This was the local name common in the mouths of Esan people for Ishan Grammar School, now updated to be Esan Grammar School after the colonial period expired in Nigeria. Ubierumu, one of the villages of Uromi, where the school was located, was generally referred to as the ato of Uromi. This was because its land boundary ended with a large expanse of open guinea savanna. lt was a term used commonly in distinguishing the guinea savanna land, of which Uromi was rich, from the guinea rainforest zone, egbo, common in the southern sector of Edoland. We kha se /suku Noribhato, u khi diakheme. (meaning, when you reach the school in Ato wait for me).
This expression was common with farmers, traders and teachers, plying the road at that time. Those of us who were teachers there then, also fell into the category of the users of the expression, and the road.
It was an age of bicycle, with the Raleigh, male-type or female-type, being the commonest, and for the lower middle class. The Volkswagen Beetle was often in the hands of the upper middle class, while the Oyibo class people or Ebonekhui used the larger types of car. Father Byrne, who was the Principal of the school, used the Beetle. Prince Albert Okojie who was often seen as the Oyibo of the school used bigger cars. He was the chairman of the Education board of the lshan Divisional Council which sponsored the creation of the school. Father Walsh in Uromi, used the Beetle.
Esan Grammar School was a creation of Uromi Uzea Local Council and it 'donated' it to the Catholic Mission for management as a Voluntary Agency School, in the interest of Esan people, and to the taste of Bishop Kelly who was the head of the Catholic Mission in the Old Benin province. All stakeholders co-operated to work for the accreditation of the school by the Ministry of Education then at Ibadan. The official supervisory eyes of the ministry office in the Benin zone were Messrs Felix C. Halim and G.N. Enobakhare. It was the first indigenous community secondary school in Esanland. The other one which competed with it was Annunciation College, lrrua. This was a Catholic Mission creation.
I learnt of Esan Grammar School on November I, 1957, when l was a tutor in St. Thomas's Teacher-Training College, lgbuzo (lbusa). Father J. Cadogan who was the Principal, came up to me on that All-Saints Day when Mass service was on, and slipped the letter of transfer into my hands. I had been with him for some 14 months since September I, 1956, after l left St. Patrick's Modem School Benin where I had been teaching Mathematics and English. With this transfer, I found myself in Esanland, in Esan Grammar School where l spent 27 months before I was again transferred to Agbor in January l 960, to St. Columba's Teacher-Training College.
When I was coming to Uromi, I felt I was coming home to a people I had known very well, and to a terrain with which I could feel very comfortable. I had grown in my early years with Urormi people who were workers in my father's Rubber Camp at Ogbeson in Benin. Through them 1 had given good attention to stories about Uromi, its people, the dance pattern (particularly the Asologun) and the choral rendition. When 1 went to St. Thomas s College as a student, I found myself in a good circle of Uromi friends especially people like Francis Enahoro, Patrick Amanfo. Samuel Ayewoh, Albert Ewah, Francis lmobhio, and Alfred Oseghale. When I started teaching in my alma mater (lgbuzo), I was often with friends from Esan, especially Edward Okpiabhele and Anthony Atiomo, who were my colleagues, as well as Vincent Agbonrofo. Gilbert lrefo, Joe Okojie and others, who were my pupils.
Life had become much easier to live at Uromi, especially as pipe-borne water had become available. Anthony Enahoro's had been showered with encomiums for this achievement. His father, Okoutako Enahoro, who was the Local Customary Court Judge, had emerged as the embodiment of decency in the community. His last child and son, Emmanuel, was my pupil in Esan Grammar School. Uromi was a central meeting-point for intellectual gardening, and for a pride of cultural heritage in Esanland. It was a city-state cluster of some 20 villages, all with sound mutual understanding and respect for unity under the Onojie whose hereditary position dated back to the 11th century AD, and whose relationship with the Benin monarchy had remained unimpugned.
It was into this community providence brought me in 1957 as a teacher in lsuku Noribhato. It was about this community I had the unique privilege (2001) of writing a socio-political history covering the years I050- l950AD, after 44years of parting, and mature interaction. Omoregie's Uromi History has, by this fact of histo-cultural evolution, become the first major work done on Uromi, which can be of regular use in universities, schools and colleges.
Esan Grammar School, Uromi, was by-all standards, a centre of new life for all the boys who grew up during the colonial period of the Midwest, and would now be men largely in their 60's. They were the set of students who saw the school through its founding years of 1956-63. The location was about 5 miles into the southern fringe of Uromi city centre, significantly secluded from the din and bustle of the market scene. Those of us, now in our 70's or more, who led the way as teachers have had cause to be happy at the human gains of the school, especially with the students of 1956, with whom a foundation of excellence was built for it through the years 1956-63.
