In technical terms, a university is an institution of higher education which grants undergraduate and postgraduate degrees for research and studies. Yet, we need to dig deeper for the insight that brought the university into existence in the first place. It has become common wisdom that the university derives its first sense from the word “universe”. This implies two thoughts. First, there is a concern about the oneness of the universe which constitutes the focus of a university. Second, there is a reference to a community of intellectuals and students dedicated to unraveling what the universe implies for human existence. Hence, the Latin: Universitas magistrorum etscholarium, or “a community of teachers and scholars.” The idea of the university evolved around the gathering of men who are united around the critical processes of sharing and challenging ideas and thoughts about the universe and its various dynamics.
The African university, on the other hand, is caught in a different intellectual dynamics that goes beyond the mere joy of following the scent of wonder. On the contrary, it is caught in the crisis of social change and development. In other words, the university in this postcolonial context is required as the critical and progressive engine of transformation in all its ramifications. By its global research framework, it was to take the frontline in the search for national development in all the newly independent states. It is within this postcolonial birth pang of social transformation that the University of Ibadan (first known as the University College, Ibadan) came into existence in 1948. At its founding, the University of Ibadan was conceived as a centre of academic learning and research that is geared towards providing the human resources required to jumpstart Nigeria’s socio-economic and physical growth. It was to do this by producing graduates who are worthy in learning and character, and hence fit to take their place on the field of national unity and development.
In spite of this clarion call of recte sapere fons, UI has not been spared from the accelerating crisis that had attended most universities today: at the local level, a numbing legacy of statism and military encroachment that has infused its valuelessness on the university; at the external level, a global onslaught of market and rationality that undermine the essential functions of the university and reduces everything to the worth of its cash value. The result is a pedagogical underperformance that undermines the essence of the university vis-à-vis the objective of national development.
Yet, UI has weathered the storms. In close to 65 years of its existence, the University of Ibadan has remained the torchbearer in higher education in Nigeria. There are several indicators of this preeminence beyond the obvious politics of the university webometrics. First, UI is not just the premier university, it long ago became the spring that has fed almost every facet of the Nigerian socio-economic, cultural, political and professional life. Second, the University of Ibadan possesses a unique intellectual tradition that connects a globally rich and differentiated array of research, innovation and enterprise with a local and contextual necessity situated within Nigeria’s post-colonial and post-independence needs. I should know what I’m saying since the University fed my first wondering impulse to probe not only the world through the many scholars I have come into contact with—Plato, Aristotle, Laski, Kenneth Dike, Soyinka, Dudley, Aboyade; Mabogunje, Omolayole, Bolanle Awe, Claude Ake, Emeka Anyaoku, Onosode, Jibril Aminu, Peter Ekeh, but also forced on me the necessity of confronting the legacies of colonialism especially in my chosen sphere of intervention—public administration, institutional analysis and their complex reform dynamics.
Let me further illustrate this link between global relevance and local/national exigency with the interesting contributions of the Institute of African Studies at Ibadan. The significance of African studies becomes all the more acute against the background of the relegation of History in the curricula of the various educational institutions in Nigeria. This is because it stands at a critical intellectual juncture that enables a nation to interrogate its past in order to be better able to withstand the dynamics of the present and thus prepare for the glories of tomorrow. The African studies programme provides students with an access to an inter- and multi-disciplinary framework of the African experience across the social sciences and humanities with a unique advantage and sharpened knowledge about African issues within historical and contemporary contexts. This makes it possible, for instance, that certain methodological approaches in the natural sciences are currently being applied to traditional areas of studies in ethno-medicine or belief system. This particularly underscores the urgency the Institute of African Studies is placing on scientific growth as a dimension of a nation’s quest for sustainable growth and development.
African Studies at UI commenced in 1962 under its first Vice Chancellor, Prof. Kenneth Dike. This commencement was significant because Dike was at the forefront of an indigenous pan-African and pan-Nigerian historical scholarship reform that would ensure that the methodologies for revisiting historical knowledge would ensure its relevance for national development. This came to pass under the auspices of the famous Ibadan School of History. It was the same original endogenous paradigm for research that came to define the curricula of African studies. The institute went on to become the hotspot for tested scholars and professionals/Fellows who understand what it means to subordinate learning to the socio-economic development of a nation: J. P. Clark, Wande Abimbola, Saburi Biobaku, Duro Ladipo, Tekena Tamuno, Mabel Segun, and many others. These scholars put the University of Ibadan on the global scene, especially in relation to seminal ideas on the nature of socio-political processes in Nigeria, as well as the culture and history of Africans, whether past or present.
African Studies at UI has thereby insinuated itself into the dynamic interface of the Nigerian national project not only through its core programmes—Peace and Conflict Studies, Gender Studies, and so on—but also significantly through the many strategic partnership which it has forged with critical sectors of the Nigerian state like security, policy and administration. Many administrators and policy-makers in many of the country’s security agencies, who are alumni of the Institute of African Studies, collaborate with the Institute in the training of their security personnel. With the Peace and Conflict Studies Programme of the institute, more security operatives in Nigeria are being trained for effectiveness and for more efficiency in the protection of lives and property.There are also ongoing researches into the operational and cultural dynamics of conflicts which is imperative within the plural context of Nigeria.
For Evelyn Waugh, British novelist, there are four grades of universities; schools which by their founding principles and performances records have the capacity for transformation. These are the “Leading School, First-rate School, Good School, and School.” No one can possibly doubt that the University of Ibadan is a leading school which has, against all odds, withstood several forces bent on undermining the significance of higher education in Nigeria. For many years since its founding, the University has been at the frontier of relevant research and a critical scholarship that a nation can tap into, in constructive collaboration, for the task of making Nigeria work. With its Institute of African Studies, and other such critical programmes, the university becomes a crucial fulcrum in Nigeria’s search for a human capital paradigm that would catalyse Nigeria’s national development profile through the dogged determination of those forged in the pedagogical cauldron of learning and sound judgment.
• Dr. Olaopa is Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Youth Development, Abuja.
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