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Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) is a federal government owned and operated Nigerian university. The university is in the ancient city of Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. The university was founded in 1961 and classes commenced in October 1962 as the University of Ife by the regional government of Western Nigeria, led by late chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, and was renamed Obafemi Awolowo University on 12 May 1987 in honour of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909–1987), first premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, whose brainchild the university was.
The decision to establish the University of Ife (popularly referred to as “Great Ife”) by the ruling Action Group party of the Western Region of Nigeria was in protest at the recommendations of the Ashby commission. The first Nigerian university was established in 1948 at Ibadan, in the western region as an external college of the university of London. However, the needs of Nigeria (then a British colony) far outstripped the productivity of the only university. In particular the University College at Ibadan had no faculty of engineering or technology, no law school, no pharmacy school or management training abilities. The Ashby commission, set up by the British, was to review tertiary education needs of the soon-to-be-independent nation of Nigeria.
In 1959, the Ashby commission recommended additional (regional) universities in the northern and eastern regions of Nigeria and another federal university in the Lagos protectorate, but none in the more educationally advanced western region which had a ‘free and universal primary education’ program. The government of the western region did not want to rely on the federal universities or those of other regions to admit its numerous secondary school leavers. The protest of the foundation of the university at Ife was not only in rebuttal to the perceived politicization of higher education opportunities in Nigeria and the western region but was also designed to fill the gaps in the manpower needs.
The Government of the Western Region of Nigeria first announced in 1960 its intention to establish as soon as possible a University in the Western Nigeria which would be of the highest standard, its policy was to open its doors to students from all parts of the Federation and of the world; in line with its belief in academic excellence. The planning of the University was entrusted to two committees. One a University Planning Committee comprising persons qualified to advise on the planning of a new University, and who in effect under look the preparatory work connected with the establishment of the University pending the setting up of the provisional council of the University: the other, a University Parliamentary Committee, which would be advisory to the Minister of Education, on 8 June 1961, the Law providing for the establishment of the Provisional council for the University was passed by the Legislature of the Western Region and on the 26th of the same month Provisional Council of the University was formally inaugurated under the chairmanship of Chief Rotimi Williams.