Lagos — It was a moving moment at the prestigious PK Bar and Restaurant, Warri when the citation of the founding fathers of the famous Hussey College in the oil city, Chief Ogbemi Newe Rewane, the late Ologbotsere of Warri and Chief Elliot Nekapenami Andrew Begho, the late Iserigho of Warri kingdom were read to the gathering of the old students and dignitaries at the school's anniversary Dinner Awards night.
"We should have honoured them when they were with us. Then they would have been proud to know; then they would have appreciated how grateful we are to them for the way they had touched our lives," Mr Ben Eke, National President of Hussey College Warri Old Students Association intoned in his usual elderly voice.
The serenity of the night was further accentuated when the children of these eminent Nigerians stepped forward to receive the awards from Justice Roseline Bozimo, Chief Judge of Delta State: Ms Rita Begho for the late Begho, Mr Justin Rewane and his sister, Mrs Evelyn Rewane-Dafinone for their late father.
Sixty years ago both men had set out to establish a secondary school that would offer qualitative education to young men and women in Warri and beyond. The idea to establish a school was first mooted in 1935 by both men, then barely in their twenties, at the Government College, Ibadan where the duo were students. Rewane and Begho along with Mr V. A. Savages (B.A. Hons) did the spade work to ensure that the school became reality. Hussey College was named after E.J. R. Hussey Esq., a former Director of Education in Nigeria and one time Olympic Games competitor. It was in this famous college that Rewane and his life time buddy, literally raised several generations of Nigerians from all tribes and backgrounds and schooled them in the best tradition of scholarship, athleticism, citizenship and morality. At inception Rewane was treasurer, Begho the Manager and Savage, the pioneer principal. They were educationists per excellence.
The role call of old students that night attests indeed the labour of these heroes past had not been in vain. They include General Osio Obada (rtd), one time Federal Minister of Works, Brig-Gen. Sunny Tuoyo (rtd.) former Military Governor of old Ondo State, Professor Samuel T. Bajah, renowned chemistry teacher, Chief Isaac Jemide, former member of the House of Assembly in then Bendel State, Mr Emmanuel Ogidi, Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State, Oba Tijani Akinloye, OON, Sateru ll, Ojomu of Ajiranland, Eti-Osa, Lagos State who was a student at the school between 1958 and 1962 and his wife, Olori Bolaji Aderibigbe Akinloye who was among the first set of girls admitted into Hussey College in 1960.
The list of the Hussey's old students who have distinguished themselves in national service confirms that the school was indeed a breeding ground for future leaders. These include Brigadier-Gen. Mobolaji Johnson, former military governor of Lagos State, Brigadier Bassey Asuquo, former Military governor of Delta and Edo states, Navy Commander Temi Ejoor, former military administrator of Enugu and Abia States, Justice Okunegha Akhigbe, former Chief Judge of Edo State, Justice Ogbodu Awala, Rear Admiral Festus Porbeni, former Chief of Administration, Defence Headquarters and Mr Jackson Gaius-Obaseki, former Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Aside Oba Akinloye, current traditional rulers who passed through Hussey College are Ogiame Atuwatse ll, CON, the Olu of Warri, (attended Hussey College between 1961 to 1967), Oba Frederick Adegunle Aroloye, OFR, Gbolagunte Arubiefen lV, the Owa of Idanreland, Ondo State who was a student at the school between 1951 and 1954 and the Enogie of Uromi, Edo State, HRH Anselem Edonogie. In fact, the first of the Hussey kings was the late Enogie of Igueben, Edo State, HRH David Imadojemu.
Equally, the roster of former principals and teachers of Hussey could pass for a mini who is who in the polity. The second principal was Eng. R. S. Mckenzie. The third and the first indigenous principal was Chief E. A. Adeyemo while the fourth principal was Justice F. O. Awogu, Phd. The list of past teachers include Dr Alex Ekwueme, former vice president of Nigeria who was Physics Master between 1950 and 1952, C. O. Lawson who later became permanent secretary and secretary to the Federal Government, Justice Victor Ovie-Whisky, former chairman of the defunct Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), Justice S. A. Ajuyah who was an English teacher, Marxist economist, Professor Eskor Toyor, Professor S.I.M. Ogwo, Dr U. U. Udoh, Dr J. B. Akingba and Nze Sam Onyewuenyi. They were part the team that moulded future leaders and nurtured the institution into a centre of excellence. Little wonder part of the 60th anniversary celebration was the unveiling of the bronze scroll containing the names of pioneer principals and early teachers as a tribute to their worthy contributions.
