January 28, 2023

P. A Dunkwu served Anioma through St. Anthony’s College

By Tony Eluemunor

A barrage of homages has been rightly paid to the memory of Odogwu of Okpanam, Chief P.A. Dunkwu (born 15th August 1928, died 2nd August 2022, buried 22nd December 2022.

This author of books, who studied Maths and Physics at the University of Ibadan and Educational Psychology at Kings College, University of London, was a former President of U.I Alumni Association, notable Rotarian, etc, etc held so many positions in sports, academic, political and other organizations that we would require a 1000-word essay to list them all, joined others to build his beloved St. Anthony’s College (SAC) Ubulu-Uku, a village school into a nationally respected institution.

To your columnist, Dunkwu’s greatest achievement was the stellar service he offered to the entire Anioma people in their greatest hour of need; the 1967 –’70 Nigerian Civil War.

From October 5th to 7th, the Nigerian troops massacred over a thousand persons in Asaba. Lesser level massacres took place all over Anioma area including Ishiagu (where Federal troops killed 400 villagers in one night) Oko Anara, Ubulu-Uku (which lost four non-commissioned officers in a day) and Ogwashi-Uku.

By then Anioma lacked enough secondary schools to absorb the youths the war displaced from other parts of Nigeria. As St. Patrick’s College, SPC, Asaba had been turned from a school to a killing field and later a refugee centre, St. Anthony’s College was tasked with providing a Higher School Certificate programme which SPC could no longer provide.

HSC students who returned from other parts of Nigeria joined SPC students at Anthony’s. Regular secondary school students from here and there also converged at Anthony’s and the population burgeoned. This former “boys only” school began to cater for HSC females the war had forced to return home.

It was in that disastrous milieu that Dunkwu, in 1968, succeeded Irish Rev. Father Anthony McDonagh, who had been posted to Immaculate Conception College, Benin, as principal.  SAC became the nearest that any entity got to being the representative of the Anioma spirit; resolute, unyielding and confident.

Actually, Dunkwu inherited a formidable school from McDonagh, built successfully on the founding Principal, Ambassador C. C Uchunno’s foundation. Uchunno had chosen “Emerge et Adefica” (Arise and Build) as the school’s motto at her inception in 1956 and pursued that challenge literally, building a masterful and glorious school which, despite its village setting, competed and trounced well-established

city schools- in sports, academics, laboratory, library and sports facilities. Before the Civil War, it had beaten SPC Asaba, CKC Onitsha, ICC Benin, and others in sports, and held her ground in academics. Then in stepped Dunkwu as Principal and the great school bloomed further.

In 1968, the school’s student (Chris Ogbeche) had the best result in Midwest state.  In 1969, Dunkwu invited late Ojidoh (the same FIFA-badge referee who was once National Football Association chairman) to coach the school football team. Not surprisingly, Anthony’s won the 1969 Giwa Osagie Football Cup as it emerged State Champion and drew 1-1 with Western state champions. Same year, it

scored 100% in the WASC and HSC exams. Up till the late 1970s, the school still served the Anioma area well as other schools routinely took turns to do their Physics, Chemistry and Biology practical examinations in SAC as it had the best laboratories in the area.

Hey, I wonder how many of those reading this piece ever saw a Geography Lab! SAC had one. It had three football fields, two standard Basketball courts, two standard Lawn Tennis Courts, six Table Tennis halls, Volleyball and Cricket pitches. She won the Adeola Table Tennis Cup for keeps and monopolized the championship all through the ‘70s until Mid-West became Bendel and was later divided into two states.

She produced formidable field and track athletes including the national school sprints champion, Peter Ofili, alias CKC who became the fastest Nigerian in 1974.  She had storied milers in Azu (from Iselle-Uku and Nzekwue (from Ibusa, alias Animal) and also remained formidable in inter-school debates, won laurels in cultural displays at Ogbe stadium for years, all the five students she presented for the scholarship exams the then Governor Ogbemudia had introduced for the best students in each class, passed.

Many Permanent Secretaries and top Ministry officials took up teaching positions in the school when they fled from an unsafe Benin. So, too, notable teachers the war had displaced from other places.

Dunkwu followed Rev. Fr. McDonagh’s example to accommodate brilliant students in whose paths the Civil War had mounted obstacles. He approached Mr. Peter Dibia, his friend at CKC Onitsha, Prof B.I.C Ijomah and his own brother, USA-based Anthony Dunkwu and many other Anioma people not only to source books and equipment for the school’s library and labs and for needy students.

The Issele-Uku businessman, Nwakogo (popularly called Kogos) supported sports. It was an Anioma project and Anioma people were roused to support her. Ojidoh’s assistance was a part of this Anioma project. McDonaugh used to source assistance for the school even from Ireland.

Under Dunkwu, St. Anthony’s College became Anioma people’s standard bearer in a most trying time. When the war ended in 1970, the school ranked among the very best in Nigeria, giving the Anioma people an uncommon bragging right. It was a salad bowl where the Permanent secretaries’ Professors’ and top business men’s children mixed freely with subsistence farmer’s children and were molded into becoming the leading lights of the succeeding generations of Anioma’s intellectuals and professionals.