CMS Grammar School, Lagos, is Nigeria's oldest and first secondary institution. It was established on June 6, 1859 by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) as part of the Missionary Society's plan to develop a local educated elite which could help promote the Christian faith.
The missionaries had projected that if evangelism was to witness success and progress, education of the citizenry was inescapable. Thus, began the founding of many elementary schools, under the auspices of the CMS Mission and in line with that exploratory pattern. One of the leaders of the CMS Mission, Henry Venn was said to have favoured and encouraged the education of Africans for the African Mission, under a familiar climate.
Thomas Babington Macaulay, a Nigerian who was spotted and picked from Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone and sent to England to train as an Anglican Priest at the CMS Training Institute Islington in the United Kingdom where he studied Literary Arts, was one of the products of that indigenization campaign. He also had a brief stint at the King's College, University of London where he obtained a Bachelor's degree in Arts. Determined to carve a niche for himself as a major player in the education of Africans - a programme that was on-going at the time, Thomas Babington Macaulay was ordained, next to The Revd. (later Bishop) Samuel Ajayi Crowther in 1854. He returned on graduation to Abeokuta and was posted to the Abeokuta Training Institute in Ake, under The Revd. Robert C. Paley where he rose to become the Headmaster, following the death of Rev. Robert Paley after only three months.
Reported to be "too academic" for an elementary school and "lecturing his congregation instead of preaching to them" Henry Townsend was to get him transferred from Abeokuta en-route Lagos to Freetown in Sierra Leone to join the staff at the CMS Grammar School there. Macaulay felt differently and pleaded to be allowed to start a High School in Lagos as an option to being transferred. His request was granted. Armed with his approval letter, his monthly stipend and the four rooms granted him in a small single storey building called the COTTON WAREHOUSE along the Broad Street, Lagos - the present site of ECOBANK (UTC Building) on Broad Street, Lagos, Thomas Babington Macaulay founded the CMS Grammar School on June 6, 1859 and presided with great distinction as Principal over the school till 1879 when he died.
Macaulay's main pre-occupation, encapsulated in that of the CMS Mission, was to raise a bunch of boys who would be spiritually deep, morally sound and academically endowed enough to shape public opinion and raise standards anywhere they found themselves after graduation. It was in due regard of those feats that the Missionaries gave the motto of the school as NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA extracted from Psalm 127, meaning "Without God We Labour in Vain", which enshrined the faith of the founding fathers, and the tradition of the school
The School started with only six pupils, all boarders and for decades after it was founded, it was the only secondary Grammar School that offered boys training as future leaders of Nigeria. Until recently, most of the Anglican Clergy in Nigeria were products of the CMS Grammar School, as were the early administrators. Though a Mission School, it did not discriminate in its admissions, with boys from different religious background being offered admission into the school through an entrance examination.
Many years later, after a British colony had been established in Lagos in 1861, the British colonial authorities still recruited most of their local clerical and technical staff from the School. Among these were Dr. Henry Carr, the first Anglican Inspector of Education and, later Administrator General of Lagos Colony, and Herbert Macaulay, who later trained as a Surveyor.
Later, the School moved down the road from its 'Cotton House' site at Broad Street to a more spacious accommodation, at the junction of Broad Street and Odunlami Street, which later played host to the Lagos Central Library and NITEL. It was on that new site that the first School Science Laboratory was built in 1929, together with an Assembly Hall, the Principal's lodge, and a dining room for the boarders.
CMS Grammar School became the training ground for the earliest set of local Anglican priests and civil servants, and the source of inspiration for the establishment of more private schools such as King's College Lagos – the first state-owned secondary school by the colonial administration in 1909 - fifty years after the founding of the CMS Grammar School, with most of its foundation students drawn from the CMS Grammar School.
The CMS Grammar School played an important role in the history and development of the Nigerian nation which had just been created by the British Colonialist following the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates. The products of the CMS Grammar School filled an existing vacuum, and also formed the bulk of the emergent educated elite who ended up shaping "the future of Nigeria".
Amongst these are: The first qualified Nigerian accountant, Mr. Akintola Williams, CBE, CFR; Late Chief F.R.A. Williams - first Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Other eminent Nigerians who were old students of the CMS Grammar School include: Earnest Shonekan, GCFR, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; late Professor Ayodele Awojobi, the first African to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Science (DSc) in Mechanical Engineering at the then Imperial College of Science and Technology, London (now Imperial College London) - a degree only exceptionally and rarely awarded to a scholar under the age of forty; and Dr Oladapo Fafowora, Ambassador Plenipotentiary, former Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations amongst others
Regrettably, in 1979 the Lagos State Government, pleading public interest, took over the school, like all other private secondary schools in Lagos. Predictably, under government control, the School was badly neglected, and its high academic standards fell. The School's boarding house was abandoned; its staff quarters acquired by the government and several new state schools were built on its grounds. Students' enrolment in the School increased significantly. But owing to lack of funds, the Lagos State Government was not able to maintain the excellent facilities in the School.
