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Recently at a thanksgiving Sunday service, the officiating minister quoted copiously from the Holy Bible referring to the book of Luke 11 verses 11-13, Habakkuk 3 v17-18 and Psalm 107 v1. The essence is to ensure that people of Christ count their blessings one-by-one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done in one’s life. Reflecting on the sermon, I remembered my Alma Mata – the C.M.S. Grammar School, Lagos which on June 6, 2009 will mark 150 years anniversary (sesqui-centenary celebration) of the Founder’s Day, having been founded in 1859.

C.M.S. Grammar School is the oldest secondary school in Nigeria and has continued to shine as a flagship of secondary school education in the country. That the Grammar School is 150 years may be unique in many respects, but what stands the school ahead of others is the leadership roles which many of her Old Boys have played or continue to play in all fields of endeavours in the annals of Nigeria. All these roles and contributions are in substantial part traceable to the lofty ideals which the school impacted on all those who have passed through it as a foremost institution in Nigeria.

For instance, on May 9, 2009, the Grammar School as part of the Anglican Mission controlled schools held its common entrance examinations for prospective students into JSS1 at the school’s compound in Bariga, Lagos. Before the examination commenced, the school’s principal, Venerable Tunde Oduwole (an old grammarian) read the scriptures and gave sermons on three qualities which every student would need to succeed in life – excellence in spirituality, excellence in morality and character and excellence in academics. Ven. Oduwole had used the opportunity of the sermon to warn the prospective students ‘’to avoid acts of examination malpractices’’ noting that any candidate caught cheating would be sent out with alacrity. Shortly after the examination, I asked one of the candidates if anyone cheated in their class. The response of the little boy was instructive – ‘’no one cheated. Every candidate believed that after the principal’s sermon, even if no invigilator was looking your direction, God will certainly see you’’. The little boy continues, ‘’if God sees you, then you may fail the exams’’. This is the crux of the message – moral rectitude.

I further reflected on my days at the Grammar School under the principalship of the late Chief Isaac A. Olowu. I had entered the Grammar School in September 1975. At the school, the doctrine of good conduct, leadership, participation in sports and academic excellence were the hallmark of a good grammarian. In sports, I recalled the Principal’s Cup Football Tourney of 1976 which the ‘’Bariga Bombers’’ won one-goal-to-zero over arch rival – St. Finbarr’s College, Akoka. The Grammar School, by that win kept the Principal’s Cup for life having won the competition back-to-back in 1974, 1975 and 1976 consecutively. The 1976 team was under the captainship of senior Oluseyi Martins popularly called ‘’Sir Matto’’ with his other compatriots such as, Muritala Onigbanjo (alias Sco’ro), Ken Virgo, Okon Okon, Skipper Enilolobo, Andrew Kwegan, Akinpelumi, Iron John, Monday Ekpenyong, et al. The School’s football team further repeated the feat by winning the 1980 edition of the Principal’s Cup competition. The Grammar School also paraded such fine footballers as Goalkeeper Godwin Okoloba, Taiwo Affinih, Bestman Akporidor, Joe Appiah, Siji Olagunju, Femi and Segun Olukanmi (known as the Olukanmi Brothers), Wakilu Oyenuga, et cetera. In athletics, no school in Lagos at that time was ahead of the Bariga Boys on the track and field during schools invitation relays. The likes of Taiwo Affinih, ‘Uncle’ Adebola, Sunday Utti, Takure and Charles Effiong shone like colossus. Our basketball team was awesome, dominating the dunking game for 13 consecutive years with the likes of Nelson Peters, Emmanuel Anani, Alex Guwon and Sule Ahmed. In 1981, the basketball team represented Nigeria at a World Schools’ Games in Brussels, Belgium.

