Government College Ughelli Building a Path towards Excellence in Academics

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By Alfred Okoigun

Early in the year, my attention was drawn to the post by our well respected Ancient Mariner, the Provost of GCUOBA STAKEHOLDERS Forum, Engr. A. M. Sawyerr, which in summary asserted that the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Old Boys Association had not done enough to improve the academic performance of our Great school. This message was a part of a larger discussion concerning the school’s progress. As I received these various messages from my classmates, I in turn expected to contribute to the debate. Unfortunately, I was unable to at that time, as I had only just been discharged from a major bout of illness at the Covid-19 Isolation center, where my wife and I were admitted for over a week. Having just survived a very close call, it was compulsory for me to take a break in order to recuperate, delaying any contribution to this essential discussion.

Alfred Okoigun at a pre National Dinner meeting between GCUOBA NEC and the Dinner LOC, Abuja Branch at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja in October 2019.

However, it is true that those of us who experienced Government College Ughelli at its best would be extremely sad at the current poor academic performance of the school. Unfortunately, this will likely continue unless something fundamentally different is done. We must take drastic action to raise our academic standards and restore the great reputation of Government College Ughelli.

A Drive in View to the Main Block

In 2003, what remained of the school had been totally run down and neglected. The boarding school was gone. A number of us saw the dilapidated state of the school with our own eyes when we escorted the hearse bearing the body of the late S. B. Agodo to the school for the lying in state ceremony. We had to navigate the thick bush that covered the school grounds to get to the Assembly Hall. That humbling experience woke a number of old boys up.

Since then, we have been able to return the boarding house to Government College Ughelli again. Achieving this was not easy, but was accomplished in great part due to the determined efforts of the late Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, who had to make several trips to meet the Governor of Delta State at that time.

The Government College Uggelli School Gate currently being remodelled by the Class of 1979.

The next issue was infrastructure in the school and the prospect of academic performance. The Vision 2015 Committee was conceived with the goal of raising the school’s academic standards to an acceptable level by that year, and it was headed by Chief J. J. Akpieyi. Now that we find ourselves in the year 2021, we can look back and ask; did we actualize that Vision of 2015? You can evaluate this yourself by comparing what has been done till date against the stated goals of the committee.

For those who know the true starting point of this project and the dire state of our beloved school at that time, it is clear that significant progress has been made. This is due in no small part to the GCUOBA and the many contributions made from so many of our old boys, from all parts of the world. Indeed, I am often told that by comparison, Government College Ughelli is about the best of any Old Boy’s school associations in Nigeria today.

A view of the Main Block

In fact, most of the schools mentioned today as doing better than GCUOBA did at one point request for our template to help them contribute to their schools, which we gladly shared. Regarding this, I can confidently mention Barewa College, Edo College and Government College Umuahia.

Interestingly, Government College Umuahia is now going above and beyond what Government College Ughelli has done so far and the reason for this is the full cooperation they have received from Abia State Government, the State the school is situated. I will come back to this in relation to what we have to do to improve the academic standards of Government College Ughelli.

Statue of BVB Powel, founding Principal of Government College Ughelli at the entrance to the Main Block

For me, “to go above and beyond”, this is the true spirit of the Government College Ughelli Old Boys. There are many old boys who have exhibited this spirit and in doing so made Government College Ughelli a formidable Old Boy’s Association in Nigeria. Among the contributions GCUOBA has made and is continuing to make are:
a. The renovation of the houses in the school
b. Renovation of the academic blocks and the Library

In addition to this, there are many contributions made through Old Boys who have used their networks, contacts and positions to aid the school within the implementation period of Vision 2015 and beyond.

The GCU Dinning Hall (renovated by the oldboys) seen from across the Nigeria Army Cardet Unit Lawn.

For example, the Tartan Track, which was donated to the School by Shell came about due to the efforts of our former President General Worldwide, who made a contact which resulted in that gift to the school. However, he never mentioned or discussed it, and the fact only came to light long after the completion of the project. Today, the Tartan Track has become the centre piece of sporting activity in Delta State.

Even now, a large block of classrooms and a Laboratory is being built in Government College Ughelli, a donation from Chevron, which was once again influenced by some of our old boys.

The first IT Laboratory built there was fully equipped with computers and used to train the first set of teachers and all the Senior Secondary Students to use the internet and other basic IT skills. This was a jointly funded project between the Old Boy’s Association, Lagos Branch and the Felix Esi Foundation. The Foundation is driven by his colleagues at ExxonMobil who thought it fit to immortalise his name.

Ever since then, many old boys have been doing one thing or the other, either through their Classes, Houses, like the provision of Solar light, Renovation of Assembly Hall, etc.

A Hostel Block (Orerokpe House) rebuilt.

Even the current Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu attested to the great work that the Government College Ughelli Old Boys Association is doing and wished for other schools to emulate us. Unfortunately, in the era of social media it can be so easy to destroy reputation despite good work and honourable intentions. However, I think that honour and character will continue to stand the test of time.

