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     Nigeria/Africa Masterweb Special Feature

    Government College Umuahia turns 75 in 2004

    *A Milestone worth Celebrating
    (Wednesday, August 13, 2003)

    By Chris Chiwetelu, Ph.D., P.Eng.

    Chris Chiwetelu The year 2004 is only a few months away. Next year may not have any special significance for most of the world quite unlike the year 2000. But for Umuahians from all works of life, there is a major milestone that will come to pass next year. This will be the 75th anniversary of the founding of Eastern Nigeria's premier secondary school. For the thousands of Umuahians who passed through the school in the 60s and 70s, this anniversary is particularly significant. The reason is quite simple. Those of us within this age bracket, who are fortunate to be alive and well, may not be around for the centennial celebration. Even if some of us are alive by the year 2029, many will not be strong enough or may not have the resources to participate actively in the centennial celebration. Another compelling reason for Umuahians to gather for this milestone celebration is because I believe that it is time for us to take the necessary steps to restore the pride and glory that Umuahia has enjoyed for several decades.

    The first item of business as we look ahead to 2004 is to decide who logically qualifies as the best spokesperson for Umuahians of all ages, ancient, old, modern and ultra-modern? In the ageless tradition of Umuahia, one would look to the class of 1929 and members of those classes closest to that era. Sure enough many of these venerable old boys have departed this world, but there are still quite a good number of them who are enjoying an active old age. Therefore we must get the unqualified approval of our ancient Old Boys and staff before we begin to make preparations for this celebration. That said, I am convinced that the task of organizing the event proper must fall on the shoulders of younger Umuahians. The question is how young is young. There is a particular class (or better a subset of classes) of Umuahians that nicely bridges the generation gap between the ancient and old on one side and the modern and ultra-modern on the other. This is the subset of classes of 62 to 66. Why did I pick this subset? The reason is because this group can rightly claim to have spent more time as students at GCU than any other class in the history of the College. In case anyone is still not sure what I am referring to, Umuahia as well as other colleges in the then Eastern Nigeria did not produce any graduates in the period starting from mid 1967 to early 1970. Therefore many of us who were caught up in the unfortunate circumstances of this period, have got the scars to show for the extra-ordinary time we spent as college students. As it turned out, the task of restoring Umuahian traditions and values after the Civil war rested on the shoulders of the 62-66 boys. In addition, these mature Umuahians are now turning golden, which means that they are quickly passing their prime. Besides, we can boast of being the ones that have produced key political leaders especially in the South-eastern States, and more importantly, we have an abundance of respected experts in various professions including medicine, engineering, accounting and architecture to name a few. Thus the class of 62-66 should play a pivotal role in organizing the 75th anniversary celebrations of our great Alma Mater. But in the end, the task of organizing such a historic event will not be left to one sub-group of Old Boys. All Umuahians of all ages are thus requested to identify themselves with this event and to volunteer their time and talent towards ensuring that we will have a great celebration next year.

    The question of what is the best medium to use to inform Umuahians about this upcoming celebration is more difficult to resolve given the fact that Umuahians are scattered all over the world. The writer is aware of the existence of several GCU Old Boys Associations in various parts of Nigeria. Very recently too, I have become aware of the existence of an Old Boys Association, with a number of active chapters in the US. There is therefore a critical mass of GCU Old Boys resident in the US to form the vanguard of the planning committee for the 75th year celebration come 2004. The Internet would appear to be the most convenient medium to reach GCU Old Boys all over the world especially those resident in North America. Using the Internet to spread the word initially, it should be possible for us to set up a broad-based planning committee that can then explore other creative ways of getting the job done. To facilitate the set-up of a registry of Umuahians resident in North America, I will therefore urge any Umuahian who reads this article to register with a chapter closest to him, or alternatively to send me his particulars (names, mailing and e-mail addresses, phone numbers etc). Every Umuahian is also requested to pass the information contained in this article to any others known to them regardless of where they may reside.

    Assuming that most Umuahians will subscribe to the idea of celebrating 75 years of the founding of our Alma Mater, the next logical question would be when and where are we going to have it and what activities should be included in the program? For many of us who have not visited the school for over 30 years, we would very much want to have the opportunity to get back to Umuahia at least for one more time. There are many things that many of us would like to ascertain. For instance, which Houses are still left standing? Is there still a Dining Hall? Are the classrooms (A, B, C, blocks) still standing? Is there still a Quadrangle? Is the Assembly Hall still there, the Administration Blocks, the chapels, the Library, the Science Laboratories and the Sixth Form facilities? Others will want to know about the sporting arenas, the Upper field, the Lower field, cricket pitches, tennis lawns, golf Course, etc. So the venue is pretty much obvious. Not so easy to determine would be the timing of the celebration. My guess is that the date will be set after the planning committee would have broadly consulted as many Old Boys as possible. The celebration should be spread over three days, probably Friday to Sunday, or Thursday to Saturday. In the past, it was possible to have Old Boys reunions while the school was in session. These days I doubt if there will be enough room to accommodate the flood of Old Boys who probably would be arriving with their spouses. It would help if there were good hotels around the school that can provide decent accommodation for the duration of the ceremonies. With regards to the program for the event, I imagine that invitations would be extended to Nigerians and non-Nigerians from all walks of life and in particular those who have in one way or the other contributed to the success of the school. I should also clarify that academic and support staff of GCU over the years are considered to be as much Umuahian as Old Boys, and as such they are a big part of these celebrations. The celebrations should recognize staff members who have made significant contributions to GCU as well as Old Boys who have distinguished themselves in the service of the school, the country or their chosen professions. These celebrations and recognition awards should be open to the public, and these should form the climax of our gathering. However, there should be a closed-door session where Umuahians only are invited. It is during this closed-door session that we will debate the future of the school. A number of possibilities need to be considered. Obviously the status quo is not an option. We could for instance consider lobbying all existing 8 southeastern States to take over the school and it will then run as an elite Regional secondary school for boys just as it existed up till the 70s. Another option is to turn it into a private institution to be funded by tuition and boarding fees as well as contributions from Alumni. I am pretty sure that there are other possibilities, but these two suggestions would probably trigger a healthy debate among the participants at this meeting.

    Concluding this short article, I believe that all true Umuahians should celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of GCU. Planning such as event is a daunting task and we need to begin right away given that 2004 is only five months away. Umuahians resident in North America are expected to play a lead role in organizing this event. It is in this spirit that I invite all Umuahians to share this article as widely as possible. I also expect that the 75th year celebration will be a subject for discussion at the upcoming annual convention in the US. Long Live Umuahia!!!!!!!!

    Chris Chiwetelu, Ph.D., P.Eng.
    Umuahian class of 63
    Address: 96 Somercrest Manor SW
    Calgary, Alberta
    Canada. T2Y 3C2
    Phone : work : (403) 691-6424; home : (403) 256-1846

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