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Presbyterian Mission key to Coming of Western Education in the South East Nigeria

Rev. Nsa E. Eyo, the chaplain of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) Presbyterian Chapel of redemption. He was the former Principal of the Hope Waddell Training Institution, also the former secretary of the provisional education authority for about fifteen years.

Schooled at the Presbyterian Primary School at Akon, and Bekwor at a time when there were more missionary schools (predominantly the Presbyterian Schools and few Catholic schools) than government schools in Calabar. He is an alumnus of Hope Waddell Training Institution. He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He was at the Essien Ukpabio Theological College at Itu where basically Presbyterian theologians were trained and was ordained a minister of the gospel in the year 2000 by the Presbyterian Mission.

In this comprehensive interview with Crystal Education Media, he revealed how the Presbyterian Mission played key role in bringing about the western education in south eastern region of Nigeria.

About Presbyterian Mission

The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria is the product of the Calabar Mission of 1846. The Calabar Mission was the result of the agitation of several but very strategic groups. In 1841/1842, the kings of the old Calabar, Iyama the fifth of Duke Town and Eyo the second of Creek Town (that is my great ancestor), individually they wrote to Queen Victoria, the queen of England to send three groups of people to Calabar. That was the period of the agitation for eradication of slave trade, and they were also heavily involved with slave trade. So, if they will stop slave trade they needed alternative that will keep them and their business going.

So, they also needed the missionaries. They wanted to know God like the white men and they needed education. They said “Send us missionaries, educationists, traders and industrialists so that we can switch over from slave trade”. One of them said “we have plenty of human beings here who don’t know what to do, if they come they should teach us how to make sugar from sugarcane, so we can deploy this human beings. That was between 1841, 42 and 43. At the same time, the number of freed slaves in Jamaica of the Calabar origin haven gone out and seen development and education, they were also in the vanguard of the demand for the missionary to come.

Hope Waddell was by that time ministering in Jamaica, so the pressure from the freed slaves and the chiefs of old Calabar for these categories of people prompted the inauguration of the Scottish Missionary Society that sent Rev Hope Waddell, who led a team of five to begin what was called the Calabar Mission. They arrived at Calabar on the 10th of April 1846 and they began the work of evangelism. The traders and the other groups also came in on their own. The chiefs of Calabar were sufficiently informed to partner with the oversea traders.

The Portuguese had come this way earlier and would have planted the Roman Catholic Church but somehow the mission failed and when the French came they tried to put pressure, that is why the kings asked that the British should come and establish their presence before the French and the Germans. Then the Germans were pushing towards Cameroon and the French had taken virtually all of  West Africa. That is how the Presbyterian Church began. It wasn’t Presbyterian Church then, it was Church of Scotland Mission.

During the agitation for independence they changed from Church of Scotland Mission to Presbyterian Church of Eastern Nigeria and by 1960 it became the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. Because Calabar was the starting point then, the Presbyterian influence was heavily tilted to the eastern part and more predominantly in the Calabar Basin.

Rev Hope Waddell had an interesting team; on that five-man team was a printer, Edgerley and on arrival to Calabar, with him Nigeria had the first printed materials and Calabar became the first place we had printed documents. Edgerley used that machine to print the first Catechism documents for evangelism.

Do not forget they also requested for education, so  Hope Waddell came in April and by May 1846 they started the first school which is Duke Town School. The printing press started within October that year. The school started with Palace Schools for the children of the kings and later became a formal school.

The progress of Duke Town School was not satisfying the yearnings of the people as they looked for functionary and industrial education. That agitation led to the establishment of Hope Waddell. If you notice we are very passionate about the name ‘Hope Waddell Training Institution.’

Then Hope Waddell became like the first comprehensive school in Nigeria. Duke Town was basically a primary school and Hope Waddell was more of the functional school they pushed for. It had the department of tailoring, engineering, agriculture, marine engineering, carpentry and it also had a girls section. However, not quite long after, it became necessary to separate the girls section, so, the Presbyterian Church started the girl institute at Creek Town. The girls institute graduated into Edgerley.

This is how it happened; after we planted the girls institute at Creek Town, there was the Edgerley Model School which was to train girls in domestic science for two years. This continued until 1967 when the civil war broke out and of course the school stopped. By the time Calabar was liberated Creek Town was not liberated. So, the girls institute at Creek Town had to be moved to Calabar to expand Edgerley from been a modern girls school to a full secondary school. The place of the girls institute became a teachers training college. Thus, the Presbyterian Church birthed primary school, modern school for girls, a specialized school for girls, a teachers’ training school and an industrial center which is Hope Waddell. The girls institute became the Edgerley Memorial Girls Secondary School, the site of the girls institute had become the teachers training college which because of the war was moved to Duke Town, since Duke Town had expanded and moved to UNICAL site before it became UNICAL. The crisis began when the then Government wanted to acquire Duke Town to form the University of Calabar.

