GCI: Past, Present and Future

This fantastic essay was written by Kolade Mosuro (Carr, 1964). The essay reveals the vision and hidden treasure of Government College Ibadan. It tells the tales of how these vision and treasure were lost and the quest by the Old Boys Association of Government College Ibadan to uphold the vision of the School, restore its treasure, and re-position their Alma Mater.


Every so often, when educated Nigerians in their golden age look back, it is to acknowledge that time was once good to them. Time for them evokes memories of grandeur - often from nothingness to achievement. Men and women blazed a trail that took them through life’s path, often through reformative schools or via self-application, but mostly through schools, such that when they came out of them, they were solidly formed in character, in judgement, in reasoning, in academics, and in decorum. One of those special transforming schools was Government College, Ibadan (GCI).

I remember my primary school teacher, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, admonishing that if we wanted to go to Government College Ibadan or any of the other great schools, we had to work hard. Admission was going to be keenly contested for.

The government played a deliberate role in this exercise in what turned out to make GCI's academic foundation by challenging all students across the dominion to a competitive entry such that the best three students at the entrance examination were to be awarded scholarships. Earlier in the 1930s and 1940s, the same government in recruiting students had ordered that the provinces in its domain should send their best students to compete to gain entrance into Government College, Ibadan.

This was not going to be an ordinary school, the government stated. It was going to be a model school. As a school, it was going to be according to Mr E.R.J Hussey, the Director of Education in 1929, an insurance to produce quality students in case the 'mission schools do not produce them'. Its products were 'to feed Yaba Higher College', otherwise the 'University' of the time and meet the Phelps-Jones Commission Report on Education in 1922 'to prepare professionals who must pass the conventional requirements of British Universities'.

As young as ten-year old, can you imagine, we had a goal before us in primary school to work towards, so we doubled our efforts while our teachers, parents, and guardians guided us. There were schools to hope for and encouragement that if we worked hard, there were institutions ahead of primary school. The primary schools were functioning to provide us with the right education and to ensure seamless entry into the best secondary schools available. It was as if they were being accredited on the basis of which secondary schools they would feed their students into.

That was their measure of success, the reason for their existence, so that everywhere you turned schools were at work. Such was the quality of primary schools that the nearest one to the house was as good as the farthest one away from home. Significantly, as a result of this, students were not bussed or ferried around. You simply walked to the nearest school around but made a choice if there were options to choose from.

Drawing from the above, we were all gathered on merit to all the available secondary schools across the country for a new associational life. I am nostalgic about this associational life and shall argue that it gave an education that endured while I make a case for Government College Ibadan (GCI), where I was bred. The hidden treasure of GCI can be found in its foundation and heritage. First, it was decided at its conception in 1928 that it would, when it opened as a Teacher Training School in 1929 and converted into a Secondary School in 1930, be a boarding school.

A training link was made between class and living and both were interwoven to be emphasized. Students were to be nurtured in the classrooms as much as they would be nurtured in the dormitories. It was the first boarding school government had on this side of the Niger with the other being Government College, Umuahia. Government had decided to build the two model schools on each side of the Niger, one in the West and the other in the East.

The rigour in the selection of students into the 1930 foundation school class bore a mark that prevailed until 1979. That original mark as was stated by Akin Deko, one of its first students, indicated that ‘late in 1929, Government circulars went out to some of the principal schools in South-West Nigeria announcing the existence of the College and inviting applications from candidates who would like to take the Entrance Examination to the College’. Students applied from far and wide, and gained admission through examinations for the best to be chosen.

This process, examination and selection by merit, was advanced by the Government. And so Ogundepo, like his other colleagues, could write with exaltation that he 'took the entrance examination to the Government College Ibadan in 1929 and I passed'; an achievement for a young lad, and indeed for the child’s parents or guardians and the primary school concerned. Similarly, Saburi Biobaku would write that 'notices of an entrance examination to the Government College, Ibadan were sent to our schools and 'Toye (a cousin) and I decided to enter for the examination and I persuaded my brother, Sikiru, to join the candidates from the Abeokuta Grammar School'. This was 1931 and every year from then onwards the examination to Government College was held.

When GCI opened, the first Principal was Captain C.E. Squire (1929-1932), a distinguished soldier who had served in the First World War. The second Principal (1932-1944), Captain H.T.C. Field, was also a distinguished officer. As a result of their military background, the first students of the schools were to find daily and morning physical training, patterned after military exercises, as part of their routine.

This is akin to what National Youth Corp members now do in the mornings when they are in their orientation camp. These NYSC training exercises are organized by soldiers. Once instituted in 1930, the students in the years that followed found that the morning drills were as much a part of GCI as the rising of the sun. We imbibed a morning physical drill from the very beginning and that element of Youth Service training was introduced to us in 1929 until it stopped in 1985. It is interesting that we now acknowledge today that exercise underlies healthy living.

