Which is the First University in Nigeria? The 10 Oldest Institutions

The University of Ibadan (UI) is number one on the list of the top 10 oldest Universities in Nigeria, as it is the first University established in the country. It was founded in 1948 and is currently 76 years old. Other universities on the list are the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), University of Lagos (UNILAG), University of Benin (UNIBEN), University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), University of Calabar (UNICAL), University of Jos (UNIJOS) and University of Ilorin (UNIILORIN).

University education in Nigeria has come a long way, with its first being established long before its independence in 1960. Today, there are 170 universities in Nigeria. 79 of these educational institutions are owned by private individuals, while the federal universities are 43 and state universities are 48. These institutions of higher learning have succeeded partly because the older universities laid a solid foundation for them to build on.  

List of Top 10 Oldest Universities in Nigeria

1. University of Ibadan (UI)

  • Year Founded: 1948;
  • Formerly Called: University College Ibadan
  • Location: Ibadan, Oyo State

Established in 1948, the University of Ibadan, popularly known as UI, is the oldest in Nigeria. It was founded as one of many colleges within the University of London, and it was modeled after the British university system. It, however, became an independent University in 1962, two years after Nigeria gained its independence. Today, the university is not just the oldest but also one of the best in the country.

Though UI may be considered young compared to schools like Harvard and Cambridge, it has gone a long way to establish itself among the most respected universities in Africa. The university started with 104 students, and now it boasts 35,000 students who are studying in various departments across its 17 faculties, namely Arts, Science, Basic Medical Sciences, Clinical Sciences, Agriculture, Social Sciences, Education, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy, Technology, Law, Public Health, Dentistry, Economics and Management Sciences, all Renewable Natural Resources, Environmental Design and Management, and Multidisciplinary Studies.

Following its long years of existence, the 76year-old university has produced some of the best leaders in various sectors of Nigeria. The university is 589th globally, 9th in Africa, and 2nd in Nigeria by aggregated alum prominence. Some of the notable alums of the university are Chinua Achebe, Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, William Folorunso Kumuyi, Wole Soyinka, Gabriel AfolayanDele OduleEniola Badmus and Kashim Shettima Nigeria’s 15th vice president.

2. University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN)

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  • Year Founded: 1955
  • Formerly Called: University of Biafra
  • Location: Nsukka, Enugu State

The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is the second-oldest university in Nigeria. It was established in 1960 as a non-profit public higher education institution in the suburban setting of the medium city of Nsukka. The university was founded in 1955 by Nnamdi Azikiwe, but it was officially opened on October 7, 1960, and classes began on October 17, 1960, with an enrollment of 220 students and 13 members of the academic staff. The university was renamed the University of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970.

Though it is the second university established in Nigeria, UNN is the first full-fledged indigenous and first autonomous university in Nigeria, modeled upon the American educational system. It was the first land-grant university in Africa and one of Nigeria’s five most reputed universities. The university has 17 Faculties and 102 academic departments shared in its three campuses – Nsukka, Enugu, and Ituku-Ozalla. The university also has a campus in Aba, Abia State, that hosts the National Institute for Nigerian Languages.

Following its many years of existence, the 69year-old university has produced some of the best leaders in various sectors of Nigeria. The university is 944th globally, 20th in Africa, and 5th in Nigeria by aggregated alumni prominence. Its notable alumni include Dora Akunyili, Sullivan Chime, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ike EkweremaduNnamdi KanuPeter Obi, and Waje.

3. Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU)

  • Year Founded: 1962
  • Formerly Called: University of Ife
  • Location: Ile-Ife, Osun State

Earning 3rd place on our list of oldest Universities in Nigeria is the Obafemi Awolowo University, which was founded in 1962. It is one of three Universities established in Nigeria between 1961 and 1962, and classes began there in October 1962. The university was initially known as the University of Ife, but it was renamed the Obafemi Awolowo University on 12 May 1987 in honour of Obafemi Awolowo. Awolowo was the first premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, and the creation of the institution was his brainchild.

As another prestigious university established in the western region of Nigeria, OAU followed the pattern of the University of Ibadan in terms of style of administration and faculties. During its foundation, it established a relationship with the University of Wisconsin. It started with five Faculties – Agriculture, Arts, Economics and Social studies (now Social Sciences), Law, and Science and over the years, six new faculties were added. 

They are the Faculty of Education, the Faculty of Pharmacy, the Faculties of Technology and Health Sciences (now College of Health Sciences), the Faculty of Administration, and the Faculty of Environmental Design and Management. Altogether, the university has 13 faculties and two colleges— the Postgraduate College and the College of Health Sciences.

