(1963) Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, “Chancellor’s Address at the University of Ibadan”

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On November 17, 1948 the University of Ibadan became the first modern institution of higher education in Nigeria when it began as an external college of the University of London.  Fifteen years later the University became independent of all ties with the British university.   Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of Nigeria, became the first indigenous Chancellor of the University in November 1963.  He marked the occasion with the address that follows.

On a day like this fifteen years ago this University was founded in modest surroundings. There were many at that time who wondered whether it was not born in complacency, concealing dangers and difficulties for Nigeria. Could Ibadan catch and foster the spirit of freedom and of fearless pursuit of knowledge which had characterized the universities of the older countries? Could so delicate a thing as the university spirit grow on an ‘alien’ soil? Looking back today we have many reasons to be proud of the answers which Ibadan has given to these questions. We have reason to be thankful to those men of courage and imagination, both Nigerian and non-Nigerian, without whom university would not have begun to take shape fifteen years ago. We have ample reasons to be grateful to the University of London for the stout support and tender ministrations which have led to today’s weaning ceremony.

Finally, we have a duty to remember with gratitude the many men and women parts of whose lives are woven into the texture of what we now know today as the University of Ibadan. What has Ibadan achieved in these past fifteen years? I think that the mere presence here today of so many distinguished representatives from international seats of learning provides one answer: Ibadan has succeeded in gaining respect in the world of international learning.

She has also succeeded in producing men and women who have distinguished themselves in the public services of this country and include permanent heads of Ministries in the Regional and Federal Governments of the Republic, leading officials of many corporations, Nigeria’s principal representatives of the Republic abroad, Principals and Headmasters of secondary schools, Ministers of State, University Lecturers and Professors. I am informed that this University has supplied about thirty-five teachers and administrators to other Nigerian universities and that many of these are her offspring. We are justly proud of this contribution.

Today, we have a student body of 2,000. It is not difficult to recall the fears of those who predicted that Ibadan would be half empty for many a day. Today also we are expanding and reshaping the services we offer so as to meet the nation’s needs for more and better qualified men and women. Towards this end much needed changes have occurred and the curricula of this autonomous University reflect the situation in the country. Thanks to the work of the Senate and the Faculty Boards, the task of relating the new degree structure of the University to the needs of the country has been successfully tackled.

In this age of technology the key to a nation’s economic well-being is likely to be the amount of effort that it puts into scientific research and education. The great emphasis laid on the applied sciences is reflected in the sustained attempt to strengthen the Faculties of Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Tropical Medicine and the Physical and Biological Sciences.

It has always been my belief that one of the greatest tasks confronting government in newly independent countries is that 0f promoting social and political cohesion. I am therefore deeply appreciative of the fact that this University which was established to serve the higher educational needs of all Nigeria became from the very first one of the focal points of Nigerian unity.

I cannot conclude this brief review of the past without mention of recent developments. Since we became an independent nation, and with the appointment of the first Nigerian Vice-Chancellor, Ibadan has been developing new forms of co-operation with universities all over the world and, in particular, with other universities in Nigeria as they come into being. This is essential if this University is to evolve into a genuine Nigerian institution, drawing inspiration from the best elements in the University world relevant to this country’s needs and aspirations. I would like to pay tribute to Universities of the United States of America and, in particular, to the great American Humanitarian Foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie which since independence, have given much in men and material to aid the development of Ibadan.

A nation’s place and influence in the world depend first upon what it makes of its own resources. The correct use of our resources, human and material, is a great challenge which confronts us today. The economists have invented a new expression: they speak of ‘economic distance’ and often tell us that the economic distance between the advanced and the non-developed countries is widening. Worse still, we are told that this widening springs mainly from the intensified development of education, science and technology in advanced countries and that even if we run three times as fast as we do today we might still not be able even to maintain the distance, much less reduce it. These are questions ye cannot treat lightly and what answers we make will depend on the quality of the work done in Ibadan and her sister universities.

I spoke earlier of the task of promoting internal social and political cohesion. I do not think that I need say much more on this. You all know very well the nature of some of our problems. But while we are carefully searching for ways to understand each other and to co-operate in building a great country we are also obliged to recognise the need for similar understanding of and co-operation with other national communities in Africa. Sometimes I cannot help wishing that we had entered the world stage at a time when we did not have to deal with so many problems at the same time.

We therefore need the kind of education which will enable us to produce men and women who know how to think; and knowing how, do it. University students should not expect to have knowledge poured into them and must not be lacking in ability and the will to study for themselves. The universities’ unique function is to stimulate the clash in thinking between orthodox and dissentient views. But I must observe that in Nigeria today there is a common belief of parents, students and critics that universities are solely places for professional training.

We therefore need the kind of education which will enable us to deal effectively with these problems and there is no way of getting it other than by fashioning it ourselves, welding the best from elsewhere with the best of our own. In the long run it may well prove that the true test of Ibadan and her sister universities will be in the success with which they help the community to build the education they need to cope with their changing needs. It is not difficult, looking across the Atlantic today, to see how the universities of the Western World are under pressure to answer the challenges which face their community.

If democracy and economic progress for all nations are to prevail, and the freedom and dignity of every individual are to be attained, the world must find a way to release a larger share of its aggregate resources and knowledge from non-essential material uses and devote them to the services of indispensable goals.

May I repeat again my gratitude to all who have sacrificed much to participate in this ceremony: to the great number of University representatives from abroad who are here today and whose presence reflect not only the unity of the world of learning but also the high esteem which the academic worlds holds for Ibadan.  We are highly honoured by your presence: may the Almighty God be with us all.