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Women’s history month: Women educators that shaped education in Nigeria

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Over the years, women have worked together with men to build nations. However, women often become unsung heroines and their contributions are lost in the annals of time. 

To celebrate the contributions of women in human and national development, the month of March has been set aside as women’s history month in some parts of the world.

Women’s history month provides an opportunity to learn about the important contributions of women and girls to our society and the quality of our lives today. Although it is not officially celebrated in Nigeria, there are many women who have contributed, like their counterparts in other climes, to the historical and contemporary development of society.

In this article, Edugist highlights key female figures who have by their achievements and contributions influenced the education sector in Nigeria.

Chinwe Obaji, first education minister in Nigeria
Photo credit: The Guardian

Chinwe Obaji

Meet Nigeria’s first female minister of education, Prof.Chinwe Obaji.  Obaji is a higher education lecturer, teacher and education administrator who was appointed as senior minister of Nigeria’s Ministry of Education in June 2005 under the Obasanjo-led administration. During her time as minister, she introduced the Post University Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME). The policy, then approved by the presidency was introduced to bypass the so-called inefficiency of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and address the disparity between JAMB scores and the actual performance of candidates. The policy was, however, shortlived.

Again, during her tenure as minister, Obaji initiated some reforms to ensure that every Nigerian child at least has access to basic education. The government set up a system of reprimanding parents who do not register their children for school, and started to recruit 40,000 teachers for rural communities.

Obaji was no doubt a radicalist who tried to grow the education sector with different policy reforms. She was credited with having started the one-meal-a-day project in some pilot primary schools across the country.

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Chief Elizabeth Ivase, first female minister of education (state). Photo credit: Facebook

Elizabeth Afadzwana Ivase 

Ivase is Nigeria’s first female Minister of state for education. She served Nigeria between 1979 – February 1982. She was an educationist, a women’s rights activist and a politician. Ivase was one of the few girls who was privileged to enroll in school during the pre-independence era. At age 18, she was in the forefront of the campaign for girl-child education in northern Nigeria.

Asides being a minister, Ivase played critical roles at state levels though which she influenced the education of girls in the country. For instance, during her time as a member of the Scholarship Board in Benue-Plateau she worked to secure foreign scholarships for many females to study in the United States and United Kingdom.

While also serving as education officer and commissioner of education in her home state, Benue, she initiated and ensured the establishment of Day Secondary Schools all over the then Benue State in order to bring College education closer to communities. Also in 1957, she advocated for northern women to be given the right to vote and be voted for. Away from the public service, Ivase provided mentorship to the younger generation while championing girl child education and women’s rights.

In the education sector, Ivase’s impact continues for generations to come.

Prof. Adetowun Ogunsheye
Prof. Adetowun Ogunsheye.

Professor Felicia Adetowun Ogunsheye

Meet Prof. Ogunsheye, Nigeria’s first female professor. She was a professor of library and information science at the University of Ibadan. Prof Ogunsheye is one woman who broke so many biases to rise to stardom in the education sector. Prof, Ogunsheye was the first female student to study and graduate from Yaba College of Technology in 1948. While at Yabatech, she got a scholarship to Cambridge University as the first Nigerian female student. 

Through her activism and publications, Ogunsheye advocated free education from primary to secondary schools.

Prof. Grace Alele-Williams
Prof. Grace Alele-Williams
Photo credit: Nigerian Image


Grace Alele Williams

Popularly known for being Nigeria’s first female vice-chancellor, Alele-Williams who was a trailblazer in many forms. She was the first Nigerian woman to receive a doctorate and the first female professor of mathematics who worked with the University of Benin, Edo state till she rose to the position of vice-chancellor in 1985.

Alele-Williams was a force for reform for Nigeria’s higher education in the 1980s. During her leadership, she made notable contributions to stem the activities of secret cults, confraternities and societies in the University of Benin.

Beyond being the first female VC, Alele-Williams served in various development-based committees and boards, wherein she made useful contributions in the development of education in Nigeria.

Alele-Williams was a member of governing council, United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Institute of Education.  She was also a UNESCO and Institute of International Education Planning consultant. She was also vice-president of the World Organisation for Early Childhood Education and later president of the Nigeria chapter. She also served ten years (1993–2004) as regional vice-president for Africa of the Third World Organisation for Women in Science.

Prof. Jadesola Akande on Edugist

Jadesola Olayinka Akande 

Prof. Akande was a lawyer, author, and academic famous for being Nigeria’s first female professor of Law and second vice chancellor of Lagos State University (LASU) in 1989.

She has been described as a force to reckon with in the education space, particularly in female education and constitutional development. For instance, she is celebrated for building the Law Faculty at LASU to an enviable level.

Outside school commitments, she actively campaigned for education and women’s rights through publications and mentorship.  One of her prominent works was “Constitution Made Easy plus Gender Rights Advocacy Points” for grassroots education. Likewise, many of the gender and social development activists in the country who were her protégés including Professor Ayo Atsenuwa  of the Univeristy of Lagos, Dr Joy Ezeilo, a renown human rights lawyer, and Dr Abiola Akiode-Afolabi.

Obi Ezeks
Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili Photo credit: Women PL

Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili 

Ezekwesili is the second appointed the Federal Minister of Education, a post she held until she took up a World Bank appointment in May 2007. At the heart of Ezekwesili’s passion was her determination to deal with corruption at the Federal Ministry of Education, a move that was trailed with a barrage of attacks on her person.

Nevertheless, Ezekwesili put an agenda together for all the levels, defined the problems, goals, and approach. While in government, Ezekwesili led the restructuring and refocusing of the Education Ministry for the attainment of Education for All (EFA) targets and Millennium Development Goals. She also introduced public-private partnerships for education service delivery, revamped the Federal Inspectorate Service as an improved quality assurance mechanism, and introduced transparency and accountability mechanisms for better governance of the budget.

From primary to secondary, through technical to tertiary, she did her best to impact the sector. 

Nigeria's first Google development expert
Ire Aderinokun. Photo credit: African Giant

Ire Aderinokun

Away from the public and traditional space, there are quite a number of women actively challenging the bias in Nigeria’s education system. One of such woman is Ire Aderinokun, Nigeria’s first female to become a google dev expert. Aderinkun is the co-founder, Chief Operating Officer, and VP Engineering of Helicarrier, a company building cryptocurrency infrastructure for Africa. She is popularly known for being a self-taught development expert.

Her passion for technology started when she was 13 , she built her first website, a Neopets fansite, in which she mastered her first basic HTML codes. However, she did not consider it a career path until she took a code design course online while pursuing a masters degree in law.

Today, this tech guru provides mentorship and guidance to fellow programmers. Also, she runs a tiny scholarship scheme to enable Nigerian women to take an Udacity Nanodegree in a technology-related profession of their choice.



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