King’s College which opened its doors in 1909 was the fist united school in nigeria and was followed by the Queen’s College in 1927. The solidarity and espirit d’corps exhibited by the alumni of the King’s and the Queen’s colleges triggered the birth of other Unity Schools which had the common motto ‘’Pro Unitate,” which means ‘For the purpose of unity.’ After the independence, three more schools were established in Warri, Sokoto, and Okposi. Between 1973 and 1974, seventeen more Unity Schools were created by the Gowon administration. The establishment of these schools came after the civil war which threatened to whittle down the unity of the entity known as Nigeria. In these colleges, students from different ethnic and religious backgrounds were admitted and they lived and studied together.
The schools became a microcosm of Nigeria which had a representation of every region and part of Nigeria in it. And too, the setting up of the Unity Schools showed that there was the possibility of sustaining peaceful coexistence in the Nigerian state. These colleges have produced men and women with a broad-mindset that transcended tribalism and ethnicity. Even till today, the bond that existed among the many students who graduated from these schools lingers even long after they had left school. However, over time, the standards in Unity Schools have fallen due to lack of adequate funding, poor quality of teachers, and lack of teaching equipment and infrastructure.
Nevertheless, many Nigerians still believe that that the schools can be restored to their former glory and can continue to serve the purpose for which they were established. Among these many Nigerians are the ‘Old Students’ who had passed through the schools and experienced the benefits of having to pass through those centres of excellence. To them, education is paramount and the the unity of this great country should not be sacrificed and must be upheld against all odds. Speaking to LEADERSHIP in an interview, the care-taker committee chairman of the Unity Schools Old Students Association (USOSA), Mr Ayodele Joseph, expressed sadness that the schools were losing the purpose for which they were established, which was to foster unity among young learners and to promote academic excellence among that generation of Nigerians. “To a large extent, initially, unity schools were playing the role for which they were established. However, the deterioration of the quality of education in those schools now made the schools to become schools which only students in the catchment areas attended because many of the parents, due to the poor academic performance of their children and wards, refused to send their children to the schools anymore. “Secondly, because of the situation in the country where security was threatened in some areas, parents became reluctant to send their children there. Today, we can no longer say that the schools are playing the roles for which they were established in the first place,” he said.
He further lamented that inadequate funding, poor quality teachers and decay of infrastructure have become the lot of the many Unity Schools in the country. “The education sector is faced with challenges of poor performance of teachers which is due to the fact that many teachers have no access to retraining programmes. They are not able to give their best. We are encouraging government to get teachers who are in unity schools to go for training programmes. “Funding is inadequate. Government needs to increase the funding in the sector in order to enable the sector get the best it can get. We believe the number of intakes in unity schools should be reduced as some of the schools have too many students, which should be checked. LEADERSHIP recalled that in 2011, the federal ministry of education set up a visitation committees to among other things, visit and asses state of infrastructures in the unity schools. It was gathered that some of the old students where on those visitation committees. But what did the committees discovered? “There are a lot of decay in the infrastructure of the schools. Many of them, since they were built, have not undergone any type of renovation. “A lot of teachers go to teach because they cannot find jobs elsewhere and the quality of teaching is low,” a member of one of the committees who doesn’t want his named in print, said. But the USOSA caretaker committee chairman, stated that the association was trying its best to reposition the schools and return it to its past glory as the center of excellence. “The Alumni are trying to play a key role in the repositioning of the Unity Schools. Many Alumni have carried out intervention programmes in their schools, like FGGC, Owerri, Illorin, Warri and Port Harcourt, where they had gone in and helped in the physical development of the schools. “For instance, in FGGC Ilorin, the Alumni, together with the Parents Teachers Association, (PTA) engaged part time teachers to teach subjects that there are dearth of teachers,” he said.