As one of the oldest Universities in Nigeria, the OAU has recorded many achievements but is best recognized for pioneering the resuscitation and modernization of the traditional bronze-casting technology and introducing entrepreneurship education at the undergraduate level. The first iLab in Africa, south of the Sahara, was developed and established in OAU. Some of the notable alums of the OAU are Omotola Jalade EkeindeFireboy DML, Dele Momodu, Akinwumi Adesina, Abike Dabiri, and Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu SAN.

4. Ahmadu Bello University (ABU)

  • Year Founded: 1962
  • Formerly Called: The University of Northern Nigeria
  • Location: Zaria, Kaduna State

Founded on October 4, 1962, Amadu Bello University, commonly known as ABU Zaria, was established in the same year OAU was established. It is a federal government research university formerly known as the University of Northern Nigeria. It was later renamed Amadu Bello University, after the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the first premier of Northern Nigeria.

ABU is a very large, coeducational Nigerian higher education institution. It is West Africa’s largest university, with 82 academic departments and 49,954 students. The institution is also identified as a first-class Architecture School and innovator in Agricultural research. 

ABU opened on October 4, 1962, and had four faculties comprising 15 departments. The faculties include physical sciences, social sciences, education, environmental design, medical sciences, and law, among others. The institution has three campuses at the university: the main Samaru campus, Kongo campus, where the faculties of law and public administration are located, and Funtua, where the School of Basic Studies is located.

ABU Zaria also boasts a standard library with over 1.2 million books and 60,000 periodicals. Some of the university’s notable alumni include the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido; Pro-Chancellor of Plateau University, Former President of Nigeria, Late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, GCFR; and Former Executive Director of World Bank, Mansur Mukhtar. Others on the list include Atiku Abubakar, Aisha BuhariDino Melaye, Yahaya Bello, Mohammed Namadi Sambo and Apostle Joshua Selman.

5. University of Lagos (UNILAG)

  • Year Founded: 1962
  • Location: Lago State, Nigeria

UNILAG is the third university established in 1962, earning it a place among the oldest universities in Nigeria. It is ranked among the top universities in the world in significant education publications. The Nigerian University System Annual Merit Award (NUSAMA) named the it the best university in Nigeria in 2008.

Unilag has notably gained recognition for its contribution to entrepreneurship education by its dedication to cultivating innovative and business-minded students. No wonder the World Bank recognised it as an African Centre of Excellence for Drug Research, Herbal Medicine Development, and Regulatory Science (ACEDRHMDRS) in 2018, and Forbes magazine ranked it as the third-best university in Africa for entrepreneurship in its 2020 publication.

The University of Lagos has three campuses: its main campus is in Akoka, and its College of Medicine is in Surulere. It also has a campus in Yaba. The institution is the first in Nigeria to own or start a radio station- UNILAG 103.1 FM. The station aims to support the education of students studying mass communication and distance learning courses.

UNILAG has one of the largest student bodies, which is a testament to its popularity and capacity to provide quality education to various individuals. The university is 371st in the world, 5th in Africa, and 1st in Nigeria by aggregated alumni prominence. Some of its notable alumni are Enoch Adejare AdeboyeGenevieve NnajiYemi AladeYemi OsibanjoFunke Akindele-BelloRamsey NouahLinda IkejiAnthony Elumelu etc.

6. University of Benin (UNIBEN)

  • Year Founded: 1970
  • Formerly Called: Midwest Institute of Technology
  • Location: Benin City, Edo State

This institution is another famous and old university in Nigeria. Popularly called UNIBEN, it was created in 1970. The University of Benin is a federal university with two campuses: the main campus in Ugbowo and the second at Ekehuan in Benin, Edo State, Nigeria. It is a large coeducational Nigerian higher education institution that offers courses and programs leading to officially recognized higher education degrees, such as bachelor’s and master’s degrees, in several areas of study.

Uniben is one of the many universities in Nigeria that offer online education, making videos, abstracts, and journals available for its students. The public research university has 39,995 students across 15 faculties, with over 80 courses available for undergraduate and postgraduate programs.

UNIBEN was founded by the then Colonel Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia-led military administration of Midwest State. It started as the Midwest Institute of Technology and was recognized as a full-fledged university accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC) on July 1 1971. On April 1, 1975, it became a federal government-owned University. Notable alums of the University include Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD)Omoni Oboli, and Kefee.

7. University of Port Harcourt

  • Year Founded: 1975
  • Location: Port Harcourt, Rivers State

The University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) is another public higher education institution among Nigeria’s oldest universities. It was founded in 1975 and is located in Choba, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The university received international recognition 2015 when it was ranked sixth in Africa by Times Higher Education and first in Nigeria. The World Economic Forum also ranked it as the sixth-best university in Africa, placing it only secondary to prestigious institutions from South Africa and Uganda.