As a result of the take-over both at federal and state levels, especially by the Lagos State Government, religious organisations were no more in control of their schools, which they had once established. Education became politicised; number of pupils increased in several folds without a corresponding increase in facilities on ground. Maintenance of existing structures and equipment was NIL and this went on for years: until structures became dilapidated. CMS Grammar School became the abode of miscreants and street urchins. Indeed, drug-peddlers and rapists roamed freely in the premises to the disgust of parents and landlords in the neighbourhood. All efforts made by the religious organizations for the government to return these schools to their original owners failed. But with time, government came to terms with the reality that our public schools could not exactly be the haven of academic excellence combined with sound moral ethics that the old mission-owned schools used to be and stood for. The need to allow, once again private participation in Education became obvious and apparently inevitable.
In the dramatic turn of event and under severe pressure from old boys and the church in what has now become a monumental step of history by the Lagos State government under the leadership of Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Executive Governor, schools were once again returned to the original owners comprising Missions and private individuals after more than 25 years of 'incarceration'.
The agitation for the return of the School to the Dioceses Lagos and Lagos West (Anglican Communion) was led by Mr. Akintola Williams, CBE, CFR, Late Chief F.R.A. Williams, SAN, Late Otunba T.O.S. Benson, SAN, Major Gen. Henry Adefope, Chief G.O. K. Ajayi, SAN and Ambassador Oladapo Fafowora, among others.
In an historic letter dated 3rd August 2001, CMS Grammar School was returned along with over forty other Schools to her original owners. The Anglican Diocese Lagos, which by the time of the return had grown into two viable Dioceses of Lagos and Lagos West, got four returned to her solely and one jointly with the Methodist mission. On 2nd October 2001, the School happily re-opened again under the Management of the Anglican Mission and with The Revd (later Venerable) Johnson Olusola Onayinka as the first Principal after the interregnum. With The Most Revd (Dr.) E.A.Ademowo, Archbishop and Bishop of Lagos and the Rt. Revd (Dr.) P. A. Adebiyi, Bishop of Lagos West as Joint Proprietors, the overall management network of the Anglican Schools was placed firmly under the Lagos Anglican Management Board (LASMAB) under the chairmanship of Mrs. Jane Ejueyitchie-Oroye and The Revd Sam. Igein Isemede as Executive Secretary.
The .Joint Proprietors of the School, His Grace, The Most Revd Dr. E. Adebola Ademowo, OON,FNAL, PH.D, Archbishop and Bishop of Lagos and The Rt. Revd Dr. P. Awelewa Adebiyi, Ph.D; Lord Bishop of Lagos West, The Rt. Revd B. J. Adeyemi (Badagry); The Rt. Revd A. D. Akinde (Lagos Mainland); and The Rt. Revd J. A. Atere (Awori) have given the School full support spiritually, morally and financially. They have set the ball rolling to make this and indeed all our schools models and of the standard required of Mission schools. There is also now, a Board of Governors headed by Major General Victor Odeka. Both Boards comprising, veteran and fully baked Educationists, Professionals and Technocrats, seasoned Administrators, articulate Directors and Clergymen is in itself a metamorphosis of the high-powered 'Committee on Return of Schools' put together as far back as 1999 under the Most Revd Dr. J. Abiodun Adetiloye, D.D
Within the first few years after the return of the school, the LASMAB, Old Grammarians' Society (OGS), and PTA in a clear demonstration of the determination to help put the tradition of excellence on which the premier CMS Grammar School had been built back in place, executed a number of projects.
In the area of academic work, new and bold reforms, carrying with them a number of renovations and successful experiments were introduced to put the school on its path to greatness. Spirituality got a great boost with well-designed and painstakingly implemented structures that are geared towards making every member of the Grammar School Family - a sure citizen of heaven. We could not have been better blessed by a loving generous God.
There was resurgence in the academic horizon. School results again became a source of hope, morals picked up' and the tone changed. The school began a fresh ascendancy to its glorious pinnacle albeit on a gradual note. The school produced the "One-day Lagos State Governor" in the person of Emmanuel Aiyenitaju who, by winning the prestigious first prize in a "Spelling Bee" competition for Lagos Secondary Schools launched the school back to the map of prominence. Spirituality got a sound replanting initiative and the school, again became thirsty for the things of the spirit.
It is hoped that with unrelenting efforts and unceasing prayers, we would be able to consolidate these fresh efforts aimed at regaining the process of return to the good old days, and from thence soar even higher up and on. Indeed, in its one hundred and fifty two years life-span, the school may have been said to have recorded many 'firsts' and produced many of Nigeria's distinguished sons in almost all the facets of the nation's life: Old Grammarians have, true-to-type attained commanding positions in business, law, medicine, banking, insurance, engineering, construction, academics, broadcasting, politics, sports, religion, performing arts, education, diplomacy, architecture and planning; we have just begun!
As the facilities in the School are being gradually rehabilitated, with financial support of the Old Boys, the PTA, the LASMAB and the Board of Governors, new chapters are being opened. Perhaps at the conclusion of the next decade from now, it will be most convenient to do another status-evaluation, to assess the levels to which the School has been taken within these few years of the return and take-over. Restoring the School to its old glory has been a herculean task. But, it is a task that all are determined to complete. God indeed is working His purpose out, and before long those plans shall ripen fast. The bud now may have a bitter taste; but it is certain that "Sweet will be the flower".