Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon has highlighted the success story of unity and friendship among students of unity schools across the nation.
“The story of government colleges later referred to as ‘unity schools’ is very fascinating, and I have fond memories of the very beginning of the establishment of federal government colleges for girls.”
Gowon, who wrote the foreword for Coral Beads, the 50th-anniversary publication of Federal Government Girls’ College, Benin City (FEDIBEN), described the establishment of these schools as an “auspicious” one.
“It combined a reconciliatory objective, desire for re-integration, and unity necessary after the sad 2½ years civil war fact that the nation went through. There was also the need to get our young people to start to grow and know one another early and better in the spirit of one united Nigeria.”
The unique 400-page publication, birthed by Ozioma Izuora, a foundation student, is a compilation of rich stories, from first experiences to academics, arts and culture, fun times, milestones, and a whole lot more. “It’s simply our way of projecting the school that has given us so much,” says the publisher, Enuma Chigbo.
Old students of FEDIBEN look back with nostalgia as to how the school excelled in various spheres, especially in arts and culture.
“During my time as an ambassador to the United Nations, I visited Nigeria on a few occasions, which were quite memorable,” says the United Nations’ former ambassador, Andrew Young Jr, who wrote a goodwill message. “I attended portions of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in Lagos in 1977 and visited Benin. In my trips to Nigeria, and meeting with Nigerians, I have found them very gifted, diligent, hardworking, and resourceful. Paging through some of the words in this landmark publication further validates my comments made decades ago.”
According to Young, FEDIBEN is a community of gifted and dedicated young women who appreciate their diverse cultural differences, working in unity as patriotic Nigerians.
The establishment of 12 additional unity schools by Gowon started with a trip to one of the first three federal government colleges, during a state visit as head of state to the northwest state capital Sokoto in 1970, soon after the end of the civil war. At that time, only three unity schools existed.
He described that visit as momentous and life-changing, adding, “I keenly observed the sense of unity and camaraderie among the students, how they related with one another in such a joyful and cordial way regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds, immediately so soon after the civil war as though nothing so traumatic had happened. I salute the courage of those young returnees and the warm welcome of their other colleagues. It taught me a long life lesson of reconciliation. My personal experience and encounter from that particular visit was what inspired the establishment of more unity schools across the then remaining 12 states of the federation.”
The success story of unity and friendship among students of these colleges across the nation cannot be overemphasized, he said, describing it as a “beginning or one of many beginnings, which is and will continue to evolve into greater things to come in the near and distant future.”
According to him, it is heartwarming to see that fifty years later, young women, demonstrate a deep sense of commitment by giving back to the college that provided them with sound education, as well as fostered their friendship and unity.
“Looking back 50 years to the very beginning, I make bold to say that Coral Beads, is a testament that the decision, time and investments made back then, were certainly not in vain.”