Saburi Biobaku: How UNILAG Vice-Chancellor was nearly killed in 1965

As a result of the NPC/NCNC alliance with the AG in opposition, the Federal Government of the First Republic (1957-1966) was dominated by Northerners and Easterners while the Westerners were “marginalised” until Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola formed the NNDP and formed an alliance with the NPC.

How Saburi Biobaku became UNILAG Vice-Chancellor

Aja Nwachukwu, an Igbo of the NCNC, was the Federal Minister of Education from 1958 to 1965. He was instrumental in the appointment of Professors Eni Njoku as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos in 1962 and Kenneth Onwuka Dike as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan in 1963. Both were Igbo men. Though qualified, there were more senior Yoruba professors; among them, Professor Oladele Ajose (1907-1978), the first tenured professor in Nigeria.

Image of Saburi Biobaku
Professor Saburi Biobaku (1918-2001)/Trade Newswire

This didn’t go down well with the leading Yoruba politicians of the day and when Chief Richard Akinjide became Minister of Education in 1965, the University of Lagos Governing Council refused to renew Eni Njoku’s tenure as Vice-Chancellor and Professor Saburi Biobaku (1918-2001), a renowned historian and an Egba man from Igbore, Abeokuta, present-day Ogun State, was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos.


As a result, the university community was engulfed in crisis and students of the University of Lagos at the time believed that the government’s decision was laden with ethnic favouritism; they resisted the idea and protested against the action. They threatened fire and brimstone and asked the Minister of Education, Chief Richard Akinjide to stop Biobaku from moving near the university’s premises. The students were opposed to change in the leadership of the ivory tower. But the government ignored the students’ threat and vowed that its decision was final and irreversible.

Image of Right-Hand-Drive Nigeria; Traffic in Lagos, 1960.
Traffic in Lagos, 1960.

Having foreclosed the issue, the Federal Government notified the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Saburi Biobaku that he had no cause to fear that the security agencies were there to give him adequate protection on the campus.

In ecstatic mood, Saburi Biobaku relied on the assurances given to him by the government to resume his new duty post, and he made his way straight to the Vice-Chancellor’s lodge at UNILAG where he dropped his belongings. Interestingly, he was received by the principal officers of the university and thereafter formally assumed duty at the Vice Chancellor’s office.

The Murder Attempt

On assumption of duty, in June 1965, it was customary for a new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Saburi Biobaku prepared to address the students and other members of the academic community. He needed to extend his hands of fellowship to them and acquaint himself with the environment.

Against this backdrop, adequate arrangements were made for him to address the students. As Biobaku mounted the podium of the university auditorium in the presence of a large crowd of students and members of the academic community awaiting his inaugural speech, he received more than he had bargained for.

An artistic illustration of the attack on Biobaku by Kayode Adams, 1965/Nairaland.

Professor Saburi Biobaku least expected it. A radical student activist, identified as Kayode Adams, surged forward from the crowd and stabbed the Vice-Chancellor at the back, ostensibly in protest against Njoku’s removal. Biobaku fell and Adams was immediately arrested by the Police.


There was tension in the university and the incident resulted in the closure of the university for months. After Biobaku’s medical treatment, he returned to UNILAG and served his tenure without any further hitch.

Since that unfortunate incident 53 years ago, the university has never again witnessed any physical attack on any of her Vice Chancellors.

After his release, Kayode Adams committed suicide by drowning in the Tarkwa Bay Beach in Lagos in October 1969.


NPC: National People’s Congress

NCNC: National Council of Nigerian Citizens

NNDP: Nigerian National Democratic Party

AG: Action Group

UNILAG: University of Lagos

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Chemist. Novelist. Writer. Author, A Carnage Before Dawn, 2020.
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