Still running with the vision, 75 years on

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Our Reporter

April 5, 2023

The first Muslim secondary school in Nigeria and West Africa, Anwar-ul Islam College, Agege, Lagos turns 75 today. An old boy of the school, Lawal Ogienagbon, takes a look at the twists and turns in the life of the school.

It has been 75 years in the journey of the first Muslim secondary school in Nigeria and West Africa. A journey made possible by the resilience of its founding fathers. Men who gave all they had so that the school could come into being. They denied themselves many things  in order to fulfil their dream of having a school for  Muslim boys and girls. Looking back today, it can be said that their toil, sweat and sacrifice have not been in vain.

 The school started as Saka Tinubu Memorial Ahmadiyya High School on April 5, 1948 at Olusi Street on Lagos Island. It started as a mixed school for boys and girls, but later became boys only, while the girls arm was moved to another location. The school was a child of circumstance. It was established to serve a need by parents who were concerned about the future of their children. A future which from all indications then would be determined by how educated people were. They saw right and acted well.

  In the early 1900s, there were fewer schools than there are now. Most of the schools were owned by Christian Missions, while the others belonged to government. These mission schools served as support for the public schools which could not take all pupils seeking admission. With this situation, Muslim children were at a disadvantage. The mission schools’ priority was for Christian children. Their admission policy, understandably, was Christian children-centric. That is Christian children first. This development set members of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam (which later became Anwar-ul Islam Movement in Nigeria) thinking. “What can we do in a situation like this?” “Will we just stand by and watch while our children are being denied education because of their faith?” They asked themselves.

  Their response was to roll up their sleeves to take up the challenge headlong, by setting up a Muslim school. Swiftly, these men started gathering what was needed to start the school. Someone donated a building, another gave money, yet another took up the provision of desks and chairs. Little by little, they began to fulfil the dream. It was tough but these men were tougher. They were more than determined to get the school off the ground. They had seen what education could do in the uplifting of man and society. Many of them did not have the advantage of formal education; they only attended Arabic classes, but have come to appreciate the advantage of education. So, they wanted their children to be educated, no matter what it takes. After all, they thought, there was no sacrifice too big to make in order to be educated. 

 These Muslim parents from the then Colony of Lagos began to work assiduously to save the future of their children and also keep the flame of Islam burning. These men knew that they could only save the situation by establishing a Muslim secondary school where their children and others interested in education would acquire further knowledge after leaving primary school. They toiled day and night to establish this secondary school of their dream. They devoted time and energy to the project. It was a mission that must be accomplished because of the high stakes involved. In the Lagos of their time, these were no mean men, they were leaders of faith whose fame rang through the Lagos Colony then. The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) which they used to establish the first secondary school in West Africa was just finding its feet in Lagos.

  They overcame the challenge of resources to use to establish the school because where there is a will, there is a way. These great and noble men found a way. Through personal sacrifices, they led the way in founding the first Muslim secondary school in the country and West Africa. The school was named after Pa Saka Tinubu, the National  President of Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam from 1930 to 1940, who had died by the time the school was born in 1948. Others who toiled with him to found the college were Alhaji Jibril Martin, Alhaji B. D. Oshodi, Alhaji N. B. Kenku, Alhaji B. A. Fanimokun, Alhaji A. S. E Agbabiaka, Alhaji Issa Williams, Chief Imam Ashafa Tijani, Chief Imam Y. P. O. Shodeinde, Imam Ismail (Epetedo), Pa Pereira, Alhaji M. A. Animashaun and Alhaji R. A. Allison.

The name of the college has changed over the years. It started as a mixed school in 1948, but with its movement to Oniwaya Road in Agege in the then Western Region, it became a boys only school, with the name, Ahmadiyya College, Agege. In 1976, the name was changed to Anwar-ul Islam College, Agege. Seventy-five years after its establishment, the college is waxing stronger despite all it has been through. Its longest serving principal, Alhaji Jimoh Adisa Gbadamosi, OON, remains a father figure to his students till today. At 96, Oga, as the boys called him behind his back in school then, should be the proudest father on earth today seeing what his boys have become. He saw generations of pupils pass through the school as principal from 1960 to 1976.

 His pupils have today fittingly named him Principal Emeritus, an honour he richly deserves. Everything being equal, Oga may be around to celebrate with his boys as the Anwar-Ul Islam College Old Students Association (ACAOSA) mark the 75th anniversary of the great school. The planning of the anniversary has been on for months, with the President-General of ACAOSA, Alhaji Lawal Pedro (SAN), coordinating activities.

Today, Pedro will be addressing the press on activities to mark the Platinum Anniversary slated for May 5. The celebration was shifted to next month because of the Ramadan fast. Ramadan is observed religiously in the school. Those days, all Muslim pupils in the boarding school were expected to observe the fast. But as pupils we knew well the saying: “Da ogbon si; eni ti o gbon l’awe gbo’. Meaning “you have to be wise by pretending to be fasting”. Some will take the early morning meal known as “sari” and go to town and eat while pretending to still be fasting. There will be no food in the dining hall in the afternoon except for the early morning “sari” and the “isinu” (fast breaking) in the evening. Only the Christians were served lunch.

  The school has a lot to be grateful for, 75 years down the line, according to Pedro, who noted the  “enormous contributions” of ACAOSA to the growth, development and progress of the school. Among others, the old boys association has remodelled and equipped the school clinic in the last five years since the college’s 70th anniversary. The clinic is manned by qualified staff nurses who are on duty throughout the school hours. ACAOSA also built a mosque (with separate ablution area and toilets) for students to perform the five daily prayers. The mosque has a public address system and is well stocked with Islamic books. The school library was reconstructed and remodelled as a 21st Century e-library, stocked with current books, journals and computers.

The Chemistry and Biology laboratories were refurbished to global best standard, with appropriate apparatuses, facilities and materials for learning and research. The upgrade and remodelling of the Physics Laboratory is ongoing. With a solar energy equipment and public power supply, the school has light 24 hours of the day to ensure a conducive environment for learning and living in the boarding house. Pedro noted that the old boys also facilitated the donation of computers to the school and influenced the donation of learning and teaching materials, cash and scholarship awards to brilliant indigent pupils. The old boys, he added, were working on getting a drone for the use of the school. For the school, its 75 years of existence is a time to reflect on its beginnings and how far it has come.

   Its founders can be sure of one thing though that their dream of a school that will meet the educational needs of children and mould them into future leaders is very much alive. ACAOSA and the leadership of Anwar-ul Islam Movement in Nigeria have been collaborating on ensuring that the school retains its pride of place in line with its motto: Aut Optimum Aut Nihil (Either the best or nothing). 

source Still running with the vision, 75 years on | The Nation Newspaper (

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