Squire was not just a teacher, he had a Masters degree and we must place it in context and remember the fact that this period was 1929. For a secondary school to be led by an officer who in 1929 had a postgraduate degree would be like having a Post-Doctoral degree holder heading a kindergarten school in today's Nigeria. Beyond the leadership of its first principal, GCI opened in 1929 with remarkable distinction in the quality of its teaching staff. They were thirteen in all of which two were Nigerians and eleven were expatriates, all for twenty-nine students.

All the expatriates were university graduates and five of them were either graduates of Oxford or Cambridge. They were breaking new ground and there was a pleasurable purposefulness to their teaching as they brought with them and planted for us a long, enduring, and venerable tradition.

For the first two houses, the Principal, Captain C.E. Squire, a graduate of Cambridge, chose the house masters carefully and deliberately. He chose Mr Benton Evans, a graduate of Oxford, as the House Master of Swanston House and Mr V.B.V. Powell, a graduate of Cambridge, as the House Master of Grier. The two house masters were to model and plant the seeds of their boarding schools and Universities in the two houses, and create an eternal healthy rivalry between them. If Swanston House’s colour is blue, it is because Oxford University’s colour is blue. If Grier House’s colour is maroon, that choice of colour was influenced by Clifton College which is the High School that V.B.V. Powell went to. Blue and maroon thus became the initial GCI colours.

The first two houses may have been Swanston and Grier but in reality it was a fierce competition between Oxford and Cambridge. We imbibed their ethos such that when Swanston House asked its sons to 'get up and work, now that you've work to do, and when you win, be not be proud nor conceited, but rest content with work well done', boys were being made gentlemen, particularly being cultured in good manners and in discipline. Similarly, Grier sons were challenged 'to learn both from victory and defeat' and taught that they must 'dare to learn always, and never yield', academic self-belief was promoted.

The houses formed the heart of the school social life and they were self-governing, each controlling its internal operations and activities like a federation of some sort. Government College Ibadan may have started in 1929 but what these foundation teachers brought to the school was several hundred years of rich, established teaching tradition and proven and tested educational organisation. When V.B.V Powell composed the Grace for Grier House Supper he recognized the diversity in the students and so the prayers read: 'O Lord of all religions, creeds and sects, look down on this night and bless us.' There was no need for a Christian opening prayer and closing Muslim prayer to balance diversity. The Cup of Unity in which the Housemaster and the students drank to the future, past, and present was a carry-over from Oxford that 'symbolises the unity of spirit which our corporate life is designed to promote’.

It is instructive that the foundation students were receiving education from men and women who had been roundly educated. A generation of educators built on the next generation, but these early educators brought established, proven, tested, and wholesome education to us. They brought the excellence of Oxford and Cambridge and married it with indigenous wit and acculturation to produce those GCI offspring. Education was delivered to the students through the classroom, the sports field, the dormitory, and the orchard. They strove to make a model of the school.

That's how G.O. Adedeji (1929), G. Akin-Deko (1930), Folorunsho Salawu (1930), Morakinyo Beckley (1930), Adegoke Adelabu (1931), Gabriel Ojutalayo (1931), Saburi Biobaku (1932), Theophilus Aribisala (1932), Timothy Otolorin (1932), C.A. Rosiji (1933), and Imafidon Enobakhare (1933) emerged. Cyprian Ekwensi (1936), Christopher Okojie (1936), S.O. Fadahunsi (1937), S.B Audifferen (1937), T. Aguda (1939), J. Otobo (1939), M. Feyide (1940), S. Akenzua (1940), and C.S.O. Akande (1941) followed. They in turn passed the baton to Yesufu Eke (1944), Leslie Harriman (1946), Dipo Akinkugbe (1946), Wole Soyinka (1946), Christopher Kolade (1946), Bolude Oyebolu (1947), Lekan Are (1948), Banwo Smith(1959), Biodun Jolaoso(1964) and so on and so forth. The students educated the next set of students, ad infinitum - the house traditions of participatory culture, responsibility to self and others, tolerance, civil behaviour, active membership, loyalty, pride, and dignity and becoming a gentleman were encouraged. Each class was an inspiration to the coming class, and each graduating class a ‘beacon of hope’ for the rest of the school.

With the school’s large expanse of ground, the school compound became a ground of liberty and relaxation, a ground for varied opportunities, a ground of outdoor interests and learning. If Wole Soyinka wonders nowadays in solace and in reflection in the 'forest' around his house in Abeokuta, the seed of that adventurous spirit may have been sown at GCI. He himself admitted that much when he wrote that the school orchard was a place of adventure and lure.

