Government College Ibadan (GCI) is one of the best schools in Nigeria. And it has been like that for years. In the good old days, the name GCI travelled far and near, but not many people know the story of the school.
Below, City People unveils how the school was set up. Culled from a GCI Publication
In the beginning…
Government College, Ibadan (GCI) was conceived as a Teacher Training College in 1929 when it was founded; but fate was, by providence, to change its status almost at birth to a secondary school- a Middle School really. The destiny of the new school revolved around three prominent Colonial Officers of the Government of His Majesty, the King of England in the mid-to-Iate 1920’s. These were Mr. S.M. Grier, Mr. E.R. Swanston and Mr. E.R.J. Hussey. At that time, Mr. Grier, who was the Secretary for Native Affairs (Nigeria), was moved (or promoted) to become the Director of Education (Southern Provinces). Knowing his limitations as a non-educationist, Mr. Grier got Mr. E.R Swanston, an experienced Inspector of Education to become his Deputy. In implementing the recommendation of the 1922 Phelps-Jones Commission Report, Mr. Grier, on advice of Mr. Swanston, sought for the establishment of Teacher Training Colleges and provision of better facilities for the training of Teachers for elementary schools. Earlier on, in 1915, two colleges had been opened for training of Teachers in southern Nigeria, one at Bonny (for the east) and another at Warri (for the west). But Mr. Swanston was quick to see the inadequacy of these two colleges to meet the demands and requirements of the existing elementary schools. So, the Grier/Swanston administration got the colonial government to establish two additional Teacher Training Institutions in Southern Nigeria to be sited in Umuahia in Owerri province (East of River Niger) and in Ibadan in Oyo Province (West of River Niger). Each of these proposed colleges was expected to be a full boarding school and to have a Demonstration School.
The Ibadan College was formally founded on Thursday, February 28, 1929, but before then arrangement
had been made to transfer an experienced Colonial Officer, Revd. (Capt.) C.E. Squire, from a school in
India to Ibadan to be the Foundation Principal. So also was the transfer as well as the recruitment of other seven members of staff to work with the Principal. These foundation staff members, who included two ladies, were:
(1) Rev. (Capt.) C.E. Squire-Principal; (2) Mr. W.B. Benton-EvansBoarding Housemaster/Geography Master; (3)Mr. V.BV. PowellEnglish Language/History Master; (4) Mr. G.N. HerringtonBiology/-Agriculture Master,
(5) Dr. W.C. DaleHygiene Master, Technical Instructor, (6) Mr. J. Hoskins-Domestic Science Instructor, (7) Miss N.B. Macdonald-InfantTeaching (8) Miss K.E. Morley-Method Instructor.
One interesting aspect of this ‘Assembly of Colonial Officers’ was the sowing of the seed of romance which germinated into the marriage of Miss Morley to Mr. Benton-Evans 3 years later in 1932. Rev. (Capt.) Squire, being the only Master with experience in the training of Teachers, personally undertook the tour of elementary schools in Western Provinces of Southern Nigeria to select the first set of students. In the end, he offered admission to 29 boys who were heterogeneous in terms of mental and physical development, although they were generally of high scholarship in terms of general intelligence. They were instructed to report as the college compound in Apata-Ganga area of Ibadan on Wednesday, May 29, 1929. In those early days, the members of the college community were busy, almost on daily basis, cutting the grasses, clearing weeds and vegetation and heaving down the big trees in the school-compound. The boys only had occasional classroom work which was not based on any definite syllabus but covered heterogeneous topics according to the whims and caprices of the Masters.
Tragedy struck in the summer of that founding year (1920) when Mr. Grier and his Deputy, Mr. Swanston, both left Nigeria for England on leave. As fate would have it, neither of then returned to Nigeria afterwards. Mr. Grier became Sir Selwyn Grier and appointed Governor for the Leeward Islands at the expiration of his leave, Mr. Swanston died during the summer holiday! These two incidents marked the turning point in the development journey ofthe upcoming Teachers’ Colleges in Ibadan and Umuahia as the replacement of Mr. Grier in office, Mr. E.R.J. Hussey, had an entirely different philosophy of the type of education that he thought was best suited for Nigerians of that time. Mr. Hussey, who, before his transfer to Nigeria, had been the Director of Education in Uganda since 1925, arrived Nigeria in July 1929. By December of that year, Mr. Hussey had completed a tour of Nigeria and, based on what he saw of the existing schools, he decided on a thorough overhaul of the educational system in Nigeria. He thereafter grouped all the schools in the country into three categories – Primary Schools, Middle Schools (or secondary schools) and Higher College. By this token, the new Government Teacher Training Colleges in Ibadan and Umuahia were to become Middle Schools with the designation as Government College Ibadan and Government College Umuahia with effect from January 1930. The coming of the Middle School in Ibadan did not only affect the academic curriculum, it led to the movements of the foundation staff members and the re-shuffling of the 1929 foundation students. The teaching of written and spoken English was to be intensified. Elementary and Applied Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Elementary Biology were to be taught along with broad lines of History and Geography.
