PROJECT TOPIC- PROGRESSIVE TRENDS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN NIGERIA
I like to start by saying that I am certainly delighted to have been invited to serve as Guest Lecturer for this year’s Eni Njoku Memorial Lecture at my alma mater, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. More particularly, my participation in today’s event marks a special home-coming for me and my dear wife, Professor (Mrs.) Viola Adaku Onwuliri. As some of you do know, both of us were students (and products) of this Faculty of Biological Sciences, where I read and graduated in Zoology, and she did also in Biochemistry.
We are therefore very grateful to the Vice-Chancellor Professor Bartho Okolo – the VC of Lions and Lioness and the organizers of this important Memorial Lecture; and especially the Dean, Professor Obioma Njoku for inviting .me to serve as the Guest Lecturer for this 10th edition in the Lecture series. Furthermore, it is no doubt very considerate of him to have granted me a free hand in the choice of a topic for this Special Lecture.
With this indulgence, I was tempted to reflect on my youthful days as an undergraduate student at Nsukka, and the indelible impacts made on my mind by the devoted guidance of my teachers, many of who were mentored by the great Professor Eni Njoku and other pioneer Nigerian Biologists.
With the benefit of hindsight, I feel encouraged to note that the Science of Biology, and indeed Biologists (pure and applied), have come a long way in this country. The substantial interests in the subject, and its numerous sub-disciplines, have propelled active involvement of many brilliant scientists, over the years, leading to some striking growth and consolidation of the Biological Sciences in our country Nigeria. This therefore informs my choice of the topic for this Lecture i.e. “Progressive trends in the development of Biological Sciences in Nigeria”.
The aim is to attempt a modest over-view of the journey so far in the quest for planting and nurturing the Biological Sciences in this great country. In so doing, we should feel encouraged to peer into the potential harvests that await us, now and in the future, should we remain steadfast in the task. For convenience sake, I have decided to address the topic in a sequential manner, taking account of the different stages of development, as we can see presently.
FOUNDATION STAGE (Pre-Colonial and Colonial Period, 1901-1960):
The earliest records of the study of Biology and aspects of the Biological Sciences (albeit under “Nature Study” “Health Science” and “Agricultural Science'”}, date back to the first quarter of the 19th Century, i.e. following the establishment of Primary and Secondary Schools under the Colonial Administration in Nigeria. The earliest teachers of Biology were expatriates and some of the resident Missionaries, many of who helped to groom pupils in Schools and Colleges, and prepare Science tutors in the then Teachers’ Training Colleges.
This was the trend between 1920 and 1940. Between 1941 and 1960, a number of specialized Science Schools and Technical Colleges (now
Polytechnics) were established in the country. These offered the scope for more in-depth and subject-specific training in the Biological Sciences and in Science and Technology subjects generally. Provisions for Higher School Certificate in Science Subjects (including Biology, Zoology, Botany, Microbiology, and Biochemistry), plus Diploma training in Colleges of Technology (e.g. at Yaba, Enugu, Zaria etc) opened the avenue for the grooming of professional biologists and other young scientists.
During the period also, the University College Ibadan was established in 1949, as a Campus of the University of London. The College started with a few Faculties, including the then Faculty of Science which had distinct Departments of Botany and Zoology, alongside Departments of Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. Again, the pioneer teachers of Zoology, Botany and Microbiology were essentially expatriates, with a negligible sprinkling of Nigerians (and other Africans) holding junior ranks in the Lectureship Cadre.
Among this privileged crop of early Nigerian Lecturers was our dear and celebrated mentor Eni Njoku, who as a youngman was fortunate to gain a training opportunity at the University of Manchester England, where he read Botany and graduated with First Class Honours in 1947, and later secured his Master’s degree in 1948, and Ph.D (Botany) from the University of London in 1954. Between 1950 and 1960 some of the local staff had the opportunity of further In-service (or Overseas) Postgraduate training to earn M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees that equipped them for a teaching career at University level.
Among such privileged Biologists then were S.A. Onabamiro, John C. line, Afolabi Toye, and J.B.E. Awachie all of who subsequently became eminent Biology Professors. As for the subject focus in the Colonial era, the basic studies at Primary, Secondary and Higher School Certificate levels was to introduce school pupil’s and other trainees to the rudimentary elements of Biology, and thenceforth to the types and classification of organisms, the principles of plant and animal anatomy and physiology, and the rudiments of ecology, pest control, agriculture, hygiene and sanitation. This scope of teaching dictated the thrusts in Schools Curricula and books used by the early trainees.
EXPANSION STAGE (Post Independence Period; 1960-1980)
At the point of Independence, tertiary Education in the country took a bold leap, with the establishment (in October 1960) of the first indigenous full-fledged autonomous University in Nigeria; i.e. the University of Nigeria Nsukka. This institution took-off with a bang, and had five Faculties established from the out-set. These included the then Faculty of Science, with distinct Departments of Botany, and Zoology; and later those of Microbiology and Biochemistry etc.
This development opened more training opportunities for Nigerian Scientists and enhanced the chances of employment for those with higher degrees returning from abroad. Nevertheless the bulk of the Professors and Senior Lecturers comprised American teachers from Michigan State University and other Overseas Institutions. Inspite of initial challenges and draw backs, the academic Programmes at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka took root, and soon became popular, attracting quality staff and students from far and wide.