If I fail to write about the other houses, Field, Carr, and Powell, it is not out of lack of dormitory character, it is just that the essay is constrained by the limitation of space and the need to avoid redundancy. But in truth, Grier emerged from Swanston, and Field from both Swanston and Grier, while Carr arose from Swanston, Grier, and Field, with Powell arising from them all. The school lineage drew heavily from Swanston and Grier, and once you honed on Swanston and Grier, the essence of the other houses was equally captured. Nevertheless, regardless of similarities, during the inter-house competitions, we competed fiercely and unleashed noise and passion on the side lines. At the end of sports, as in life, we were guided by the Swanston House song when it said: ‘And when you win, be not proud or conceited, but rest content with work well done’.

What then, in summary, made Government College, Ibadan? Perhaps the answer lies in a combination of the following factors. (a) The vision of the Government to make it a model school and support it in the provision of continuous wherewithal; (b) The vision of the Government to make it a boarding school; (c) The staff, which can be said to have given the school some of the most highly qualified teachers in the world; (d) The selection process of choosing the best students through examination; (e) The mix of the students and the richness of diversity; (f) A manageable student population in consonance with staff strength and school resources; (g) Expansive school grounds affording serenity and limitless opportunities for outdoor education.

Year after year, the school given the admixture stated above, pushed the students to the highest academic standards with an emphasis on scholarship, sports, and character. The school soon earned a reputation for excellence. Tunji Otegbeye (1942) recounts the Principal's constant refrain to the students anytime they veered: 'Remember my boy, you must be neat and you must speak good English because your school, the Government College, Ibadan is the best college in the whole of West Africa.' With self-application, belief, and confidence, the students delivered mind blowing academic results year after year. We were in school to learn and to take responsibility for our learning. Government met its mission, students met their purpose, and parents met their desire.

The school grew in population over the years moving from one stream to two and to three until 1979 when its population exploded owing to the government's open admission policy and denunciation of the boarding house system. This reversal in the educational policy of the state took no account of government history or records and the history of what the school stood for and what the government itself wanted of it. Once the founding vision of an institution has been distorted, the institution begins to mutate into another entity for good or bad.

The year 1979 marked the beginning of the precipitous decline of what we used to know as Government College, Ibadan and what it stood for. Today, the boarding school is hardly in existence. And so the school has lost that valuable instructional environment, the boarding house, in which the students were domiciled from 2pm to 7.30am the next day. It was the boarding house that encouraged independent learning; it was the boarding house that encouraged the students to find new strengths and talents, and encouraged both competition and collaboration.

It was from the boarding house that we, as a family, learnt 'to build a society where common interest must always come before individual comfort and personal convenience'. It was from the boarding house that we learnt about the school heritage and about mentoring. It was in the boarding house that we were nurtured in a variety of sports and games to make the school sports. It was through Swanston House that we all learnt that 'order, justice and fair play bring contentment.' And that 'it is willing cooperation that makes a strong team'. It was in the boarding house that we learnt to manage the greatest of all resources on earth—time.

The influences of the boarding house had a positive impact on how students think, act, feel, and grow. A united effort made the boarding house a training school within a school. For the Government to cancel boarding houses without substituting an alternative for students to acquire rigorous associational life was unknowingly a disservice to the state and damaging to the school. In one fell swoop, half of our education was lost and those centuries of established connection and proven heritage with Oxford and Cambridge were equally lost.

Once the admission process did not carry the rigour of competitive examination any longer, the producing primary schools were weakened and the quality of the entrants challenged teaching. Admittedly, the aim of the Government's open admission process was to promote an egalitarian society or school, but what this position ignores is that there is no equality in brilliance. It could be convincingly argued after all that what was in place before the 1979 government's intervention was also egalitarian because it gave all students across the region equal opportunities and rights to compete into gaining admission into GCI. Given the space available, only the best were admitted.

That competition inspired all the primary schools in the region. GCI’s academic achievements were also a positive influence on all the secondary schools of note. It may be argued that not all students were in the boarding house in this golden moment that we refer to; certainly true. But many students were and we must recognize that this critical mass had influence on the rest. Those who did not go to boarding schools were conditioned and influenced by those who did. As a matter of fact, the non-borders looked up to the borders. That’s exactly what modelling is all about, to create an institution or a ‘system or thing used as an example to follow or imitate’.

With the explosion in the school population, what followed was government’s dereliction in its failure to provide continuous investment in the upkeep of the school; investment to include the commensurate number of quality teachers to meet the school population; lack of provision of laboratory and class equipment to match practical training; financial outlay to meet repairs and school upkeep, and physical structures to contain the large numbers of students.

Today, the school broken into two, Junior and Secondary schools, has a student population of over 3000 with Government providing thirty teachers as educational officers; the old boys have eleven teachers on their payroll and the Parents have forty-two auxilliary teachers. The rest of the teachers, are drawn from Youth Corp members and they are sixty-seven in total. With all respect to the Youth Corpers, some brilliant teachers may emerge from the midst, but no school in search of excellence will base its staffing strength on Youth Corps members. And no school can achieve continuity in good performance with Youth Corps members or auxilliary teachers.

