Monday, March 8, 2021
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THE GLORIOUS YEARS OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN NIGERIA: The focus of this piece is on the University College, Ibadan, the first university to be established in Nigeria. TERRIFIC HEADLINES will then take you to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the institution founded in 1948 under a special relationship with the University of London.  Decades before the university came into existence, young Nigerians in pursuit of higher education gathered to read and studied together.  Aspirations were very high. People even stayed at home to earn university degrees while also engaged in full-time work. Those who have achieved this objective include Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who bagged a Bachelors of Commerce degree in Nigeria, and later travelled to London to pursue his degree in law. Many of the Nigerians of that era subscribed to Wolsey Hall, an institution in London that provided tuition by correspondence.

PREPARATION: Several studious Nigerians were able to acquire Intermediate Bachelors degree utilizing that route. Since the latter half of the nineteenth century, Nigerians trooped in significant numbers abroad in pursuit of higher education.  The United-Kingdom was the major attraction while Fourah Bay University, Sierra-Leone also trained a substantial number of Nigerians. A few others headed for the United-States of America. In Nigeria, The Yaba Higher College (established in 1932 but formally opened in 1934) and the Yaba Medical School (established in 1930), which granted diplomas and certificates in selected subjects, hardly satisfied the aspirations of those who longed for university education.

The Yaba Higher College’s phase of education in Nigeria further illustrated the desire of Nigerians for degrees, diplomas and certificates which were not inferior to those awarded by universities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.  So long as British officials did not envisage self-government for Nigerians and senior posts in the public service were reserved for expatriates, pleas for university education in Nigeria fell on deaf ears. A publication on the history of the University of Ibadan asserts that the British Government seriously considered the possibility of establishing universities or university colleges in the Commonwealth, and in West Africa particularly, during World War II.

THE FIRST UNIVERSITY IN NIGERIA: The Asquith and Elliot Commissions, -both set up in 1943-reported on various aspects of this problem in 1945.  The majority and minority reports of the Elliot Commission agreed on the establishment of a university college in Nigeria.  The Asquith Commission concentrated on the fundamental principles, which were to guide the development of institutions of higher learning similar to the University College subsequently established at Ibadan.  The Asquith Commission emphasized the principles of a residential university college in special relationship with London University, high academic standards in admissions and staffing, and autonomy.

COMMENCEMENT: Both the Elliot and Asquith Commissions, which exchanged information, agreed that the Inter-university Council for Higher Education in the Colonies (later Overseas) was to advise the new University Colleges on how best to attain the objectives for which they were established. The University College, Ibadan, founded in 1948, at first occupied the old site previously used by the 56th Military General Hospital about eight kilometers away from the ‘new’ or permanent site.  The new site covered over 1,032 hectares of land generously leased by the chiefs and people of Ibadan for 999 years.

With equipment transferred from Yaba Higher College, the 104 foundation students (including 49 students in teacher training and survey courses) began their courses at Ibadan on 18 January 1948; the formal opening took place on 25 March 1948.  In February 1948, London University allowed Ibadan its special relationship scheme.  Arthur Creech Jones, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, and an influential member of the Elliot Commission, cut the first sod at the permanent site of the University College on 17 November 1948, which became Foundation Day. For the foundation medical students, the facilities provided in 1948 by the Native Administration Hospital at Adeoyo; and the Government Jericho Hospital, for which the Faculty of Medicine was responsible, were inadequate.

SILVER JUBILEE ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS:  The Silver Jubilee anniversary of the University of Ibadan was marked with fanfare in 1973. Records reveal that that period still fell with the time when the campuses enjoyed huge respect and admiration of the citizenry. Just consider these: Gen Yakubu Gowon, GCFR was Visitor to the University. Sir Samuel Manuwa was Pro Chancellor & Chairman of Council; and Prof. Horatio Oritsejolomi Thomas was Vice Chancellor. Now consider those awarded honourary Doctorate Degrees before they soon became one per kobo: Emperor Haile Sellasie of Ethiopia, who never came because of the precarious situation in his country; Professor C. W. L. Bevan, who in the period of 13 years served as Professor and Head of the Department of Chemistry in1953; and Dean of Science and Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

