UNILAG celebrates 55 years of establishment this October 2017. UNILAG, regarded as Nigeria’s first university of choice was set up after the 1959 Eric Ashby Commission on Post-School Certificate and Higher Education recommended the establishment of a university in the Lagos Central Business District.
Whereas Ashby Commission recommended a non-residential university, project advisor, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, preferred a “complete all-encompassing institution” with residential accommodation.
The university was to emphasise Commerce, Business Administration, Economics, and Social Sciences. But the Federal Government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa added a Medical School, Law Faculty, technology, and the training of graduate teachers.
Vide April 1962 Act of Parliament, the University of Lagos was established, and Prof Eni Njoku, a botanist, became pioneer Vice Chancellor. After Prof Njoku, 10 others, including academic titans, Profs Saburi Biobaku, and J.F. Ade Ajayi, have served as Vice Chancellor.
Three UNILAG alumni, Profs Jelili Omotola, a lawyer; Oye Ibidapo-Obe, a mathematician turned engineer; and Adetokunbo Sofoluwe, also a mathematician, who veered into computer science, have served as its Vice Chancellor.
In 1962, the first Provisional Council meeting held on June 6; the first Senate met on November 13; though the first academic year commenced on October 22 at a temporary campus in Surulere, Lagos, with day courses in law and medicine. The pioneer student population was 130 – 46 in Business and Social Studies, 56 in Law, and 28 in Medical School. Today, the student population is in excess of 40,000.
Dr. Taslim Elias, then Attorney General of the Federation, who later became Chief Justice of Nigeria, and President of the International Court at The Hague, The Netherlands, doubled as a law lecturer. He became professor and dean of the faulty in 1966, after pioneer dean, Prof L.C.B. Gower. Another pioneer law lecturer was Prof Ben Nwabueze.
The university moved to its Akoka campus in the 1965/1966 session with 993 students. Military Decree 3 of 1967 integrated the Medical School as a College of the university, and incorporated the former Advanced Teachers’ College, Akoka, as its College of Education.
University of Lagos currently has the following academic units: College of Medicine, Faculties of Arts, Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Law, Pharmacy, Science, Social Sciences, Centre for Information, and Distance Learning Institute.
The School of Postgraduate Studies offers postgraduate diplomas, Master’s, Master of Philosophy, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees, in Arts, Sciences, Social Sciences, Engineering, and Education, plus professional degrees in labour, business, and public administration.
With the motto, “In Deed and In Truth,” and a vision “To be Top Class Institution for the pursuit of excellence in knowledge through learning and research, as well as in character and service to humanity,” the mission of the University of Lagos is to provide a conducive environment for teaching, learning, and research.
The university has had a chequered academic history. British Nobel laureate, Dorothy Hodgson, who advanced the X-ray crystallography, noted that UNILAG was a world centre of excellence in chemical engineering. Incidentally, the current Vice Chancellor, Prof Rahman Bello, is a chemical engineer.
In 2013, Hallowed Olaoluwa Oluwadara, who got a postdoctoral degree at Harvard University, got his PhD in mathematics from University of Lagos at the age of 24. Ayodele Dada achieved the unprecedented maximum 5.0 GPA as a psychology graduate of University of Lagos.
Prof Chike Obi, first Nigerian to have a PhD in mathematics, solved Fermatt’s 361-year old Last Theorem with pencil and paper at the University of Lagos, whereas Cambridge University mathematician, John Wiles, needed to work with computers from 1986 to 1993. Prof Ayodele Awojobi, first African DSc in Mechanical Engineering, also became the youngest professor of Mechanical Engineering in the University of Lagos.
An alumnus, Dr. Stella Adadevoh, daughter of Prof Kwaku Adadevoh, a former Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos, a grandson of nationalist Herbert Macaulay, and great-great-grandson of Bishop Ajayi Crowther, was the heroine who tragically lost her life while trying to manage a patient that was suffering from the dreadful Ebola disease.
The University of Lagos is not only about academics, its students, and graduates, have shown considerable excellence in other fields of endeavour. Notable alumni are Nigeria’s current Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, and Dele Olojede, first African Pulitzer prize winner.
What may be a black spot in the history of the University of Lagos was a crisis that erupted in 1965. Kayode Adams, a Yoruba, and student activist, stabbed Prof Biobaku, a fellow Yoruba, to protest perceived tribalism in government’s failure to reappoint Prof Njoku, an Igbo, as Vice Chancellor for another three-year term.
Adams was tried, convicted, and confined to Yaba Psychiatric Hospital, after which he was found dead at the Lagos Bar Beach, presumably after drowning. Prof Njoku later resurfaced as Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
If the performance of Nigeria’s public universities, including the University of Lagos, is going down, you have the military to blame: General Yakubu Gowon drew the first blood. He sacked university teachers in the 1970s; military dictator Ibrahim Babangida drastically cut university budget; and Gen Sani Abacha concluded the onslaught by appointing an army general, Mamman Kontagora, as military administrator for Ahmadu Bello University.
After the buffetings by an anti-intellectual ruling class, students now study under the yoke of decayed infrastructure, insufficient number of lecturers, nil research, and expired curriculum. University students and graduates alike exhibit poor command of English, Nigeria’s lingua franca, puerile logic, and sloppy thinking.
A perfidy that almost visited University of Lagos wore the garb of an unnecessary name change that was announced by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012, to change its name to Moshood Abiola University, to honour Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, who convincingly won the annulled 1993 presidential election.
Abiola deserves every honour for laying down his life to restore democracy to Nigeria. The problem is that conferring his name unto a South-West institution would reduce his significance – from a national icon to a primordial, sectional hero.
That would reduce the national stature of Abiola whom no one has yet thought deserves even a mere street named after him in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. Americans named a New York City street after his wife, Kudirat, as a rebuke to the despotic government of Abacha who ordered her assassination.
The misguided name-change decision must have been made on the spur of the moment by some impetuous, or mischievous, speechwriters, and a President who neither consulted his Minister of Education, Prof Rukayat Rufai, nor the Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof Julius Okojie.
The alumni, led by Prof Olaide Abass, rose strongly, to retain the name of University of Lagos. Other alumni, including then Senate Majority Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba, senators, and members of the House of Representatives, waded in vigorously.
They argued that because the name, University of Lagos, was given through an Act of Parliament, it could only be changed by another Act of Parliament. The President had to agree, and accordingly sent a bill to the National Assembly. The bill has not, and will never, become an Act. To the thought of renaming UNILAG, the loud and clear message is, “Never Again!”
BAE, or Before Anything Else, those who didn’t attend UNILAG should eat their hearts out, as a big shout out goes to fellow Great Akokites!