A lecture delivered on behalf of the College of Health Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the university.

By Nimi Briggs, Professor Emeritus.

Tuesday 28 April, 2015.


  • Pro-Chancellor and members of the Governing Council

  • Vice-Chancellor

  • Past Vice Chancellor

  • Deputy Vice Chancellors

  • Principal Officers of the University

  • Provosts of Colleges

  • Deans of Faculties

  • Distinguished Staff of the University

  • Unique University of Port Harcourt Students

  • Members of the Press

  • Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

About two months ago, the immediate past Provost of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Chris Akani requested me to prepare a lecture titled 37 Years of Medical Education at the University of Port Harcourt to be delivered as part of the college’s contribution to the 40th anniversary celebration of the University of Port Harcourt. Thirty seven is an odd number and somehow, I did not like it; it smacked of some ill omen – not unlike the kind of feeling that many Americans have towards the figure 13, one may say. My aversion amplified when I checked the meaning of the word “odd”–unusual, strange and also of “odd number” – divisible by 2, remainder 1!! I opted instead for the figure 40 which is an even number – completely divisible by 2.

But on a more serious note, I was emboldened to take this liberty because in reality, the idea of setting up a College of Health Sciences in Port Harcourt was conceived along with the inception of its nascent parent body, forty years ago. The three years or so difference between conception and delivery, was the gestation time it took to procure the services of a formidable midwife, the father of the College, the late Professor Theodore Francis, to take up the daunting task of setting up a first class medical school, the first of its kind in this part of the country. Moreover, as I and many of my obstetric colleagues now know, it is better for a pregnant healthy woman to deliver at 40 than 37 weeks!! So, with some apology to the former provost, I have chosen to speak on the topic 40 AND ON. DETERMINED TO DO BETTER. In doing so, I will briefly draw the trajectory of the College, examine how it has fared, highlight some of its major contributions as well as identify some areas of challenges. I will end by projecting a future.

Let me then commence by congratulating this unique University for attaining the age of 40, which in mankind, is well into adulthood and the prime of life. It is appropriate to celebrate this landmark the way the University is doing because of its achievements in many areas, not least, in producing not just the President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, of our great country, Nigeria but also the Governor the of the state where the university is located – Rivers State, in the person of Rt.Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, CON. Ipso facto, credit should be given to the university’s amiable Vice-Chancellor, Professor Joseph Ajienka, FAEng, for his foresight and the concept of this celebration, especially what he has lined up for it. To some extent, the celebration also serves as a prologue to the glorious completion of his assignment as vice-chancellor. In wishing him well in all his future undertakings, may I, on behalf of the provost, staff and students of the College of Health Sciences, draw strength from the seminal words of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) in the second Act of the 7th Scene of the evergreen AS YOU LIKE IT. Said he and I quote:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages…

Mr. Vice-chancellor Sir, the College of Health Sciences wishes you farewell as you complete your acts as our leader and take your exit from that position.


The University of Port Harcourt, along with the other second generation universities that came into being in the late 1970s and early 1980s was given a directive by the then Federal Military Government of Nigeria to include the training of medical doctors among the academic and professional programmes it was about to establish. That position of government was predicated on government’s desire to increase the number of medical practitioners available in the health care delivery system of the country especially those outside the cities of Lagos and Ibadan, which as of then, had a disproportionate concentration of medical practitioners.

In evolving a strategy for achieving that directive, the founding fathers of the college ultimately decided on the idea of Health Sciences as opposed to Medical Sciences as the former, they felt, emphasized a team approach to health care with the doctor as leader, while the focus of the latter was primarily on the doctor. The plan then was to commence with and quickly stabilize the training of medical doctors (as the team leaders) and proceed thereafter, to include the training of other members of the health team – nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, optometrists and others. The idea was that done in that way, before long, there would be clusters of health care delivery practitioners who would be better equipped with the knowledge and skills required for a team approach in addressing the health care needs of the nation. Accordingly, a College of Health Sciences instead of a College of Medicine, was established.

There were yet other ways in which the college that was formed was different from the ordinary run of the mill medical school/college. First, it made provision for the admission of what was described as mature students – persons over 35 years of age who still had the appetite and aptitude to study medicine and second, ALL students would have intercalated degrees. That meant that in addition to their training to become medical doctors, each student would have an opportunity to take a further qualification – the B.Med.Sc. Degree of the University of Port Harcourt. Students at the end of their second or third year would branch off and have an in-depth study in Anatomy, Physiology or Pharmacology so as to become familiar with scientific techniques and research methods and to earn the bachelor’s degree.

