…As celebrating varsities recall challenges, triumphs
By GABRIEL DIKE (Lagos), BAMIGBOLA GBOLAGUNTE (Osogbo) and NOAH EBIJE (Kaduna)
These days, if you hear Kool & The Gang, the world-famous African/American pop music group singing “Celebrate good times, come on! Let’s celebrate”, look around you, very well; you are probably seated among the celebrants at University of Lagos (UNILAG), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) or Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).
These famous Nigerian universities just clocked 50 years of existence, hence they rolled out the drums and lit up candles, 50 of them! As Nigerian university students are wont to say, it is time to say 50 gbosas to UNILAG, ABU and OAU (the latter, former University of Ife). “Celebrate good times, come on! Let’s celebrate.” As you might have been informed by Kool & the Gang, formed in 1964, two years after the celebrating academic institutes were established, “There’s a party goin’ on right here/A celebration to last throughout the years/So bring your good times, and your laughter too/ We gonna celebrate your party with you/ Come on now….
Let’s all celebrate and have a good time.”
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS AT UNILAG
A celebration to last throughout the years! So, where shall we start, ladies and gentlemen? Ok, let’s start with UNILAG. In May, 1959, the colonial government established the Commission on Post-School Certificate and Higher Education in Nigeria under the chairmanship of Sir Eric Ashby. The Ashby Commission’s Report, titled: “Investment in Education”, made a strong case, among other recommendations, for the establishment of more universities. In fact, it specifically recommended the establishment of a new university, possibly, non-residential, in Lagos, then the federal capital, “to offer day and evening courses in Commerce, Business Administration, Economics and Higher Management Studies.” The government welcomed and adopted most of the recommendations contained in the report. Armed with the blueprint, in 1961 it assigned the detailed planning of setting up the new university of a UNESCO Advisory Commission established for that purpose.
Although the Ashby Commission had recommended a non-residential institution, the UNESCO Commission opted for a “complete all-encompassing” university with residential accommodation on a large campus. That was how the University of Lagos came to be established on October 22, 1962, based on the authority of the University of Lagos Act of 1962.
The Act which provided for an 11 member Provisional Council, a Senate to preside over the academic affairs, and a separate council for the Medical School, located at the University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, was amended after five years to bring together the main university and the Medical School which, until then, had operated as an autonomous institution, to make for a smoother running of the academic/administrative programmes of the university.
The university which started at a temporary site in a secondary school at Idi-Araba and began its first academic session with 100 students (46 students for the Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration, which was later changed to Faculty of Business and Social Studies; 26 students for the Faculty of Law and 28 for the Faculty of Medicine whose Medical School had commenced lectures three weeks earlier on October 3, 1962), had Prof. Eni-Njoku as its first Vice-Chancellor (1962-1965). As a matter of fact, the University of Lagos began with three faculties, namely; Commerce and Business Administration, Law and Medicine.
According to the booklet, UNILAG in Contemporary Context: A Dream Come True, Not a Nightmare, edited by S.O. Akinboye and S.A.Dare, the faculties of Arts, Education, Engineering and Science were added in 1964. Over the years, University of Lagos has grown in leaps and bounds, as the well-worn cliché would say, especially since its movement to its present permanent site in Akoka, Yaba, Lagos. Akinboye and Dare, quoting from one of the university’s official documents titled, Re-Engineering the University of Lagos, 2000-2004, periodize or classify that growth and development into phases, namely, The Pioneers, 1962-1965; The Period of Renewal, 1965-1971; The Period of Consolidation, 1972-2000 and The Era of Rapid Transformation and Development, 2000 till date.
