By Muyiwa Adetiba
Canon R.B Parker wept some forty years ago when he visited the school he nurtured as Principal during what has been aptly described as the school’s golden decade (1948-57).
It was an old man who left his native England with the desire to visit the school one more time before going to meet his maker. Some of the old students with whom he was in touch facilitated the visit.
What Rev. Parker had left behind was so different from what he met that he broke down. Although he must have been warned about the state of the school, he probably could not imagine it was so bad. Many of those who went round with him were older Igbobians who hadn’t had cause to visit the school since they left decades earlier.
Many shook their heads in disbelief as they passed one barely recognisable landmark after another. I was there and I could barely contain myself. I had passed through the walls of the school barely a decade earlier so the memory of those landmarks was much fresher. Yet, it was like a tsunami went through the school. The school in my time, had three large football fields one of which doubled as a cricket pitch during the cricket season.
There was a lawn tennis court. There was a place for basketball or volleyball. Then there was an orchard where you could get fruits or some shade to read. The teachers were largely in-residence. All of these were gone within five years of the infamous government take- over of schools. In their places were what the government of the day called schools – including co-educational schools. Four schools were cut out from the old school thereby destroying the nurturing ambience that made the school what it was. A college that was 90% boarding became 100% day. A structure that was meant to accommodate about 500 elite students was now being made to accommodate nearly six times that figure. The signs of stress were everywhere.
I was so jolted and scarred by what I saw that I largely stayed away from the school thereafter. My experience led me to write an article in the Punch where I was then working titled ‘Look what they have done to my school’ – I took the title from blind minstrel Ray Charles’ ballad titled ‘Look what they have done to my song’. The intervening years saw many prominent Old Boys join other people to fight for the return of the carcasses of what the schools had become to their original owners. The struggle met varying degrees of success.
By the time I returned years later to honour a set’s fifty years of leaving college, there was a marked improvement. By the time I went again as a fortunate recipient of the school’s prestigious Merit Award, it had recovered most of its lost glory. The improvements have been in leaps and bounds since then as various sets jostled to upgrade the facilities. Many of those facilities are even now better than what we had during our time.
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Igbobi College was founded in 1932 through a rare collaborative effort between two Missionary Institutions – Anglican and Methodist Churches. It was patterned after the elitist British Public Schools and was so recognised as Nigeria’s first Public School. The school’s pioneer students set the standard of what was expected of its students. That the lode star at the time, Dr Teslim Elias who became the first Nigerian Attorney General and the first Black President of the International Court of Justice was a Muslim clearly indicated the character of this noble school.
Since then, Old Students have excelled in their various fields of endeavour – there was a time four of the five Vice-Chancellors in Nigeria were Old Igbobians. I was in school then and the Principal never let us forget the standards that had been set by our predecessors. Although the school put a lot of premium on education and was always comparing its yearly WAEC results with only the top three schools in Lagos, there was no doubt it placed more stock on character.
It went the extra mile to provide a level playing field for its boys irrespective of their socio/economic backgrounds once they entered its four walls. The only thing that would distinguish you was your prowess in the classrooms and on the sporting fields. Such were the standards set and the values ingrained that many lamented after school that Igbobi College did not prepare its students for a Nigeria that is ridden with mediocrity, corruption and nepotism.
The line in the School Song which the school took very seriously and which all Igbobians took to heart is ‘let hills and vales these tidings bear; wherever there is an Igbobian, there also is a noble Nigerian’. Nobility therefore, and not wealth or position, is the school’s desire for every student that passes through its walls. Nobility is its ethos.
Igbobi College was 90 on February 2. The past week had been full of celebrations and rightfully so. After all, this was a school ‘whose vine which was deeply planted; which had taken strong roots and filled the land; which sent out boughs as far as the sea; which shadow had covered the mountains,suddenly had its walls broken and birds and beasts fed off it’. (Psalm 80). Those were the years (about 30 years) of the locust and the Old Boys have every right to celebrate the fact that those who wanted to cut down the deeply planted vine the school had become, didn’t succeed.
A princely sum of a billion naira has been earmarked as the sum to be raised for upgrading and positioning the school for the future. I make two appeals. Igbobi College was never about buildings – we didn’t have the best buildings. It was never about ostentation – we wore khaki, remember? It was about discipline. It was about character. It was about nobility. We hear about cultism in schools these days. We hear about bullying.
We hear about the prevalence of serious drugs. These happen when authorities take their eyes off the ball. These must not be said about Igbobi College. It must remain a school that nurtures the nobility that is inherent in all adolescents. The second appeal. In celebrating the 90 years of the college, we have rightfully celebrated the many achievements of its old students. But we must not forget those who have fallen by the wayside in the dog eat dog society.
They are no less ‘Igbobian’ than those who reached the pinnacle of their careers. Unfortunately, they will not attend any of the functions for obvious reasons. We should reach out to them or at least acknowledge their existence. We should encourage every set to do likewise. After all, we were trained to look at values and not positions. We were also trained through the compulsory SDF, (self- denial fund) to look out for the less privileged.
Like many before and after me, I proudly claim to have come from thee, Igbobi. (School Song, last stanza)