What this present picture of the school paints is that Government has defaulted in its commitment to its own institution and has now admitted that much. As much as we all now know and can see, government resources are severely strained because of a huge national debt, a sharp drop in oil price, economic pressures on the state, and a mounting debt profile. The result of it all is that Government College Ibadan has been denied quality teachers and continuous financial grant and so the school cannot deliver wholesale academic excellence for its students like it used to do. As it is, if there is any building standing in the school today it is so because the Old Boys have taken it upon themselves to refurbish or build such structure. This is where we now find ourselves and this is where we will need to look to the future for a bold and creative approach to arrest the situation.

Quite clearly, the ability of the government to act alone to bring the school to the highest ideal is no longer feasible and so a new approach, a rethink to arresting the situation has to be found. This is where the Old Boys of the school come in.

The Old Boys of the school remain a powerful web, a network of association and friendship. They are deeply pained at the state of the school. They are unwaveringly committed to wanting a better school out of emotions and pure altruism that students can have the kind of advantage in school that they once had. They would like the school remodelled in line with its motto for stellar academic performance and to prepare students for great leadership careers in all spheres of life.

To do these successfully, the Old Boys will now need to team up with the Government in a new association of Private-Public Partnership (PPP). It is an association following a school audit in which the government will declare and fulfil its newly defined financial commitment, and in which the Old Boys will match with a determined financial commitment - essentially a joint ownership. It is a mutual arrangement in which the Old Boys will have a strong voice in the controlling board. It is one in which the students will be charged fees, but which will make provision for exceptional students of need via bursaries and scholarships. It is going to be a creative arrangement that will look at day, flexi, and full boarding facilities. Ultimately, it will be designed to achieve academic excellence, sporting prowess, and good character in our students. It will be a model school and it is doable.

To do it, we have to return to the foundational objectives: to create a competitive school, to create a model school, to provide boarding facilities, to provide and reward quality teachers to handle the students, to provide resources commensurate with the student population, and provide continuous investment in the upkeep of the school. Furthermore, the present and future Nigeria will need schools not only with well-equipped laboratories and libraries, but schools with great exposure and training in the use of information technology. The world is knowledge-driven and our boys must be able to compete globally with lots of experience and responsibility at a young age for them to stay on top of the game.

For our students to catch up, we must build their education around a boarding school. We are simply what our education makes of us. What those boarding schools did for the nation beyond academics was instil discipline at the rightful age of 11 to 19, our adolescence, to counter our ‘natural unruliness’ and make us live together as we would live in a larger world and take responsibility for good schooling. Nothing new here, because Emmanuel Kant, the French philosopher, captured it for us when he said that the ‘uncultivated man is crude, the undisciplined is unruly. Neglect of discipline is a greater evil than neglect of culture, for this last can be remedied later in life, but unruliness cannot be done away with, and a mistake in discipline can never be repaired’.

There is a tendency for old boys who benefited from the boarding house system, those who were in school at some point from 1929 to 1989, before the boarding facilities essentially ceased, to look contemptuously on the lot that came after. While the early old boys can boastfully demonstrate heritage, the latter boys outnumber the former manifold, and there is strength in numbers. For example, all those who entered into the portals of the college from 1929 to 1989, a period of sixty years, total 7284 students, while the number of entrants from 1990 to 2005, a period of fifteen years, is 9938. When provision is made for nature’s attrition and old age, the latter boys outnumber the old fourfold. This latter lot represent the future upon whom plenty will rest.

Government College Old Boys Association (GCIOBA) has approached the declining state of the school like a chess grandmaster. They moved two steps ahead of the pack with a two-pronged approach. Long before the state government invited participatory ownership of schools, Lekan Are (1948) led a group of old boys to the Governor of Oyo State over three years ago for the government to consider participatory ownership with the Old Boys in the running of the school. On the heels of this mission, Dipo Akinkugbe (1946) took over this negotiating team with the Governor, and the team is currently led by this writer, Kolade Mosuro, to declare intent and negotiate with the government for participatory ownership of the school. This is otherwise called a Public Private Partnership.

Simultaneously, another GCIOBA group was constituted as the GCIOBA Educational Foundation led by Eddie Jones (1963) with a remit to raise money to rescue the school and meet the task ahead. It is one that has taken them on a global mission because the seeds of GCI are scattered all over the world.

The convergence of the two groups, the Foundation and the Negotiating team, backed by a supportive Old Boys’ Association makes the restoration of GCI possible and within grasp.

Kolade Mosuro is a Trustee of the Government College Old Boys Association.

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