Following its contributions to essential research disciplines, the World Bank granted UNIPORT certifications as a Centre for Oilfield Chemicals Research (CEFOR) and a Centre for Public Health and Toxicological Research (PUTOR) in 2018. The university is reputed for maintaining high standards, resulting in a competitive environment where approximately 1% of graduates achieve first-class honours, emphasizing excellence and nurturing a culture of academic rigour and intellectual growth.

Over the years, UNIPORT has produced many people of significant influence in Nigerian society. They include Nigeria’s former president Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan and his wife Dame Patience Faka Jonathan, Agbani Darego (Miss World in 2001), and famous Nigerian politician Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Others include Nancy Isime, Yul Edochie, Rita Dominic, Timi Dakolo, Monalisa Chinda, Clem Ohaneze, and Hilda Dokubo.

8. University of Calabar (UNICAL)

  • Year Founded: 1975
  • Location: Calabar, Cross River State,

UNICAL was founded in 1975 as the Calabar campus of the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nigeria. It was one of the seven universities established by the Federal Military Government as part of its National Development Plan, and it began functioning during the 1973 academic session with 154 students and a small cadre of academic, administrative, and professional staff.

UNICAL prides itself as a significant academic custodian of the rich culture through the Department of Theatre Arts performances, which has established an enviable record for itself within Nigeria and abroad.

The University was one of the foremost Nigerian Universities to automate students’ registration processes through the College Portal. The University of Calabar Library is also one of Nigeria’s largest and most comprehensive academic libraries, serving as a resource for students, faculty, and researchers. Among its notable alums are Ini Edo, Kate Henshaw, Iyanya, Stephanie Okereke Linus, Uche Jombo, and Nse Ikpe-Etim.

9. University of Jos (UNIJOS)

  • Year Founded: 1975
  • nation: Jos, Plateau State

Founded in 1975, UNIJOS takes 9th place on our list of oldest universities in Nigeria. It is the second university built in the northern part of Nigeria. The federal university began as a campus of the University of Ibadan before becoming independent in 1971, pronounced by former Nigerian head of state Murtala Mohammed.

Unijos offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs in various departments organized into 12 faculties. It had its first set of students in January 1972 as pre-degree students, and the first Bachelor of Arts degree program began in October 1973. The University of Jos is 1406th in the world, 30th in Africa, and 7th in Nigeria by aggregated alumni prominence. Some of its notable alums are Ali Nuhu, Jim Iyke, Rochas Okorocha, Iretiola Olusola Doyle, Igho Charles Sanomi, and Fred Amata.

10. University of Ilorin (UNILORIN)

  • Year Founded: 1975
  • Location: Ilorin, Kwara State

The University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) was also established in 1975, just 16 years after Nigeria’s independence; this makes it one of the oldest universities in Nigeria. The university is a federal government-owned institution located in Ilorin, Kwara State. It has established itself as a university with a stable academic calendar, earning the JAMB merit award in 2020. It ranks ninth among Nigeria’s best universities with its graduates having the fifth-highest employment rate.

UNILORIN has demonstrated its dedication to research and innovation particularly in agriculture and food production, with two researchers from its engineering department securing a grant from Innovate UK for the 2022–2023 Africa AgriFood Knowledge Transfer Partnership (AAKTP). The University’s intellectual competitiveness and prowess in inter-university competitions was on showcase in 2013 when it won the inaugural Prof. Bola Ikotun Annual Inter-University Quiz Competition.

Some of its notable alums are Ishaq Oleyede, Abdulrasheed Na’llah, Ezekiel Adebiy, Femi Adebayo, Abdulfatah Ahmed, Aize Obayan, and Charles Ayo.

List of the Oldest Universities in Nigeria

  • University of Ibadan (UI)
  • University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN)
  • Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU)
  • Ahmadu Bello University (ABU)
  • University of Lagos (UNILAG)
  • University of Benin (UNIBEN)
  • University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID)
  • University of Calabar (UNICAL)
  • University of Jos (UNIJOS)
  • University of Ilorin (UNIILORIN)

Which is the first private university in Nigeria?

Igbinedium University, Okada, Benin State, Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo, Ogun State, and Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State are the first private universities established in Nigeria. They were established in 1999 and they are currently 25 years old.

Which is the First Technical University in Nigeria?

The First Technical University Ibadan is Nigeria’s premier technical university. It is a public institution founded in 2017 by the Oyo State government to pilot a sound technical educational system anchored on innovations and technologies. The university also bridges the skill gap between the competencies of university graduates and industry requirements through a blend of theory, practical and hands-on experiences.

At the First Technical University, Ibadan, Oyo state, students are expected to graduate with three credentials – a BSc and a diploma in entrepreneurship and communications. Each graduating student is also required to produce a final-year project proposing solutions to a societal problem.


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