However the issue still remains: how do we drastically improve the academic performance of Government College Ughelli?

To bring forth the desired academic performance for the school, the Delta State Government must align with the Vision of Government College Ughelli Old Boys. Through this joint effort the School will remain a pride of the state and enhance development and opportunity in Delta State. In view of what the old boys have done to date, fully demonstrating their commitment to and positive intention for the School, I believe this would be the best course of action.

The Appian Way

In our Vison 2015, we made provision for soliciting the Delta State Government to allow GCUOBA to be a part of the governing board of the School, so as to enhance the quality of teachers and the admission process of the school. That is where the real challenge lies. The School must be able to recruit the best possible teachers, and the admission process must attract the best students.

My advice to the NEC and other Old Boys is to develop a strategy to engage the government on this goal. I am very aware that the President-General Worldwide is engaging Delta State Government officials in this direction. We need to seriously appeal to their conscience and sense of pride in the state and its future. A government college that was founded so long ago and produced so many distinguished characters should surely have a great vision for what it will be in years to come. This is to the benefit of the state and the students and should help make our case quite compelling.

At this time we should refer again to Government College Umuahia, who have improved on our template to get to where they are today. As at today, Government College Ughelli has progressed more than Government College Umuahia in re-building their school. However, if we do not borrow some of their templates immediately, they will surely overtake us in the next 5 to 7 years.

When GCUOBA Umuahia saw what GCUOBA Ughelli were doing and the obstacles to fully realizing that dream of returning Government College Umuahia to its peak, they decided to directly engage the government to allow them to set up a board of trustees that could revamp the school and also allow them put in place a Board of Trustee, which could help bring about the standards everybody wished for. Because of the respect these old boys command in their various industries and stations, the State government had to consider their ideas. They reasoned that surely, if these old boys can bring one of the schools in the state to international standard it can only be a plus and credit to the state.

At the end of the day, Government College Umuahia and Abia State Government agreed that the good brand of Government College Umuahia, which had produced so many great personalities, just like Government College Ughelli, must be sustained in the interest of the State and even the nation.

A reverse view of the GCU Main Block from the Laboratory/Assembly Ground

Government College Umuahia put forward a plan for how to reorganize the school by setting up a Trustee board that would manage it when the government hands over oversight of the school. This would also mean the government removing themselves from recruitment and admission processes. This would in short make it a private school, but with the name Government College Umuahia and with all the expectations and infrastructure pertaining to a high quality school.

It is for this reason that even though the agreement was signed 6 years ago, the Trustees could not effectively take over, as they had to allow for the present students to pass out, so that there will be no interference between incoming students and existing students.

Meanwhile, from that point on Government College Umuahia OBA was free to begin improving the infrastructure, ahead of the time when students would be admitted on their own terms and conditions. That 6 year period is ending July 2021.

In the next academic year starting from September 2021, the new students admitted by the new Board of Trustees of Government College Umuahia will start. And from what I learnt, the relationship between Government College Umuahia Old Boys and Abia State Government remains very cordial and friendly. This is because they share a common interest in contributing to the growth of education in Abia State.

It should interest us to know that a former Principal of Eton College London is a member of the Board of Trustees of Government College Umuahia. This is notable because Eton College was the template on which Government College Ughelli, Government College Umuahia, Government College Ibadan, Edo College were all modelled. One can imagine how much value such stakeholders can bring to our schools if we create a way for them to do so.

What Government College Ughelli has spent directly or indirectly on infrastructure so far will take over 5 years for Government College Umuahia to accomplish. Therefore, what is urgently required is for Delta State to allow Government College Ughelli Old Boys Association to begin using this template of Government College Umuahia to run the affairs of Government College Ughelli.

Once we have the right trustees put in place, we can also begin to think of establishing the foundation required for quality education to be the standard at Government College Ughelli 6 to 8 years from now. We have made efforts in the past to reward teachers that produce students with good grades. GCUOBA has also paid some teachers to give extra lessons. Unfortunately, all these efforts are not producing the desired results. The answers are obvious, we must effect change in the way we recruit and develop students and teachers.

Another old students association that has done what Government College Umuahia has done is St. Gregory’s School, which today is also enjoying improved academic performance as a result. In their case, they chose to lobby Lagos State to hand the school back to the Catholic Mission and at which point the state simply supported the school minimally, certainly not even up to the level of Government College Ughelli today.

Anambra State, which is a neighbouring state to Delta has also done something similar with some of their schools. The ex-governor, His Excellency, Dr. Peter Obi gave us vivid examples of what he did when he handed those schools to the Missionaries. And today Anambra State is producing some of the best result in the country

Based on all these instances, it is my strongly held belief that in order to truly change the fortunes of Government College Ughelli, we must engage Delta State Government, we must find a way to emulate the successes of Government College Umuahia and Abia State Government, so that children in our state can have a pillar of support standing firm in their future. Surely, we as Old Boys know best of all the value of that support and why it matters quite so much that we get this right.

Alfred Okoigun is of the Government College Ughelli Class of 1970.

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