Converting these brilliant ideas into commencement actions was not easy as even with the school system that the University romanced in its early days, there were 14 study units to cater for. So, the number of men and women who were recruited to kick start the operations of the college, was large. Many were conscientious and hardworking; a handful, indolent and difficult. For the purposes of today’s lecture, let us highlight just a few of them, whose influence on the college in those early years was remarkable. Sadly, three of them are no more with us.

The late Professor Theodore Francis was not only the Foundation Provost of the College, he was also the first Chief Medical Director of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. Thus, he had the singular honour of establishing academic medicine and the standard of patient care with which teaching hospitals are known for all over the world, in Port Harcourt – a state capital and one of the big cities in Nigeria. A graduate of the University of London and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of England, Theo, as he was popularly known, rose to become the Head of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Ibadan before he transferred his services to set up the College of Health Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt. The level of respect which the other sections of the University accord the college and the college’s efficient ways of doing things, partly derive from the high standards set by Theo Francis, at the commencement of the college. No one was surprised therefore when the Federal Government gave him a higher responsibility by appointing him the Foundation Vice – Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure. It is therefore appropriate that the college is also honouring him during this 40th anniversary celebration of the University. Next in line was the late Professor Kenneth Diete-Koki – the great KDK – who had taught Human Physiology in several universities in Nigeria at professorial level before coming to Port Harcourt. About him, a lot has been said especially at the first Professor Kenneth Diete-Koki Memmorial Lecture which was held on Thursday, 12 February, 2015, as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the University. Also a graduate of the University of London, KDK knew his onions and brooked no nonsense from anybody. He bestrode the basic medical sciences, sans anatomy, like a colossus and was deeply loved by his students. Professor Abiye Obuoforibo graduated from the University of Lagos and the University of Sheffield where he obtained a doctorate degree in Anatomy. Another very versatile teacher, it was on him that the mantle of leadership of both the college, as provost, and the teaching hospital, as chief medical director fell, when Professor Francis left for Akure. The last in the quartet, who happily is still with us, is Kelsey Harrison, now a Professor Emeritus of the University. Another graduate of the University of London, he joined the college slightly later than the other three but was still able to make tremendous impact on the institution as a renowned clinician, teacher and researcher. Outside these four, were others like Drs. Eric Mangete, Tim Awuzie, Enyi Uche (now late), Ben Mengot, Lawrence Mbuagbaw, Ralphael Oruamabo, Ken Katchy and Nimi Briggs who helped in one way or the other to get things in place in the early years of the college.

Of course one must not forget the administrative end where Mr. Emmanuel Acheru held brief for some time until Mrs. Letitia Ogali was appointed College Secretary. Between her and others, notably Mrs. Franebi Okoko, they instituted a robust, efficient and caring administration that has largely retained its original hue till this day.

With these founding fathers and mothers so to speak, a total academic staff strength of 24 and operating essentially from a borrowed wing of the then Faculty of Science block, the college opened its doors to its first batch of medical students in 1979. They were 33 in number and were all to run the intercalated degree programme. Of these, 13 passed in 1986 and so became the first batch of graduates from the college; each had both B.Med.Sc. and MB. BS. Degrees of the University of Port Harcourt. So, how has the college fared from the early 1980s to the present time?


The man who had received the five talents went

at once and put his money to work and gained

five more. The Holy Bible, Mathew Chapter 25 verse 16.

As is contained in the Parable of the Talents in the Holy Bible, where a proverbial master went on a journey and entrusted his money to his servants, the College of Health Sciences can proudly say that it has put the master’s money to work and gained five more. From a college that essentially consisted of a single faculty, that of Medicine, at the beginning, the college now has three – those of Basic Medical Sciences, Clinical Sciences and Dentistry and possibly, a fourth one, that of Pharmaceutical Sciences, which though not situated in the College of Health Sciences, emanated from the concept of the production of groups of professionals, not just medical doctors, for the health team. And so, instead of the original 14 Departments, there are now 22, including a Department of Medical Biochemistry. This is without reference to departments in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Furthermore, in addition to the single intercalated MB. BS programme at the beginning, the college now offers courses that lead to Bachelor’s Degrees in Dentistry, Nursing, Anatomy and Physiology as well as a number of post graduate degrees, including Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Medicine. Two more physical structures – dentistry and clinical sciences have been added to the single block the college borrowed from the then Faculty of Science, while the main administrative block and that of the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences are currently under construction. Student intake has ballooned from the 33 of 1979 to just over 300 annually, while the college academic staff strength has soared from the 24at the beginning to the current number of 265. As compared to the 4 professors that were in the college at its inception, there are now 43.Of these, most remarkably,6 are graduates of the college. In total, the college has now graduated 5619 and of these,10 have risen to the rank of professor, within and outside Port Harcourt and the country. In addition to first degrees, the college has also awarded 29 doctorate and 111 master’s degrees. As for its teaching hospital, in place of the modest cottage hospital at Emuoha that had less than 100 beds and the General Hospital Port Harcourt which was beefed up to about 500 beds that had served as temporary teaching hospitals for the college at different times, there is now a purpose-built one with about 800 beds at the its permanent site.