The impact of Hussey College goes beyond what Chairman of the occasion, Alaowei Broderick, former Minister of Police Affairs described as "a harvest of Generals and traditional rulers." For one, the establishment of the school in Warri as a purely private enterprise provided the impetus for other private initiatives that was to turn the then Delta Province into the educational melting pot of the Midwestern region. As Professor Abednego Ekoko, former Commissioner for Education in Delta State observed, "within the Warri-Effurun urban area such other educational institutions like the United College of Commerce (UCC); Urhobo College, Midwest College and Atamakolomi College, were also founded through private initiative and financed by individuals or groups of individuals who had foresight and the motive of binging knowledge to their people ."
Hussey College almost from inception became a centre for sporting excellence, raising great sportsmen and women who represented Nigeria at international meets and competitions and this was attributable to the indefatigable O.N. Rewane. By the 1950s, great footballers like Daniel Okwudili and Patrick Nequakpo, products of the Hussey were regulars in the national football team. Former national pole vault record holder and Director of Sports in Delta State, Tony Urhobo and his niece, Dr Omawumi Urhobo, a former national 100 metres champion were Hussey products just as Ewherebor, Thompson Usiyan and Clement Temile who were at various times members of the nation's football team, the Green Eagles. Hussey College was a major force in athletics as the school dominated the Grier Cup competition for secondary schools in the then Western Region as well as the Hussey Shield competition. According to Admiral Porbeni who was a student between 1959 and 1964, Rewane was the motivating force behind Hussey's sporting excellence as indeed academic excellence. "Driven by the insatiability of sports development in the country, (he) instituted a scholarship scheme for any student who was willing to excel in sports. Without mincing words, it was he who raised the standard of school sports in the old Midwestern region to the towers,"
However, like most good schools of its generation, Hussey College has seen some tough times. Eke put it succinctly: "Hussey College has seen some harrowing harmattans of life and ravaging rack, which have left not only a challenge of decay and debris to be cleared but also a challenge renewal." True, a visit to the school only reveal a sorry state of affairs. The once sparkling science block, which boasts of 10 well-equipped science laboratories looks more like an abandoned property in war times with its blown off roof. With a number of schools affected by the Warri crisis still squatting at Hussey College, facilities there are clearly overstretched.
Ekoko who was the guest speaker at the awards dinner traced the roots of the rot in secondary education to the military's adventure in governance. In his paper titled "The Nemesis and Deterioration of Secondary Education in Nigeria: Issues and Prospects," Ekoko noted: "The gradual deterioration of the secondary school system in Nigeria began with the unfortunate military intervention in politics; until recently, soldiers were not the best of friends of academics . During the decade of the 1970s mission and private owned schools were 'nationalised' with immediate effect to make room for uniform conditions of service for teachers, quality staffing, physical and institutional facilities. To be sure these military legislations did not produce the desired results; instead the character and content of secondary school education began to raise more questions than answers.
"Within the context of Bendel State, and Warri/Effurun metropolis five such star schools like Hussey College, Urhobo College and Government College were levelled overnight though military equalisation process. All fingers became equal; a most unnatural phenomenon."
It was therefore not surprising that when a delegation of the of Hussey College old students paid a courtesy call on Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State at the Governor's Lodge, Warri, Eke's speech was more of a passionate plea for restoration of the tradition which facilitated excellence in academics, sports and human refinement.
Uduaghan, whose wife, Roli is not only an old student of Hussey College but also a a former Home Economics teacher at the school for many years, was quite sympathetic to the plight of the school. He told his visitors: "As a student at the Federal Government College, Warri, I knew what Hussey College used to be. As a young husband going to pick up my wife who was a teacher there, I knew what Hussey College was then. And I also know what Hussey College is today. We shall do everything possible to restore Hussey College to its former glory."
Quite soothing to the ears and this promise naturally drew applause from all old students present that night. But the real succour will come when the Delta State government match words with action.