By Prof. MK Othman
I was taught and have taught/still teach in many institutions of learning within and without but two of such institutions are uniquely occupying the center stage of my heart. These two are so dear to me that I can give all I have to advance their causes. Government Secondary School (GSS) Funtua and Ahmadu Bello University Zaria are the two exclusively pricey schools I cannot but continue to hold close to my heart.
Coincidentally, my age and the age of these two schools marked our Diamond age in 2022 as they were established in October 1962 while I was born three months earlier. I paid a glorious tribute to ABU Zaria, titled “ABU@60: Giant, Still Briskly Walking in the Right Direction” published on 13th October 2022.
On Sunday, 2nd October 2022, GSS Funtua, (now Government College Pilot, Funtua) was 60 years old. The Diamond Jubilee was to be celebrated at that time but was tactically postponed to accommodate a grand reception for its worthy alumnus, Right Honorable Aminu Bello Masari, the immediate past governor of Katsina State. Governor Masari is among the three illustrious old boys, proudly a product of GSS Funtua who made it to the prestigious position of the state governor. The other two are Col Abdulmuminu Aminu (Rt) who was the governor of the old Borno state that included the present Yobe state, and Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, a democratically elected governor of Kwara State from 2011 and 2019 under the platform of PDP.
The GSS Funtua Diamond Jubilee was held on 20th May 2023. Despite the long postponement, Governor Masari was not able to make it physically but he was spiritually with us at the occasion as his lavish support for it testified. The Diamond Jubilee was a mixed gathering of the nostalgic old, glorious days of the exuberant young boys and today’s reality of insecurity, squalor, hunger, and abyss of poverty to both young and old boys. We all wore our best costumes and were well prepared to look our best for the joy of meeting our old friends and classmates. There were banters, jokes, laughs, and we were in high spirits, seated in groups of classmates and reliving the old days of teenage life almost forgetting what gathered us. For some of us, boarding secondary school life was the most critical foundation that built our careers. It was the molding stage of our physical, social, and mental status.
During the event, I met one of the “bad” guys in our class. Noise-making was the biggest crime in the class as it could attract individual or collective punishment. As the class monitor, the guy was my biggest headache. He gazed at me and said, “Babangida (the name I was then using in school), are you still as sharp as you used to be”. His facial expression was the same as it was in the 1970s when we were teenagers. He reminded me of the way he used to challenge me in class to write his name among the noise-makers. He used to announce “God has given me a mouth to eat and talk, nobody can deny me of my right to talk, write my name, and submit it to whoever you want to”. His noise-making was not my only concern but his rebellion was like adding salt to injury as it was an inspiration to would-be noise-makers. Punishment was nothing to him, so, writing his name in the list of noise-makers was not the solution. I had to change my strategy to contain him by holding an olive branch, which made us become friends ever since. That was life. Thanks to the Diamond Jubilee that made us reunite in our sexagenarian age of goodbye 50s, welcome 60s.
In the end, GSS Funtua Diamond Jubilee was a huge success and became one of the rare memorable events in our lives. The occasion was graced by more than 700 people including four important traditional rulers, Hakimin Funtua, and Hakimin Malumfashi, who chaired the occasion. Others were Hakimin Bakori, Hakimin Mairuwa, and many other dignitaries.
The befitting occasion was organized by Funtua Old Boys Association (FOBA) under the able leadership of indefatigable Justice Musa Danladi and his supportive lieutenants. While the event was going on, we were all joyous about our reunion and nostalgia. However, an inch out of the event’s venue was the sad reality of the remnants of what used to be GSS Funtua. The school was made to undergo a tortious journey from grace to grass.
The school was transformed from a status of national school with students from across the nation without social class differences to a local school with students from “less-to-do families” of Funtua town. In its heydays, from the 1960s to the early 2010s, the school gained accolades and prizes. It won first prize in IT Competition for Secondary Schools in the North-West Zone in 2009, and won second prize in 2012 and 2014 for the National Mathematics Centre Olympiad and Cowbell Mathematics Competition, respectively. The school also won the fourth position in, National Olympiad in physics, chemistry, and biology in 2013. Similarly, in 2015, GSS Funtua won the first position for the Kennedy Lugard Youth Exchange Program USA as well as another first position in a quiz competition for the National chemical society of Nigeria at both state and national levels. These were a few of the accolades.
In terms of manpower development, as of 2022, the school successfully graduated over 50,000 students. Among the students were the three state governors, a Federal Minister, a Judge of the Supreme Court, Federal High court Judges, two Senators, two Chief Judges of Katsina State, a Speaker of the Katsina State House of Assembly, An Air Vice-Marshal, a Major General, Chairman of Federal Civil Service Commission, Heads of Agencies, Professors, famous scientists, and other professionals. This beautiful historical trend of the school was cut short by the current Katsina state secondary school deboarding policy.
Additionally, the school was disintegrated into five other schools, Government College (pilot), day wing junior (boys), day wing senior (boys), day wing junior (girls), and day wing senior (girls). This translates to having five principals with their administrative structures instead of one principal when it was GSSF. The dormitories, which served as hostels for the students were vandalized and made to be hideouts for social miscreants. During the Diamond Jubilee, I saw a renowned professor, an alumnus of the school video filming the carcass of the edifice constructed as dormitories in the 1960s. It was an eyesore that wetted our eyes. This unfortunate government policy of deboarding affected all the first-generation secondary schools except GSS Malumfashi which was converted to a unity school. What a pity. Can the Katsina state government learn from the Kaduna state government where the peers of these schools are still maintained as boarding?
The new state government of Katsina state under Dr. Radda needs to urgently reverse this trend to preserve the historical antecedents of these schools and promote the unity of our youths. Yes, boarding school increases the quality of education, unites our youth, enhances cultural integration, and strengthens youth to be less dependent on their parents in basic decision-making.