BY TONY ODIADI

THE famous Saint Patrick’s College, is wearing a new look. This is the outcome of a transformation initiative carried out by the Uduaghan administration. A familiar visitor arriving the school’s gate today would be slightly confused at the new picture of the school which has placed it in the league institutions in Nigeria parading one or more architectural masterpieces that are akin to a mini-university of sorts. Yours sincerely a proud old boy, was in Asaba a forthnight ago for an event and was pleasantly surprised by the new-look of SPC. It is fitting that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan invited no less a dignitary as the Senate President Senator David Mark, GCON to commission the building.

For those who know SPC, Asaba, but are yet to visit, where previously stood the old Administrative block, the Assembly ground Rotunda and the V-Drive to the school’s Chapel and the Principal’s Lodge now stands an imposing ultra-modern three floor complex fronting the Library and the old HSC Complex axis. But this does not tell the whole story. The SPC gate, the driveway with the 12-side stone lamps on either side always lit at night, the famous boulevard (bestrode by the flame of the forest and whispering palm trees glistering red when fully blossomed) and the new side walk by bounding the school’s fence built by the former and much celebrated principal, Chief R.O Asenime, all bear testimony to the far- reaching structural change (particularly the new inter-locking stones driveway) carried out by the government.

There are several reasons why the old boys of the school are particularly gratified by this development and are thus thankful to the Uduaghan administration for deeming it fit to give attention to SPC, a school which in many ways has also made several sacrifices for Asaba as capital of Delta State. Before, the capital town development took some toll on its grounds, the school bore the full brunt of the Nigerian Civil war which saw the destruction of many of its structures and facilities. But so intertwined with the evolution of the town it is that no one will talk about Asaba without mentioning the school which remains one of its most renowned landmarks.

In its almost a century of existence, following the arrival of the Catholic Missionaries to Asaba through the pioneering work of Rev. Father Joseph Zappa in 1881, the school was first a tentative experiment by a number of Jesuit Priests who came in a few decades after, but it was in 1944, after several years of students and teachers using other locations around the mission centres, that the school secured vast hectares of land and built upon the present location.

The pioneering work and determination of those early priests like Bishop Kelly of the Benin Diocese, Father Macdogal, Father O’Rouke, etc and many collaborating natives like Chief J.I.G Onyia and later Monsignor Ugboko all made their contributions. The Jesuit fathers had no illusion about what they wanted for the school. They made out a well laid school, with rows of buildings, a fitting Chapel bigger than many town churches, a school hall embodying a stage for theatre  called the Chaminade Hall, sporting grounds with football fields, laid-out tracks for sprints, eight -LawnTennis courts, hockey pitches, cricket grounds, basket ball and volleyball courts and even a huge surface swimming pool located by the Chapel for the Reverend Father/Tutors of the school.

To be sure SPC, Asaba held its own in academics, morals and sportsmanship. The first civilian governor of  Bendel State Prof. Ambrose Alli was an  old boy, so too several Vice Chancellors of old including Prof. Emovon, Maduemezie, Ndili, etc. Students came from all corners of Nigeria in its early days- from the North, East and West. No other Catholic schools, or indeed other school, had its kind of facilities, not surprising for a group like the Jesuit Fathers known to place much store on quality education. Up until the seventies and eighties almost 80 per cent of its teaching and non-teaching staff were housed in the residential apartments built from inception by the missionaries on the school’s ground.

It is true  that there were also efforts at building other high calibre schools like St Thomas’s Ibusa, St Gregory’s Lagos, Christ the King College, Onitsha, College of Immaculate Conception Enugu, St John’s College, Kaduna, Notre Dame, Ozoro, even SPC’s name sake at Ikot Ansa, St Patrick’s College, Calabar, none of them could  attain the edificial ambience and by extension academic and moral out-out of students who passed through that citadel of learning. A school known for all its well…laid flower hedges and orchards-ornage, guava and grapes, all of which contributed to its horticultural beauty and aesthetics; sad though that much of that has been lost in some recent haphazard buildings and driveways now in the school.

There  were four pre-eminent Ivy league schools in old Mid-West and later Bendel State which alone played the Giwa Osagie Cup. The schools were St. Patrick’s College, Asaba, Edo College, Benin, Government College, Ughelli, and Federal Government College, Warri. These schools maintained a kind of aristocracy of the mind and learning to which many other schools in the old Bendel State worthy of mention aspired. That is, schools like Hussey College, Warri, Urhobo College, Warri, St Anthony’s College, Ubulu- Uku, Annunciation College, Irrua, St John’s College, Igarra, Anglican Grammar School, Ubulu-Uku and James Welch Ozoro, to name a few.

It is no surprise that Gov. Emmanuel Uduaghan himself is a product of FGC, Warri for which he is committed to pursue the restoration of the glorious days of the Ivy league schools long neglected by previous governments. There is much to be gained by further improvement of St Patrick’s College, Asaba. First, such an institution of superb and rich pedigree will be a proper educational sanctuary for the children of several Deltans as well as the political and government elites eager to place their wards in decent environment; second, collaborating with the missionaries within the schools cadres, high moral content is ,assured for the children not too far from parental reach; third, a complete development of SPC in Asaba, that is rebuilding of its remaining structures, will further showcase the administration’s transformation efforts which are already being celebrated in several other sectors and areas of Delta State.

The other reason why the Old boys are delighted is that several administrations have passed through Delta State since 1991 without this kind of consideration. Name them Ochulor, Ibru, Yeri, Asuquo, Dungs, Kefas, Feghabor, Ibori. The Uduaghan administration has demonstrated its commitment to the development of Delta State even in areas hitherto neglected. As the Old Boys prepare for a formal thank you visit to the Governor at Government House, Asaba in the coming weeks, this piece is a show of our appreciation of his administration’s gift to our Alma Mater.