Furthermore, the college has an Institute of Maternal and Child Health, a Centre for Malaria Research and Phytomedicine (CMRAP), a Clinical Clerking Skills Laboratory and a Centre for Health and Development which serve as specialised areas for service delivery, research and training.

Such a repertoire cannot be considered utopian but it is modest enough for a few drums to be beaten. Hence, the College proudly joins the University at this celebration of its 40th anniversary. But then, how has this progress contributed to national development, the advancement of the Nigerian University System and the life and well-being of the University of Port Harcourt?


3.1. National Development

3.1.1. Manpower Development

In directing the University of Port Harcourt to establish a medical school, among others, at the inception of the institution, Government’s expectation was to redress the dearth of health care providers in the country but especially so in the South/South of Nigeria through the products of such a school. The College of Health Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt, along with its affiliate teaching hospital, has ameliorated this deficit to some extent through the production of highly competent and skilled health care providers since its inception. Such persons can be seen rendering service in all parts of the country and beyond and especially so in the South/South of Nigeria. So far, the college along with its affiliate teaching hospital, has added 2619 medical doctors, 25 dental surgeons and 316 nurses as well as 290 specialists in various fields to the national pool of heath care providers.

Likewise, the college has produced 140holders of higher degrees including those with Master’s, Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Medicine Degrees who have subsequently obtained employment in the University and other areas of human endeavours. Additionally, the academics in the universities are also actively involved in the training of specialists for the medical profession under the aegis of the three post graduate professional bodies that are accredited for such purposes – National Post Graduate Medical College of Nigeria, the West African College of Physicians and the West African College of Surgeons. Some of the persons so trained eventually become consultants in various hospitals of the country.

3.1.2. Professional Services

The staff as well as the products of the College of Health Sciences render professional services mainly as health care providers – doctors and nurses – in the length and breadth of the country. A good number even practise outside Nigeria. In many cases, they serve as consultants to established departments in big health institutions such as Consultant Physicians, Surgeons, Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Paediatricians, Radiologists, Haematologists, Pathologists and many others. For instance, the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, one of the biggest health institutions in the South/South of Nigeria and with a patient turnover of about 200,000 annually, draws almost its entire consultant staff from the staff of the College of Health Sciences and their products.

Furthermore, on account of the specialised knowledge and skills they possess in the medical profession, staff of the college and their products, serve in many important health related capacities within and outside the country. These include headship and membership of hospital boards, committees, research institutes, professional institutions, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, UNESCO and many others. Additionally, medical and dental students of the college reach out with professional services to various communities on many instances on an annual basis. Such outreach activities include immunization exercises, Port Harcourt University Medical Students’ week activities, and also those by the dental students. Of the six Chief Medical Directors that the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital has had since its inception, five are from the College of Health Sciences. In the same vein, all the persons who have served as chairmen of the Medical Advisory Committee – the persons that actually run the day to day affairs of the hospital, are staff of the college. Professor Raphael Oruamabo has served as the President of the Paediatric Association of Nigeria and Provost of the College of Health Sciences of the Niger Delta University. He has also been recently appointed Provost of the Medical School of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology; Professor Victor Wakwe, President of the National Post Graduate Medical College of Nigeria where Professor Opubo Lilly–Tariah, the present Dean of the Faculty of Clinical Sciences of this universiy is the current treasurer; Professor Nimi Briggs, Chairman of the Boards of the National Hospital Abuja and the University of Benin Teaching Hospital; Professor Alice Nte, consultant to the WHO and UNICEF; Professor Ndu Eke currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Port Harcourt Medical Journal, Treasurer of the International College of Surgeons, Nigerian chapter and would take up the position of President of that organisation in June 2015. Also, the current Senior Special Assistant to Mr. President on the MDGs, the Commissioner of Health of Rivers State, the Chief Medical Director of the of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital as well as that of the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, and the current Dean of the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences of this university, Dr. Precious Gbenol, Dr. Samson Parker, Dr. Thomas Agan, Professor Onyaye Kunle-Olowu, and Professor Iyeopu Siminialayi, respectively, are all graduates of the college. Two former Deans of the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences – Professors Datonye Dappa and Hakim Fawehinmi are also graduates of the college.

