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Anambra: Restoration of Church schools

THE Recent restoration of almost all the primary schools in Anambra State to the churches, their rightful owners, is bound to restore sound educational system, marked by enviable moral standards.

With the singular surrender of the illegally seized church schools, Governor Peter Obi confidently declared that the state “shall henceforth be speaking only of ‘acceptable global standards in education’, instead of minimum standards”.

He traced moral decadence in our society to the confiscation of the missionary schools by government in 1970. Furthermore, he recalled that the forceful seizure accounted for the schools depreciated products, infrastructural decay and loss of discipline.

Governor Obi apologised profusely to the churches for the seizure of their schools and dismissed the action as “one of the biggest and costliest mistakes ever made by government. It was a serious miscalculation made by the then military government.

Government, be it local, state or federal, is not known to be a great builder and manager of schools in this country. Before 1970, the churches more than any other group or government had contributed mostly to the advancement of education in Nigeria.

The churches were the spearhead, champion and pioneer of education in Nigeria. Relevant statistics confirm that by 1970 the churches had solidly built and effectively owned and maintained more than 90 percent of the existing primary and secondary schools in Nigeria.

Take your sample from any part of the country and the result will be the same. Hope Wadell Institute, Calabar, the oldest secondary school, and among the foremost –  CMS Grammar School and Methodist Boys’ High School (1847), both in Lagos – were not  built by government or private citizens but by the churches.

In the old, defunct eastern region, today made up of nine states, there were only three government secondary schools, namely Umuahia, Afikpo and Owerri. While in Onitsha alone, two churches had no fewer than four, including Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), established  in 1925 and Christ the King College (CKC).

At its inception, the then Mid-Western Region, currently comprising Edo and Delta States, had only one government college, Ughelli, and later two, when Edo College, Benin, was converted to government college. While in Isele-Uku, a village in the region, the Pilgrims Baptist Church alone owned three, one grammar school, one vocational and a teachers’ college.

All the time, the government remained a fence-sitter, folding its hands and waiting for the churches to complete the circuit for it to take over the run. Despite its last-minute decision in 1965 to start building federal government secondary schools, known today as unity schools, the government has not proved to be a builder of schools.

Nor is government a reliable manager of schools. Its takeover of the schools in 1970 marked the beginning of examination malpractice, students’ resort to question-and-answer booklets, teachers’ lackadaisical attitude to work and collapse of total discipline in the country’s school system. The result is crass decline in moral and educational standards which permeate the society.

Wisely, Governor Obi-led Anambra State has handed back the schools to the churches for efficient and effective management. The State government had earlier returned the secondary schools owned by the churches.

In the latest restoration of the primary schools, the Governor has disbursed N6 billion to the two churches, which are the original owners of the schools, and promised government’s continued funding of the schools and payment of teachers’ salaries but gave the churches power to hire and fire the teachers.

The Governor’s gesture was widely hailed by all in Anambra State, except the teachers  who are customary opponents of church schools. As soon the restoration was declared, the state’s branch of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) had summoned its members to kick against the return of the schools.

It is not surprising. The teachers fear they cannot cope with the industry and rigorous discipline demanded in church schools. It is really this  harmless insistence on hardwork, moral goodness and self-control that scare teachers off church schools.

If one may ask: does the civil service code truly permit teachers to trot from their market stalls to the classrooms during school hours. The teachers  fear if they are not truly devoted to their job, they will be fired by the churches.

If not, it is quite difficult to find any other reason for the teachers’ unwholesome kick against the church schools. Each time the federal government or any state government had signified its intention to restore the church schools, the teachers had threatened to drop the chalk.

That was the experience of the then Governor Emeka Omeruah in the old Anambra State. Teachers in Lagos State showed the same resentment, and in a similar manner, to the former Governor Michael Otedola’s move to return the schools, in fulfillment of his political campaign promise.

I know many instances where communities and individuals built secondary schools and handed over to the churches for good management. But I do not know of any community, church or citizen that invited the government to administer their well-built and equipped schools. So, let the churches, the accomplished managers of schools, manage their own schools.

*  Ifeanyi Ubabukoh, a product of church schools, wrote in from Awka.


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