By Jackie Nalubwama
A few kilometres from Gulu town, off Kitgum Road, is an
avenue of old tall trees that leads to the once greatest
school of the North.
Built in 1952, Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School is suffering
from near drowning, unless a rescue team is shortly underway.
Its vast compound of overgrown, unkempt grass could easily
make a feast for grazing animals. Yet, ironically, in front
of this compound is Sir Samuel Baker’s monument- the
great explorer regally seated upright, as if surveying the
school’s works, which are not so evident today.
| Gulu District Education Officer
(DEO), Ocheng Vincent Ocen, former teacher and deputy
The school structures are dilapidated, with broken glass
for windows and dirty walls. Going round the big compound,
to the administration block, one can see the sorry state
of the staff houses- some have winding plants growing on
their walls. In spite of the fact that children were playing
on the verandahs and clothes hanging out on the lines, these
houses looked deserted.
The British colonial government built this school to serve
the greater North, according to Nobert Ben Oola, its current
Oola, using the traditional emblems, explained the great
North as: the cock for the Madi, hyena for West Nile, giraffe
for the Karimojong, rhino for the Langi, and the elephant
for the Acholi.
As headmaster of this rubble, Oola is faced with a task
so hard that all stakeholders need to give him support,
in order for Sir Samuel Baker to reclaim its supremacy.
Understandably, the headmaster, who has been there for
three years, said that plans to improve the school’s
standards will start soon because the school is in dire
need of renovation.
Put simply, Sir Samuel Baker reminds me of a falling Troy
with its ruler as Oola, trying to hold up the debris.
|Remains of assembly hall
|The school administration block
The old boys The Weekly Observer spoke to brought the Troy
analogy to life. David Okidi was at the school from 1985-87.
He is the station manager at Mega FM in Gulu. He said: “Our
time was the most difficult time. We had one year of A-level
and we sat our exams in Gulu Senior Secondary School.”
This was because of the 1985 war. He went on to recall a
time, one Friday, when rebels marched through the compound.
Despite such troubles, Okidi said the school was as organised
as it could possibly be. There were no strikes.
“The school was good in the beginning, with hopes
of [students] making it to Makerere [University],”
Okidi is currently disappointed in the school’s performance.
“I am also disappointed that the school is like this.
The strikes, the performance has gone to the dogs.”
Denis Onen is an S.5 student whom the reporter chanced
on during his holidays because he had come to pick up his
bank slip at the school. He explained that students went
on strike because they did not like working on the school
In fact, the school administration block bears the brunt
of the strike because it now has metallic windows since
the glass was destroyed.
But according to Okidi, when he was a student, they used
to work on the school farm. Onen said he joined the school
because of “how they performed in the past and the
teaching was ok.” But he to admitted, “They
have declined a bit because last year they got 10 first
The academic decline can also be seen in its A-level performance
last year: the school sent only one student on government
sponsorship to Makerere University, three to Gulu University
and none to Kyambogo and Mbarara universities.
Obwona Morris Ivan, who is going to pursue a Bachelor of
Science in Education at Makerere University, was the lucky
one from Sir Samuel Baker.
When a stitch is undone, the nine have to follow. Such
is the case with Sir Samuel Baker, which has not only undergone
academic deterioration but extra curricular activities as
Besides excelling in academics, the school was also good
in sports. Today, Onen said, only athletics remains big.
“But last year the school was disqualified from interschool
competitions because of indiscipline,” he added.
Sadly for Sir Samuel Baker, bad luck has come in bundles.
According to the Gulu District Education Officer (DEO),
Ocheng Vincent Ocen, the school needs renovation. Ocen was
a teacher at the school in 1993 before becoming deputy headmaster
“In 1993 it was totally in chaos. The classroom windows
were shuttered, no furniture, roofs leaking, the library
was empty, no equipment in the labs and the dormitories
without window shutters,” Ocen recalls.
He added, “We were about 25 teachers with poor salary
and looking needy. We were paid Shs 35, 000 and I was a
Such circumstances, according to Ocen, ensured that teachers’
morale was always low.
Fellow teachers even asked him why he bothered to teach
so hard. “Why do you teach so hard? Here we teach
and wait for salary,” he quoted colleagues as inquiring.
Ocen was teaching Geography and Economics and he says that
his students passed. Some of these are Philip Okin (now
in the Office of the Prime Minister, in-charge of Disaster
Management for Northern region), and Paul Okeny (Programme
Coordinator, Gulu Support the Children Organisation).
Paul Nyeko Ogiramoi is another old boy who was at Sir Samuel
Baker for his O-level from 1991 to 94. He said: “I
remember Amanya Mushega (former minister of education) came
to our dormitory and we tried to make a bed frame from a
rope.” This was because the beds were not enough in
the school. His memories are not any different from Ocen’s,
the former deputy headmaster.
When Ogiramoi was at the school, they used hurricane lumps
(tadooba) and other lamps during prep because the school
did not have electricity.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the school “was performing
“There were very few teachers. We had good Physics,
Chemistry History and Commerce teachers. The English teacher
was poor. We failed English and UNEB advised the school
to change the English teacher.”
To Ogiramoi, parents did not want to send their children
to the school because it was performing poorly. At one point
he said he feared saying which school he came from because
people would have laughed at him.
According to the former deputy headmaster, strikes are
part of the school culture these days. “Every three
years students strike,” said Ocen. But Ogiramoi notes
that the culture of the school has been destroyed by wars
“There is no continuity, therefore no culture,”
“When I joined there were strikes and even after I
left,” Ogiramoi added.
The assembly hall was burnt down during a strike in the
70s or the 80s, and presently plants have colonised the
According to the headmaster, it is even hard to know what
happened, unless the old boys are called upon and asked,
because the records were also destroyed.
Ocen however observes that one aspect that is unique about
students of the school is hard work. “The students
are hardworking because they are not spoon fed. They suffer
to get education,” he said.
Ocen added, “It was a school that represented the
North, so when you came from there, people knew you were
from a good school.” Sir Samuel Baker is also known
for having no religious affiliation.
Oola, the headmaster, says it is because of this neutral
position that the school has not received full support from
a church, unlike Gulu High School, which is Catholic, for
“It depends on the headmaster’s religion for
the school to get a bit of help from either religion,”
the head master explained.
Basing on the evidence of a rosary in the headmaster’s
office, the school may expect some help from the Catholic
Much needed renovation
According to Ocen, in 1995 the government took some interest
in the school and renovated the laboratories and classrooms.
Thus teachers started returning.
Also, old teachers of the school now living in the United
Kingdom donated some books, but more are needed.
And maybe the school needs to increase the school fees because
Shs 96, 000, which Onen of S.5 pays, might partly explain
why the school facilities are in poor shape.
Sadly, the old boys don’t seem to be very enthusiastic
about helping the school. Commenting on Samuel Baker Old
Boys Association, Okidi an OB said, “It is not a very
strong organisation, before adding, “It needs reconstruction.”
The Old Boys certainly need to uphold their alma mater’s
motto, which says, ‘To learn to serve.’ Now
is the time their school needs them the most.
By the stream there stands a school
Come learn of others.
Sons of all there know the land
Come learn of wisdom
By faces future glory
Sons of all leave the school better than you found it.
Prominent Old BOYS
qAmbassador Joram Ajeani
qHon Prof. Ogenga Latigo
qHon. William Nokrach
qHon. Simon Oyet
qEng. Paul Nyeko Ogiramoi
qDr. Jack Nyeko
qOjok Bwangamoi (R.I.P)