ON October 7, 1960, as Nigeria basked in the euphoria of having her independence from Britain, her colonial master, 220 pioneer students of the University of Nigeria came into the campus to start their studies.
It was a step into the dark as the institution was the first indigenous university. University of Ibadan had been there since 1948 but as a campus of the University of London. Thus, the University was called names – University of Ibagwa, glorified secondary school, among others because Nigerians did not really believe they were ripe to establish and run a university.
But the founding father, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had a dream – to revolutionise university eduation and provide the nation with the urgently required manpower well-equipped in arts and sciences.
There were courses in engineering, medicine, law, social sciences, journalism, music, fine arts. The mother of all courses was General Studies, which enabled Arts students learn a bit of physical and social sciences and vice-versa for social science and physical science students.
This again generated an uproar. Why should Arts students be bothered with science? The University of Ibadan based her educational system on the British system whereas University of Nigeria based hers on both the American system and the British system. Michigan State University was the link and mentor of the University.
Some of the students, especially those from the Western part of the country were being dissuaded not to go to the University. It was in the hinterland and they were not sure children would be safe. After the first session, the students from the West assured their parents that there was nothing to be afraid of. They canvassed for more students from the West to join and get quality education.
Some of the pioneer students were Lam Adesina, one-time governor of Oyo State, Sir Nduka Eya, who served as a Registrar and later became National President of the Alunmni Association, Prof. B.I.C. Ijomah, who also served as a Registrar in the University.
He became the pioneer President of the Alumni Association. Seven of the pioneer students were females.
Criticisms were afloat that the University was going to turn out half-baked graduates. The University was hard on the students in marking the examination papers so they had no option than to study if they wanted to graduate with good grades.
It was, however, not all work and no play. Some of the drivers (as boy friends were then called) drove their “buses” to the altar after graduation. Elizade Motors, the major distributors of Toyota Motors in Nigeria was one of such couples made at the University of Nigeria.
Ade Ojo found his heartthrob, Elizabeth at the University and as husband and wife, they joined their names to come up with “Elizade”. Nduka Eya’s bus, Regina Nnacheta later became his wife. The University was not only providing education, but also turned out to be a wonderful match- making field.
In 1963, the University turned out her first graduates. It was time to test whether the graduates were half-baked or truly found worthy in character and learning as the University had dubbed them as they received their certificates.
The Federal Government, in order to ascertain the quality of graduates from the country’s owned University, decided to introduce qualifying tests for all new graduates that would be employed by the Civil Service.
For three consecutive years, the graduates of the University of Nigeria took the first 15 positions. The critics were silenced. The qualifying examination into the Civil Service was stopped. The underdogs had indeed turned out to be the champions.
By the time University of Nigeria turned out her pioneer graduates in 1963, two other universities had come on the scene. All other universities then started seeking the secret behind the great success of the University of Nigeria. The derided General Studies was identified as the success factor. Other universities quickly adopted the course and gave it different names. The most important thing is that the University lived true to it motto – “To restore the dignity of man”.
As the University blossomed and gained reputation, her products were snapped up in different work places. People came to appreciate the importance of some courses they did not know could be studied in the University. The University satisfied the
Continues on Monday
By Unoaku Ekwegbalu , a lawyer/ communication expert, writes from Lagos.