THE 1973 CELEBRATIONS: As recorded, two alumni members: Professor Ishaya Audu, then Vice-Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, and Mr. Michael Omolayole, described by the University Orator as a captain of industry. In attendance was the first Principal/Vice Chancellor of the University, Dr & Mrs Kenneth Mellanby; who was recognized for ‘’his selfless Service’’ and  Professor Kenneth Dike, the first Vice-Chancellor of the University, who was then an Andrew Mellon Professor of African History at Harvard University. Easily one of the most interesting events was the public lecture delivered by that great legend, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (I never saw or read where he used the prefix: Dr’’ in spite of the numerous honourary Degrees he received. Tragically, some honourary doctorate awardees now put the prefix ‘’Ph. D’’ after their names. A sacrilege! Whoever could reflect properly would shake his/her head in admiration, disbelief and also sadness at what has befallen Education in Nigeria. Dispassionately, we could ask: Can we reverse this ugly situation? I say in the world of President Barack Obama: ‘’Yes We Can’’ if we are serious and truly plan for the present and future of our great country by eliminating all those unexciting considerations that have continued to plague development and progress. Out fate is in our own hands, which is one of the reasons we preach family values and virtues as the strongest pillars of development.

GREAT NIGERIANS SCHOLARS OF THEIR ERA & RECOGNITIONS:  One of the events that promoted feelings of empathy was recognitions. That came for the following at the November 17, 1973 event: ‘’Professor A. L. Mabogunje, Head of the Department of Geography, who early this month was awardedan honorary Doctorate in Economics by the Stockholm School of Economics. (iii) Professor O. O. Akinkugbe, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, who was invited by the Ugandan Government to serve on their National Universities Commission for the triennium 1973-1976’’ Other recognitions were for Professor V. A. Oyenuga, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, who was appointed a member of the 20-man founding committee of the United Nations University; (v) Professor T. Ajibola Taylor, Head of the Department of Agricultural Biology, who was appointed amember of the Permanent Committee of the International Congress of Entomology at the 14thInternational Congress of Entomology in Canberra, Australia.

Others included: (vi) Professor A. 0. Lucas, Head of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, who was awarded the first Ademola Memorial Prize by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for his contributions to the promotion of health indeveloping countries; (vii) Professor E. L. Odeku of the Department of Surgery, who was one of the four recipients of the Alumni Award of Howa r d University, Washington D.C., at the 106th Anniversary of the founding of the University on 2 March, 1973; and (viii) Professor M. O. Oyawoye, Head of the Department of Geology, who was appointed to the Board of the IGCP (International Geological Correlation Programme).

GREAT BRAINS: These are/were brains that matched brains the developed world, if not better than brains in other parts of the world. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan used to rank among the first ten public officers in terms of protocol ratings. The University College Teaching Hospital, Ibadan was one of the best in the world and in fact even attracted patients from the Middle East.  No more! Those facilities that emerged from the efforts of the colonial regime are today in varying states of decay that most probably have been averted by the application of the principle of visioning and long range planning.

The University College Hospital, Ibadan, one of the best four in Africa or even the Commonwealth could have been moved out of its present location. Its position of preeminence as Centre of Excellence should not have been allowed to be affected by quota, federal character and related issues. Again, the situation is redeemable, though it would take some years or decades to achieve this objective. The younger ones could be encouraged to cultivate this objective.

THE ALUMNI LECTURE: That legend of his time, Chief Obafemi Awolowo delivered the Alumni Lecture whose thought provoking piece, in which Awolowo, in proposing the toast of the Alumni Association announced two main reasons declared that:

‘’First, it is a matter of stimulating delight to be in a gathering of this elevating character and composition; and second; it is a rare opportunity to play some part during the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the oldest and exemplary university in Nigeria’. Twenty-five years is an infinitesimal time-scale in the lifeof an institution such as the University of Ibadan which has every prospect of perpetual survival. But, in the life of every individual alumnus, and for that matter, of every individual human being, a quarter of a century is a considerable span.

For, whatever may be our individual feeling to the contrary and howsoever we may try, it is absolutely certain that not all those who participate in or witness these Silver Jubilee celebrations of the University of Ibadan will be on this side of the great divide when the Golden Jubilee is celebrated 25years hence. The reputation of a university depends, I dare say, wholly on the soundness of its teachings and on the calibre and quality of its graduates. In these two regards the University of Ibadan has had to its credit an immense success which can be equaled; but cannot be excelled.

In this connection, it should be emphasised that by their individual performances in all the spheres of human endeavours to which they have been assigned, the alumni of the University of Ibadan have done more than anything else to put a stamp of genuine respectability and of unaffected international recognition on the degree awarded by the university. It is true to say that today, the alumni of the University of Ibadan are playing very influential as well as decisive roles in the affairs not only of Nigeria but also of Africa and the world.