Whereas the pioneering period saw to the first phase of infrastructural development at the Akoka Campus being laid, the period of renewal saw to its completion, the period of consolidation, the streamlining of the academic structure and acceleration of physical development, the era of rapid transformation is characterized by the drive to make UNILAG “one of the top 100 universities in the world” through research and technological innovations. Today, after 50 years of existence, there are many buildings dotting the landscape of the university such as the 12-floor Senate building, the main Auditorium building, the six- floor Arts Block building, twin 12 floor High Rise Staff Quarters and the ones at the College of Medicine, Idi-Araba UNILAG actually took off on April 1, 1967. Most of the buildings mentioned above were constructed some years after the institution took off, but there are some that it inherited, particularly the ones at Faculty of Education. Prof. Duro Ajeyalemi, of the Faculty of Education, who graduated in 1976 from the same faculty, strongly believes that the oldest buildings can be found between Henry Carr Hall and the ones inherited by the faculty from the old Federal Advanced Teachers’ College (FATC), before a College of Education was built by the Americans to train teachers.
Mariere and Moremi Halls, he said, were built after the university took off from the main campus. According to the Professor of Science and Technology Education and former Dean, Students Affairs, the inherited structures at the faculty, particularly Blocks A, (admin office and staff offices), Block B and Auditorium are some of the oldest buildings because they existed before the university was established, aside the ones at the College of Medicine. Ajeyalemi, former Hall Master of Henry Carr Hall also identified the Postgraduate hall (Henry Carr) made up of blocks A,B,C as one of the oldest buildings on campus. The National President, University of Lagos Alumni Association, Prof. Laide Abass, identified Mariere, Moremi and Henry Carr Halls as well as the buildings at the College of Medicine as some of the oldest buildings in the university.
He faulted the impression held by many that Elkanemi Hall was the oldest building in UNILAG. Another alumnus, Mr. Olufemi Balogun, of 1974 set confirmed that he met Henry Carr Hall on ground; in fact, he was accommodated there.
CONTRIBUTION TO NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
UNILAG, which prides itself as the “University of First Choice,” had, in the past 50 years, contributed a lot, in material and human resources, to the development of our nation. Not only has it produced men and women who have held or are holding top positions, at the national and international levels, it has produced research works from which ideas were borrowed to drive various sectors of our economy. Notable alumni of the university include Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, Nigeria’s former Minister of Education and ex-Managing Director, World Bank, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Governor, Ekiti State, Dele Olojede, publisher, NEXT newspaper and the first African to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, Dare Art-Alade, Adewale Ayuba, Eldee (musicians), Wale Adenuga, publisher/Nigeria’s foremost private film and television producer of popular series like Papa Ajasco and Company (the rib-cracking TV comedy running on almost all Nigerian television stations), Super Story, Binta, This Life, and Nnenna and Friend; Stella Damasus, Funke Akindele, Joke Silva (actresses) and Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, Philip Begho, Helen Ovbiagele (writers).
One of the enduring legacies of the university in recent times is the institution of the annual Research and Conference Fair, which, according to Prof. Funso Falade, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNILAG, and Chairmain Conference Planning Committee, of this year’s edition, the eight “remained the mechanism by which it promotes yearly, beneficial interactions and fruitful collaborations among the stakeholders in the education and research sectors (higher institutions, governments, parastatals, industries, e.t.c).
By this annual research and fair, this great university has demonstrated its belief that once there is a strong research and development system, Nigeria’s economy will also be strong because of its conviction that research and innovation are key drivers for economic growth. For the economy to grow, a nation must invest in research and innovation.”
THE HISTORY OF ABU
At this juncture, the tempo of the music changes as Kool & the Gang, calls on every celebrant, everybody, to “Get Down on It.” “What you gonna do?”, they wailed. “Do you wanna get down, tell me/… How you gonna do when if you really don’t wanna dance by standing on the wall!/ Get your back up off the wall! Tell me/ ‘Cause I heard all the people sayin’/Get down on it, come on it!/ Get down on it, if you really want it!/ Get down on it you’ve got to feel it!/Get down on it, get down on it! What you gonna do? Tell the story of Ahmadu Bello University, of course! As Nigeria approached independence, in 1960, the Ashby Commission submitted a report, a month before independence, recommending additional universities in each of Nigeria’s then – three regions, as well as the capital, Lagos. But even before the report, however, the regional governments had begun planning universities. In May, 1960, the Northern Region had upgraded the School of Arabic Studies in Kano to become the Ahmadu Bello College for Arabic and Islamic Studies. (The college was named after the Northern Region’s dominant political leader, Alhaji (Sir) Ahmadu Bello.) But the Ashby Commission report recommendations gave a new impetus and direction, and the colonial government then eventually decided to create a University of Northern Nigeria sited in Zaria.