All of this areas had schools that was started by The Presbyterian. From one single Duke Town School, almost all the strategic communities in Calabar had primary schools; Duke Town, Ishi Town, Henshaw Town,  Bekwor Town and Akonkwo Light Town. That also gave birth to the maiden of Education Authority of the Presbyterian Church. The education authority was there to manage all the schools; primary and secondary, they hadn’t thought of tertiary institution then. That was the situation until after the war,  the new push came and government acquired all the missionary schools. They even made attempts to change their names but they were heavily resisted. They had changed Hope Waddell to a secondary school, we said ‘no  don’t touch it,’ they changed Holy Child, the Roman Catholic School and were resisted. With that pressure they allowed it, but that marked the first segment of missionary school.

The Presbyterian Church came with schools and hospitals; it will interest you to know that what later became the Saint Margaret Hospital is essentially established with the help of the Presbyterian professionals. In fact, the primary staff that started that hospital came from Hope Waddell. These created the background for western education in this part of the world and beyond. Things were normal, the schools were firmly settled and there was even some expansions. But the war truncated the advancements.

Beautifully, these schools were not tribal schools. If you go to Hope Waddell to see the register of the alumni you find in 1894 that there were the Igbos, the Yorubas, the Ibibios etc. So it was also with Duke Town, they were cosmopolitans. Again, because Calabar had become the headquarters of the new southern protectorate of Nigeria, it attracted people, they had to go to school and there were very few Government schools. I can tell that before the war every standard school didn’t have more than two arms (A and B) and each arm had not more than thirty students. So when the war was over, there was a real need to open up new schools and to expand the old school’s carrying capacity in order to meet up with the pressure. That was when we began to have private schools and Anty Margret became the first private school. By 1974 when the National Union of Teacher went on a very long strike, individuals opened up schools and took their children from public school to private. So the movement of Duke Town from the original to the current location of UNICAL and back was after the war.


Any compensation when Duke Town had to leave for UNICAL to be established?

There was an understanding, not just with the government but with the Presbyterian Church. I do know that there was an attempt to take Duke Town to a completely new site and the people that were going to build the new site said it will not carry the name Duke Town and people said ‘ah aha’ we cannot tamper with history. Instead of losing our identity let us go back to where we were known. After all, Duke Town has a place, it may be small, but we knew we preferred to go back there. So, we went there and stayed until now.

What happened also was that the deficiency of the Scottish mission was that there was no ambition for expansion.  Everywhere you found the Presbyterian settlement; it was on a very small space. But the Roman Catholics would take every available space. This is why they have enough space now, while the Presbyterian don’t. The only place the Scottish acquired that had a little futuristic space was at Hope Waddell. All other places were small. But Duke Town had to retain it’s history and identity by going back to their initial location.

Did the Government prepare something for Duke Town return?

The military government then had already taken over the schools, even at Duke Town then there was nothing meaningful. The general complaints of the mission was that the Government forcefully took their schools and left them worse than they met them; there was very little or no funds pulled in by the government and what is left of Duke Town is far less than it’s memory.

Were there more?

They came with even Agriculture. The Presbyterian Church Mission came with a health institution; the Itu Leper Colony was run by the Presbyterian Church. There was one at Obubra and the Mary Slessor Hospital at Itu were run by the Presbyterian Church. The site of the Leper Colony where the Theological school is currently sited is a Presbyterian institution, and joined to it was a full fleshed hospital that the Presbyterian Church bought. The site of the Itu Leper Colony was split into two; one was an Agricultural establishment: Itu palms. Till today, there is an oil palm plantation there that has gone commercial. So, they (the Scottish) came not only with schools, but also came with Agriculture and health. The one that has been most dominating is, Education. Because of this, the name Hope Waddell is revered in the Presbyterian family. On account of Hope Waddell Training Institution, the Presbyterian is putting forward a university known as Hope Waddell University in Ohafia; they are awaiting final accreditation. So, we had Hope Waddell, and there was also Samuel Edgerley (the printer) who accompanied his wife, but the school was named after him, and then we had the schools in Creek Town, Duke Town and other communities. The Presbyterian came with a comprehensive system to meet the individual, spiritual and physical needs.

The west claims to be the founder of Education in Nigeria, your thoughts?

From what we know so far, the CMS mission entered Nigeria through BADAGRY in 1843 and Hope Waddell entered Nigerian through Calabar in 1846, the difference is three years. They may have had the first school, but what we had held unto is that Hope Waddell was the first secondary school east of the Niger and fifth in the whole country until we have some other discoveries.

How long did you serve in each of the schools?

Rev. Nsa Eyo

I served as secretary of the then Synod Education Committee, from 1998 to 2010. Then, I was the principal of Hope Waddell Institution. That also has two sides; from 1997 when it was a Government school to 2002, when the Government handed over to the mission and then from 2002 to 2010 when I left the system; put together I served as the principal of Hope Waddell for thirteen years. I also served as the secretary of Education Committee (which later became the Education Authority) for twelve years and I held the two positions almost concurrently; doubled as the secretary of Education and the principal of Hope Waddell which at one time became an issue. In that capacity we had to exercise oversight and make inputs into the Presbyterian Education Policy. And by God’s grace when the Government was handing over the school I was in the church delegation that negotiated with the government.

