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THE UMUAHIAN STORY- (THE FISHERMAN’S TALE)

I will never tire to tell and re-tell the inspiring story of Rev. Robert Fisher, the founder and first Principal of Govt. College Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. Many Umuahians and indeed Nigerians still do not fully comprehend the true essence of the man. He did not just leave us an iconic institution of excellence, he also left for us great personal examples as markers by which we can live our lives.

In 1927, this British gentleman was seconded from his duty post in the then Gold Coast (Ghana) to establish a secondary school for boys in the hinterlands of Nigeria. He traveled down to the Railway Town of Umuahia in Eastern Nigeria and chose a location in the forests about five miles from the centre of town along the present Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene Road. Rev. Robert Fisher envisioned establishing an Eton College of West Africa in the forests of Umuahia modeled on the best traditions of the British school system.. He went about his mission with uncommon love, zeal and determination. He first assembled a world class teaching staff from Oxford, Cambridge and great institutions elsewhere. He instituted meritocracy, a culture of excellence and healthy competition. On January 1,1929, Govt College Umuahia opened its doors to its first set of students. An iconic school was born, a beacon of excellence in education in West Africa.

Rev. Fisher left Nigeria at the beginning of the Second World War but his heart remained with Umuahia. At the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, he knew the school would be in distress. He therefore mobilised efforts and resources and sent them to Umuahia to help the school to stand again. At the death of his wife soon after and despite the fact that he had a daughter, Rev. Robert Fisher sold his only house and all his property, and donated the entire proceeds to GCU. He then moved into a retirement home where he remained till his death. What a man! Fisher did not do this because he had a son he was hoping would attend Govt. College nor did he expect personal gains. He gave to lay a formidable foundation, then gave and gave even more to sustain it. He was not Nigerian yet he practically lived and died for us Umuahians. He poured himself out as an offering for our development and success. He lit a lamp of knowledge and enlightenment that has shone brightly in each of us ever since. See what good he has done. He bequeathed to us a legacy. What legacy do we leave for our children and our children’s children?

Today it is our turn. Our turn to seize the mantle of responsibility for GCU – to see GCU restored as a school of excellence. The spirit of Robert Fisher calls out to all Umuahians all over the world to respond. May we continue to shine as one. IN UNUM LUCEANT.

Chuma Onwudiwe(’75)
Wareham House.