The two Lady-Teachers were transferred to other posts in the civil service while Dr. Dale became the Medical Officer at Ade OYO Hospital, Ibadan. The Principal and other staff members remained in the
new Government College, Ibadan where they adjusted themselves to fit into their careers. The 1929 entrants were excited about the change in the school status. Although they were not sure of what was to become of their careers, they believed that the new type of education would open up a wider vista to important appointments in Government Departments rather than limiting them to being only Teachers in elementary schools. An entrance examination was conducted for admitting boys into the new school in which those students of the defunct Teacher Training College were free to participate. A total of 89 boys were consequently admitted to be the pioneers of the new Middle School.
Government College, Ibadan formally took off as a Middle School in January 1930 with a student population of 89 and the remnants of the foundation members of staff of the defunct Teacher’s College. Rev. (Capt.) C.E. Squire was still the Principal. With emphasis shifted to the production of potential students to feed the Yaba Higher College, the colonial government was determined to make GCI a model secondary school for the existing and upcoming such schools belonging to the Missions. GCI was to be a purely boys’ school with a compulsory and full boarding system. The background, training, exposure and experience of the foundation members of staff were to play significant roles in establishing and enforcing the living patterns and lifestyles of the boys, all of which were later to become the school’s traditions in later years. GCI was from onset, modelled along with the setting and traditions of the famous British public schools such as Eton College of Britain.
Built on the rock of decency and discipline
At a time in the history of Nigeria when her citizens were not familiar with military discipline, GCI boys were already being trained in the ‘command and obey’ tradition and authority. The boys were taught to obey as junior members of the school community so that they might also command followership in later years. Perhaps the motivation for this was based on the fact that the first two Principals of the College, whose period of service spanned 1929 to 1944, were retired Army Captains and veterans of the First World War. These Principals were Rev. (Capt.) C.E. Squire (1929-1931) and Capt. H.T.C. Field (1932-1944).
The boys learnt not to put their hands in the pockets of their pairs of shorts or trousers when walking along the paths or corridors of the school building or when talking to a Master. Such an act was seen as a
sign of pomposity. Therefore, the school’s pair of shorts of these early days was designed and sewn without side pockets.
In addition, many of the boys came from a humble background and were malleable. Every GCI boy of the first (25 years) and second (25 years) generations was a sportsman. He was invariably made to learn and participate in some outdoor games such as athletics, football, hockey, and cricket. Equally, his interest in indoor games such as table tennis, badminton, etc. was not downplayed. There was no one who could not run or jump during the Athletics season or kick the round leather ball with his feet or the hockey ball with the hockey sticks during the Football/Hockey season. The same devotion and seriousness were applied to cricket ball during the Cricket season. Only a few boys who suffered from ill-health or were severely challenged were exempted.
Partaking in games was then a compulsory daily activity for the boys. That had been the tradition of the
College from inception. This was probably because out of the six pioneering male members of staff of the College in 1929, three were renowned sportsmen. These were Rev. (Capt.) C.E. Squire who was a keen footballer, Mr. W.B. Benton-Evans who was an ‘Oxford Blue’ in football and Mr. V. B-V. Powell who was a ‘Cambridge Blue’ and an English International in Athletics.
These pioneers showed excitement and keenness in training the early boys and succeeded in gaining their interest and enthusiasm in the various games in the College. In 1935, Mr. Powell served as a member of the Nigerian team in the Nigeria versus Gold Coast (later Ghana) inter-colony cricket match
and he was one of the highest scorers. Swimming was rated very highly. Virtually all the boys of the first (25 years) generation became good swimmers because swimming was taken as an important and compulsory sport in GCI during their time, although they never had an Olympic-size swimming pool in the College. Rather, all they had was a large pit with a concrete floor measuring approximately 18 metres (50 feet) long and 7 metres (20 feet) wide and walls which had a depth from the natural ground level of just 1 metre (3 feet) at the shallower end and just over 2 metres (7 feet) at its deeper end.
In 1964, Swimming, as a competitive or recreational sport, was discontinued because, among other reasons, there was a paucity of water from the municipal water supply system in the Ibadan metropolis at that
time. That meant that less than 1,500 of the over 20,000 or so boys that passed through the College since 1929 had the privilege of using the swimming pool during their days in GCI. But what type of swimming trunks did the boys of the early part of the first generation wear? None! It is learnt that they did their swimming wearing nothing!
It was in GCI that the boys, irrespective of their background, learnt to work on what was referred to as
‘Agricultural Plots’ in the first two decades of GCl’s existence in that part of the school compound corresponding to the present day (2012) ‘GCI Junior Secondary School’ site. Each boy was allocated a piece of land measuring approximately 12 metres long and 5 metres wide to cultivate, planting maize,
groundnuts, yams, mucuna beans and a variety of vegetables – tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, French beans, lettuce, etc. Most of the boys, who had a farming background, did well in their farming activities while the few who could not tell on the farm which plant produced corn and which produced pawpaw till they came to GCI, saw the whole exercise of working on the plot as a terrible imposition!
It was also in GCI that the boys of the early days saw their European Masters eat French beans, carrots, tomatoes and some other vegetables raw! Back home, only goats ate vegetables raw! Before leaving GCI, most of the boys acquired this ‘uncivilised’ habit of eating some vegetables raw. Doing well on the Agricultural Plots or cutting the grass like a mower on the Main Field (during general compound work) was as important as passing the physics or chemistry examinations in the classroom.
That was the rule and every boy learnt to live by it in GCI. These were few of the traditions of GCI that have over the years made the school tick. They were designed to make a total person of the boys and prepare them to become perfect gentlemen in future.
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