University of Ibadan is NOT the first university in Nigeria

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It is widely claimed that the University of Ibadan is the first university in Nigeria. Even on its website, the university is described itself as “the first and the best”. This popularly held notion is not accurate. ABDUSSALAM AMOO attempts to dispel that.


You read the title correctly. The first university in Nigeria is not the University of Ibadan (UI). Before the UI became a university, another university existed.

UI founded in 1948?

It is true that what is now known as the UI began taking courses in January 1948. But back then, it was a college of the University of London.

Thus, it started as University College, Ibadan. Till today, the hospital of the defunct college bears the name, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.

Before the University College, there was the Yaba Higher College (now Yaba College of Technology), which is the first tertiary institution in Nigeria as at 1947.

The establishment of the University College could be linked to the recommendations of two commissions set up in 1943 and later prevailing politics in the United Kingdom. One was the Commission on Higher Education in the Colonies led by Mr Justice Sir Cyril Asquith and the other -the Commission on Higher Education in West Africa, chaired by Colonel Water Elliot.

The emergence of Arthur Greech Jones as the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1947 after the July, 1945 General Elections in the United Kingdom, which the Labour party won was the other factor.

Both Asquith and Elliot Commission reports and the new government in the UK led to the University College becoming a reality after previous agitations for that by nationalists did not succeed. 

The university’s website even alludes to thus, “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 Elliot Commission, cut the first sod at the permanent site of the University College on 17 November, 1948, which thereafter became the Foundation Day.”

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104 students who were from the Yaba Higher College started their courses at Ibadan earlier on 18th January while the formal opening took place on 25 March, 1948.

Students who attended UI from its inception were awarded degrees of its mother institution in London. It was 15 years later that UI became an autonomous university and it took another four years after before it started awarding it own degrees.

Thus, it is accurate to say that UI started as University College in 1948 but became a university in 1962 after the law establishing it was enacted on 27th December, 1962 but signed into law in 1963.

What is the first university in Nigeria?

The first university in Nigeria is the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, Enugu State. Known as UNN, it was Nigeria’s first full-fledged university when it opened on 7th October, 1960. That was part of activities within the week of Nigeria’s independence celebrations.

The foundation of the school was laid then by Princess Alexandra of Kent, representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the celebrations. It admitted its first set of students on 17th October, 1960 with an enrolment of 220 students and 13 academic staff members.

UI and UNN in the law

At the time what is now known as the UI started in 1948, its head was referred to as a principal. Subsequent heads of the school till it became autonomous too answer that title. Whereas, UNN started with a Vice-Chancellor.

The first principal of UI was Kenneth Mellanby who served between 1948 and 1953. On the other hand, the UNN first Vice-Chancellor, George Marion Johnson was appointed by the Nigerian government and would serve between 1960 and 1964.

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The law establishing the UI in 1963  is titled an “Act to establish the University of Ibadan; to transfer to the University the property of the University College, Ibadan; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.” Its first article makes UI “as the successor of the University College, Ibadan.”

Earlier in 1955, the law to establish a university in the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria was passed by the Eastern House of Assembly, according to Nigeria’s first president, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in his speech then.

Plans towards implementing it sought the support of both British and American advisers. Notable were the Inter-University Council for Higher Education and Overseas and the International Co-operation Administration (now the United States Agency for International Development), which surveyed the UNN main site in Nsukka and investigated its viability.

A report issued after that in 1958 recommended “that the development of the University of Nigeria based upon the concept of service to problems and needs of Nigeria, is a desirable project and one that should receive support from any source which could help to make it a sound endeavor.”

Thus, UNN is the first university in Nigeria with its own senate, its own degrees and statutory laws. Whereas, UI is the first degree awarding institution with its initial degrees awarded via London University.

Ashby Commission and Nigerian universities

The history of establishing universities in Nigeria would be incomplete without mentioning the Ashby Commission. In April 1959, the colonial government constituted the Commission led by Sir Eric Ashby, to investigate and report Nigeria’s manpower needs for a period of twenty years (1960-1980).

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Former education minister, Professor Aliu Fafunwa wrote in History of Education in Nigeria that the Commission examined higher educational structure considering the needs of the country and was the first official comprehensive review of higher education in the country.

Among the recommendations of the Commission was the the upgrading of the University College at Ibadan to a full-fledged university and the establishment of three other universities at Nsukka, Ife and Zaria. That also led to the establishment of the National Universities Commission (NUC), which was to maintain uniformity of standards in the universities. The report was submitted a few weeks before the opening of the UNN.

So, when next you are asked about the first university in Nigeria, know the right answer is UNN.

UI is still the mother of universities in similar manners

While the University of London gave birth to the UI, UI has gone on to become “mother” of many of Nigeria’s universities.

More than ten institutions at various times (even till now) have academic programmes affiliated with the University of Ibadan before becoming universities and others are likely to propose being universities in the nearest future.

University of Ilorin and Ignatius Ajuru University of Education are notable mentions of former affiliates of the UI that are now autonomous universities.

Other universities that share such a “motherly nature” are the University of Lagos (UNILAG), and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (ABU). The University of Portharcourt was University College, Port Harcourt (affiliated to UNILAG) while Bayero University Kano was the University College, Kano (affiliated to ABU) as at 1975. Not many know that the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta was the UNILAG Faculty of Agriculture till 1981.

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