The pictures below are from my hotel room where I was invited to be the keynote speaker at Government College Ughelli Old Boy’s Association Annual Dinner/Ancient Mariners Day.
The title of this post will be the topic of my lecture this evening.
Public education is the establishment, funding, and running of educational institutions by government. Education has to be purpose-driven. It has to be designed in such a way as to achieve set objectives by government, with the peculiarity of the developmental and generational needs of the society in mind.
Government College Ughelli, like most of the schools set up by the colonial masters in Nigeria prior to independence, was set up to raise leaders and professionals and civil servants who will join the British colonial system as statesmen and leaders. A lot of the schools were set up before the end or at the end of the Second World War.
Government College Ughelli was set up in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. The British people did not anticipate the struggle for independence that followed the end of that war. Like I said in my previous post, The GCU Experience, Government College Ughelli was set up in the similitude of Eton College, which was the chief nurse of British statesmen, to raise future leaders.
There was a very rigorous and competitive interview process. In my time, it was such that you could not do interviews to some schools the same year because all the best state government schools had their interviews the same day. At least, as at 1972, the interviews for Government College Ughelli and St Peter Claver College, Aghalokpe, were scheduled for the same day. By then the Nigerian government was now in charge but we still had a British principal, Mr J. E. Jones. Selection was based on merit. We came from all types of backgrounds and cities. There were children of the African elite, the rich, established families, and the very poor ones like us from the slums of Okere in Warri.
We wore the same uniforms, ate the same meals, and did manual labour together. Bullying and fagging were very much like in a military training program. It was such that by the time you finished 5 or 7 years there, you were ready to confront the challenges of life and excel.
In my post on A Missionary Trip to Obiaruku—SOS4, I failed to mention the fact that a lot of our secondary schools, today, in some parts of Delta State, are not very conducive for learning. You have classes with sagging ceilings, broken windows and doors. A lot of them have cracked floors, no functional laboratories, and very dirty toilets. Those that were renovated by government or handled as constituency projects by legislators were very poorly done by the contractors. A lot of the teachers are very poorly motivated. Some don’t go to work regularly because they reside outside the schools or even the community. Teachers are not regularly paid and retirement benefits are delayed.
This was unlike Government College Ughelli, where the environment was very good for learning; the staff quarters and even what was called labourers lane were of the best standards within Nigeria. Electricity and water were quite regular and we were well fed.
For some of us, Government College Ughelli was better than our homes, at least for me. Whatever fees we paid was not commensurate with the quality of education and facilities we enjoyed. It provided a level playing field for bright children from poor backgrounds like us to have a fair and just share of the common wealth.
Looking back and looking at where I am today in life, I can rightly conclude that the kind of affordable, purposeful, and functional public education I received at Government College Ughelli was a form of social justice. I received the same at Federal Government College, Warri, where I also schooled with the children of the elite and even became a house captain. Same for relatively very affordable medical education I received at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. We had world-class and quality medical education at affordable prices.
My generation that benefited from this form of social justice has failed to replicate it in government or even as religious leaders and groups. We destroyed the processes that produced us and our now sending our children overseas and to private schools.
Let it be known that they will not live in a private Nigeria, or go to private markets, or drive in private streets when they come back to Nigeria. If we fail to educate the poor and create statesmen and great women leaders out of them, they will spread their illiteracy, violence, and poverty to our children and grandchildren.
We, as old students from these schools, who have been blessed by God, must give back to our schools because social justice is a reciprocal contract between an individual and society. If knowledge and opportunities cannot eventually take the intelligent poor children like me from the streets, the same intelligence will eventually lead to desperation and criminality that will make the streets too terrible for us to enjoy our wealth.
God bless you.
PS: Please just imagine how much the elite are spending on overseas and private-sector education for our children and grandchildren annually in Nigeria.