Golden opportunity postponed

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•Anglican Girls’ Grammar School, Onitsha, will be 50 years old tomorrow, but here are reasons it is not yet time for celebration

By CHIKA ABANOBI and EMMANUEL UZOR

Anglican Girls Grammar School (AGGS), Onitsha, Anambra State, established on April 3, 1963, will be 50 years old tomorrow.

Let somebody shout Hallelujah! But, please, don’t go there expecting the red carpet to be rolled out for you or a bottle of champagne to be popped and sparkling glasses clinked, in remembrance of its golden jubilee.

Even old girls like Ngozi Chuks-Okeke (nee Onwuanyi), who read French and Education, after leaving the school in 1979, and graduating, some years after, with a First Class honours, from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), knows that there will be nobody to say bon appetit (French for “enjoy your meal”) to her if she goes there tomorrow from her Anthony Village home in Lagos, expecting a banquet.

“There’s nothing on ground,” Lady Peace Ofoche, the principal of the school, and also an “Angliokwe” (the nickname students of the school were called in those good old days), said in an interview with Education Review.

“We are very excited to hear that our dear school will be 50 years old tomorrow,” Chuks-Okeke, also a Master’s degree holder in Business Administration from the University of Lagos, (UNILAG), a Chartered Stockbroker, Certified Treasurer, member of the Nigerian Institute of Management (MNIM), and, currently General Manager and Head, Investment at FUG Pensions, remarked.

“However, the Golden Jubilee celebrations will come up later in the year or next, because of the school calendar of events and horrible state of the buildings. The Old Girls want to repair the school before the homecoming.

Anyway, the Golden Jubilee celebrations have started as the girls rally and commit to this project of restoring our alma mater to its past glory.” “I actually feel so terrible that the Golden Jubilee celebration would be deferred till next year but I think it is the best thing for now because our school, AGGS, needs a facelift and most of the dilapidated structures in the school must be put in order so that we can restore the lost glory of our esteemed school,” Mrs. Uzor Okoye (nee Ozumba), added.

A Statistician with the Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja, the 1977 alumnus of the school is the pioneer President, AGGS Old Girls Association in Abuja. Infrastructural decay When Ofoche, (nee Abatam), and a member of the 1974 set, said that there’s nothing on ground, you should understand what she means.

The massive school compound located at four miles or few kilometres to Onitsha, for those coming from Enugu, are littered with so many decrepit structures (see photograph) that it will be scandalous celebrating something as momentous as the Golden Jubilee in that state.

If the principal were to have her way, she would want at least a befitting one-storey administrative building put in place to give the school some academic halo.

The Old Girls, she confessed, “have been on phone with me showing how much interest they have in this school that nurtured them. And they very much want the Golden Jubilee to be celebrated if possible this April. I said well, it may not be possible because you don’t have anything on ground.

They said that if we are not celebrating, they would do it either in Lagos or Abuja. I said it is not possible because if we are celebrating, then we will need to do some kind of facelift in the school. At least, if the old girls are coming in, some of them may like to sleep in the dormitory.

“Right now, we don’ have a standard bathroom. Most of the dormitories are leaking. We just had this gate changed. If you knew its condition before now you would appreciate the level of work done. Why I am in this office is because His Excellency (Governor Peter Obi) just did the drainage.

RCC which constructed the drainage out there, just pushed all the water here. I started to make a case of the drainage when Chris Ngige was the governor. Whenever it rains, all the floods would just find their way into the school. It was one-time Commissioner for Environment, who came here to see things for herself. She had to cry out to His Excellency and they did it about two years ago.

The mission assisted us to do the gate. Before then if it rained in the night, in the morning all the wastes would percolate at the gate and you would need to hire some labour to assist in removing them before you could drive in.

“We have done some construction work there, we have elevated the gate and we did it in such a way that when it rains the flood would no more be coming towards the gate.

The water would just be passing through the two drainages. Concerning the Golden Jubilee celebration, the old girls have given me every encouragement. That’s why I called the seven old girls of this school, the teachers who schooled here, to a meeting the other day and said even if it (the Golden Jubilee celebration) fails this year, we should try to make sure we celebrate it next year.

We don’t need a crowd. If we have 50 vibrant, committed old girls coming together to do something, it is even more than enough. You know, people would always want to sit on the fence until something starts happening.”

“The principal, Mrs. Ofoche, also an Old Girl, has painted a very grim picture of the school facilities and surroundings: dilapidated classroom/dormitory buildings, collapsing fences, surrounded by all sorts of residential buildings and businesses,” Chuks-Okeke noted.

“In our days, the school was serenely situated far from town. It was a great school and we firmly believe the good old days days can return. I am calling on all Angeliokwes to stand up and be counted.

We can do it.” AGGS is, today, a mission school belonging to the Niger Diocese of the Anglican Communion. But before its handover to the mission, under a joint-management arrangement, by the Obi administration, about three years ago, it used to be under the state government.

Although some aspects of management, moral instruction and socio-cultural reorientation have been left to the church under the new arrangement, the government still pays the teachers and picks some of the infrastructural reconstruction bills. While Ofoche is grateful to Gov. Obi for providing the school with good drainage systems, which she noted was built at a cost of N37m, according to the figure released by the Governor on the day of the commissioning, 50 units of computer notebooks, 10 desktops and Internet facilities, for equipping the school library and laboratories, and for undertaking to build befitting new girls hostels, for which N20 million has already been released by his administration, she would still want the Governor to come to its aid in its preparation for a befitting Golden Jubilee celebration.