Giving the high rate of out-of- school-children in the country, the chairman stated that the USOSA has started an intervention in order to encourage children to return to school, especially in the Northeast where many have been left traumatized after the activities of the insurgents. “We have tried to intervene in the Northeast by going there to see how we can encourage the children to go back to school especially at the Federal Government College, Burni Yadi, that was attacked by terrorists some time ago. The USOSA recently, established the Northeast Committee to try and intervene and see what we can do in the northeastern part of the country,” he said. Ayodele added that education is paramount which is why the Old Students have also established a ‘think tank,’ aimed at rooting for solutions for the declining standard of education, especially in the Unity schools. “At the other level, there is a position paper that we prepared after our Education Summit which we held in Abuja, which we are giving to government. We believe that Unity Schools are still key to strengthening the unity of the country and that it is one area we are believing that we would be able to help the government. The Alumni has also come together to advice government about education in the country. “So today, I will say that USOSA is a detribalized association that is bringing all of us together to solidify and strengthen the unity and education system of Nigeria. Our team will from time to time, submit position papers on education in the country,” he said.
Also, a deep concern of the Old Students Association is the urgent need to continue to advocate for a ‘One Nigeria’ among students so that while in their dormitories and classes in schools, the students would not lax on their attitude of championing the noble cause of promoting a one undivided Nigeria. Ayodele believes that the Unity Schools have played an important role in promoting national unity and that the Old Students, even after school, have continued to foster unity, peaceful coexistence and stability in the country. “A country without peace cannot achieve any development. We have had Unity Walks in Abuja where we had a press conference to pass the message that we are united and that we are for the unity of Nigeria. “We have also carried out a similar programme in Lagos where Unity Schools students marched to the governor of Lagos State, and handed him a communique calling for peace and stability in the country,” he said. The USOSA chairman was of the opinion that with the new board of trustees of the Association, they will be able to do whatever is in their power to not only restore the decaying standard of education in the Unity Schools but to also remain a strong voice that will continue to preach unity of the country especially in these trying times when the nation seems to be drifting more and more away from being together. “Our next plenary is on October, the 20th. Our guest speaker is former Governor of Cross River, Donald Duke, and he will be coming to speak on Unity and the role Unity Schools ought to be playing. We believe that the next plenary will afford us the opportunity to be more aware of the ways and means Unity Schools can help the leadership of this country,” he said. While the Old Students maintained that the reasons for establishing the Unity Schools are still valid today, they however expressed sadness over the insecurity that pervades the nation coupled with terrorism, displacement of people as well as conflict between farmers and pastoralists, indiscriminate killings, cattle rustling, and armed robbery in the country.
In a recent communique released by the Association on the state of the nation, it expressed sadness over the happenings in the country as they negates the true essence of the creation of the Nigerian state.
“We, members of the Unity Schools Old Students’ Association (USOSA) are deeply concerned about this development. We have benefited from a Nigeria built upon mutual respect, tolerance and solidarity. We attended federal government colleges in the four corners of this country, far from home, in communities whose ways of life we have come to know and imbibe. We are therefore deeply saddened to see this avoidable situation, where distrust of each other and threat to safety and security of lives and property have replaced the positive values we cherish,” he said. The Communique which was signed by Ayodele and the chairperson of the USOSA Board of Trustees, Mrs Aisha Oyebode, stated that no one is safe or immune from the consequences of the decimation of peace and harmony and no one benefits from anarchy and disruption, and urged Nigerians to stand for peace wherever they are. “USOSA itself has been deeply affected by the insurgency. You will recall the infiltration and killing of innocent school boys in Federal Government College Buni Yadi, Yobe state in 2014. It was a rude shock with devastating consequences from which USOSA and the nation is yet to recover. All leave a terrible trademark of death, destruction, loss and trauma, with many injured and millions displaced. This situation leaves our country and all of us vulnerable, whether we live in, nearor far away from these states,” it said. It called on the Federal and State governments to take the protection of the citizenry of the country seriously while urging religious and faith based groups to enlighten their followers on mutual respect and ensure their words are of peace.
“Our nationhood may be a work in progress but our individual citizenship and the sovereignty of the State of Nigeria should not be in doubt. We have no other homeland than Nigeria. Let us know that our African neighbours will be very hard pressed to open their borders to us should we make our homeland inhabitable. Only very few Nigerians have the means to flee the country and live comfortably elsewhere,” it said. With the 104 Unity Colleges across the country, USOSA believes that the schools can return to an ideal education environment to promote unity of the nation and quality education, with a total commitment of the federal government. It had therefore pledged forever to do its bit in ensuring that the schools are restored to their past glory.
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