PERFORMANCES: Look in any direction you like-worthy direction, I mean – the story is the same; the alumni and alumnae of this great university are to be found displaying strong, challenging, and decisive presence. Where all are worthy of mention, one can only confine oneself in a short speech to the promontories that one knows. The current Secretary-General of the OAU, Mr Nzo Ekangaki, is an alumnus of the University of Ibadan and a member of the OAU. General Yakubu Gowon, is an honorary alumnus. Both of them are carrying quite admirably, I think, Africa’s burden which of late, is made heavier by the Middle-East war .Two of the military governors in Nigeria in the persons of Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi and Commissioner of Police Mr. Joseph Gomwalk, are members of this association. Two names readily come to mind: they are Messrs. Adamu Ciroma and Areoye Oyebola. They both have one paradoxical quality in common. Each of them is as the ancient Roman would put it, “Cuaviter in modo, fortiter in re”; quiet, shy and unassuming in manners, but formidable in wielding the pen. The civil service, the Armed Forces, the Police Force, the Prisons and any other spheres of human activities you can think of are manned in the higher cadre, largely by members of your association. So far; so good, there is a trite saying: To whom much is given, much is expected. And to be quite candid the members of your association, as patriots nationalists, and social reformers and innovators are still to win their spurs. There is no doubt whatsoever that you have all performed most creditably in all the spheres to which you have been assigned

FORTUNES: But, in all this, you have the unique fortune of being successors and heirs to a political and social inheritance which admittedly, is mixed but is on the whole conducive to healthy and self-respecting growth and development on all fronts. Among this inheritance are a free and united Nigeria, the Organisation of African Unity, and respect for the dignity of the African. The duty which now devolves upon you is to uphold this inheritance from impairment and corrosion and to improve immeasurably upon it. Here then is the rub and the urgency of your new assignments. For, if the truth must be told, there are certain vital matters common to Africa in general and peculiar to Nigeria

HIGH RATING OF ALUMNI: From all accounts, both of them are acquitting themselves as competently as any other military ruler in the country. Lest we forget, one of the five celebrated or ill-famed majors (all depending on which side of the fence one is) who were the harbingers of military rule in Nigeria was Major Ifeajuna – an alumnus of the University of Ibadan. In the highly, sometimes cut-throat, competitive arena of business, your association has outstanding representatives; two of them are Mr Michael 0molayole of Unilever and Mr. Adokpaye of Mobil who are top executive directors in their respective organizations.

In the field of education and learning at all levels, members of your association are prominently in the vanguard: there is Dr Ishaya  Audu, Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University,under whom ABU has made enviable progress. There is also Professor Akin Mabogunje, who has won international recognition as one of the world’s leading scholars in Geography; and there is Professor (Mrs) Ogunseye who has risen from the humble status of student to the enviable height of a Professor-all in the University of Ibadan, moving in the process from the wooden army barracks turned University campus at Eleiyele to the present beautiful campus on Oyo road. She was present at the foundation of the University of Ibadan in 1948.And whenever the story of the nativity of her alma mater is told in centuries to come the name of Mrs 0gunseye will be mentioned also.Dr J. F. Ade Ajayi and Mr. S Ade Osinulu; Vice-Chancellor and Registrar respectively of the University of Lagos are also your fellow alumni. It was thoughtful of the Council and Senate to do well-deserved honour, on this historic occasion to Audu and Omolayole by the award to them of honorary degrees. The modern church militant also has one of your members in its leadership He is no other than your respected chairman, Mr. Bola Ige. He is the current chairman of the World Council of Churches Committee to combat racism.

ALUMNI IN THE MEDIA: The newspapers, the radio, the other actors of the mass media are almost wholly dominated by members of your association. The newspapers, the radio, the other actors of the mass media are almost wholly dominated by members of your association. But, in all this, you have the unique fortune of being successors and heirs to a political and social inheritance which admittedly, is mixed but is on the whole conducive to healthy and self-respecting growth and development on all fronts. Among this inheritance are a free and united Nigeria, the Organisation of African Unity, and respect for the dignity of the African.

The duty which now devolves upon you is to uphold this inheritance from impairment and corrosion and to improve immeasurably upon it. Here then is the rub and the urgency of your new assignments. For, if the truth must be told, there are certain vital matters common to Africa in general and peculiar to Nigeria in particular, which must be attended to by you and all of us with a due sense of urgency, dispatch,  and resolution. I will try to enumerate some of them briefly. For Africa as a whole, I will only outline six such matters, among others. One: In time past, the most potent weapon which African nationalists had employed in their fight for political freedom was freedom of dissent.

DISSENT: That is, the freedom to disagree with, to criticise, and to chastise the government of the day, with as much vehemence and robustness as your eloquence or literary skill can command. It was the guarantee of this freedom, and its effective employment by African nationalist that had made our political independence a reality. In my humble judgment, and with the greatest respect to all our rulers in Africa, it appears crystal clear that this freedom of dissent is not only long in abeyance since independence; but also now in danger of total extinction. Freedom of Dissent is a positive good: it is the best safeguard against tyranny, and the surest preventive of avoidable costly error on the part of the government of the day.

