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A Brief History of Education in the Old Afikpo Division

By Chief Gabriel Anigo Agwo

July 12, 2009


This article covers the period between 1888 and 1994. The geographic area referred to as the Old Afikpo Division comprises the present Afikpo North (Afikpo), Afikpo South (Edda), Ohaozara and Onicha Local Government Areas in Ebonyi State and Isuikwuato Local Government Area in Abia State.

By 1960 when Nigeria attained political independence, the present Afikpo North, Afikpo South, Ohaozara and Onicha Local Government Areas existed as Afikpo Division and were administered under the name Afikpo County Council. In 1961, Ohaozara (comprising the present Ohaozara and Onicha LGAs) became a separate administrative unit, but the Nigerian Civil War (1968-70) disrupted its separate existence and it was re-merged with Afikpo County Council in the then East Central State. However, when Imo State was created in 1976, Ohaozara Local Government became fully autonomous until the carving out of Onicha LGA in 1991. On the other hand, Afikpo and Afikpo South (Edda) continued to exist as an entity (Afikpo LGA) until 1991, even though twice before Edda had had a brief taste of autonomy.

The above introduction is necessary because the four local governments under discussion have identical patterns in the development of western education. All were administered as one by both government and mission administrations with regard to education matters.

Brief History of Schools

The Roman Catholic Mission (RCM) and the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) – now known as the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (PCN) – pioneered the establishment of educational institutions in this area. Formal schools were the surest centers for catching converts. There, the religious ideals of the Missions were effectively propagated. Incidentally, these two mission bodies (RCM
& CSM) had their bases at Calabar. While the Catholic Mission administered the Old Afikpo Division as part of Ogoja and later Abakaliki Diocese, the Church of Scotland Mission catered to her flock in the Division via its religious province located in Itu.

As early as 1888, the CSM established a primary school at Unwana. Records available to the writer show that the school now known as Unwana Community Primary School was the first school in the then Old Afikpo Division.

In 1914 when Lord Lugard was proceeding with the amalgamation process, the RCM in the Old Afikpo Division was busy establishing her first Mission School at Ndibe, Afikpo town. The Manager, Rev. Father Francis Howell lived in Calabar but visited Afikpo periodically. A Calabar indigene, Mr. J.J. Duke, was the first and only headmaster of that pioneer school in Ndibe. The school closed down after two years for lack of patronage.

Eight years later, in October 1922, the RCM opened a church school in a Chief’s compound at Ishiagu. The first headmaster of the school was Mr. Godstaff Okeke. It was known as St. Anthony’s School but later as Ihetutu Primary School Ishiagu.

In 1935, the RCM opened St. John’s Primary School (later renamed St. Mary’s) Ngodo Afikpo – Eze M.O. Chukwu (Omaka Ejali Ehugbo) was a pioneer pupil of that school. St. Nicholas Enohia Itim was opened by the same mission in May 1940.

The Holy Child Convent (Mayfield), later Women’s Training College (WTC), and now Holy Child Secondary School Afikpo, was opened in 1946. This was followed by the St. Mary’s Preparatory Teaching College (P.T.C.) Afikpo in 1947. It was converted to an elementary teachers college (grade 3 teachers college) in 1957 and occupied the present Chest Clinic at Mater Hospital. It is now phased out. St. John Bosco Secondary School (now Ishiagu High School) was opened in 1962 as Boys School.

Between 1914 and 1970, the RCM opened schools in virtually every corner of the old Afikpo Division. Out of the 131 Primary Schools in the Division by 1987, over 70 owe their birth to the RCM.

The CSM, on the other hand, established a church school in Ishiagu early in 1922. The school was developed by Pastor Ojo, a Yoruba man then resident at Uzuakoli. However, the school (which was established at Ndieziukwu compound, Ihie-Ishiagu) did not last long as few members of the church were imprisoned by the local ruler, Chief Eke, at least twice within the first few months of its existence. In under a year, the imprisoned members abandoned that church but were absorbed by the RCM church school.

By 1930, the CSM had established primary schools in Ohaozara, Edda and Afikpo. One such school is the present Amasiri Central School, opened in 1928.

On November 1951, Macgregor Teachers College – an arm of the Hope Waddel Training Institute Calabar – was opened in Afikpo. Mr. O. A. Oti (Oti Macgregor) of Mgbom-Afikpo was the pioneer staff that brought the pioneer students from Calabar to Afikpo.

The CSM also opened primary schools in Amuro and Ibii in 1953. While the Amuro school metamorphosed into the present Amuro/Mgbom Primary School, that of Ibii fizzled out for lack of proper administration, though another school (not by the CSM) took off there in 1955.

The Macgregor Practising School, attached to the College, was established in 1961. Sir Francis Ibiam Girls Grammar School opened in 1964 on a temporary site in Macgregor College. It was built by the entire Old Afikpo Division Community to honor and immortalize the name of Dr. Akanu Ibiam. The Presbyterian Mission was her first manager.

The only Government Primary School in Afikpo Division was built in 1924 followed by the Government College (secondary school) opened in 1952.

It is on record that Mr. Inyama of the African Gospel Mission (AGM) built a primary school in Ishiagu (at the site of Ishiagu Girls Secondary School) to propagate his faith. The school existed till 1970 when the then East Central State Government took over all mission and private schools.

After the government takeover of schools, the pace of opening of new schools was greatly reduced as neither the missionary bodies nor private individuals were enthusiastic about it. It is noteworthy out of 135 primary schools (1994 figure) in the Old Afikpo Division, over 120 were established before 1970. However, the opening of new institutions of learning shifted to post-primary (secondary) schools. Between 1970 and December 1994, 22 secondary schools were opened in the Old Afikpo Division to add to the 5 that existed by January 1970, bringing the total 27.

In the primary school sector and over the same period (1970-1994), some 15 schools were added to the already existing number of 120. The 1994 figure is put at 135.

With the creation of the present Abia State in September 1991, Isuikwuato LGA and the Old Afikpo Division became one educational and administrative zone – Abia North.

Isuikwuato LGA is made up of Uturu, Chieze, Nneato, Isuochi and Isuikwuato Unis. By January 1970, Ovim Girls Secondary School (1930) and Annunciation Secondary School (1961), now Isuikwuato High School, were the only public secondary schools in Isuikwuato LGA. Until September 1991, this LGA used to be a District in the then Okigwe/Isuikwuato LGA of Imo State. By December 1994, Isuikwuato LGA had 17 public secondary schools in addition to two comprehensive academies – both owned and managed by the Marist Brothers Catholic Mission based in Uturu.

By the end of the civil war in January 1970, the Old Afikpo Division and Isuikwuato District had a total of 17 post-primary schools. By December 1994, that number had risen to 45.

The period between 1980 and 1994 (15 years) was a golden period for higher education schools in this zone. The following institutions of higher learning were established:

  1. Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana – 1981
  2. Abia State University, Uturu – 1981
  3. Federal College of Agriculture, Isuikwuato – 1993
  4. Federal Technical College, Okposi – 1990
  5. Ecumenical Institute of Education, Enugu, Afikpo Campus – 1992 (NCE and university degrees in arts and science)
  6. National Teachers Institute, Kaduna, Afikpo Centre – 1994 (NCE in arts and science)
  7. School of Nursing and Midwifery, Mater Hospital, Afikpo – 1980

The only state technical college at the time – Ehugbo Technical College – was built by nine age grades in Afikpo and handed over to the then Imo State Government in December 1981.

Within the period under review, scores of public and private schools have sprung up to compete in the provision of extra mural classes for SSCE, GCE and UME candidates. Government-approved and registered private commercial institutes and nursery schools abound in the Division. The prominent ones include National Commercial Institute (NCI) Afikpo, and the Dickson Vocational College, Uturu.

For over a decade, the Catholic Mission Afikpo ran a Home Care Centre for the training of girls in domestic science as well as preparing couples for Christian marriages.

Both the Presbyterian Mission and the Catholic Mission have each a well-organized nursery school attached to their mission compounds at Ukpa and Ngodo and intended to serve as day-care centers for working-class nursing mothers. Nursery schools sprung up across the length and breadth of the Old Division, though most of them – like some commercial institutes – are fairly mobile as they tend to specialize in the use of uncompleted buildings for classrooms.

The Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana and the Abia State University, Uturu run reputable staff primary schools. The Abia State University also has an International Secondary School at the former TTC, Ukwu Nwangwu-Uturu. These two institutions of higher learning organize, on very regular basis, extra mural courses (evening/sandwich) programs for myriads of non-regular students. These range from certificate, diploma to first and higher degree courses in arts, science and technology.

The Zentus Educational Foundation opened its doors along Eke Market/Ndibe Beach Road Afikpo in 1994. Founded by an astute businessman, Ekajiaku Donatus Ezeogo Aja, it joined the ranks of schools established to prepare students for SSCE, GCE and JAMB examinations.

A very striking feature of educational institutions in the period under review is that most of the schools and colleges were built through community efforts. For instance, of the 135 primary schools in the Old Afikpo Division, only Government Primary School Afikpo was built directly by the government in 1924. Most of the rest owe their origins to mainly the Catholic and Presbyterian Missions, usually actively supported with free labor from the men and women of the host communities. Scores of the schools were built directly by various communities through communal labor and voluntary contributions at launching ceremonies.

These efforts underscore how important education was considered by the host communities and prepared they were to invest in education for their sons and daughters. It is of little surprise then that many of these communities have produced men and women of stature in the fields of education, business and politics.

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