All they (the Government) did was to withdraw their staff teaching and non-teaching, so that they won’t be encumbered by NUT strikes. They left the students and the place with no take up grant and they also insisted that we must charge their fee regime until the children they left behind phase out. And it was to take three years for the children in JSS 1 to get to JSS 3 and also for the children in SS1 to get to SS3. Three years of Government fee regime with a new set of staff and you needed to generate enough money to pay them good salaries that will make them stay, otherwise the school would have shutdown. I remember when we complained, they said, ‘no! take your school and pay whatever you want to pay to your people.’ I answered ‘no! you are not correct, this school already had a name and we cannot go and bring school certifcate holders to come and teach in secondary school, the name will drop; you are just giving us a pill to destroy us. We will pay complete salaries and attract good hands to teach.’


How did you people cope?

Yes, it tasked our ingenuity absolutely. First, we had to give ourselves the mental preparation when the then governor, Donald Duke sounded the handing over of schools back to the missions. We held seminars, had discussion rooms and we asked ourselves, ‘what if the Government hands over what would we do, how would we generate revenue…? Then we thought that Government would do as in the past; pay grants and salaries. But we were shocked they never paid a dime. So, we had to sensitize them. I was also among the team that went from church to church informing them that Government is handing back the school but withdrawing all their staff. So we relied on them to volunteer their service to make the school strong. I became the first casualty, I had to switch from government to private while I still had about six years to retire. I had to voluntarily retire from Government to actualize this dream. It meant retiring from something into nothing because if Government did not give you and the church did not have any take up grant, you are actually closing your eyes to jump from the upstairs and you won’t know where to land.


Was the church able to gather enough voluntary hands?

A few voluntary arms like Mr. Ayi Ita (the current Duke Town Principal) came and where we did not have enough, we sourced from outside. The fact was that we needed the project to succeed.

What was the impact of the Government?

There were two serious situations. The first was that as a Government principal, I inherited the student population of about four thousand. It was not just possible to do meaningful education with four thousand students and three hundred staff, teaching and non-teaching. And I went to the school as the Government principal to find the students with no seats. There was a project that the PTA was handling then, they had molded blocks to do it and the students sat on those blocks. Hope Waddell students wear white, so, by the time you seat on blocks and the block breaks you would be dirty; I met that situation. I checked out the library and an open place was better. I remembered going to the commissioner for education, to tell him, ‘come and see the library of Hope Waddell,’ he said, “go and use PTA funds,” I got upset.  Meanwhile, the same government had said; ‘don’t labour the parent with money,’ so, where do you want us to go? Hope Waddell that had made a name in athlete and academic had no vehicle to respond to athletes and other things. But I made up my mind that for me to get result I will reduce the population. So, I began to reduce the population to what I could manage and also began to reach out to friends of Hope Waddell, particularly the old ones. I took over in 1997 and Government handed over in 2002. By the time they handed over, the nakedness had become obvious. We had brought the population down that first two years. Progressively we reduced to what we can manage, and then I reached out and favourably the old students began to respond. Education Trust Found, ETF responded. They came in with fifty million intervention that changed the face of the school. Then friends; if I knew him and he was in an establishment that can help, I will reach out. So, UAC came, gave us seats, National Communication Commission gave us computers. God just opened ways, people were coming; some old students donated gates and bore holes, NDDC made their own, so, Hope Waddell came out and people rejoiced and they said it was good that Government had handed over so that we can have our identity.

What would you say is the impact of DCUBE?

You know everybody is going e-learning, so, with this the students don’t need to spy at others, they have access to the web, and they can open up content. Duke Town also has a breath of fresh air. Duke Town had been a problem, again because of demography, population had moved away from Duke Town those that remained around Duke Town are poor  people, so, who will send their children there. But with this (the development brought about by the DCUBE presence) Duke Town can say, “we may be here but look, we are in the net (online)’ and parent will identify with any school that is up in the net. It has also help to revive Duke Town its psychologically, mentally, and the confidence.


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What effect do you see this innovation bringing to Hope Waddell in reviving it lost glory?

I am even surprised that Hope Waddell allowed Duke Town to overtake them. But now I know why. I am grateful to DCUBE for remembering their roots. I am grateful to you (DCUBE) for coming. It is good for us and it is good for our children. In my university here (UNICAL), I attended an inaugural lecture as a professor of Education and I was talking about computer, our children and our age; those of us in the old school class are still struggling with the computer, even with our phones, but our children are literally born in the plan. There are many more things they know and can do that we cannot. All we need do is to make the platform available and guide them and excellence is beckoning. There is a lot of creativity, there is a lot of innovation that our children  can maximize, so quite frankly I will be glad for Hope Waddell, Edgerley, Mary Slessor, Duke Town to key in, but in the long run every school. Very soon we should be thinking of people seating down in the computer lab to write their exams. I really believe it will greatly minimize malpractice, it will greatly open up creativity and our quest for scientific and technology breakthrough will be assured.


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