One compound, 20 different schools as can be seen from the various colours of their school uniforms! How do you study under such condition? How do you distinguish one student from the other? How do you know which of the schools they belong? In time of trouble, how do you know who is who? How do you know which school a student comes from?
Those are the questions that took you to the big, nay, massive school compound: to try to see if you can provide some answers by observing and talking to some people concerned, where necessary.
They call it Tolu Complex, and truly, there are many complex angles to its story. Though close to one another, the common story is that the students there fight like strangers during times of serious misunderstanding so much that sometimes it begins to look like a civil war. Probably, the largest school complex in Africa, it is the hub of education, primary, junior and senior, in Ajegunle, Apapa, Lagos. The complex, under the administrative jurisdiction of District Five of Lagos Ministry of Education, is located in the very heart of the community.
The compound which covers about three hectares of land has three main gates or entrances leading into it. They include the Ojoku Road side, off Maracana Street and the Temidire Road. It is surrounded by the Lagos State Water Corporation, Tolu Police Post, Adidas Playing Ground, Lagos State Sewage Disposal, Lagos State Library Board Public Library, and Maracana Football Field. According to sources, the senior secondary school arms are separate entities from the junior arms, meaning they have different administrative personnel, including principals.
Origins of the schools and their uniforms
One of the institutions is Reservation Junior and Senior High Schools. The first principal for the Junior arm of the school founded in 1983 was said to be Mrs. Ogiri M.O. Studies started with only three teaching staff. The Reservation Senior Secondary School was established in January 2003 and one of the changes includes the school uniform. The students now dress in white and light green colour.
Creek Junior and Senior High Schools were founded in 1982, with Mr. A.A. Ijanoye as the first principal. Today it has a population of 264 students: 150 boys and 114 girls. The students dress in yellow and lemon green uniform.
Newland Junior and Senior High School also founded in 1982 under the name of Community Secondary School 2, Mile 2, Lagos, was later relocated to its present site in Tolu Complex before having its name changed to Newland Secondary School. Temidire Senior High Schools was carved out of Temidire Junior School in 2003 although the school was originally founded in 1982.
Oshodi Junior and Senior High Schools came into existence in 1983. Then it was known as Oshodi Secondary School. The students dress in yellow and green colours. Tin Can Island Junior and Senior High School established by the Jakande Administration in 1981 was formerly named Tin Can Island High School. The students dress in ash-and-wine school colours. Unity Junior and Senior High School was established in September 1981. The school was originally called Community Secondary School 1 but it later changed to its present name in December 2002. The students dress in white and royal blue colour.
Others include: Alakoto Junior and Senior High Schools. Founded in September 1981, today it has 233 students who wear white and navy blue; Expressway Junior and Senior High School founded in January 1987, has its students brought from six different schools to make up the school; they wear red and white checkers; Mokoya Junior and Senior High Schools, established in 1983 by the administration of Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the then civilian governor of Lagos State, wear butter white on ash uniform.
Adeolu Junior and Senior High School was established in September 1981 while Ojora Junior and Senior High Schools were founded in 1983. Their students wear blue and white checkers on blue respectively. Bola Ige Millennium Secondary School was established in 2003, and its students wear white on pink uniform. Ojoku Junior and Senior High Schools were founded in 1983 and their students wear chocolate checkers on white. Olodi-Apapa Junior and Senior Secondary Schools came into existence in 1981 and their students dress in white and turquoise blue while Oluwa Memorial Junior and Senior High Schools were established in 1985 under the military government. The school was commissioned in September 1985 by a Senior High Chief of Lagos, Chief S. Babatunde Ajasa Oluwa (The Oluwa of Apapa and Lagos). The students dress in blue-and-white stripes shirts and blouses on royal blue.
The primary schools include: Oremeji Primary School, Tolu Primary School, and Reservation Nursery and Primary School. Each school has, at least, 350 students. Together, they make up thousands of multi-coloured school uniformed students that fill the roads leading to the massive schools complex, morning and afternoon, every weekday.
Fact-finding visits to the complex
The first visit to the area was on a Monday morning while the students were going to school in their dazzling, neatly ironed uniforms. Some wore ties, while some did not. The girls wore knotted ribbons on their waists to fit their body shapes. The female students who were not in school gowns donned fitted skirts and blouses that showed their classes.
