Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Samaru Zaria, a great citadel of active learning in the continent of Africa celebrates her 50th founding anniversary from 4th to the 24th of November 2012. ABU was actually formally opened for academic activities on the 4th October, 1962. History thus reveals that celebrating ABU means celebrating the founding and independence of Nigeria. ABU is truly a product of independent Nigeria. Celebrating independence in Africa is increasingly getting out of fashion, no thanks to failing post-colonial states which sadly and paradoxically through non-performance tends to dignify colonialism with “low-key celebrations” of high expectations that heralded independence. The bane of independence celebration is that the country’s performance is often measured in terms of life after independence.
It is certainly fine and legitimate to unapologetically and critically examine Nigeria at 52. After all, the promise of independence is that life would be better than life under a domino. However we should not forget so soon the quality of life under colonialism. Invariably we lack the benchmark to assess the quality of life after independence if we lack memory of the life under colonial rule. The critical question is; can we really appreciate or assess the dividends of independence without coming to terms with the burden of colonial underdevelopment? Independence celebration is empty without deep reflection on colonialism which in the first place made struggle for independence inevitable. The great historian, Walter Rodney in his classic: ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ observed that “Colonialism had only one hand – It was one-armed bandit!” This historic observation is valid for colonial Nigeria as it is valid for colonial Ghana, colonial Zimbabwe and colonial Kenya. 52 years after independence, we can discuss about low or high growth rate, but in colonial Nigeria, growth discourse was an aberration precisely because there was no deliberate policy of growing colonial Nigeria by the British.
It is in the area of education, that colonialism underdeveloped Africa. Where colonialism chose to “develop” it was blatantly uneven. Educational pyramid consists of primary, secondary and higher university education driven by universities and polytechnics. In most British colonies, the primary and secondary base was miserably narrow. Century of colonialism built fewer schools. Apart from Fourah Bay college in Sierra Leone, most colonies including Nigeria lacked universities. The premier university college of Ibadan was established in 1948, at the peak of mass agitation for self rule. That in itself underscores uneven development that characterized colonial rule. Over three decades after amalgamation, there was no single university in the Northern Nigeria under colonial rule. It is to the eternal credit of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the regional premier with his restless patriotic policy of catching up with the South that led to massive unprecedented educational development of the North on a scale that almost obliterate colonial neglect. According to Paden, the chronicler of Premier’s developmental history in early in 1962, Sardauna travelled to Ibadan to “…open the new Sultan Bello Hall, and praises the university, for its quality and standards. He appears in full gown and turban, and the students, many of whom sympathize with the NCNC or AG, and apparently were prepared to demonstrate against the Sardauna, receive him well. His superb English and flawless diction leave the students spellbound and the applause at the end was rapturous and spontaneous”. Indeed, in 1959, “the two houses of the regional legislature had resolved that when a university was established for the north, it should be named after Ahmadu Bello”. Again the name of the university is an achieved and well deserved one following due process not ascribed as it is the fashion today. In effect what Nigeria should celebrate is not necessarily an amalgamation of uneven development by a colonial authority but independence that spurs unprecedented development led by patriots like late Sardauna, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aminu Kano, Raji Abdallah and others. At take-off, the University reportedly started modestly with only four Faculties, fifteen Departments and four hundred and twenty six students (426). Presently, its authority announces that it “has about 50,000 students (undergraduate, post-graduate and sub-degree) in 12 Faculties, 95 Academic Departments, 12 Research Institutes and Centres, one Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The University Centres and Institutes have Outreach Stations located in almost every part of Nigeria.” It ranks as the “largest University south of the Sahara in terms of physical facilities and student enrolment” with conventional courses in humanities, sciences, agriculture, medicine, engineering and management studies rendering research and developmental services that transcend state and international boundaries.
The received wisdom has it that what Africa needs are strong institutions. The truth of the matter is that with ABU at 50, Africa has truly come of age in institution building with commendable efforts of strong men and women that made this possible over the last five decades. The critical question however is; has the institution fulfilled the vision and mission of its founding father(s). Yours truly thinks the university has defined the correct anniversary objective which is to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of a great institution at 50.
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