“The Old Girls Association meeting has just started but I don’t think it has been in existence for up to three months.

They are trying to rally others to join in doing something for the school but they will still need help,” she said in exasperation. “One of them said she would send somebody from the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Awka, to come and take some video shots. Now the buildings are aging, the maintenance is not easy. We don’t have a storey building.

These ones were built after the civil war. The school must have been used as army barracks during the war. What I am saying is that, at least, let us raise this building and put a few other blocks in order.

Look at the administrative block, it is nothing to write home about.” Memories of the old school The decrepit buildings notwithstanding, memories of the old school have continued to fly about, in its old students, like the winged termites in the early rainy season, as Chinua Achebe would say.

“We entered in 1977 and attained two classes in one year due to the change in the then school system,” Uzor Okoye, married, with three girls and one boy, to Archdeacon Geoffrey Okoye, recalled.

“The only social life that was of interest to me then was the Debating Society that took us to other schools for interaction and I was always one of the team and always made a mark as I would always end mine with a song or a joke.

“Morally and academically, AGGS was a highly disciplined school where parents go to all lengths to have their wards enrolled. I remember how we used to line up from school to All Saints Church and you dare not leave your line or be rude to your senior. “I remember my teachers, most especially Miss Ikegulu, Miss Orji and “Monsieur” our French teacher.

I had a great time in AGGS and the peaceful lifestyle there helped to make me what I am today. I am still friend with some of my school mates like Chioma Momah, Chinelo Ude, Ebele Ezekwesili, Linda Anyaduba, Nkechi Anyaeji, Ngozi Arah and Ngozi Ofoegbu.” “I attended Anglican Girls’ Grammar School, Onitsha from 1974 to 1979,” Chuks-Okeke, recounts. “I was in Blue House, later renamed Enenmuo House.

My best subject was French and worst was Shorthand. My best teacher was Mr. Gabriel Anyaeneh (aka “Monsieur).” Our beloved Principal was Mrs. J A Mgbemena, lovely woman and a lady. May God rest her soul! “Our school was fun and tough. We learnt the art of survival, discipline, hard work and spirituality.

We had very interesting days in school. A typical day started with the rising bell at 5a.m., followed by the bathroom rush, morning prayers in the dormitory, morning duty (chores), breakfast, general assembly with the principal and teachers, classes, lunch, siesta, prep (studies), games/labour/laundry/society meetings (depending on the day of the week), evening assembly, prep, night prayer in the dormitory and lights out at 9 p.m. We had very dedicated teachers who loved teaching and showed us a lot of love.

Discipline, academics, cleanliness and godliness were key to our upbringing. “Sundays were special in church service for Anglicans or Mass for Catholics, Meals and in the evening, “SING SONG” i.e. Praise Worship. No Prep. I loved Visiting Days, Inter-House Sports, Sing Song and days we trekked to town for Mass and Girl Guides activities. I also loved our short hair and smart uniforms; the tiny pink check A-line dress and the small white blouse inside, with Cortina leather shoes made by Bata.

“I still cherish the melodious songs from “Ancient & Modern Hymn Book”, the popular and memorised Bible verses Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians 13. The orderliness that prevailed in our school days cannot be equaled. Nurtured in body and spirit by Mrs. Mgbemena and her capable team of tutors like Miss Ikegulu, Monsieur, Mr Nwokebi and all the teaching and non-teaching staff, we turned out to be intelligent and God-fearing women. “I remember many of my classmates.

I’m in touch with a few and so glad I have reconnected with some lately and searching seriously for others. Augusta Ugwumba is a Director at INEC; Gloria Okafor, Edith Izuora and some others are directors in the Lagos State Teaching Service; Regina Onwuta is a big entrepreneur. I called their maiden names, can’t easily recall their married names.” Talking about teachers, some of the Old Girls, excluding the Principal, are currently teaching in the school.

According to Mrs. Eziuzo Chinwe Juliet, English Language Teacher in Senior Secondary School, SS3, her memories as a one-time student of the school are very much treasured. Eziuzo, a member of the 1977 set, read English at the University of Ibadan, UI, before returning in 1986 to teach in the school. In 2000, she left, on transfer, to another school but returned in 2006 to continue teaching in the school till date.

“During our days as students, though we had no facilities like these days, education had standard. Students were not being distracted as it is today because there was little or no room for that.

We were all living in the school boarding house but today almost half of the students are living in their houses outside the school and pay little or no attention to studies. “In our days, you must read because there was no television, no home videos and black berry mobile phones.

But today, all these things are distracting the students and that is why the standard of education seems to be falling. Today, the students pay more attention to social media than their studies and it is really helping to destabilize standard of education in the society but we have no doubt that the new initiative of handing over schools to the original owners, that is, the missions, will help to stabilize the standard.”

Mrs. Eziuzo gave the names of other Old Girls that are now teachers in the school as Oguchi Chinwe, Machie P.P, Ewuzie P.O, Achusi, N.C, Osaji F.N, Anikwe, E.P, Odimuwereka and Igwe I.N. “In those days, we didn’t have much of development around,” Ofoche, a 1979 graduate of Biology from UI, and a 1983 Master’s degree holder in Curriculum Studies from UNN, Nsukka, added.

“It was just a very quiet and serene environment, very conducive for learning. The last building as you are approaching the school was around the roundabout. So, we were here without electric light, we used lanterns, no water but we really enjoyed it.

There used to be one stream, which was called Nwangene. We went there to fetch water for the kitchen and for our own personal use. The students were disciplined. We had a good number of teachers who were also living within the school premises including the pioneer Principal of the school.”

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