By Owei Lakemfa
IMAGINE being transported forty years back. Things appeared blurred. Peering into faces that seemed lost in time, and stretching the power of recall to its limits. It was the reunion of my Class of 1978. But we were not the only ones that had changed; so also has our country. In four decades, Nigeria is now a mix of rust and modernism calashed on a canvass of degeneracy. Our politics also reflected this; a mixture of retired military adventurers and their para-military and civilian clients using the funds cornered mainly during a collective 29 years of military rule and a follow up nineteen-year civilian ‘democracy’. A democracy without democrats; a crop of people offering what they do not have.
When forty years ago, my class passed out of the Methodist Boys’ High School, MBHS Lagos, we, like the country had quite high hopes of a far better and prosperous future. A harrowing 12-year military rule during which the country lost over two million people in a senseless Civil War, was coming to an end. Even when the departing military became a complete bully shooting students protesting attempts to turn education into an elite commodity, most of the country thought it better to escort the soldiers back to their barracks and then unleash the potentials of a promising nation.
Tragically, in four years, the soldiers were back led by General Muhammadu Buhari who was Petroleum Minister when we were high school children. For another agonising 16 years, the military dragged the country through bloody dictatorship, structural maladjustment, endless transition, and finally, chaos before civil rule was restored.
In the four decades we left high school, the country has had 11 Heads of State. Expectedly, it is not just the politics, but all sectors that have changed dramatically. For example, public schools like the MBHS were the best in the country while the private schools were of lower quality. But today, the private schools maintain their low standards while the public schools are worse. Most of us who gathered for the reunion will not send our children to public schools. That is how far, or degenerate we have become.
As we shook hands, it was very clear that most of us have done very well, but it is incredible that people of such good pedigree could forty years down the line, be led by people with blurred vision and limited horizon. The reality further dawned on me as we sang the school hymn, ‘Land Of Our Birth’ to which we pledged “Our love and toil in the years to be When we are grown and take our place As men and women in our race”. Now, we have grown, but the land of our birth is in dire straits.
There is a sense to be thankful that we are even alive; thirteen out of the 157 boys we left school together with, have passed on. One of them, Olufemi Wellington with whom I grew up in the Obalende area, left within three years, another, Kunle Doherty followed a year later. Recalling these, is painful and sobering. Such thought had propelled us to include as part of our week long programme, a visit to the Wesley School for the Deaf and Dumb, Surulere which had produced two of our late members, Sanya Ogunmefu and Damilola Dawodu. The former was later Vice Principal of that school while the later was an outstanding Lagos State athlete.
My Class of 1978 is the Centenary Set of the MBHS whose history is tied to that of high school education in the country. It was the second secondary school established in the country having opened its doors on March 14, 1878. The first was the CMS Grammar School, Lagos which was established in 1859. When both schools realised there was a growing need for high school education in the country, they teamed up to establish a new school, the Igbobi College in 1932. That school has turned out many outstanding Nigerians including current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
The first student admitted into MBHS was a fifteen year-old boy, George Stone Smith. He qualified as a medical doctor of the Royal College of Physicians, London in 1891, took on African names, Orishadipe Obasa and became a nationalist. He teamed up with Dr. John. K. Randle to found a political party, the Peoples Union. Both men travelled to London in 1911 to protest against the founding Governor General of Nigeria, Lord Lugard’s proposal to declare all lands in the country as government land.
His wife, Charlotte Obasa was a champion of Women Rights and was instrumental to the establishment of the Lagos School for Girls, which was run on a property she lent the school. That school which became the Wesleyan Girls’ High school, is now known as the Methodist Girls’ High School, Lagos.
As we gathered, we were aware the old school hall, is now an event centre as the school had moved. The MBHS had acquired a huge parcel of land in Ojo and began building structures with a plan to move there in 1982. However, the Jakande administration acquired the buildings and lands, along with some others around the area, and converted them into the Lagos State University , LASU. It then gave the school, land in Victoria Island where the MBHS has its current site. The man who facilitated that compensation was the then Permanent Secretary in the State Ministry of Lands, Chief Tunde Fanimokun, an Old Boy. He honoured my Set by chairing our fortieth anniversary.
We spent the gala night of November 16, partly in reminiscence of our teachers, many of who went beyond the call of duty. There was the Vice Principal, Mr. Oyenuga who would go after boys who went to a popular eatery when they should be in class. Whenever the culprits saw him, they scattered. This we likened to a relay race, so we called the eatery, 4X4. Since the Vice Principal outsprinted and caught some of the boys, we nicknamed him, Keino, after the Kenyan, Kip Keino the then 5000 metres Olympic champion.
There was also the Principal, Mr. David Famoroti whom we called ‘The Governor’ partly because his word was law, and also that he was Principal of the school that produced the First Indigenous Governor General of the country, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the founding Governor of Lagos State, Brigadier General Mobolaji Johnson and his successor, Navy Admiral Adekunle Shamusideen Lawal.
We capped it by honouring some of our teachers including Chief (Mrs.) Tinu Gbadamosi, our General Science teacher who married a Distinguished Old Boy of the school, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, the noted industrialist, writer and former Minister of National Planning. We returned to the ‘Land of Our Birth’ but it needs liberation.