Hope Waddell, a Nigerian metaphor
By MAURICE ARCHIBONG
The Daily Sun, Thursday, February 17, 2005
•One of the antique structures at HWTI, Calabar
In April, this year, the Hope Waddell Training Institution (HWTI), one of Nigeria’s truly prestigious academic institutions would clock 110 years old. Although the school practically took off on September 24, 1895, the decision to name an institution in honour of the Reverend Hope Masterton Waddell was taken in mid-April, 1895. Interestingly, the Reverend Waddell, who died two days after that decision was taken, never got to hear of the plan to establish a monument in his honour. Eventually, the school had opened and achieved historic feats, those days. However, like many things in Nigeria, HWTI has atrophied disastrously over the years. Thus, like many other historic institutions across the country, HWTI now, more or less, lives on its past glory.
Curiously, though, that school towers heads and shoulders above most of the so-called elite institutions, despite its debilitation. The vicissitudes of HWTI, notwithstanding, that school’s complex is healthier and more conducive to learning than the campuses of many of Nigeria’s so-called universities, today. Unlike most of the other schools, Hope Waddell occupies a unique position, neither for being the third secondary school in the country nor for being the first secondary school east of the Niger River but rather, for being the first comprehensive secondary school in the country, if not the nation’s first polytechnic at that!
Hope Waddell is a veritable metaphor of Nigeria. In spite of dwindling fortunes, you still observe a thirst for power. Even students of HWTI are not left out of the power-game. For example, the SSS 3 Block is known as "Aso Rock" among the students. In the past, that block used to be called Dodan Barracks, when the seat of the Fderal Government moved to Aso Rock, the SSS 3 building was rechristened.
In the beginning
The Reverend Waddell arrived in Calabar in 1846 with a teacher and a carpenter and set about propagating the Christian faith. He was of the Presbyterian Mission. Several years after Waddell’s retirement and return to his home in Dublin, Ireland, the Board of the Mission in Scotland requested the Synod of the United Presbyterian Church to commemorate his work in Calabar by naming the institution after him.
As earlier mentioned, Waddell neither heard of the decision to name the school after him nor did he ever set eyes on this monument to his name. He died on the April 18, 1895 two days after the decision had been taken.
The school began with the Reverend Risk Thompson as the first principal and offered such courses as printing and binding, building technology, secretarial studies, automobile mechanics, electrical technology, marine engineering and nautical studies. To give adequate practical training to students in its maritime studies department, the school maintained its own vessel, "The Diamond" on the Calabar River. That is how a part of Calabar came by the name Diamond Hill.
Hope Waddell Training Institute contributed in no small way to development of its surrounding community. The mission press produced the first issue of the "Calabar Observer" on May 30, 1902. The first eight-page regular journal ever produced in Southern Nigeria at that time. The school bakery produced and sold bread and other confectioneries to consumers in Calabar, while its building department sold bricks to the Public Works Department (PWD).
Sun Travels gathered that the first building at the school’s present site, a prefabricated two-storey structure, was designed by a Glaswegian firm. That classroom block comprised corrugated iron sheets and Scandinavian peach pine shipped from Scotland and assembled in Calabar in 1894, at a total cost of 1,200 pounds.
The school consisted of four units, a primary school, and three specialist secondary schools; namely an industrial department, an agricultural department and a teachers training college. The school was tagged an institute to distinguish it from schools, which merely offered theoretical drills.
Hall of fame
Hope Waddell subsequently contributed immensely in moulding the lives of the likes of Otunba Adeniran Ogunsanya, a former Commissioner of Education, Lagos State; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president, and Eze (Dr.) Akanu Ibiam, physician and one-time premier of the defunct Eastern Region. Other outstanding HWTI alumni include HRH Igwe Eweka of Obosi, Anambra State, the late Dr. Kingsley O. Mbadiwe and late Vice Admiral Edet Akinwale Wey (rtd), a former Chief of Naval Staff and later Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters. In its hey-day, the school’s student population reflected an international composition with students coming from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Dahomey (now Benin Republic), the Cameroons Fernando Po and elsewhere.
Some Hope Waddell alumni, who spoke to Sun Travels, said their alma mater nurtured them well. For example, managing director of Stanley Torch Limited and old boy of HWTI, Torch Taire revealed he put his three children through some of the best schools in England only to discover that Hope Waddell, in his days gave him as much, if not much more, than the ‘great’ English establishments have to offer.
Studying at Hope Waddell called for strict observance of routine and prompt compliance with orders, such as meal time, lights out, chapel attendance and being forever prepared for the regular and frequent surprise inspections.
Its students’ aesthetics awareness was further inspired by exposure to classical music. HWTI students frequently enjoyed Handel’s "Messiah" and "Water Music" as well as masterpieces by other composers, such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Verdi, aside many more. These students lived in decent dormitories, surrounded by beautiful flowerbeds, tended gardens, and well kempt lawns amid gutters regularly scrubbed clean. The school, we were informed, was venue of the first football and cricket matches in Nigeria. But, those days are now gone. Hope Waddell, probably the nation’s first polytechnic, is now a skeleton of its original aim. The dreams are all but dead, for the school operates almost like any other secondary school in the country, running a basically grammar school curriculum.
A 1994 call to action on its old boys states: "It is with sadness that we have to acknowledge that the type of discipline we knew is dead. The beautiful gardens are now an arid desert, the flower beds are gone, the lively, tidy dormitories are no more, and the throbbing kitchen and dining hall are deserted. Out of a current student population of well over 2,000, less than 200 are boarders………."
Prior to the school’s centenary in 1995, its old students, to avoid being embarrassed by guests asking such questions as "Is this the great school, people have heard so much about", had on November 4, 1991 set up a Centenary Committee with Elder Aremu Agbe as its Chairman.
Well aware that guests would include foreigners, diplomats, philanthropists, the press, alumni and families, the centenary committee had set for itself the task of restoring the school on its path of glory, and called for support from all, who cherish the virtues of broad liberal education, strong moral foundation and the spirit of responsible citizenship.
Elder Offiong Ekefre, a product of Igbobi College, Lagos and the University of Lagos is on record as the 15th principal of Hope Waddell Training Institute. The Elder, who is one of the respondents that spoke to Sun Travels in the Cross River State capital, some time ago, was optimistic that much could still be regained, even though a lot has been lost. Ekefre told Sun Travels: "The school won the first prize at the inaugural Federal Ministry of Education organized science competition, and our school’s choir was among four winners of the Jimmy Carter Awards on a project aimed at eradicating guinea worms infestation".
Furthermore, HWTI students were among 21 essayists invited to a six-week visit the United States in the early 1990s. Moreover, other measures were being taken to tackle of the declining fortunes of that school, Ekefre had added.
The Elder Agbe-led committee had also embarked on a multi-million naira fund-raising exercise, as part of the school’s improvement project, The money realized was to be used in tarring access roads, installing electricity generator, replenish the science laboratories, equip the school library and erect a statue of Hope Waddell at a strategic location on the school premises.
During a recent visit to HWTI, we observed that most of the Agbe Committee target had been met. In fact, a bust of the late Reverend Waddell now stands firm atop a concrete pedestal in the vicinity of the principal’s office.
However, not much is being thought about with a view to restoring HWTI to its founders’ original goal. So, how the rehabilitation efforts will get the school to contribute relevantly to the community and enhance technological development in Nigeria, the original aim, remains to be seen.
And so the school trudges on, like other institutions in the country, a shadow of its old self, a dream lost, spirit broken, another paradigm of our nation.