21st September 2006
Sir Samuel Baker still hanging on
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 headmaster

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 headmaster.

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 crumbling

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],” he said.

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 farm.
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 grades.”

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 well.
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 2001.

“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 graduate.”
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 badly”.
“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.

The culture

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 and strikes.

“There is no continuity, therefore no culture,” he said.
“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 dead building.
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 instance.

“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 Church.

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.

School Anthem

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

qJohn Ekudu

qUmah Tete

qAlex Okwanga

qMartin Obalim

qBaguma Isoke

qEng. Paul Nyeko Ogiramoi

qWilliam Omaba

qPhillip Okin

qPaul Lukwiya

qPatrick Langoya

qDr. Jack Nyeko

qOkeny Paul

qDavid Okidi

qOjok Bwangamoi (R.I.P)

qGodfrey Odongtoo

qP.P. Okin