Lastly, it must be reported that it was staff of the college that took the lead in sensitizing the population of Rivers State on the prevention, mode of transmission and clinical features of the ebola virus infection when the outbreak spread to Nigeria in July 2014 from neighbouring West African countries. The college and the teaching hospital set up a joint team led by Drs. Charles Tobin West and Orikomaba Ogbunge (now professor) to take on the responsibility of training health workers on how to recognise and handle cases of the infection. This early awareness campaign must have contributed, in some way, to the rapid containment of the disease when it was eventually transported to Port Harcourt in August 2014.

3.1.3 Scholarly Activities

Academic staff of the College of Health Sciences engage in scholarly activities that advance the course of national development. They conduct research, some in collaboration with colleagues from outside the country that lead to impactful outcomes and policy formulation; write books and produce monographs and manuscripts that become standard texts that are used for teaching and training; serve as External Assessors and examiners to other universities as well as professional and academic institutions; deliver lectures on invitation on national strategic issues; and publish as well as review local and international scientific journals. A few examples of each of these multiple tasks will serve. Research

The Women’s Health Programme, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (UK) and University of Port Harcourt, 1992-2000

In 1992, through a partnership that was made possible by Professor Kelsey Harrison, Professor Nimi Briggs led a team of researchers from the University of Port Harcourt to work with the Women’s Health Group of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom, headed by Dr. Loretta Brabin on a project aimed at improving the “quality of life and standard of health care for women” through the institution of “health strategies for women in developing countries”. The collaboration, named the O.D.A. Women’s Health Programme, was supported by the United Kingdom Department For International Development (DFID), and featured a series of research projects that spanned nearly a decade. It led to several unprecedented reports on the status of reproductive health of women, especially adolescents, in Rivers State including a lead original research article in the Lancet; completion of five PhD theses which were all awarded by universities in the United Kingdom; improvement in social development in the main project community of Kegbara-Dere in Ogoniland; the designation of that community as the training site for the UNIPORT medical undergraduate programme in Preventive and Social Medicine; the establishment of a Youth-Friendly service centre in Port Harcourt city; and the development of human resource capacity for collaborative international research in the College of Health Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt.

Centre for Health and Development – University of Port Harcourt and University of Toronto.

Another important fallout of the work with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine was that it served as a stage for negotiations that led to the formation of another partnership between the University of Port Harcourt and the University of Toronto in which the two institutions committed themselves to collaborate on projects to enhance individual and societal capacities to address health challenges in Nigeria. Not only did a Centre for Health and Development under the Directorship of Dr. Seye Babatunde of the College of Health Sciences emerge from this partnership, several research activities on Post Traumatic Stress Disorders as well as HIV/AIDS, with powerful outcomes of global significance have been carried out at the centre. Importantly also, the centre offered opportunity for extensive local and international travel and a platform to develop human and organisational capacity for health related research and quality health care provision in the region.

Dermatoglyphics of Sub Saharan African subjects – the research generated from this MD thesis (1990) at the College of Health Sciences by Dr. (now Professor) Patrick Igbibi and supervised by Professor Nimi Briggs, also of the College is now being used for forensic investigations.

The Magpie Study

This was yet another global study in which researchers from 175 hospitals in 33 countries, between 1998 -2001, compared the use of the anti convulsant magnesium sulphate and placebo in the management of patients with pre-eclampsia, in a double blind trial. Staff of the college, led by Professor Celestine John, participated in the trial which confirmed the beneficial effects of the drug on patients with pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, making it the gold standard in the management of such patients.

The West African Health Organisation’s Demonstration Project (2008-2012)

This demonstration project hosted by the Institute of Maternal and Child Health of the University of Port Harcourt and supported by the West African Health Organisation pilot-tested the impact of community participation in health care delivery on maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity and resulted in the adoption of the Home Based Newborn Care package for implementation in Rivers State. Books

The book Paediatrics and Child Health in a Tropical Region, edited by Jonathan Azubuike of the University of Nigeria and Kanu Nkaginieme of the College of Health Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt, and printed by the University of Port Harcourt Press, is now a recommended standard text book for medical students, general physicians and resident physicians in paediatrics and child health. Of the 77 contributors to the 85 chapters of the book, there are 18 from the College of Health Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt.

