Up boys! Up boys!! Up boys!!! That nostalgic salute echoed through the dimly lit upper chamber of Lagos Island Restaurant along Leabridge Road in Leyton, East London. Old grammarians had gathered for another session of back slapping and chatty nostalgia of the good old days spent along the dusty, Bariga road. We had come from various London locations to pay another respect through the unifying Old Grammarian Society to a school that meant the world to its ex pupils. Old Grammarians are proud set of humanity. What distinguished old Grammarians from the rest is the deep love, awe, respect and near idolisation they have for CMS Grammar school. For a school to provoke such deodorised affection in the minds of those who had gone through the portals of its academic excellence, it must have a hidden gem.
That gem is embedded in the valorised theme of its foundation principle. From its inception, the school’s motto had been ‘Nisi Dominus Frustra’, extracted from Psalm 127, meaning ‘Without God we labour in Vain’, which enshrined the Christian faith of the founding fathers and the tradition of the School. It is unashamed to “look up by faith and see Christ our Saviour on the tree… lifted up for you and me, up and on, crowning Christ as Sovereign Lord….fighting with the Spirit’s sword as we cross the ford…up and on!………Up boys! Truest fame…….”That school song adopted in 1917 calibrated the Christian sentiment of its foundation with forceful gusto. Christ is and still remains the guiding light of its academic, cultural and disciplinary direction. It is through Christ that CMS Grammar school changes lives by “arming us for the fight and pressing on with all our might…….”
On 6th June 1859, the vision of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) led to the founding of CMS Grammar School, Lagos, as boys only boarding school. The first wave of pioneer missionary migrants from Sierra Leone in 1842 established the Yoruba Mission and later founded the grammar school with the express aim to offer qualitative and sound Christian education that will aid their mission work. Aware of the school’s potentials in the production of future educated work force, visionary and philanthropic minded local business men offered financial and moral support.
The school started with only six pupils, all boarders, in a small, single storey building, the ‘Cotton House’ at Broad Street, the present site of Hallmark Bank (UTC) Building. For decades after it was “founded, it was the only secondary grammar school that offered boys training as future leaders of Nigeria. Until recently, most of the Anglican Clergy in Nigeria were products of the CMS Grammar School, as were the early administrators. Though a Mission school, it does not discriminate in its admissions, with boys from different religious background being offered admission into the school through an entrance examination.
In 1861 when British colony was established in Lagos, most of the colonial administrators like clerical and technical staff were recruited from the school. Among these were Dr. Henry Carr, the first African Inspector of Education and later, Administrator General of Lagos Colony and Herbert Macaulay who later trained as Surveyor and the first principal of the school.
On 6th June 2009, my old school, CMS Grammar School, Bariga will roll out the trumpet, saxophone, talking drum and pop champagne in celebration of the 150th year (sesquicentenary) of its founder’s day. It will be celebrating on a solid platform of divine grace, honour, rich tradition, academic excellence and intellectual clout. Grammar school had stood the test of time, kept the faith but yet to finish the race. It had not failed in the high enterprise laid down by the pilgrim founders from Sierra Leone. It has kept the flame of academic excellence and leadership tradition burning ever since those medieval days of 1859.
I had my academic immersion into the school in 1979 as an Advanced Level Student. I had left a muslim grammar school (Ansar-Ud-Deeen Grammar School), Surulere to a Christo-centric CMS Grammar School, Bariga. I had joined the school with a background of Grammarian regimental mentality of high discipline, rigorous study, academic excellence, intellectual creativity and faith in God Almighty. Waiting for me was Chief I.A. Olowu, a strict, cane-at-the-ready, gruff, scruffy, stentorian principal, in whose guiding hands I blossomed with the ethos of tradition, respect for service, dedication and perseverance in pursuit of excellence.
Those qualities will be tested when I was made the library prefect in my Upper Class year. The library became the litmus test of my leadership training. CMS Grammar School had an enviable collection of the children of the rich, the intellectuals, the famous, the villains and the poor. My domain, the library was meant to be a place of dead silence, serious study and academic enquiry. But the arrogant, spoilt-brat children of Army Generals, captains of industry, Judges, MDs, Perm Secs, Ministers, Intellectuals and famous doctors will prove to be confrontational, rascals, rude and uncontrollable. I became the good shepherd by guiding my younger flock with tact, understanding, personal example, firmness, empathy and at times autocracy.
Warm memories? That would be my disciplinary streak. Sebastian Adigwe, belt-wielding labour prefect used to hang out at the school gate for late comers in the morning. Heads of kneeling latecomers were like cattle market prepared for the chopper. Adigwe will not be left alone to feast on these many cattle. Then shoulder-to-shoulder I will join Digwe to mete out ‘belting’ justice to our frightened students. Many would grit their teeth and take it like a man. Some would shout, beg and plead but Digwe was a no-nonsense dispenser of discipline and justice. In the evening I will be in his parent’s house in Barracks to feast on ‘gari’ and ‘ogbonno’ soup. Grammarian ethos of discipline, rigorous study, intellectual creativity and faith in God are the bedrock sustaining Digwe till date in his role as Group MD of Afribank, controlling multi-billion naira banking business.
CMS Grammar School has since its150th year existence paraded an array of the great, the good and the best. Chief EAO Shonekan (ex-interim President), Prof Ade Elebute, Prof Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa, Mr Ola Vincent (ex-Central Bank Governor), Chief Ayo Adebanjo (Politics), Prof Ayodele Awojobi (mathematician, deceased), Maj.Gen HEO Adefope, Maj.Gen Babatope Williams, Chief TOS Benson (Deceased) and Chief Duro Onabule (Columnist). The list of past students who have gone to the world to light the ethos of grammar school in their various discipline are too numerous to mention here.
The UK Chapter of Old Grammarians Society (OGS-UK) comes under the leadership of Kola Akinwale (President) ably supported by Osi Okponobi (Secretary General), Tokunbo Ajetumobi (Financial Secretary) Wole Oguntuga and Afolabi Leigh. These dedicated Grammarians are contributing time, resources and love of the school to promote untruncated bond with a school with a difference. There is a linked financial commitment to the school in terms of project work like refurbishing classrooms, repairing broken windows and the building of new auditorium.
In London, activities marking the 150th birthday kick off on the 29 May 2009 with a carnival procession through to 6th June 2009 for a thanksgiving service. OGS-Lagos under its president, Maj.Gen Babatope Williams is organising a lecture to be chair by Chief Ernest Shonekan, ex-pupil and action Governor, Babatunde Fashola as chief host of the event.
This celebration is a reminder of the founder’s vision who selflessly sacrificed time, money and resources to establish a school built on faith in God, reputation, integrity, discipline, high academic excellence, tradition, leadership and intellectual creativity. As we celebrate our sesquicentenary worldwide, let us remember the second and fourth paragraphs of our school’s protestation of loyalty. We should seek to be worthy of the school and add to its lustre and cherish its highest standards. We should strive to refrain from any word or deed that may bring discredit upon it.
Happy birthday the Grammarians! Up boys! Up boys!! Up boys!!! Nisi Dominus Frustra!