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100 Years of King's College, Lagos

By Dr Bukar Usman


Book: Floreat Collegium

Publisher: Third Millennium Publishing Limited 2014

No. of Pages: 240

Cover Price: N50,000

Reviewer: Bukar Usman

Floreat Collegium, a Latin expression meaning "May the College Flourish," is the title of a book published by the King's College Old Boys' Association (KCOBA). The colourful hard-cover book was published to mark the 100 years of the establishment, in 1909, of the College, the first public school in the then Lagos colony. Although reference is made to "boys" in the old students' association, sight should not be lost of the fact that a few females were admitted into King's College prior to 1960.  

     Floreat Collegium was the college's old motto which was subsequently changed to Spero Lucem (‘I Hope for Light'). It still stands as the beginning of the first stanza of the college's anthem. Floreat is also the common expression in exchange of felicitation among current and old students of the college.

     The book has 9 chapters categorised under 4 Sections and 6 Appendices. The Chapters are composed of articles mostly written by notable former and current executive members of KCOBA.

      Section One tells the story of the college from its inception right through the ages to the current millennium and looks at issues beyond its centenary celebration. It is in this section we learn of the lofty objectives of the founding fathers, the modest beginnings of the college, the standards set and the commitment of the British colonial administrators. Some of the pioneer staff (expatriates and Nigerians) who selflessly gave their best to put the college on a proper footing towards the attainment of its immediate and long-term objectives were recognised and honoured by naming prominent features of the college after them.

     The establishment of the college preceded the amalgamation of the Lagos Colony and the Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914 to form what has become known as Nigeria. Only a few private schools were established earlier than the college. These were CMS Grammar School Lagos, established in 1859, St Gregory College Lagos, 1876, Methodist Boys High School Lagos, 1878, Methodist Girls High School, Lagos, 1879, Baptist Boys High School Lagos, 1885, and Hope Waddell Institute Calabar, 1895.

     King's College, known initially as King's School, was started as a £10,001 project. That amount, meagre even by current estimation, was sufficient for the construction of an 8 lecture-room structure, a laboratory, an office and dormitory for 300 students. That the college was built on a choice expanse of land on Lagos Island, the seat of the colonial administration, indicated how important the college was in the administration's scheme of things. The school was open to anyone who could afford to pay the annual fee of 6 British pounds sterling. In contrast, Barewa College, set up in Zaria in 1921, was primarily for the children of the northern nobility.

     The curriculum of King's College, in its early years, mirrored that of equivalent institutions that qualified students for admission into British universities. Students of the college, therefore, usually left school readily prepared for admission into tertiary institutions such as the University College Hospital Ibadan and the Yaba College Lagos. Subjects such as Latin and Philosophy were in the school's curriculum up to the 1960s.

     There was a mystique about the opening of the college. Once the legal instrument was promulgated, preparations were made to open the college "at the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year of the century." However, this zodiacal intention did not come to pass as the college was opened on September 20, 1909.

     Section 2 of the book throws up lots of information about the heritage of the college, the ideals and extra-curricular activities of the college. In addition to these, the section emphasises that academic discipline was relentlessly pursued by the college administration since inception to nurture the students, in and out of the classrooms. The overall objective of the college was to produce "gentlemen" and manpower for public-service and entrepreneurial endeavours. The emphasis was on leadership training and on cultivating the virtues of camaraderie, obedience and perseverance embodied in the College anthem. These were practically enforced in the way college activities, characterised by active student involvement and institution of military discipline, were conducted. Towards the fuller realisation of these, innovative Student Representative Council (SRC), which entailed students' participation in governance and parliamentary procedures, and a cadet unit were established in the college. The cadet unit, the first of its type in Nigeria, became the springboard used by a number of King's College students to launch themselves into distinguished military careers.

     Section 3, which is taken up entirely by Chapter 9, being the last chapter of the book, contains reminiscences of the of the college old boys. It ended with a unique write-up by one of the oldest living old boys, Adedapo A. Adeniran (Form 3A 1939/40). He gave account of events surrounding the challenges of the World War II which saw the students of Government College Ibadan and Government College Umuahia housed at King's College. They were taught separately throughout the duration of the war. The step was taken to conserve resources and offer maximum protection to the students.

     Other old boys in their reminiscences recalled with nostalgia their participation in sporting and social activities with several institutions, including Achimota College in Ghana and Lycee Behanzin High School in Benin Republic. Many became members of national teams and captained several sporting games. Section 3 also offers a Picture Gallery of some old boys of the college and a stunning aerial view of the college and its neighbourhoods, including the sprawling native dwellings of Igbosere, Sandgrouse and Okesuna wards of Lagos Island. The Picture Gallery also includes such prominent features as the Supreme Court, the Federal Ministry of Works, and the Race Course, now renamed Tafawa Balewa Square.

     Section 4, which contains the Appendices, provides, among others, a six-page bulleted list of important events in the life and times of the college, embracing the centenary period 1909- 2009. Other items of interest include acknowledgement list of individuals, groups and organisations that facilitated the publication of the centenary book; a comprehensive roll of students who went through the college year by year from the inception of the college in 1909 to the centenary year 2009; and an index.

     The write-ups in general underscored the humble beginnings of the college which started with a modest admission of 11 students on one site in the first year but now has a staggering student population of 1,494 on two sites (as at 2007). It was the success of the college in turning out qualified professionals in nearly all fields of human endeavour that led the federal government to initiate efforts targeted at replicating the college across the country. This led to the establishment of several unity colleges modelled after King's College, just as King's College was modelled after Eton College and similar institutions in Britain of the time. That national endeavour seemed to work to the disadvantage of the college, as it turned out to be treated merely as the first among equals. The college staff strength was depleted by their deployment of a number of them to the unity colleges in an effort to bring up those colleges to King's College standards.

     The upkeep of King's College and the unity colleges to optimal standards poses formidable challenges in the face of limited resources. Not the least concerned are old students who lament the serious deterioration of infrastructure in these institutions. How to proceed from there has thus become a nagging issue which has rightly engaged the attention of KCOBA well before the centenary celebration and more so since then. Government-KCOBA partnership remains central in the agenda for infrastructural improvement of the College but the modality for funding and management is yet to be worked out. Should admission into King's College be restricted to cope with available resources and maintain high standards or be thrown wide open to meet the increasing quest for education in the country and put up with perceived low standards? This is the question currently agitating the minds of stakeholders.

     The conception and publication of the book Floreat Collegium by KCOBA is highly commendable and worthy of emulation by old boys of other educational institutions in the country. It serves to commemorate the efforts of the founding fathers but also provides the opportunity for stakeholders to update themselves and draw inspiration from some invaluable lessons of history. The next edition of Floreat Collegium would gain from closer attention to some minor editing issues and from ensuring that the pictures, in terms of people and places, are more diversified and better captioned. Inclusion of a picture of the Victoria Island Annex of the College would also be an added complement to the next edition since the "present, past and future form one mighty whole," as extolled by the highly inspiring college anthem.


Bukar Usman, OON, KCOB

Former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency

December 25, 2016       





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