They were the rave-of-the-moment in those bygone years. Those years when flying kites and playing with the koso toy were the regular childhood games. Then, pacesetter novels and Enid Blyton creations like Famous Five, Secret Seven and all the fairy tale series provided pure entertainment.
The days when television stations came alive at 4 pm with the horizontal coloured lines and continuity announcers signalling the beginning of television programming and the local productions like Village Headmaster and Cock Crow at Dawn were of high importance.
Days when neighbours and relatives had a part to play in child discipline and the societal norms were upheld.
Those years of unforgettable memories.
The years when the Federal Government of the Nigerian nation set up a series of rave-of-the-moment unified schools called Federal Government Colleges, that were to be a model of secondary education. The populace applauded the idea and their children flooded those institutions.
Nostalgia burns within me as I relieve these memories. The sounds of iron buckets merging with the plastic variants as students in the boarding house rushed to bathe and meet up with the assembly time. The aluminium plates which were the approved make spread out on dining hall tables. The bond of friendships formed across various states.
I feel the warmth of that fellowship, as I write this piece because I was a part of this treasured company.
I did a personal and public search to gather materials for this article. Google provided its own brand of information and some of those who walked through the corridors of these unity schools gave their own contribution, from practical experience.
Take a listen here :
Google defines unity schools as Federal Government-owned secondary schools across the Nigerian nation. It states that the history of unity schools in Nigeria dates back to 1966 under the leadership of the then Nigerian prime minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa when it was discovered that most of the problems in government and parliament were due to mistrust and ignorance of backgrounds among the people governing the new nation.
The reason for the creation of the Federal Government Colleges among others is to guarantee national integration and national building among Nigerian children if given the opportunity at a very tender age to live, learn and play together in an ideal educational environment.
An article by Dennis Okoro, a onetime director at the Federal Ministry of Education, titled “Federal Unity Colleges: Yesterday and Today,” provides a history of the unity schools, which he stated, were lavished with resources, properly maintained and staffed with the best teachers available at that time, since they were established as models to be copied by state governments. They produced men and women with a broad mindset, from various backgrounds and culture and a common bond of unity – the school tie, which transcends tribalism and ethnicity.
Dennis notes sadly, that the unity schools have become victims of rot and neglect. Though the reason for establishing the schools are still valid, the current realities do not make it wise to retain them. The insecurity in the nation, as a result of terrorism, kidnapping and child trafficking has made it difficult for parents to send children of 11 or 12 years so far away from home when there are private schools that are better equipped than the unity schools and provide good alternatives.
He feels the schools consume a lot of national resources and their current performances in public examinations is not impressive. Okoro suggests that twelve out of the schools be chosen and converted to Federal Senior Secondary Schools of Science; staff of the schools should be reassessed through interviews and the best sent to these schools of science and advocates for a gradual phaseout of the rest of the student population,
He concludes by stating that many things in life are desirable and sometimes affordable, but if they cannot be sustained in the long run, the nation should reassess them.
I read through Mr Okoro’s article and dismay strangled my nostalgic feelings. Now, as I write, I see those years of my sojourn at Federal Government Girls College in Benin City, southern Nigeria and meditate on the benefits of that citadel of learning.
The talk about unity is not a mere slogan. In my mind, I hear the song, as it plays languidly, while jolly school girls sang it with gusto
“Oh God unite us, as in our motto pro unitate.” The song that brought all the Nigerian Federal Government Colleges, under one umbrella of unity schools. All united by the common motto of pro unitate, a Latin word which means, “for unity.” I saw unity in such friendly and blazing colours at my school. There I met students from almost every part of Nigeria and beyond. I saw Tiv, Hausa, Kanuri, Ijaw, and even Namibian girls for the first time. I learnt how to relate with people from different tribes of the nation and live at peace with them. I learnt punctuality, good manners and tolerance. I learnt how to be a lady, in the true sense of the word.
My findings from some of my classmates reveal more of this bond of togetherness.
They spoke of fact that the students of their federal school virtually grew up together and made them realise that tribal differences are of little significance. The second line of the national anthem which they were born to know, states that “though tribes and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand,” These unity colleges arose, to unite all Nigerian tribes from childhood level, so that there was no division among them and they saw ourselves as Nigerians first, before being part of any tribe.
The benefit of this bonding is to harness the innate abilities in each person and collectively apply them for the advantage of the country as a whole, irrespective of tribes. To harness these benefits, there needs to be a mindset shift, just as the Scripture states that people need to renew their minds.
The rot in many of these schools was acknowledged and the onus falls on those who are products of these renowned citadels, especially those in positions of authority, to bond together and invite others who can assist and fix the faulty system. They need to begin to affect the lives of the students a little at a time… little drops of water make a mighty ocean. They need to contribute to making the schools more comfortable, provide scholarships for intelligent indigent students and restore the glory of the unity schools in Nigeria.
It is a call to action. A call all unity school creations should be part of. There is an association called USOSA(Unity Schools Old Students Association), which is the umbrella body of all the Federal Government Colleges in Nigeria. With such a united body, the foundation for action has been laid. It is time to build on it.
In those days, it was a thing of pride to be a student of a Federal Government College. The students walked around with a measure of self-confidence that leaned dangerously close to pride. There were few, if not, no private schools, then and the state schools students looked at them with envy.
My classmates of Federal Government Girls College, who built their tents on a site by the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) are a vibrant set of ladies. We share an uncommon bond and are there for each other. I have reaped a lot of benefits from associating with them. We went on a boat cruise in 2020 and people in the countries we toured could not believe that forty-six women bonded so perfectly.
I know more classmates of many unity schools that share enviable bonds. This bond should not break. The grandeur of the unity schools, the unified front of the Federal Government Colleges must remain prominent. The unity of pro unitate should not lose its strength.