The university would later take over the facilities of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology at Samaru Zaria, and would also incorporate the Ahmadu Bello College in Kano, the Agricultural Research Institute at Samaru, the Institute of Administration at Zaria, and the Veterinary Research Institute at Vom on the Plateau, Jos. The law establishing the new university was passed by the Northern Region legislature in 1961. It was decided to name the university after Ahmadu Bello, while the Kano College took the name of Abdullahi Bayero, a past Emir of Kano. Currently, the university covers a land area of 7,000 hectares and encompasses 12 academic faculties, a postgraduate school and 82 academic departments. It has five institutes, six specialized centres, a Division of Agricultural Colleges, demonstration secondary and primary schools, as well as extension and consultancy services which provide a variety of services to the wider society.
The total student enrollment in the university’s degree and sub-degree programmes is about 35,000, drawn from every state of the federation, Africa and the rest of world. There are about 1,400 academic and research staff and 5,000 support workers. The university has also nurtured two new university institutions (Bayero University, Kano, and the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University of Technology, Bauchi). Besides, about 27 tertiary institutions made up of colleges of education, polytechnics and schools of basic or preliminary studies are, currently, affiliated to it.
Ahead of the grand finale of the 50th anniversary celebration, some of the lecturers who were, at one time or the other students of the university, bemoaned the disappearance of pioneer structures in the Ivory Tower due to modernization and fast development of the institution. They recalled with nostalgia the spot that used to be known as “love garden” where female and male undergraduates meet to socialize during leisure hours. They also lamented the absence of hard working staff, unlike the case in the early years of the university. However, they refuted the general belief among students about admission at ABU being based on “man-know-man” or connection to people that matter in the system, insisting that applicants who met the admission requirement had always been given. “When I came into ABU as a fresh undergraduate in 1981, the calibre of staff we had at that time and the rigorous staff training we received was far more than what is obtained now,” Dr. Mairiga Ribah Bawa, Faculty of Educatin Science, noted, with some sadness in his voice. “Even though ABU is still what it is, I think what was obtained in the past cannot be compared to what we have in ABU now.
Many lecturers left ABU for greener pastures and I think this is one of the problems we have in terms of learning and teaching at ABU.” On the allegated admission racketeering, he denied its existence. “Admission into the university is usually based on the capability of the student,” he said. “If a student is able to meet the requirements, he or she will be admitted no matter who is in charge of admissions. This, ABU strives to maintain, whenever the admission exercise comes into play. So the issue of who-knows-who does not arise because admission has its own criteria and guidelines and as long as a student has not been able to perform to that level, he/she does not qualify to be admitted into any other university, muchless ABU.”
Asked about the oldest among the faculty buildings of the university, Bawa said he could not say for sure but added that the, “Faculty of Education is one of the oldest faculties and the largest faculty in the university.” As discussion swung back to the anniversary celebration, he is happy to note that ABU is a household name among many Nigerians because of its pedigree. “ABU is developing as fast as one could imagine because when we came in at that time, the ratio and the number of students at that time that were being admitted were not many,” he recalled. “But because of the niche it has carved for itself as far as learning is concerned, over the years, everybody who wants to learn, wants to come to ABU. I think it is because of what the university gives in terms of quality.” Dr. Ezekiel Akuso of the Department of Literary Art agrees. “The truth of the matter is that ABU has come a long way in terms of positive development,” he said. “If we are talking of quality of teaching and research, we say that ABU is a university that has achieved tremendously.
All the same, there is still much room for improvement, particularly in staff recruitment and in the calibre of people that are being employed now. If ABU must continue to maintain its standard, if it must be a university worth its name, then I think the calibre of people that are employed and the quality and teaching of research should be improved. So, I see ABU as a university that has great hope for the future and that will reach a greater height.” On the rumoured admission racketeering going on at ABU, he believes that the allegation arose as a result of the quota system.
