King’s College celebrate 110

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 The epitome of educational excellence marches on

In a nation where far too many vital institutions decay and whither, it is truly gratifying to see that King’s College, Lagos is still going strong, 110 years after its momentous founding in September 1909.

It is undoubtedly Nigeria’s most famous educational institution, combining privilege, ability, consistency and distinction in a way very few other schools can dare to claim. In an era in which intellectual achievement is regarded with far less awe than hitherto, King’s College is a potent reminder of the supremely transformative capacity of a qualitative education.

Even in its very origins, King’s College was conceived as a special establishment. The first government-owned secondary school in Nigeria, and originally called King’s School, it was meant to proffer “a higher general education than that supplied by the existing schools, to prepare them for the Matriculation Examination of the University of London and to give a useful course of study to those who intend to qualify for professional life or to enter government or mercantile service.”

Unlike many missionary schools, King’s College was designed to produce leaders of men from the onset, even within the circumscribed context of colonial Nigeria. Outstanding academic performance was given pride of place with the quick introduction of scholarships and free tuition. Excellence in the classroom was complemented by concrete accomplishments outside it, as seen in the emphasis on good manners, self-control, athletic ability, sportsmanship, team-building and the cultivation of friendships which transcended ethnicity, religion and birth.

From the 10 pioneer students admitted in 1909, King’s College now has about 3,600 students spread across two campuses in Lagos State. Its extensive alumni which include some of the best-known names in the nation’s history: Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, Chief Simeon Adebo, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, Professor Claude Ake, Professor Sam Akpabot, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Mr. Adebayo Ogunlesi, Mr. Atedo Peterside and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi are only a fraction of an incredibly impressive list of former students.

Occupying prominent positions in government, politics, the arts, education, diplomacy, business, sport and the military, the alumni of King’s College have arguably had more influence on the fortunes of Nigeria than those of any other single institution within the education sector or outside it.

As King’s College prepares for the future, three main problems confront it: space and infrastructural constraints; the challenges of funding its increasingly complex operations; its problematic status as a Unity School and the associated difficulties of governmental oversight.

These challenges stem from the essential paradox of King’s College as an exclusive public school. As an elite college, it is necessarily exclusive; as a government-owned educational institution, it must be run for the greatest good of the greatest number.

It is crucial that several fundamental questions must be resolved if the school is to make as much progress in the future as it has made in the past. Should it relocate to a more spacious location elsewhere in Lagos State? Can the student population be reduced to more manageable levels? Should the school be handed over to private management? Should merit constitute the sole criterion of admission?

As one of 104 Unity Schools, King’s College is compelled to compete with the others for the limited resources provided by the Federal Government. In the 2018 national budget, N52.61 billion was approved, of which N38.79 billion was for recurrent expenditure. Capital expenditure was N13.82 billion; divided equally, each school would get about N132.8 million.

This is clearly inadequate for a school of the stature of King’s College. The King’s College Old Boys Association (KCOBA), various class sets and the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) have made significant interventions over the years. In 2009, the old boys raised N1 billion to rehabilitate the Lagos Island campus; a target of N10 billion was set for the rehabilitation of both campuses ahead of the 110th anniversary. In addition, individual principals of the school have raised enormous sums from the private sector for the construction of facilities and the provision of equipment.

Such interventions, however, only emphasise the inadequacy of government ownership and oversight. If King’s College would do better in private hands, it should be let go of, especially since the resources so saved could go to more needy institutions.

King’s College is a veritable institutional icon. It is a preeminent symbol of Nigerian ability and potential. May the college continue to flourish and be the nation’s hope for