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Time to revisit the concept of unity schools – Ozioma Onyenweaku

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Ozioma Onyenweaku

When I arrived the NYSC camp in Maiduguri in the Northern part of Nigeria, I freely intermingled with others. I drank and enjoyed Kuunu to the amazement of others who were coming to the North for the first time. I remember someone asking me if I lived in the North, and was surprise to hear that was my first visit to the North. The person wanted to know how it was that I was not feeling strange with the ‘northern things.’ I explained that I was cool with anything because I attended Federal Government College. “No wonder!” was his response.

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In the days, saying “I am a student of Federal Government College” was like announcing your presence with some level of prestige, pride, privilege and dignity. With your carriage and sense of decency along with good command of English language, everyone around comes off with good degree of respect for you.

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I recall with nostalgia how everything appeared to be at a stand-still whenever our sleek bus would drive straight to the centre of the parade ground to drop us off at any March Past event; how students from other schools (you know, there was the federal schools and then other schools) would feel so intimidated at our presence when we would impressively step out with our clean and well ironed uniforms! Every other student wanted to be like ‘those federal girls’. We were being groomed to be models, exemplary in conduct, decency and academic excellence.
That of course fell within the purpose of establishing Federal schools (now known as Unity Schools)

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The Federal government invested in the federal schools. We had the best so as to turn out the best. Our teachers were second to none. The school structures were solid. In the school, we lived as one family. We were (and still are) quite detribalized. We only knew we were sisters from the north, the west, the East and all other parts of the country. On resumption week, we arrived in batches, and got ready to joyfully welcome and receive our sisters as they arrived from wherever.
We did not have cause to fall federal government’s hand in its expectation of us, because the federal government was interested in us and made provisions for our welfare. We had qualified, dedicated and well motivated teachers.

And those were the days!

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The Federal Government had reason to establish Federal (Unity) schools. After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, and following the political crisis that erupted in the Western Region after the elections of 1964, the then Federal Government with Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister realized that the problems in the newly created nation were based on mistrust, ignorance and tribalism. So, to fundamentally address this issue, the government decided to establish schools that would bring together young ones from the different regions of the country; so that from early age they would learn to understand and appreciate one another and achieve unity in diversity.

The objectives are thus stated:“To bring together young boys and girls from all regions of the country, irrespective of their social or economic background to learn, play, work and live under one roof in order to remove the virtual mysteries surrounding the evolution of the people who made up the regional citizenry, thereby creating a homogeneous family devoid of rancor, suspicion or distrust.

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To create centers for academic excellence providing a reliable assemblage needed to jumpstart the capacity building effort of the new republic and ensure positive growth and development.
To breed detribalized citizens needed for the good management of resources at all levels of governance of the Nation”.

So, in 1966, the Federal Government established what was then known as ‘Inter Regional Secondary Schools’, later called Federal Government Colleges in the 3 regions of East, North and West. The schools were in Okposi for the East, Sokoto for the North, and Warri for the West. These first generation schools delivered in terms of national integration and academic excellence. Impressed with the result, in 1973, more Federal Government Colleges were created and at least one in each of the then newly created 12 States of Nigeria. That was the journey to the 106 unity schools in Nigeria.

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The unity schools produced from various backgrounds and culture, men and women with broad-mindset devoid of tribalism and ethnicity, and having a common bond of unity which was the school tie. From this bond have come increased inter-tribal marriages among past students of the federal schools, along with cultural and religious integration.

Sadly, now only my tears for the unity schools! Why this rot in the once citadel of excellent and quality education? A date next week!

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Meanwhile, Ozioma is proudly of FGGC, Gboko. Pro Unitate!

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