The second visit was via the Maracana route. If you approach the school complex through this entrance, the first school you run into is Reservation Junior and Senior Secondary. They stand directly opposite Ojoku Road. On this day the gate was left ajar. But as you soon discovered, sitting directly behind it in a way that hides him from the view of a stranger approaching the gate from the outside is the gateman. Unaware of this fact, you peeped into the compound and beckoned on a well-dressed male student, who was talking with an equally neatly-turned-out female student. But as they approached the gateman stood up to stop them. At this point, you walked into his full view. Only then did he allow them to talk to you, as it dawned on him that you were out to make some enquiries from them.
Having done that, you stepped fully into the school compound. From where you stood, you could see that the classroom, at the centre, filled by mostly students in long sleeve shirt, is surrounded by tall elephant grasses. Upon a closer look, you discovered that the classroom has no ceiling making it possible for shafts of sunrays wafting through openings on the zinc to create some unintended interesting light patterns in some places. You also found out that the school lacked good toilet facilities. The students have to manage the two toilets provided for their convenience. It was further gathered that owing to some renovations going on, the Junior arm of the school was temporarily relocated.
Although Creek Junior and Senior Schools share the same fence with Reservation, you soon found out that their students are of different mentalities. At Reservation, for instance, no student was seen roaming about or trying to go out even though the school gate was wide open. But at Creek, you ran .into some students, including a cocky one named “Fine Girl Mi,” trying to sneak through the gate. But for the vigilance of the dark-skinned gateman, Fine Girl Mi and other students would have left the school premises on the pretext of going to charge her cell phone as she boldly told the gateman. He did not only bar her from going out, but also sharply rebuked her for bringing a phone to school. But he could not bring himself to seize it even though you tried to add fuel to the fire by asking him to do so.
While that case was on, another student walked into the scene barefoot. He claimed that a teacher had seized his sandals as collateral to make him return from an errand. But you later found out that he had used that opportunity to buy some things needed by his friends. On entering the compound, you saw students, dressed in yellow and lemon green. They busied themselves playing soccer on bare feet while calling one another by nicknames. While some wore undershirt, others were without it. Presently, a boy from the no-undershirt group scored a goal and received a soft knock on the head from his teammate, for his effort. He took it with pleasure even as another called him omo-iyaje (meaning “son-of-a-witch” in Yoruba but a guru in the deeper, idiomatic sense of the expression).
As playful as the senior students were, you noticed that they did not cross the imaginary demarcation between the two arms of the school: the junior and senior. As you walked by, you took notice of a hall on your right hand. It was filled with senior students, mainly girls. Like the previous building, it has no ceiling. A closer look and you noticed that it used to have, but over the years, the whole thing has come off showing only the zinc above it. Now, it has come short of its former glory. There were holes on the walls of the window and all over the building. The toilets belonging to the two arms of the school are located in one of the buildings, together with that of the staff.
Next to Creek Schools is the Newland Junior and Secondary Schools. Though the gate of the school was closely monitored by a gateman, it was left wide open in such a way that allowed an acute angle view of it. The junior students were dressed in brown checkers on brown shorts and skirts while their seniors wore white and brown. From the gate, the senior students were seen, in a single file, picking litters. Inquiry showed that the pickers were being punished for noisemaking.
The same entrance leads to Temidire and Oshodi schools. The popular Temidire is located on the right. With its gate wide open, it has no security guard. You were to later learn that the school currently does not have a government-employed security guard. At a point, the private guard manning the place was said to be paid from the purse of the PTA and the principal until they could no longer afford it. Welcoming visitors is a beehive kind of building structure. The ‘holes’ in the wall are uncountable. The building is unpainted. The ceiling cries for repairs from damages. Located on one of its sides is a cafeteria belonging to a woman the school all know and call the “Food and Nut Mistress.” At the far end, some boys and girls, dressed in white and dark ash uniform could be seen playing on a heap of refuse while others scavenged.
According to Michael, an ex-student of the school, the school has one of the lowest fences. Because of this, students usually jump it to escape during fracas. The distance from the refuse heap to the fence is not much. However, but the school enjoys one of the best toilets facility, reportedly donated by the Old Student Association and Rotary clubs. They also enjoy other social amenities.
You decided to say hello to the principal, Mrs. Biliquis Lawal. You found her roomy office filled with trophies. But when you approached her for a chat, she politely but firmly declined, noting that, “they have warned us at the ministry not to leak information to an outsider but to rather guide the person to follow laid-down procedure. I am sorry, you will need to go to the ministry or district to obtain permission before I can to talk to you,” she explained.
