I recently visited the campus of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria's first university. Being on the campus after many years was a nostalgic experience. The campus was where I spent my childhood. My earliest memories are closely tied to the environment.
My father till his retirement was a teacher and research scientist in the Department of Chemistry. Some of my earliest childhood memories are my sister and I playing on the neat department lawns while my father, for what seemed to us endless hours, mixed green and red and yellow and blue liquids in funny shaped glass bottles while working in a room he called the "lab."
Later as an undergraduate student on the campus, I had to bear with the embarrassment of a senior member of academic staff at the department recounting to a class of students to which I belonged an awkward incident in my childhood as my sister and I roamed the grounds while my father worked in the "lab." My classmates teased me about it for a long time.
Brief historical background
The establishment of a university in Ibadan was approved in March, 1947 by the secretary of state under the Labor controlled British colonial government following recommendations of the Elliot and Asquith Commissions. The University took in its first batch of students, about 104 (including two girls), in January 1948 on a temporary site at the old army barracks and the General Hospital. The University moved to its present site of three square miles in 1952. The site, situated about five miles from the center of the city of Ibadan, was donated by the people of Ibadan.
The oldest buildings in the University were designed by British architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew. A 500-bed teaching hospital was built in 1957. The University became independent of the University of London in 1962.
University of Ibadan, Tower Court and Vice Chancellor's office
The University had its peak student population in the 1990s with about 20,000 students in about ten faculties: Arts, Science, Agriculture and Forestry, Social Sciences, Education, Veterinary Medicine, Technology, Law, Public Health and Dentistry.
Recreational facilities on the campus include a sports complex with a swimming pool, volley ball court, football field, lawn tennis court , squash and badminton courts.
The University has come a long way since 1962, when it became independent of the University of London to which it was affiliated at its establishment.
Nigeria's public university system was bedeviled with industrial strikes and students unrest in the 1990s. With the increase in population of young people seeking tertiary education, private universities began to be established. The University sustained its reputation as the top tertiary institution until the 1990s when the advent of private universities diverted the flow of the best students and academic staff.
The 1990s: Emergence of campus cults
A most unfortunate feature of the evolution of social activities in Nigerian public universities in the 1990s and early 2000s was the emergence of "confraternities" on campuses that were mostly vicious youth gangs terrorizing the university community.
Due to a combination of management challenges at peak student population, and competition with private universities, the University at the turn of the century began cutting down on admissions for undergraduate studies, concentrating more on its postgraduate programs.
The University's library is the oldest university library in Nigeria designed to supplement teaching and research efforts. Before the establishment of the National Library in 1964, the University of Ibadan library was the national repository of books published in Nigeria. The library used to be rated at par with many top libraries in United States and Europe. Things soon changed beginning in the late 1970s with poor funding and reduction of journal subscription from about 6,000 journals in the 1970s to about 317 titles in 1989. At the turn of the century, the library had a total of 700,000 volumes.
During my years as an undergraduate student at the University (1986-1990), the library was one of my favorite resorts. With its rich collection of rare and out-of-print books, publications and records of Nigeria's precolonial and colonial history, the library held me spellbound. Students more interested in the latest publications used to refer to the library as a book museum.
Social life in the University of Ibadan during my years on the campus was an enthralling experience that evokes nostalgia. The student population came in two distinct flavors: The "Efikos" (Efficient students) and the "NFAs" ("No Future Ambition," a reference to the free-wheeling, carefree lifestyle of this class of students). Like many other students, I vacillated between the two distinct student communities. The NFAs, of course, controlled campus social life and in the era before the terror reign of the campus cults, the members of the student community's exclusive social clubs were the creme de la creme of student society. Altogether it was a closely knit community of fun-loving, boozing, partying and care-free youths, it was split into a network of informal cliques such that your access to weekend night parties and dating opportunities depended on your clique affiliation.
The University Zoo
Visiting the university zoo, the first zoological garden in the West Africa, was a depressing experience. The zoo over the years has become dilapidated. As late as my undergraduate years, the zoo, as the only facility of its kind in the country, was a major tourist attraction. The zoo's primate section was famous, and the variety of animals remarkable. An extremely famous member of the animal community was Haruna, a male gorilla who for many years entertained visitors with clever tricks. Till today in southern Nigeria, the name "Haruna" is synonymous with the word for gorilla ("Inaki").
The reptile section was my favorite, with pythons, cobra species, mambas, vipers and crocodiles. There were lions, leopards and other species of feline animals, hippos, a variety of monkeys and baboons. Most of the animals are gone now and the few left look depressed and underfed.