NIGERIA: ACA : 70 and counting (Ahmadiyya College)

TODAY, Anwar-ul Islam College (formerly Ahmadiyya College) Agege (ACA)  turns 70. Its story is not different from that of other mission schools. It was founded by men who believed in education and in the development of the mind  through  qualitative learning. The road to the founding of ACA in 1948 was rough. It was a period when Christian secondary schools dotted the landscape. There were no Muslim secondary schools then. It was a big challenge for the fathers of the Islamic faith who witnessed what was going on.

They watched as their children were either denied places in the Christian schools or forced to change their names and embrace Christianity in order to enter those schools. To them, it was the height of humiliation for a man to be made to denounce his faith just because he wanted to go to school. The belief back then was that Muslims were not at home with Western education. The thinking was once they have gone to primary school and spiced it with Arabic education, that was the end of the matter.

This profiling of Muslims as no-good when it comes to Western education did not go down well with leading members of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam , the forerunner of the Anwar-ul Islam Movement in Nigeria. They believed that Muslim kids would hold their own against their Christian counterparts if provided a level playing field. These men started thinking about establishing the first Muslim secondary school not only in the country but in West Africa. It was a daunting task, but they gave it their all. Although these men are no more with us today, the seed they sowed 70 years ago have continued to grow.

These great men were Alhaji Saka Tinubu, Alhaji Jubril Martins, Alhaji Issa Akangbe Williams, Alhaji Nurudeen Bakre Kenku, Alhaji Bakare Disu Oshodi, Alhaji K. D. Oshodi, Alhaji Y. P. O. Shodeinde, Justice Lateef Dosunmu,  Alhaji Fanimokun and Alhaji Allison, among others. They built ACA with their sweat and blood. They turned virtually everything they had over to the school. ACA owes whatever it is today to these eminent men. If not for them, the idea would have remained a dream. They made the dream come true by pooling resources to establish the school.

Seventy years on, their dream of a great school remains undying because of the steadfastness of many who came after them. My own set was particularly lucky as we entered the school in January, 1973, three months to the celebration of its 25th anniversary on April 5 of the same year. The silver anniversary was celebrated with pomp and ceremony. As bright-eyed kids we had fun like we never did before.

To ensure that the school took off on a sound footing, Alhaji Martins and Alhaji Bakare Oshodi went on an educational tour of the Middle East and some Muslim countries in 1946. It was a fruitful tour as they got some scholarships for the training of teachers. The Principal of principals, Alhaji Jimoh Adisa Gbadamosi under whose wings many generations of students were groomed, was one of the  beneficiaries of the scholarships. In a piece titled: My stewardship with the college, Alhaji Gbadamosi recalled: “In September, 1949, I proceeded to the British Isles to pursue, on full scholarship of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, a degree course in Arts and Diploma in Education. With gratitude to God, I returned home in October, 1954 as a qualified graduate teacher with my colleagues, Alhaji R. A. Folami and Alhaji R. A. Balogun, who also completed their academic and professional courses successfully’’.

The three played great roles in the life of Ahmadiyya College, which name was changed to Anwar-ul Islam College in 1976 shortly before Alhaji Gbadamosi was redeployed to Jubril Martins Memorial Secondary School at Iponri as principal. He swapped places with Alhaji Balogun, who was brought to Agege. Alhaji Gbadamosi had succeeded Alhaji Folami at Agege in 1960. Of the trio, only Alhaji Gbadamosi aka Oga is still alive today. He was 91 on March 18. The story of ACA is one of struggle and determination. It started off at 4, 6 and 8, Olushi Street, Lagos Island, on April 5, 1948. Houses 4 and 6 were donated to the school by Alhaji Martins and Alhaji Kenku; House 8 belonged to the Movement.

The school came to be because of the commitment of these men and other like minds who came after them like Alhaji Babatunde Jose, who also led the Movement in the late 60s and early 70s. Olushi was too small for the kind of school the founding fathers had in mind. So, in 1942, the Movement acquired 87 acres of land in Oniwaya,  Agege, where the school stands till today. Its take-off at Olushi was almost marred because it could not get a graduate to head it as principal as required by law. Eventually, the Movement’s ‘’tortuous search’’ for a graduate ended when it got a Ghanaian, Mr J. I. Thompson Hagan, for the job.

To mark the 70th anniversary,  a public lecture titled : ‘’Child education : A lasting legacy’’ will be delivered today at the school hall by Dr Abaniwonda of the Lagos State University (LASU). The lecture will be preceded by a press conference. There is cause for the college to celebrate because it holds a pride of place among secondary schools in the country. Though 70, it has achieved what many colleges which are older than it have not achieved. In academics and extra-curricula activities, the school is not a push over.

Where will the school be in the next 30 years? By then, it will be 100, an age, which many of the schools it rubs shoulders with, have since attained. At 100, ACA will not be less the school it is today. The school remains standing because of the solid foundation laid by its founders. It has had its ups and downs, especially following the acquisition of mission schools by the government in 1978. Things have since turned around for it for good following the return of the schools to their owners. The school can only go higher and higher in order to keep the dream of its founding fathers alive. And that is the only way it can continue to live up to its motto, which is  Aut Optimum Aut Nihil (Either the best or nothing).


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