It was not surprising therefore that between 1962 and 1966, a number of other full-fledged Nigerian Universities sprung up at He Ife, Zaria and Lagos. Also the erstwhile University College Ibadan became transformed into a full-fledged autonomous Institution. Furthermore, a number of new Colleges of Technology (Polytechnics) were established in places like Owerri, Idah, Kaduna and Maiduguri. In each of these Institutions, Science and Technology subjects were taught, with special emphasis on the basic science subjects like Biology (Botany & Zoology), Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics etc.
This expansion phase was soon followed by the establishment of more Universities and an explosion in enrolment of students in the tertiary level institutions, including the new Universities in Jos, Benin, Ilorin, Calabar, Maiduguri, Kano and Sokoto. Substantial opportunities for training in the Biological and other Sciences became available.
PROJECT TOPIC- PROGRESSIVE TRENDS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE IN NIGERIA
Furthermore, professional societies for Nigerian Scientists soon evolved.
Starting with the oldest of them all, the Science Association of Nigeria, we soon had the Ecological Society of Nigeria, the Zoological Society of Nigeria, the Botanical Society, the Chemical Society, and the Mathematical Society of Nigeria etc. This was followed in the seventies by the establishment of more specialized Associations such as the Entomological Society of Nigeria; the Nigerian Society for Parasitology, the Microbiology Society of Nigeria, and the Genetics Society of Nigeria etc.
Other reckonable Associations founded at this time included the Fisheries Society of Nigeria, the Society for Crop Protection, and the Forestry Association of Nigeria.
As is evident from the variety of emergent Associations, the subject coverage for teaching and research in Science and Technology disciplines in Nigeria became more in-depth, and more diversified to cover particular mini specialties. With particular reference to the Biological Sciences, degree courses were mounted not only in Zoology and Botany, but also in areas such as Parasitolog^, Entomology, Fisheries and Hydrobiology, Microbiology, Ecology, Forestry and Wildlife Management etc.
Also research activities in the areas of plant and animal Morphology, Taxonomy, Physiology, Cytology, and Cytogenetics, Immunology and Disease epidemiology, and in Bacteriology, and Virology etc. gained grounds. Many new plant and animal species were identified and described and their ecological relationships were investigated. Similarly, various disease agents were isolated and their involvements in disease cycles were carefully determined and published.
For a start, most of the publications which understandably reported works done in Nigeria by expatriate personnel and other Nigerian researchers, were published in foreign Journals, where the information was quite novel. With time however a number of local Journals were established. Among these early/pioneer tabloids were the West African Journal of Science; the Nigerian Journal of Science; the Nigerian Field, and the Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Nigeria etc.
CONSOLIDATION AND STABILISATION STAGE (1981-2000):
The succeeding period (1981-2000) marked a phase of consolidation of not only the Biological Sciences but also the Physical, Chemical and Geological Sciences in Nigeria. Major developments were recorded also in the applied Sciences like the Agricultural, Medical, Environmental, Engineering and other Technological Sciences etc.
Many more Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, as well as sundry Technical Colleges were established in various parts of the country; so much so that as at the turn of the century (2000) Nigeria had over eighty Universities, comprising twenty four (24) Federal Institutions, twenty six (26) State-owned Institutions, and thirty two (32) privately-owned Universities. Rather interestingly, we note that virtually all these Universities had Schools or Faculties of Science; and specific Departments for respective basic/natural sciences.
The reason of course is understandable, as a School or Faculty of Science is considered an essential back-bone for the establishment and sustenance of the Programme in Applied Science (e.g. Agriculture, Engineering, Architecture, Medicine, and various Industrial Technology Courses etc.) and for driving technological transformation and innovations. This is in addition to the fact that there has always been a dire need for graduates to serve as High School teachers, in the areas of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and Statistics etc. Basic Science graduates also come in hand, as graduate trainees, in various establishments within the Industrial and manufacturing sector.
Furthermore, the consolidation and stabilization phase witnessed a deliberate transition from the original concept of stereotyped Science Departments (e.g. those of Biological Science, Zoology, Botany and Microbiology Departments etc) to the more novel Departments of Entomology, Horticulture, Parasitology, Aquaculture, Bacteriology, Virology and Immunology, etc. Following this came the emergence of other purpose-oriented Departments e.g. Departments of Animal and Environmental Biology; Ecology and Conservation; Biotechnology; Molecular Biology; Biodiversity; Genetics (and Genetic Engineering); Plant and Animal Physiology etc. Of special interest also is the fact that the scope and coverage of research in the Biological and other Sciences became more diversified, addressing such sundry themes (and sub-themes) as:
– Species description and differentiation
– Studies on the flora and fauna of different habitats
– Studies on ecological and other characteristics of local habitats
– Population studies e.g. relative densities spatial distribution etc.
– Natural history studies detailing life cycles of various organisms and their fecundity and survival rates.
– Pest infestation studies e.g. insect pests, weeds, stored produce pests etc.
– Studies on Morphology, Anatomy and Physiology of Plants and Animals.
– Biodiversity and Biosafety Studies
– Pollution and Environmental Contamination and Biodeterioration Studies.
– Hydrobiological indices, Aquaculture, and .Fish farming.
– Exploitation of biomass for energy generation- etc.
This wide array of research subjects and investigations paved the way for the emergence of a new crop of research Scientists most of who earned their Master’s and Doctorate degrees based on in-depth research on themes and sub-themes of local and practical relevance.