By Emeka Obasi
Edward Wilmot Blyden was born in 1832 to Igbo parents who were enslaved and sold to the new world. His place of birth, St. Thomas[now US Virgin Islands] did not stop him from holding on to his African roots. He relocated to Liberia, lived in Nigeria as one of the founders of Archbishop Vining Church, Ikeja and died in Sierra Leone on December 12, 1912.
Blyden was a professor of Greek and Latin at Liberia College. He also rose to the position of President of the college between 1880and 1884. It is safe to regard him as the first recorded Igbo professor as there was no country called Nigeria until 1914.
The Ogbomosho of Oyo State are convinced that Nathaniel David [ND] Oyerinde was the first Nigerian professor. By 1904, he was a teacher at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary[NBTS], Ogbomosho and also found himself in politics as a nominated member of the Nigerian Legislative Council.
There are also claims that Eyo Ita was the first professor to emerge from our shores. With degrees from University of London and Columbia University, he once served as headmaster of Baptist Academy, Lagos before setting up the West African Peoples Institute[WAPI] in Calabar,1938.
I do not know how possible it is to be a professor without having taught in the university. There is no record to show that either of the duo did that. This reasoning will open up a bigger debate.
The NBTS, Ogbomosho was established in 1898 and by 1948 was affiliated with the Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville in the United States. There is no disputing the fact that by 1950, NBTS had turned out its first set of graduates. Historically that should be the first Nigerian institution to award degrees. It is possible that Oyerinde earned his professorship there.
There is another angle to this NBTS degree awarding record. It punctures the fact that the University of Ibadan[UI] was the first in the country to award degrees. Ogbomosho is not far from Ibadan, both are in Oyo State. Fact is, no certificate bore University of Ibadan until July 1965.
By 1965, the University of Nigeria Nsukka[UNN] had turned out its third set of graduates. Ibadan began as University College in 1948, something like a campus of London University. It only became autonomous in 1962.
In other words, when Professors Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, Emeka Anyaoku, Bola Ige, Chris Okigbo, Gamaliel Onosode, Emma Ifeajuna and Grace Alele-Williams studied there, they were under Principals, beginning from Keneth Mellanby in 1947, not Vice Chancellors. The first Vice Chancellor, Keneth Onwuka Dike, came in 1963.
Nsukka admitted its first set of undergraduates and they began classes in October 1960. There was a Vice Chancellor, George Marion Johnson, and he signed certificates for the first graduates in 1963, the year Prof. Dike began to settle down in Ibadan. Little wonder Lions hail Nsukka as the first independent Nigerian university. But before UNN, there were NBTS, Ogbomosho degrees.
Give it to Ogbomosho and the Baptists. Prof Oyerinde was an Ogbomosho man and a Baptist. Prof. Ita lived in Ogbomosho and has a house named after him at Ogbomosho Grammar School. I am still trying to figure out where they taught beyond NBTS, Baptacads and WAPI.
Prof. Eyo Ita begat more professors. His first son, Lawrence, was a professor at the University of Las Vegas. He holds doctorate degrees in Mechanical and Civil Engineering and also went for a degree in Law. Grandson, another Eyo Ita, is a professor of Physics at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.
After Eyo Ita and Nathaniel Oyerinde came Herbert Kodilinye who became professor of Medicine, University of London in 1952. ‘Kod’ found his way back home where he taught at the Universities of Ibadan and Nsukka. Many recall his anglicized pronunciation of Awka Etiti and Nnewi.
Prof K.O. Dike, the first Nigerian Vice Chancellor and first Nigerian to earn a PhD in History, became a professor in 1956. Four years later, 1960, he became VC at Ibadan and lasted until 1966.
Dr. Taslim Olawale Elias, the only Chief Justice of Nigeria appointed from the bar, was also a professor in 1956. With a 1949 doctorate in Law, he was a visiting professor of Political Science at the University of Delhi.
While we continue debate on the first Nigerian professor, we need not worry ourselves about the first female professor. Adetowun Felicia Ogunseye achieved this feat in Library Science in 1973. The duo of Alele -Williams and Bolanle Awe joined her in 1976. The former is the first female VC, the later, first female professor of History.
Prof. Ogunseye comes from a family of firsts. Her younger brother, Brigadier Victor Adebukunola Banjo, was the first Director of the Nigeria Army Electrical and Mechanical Engineers[NAEME].He was born in Benin City and he led Biafra’s 101 Division that operated in Benin.
There is Dr. Ademola Banjo, who in 1954, became first Nigerian PhD holder in Metallurgical Engineering. Prof. Adesegun Banjo is first Nigerian to bag a doctorate in Ultra Structure and Electro Microscopy. One of Victor Banjo’s children, Olayinka Omigbodun, is a professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Prof. Ogunseye and her brother, Dr. Banjo, made everyone proud when they graduated from the University of Ibadan same day. While she came out as the best female graduating student, with a scholarship to Newham College, Cambridge, he was best graduating male student, with scholarship to Manchester University. The young man made a first class in Mechanical Engineering, 1952.
There is talk that Nnodum Okongwu was the first Nigerian to earn a PhD. I know that Alele-Williams was the first woman to do that, in 1963. It is certain that Agnes Yewande Savage, in 1929, became the first Nigerian woman to graduate from the University. She did it at Edinburgh.
Lady Kofoworola Aina Ademola was only 16 in 1929 and could not have graduated before Savage whose mom was British.