By Tonnie Iredia
As a youth, I looked forward to becoming a great television news reporter though I could hardly decipher what the motivation was. Understandably, I didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity in the early 70s to join the Midwest Television, now NTA Benin, as a reporter.
As record shows, I remained in the profession of news reporting and rose through the ranks to become the Executive Director News, that is, the most senior television journalist in the NTA nationwide, before my appointment as Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the organization.
Although this was an excellent career accomplishment, especially as NTA in my days became famous as Africa’s largest television network, I always inwardly felt teaching was more naturally part of me.
Thus, I found myself always honouring virtually every invitation to deliver a lecture anywhere. In one-year 2004, I was convocation lecturer in two Nigerian universities – the University of Maiduguri and the Benson Idahosa University in Benin. A year later, I successfully upgraded the NTA Television College Jos to a degree-awarding institution.
Since after my NTA days, I have been preoccupied with teaching ‘media law and management’ helping students to fully appreciate the legal foundation for the practice of journalism and the inevitable realization that it is how a media outfit is managed that determines its viability.
Unlike the quest to become a reporter, I always knew how my interest in teaching was motivated. I first taught for a few months after Higher School at St Maria Goretti Girls Grammar School Benin City under Rev. Dr. Sr Henrietta Powers as Principal. By her assessment of my quantum of knowledge and poor financial background, she assisted me greatly to begin my university education at Nigeria’s premier university in Ibadan from where I returned every year during long vacation to teach at Maria Goretti.
Becoming a scholar after my first year, naturally extinguished her promise to offer me a scholarship in the second year. The lady’s sense of justice, fairness, discipline; and general disposition impacted greatly on me such that my broadcasting prowess notwithstanding, I often subconsciously imagined myself as a teacher and school administrator. Painfully, my teacher-mentor, Rev Dr. Sr. Henrietta, passed on some six days ago at age 97 after a lifetime of service to humanity particularly the girl child.
For 22 years, 1962-1984, Sr. Henrietta was Principal at Maria Goretti where she took direct charge of the academic destiny of many of today’s top Nigerian female professionals. She ran the school most proficiently making it the obvious first choice of every ambitious young lady desirous of quality education in parts of Nigeria especially the old Bendel State.
Goretti girls made up the majority of the first set of female students admitted to the University of Benin at its inception. This easily explains the speed by which the university included the emeritus principal among those she honoured with doctorate degrees at her 1977 convocation. A few years later, President Shehu Shagari’s government also honoured her with the national award of Member of the Order of the Niger. MON.
This took note of her other contributions to Nigeria’s educational development at the St Teresa College Ibadan, Mary Mount College, Agbor and St Bernadette Primary School, Abeokuta, totalling a period of 52 years.
Today, one can easily locate many of Sr. Henrietta’s former students piloting or holding vital positions in almost every profession, occupation, or vocation. In the Nigerian judiciary, she has produced the President of the Court of Appeal, the Administrator of the National Judicial Institute and several High Court Judges.
The business world also parades a bevy of industry leaders who trace their college days to Maria Goretti. This includes the first female Director at the Central Bank who now serves as Chairman of the Guarantee Trust Bank, GTB as well as the Managing Director of Trans-World Security Systems Ltd. In the Universities, Maria Goretti accounts for scores of professors and several principal officers.
In Edo state, where the school is located, many permanent secretaries in the civil service of the state both past and present are old students of the same school. Indeed, the current president of the old students association is presently the most senior female management staff of the Federal Road Safety Corps FRSC.
With the above impressive list, the school should have expectedly remained one of the best in the country. But this has not been so as its fortune nosedived after the Henrietta years. The greatest problem was the take-over of mission schools by the state government followed by poor implementation of the official policy of free education and mass production of school graduates.
So, like other hitherto well-managed mission schools, student-intake into Maria Goretti increased by over 500 per cent without a corresponding increase in the facilities available in the school. In fact, the government created two schools within the premises which were left to run through the ‘government business is no one’s business’ mentality.
The name of the school was changed to Iden College creating, perhaps inadvertently, a huge disconnect between the school and her abundant outstanding products. Unfortunately, efforts by the latter to reposition the school and reverse the slide have not yielded commensurate fruits.
They have however succeeded in getting the state government to reinstate the original name of the school but the greater goal of convincing the authorities to return the school to her original owners – the catholic mission has remained a mirage
However, the Old Students have not wavered in their resolve to bring back the old glory of the school. Their first step was to organize active branches to galvanize members in several locations such as Lagos, Abuja, Warri, Port Harcourt etc.
There is also the Diaspora branch known as Goretti Old Girls International for members in Canada, USA and Europe. Many activities have since been undertaken by the association to uplift the school. For instance, at a grand ceremony heralded by their National Convention in 2012, they donated to the school a Biology and Chemistry Laboratories Block which they named after Rev. Sr. Henrietta. In 2014, the Association also commissioned the renovated Physics and Home Economics Laboratories also in honour of Sr. Henrietta.
At the same occasion, a Photo Gallery was commissioned. Computers and other facilities are being provided to the school by the Association along with a scholarship scheme for indigent students. The previously porous school fence has been refurbished along with a new gate which to a large extent resonates to all, the old unwritten institutional statement of centre of excellence.
Sr. Henrietta died last Monday and was buried two days later, in Cork-Ireland with a funeral mass watched via zoom across the world bringing to an end, the worthy and selfless life of a moral teacher and spiritual reformer. If government’s lethargy has never successfully justified the takeover of mission schools, the refusal to return the schools to their original owners after running them down is more baffling.
The current pragmatic Edo governor who seems to appreciate a public-private partnership for development would do well to return the school to the original owners who have over the years proven to be better managers of educational institutions. It could, in a way immortalize Sr. Henrietta.