“Those that didn’t perform very well will always say that it is very difficult to get admission into ABU, but I don’t think that is the matter,” he noted. “I think it has to do with state quota or what we know as federal character allocations. If you have someone from Kaduna State who has 250 and many others with 300 or 350 in JAMB score and he or she is not given admission but someone from Kaduna who has a lower score is given because that is one of our catchment areas, if you don’t understand the major issues involved, you will just assume that the candidate got admission through some other means..
But it is not so. Actually, many candidates apply to ABU but because the competition is very keen, we screen and admit in the best. But I don’t think if one who sat for his JAMB and the post-UTME and scored very high marks is usually denied admission.” Prof. Samuel Kafewo, Head, Department of Theatre and Performing Arts, ABU, said that although he obtained only his PhD at ABU, over the past 20 years, he had lived and worked within the university system. “One thing I will have to say is that there had been changes since then, some positive and some not so positive. “Looking at the social life, we used to have one funny place we called “love garden” and other things but suddenly, these things have disappeared. I cannot say these things are positive because at that time this place was like what a university should look like in the sense that it allowed everyone to be what he or she wanted to be without going beyond the moral boundary but in recent times there have been outcries of moral degeneration.
“I don’t know whether what is going on now is positive or negative, but I think the social life on the campus is very restricted but the academic life remains the same, and that is why for employers out there, ABU is the first choice because they know that anyone who makes a 2.2 from ABU actually merited it.”
CONTRIBUTIONS TO NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Like Dr. Bala Bello Muhammed Dewu, who until his appointment as the Director for the Centre for Energy Research and Training (CERT), was ABU’s Alumni Officer, pointed out in a chat with Education Review, the list of ABU graduates who, at one time or the other, made waves in public service.
They include Nigeria’s late president, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, who graduated from the university with a B.Sc in Education and Chemistry and an M.Sc in Analytical Chemistry, his wife, Turai, who read Education, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), who graduated with Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Law, Ahmed Nasir El-Rufai, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, who graduated with a First Class honours in Quantity Surveying, Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River State, Mohammed Namadi Sambo an architect, incumbent Vice President, Alhaji Abubakar Gimba, prolific writer and former national president, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and AIG Ivy Okoronkwo, Assistant Inspector-General of Police, in charge of Zone 7, Police Command, Abuja, who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Criminology.
THE BIRTH OF OAU
Remember it is still the Kool & the Gang on the stage for this 50th anniversary celebration. “So bring your good times, and your laughter too/ We gonna celebrate your party with you.” But instead of bringing his laughter, “Lagbaja” suddenly appears on the stage at OAU with his saxophone and with his song, “coolu, coolu, coolu temper.” Kool & the Gang quietly gave as he took the centre stage as the official musician for this celebration at the university. And, if you listen a bit more attentively, you will discover that he is retelling the history of the university.
The university, formerly known as University of Ife, Ile-Ife, was founded in 1962 as the University of Ife by the regional government of Western Nigeria, led by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and was renamed Obafemi Awolowo University on May 12, 1987 in honour of Awolowo (1909–1987), first premier of Western Region, whose brainchild the university was. Somehow too, its establishment has something to do with Ashby Commission’s report; except that in its case, it was more of a protest than acceptance of its recommendations. In 1959, the commission had recommended additional (regional) universities in the northern and eastern regions of Nigeria and another federal university in the Lagos protectorate, but none in the West, apparently because of the presence of the University of Ibadan (UI). But UI, as at then, had no faculty of engineering or technology, no law school, no pharmacy school or management training abilities.. T
he Chief Awolowo-led Action Group party of the then Western Region felt that the non-establishment of a university somewhere in the West to take care of these areas was a big omission on the part of the Ashby commission, set up by the British, to review tertiary education needs of the soon-to-be-independent nation of Nigeria. Hence, the need to establish the University of Ife which started the first Faculty of Pharmacy in West Africa, the first Department of Chemical Engineering and the first Electronics component in addition to Electrical Engineering.
