(1955) Nnamdi Azikiwe, “The University of Nigeria Speech”

Nnamdi Azikiwe
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On May 18, 1955 the Eastern House of Assembly, the regional legislature for Eastern Nigeria, moved a resolution to established the first university in Eastern Nigeria.  Nnamdi Azikiwe gave a speech seconding the motion introduced by the Eastern Region Minister of Education. That eastern university became the University of Nigeria.  Azikiwe’s remarks given on May 18, 1955, appear below.

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to second this historic motion and in doing so I wish to confine my remarks to one aspect of the speech so ably made by the Honourable the Minister of Education. I have in mind his statement about the philosophy of education which animates the introduction of this Bill. I must admit that I have been impressed by the recommendations made by the African Education Commission, which visited Nigeria in 1920 with the late Kwegyir Aggrey, under the auspices of the Phelps-Stokes Fund and the Foreign Mission Societies of North America and Europe, particularly the following:

1. That all concerned distinguish clearly the educational needs, namely, the education of the masses of the people, the training of teachers and leaders for the masses, and the preparation of professional men who must pass the conventional requirements of British universities.

2. That the education of the masses and their teachers be determined by the following elements, namely, health, ability to develop the resources of the country, household arts, sound recreation, rudiments of knowledge, character development, and community responsibility. The native teachers should also have access to the great truths of physical and social science and the inspiration of history and literature.

I make the above admission because, after 35 years, the observations and recommendations of the Commission are still timely. Indeed, I can say that this report forms a basis of the philosophy of education for Africa, not because Africans deserve a separate philosophy but, in the words of Dr Anson Phelps-Stokes, the purpose of the Commission was to help Africans ‘by encouraging an education adapted to their actual needs. . . . The time has passed when the old thesis can be successfully maintained that a curriculum well suited to the needs of a group on a given scale of civilization in one country is necessarily the best for other groups on a different level of advancement in another country or section.’

But Dr Stokes did not end on a dogmatic note. After pointing out that agricultural or industrial training, under Christian auspices, proved to be the best type of education for the majority of the freed Negroes, ‘at this particular time of their development’, he cautioned that ‘the door was and always should be kept wide open for a higher education’ for those who had the ability and the character to profit by university training.

In appreciating any philosophy of education we should always find out the aims of those who postulate such ideas. As far as one can observe from a subsequent statement by the Phelps-Stokes group, the objective sought was Nigerian leadership. In one of their latest reports, it is said:

In terms of the African continent, this should clearly imply such changes as that there should be more emphasis on education for native leadership; that European officials should gradually give way to a trained native African civil service; that duly elected Africans should play a larger part in the legislative councils of the colonies; and that investments should be further controlled in the interest of better wages for native workmen, and better working and living conditions. It is believed that if such things are done the African people, and the nations in which they will form the large majority, will be happier, and will ultimately have an important contribution to make to the civilization of the world.

I believe that, side by side with higher vocational education, opportunities should be created to enable the trained individuals to play a useful role in the development of the country. Here is where I agree with the founders of Achimota College that,

The immediate aim of African education should be to develop character, initiative, and ability of the youth of the country, so that they may be reliable, useful, and intelligent in the rapidly changing life and circumstances of their own people. In other words, the aim of education is to develop the manhood and womanhood of the rising generation for the sake of their peoples. Anything narrower than this must lead to a stagnant and menacing flood of unemployed and unemployable youth.

It is important that higher educational facilities should be provided locally to enable those to be benefited to make full use of them. It is said that a fully educated person should be ‘enlightened in im interests, impersonal in his judgment, ready in his sympathy for whatever is just and right, effective in the work he sets himself to do, and willing to lend a hand to anyone who is in need of it.’ I strongly support the belief of the late Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg that ‘the keystone of progress is education; but all that will be idle rhetoric if we mix the materials of the keystone badly.’ In this connection, this former Governor of the Gold Coast confessed that the British would never succeed ‘if the sole place in which the African can get his higher education and his professional training is Europe. Much learning, and of the best, he can get there; character-training, none. . . . We must aim at giving the whole of our education locally, and, where it is essential that an African should go to Europe for the final steps to enter a profession, we must arrange our system in such a manner that his absence will be reduced to the shortest possible time and the foundations of his character firmly laid before he goes. . . . To stand the pressure brought to bear on the Arch of Progress by the hurricane of material development, the storm of criticism, and the windy tornadoes of political agitation, the keystone must be well and truly laid and composed of strong materials.’

