Foundation of Offa Grammar School
By R. N. Ludlow
The large town of Offa appears at least three times in these memoirs. It is the first large town as one enters the Northern Provinces and was for some time the end of the railway line being built from Lagos to Kano. As further construction on the line took place, Offa was the supply base from its large engineering and supplies work. This meant it became the residence of a large staff of well qualified Africans and Europeans. Most of the Africans came from the south and we had a small church served by a catechist to look after the Methodist community. I decided to raise the standard of the staff, and was able to replace the catechist with a fully trained Sub-Pastor from our Wesley College. He was to undertake outreach work. I have already recorded the tragic event which left him a widower in his early years.
Our first school at Offa was opened in the small church built by the railway workers. The building itself had the usual mud walls, not very straight nor smooth. These had been improved with a splash of whitewash. The mud floor had to be washed each Saturday with a solution of cattle dung, to keep insect life to a minimum. The lower creation seem to dislike the smell, we humans got used to it quickly, but the khaki colour was not inspiring. The choice of site had been unfortunate and it was difficult to attract pupils to the school. Native residents were dependent on their farms and not on market stalls for their food supplies. They went to farm every day. They suffered much loss through monkeys. These animals were not satisfied with uprooting one growing yam, the staple diet of the people, and after one or two bits, the monkey would toss off the remainder and unearth a fresh yam. The farmers could not be persuaded to send children to school, they were sent to the farm to watch and drive off the monkeys when they got up to their monkey tricks.
The children took it in turns to sit in a tree until the enemy arrived and gave the signal to their companions who sent showers of stones in the required direction. The railway workers were not farmers and their children were able to attend. I discussed the problem with the Oloffa (Chief of Offa) and suggested we would like to move to a big and prominent site. He promised to have the necessary discussions and would let me know.
The result was favourable and we were given the chosen site. This would allow for a church and four classrooms with space for enlargement to cover the eight standards in a Primary School. There was also adequate space for a teacher's house, a playground and other activities. We later built a Bookshop with an annex where the bookseller lived. The money for this latter construction came from my 'Harmonium Fund'.
This active interest in education was later to lead to important developments. The Offa Descendants Union (ODU) was a progressive body with a large membership. Most of the local storekeepers and educated persons in the town beiong, but the greatest financial backing came from Offa descendants abroad, living mainly in Lagos. They were very generous and did much good for their home town.
One greatly desired objective was to start a Grammar School so that children, having gained success in their Primary schooling, need not leave the town but enter a secondary school at home. In Northern Nigeria, the only Secondary Schools were Government-built, controlled and financed. There was little hope that Offa would be favoured by Government as a project, so the ODU aimed at an independent Grammar School. I had taken a general interest in the town and was on very friendly terms with the Emir of florin, the Resident Magistrate and the Education Officer, so the ODU approached me.
In our developing Primary school on the new site mentioned above, we were making very good progress and already had several fully - trained normal teachers on the staff. I could not commit our Mission to supply trained teachers and library to staff a secondary school, but I promised to look into the possibility of making a start. Naturally I kept the Chairman of our District Synod informed; we also had several meetings with the local committee of the ODU to clarify the position. I was also very grateful for the support and advice of Bandele Oyediran, Principal of our Methodist Boys High School in Lagos, who was not only a very active Methodist but also an Offa descendant. There is much more to write of him later.
I agreed to become Manager of the Offa Grammar School and to make a start possible by lending one of our trained teachers from our primary school. We would start Form 1 in the African Church and planned to step up with an extra class each year. We would embark on a building scheme for the new school, including the provision for Science Labs in keeping with Government requirements. Fortunately the ODU for years had been contributing generously for this project so there was no problem.
So, at the beginning of the school year we started with forty boys in Form 1 and with our Solomon Ajayi as the teacher. The Oloffa and his chiefs were all there for the opening and although they were all Moslems, they asked me to open with prayer. It was interesting how they always referred to Solomon as the first principal of the school. No matter how large a primary school may be, it is always under the care of a headmaster, but the Offa Grammar School, like all other grammar schools must