Within The School
I had come from a college - St Thomas's, lgbuzo - where students showed a strong desire to learn, and where I studied for five years and taught for almost one and a half years, to a place in Esan Grammar School where the approach to the principles of life were virtually the same. There was the desire to learn among the students, the desire to teach among the teachers, the desire to play, especially football, and the desire to work to make the environment habitable. Above all, there was the desire to maintain the Roman Catholic type of discipline.
Wellington Okirika was the first person to meet me when I arrived. He introduced himself as the Senior Prefect of the school. In St Thomas's College, lgbuzo, the picture of the prefect was one who wielded considerable powers in matters of discipline, over the students. I found Wellington very friendly and accommodating. Then came the ebullient Andrew Masade, with smiles and such playful styles that seemed to encapsulate the joys of being in lsuku Noribhato. He had helped to clean up my accommodation in Frederick Akhetuame's compound, opposite his family house along Unity Road in Efandion. Father Byrne had given me my subjects and I was to teach English Literature and History. My other colleagues were Alfred Oseghale who had been my senior in St Thomas's College, and Fidelis Oyakhilome who had just finished his studies in St Patrick's College Asaba. Three of us, together with Father Byrne, were the main teachers the students had to contend with.
I found the teaching of English Literature very fascinating. The library was building up steadily. The books I needed were there. I got the students to dig into the library and convince me that they were reading. They soon began to use 'Iambus' or 'Iambic Pentameter', as my second name. This was because l took pains to get them to understand the values of poetry through the rhythm, measured in metric beats, as we read poems together and wrote them together. One of the published poems on Esan Grammar School was written in early 1958. It was captioned and rendered as follows:
The Dry Ato School
There, in the dry Ato school,
The pupils lived with the few they knew.
From distant homes of varying plights,
They gathered, well with all delight.
There alone they skipped and played
And danced and ate and worked and stayed.
They nothing had their minds to worry,
For worldly cares were not their hurry.
They daily pressed for joy and wisdom.
This they sought as suits the kingdom.
But to keep their strength unwinding still
They stretched for water too to filI.
Food they had no time and need,
For regular meals were guaranteed.
But water to drink was all the rub.
So is the tale of the Ato school.
By OSB Omoregie 1958
The students grew in learning, wisdom, industry and discipline as the school grew in years. The foundation was fascinating. That is why any thought of Esan Grammar School in the• present day cannot separate itself from the success of its founding products. By the time they were in their third year they had squared up confidently for the school certificate examination. And they passed. Among them were Anthony Okpere, Andrew Masade, Godwin Akpamu, Philip Omoregie, Francis Okoh, Wellington Okirika, Martin Ugege, Anthony lnegbenebor, to name a few. All these are now in their 60's. Following them were the group of Johnson Ewalefoh, Julius Abhasibhewere (now Akhanoba), Steven Ataga, Ejodamen and more, who kept the flag of lsuku Norivbato flying.
The Future of the School
Esan Grammar School is the oldest home-grown secondary school in Esanland. We are happy that the products and past teachers are around to take pride in its continued existence in today's education system. Twenty years ago, when I was Director of Academy Planning in NUC (National Universities Commission) I proposed an idea to the Minister of Education, Professor Jibril Aminu, that for the purpose of ensuring mature entry into Nigerian Universities, older home-grown secondary schools should be converted to sub-degree institutions, for studies in science and technology and integrated arts. Schools, like Hussey College, Edo College, Ughelli Government College, Esan Grammar School and many similar schools, one in each community, were listed for consideration. If the idea was seen to be too fast for its age at that time, it should be seen to be quite germane to the circumstances of the present day.
Esan Grammar School should not be seen to be rubbing shoulders with new generation Grammar Schools in Esanland, in terms of educational vision, facilities and operations. It should be operating at a higher level. It should be an Advanced Level School and should be equipped to be so. Similar AL Schools should now begin to spring up in Nigeria so that students can largely find places in Universities with eyes for mature learning, instead of drifting into circles of confrontational cultism.
(Dr. Omoregie served as Director of Academic Planning in University of Benin (1982-85) and NUC (1985-87) after being Director of Educational Planning in Bendel State Ministry of Education ( 1973- 82). He has now retired into Educational Consulting (With Osbo Konsult Ltd), into book writing in which he can conveniently count up to 70 tiles, and into Osbo University Academy in Benin where he is the Rector, digging into studies in ubiniology. He hopes that one day Esan Studies will emerge as a unit for excellence in self-knowledge in Esanland. Come to him oh his 74th day of renewal on January 12, 2007 and be part of the motto: Findout thyself).