In order that the foundations of Nigerian leadership shall be securely laid, to the end that this country shall cease to imitate the excrescences of a civilization which is not rooted in African life, I strongly support this Bill to the effect that a full-fledged university should be established in this Region without further delay. Such a higher institution of learning should not only be cultural, according to the classical concept of universities, but it should also be vocational in its objective and Nigerian in its content. We should not offer any apologies for making such a progressive move. After all, we must do f or ourselves what others hesitate to do for us. In the thoughts of a great American Negro historian, ‘History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.’

I notice that it is envisaged that the university should have six degree-conferring Faculties: Arts, Science, Law, Theology, Engineering, and Medicine. I hope that the curricula of the university will be related to the day-to-day life of our people and that they will be so organized as to relate the mission of the university to the social and economic needs of the Region. I also observe that the following twenty diploma-conferring Institutes are among those which will be established for the professional and technical education of our men and women on whom we shall have to rely heavily in the difficult years ahead: Agriculture, Architecture, Diplomacy, Domestic Science, Dramatics, Education, Finance, Fine Arts, Fishery, Forestry, Journalism, Librarianship, Music, Pharmacy, Physical Education, Public Administrations, Public Health, Secretarial Studies, Social Work, Surveying and Veterinary Science. If these Institutes are so organized as to operate pari passu with the Faculties, then this Region will embark upon an historic renaissance in the fields of academic, cultural, professional and technical education on the same lines as the leading countries of the world.

I wish to make it emphatic that the university should be coeducational. It will be remembered that the Cambridge Conference on African Education made reference to this subject in their report, which says:

Women and girls need an education that fits them to live in a world of social change; and they need the tools of learning to help them to understand and take a fuller part in daily life. The increasing numbers need opportunities for professional and occupational training so that they can be both economically independent and fitted to take over progressively their responsibility for educating and training their own people. The main task for education among women and girls therefore is to provide so sound a training in the techniques of living that the whole level of African life can be raised socially, intellectually, and spiritually by the full co-operation of women in the home and in the community at large. . . . We recommend that priority should now be given to providing trades and technical training for women and girls in the fields of needlecraft, catering, institutional management, and secretarial arts.

It is now accepted in progressive circles that male and female students of any modem university should be allowed to live side by side on the same campus, where residence is available; they should study together, play together, and share together the vicissitudes of the cultural atmosphere of secondary school or university life. The aim of such co-education should be to enable male and female students to engage together in academic, vocational and co-curricular activities in developing their personalities.

I feel that it is of utmost importance that we should inculcate in our university students not only the dignity of labour, but also the idea that by hard work, sacrifice and self-determination, a poor student can obtain university education. In many colleges and universities of the world today, thousands of students are demonstrating that lack of funds is not an unsurmountable barrier to higher education. The fact that students are not affluent enough to pay all their bills need not make them ashamed.

It is my earnest hope that indigent male and female students of the new university will be encouraged to work in order to be able to meet their university expenses. The experience gained thereby will stand them in good stead in the struggle for survival in life. By making sacrifices, by being thrifty, and by working hard, such students will cultivate self-reliance and confidence. As experience has shown in American and German universities, many elements which, ordinarily, would have discouraged the average student and possibly caused him to be a failure in life, are usually encountered by such working students with remarkable fortitude and determination to rely on his own resources to succeed, no matter the handicaps. Later in life, he can always recount the turning point of his life with pride.

It is my fondest wish that when the University of Nigeria ultimately becomes a reality, our young men and women will find opportunities for gaining experience in life’s battle, so that lack of money will not deter them from obtaining higher vocational education in any of the faculties or institutes of the university. I hope that the training in self-help and the experience in self- reliance will make them more confident of themselves and enable them to puncture the myth of the proverbial lack of initiative and drive on the part of the Nigerian worker.

Finally, I trust that, with the establishment of this university, it will be complementary with the Ibadan University College, co-operating with it, drawing inspiration from its efforts, and gaining experience from this pioneer institution of higher education in this country.

Sir, I beg to second.