It was a common feature to see grammarians combine sports with academic excellently. For many years, the outstanding academic performance of Adokiye Amiesimaka was displayed on the school’s notice board as ‘senior Adokiye’ had made aggregate 6 in his WAEC exams and obtained alphas in the four subjects he did at the Advanced Level exams. Adokiye later became arguably the best out-side left footballer Nigeria ever produced. He also made positive contributions as a lawyer and sports administrator. At the WAEC/HSC levels, grammarians scored high marks. The propensity for grammarians to proceed into the tertiary level was very high and almost a certainty.

We were trained to be proud students who carried on our frail shoulders the lofty ideals of The Grammar School. We were trained to carry a toga of a school that has proud heritage and an impeccable tradition of excellence. For instance, a grammarian should never be found misbehaving within the school or in the public. If caught with any acts of misdemeanour, Chief I. A. Olowu (as he then was) would invoke on you the spirit of his kondo baba kumo (KBK). He never speared the rod to weep us into line. In those days, whenever Chief Olowu passes along the classrooms’ corridors, his diminutive presence connotes order and his baritone voice signified authority. Most of my classmates would exclaim with trepidation ‘‘aha! Oga ti’ nbo’’ meaning the principal is here.

A grammarian is always his brother’s keeper. I recall the warm support and solidarity which double Chief Duro Onabule (also an old boy) extended to me while I was reporting presidential activities at the then State House, Dodan Barracks, Lagos in the early 1990s. I will not forget the unique privileges I enjoyed at Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja during the tenure of Chief Ernest Shonekan as the Head of State. As a grammarian, I had unimpeded access to him. Clearly, grammarians are bounded by the creed – propagating the ideals of the School to others better than it was transmitted to me.

When grammarians sing the school song, the lyrics convey a meaning of optimism, conviction and camaraderie. I sometimes wonder how a school song could be so infectious that it evokes a feeling of emotion as that of the Grammar School. For instance, the first stanza of the school song reads:
Lives are in the making here
Hearts are in the waking here
Mighty undertaken here
Indeed, the Grammar School has made several lives, awaken the hearts of several old boys and great Nigerians with mighty valour have been produced in all spheres of life. Not yet done with the school song which was harmonized by the late Professor Fela Sowande (an old boy in 1917). The last stanza of the school song is even more prophetic, than a mere school poem.
Africa will surely rise
Fail will not in high emprise
Hidden here the secret lies
That Africa is hosting the World Cup 2010 in South Africa since the first World Football tourney began in Uruguay in 1930 is a clear indication that Africa is surely rising, despite its many challenges. That Nigeria aspires to be among the 20 world leading economies in year 2020 indicates that Africa will indeed rise. That the United Nations is considering a permanent seat for an Africa country in its Security Council suggests the rising profile of Africa. This vision of a great continent had been envisioned by the C.M.S. Grammar School as far back as the early 20th Century and that vision remains evergreen in the memories of all living grammarians till date.

It is therefore not strange to see old grammarians demonstrating an attitude of gratitude to their Alma-Mata by giving a helping hand to enhance the quality of development of the school. Virtually all existing infrastructure and new ones had a commemorative plaque showing the contributions of one distinguished old boy or the other. Every class set jostles for recognition to upgrade the classroom blocks, laboratories, computer room, dormitories, chapel, school hall, library, administrative building, sports and recreational facilities, etc. Even the families of deceased older grammarians have rehabilitated one project or the other in their memories. This is most commendable. However, in spite of these unique efforts, more still needs to be done to move the school forward after several years of neglect by the public school system. Now that the school has returned to the Anglican Mission, I urge all old boys to pay a visit to the school, identify new areas of improvement and let’s move the Grammar School to great heights

If you missed going to the Grammar School, do not worry, perhaps your children and or great-grand children may have the unique privilege. UP SCHOOL! UP BOYS!

Yemi Fakayejo, journalist, public relations professional, Lawyer and an old boy of C.M.S. Grammar School contributed this piece to commemorate the 150 years anniversary of Nigeria’s oldest secondary school.

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