Its medical school started with an integrated curriculum and community orientation (which was later adopted by the World Health Organization) and a compulsory baccalaureate (BSc honours) before admission into the clinical school, but this was later stopped. Today, the university offers undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in fields of specialization spanning the humanities, the arts, the natural sciences, the social sciences, the medical sciences, engineering and technology.
It has 13 faculties and two colleges — the Postgraduate College and the College of Health Sciences — administered in more than 60 departments. Ever since its establishment, a total of 82 departments have emerged with numerous courses offered. The Faculty of Agriculture is today a force to reckon with in the institution, as it is one of the five faculties that first took off in the university. The Dean, Prof. (Mrs) Simi Odeyinka, who noted that the faculty was fortunate to have the first building on the campus said that the faculty has kept the flag flying for the past 50 years of its existence.
She said the faculty has made significant achievements in the areas of research breakthrough and innovations among others, just as she informed that the faculty has produced well-meaning individuals who are doing well in the agriculture sector. “The faculty is a unique one and its uniqueness cuts across every strata. We are not just the first faculty to have its building on the campus. We have made breakthroughs in animal production and we have made landmark achievements in the area of provision of tomatoes and some other food items.
Our products are doing well in all parts of the world,” she said “Prior to 1981, the faculty offered a unified four-year degree programme in General Agriculture leading to the award of B.Sc. (Agriculture). However, starting from the 1981/82 academic session, the Faculty started the five-year undergraduate degree programmes of B.Agric. (Agric. Economics), B.Agric. (Agric. Extension & Rural Development), B.Agric. (Animal Science), B.Agric. (Crop Production and Protection ) and B.Agric. (Soil Science) representing the subject matter areas of the five departments in the faculty.” “Our programmes in the various departments are well-tailored to meet the needs and aspirations of the labour market as well as a growing body of budding entrepreneurs.
The production of agricultural commodities to meet domestic and foreign markets demands along with remunerative employment to our graduates have remained the central philosophy of the faculty over the years.” One of the students, Iyanda Tayo, who spoke to Education Review, acknowledged that fact, when she said: “we are all proud to be students of this great faculty. In fact, it’s a thing of joy to be identified with the faculty with one of the best buildings on the campus. We are glad for the kind of staff we also have because they are parents to us.”
However, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Bamitale Omole, said the institution would have been rated as one of the best in the world but for the incessant strike of its workers. He described the industrial actions embarked upon by both the academic and non-academic staff as the bane of the university’s progress in the last 50 years of its existence.
The VC who disclosed that his vision upon assumption of office was to make the university the best in the world, said his vision could not be realized due to strike by staff. However, he is optimistic that the university is gradually overcoming the problem. Omole who lauded the efforts of the founding fathers of the university, lamented that its subvention from the Federal Government was not enough to take care of its multifarious needs.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The OAU Radio (Great FM 94.5) and Television Broadcast Station serve as veritable avenue for information dissemination and entertainment within the community and beyond. There is also the Department of Agriculture Engineering which specializes in fabricating agriculture machines (like Cassava Pulverizer, Multipurpose Dryer, Kolanut Dehauller, Palm Oil Press, Cassava Hammer, Cowpea Sheller, etc) to help in feeding the nation; the Faculty of Technology where solar panels mounted on roof tops, trap from the sun, solar energy capable of keeping computers and gadgets in the Network Control Room running for more than 10 hours whenever there is power outage from Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN); and, of course, the Institute of Natural History Museum in whose gallery you run into natural history specimens, ranging from the botanical to the geological.
Notable alumni of the university who are still contributing their quota towards our national development include Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State and his wife, Olukemi, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, Ekiti State First Lady, Femi Falana, Hafeez Oyetoro, the popular comedian known as “Baba Saka,” Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, former boss of the National Communications Commission (NCC), Babafemi Ojudu, member, National Assembly, Felix Awou, of Supersport fame, Dele Momodu, Publisher, Ovation International, Seye Kehinde, Publisher, City People and Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman, Editorial Board, ThisDay newspapers.