By Sani Adamu
Social analysts insist that one of the greatest development challenges facing Nigeria is the threat to national unity.
They note that agitation for recognition by various ethnic groups, resource control, ethno-religious politics and other primordial cleavages have crept into national consciousness of some Nigerians.
According to them, this development perhaps motivated various past administrations to establish many national integration programmes and institutions aimed at promoting national unity.
They cite the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, establishment of unity schools, the Federal Character principle, National Sports and Cultural Festivals and the establishment of the National Orientation Agency, among others, as some of such institutions.
Irrespective of these efforts, pundits observe that the policy and programmes have not yielded the desired results, insisting that primordial ethno-religious sentiments are still prevalent in the minds of some Nigerians.
They, nonetheless, acknowledge that out of the programmes, the establishment of unity schools seems to have the potential for fostering the bond of unity among Nigerians.
This, they note, motivates successive governments to establish unity schools as a veritable means of strengthening national cohesion and integration in the country.
In the light of this, the government established the first unity school –King’s College — in 1909 as an all-boys secondary school in Lagos.
Also, in 1927, another Federal Government’s owned unity school –Queen’s College — was established in Lagos as an all-girls school.
Available records revealed that the Yaba Trade Centre, which was later renamed Federal Technical College, Yaba, Lagos, was established in 1948 with the same objective.
To further strengthen national integration after the country’s independence in 1960, the Federal Government established three additional unity secondary schools across the country.
The schools were located in Okposi for the then Eastern region, Sokoto; for the then Northern region and Warri; for the then Mid-Western region.
Apparently impressed by the success achieved in ensuring quality of education and national cohesion among products of the first set of these colleges, the administration of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa established inter-regional secondary schools that were later renamed federal government colleges.
Underscoring the relevance of such institutions as means of promoting national integration, the Gen. Yakubu Gowon military regime, at the end of the country’s civil war, embarked on the establishment of more federal unity colleges with each state having one of such schools.
This led to the opening of such schools in 1973 at Ilorin, Ikot-Ekpene, Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Odogbolu in Ogun and Port Harcourt.
A new one was also established in the same year for the then East Central State to replace the one at Okposi which was affected by the civil war.
The same administration established all-girls’ federal secondary schools in 1974 in Abuloma, Bauchi, Bida, Benin, Calabar, Gboko, New Bussa, Owerri and Oyo to foster national unity among the youth.
Similar schools were also set up in 1975 in Bakori, Gusau and Kazaure while a mixed federal government college was opened Ijanikin in the same year in response to the demand from Lagos state indigenes for such secondary school.
As strategic as the establishment of the schools is to national cohesion however, pundits express concern over the deplorable state of some of the schools across the country.
They stress the need for government to take urgent measures at reviving them in view of their strategic role in fostering national unity.
They explicitly decry the dearth of learning and other social facilities in some of the unity schools across the country.
Mr Nyesom Wike, the immediate past former Minister of State for Education, expresses similar sentiments.
Before he left office, Wike, who is currently the governor-elect of Rivers, raised concerns over the dearth of learning facilities when he visited Federal Government Boys College, Apo, Abuja.
In spite of his concern, he restated the commitment of the Federal Government to restore the glory of the unity schools nationwide.
He said the Federal Government would develop all the unity schools across the country to serve as models for states, private institutions and other non-governmental organisations that were interested in setting secondary schools.
“Redeeming the unity schools is a process and not an event; hence Nigerians should not expect immediate result due to the present deplorable condition of the schools.
“As college administrators and as parents, we are being insensitive and unfair to the innocent students. I thought the situation in Federal Government College Apo was an isolated case.
“But I am told that virtually all the federal government colleges are in some serious states of disrepair.
“We need to act more decisively to restore sanity in all ramifications to our unity colleges,’’ he said.
He said that the Federal Ministry of Education was committed to tackling and reversing the massive infrastructural deficit in all the unity schools.
He also explained that the government would expand admission opportunity to the institutions to enable children of the poor to access quality secondary education.
According to Wike, the government is keen on ensuring that students graduate with appropriate skills, attitudes and experience.
“Improving teachers’ education, professionalism as well as ensuring greater autonomy in the administration of these schools are among top priorities of the government,’’ he said.
He also said that the Federal Government would set up e-libraries in 50 unity schools across the country.
“If we do not have these libraries, how do we encourage the students to read, we want to encourage them to make references and researches,’’ he said.
Concerned citizens, therefore, opine that if the government intervenes by providing facilities in the unity schools, the schools will continue to produce better informed Nigerians that will play significant roles in strengthening the bond of unity in the country.
They call for the review in the existing curriculum of the schools to inculcate the values of unity, tolerance, effective citizenship and patriotism in the students.
Sharing similar sentiments, Amanat Haliru, a student of the Federal Government Girls College, Bwari, FCT, said her enrolment in the school with other students from areas other than her state (Kogi), has made her to appreciate the beauty in Nigeria’s diversities.
“My school has made me to know many people from diverse ethnicities. I have known the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Efik, among other ethnic groups.
“This school has actually helped me to mix with people who are not from my geographical boundaries but from other places.
“It has actually helped me to know people from other places, know their characters, how they behave and their cultures ’’ she said.
In the same vein, Precious Emmanuel, a student of the college from Cross River, said her enrolment into the college had enabled her to appreciate Nigeria’s cultural and religious diversities.
“The dormitory brings you closer to people; different kinds of people, people from different states, different tribes.
“Before I came into the school, I didn’t really understand that Muslims are also related to us and that we should not keep away from others,’’ she said.
Supporting this viewpoint, Modupe Dare, also a student of the college from Ondo State observed that her enrolment in the school had changed her perception of life and Nigeria as a country.
“When I came into this school, I started relating freely with other people of different tribes, it now makes us look like one big family.
“So, because of the way I relate with other people, I begin to know more about other places and people,’’ she said.
However, some parents and stakeholders insist that they prefer unity schools for their children for many reasons ranging from such sentiments expressed by these students to the quality of education offered by the schools.
All in all, concerned citizens hold out the belief that if the appropriate authorities harness the potential of the unity schools and develop useful programmes, they will guarantee a more united and prosperous Nigeria.
Adamu is a staff of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
By Sani Adamu