Neglected for decades, Aggrey Memorial College Arochukwu, the first post-primary school in Nigeria established by an individual, literally sprang back to life a few months ago, following the intervention by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPC) to revive its infrastructure.
The infrastructure is a modern science laboratory built by Shell. Commenced in October last year, the project was jointly attracted to Aggrey Memorial College (AMC) by two former staffers of Shell – Sir Victor Ike Okoronkwo and Engineer Ijere Kanu.
The unveiling on April 26 was an epochal ceremony, which brought together personalities from different walks of life, including some old students of the college.
Prior to the unveiling, the excitement was palpable among all interest groups, especially the old students who had been distraught by the progressive decay of their alma mater.
Conceived under its educational programme, the laboratory project is part of the overall Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of the Shell Group.
Specifically, the Aggrey project is a modern laboratory housing a full complement of science equipment and reagents, the latter estimated to serve the school for a period of two years.
Built to accommodate about 120 students at a time, the laboratory is equipped for teaching Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Integrated Science practical sessions. Each section of the laboratory has an adjoining office for the subject teacher and a preparatory room for storing equipment and formulation of reagents.
Water supply is guaranteed from a solar-powered bore hole with a 2000 litre capacity overhead reservoir.
At the unveiling of the laboratory, the Managing Director of Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, Mr. Bayo Ojulari was represented by the Business Development Manager, Mr. Segun Owolabi. He disclosed that the facility is part of SNEPC’s educational support programme, adding that the company is committed to providing high quality educational facilities in public schools.
Ojulari expressed optimism that the laboratory would provide the conducive environment for teaching and learning of science, as well as stimulate students’ interest in science subjects.
To the students, Ojulari said: “I urge you to make good use of this facility. The possibilities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics world are endless.”
The Abia State Commissioner for Education, Professor Ikechi Mgbeoji, who was represented by the Director for Scholarship, Ministry of Education, Mrs. Christy Ibeji, expressed gratitude to Shell for the gesture, which he described as the first of its kind in Abia State. He assured the donor company that the facility would be properly used and preserved.
Old students of the school, including a delegation of the Alumni Association from the United States of America, were well represented at the occasion.
Speaking on behalf of the old students, Mrs. Grace Okaro lamented the decay in infrastructure in the school.
She pleaded with the state government to return the school’s assembly hall (Abna Hall) and the Independence Park to the authorities of Aggrey Memorial College for use. The Independence Park is where the founder of the school, Dr Alvan Ikoku and his wife Goomsu were buried.
The two landmarks are among the facilities carved out for use by the Abia State College of Education Technical, Arochkwu (ASCETA), when the latter was established and located on a large swathe of the AMC premises as a temporary site.
Said Okaro: “The Association will sing the praises of this present dispensation if it concedes to Aggrey Memorial College, Arochukwu, the ownership of the popular Abna Hall and the Independence Park where the remains of its founder, Dr Alvan Ikoku and his beloved wife Goomsu were laid to rest. Many of the Alumni are emotionally and sentimentally attached to these two edifices.
She continued: “Abna Hall was our traditional place of worship and assembly. In addition, it was the place where we sat for our terminal examinations.
Moreover, Abna Hall was host to three very important symbols that portray the school’s greatness, given its age. The first was the Best Students’ Roll of Honour, second was the Senior Prefects’ Roll of Honour and lastly, the crocodile symbol carving, which was presented to the founder, Dr Alvan Ikoku, when he addressed the International Teachers’ Forum, completely in Latin Language. On the other hand, the Independence Park, aside being a National Historic Site, was a place that symbolised freedom and liberty for the students. Everything Dr Alvan Ikoku did in the school and wherever he went was designed to liberate the mind to be progressive and contribute to posterity. The Park was to teach the students the liberating force of independence. Hence, while in the Park, you were free from coercive rules of prefects and egotistic senior students who loved to bully the junior ones. Even school rules and regulations did not apply to you while in the Independence Park.
“Whenever we return to the school as old students with our families, we are proud to let our children see and feel those edifices and symbols that helped to a large extent to mould us to the responsible citizens that we are today. It is with regret that I emphasize that many of us have broken down in tears after seeing what is left of this once elevated and pristine institution. We are determined to change that, and against that backdrop, we fervently and passionately appeal to the Abia State government to restore the ownership of Abna Hall and Independence Park to Aggrey Memorial College, Arochukwu without which our history will be incomplete.”
The Alumni finally presented a plaque to the SNEPC in appreciation of its gesture.
Aggrey Memorial College was established in 1932 by the foremost educationist, Dr. Alvan Ikoku. It was the first indigenous post-primary school established by an individual in Nigeria. But over the years, the school had suffered progressive neglect in infrastructural upgrade, to the extent that boarding has ceased to exist in the school.
Nonetheless, Aggrey Memorial College is on record as one learning institution that has produced quite a number of notable public figures from across Nigeria and beyond.
Apparently rebooted, the old students are now in renaissance mode determined to revive the fortunes of their alma mater.