver growth, as well as, development for the region.
Mr V B V Powell, by all accounts, was a keen sportsman. He developed the strength and character of his students through sports. Personally training the students on competition techniques. He was firm on getting the students to acquire the right technique, character and disposition to enhance their performance in sporting competitions.
That sports training and sound academic instruction, delivered to the country some of the most outstanding and notable leaders of excellence; and the production line has not waned even with loss of focus as envisioned by the school leaders of yesterday.
Some of the narratives by Peter Enahoro (aka Peter Pan) below, aptly show the deep involvement of the staff in their development.
“To celebrate the first year of our arrival, the Principal, Mr V.B.V. Powell, declared an Open Day that gave Ughelli dignitaries, as well as hoi-polloi, a run of the classrooms. We were as excited as the guests were, like a free day at the zoo. They stared at us and we stared back at them,” wrote Peter Pan.
He continued: “Ughelli was where the essence of GCU as an institution of holistic learning really came to bloom. I was a beneficiary of the character-forming School Prefecture that prepared me to be unafraid when I began a career in journalism and was fortunate to be given a chance for [an] incredibly rapid rise up the ladder of recognition and management, at a young age, still quoted today as [an] unbeaten record.”
All of these were enough to prepare a young 23-year-old, Peter Enahoro, as an information officer sufficiently, to understand the issues of national asset allocation, and discern that a principal officer of state was treating the matter with levity in 1956.
Not tied in idiom, a list of some of those leaders of excellence, which is only representative of a sea of trail blazers, include; Mr. Gray Longe, Mr. S B Agodo, Mr. B A. Clark, Mr Peter Enahoro, Captain Bob Hayes, Mr Sam Amuka-Pemu (aka Sad Sam), Mr Gamaliel Onosode, Professor Akinyanju, General D. A. Ejoor, Professor Itse Sagay, Professor J. P Clark, Senator Fred Brume, Professor Oyewale Tomori, Mr Moses Taiga, etc. and to today’s Mr Olisa Agbakoba, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, Mr Allen Oyeama, Mr Festus Keyamo, etc.
The task of ensuring that young minds were not wasted was due to the dedicated commitment of men and women who managed to bring the best out of them, like Mrs Ogundipe, Mr. Christopher Kolade, Mr. J. K. Osakwe, Mr T A. Osigbemhe and Mr R E, Eyike, etc.
The dominance of the school in Cricket, Athletics and Soccer is very evident in the relevant period accounts of sports in Nigeria.
A less than exhaustive listing of principal players in the development of the school will run thus:
1. Mr. S.O. Nwankwo was the acting principal (Head teacher) of the school from whom Mr. Powell took over in February, 1947.
2. Mr. E.C. Halim was the first House Master of School House, then known as Beta House.
3. Mr. Cyril Carter was the first House Master of Forcados House, and took over from VBV Powell as Principal
4. Mr. Andrew Sagay was the first House Master of Sapele House.
5. Mr. I. Etti was House Master of Warri House, which was initially known as Alpha House
6. Mr S F Edgal took over from Cyril Carter as Principal
7. Mr Otuka – Principal
8. Mr S. O Egube – Principal
9. Mr J E Jones – Principal
These schools were not created by the Western Regional government as elite schools, but to be standard bearers of what is attainable, in the training for the next generation.
It is revealing to understand the heritage and development history of Philip and Tacey, which must have informed their choice as suppliers to Government College Ughelli.
The Phillip and Tacey heritage
The Philip & Tacey heritage began in 1826 when John Tacey secured the appointment as Headmaster at the British School in City Road, London. He soon became a well-known figure in the community and his school, a meeting place for teachers from all over the London area.
Each evening a school house was the venue for a gathering and each evening, rarely did the other teachers leave without asking John Tacey to help them obtain some item or another, which they had neglected to provide for themselves, for use in their own school. In those days it was no easy task to secure the necessary materials for equipping a school. Items such as slates, chalks, and sponges were obtained from the oil shop; books from the booksellers; ink and paper from the stationers; even furniture, from builders.
Requests for materials continued to increase and the cupboards were packed with stock, a far larger amount than needed for the school itself; therefore a system of book-keeping became essential. This brought about John Tacey’s decision to open a central shop, rather than simply over-stocking his own school.
The first shop opens
Finally, in 1829 he opened one of the first school supply houses in the world, close by his school in City Road. He continued for many years in his unassuming role and, after his death, was succeeded by a nephew. Changes had already started to occur; the business was rapidly growing into an extensive enterprise and other trading houses were springing up around the country.The City Road business was experiencing serious competition for the first time.
Younger members rejuvenated the business, and in 1902, an association was formed with Messrs. George Philip & Son, a publishing company of Fleet Street, and the new name of Philip & Tacey was adopted.
It is that kind of community of teachers’ understanding, worrying not just about the school’s academic curriculum but also about how best to deliver it as knowledge, that has helped deliver world beating athletes and leaders. That kind of community was quickly cultivated by Mr V B V Powell in the three schools he superintended for the Western Region.
When that system began to break down, these standard bearers began to fail and society began to lose her supply of leaders.
President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria recently admitted to the nation’s leadership deficit at the G20 summit in New Delhi India, but can that be resolved by the elevator rides to courses in Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge? Or should we take the approach of building our leadership training by the deliberate little steps in the schools’ communities? Can we go back to the drawing board like VBV Powell and many other teachers like him to raise winners for the country?
This coming dinner gives us an opportunity to use GCUOBA as the point of contact for all other such standard bearing schools in the country.
Government College OBA, aware of the burden of responsibility and not willing to dwell on past time paradise, began a while back, to shift the problems, which all seem to have come here to stay.
A collegiate general arrangement has produced six president generals to date, determined to recreate the future – Mr Gamaliel Onosode, Mr Adokpaye, Mr Akpieyi, Professor Omatete, Arch. Majoro and now, Chief Albert Akpomudje.
A journey through the history of schools and institutions established and developed to raise champions and build capacity in our country, is a truly compelling narrative.
From Hope Waddell School in Calabar, through CMS Grammar School Lagos, King’s College, Lagos, Queen’s College Lagos, Barewa College Zaria, St Gregory’s College Lagos, Government College Ibadan, Edo College Benin City, Government College Ughelli, Government College Umuahia, Government College Keffi, Government College Kano, Queen Amina College Kaduna, St Maria Goretti Girls College Benin City, Methodist Boys High School Lagos, Igbobi College, Lagos, to Loyola College Ibadan. and many more.
It is only fitting and proper to pay tributes to those who put in their all, to mould the great minds, that have shaped our destiny as a nation, in our continuous search for excellence. Headmasters, Housemasters, Sports masters, and tutors, who came from faraway lands as strangers, and became friends and family.
This is a journey we must make together and be ready to climb new hills and cross new seas.
Let the conversations begin!