Meeting and melting points
One thing is clear: from the calm and cool-headed students of Mokoya to the bad-mouthed students of Ojora, they all take their football games seriously. According to an old student of Alokoto, Eric Orji, the football match is one of the most if not the only important social engagement among the students.
“In our days, we take the game seriously so much that we change schools in order to be poached as good players or we employ the help of others that are not schooling in our area. The match had always been something to brag about,” he said.
Sometimes the emotion and passion it generates can threaten the bond of brotherliness. “There was a time my elder brother’s school won us in 1999,” he recalled. “Then he was schooling with Temidire while I was with Alakoto. We played the Principal’s Cup final and they won. I remembered that it took the persuasive skills of my mother to make me eat with and talk to my brother. Yes, it was that real for us.”
Other healthy competition that exists among the schools comes from cultural and dance displays. The butter-and-yellow uniformed boys and girls of Senior Secondary School arm of Mokoya are said to be the current champion among the schools that occupy Tolu Complex.
According to one of their students who identified herself as Bimpe, the dance and play display is a serious business in the school. “Our teachers and principal always tell us that competition makes us who we are and that if we are not competitive then we could as well take life as it is handed down to us,” she said.
You were meant to understand that in years past, culture was so important for the schools that they agreed with the state ministry of education not only to speak Yoruba but to also wear traditional attire every Wednesday but following various abuses by the students, the practice was stopped.
Cults and bloody fights
One intriguing thing about the schools is the flourishing of various cults, a phenomenon usually associated with students in institutions of higher learning. Somehow cults have managed to find their ways into schools housed by Tolu Complex. The cults include Eiye Fraternity, Buccaneers, Seagulls, Black Axe, etc.
Bloody clashes occasioned by misunderstandings and supremacy battles among these cults, have, over the years, led to deaths and life-threatening injuries just as is the case with higher institution campuses where they exist. In as much as the residents love to enjoy the business advantages of the complex, they detest the ‘times of war’ as it is popularly called in the area. When the students fight one another, be it in competition or cult war, it always leads to bloodbath and loss of government property.
Amaka, a dark-complexioned lady in her 20s, and who is helping her mother to sell food in a nearby food canteen to the complex told Saturday Sun that during such times, it is unsafe opening for business or even passing through the area. “But now, things have changed; the younger generation is calm and most of them have brothers who have graduated from the school,” she said.
It was gathered that the Tolu Police Station located close to the school complex has been able to maintain peace not only among the students but also in the community. Teachers are also said to have raised a task force that checkmates the students mostly when they are going home. In addition, residents always quickly settle any little argument that arises between the students especially when it involves students from different schools. According to a senior police officer in the division, it took a lot from the police to maintain peace in the complex. The officer said that the fights among them usually occur from frivolous things like rubbing of shoulders, stepping on another’s toes or punishing a student’s blood brother or sister.
“To keep them in line, immediately it is closing time, we station one of our vehicles close to the school to continue to blow the siren,” he said. “With this, they are forced to comport themselves even though there had been times that we had outbursts that took a long time to handle because of their sheer number.”
Saturday Sun gathered that exams in the school are ‘pay-as-you-can’. Students are arranged according to their fees and teachers that handled their registration are asked to supervise them.
Pranks and punishment
Ordinarily, students play all sorts of pranks in school. You could not help but imagine what kinds of pranks will be prevalent in a situation where 20 different schools or so are gathered in one place. You later gather that lateness-to-school pranks are mostly practised by the students of Oluwa School who pass through the entrance of Tolu Primary School to get into their classrooms. According to an SS3 student of the school who gave his name as Yinka, “my best prank does not involve teachers but rather saving my head from being punished whenever I come late. When I do so I pass through the gate of Tolu Primary school and get into the classroom but the prank only works if I had sent my schoolbag ahead.”
A teacher who identified himself as Henry said that students who vandalised property in the school are forced to pay for it. “If you are caught climbing the fence or sneaking around, you are asked to bring some pieces of block or cement,” he said.
Famous figures from the Complex
Despite the constraints, products of the schools do excel in both academics and other professions in the world. In short, the complex has produced many famous people. They include Odion Ighalo, a national team striker who plays for a football club in China. When Saturday Sun contacted him on his Twitter handle, the former Watford Football Club striker who graduated from Ojoku, one of the schools housed by the complex, said: “I would give everything to attend Ojoku again but with a better arrangement.” Another national figure who attended one of the schools is Oritsefemi Majemite Ekele, Nigeria’s famous musician. He attended Tolu Primary School.