Essentials of Human Anatomy by Patrick Igbigbi on: a) Head, Neck and Back; b) Thorax, Abdomen, Pelvis and Perineum and c) Upper and Lower Limbs are standard textbooks for students in Anatomy.

UNESCO Module.

In June 2011, UNESCO commissioned 19 senior academics in Africa to produce Modules, as gold standards, for recommendation to universities in Africa for teaching and learning in various disciplines. Professor Nimi Briggs of the College Health Sciences wrote Module 15 which addresses the issue of Teaching and Learning in the Medical Sciences. External Assessors

Professors in the College have served as External Assessors to various universities within and outside the country for promotion of candidates to higher academic positions. External Examinations

Academic staffs of the college have served as external examiners to various universities within and outside the country. A number of them also serve as examiners at the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria and the West African Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons. Invited Lectures

Academic staffs of the college have delivered several invited lectures on different occasions such as keynote addresses in conferences, convocation lectures, special lectures on important occasions such as world breast feeding weeks, African Malaria Day, World Health Day, physicians weeks among others. For example, in 2009 Professor Alice Nte, delivered the Academy Lecture on “Strategies for increasing the immunization coverage of mothers and babies in Nigeria” to the Nigerian Academy of Science. In a similar vein, Professor Nimi Briggs delivered the 2012 Convocation Lecture at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology titled: “Fulfilling the Mandate”. Refereeing for local and International Journals

Professor Hakeem Fawehemi is the immediate past editor of the Journal of Anatomical Sciences. He is also a referee for the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Anatomy.

Professor Princewill Stanley is a referee for the African Journal of Psychiatry and also the Nigerian Journal of Psychiatry. In the same vein, Professors Iyeopu Siminialayi and Christie Mato are reviewers for Pharmacologia and the African Journal of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care respectively.

3.2. Advancement of the Nigerian University System

The second National Development Plan (1975-1980) sought to increase the number of universities in the country by adding seven new second generation universities to the five that existed then. One important reason for the increase was to improve access to tertiary educational institutions for an estimated population then of just over sixty million. Strong emphasis was placed on programmes in Medicine and Engineering for the new universities. In this respect, the establishment of the College of Health Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt partly assisted the Nigerian University System to respond to Government’s directive to increase the training of more health care practitioners.

The College has also advanced the course of the Nigerian University System by contributing to the good governance of some important organisations in the system. Between 2004 – 2005, Professor Nimi Briggs, then a staff of the College and Vice – Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt served as Chairman of the Committee of Vice – Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU). Among Professor Briggs’ achievements during his chairmanship of the committee, was the successful transfer of the office and operations of the organisation from Lagos to its current permanent site in Abuja. The movement made for improved efficiency of the organisation.

3.3. Life and Well-being of the University of Port Harcourt

3.3.1 Stability of the Institution

Like any human institution, the University of Port Harcourt has had its moments of travails. Such was the magnitude of the problems on three of occasions, that it became necessary for the Federal Government to intervene directly in the affairs of the institution by setting aside sitting administrations and appointing acting vice-chancellors to enable the institution to carry on with its work, while more permanent solutions were sought for the amelioration of the problems. It was during one such situation that Professor Njidda Gadzama (now Professor Emeritus) of the University of Maiduguri was appointed Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt between 1993 and 1994. On each of the other two occasions, it was a staff of the College of Health Sciences that the Federal Government relied upon to carry out the assignment. Thus, Government appointed Professor Nimi Briggs acting Vice-chancellor 10 January 1995 to 15 March 1996 and also 1 January 2000 to 8 July 2000. On both occasions, Professor Briggs of the College of Health Sciences succeeded in establishing some stability that enabled continuation of activities until Government was able to appoint substantive Vice-chancellors for the institution.

3.3.2. Governance of the Institution

Many staffs of the College of Health Sciences have served the University of Port Harcourt in important senior positions. Of the seven vice-chancellors that the university has had, the college produced two: Professors Kelsey Harrison, 1990 -1993 and Nimi Briggs, July 2000 to July 2005. Professor Harrison is remembered for the robust and relentless efforts he made to put secret cult activities, which had virtually paralyzed the university, under check and also for getting the 33 KVA electricity supply line from the national grid into the university. Partly on account of his services to the university and his immense academic stature, the university appointed him Professor Emeritus after his retirement.

As for Professor Briggs, his administration is generally regarded as having laid the foundation for a modern University of Port Harcourt. The very many gifts and commendations he received at the end of his tenure place his administration in context. Three of the commendations are hereby reproduced: