Wednesday, June 03, 2009

150 years of CMS Grammar School

THE CMS Grammar School, Lagos, will be 150 years old on Saturday, June 6, 2009. Founded on June 6, 1859, it is the oldest secondary grammar school in Nigeria. It started modestly as a boarding school, with only five students in only four rooms, at the 'Cotton House,' at the end of Broad Street, facing the lagoon, now the site of Hallmark Bank, and previously the site of UTC. Subjects taught in the new school included English, Logic, Greek, Arithmetic, Geometry, Geography, History, Bible Knowledge, and Latin. The school was to make phenomenal progress in subsequent years, producing some of the most outstanding public figures in Nigeria's colonial and post-colonial history.

Its founder and first principal was the Rev. Thomas Babington Macaulay. A Creole and descendant of freed African slaves, he was one of the first two educated African clergymen, the other being the Rev. (later Bishop) Samuel Ajai Crowther. He was sent by the CMS (Church Missionary Society) in 1954 from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Lagos, where he eventually settled and had a brilliant career, first as a clergyman in Abeokuta, and later as the first principal of the school. The Rev. Macaulay was educated at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, founded by the CMS in 1927. As a young and precocious lad he has been taken from Fourah Bay in 1848, and sent for training as an Anglican priest to the CMS Theological Training Institute in Islington, London. Encouraged by his academic brilliance at Islington, the CMS sent him to the King's College, University of London, from where he graduated in 1853, obtaining a B.A. in Arts from the university.

He returned to Freetown in 1854, from where he was posted to the newly established CMS Training Institute in Abeokuta, of which he soon became the Principal. It was from there that CMS authorities appointed him in 1859 the first principal of the school. He remained the principal of the school for nearly 20 years, until his death in 1878. It was he who shaped the early traditions and character of the school, developing it into a school famous throughout West Africa. A disciplinarian, he made it his priority to assist the boys in the development of their character and to prepare them for the church and public service. Over the years this has been the main focus of the school. The school's motto since 1859, given it by the CMS, is "Nisi dominus frustra", extracted from Psalm 127, meaning "Without God we labour in vain'.

This motto enshrines the faith of its founders, the CMS, and the traditions of the school. Some of the early students of the school who became famous later were Archdeacon Dandeson Crowther, the eldest son of Bishop Crowther, the Rev. B. Manuwa, the father of Sir Samuel Manuwa, himself an old boy, Dr. Henry Carr, the first African Resident of the British colony of Lagos, John Otunba Payne, the first Registrar of the Lagos High Court, and the great nationalist, Herbert Macaulay, the son of the Rev. Thomas Babington Macaulay, and his wife, Abigail, the eldest daughter of Bishop Samuel Ajai Crowther.

The fascinating and long history of this school is a matter of interest, not only to the old boys of the school, but the public as well. First, it is older than Nigeria. When it was founded by the CMS in 1859, Nigeria had not yet become a British dependency. Secondly, the school was the product of a private effort by the CMS of the Anglican Church in England, and not the colonial government. In fact, it was not until 1909, some 50 years after the CMS grammar School, Lagos, was founded that the first state secondary school, the King's College, Lagos, was founded, by the British colonial administration. And when it started, most of its foundation students were drawn from the CMS Grammar School. Similarly when Igbobi College was founded jointly by the Anglican and Methodist missions in 1932, both its first principal, the Rev. Waterton, and its foundation students were drawn from the CMS Grammar School.

The founding of the CMS Grammar School was the outcome of the CMS policy of "Ethiopianism", actively promoted by the Secretary of the CMS in London, the Rev. Henry Venn, that Africans must be trained by the church to take over the running and management of the Anglican churches in Africa. Equally, the British colonial administration had to depend, at great expense, on clerks brought in from Sierra Leone, the West Indies, and the old Gold Coast (now Ghana), which was the headquarters of the British colonial administration in West Africa.

Within a few years of its founding, products of the school had begun replacing both white and black expatriates as clergymen and administrators. It was the distinct privilege of the school to have produced the first generation of Nigerian University graduates in all professions such as law, medicine, engineering, and accountancy. For decades after it was founded, most of the Anglican clergy, including bishops, and colonial administrators, were all old boys of the school.

In January 1881, the school moved from its Cotton House site at Broad Street, to a new site at the junction of Odunlami Street and Broad Street, where it could boast of having a large boarding house, the principal's lodge, three class room blocks, a large school hall, a small chapel, and a small sports field. Later, in 1929, a science block was added, which was put to the use of not only the boys in the schools, but also other students from all over the country. In 1911, students from the school started taking the Junior Cambridge Certificate examinations, and in 1931, the Senior Cambridge School Certificate, with brilliant results in both cases. Under a succession of diligent principals and school masters, such as the Rev. (later Bishop) Melville Jones, the Rev. (later Bishop) Isaac Oluwole, the Rev. Joseph Fanimokun, Canon E.J. Evans, Ven. J.O. Lucas, the Rev (later Bishop) S.O. Odutola, Mr. (later Professor) L.J. Lewis, the Rev. (later Bishop) S.I. Kale, and Ven. B.A. Adelaja, the school easily established itself as one of the leading secondary schools in Nigeria, producing in all fields such outstanding professionals and public figures as Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Henry Carr, John Otunba Payne, Sir Samuel Manuwa, Bishop S.C. Philips, Bishop Adelakun Howells. The great organists Dr. Ekundayo Phillips, and his son Oluyomi Phillips, Mr. Akintola Williams, his brothers, Chief F.R.A Williams, and Amb. Soji Williams, Justice Adeoba, Justice Oyemade, Magnus Macaulay, Prof. Babs Fafunwa, Justice Somade, Mr. A. Manuwa, Michael Olumide, Bishop George Bako, Engr. Victor Haffner, Chief Bode Thomas, Chief Justice G.O. Sowemimo, Mr. Ola Vincent, Chief T.O.S. Benson, Professor Ishaya Audu, Justice Charles Madarikan, Chief T.A.B. Oki, Justice Olumide Omololu, Canon Yinka Olumide, S. Olabode Wey, the first Nigerian Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. C.O. Lawson, another Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Adeyemi Lawson, Justice L.J. Dosunmu, Professor A. Babs Fafunwa, Professor T.O. Ogunlesi, the great music composer, Professor Fela Sowande, Professor O. Oke, Professor T.F. Solanke, Professor Ade Elebute, Professor Deji Femi-Pearse, Chief G.O.K. Ajayi SAN, Mr. Bayo Braithwaite, Chief E.A. Shonekan, Maj.-Gen. (Dr.) Henry Adefope, Prof. M. Banjoko, Dr. O. Ashley-Dejo, several high ranking diplomats, and the well-known Mechanical Engineer, late Professor Ayodele Awojobi, arguably the best Engineer produced by Nigeria. What sets the school apart from other secondary schools is the effortless ease with which its boys achieve success and fame.

The school has continued this excellent tradition of producing some of the ablest public servants and professionals in Nigeria at its new and expansive site in Bariga to which it moved from Odunlami in 1958. Regrettably, in 1979 the Jakande administration took over part of the premises of the school, and other private schools as well, in a misguided policy that set the school back for some years. But in 2001 this policy was reversed, and part of the school premises was returned to the Anglican mission.

The process of rebuilding the school has been under way since then, and much of the physical damage to it repaired by its old boys. The school is on the march again and will, without doubt, continue to contribute to the progress of our nation. The school is my alma mater and I am immensely proud of its enviable record and achievements. A history of the school, edited by me, will be launched at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, on Friday, June 5, at 3 p.m.