According to the colonizers, higher education was a means for Nigerians to be at the same standard with the British in their various working places.

Despite being educated and even more qualified than most whites, Nigerians were employed in the administrative cadre as subordinates and minor functionaries and this didn’t go down well with the African educationist who had been to foreign lands to attain their education, they knew a reasonable amount of Nigerians are qualified for positions the British colonialist claimed they were not qualified to be employed for.

Herbert Macaulay

The British colonialists must have known the implication of educating and employing Africans as bosses on the whites since Nigerians are dictatorial in nature.

Since the emergence of education was strictly the handy work of the missionaries, the British rulers had no interest in educating their minors

However, as the years went by, in 1847, there came the boom, a Privy Council memorandum was issued for the West Indies and distributed to other British colonies, a memorandum that changed the phase of education in most African countries. The memorandum proposed four tiers of education which comprised elementary schools, day schools of industry, model farm schools and regular schools. It didn’t come as a surprise when in Nigeria; no foot was being moved by the British to embark on this proposed system of learning.

Dr Edward Wilmot Blyden

Towards the end of the 1800s, the public began to press for a higher education institution where the Nigerian youth could receive higher training without having to go abroad. Two of the early advocates of higher education in West Africa were Dr James Africanus Horton, a Sierra Leonean doctor, who was the son of an Igbo carpenter from Gloucester, Freetown (in 1868), and Dr Edward Wilmot Blyden(in 1881), At the turn of the century, the case for a university on African soil was championed by Casely Hayford in 1911, in conjunction with Herbert Macaulay, Wallace Johnson of Sierra Leone and others at the first meeting of the National Congress of British West Africa held in Accra Ghana in 1920.

Then in the 1920s the United State of America established a commission to looked into education of African Americans and also expanded its duties and look into education in Africa, thus; British colonial authorities had no other choice than to educate its territory and establish its own commission.

In 1923, an advisory committee on education was established by the secretary of state for the colonies. In 1925, the committee made its report known to the colonial government and recommended an education policy on broad issues such as missionary education control and encouragement, religion and women’s education. It also outlined an education system comprising elementary school for boys and girls, secondary and intermediate education, adult education, technical and vocational education and institutions of higher learning.

Africanus Horton

In a resolution presented to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Conference demanded, among other things, the establishment of a West African University on such lines as would preserve in the students, a sense of African nationality, Other advocates of higher education included the late Egarton Shyngle, a prominent Lagos Lawyer, and Dr Henry Carr, the first African to become an Inspector of Education and Resident Commissioner of the Lagos Colony. Even the British government’s 1930 Memorandum on Native Policy in East Africa failed to mention higher education. However, the Secretary of State’s advisory committee’s unpublished minutes of its meetings held between 1930 and 1936 drew ‘attention to the increasing demand of the African for higher education which tended to be met at present by those who can afford it, by studying at European or American universities.

The committee recommended that ‘plans be made for the development in Africa of select institutions of university standard, ‘having regard to their curriculum for the needs of the African environment. In the interest of the economy such institutions should, as far as possible serve several territories.’” The committee felt that the institutions must in the initial stages be dependent upon some English universities, and it suggested that London University be asked to modify its requirements to suit the needs of Africa.’

This was a first major step the British took in embracing education in African countries though they knew the need for higher education would arouse expansion of the authorities and influences they had on their territories.

In 1929, E.R.J. Hussey became the director of education. The new director released his own memorandum on education policy in 1930; the new scheme towed the line of the previous colonial position and introduced comprehensive proposals on elementary schools, middle schools and the higher college of education.

King’s College

Two higher colleges were proposed by Hussey, one for the North and the other for the South, the latter was to be located in Yaba, Lagos, close to the department offices where some form of training was already in progress and the new college would use some of the department’s facilities for vocational training. With the hope that various vocational courses would be provided, the aim would attain eventually the standard of the British.

In December 1932, the government signed a contract for the erection of the first phase of the Yaba Higher College buildings. The college was built by Messrs Greene & Co at a cost of about 40,000 pounds. It had a capacity for 100 students far lower than its initial projection of 240 students. Although the college was scheduled to be opened in 1934, students were admitted in 1932 and housed temporarily at King’s College, Lagos.

The institution was a residential college and provided various ways to cater to the religious life of the student population. Prayers by Protestants and Catholics were allowed every evenings and Sunday service for Protestants was held in the school hall. The Catholics attended a nearby church. The school also had an active athletic life with strong interest in football, hockey and cricket. The college had an official news outlet, the Higher College Magazine and a student publication, The Viking.

On 19 January 1934, the Yaba Higher College was officially opened by the Governor, Sir Donald Cameron; the Nigerian Government inaugurated the Yaba Higher College. The institution, which was not affiliated to any British university, was to award its own Nigerian diplomas in a number of faculties, including medicine, arts, agriculture, economics and engineering. The institution was assailed by Nigerian nationalists. In the first place, it was inferior in status to a British university; and under no circumstance would an institution of higher learning which bore the stamp of inferiority be tolerated by Nigerians.

In the second place, the diplomas to be awarded by the institution were also inferior, since the holders of these diplomas were only expected, in various government departments and institutions, to occupy posts which were permanently subordinate to those filled by the holders of British university degrees (mostly expatriates) in the same faculties and professions.


In the third place, the diplomas to be awarded by the college would only enjoy an inferior recognition in Nigeria and would not command any respect, much less recognition, outside the country.

In the fourth place, though the diplomas were in all respects to be inferior to university degrees, the time required to do a course was longer than was the case for a university degree in the same subject.

Thus; this created resentment among the educationists, the political leaders and the British masters. How could they? Despite their foreign education background still tag them for fool?

Due to this, Statistics showed that of the twenty-eight new students admitted in 1937, all of them withdrew or were withdrawn at the end of the same year. 1938 was much better, twenty-four entered and ten withdrew, while in 1939, thirty-six were admitted and twenty-three withdrew. By any standard, these are among the highest drop-out rates in any education system in the world.

Between 1930 and 1947, the full-time staff was never less than nine or more than thirteen, most of them being government civil servants. Yaba Higher College suffered immensely during the Second World War. Its campus and medical school were acquired by the army for war purposes and the student body was dispersed. The college was finally absorbed by University College, Ibadan, in 1947, fifteen years after its establishment.


Donald Charles Cameron

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