Two: The struggle against involuntary political and economic enslavement under colonial rule was over during the last decade in most part of Africa. But the struggle against voluntary subservience and submission to neo-colonialism is yet to begin. Our frequent and unabating declamation against neo-colonialism appears to me to be pretentious exercise and deliberate diversion. For the true and real neo-colonialists are no other than we Africans ourselves. It is we, in spite of our political independence and sovereignty, who voluntarily submit to economic, and sometimes diplomatic dominance from outside our borders.


EQUALITY OF PEOPLES OF THE WORLD: Three: Only goodness knows how many resolutions we have passed, and how many billions of words we have spoken in condemnation:

  1. of the last vestiges of colonialism in some parts of Africa
  2. of white domination of Africans in Rhodesia and theSouthern parts of our continent, and
  3. of racial inequality and discrimination as between blackand white in Africa and even in other parts of the world.

It is my respectful submission that all these evil things against which we most vehemently and quite justly inveigh, will continue until one African is equal to one white man in all respects.

Four: Further in this connection, and if I may borrow a Biblical expression-“l say unto you” that one white-man will continue to be equal to twenty Africans, or, at any rate, to much more than one African, until African leaders are able to muster enough courage and dedication to venture into the contemporary  fast-flowing stream of education, science and technology which alone can sweep our continent into a greater and nobler future where racial equality will no longer be a matter of patronising concession on the part of the whites, but one of accepted necessity among all races of the world.

PRESERVING OUR CULTURAL HERITAGE:  The current crusade for the preservation of our cultural heritage is highly commendable. In this connection, we have every right to look up to the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, who is an honorary alumnus of the University of Ibadan, and who also is the farsighted author of the new federalism in Nigeria, to see toit that nothing is done or left undone which may tend to, or, actually reduce the states to the status of glorified local councils.But we must not allow our preoccupation with our past to  make us lose sight of what these contemporary times demand both in efforts and resources for the promotion of education, science and technology, and for the quick advent of the greater and more glorious future which awaits our continent as a result.

Five: To all intents and purposes, in economic terms, Africa is today a beggar-continent. At all times and at every turn, we beg for aid. However, as beggars, we are in a class by ourselves. When we beg, we do not grovel.

Assumption: Instead, we assume an air of superciliousness, and demand that the donors should attach no strings to the gifts. And when strings are attached, as they invariably are, we pretend to ourselves that they do not exist. But our budgets always tell the true story.

Six: TENACITY OF OFFICE: For some time now – t o be precise since the attainment of political independence by African countries-a terrible monster has been stalking the face of Africa, and threatening to hold full and permanent rein on the continent to the detriment of the masses of our people. It is the monster of TENACITY OF OFFICE. The chief characteristics of this monster are inordinate and shameless love of public office; and morbid desire for its own sake, even when the legitimacy for such power does not exist or has completely disappeared. So much for Africa in general.   For Nigeria in particular, there are two matters which compel our urgent attention.

  • Recent government measures ominously suggest that Nigeria is fast becoming a country of extreme regionaland interpersonal contradictions.
  • Poverty: In some parts of the country and amongst some individuals, what Rostow, in his famous book The Stages of Growth-A Non-Communist Manifesto, describes as Buddenbrook’s Dynamics, is already at work, whilst grinding poverty reigns supreme in some other parts of the country.

DYNAMICS OF POWER: If I may put it in my own words, what Buddenbrook’s, Dynamics means simply is that the higher you go in the social ladder the wider your field of cognition and your horizon of wants and discontent. On the other hand, and by way of contrast, what “POWER DYNAMICS” (If I may be permitted this heresy) denotes is that the lower you actually sink or imagine you sink in quagmire of poverty and wants, the narrower becomes your field of cognition, and the deeper your discontent. Says Aristotle: “Poverty is the parent of revolution”.

NEW FEDERALISM: In this connection, we have every right to look up to the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, who is an honorary alumnus of the University of Ibadan, and who also is the far-sighted author of the new federalism in Nigeria, to see to it that nothing is done or left undone which may tend to, or, actually reduce the states to the status of glorified local councils.

May I, in closing, congratulate, most warmly, all the members of the Alumni Association of the University of Ibadan, and ask all my fellow-guests here tonight to rise and drink with me, as lustily as we ever can, the toast of the Alumni Association of the University of Ibadan, the premier and exemplar university in Nigeria.

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