The Ahmadu Bello University was founded on October 4, 1962 as the University of Northern Nigeria by the then Northern Region government and was taken over as a Federal Institution in 1975.
As stated in Part (ii) of its Principal law, the University was created to, among other things, produce high level manpower, secure the diffusion of knowledge, research and community service in Northern Nigeria and Nigeria in general, and to function as a center of excellence.
Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern Nigeria and first Chancellor of the University had this vision for the University:
"The cardinal principle upon which our University is founded is to impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without any distinction on the grounds of race, religious, or political beliefs. This principle is enshrined in the University Law. Only through freedom of membership and freedom of enquiry and research can a University be drawn into the full ferment of thought from which new knowledge comes. Only if it adheres to those freedoms can it become truly great. If our staff and students are drawn from all parts of the world, then the mixture of international minds working together in an atmosphere of academic freedom can produce a University true to its ideal and meanings."
From a modest beginning in 1962, by 2002 the University has been transformed into the largest and the most extensive of all Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, the University covers a land area of 7,000 hectares and encompasses twelve academic faculties, a Postgraduate School and 82 academic departments. It also has five Institutes, six specialized centers, a Division of Agricultural Colleges, a Demonstration Secondary School , a Primary School and Extension and Consultancy Services, which provide a variety of services to the University and the wider society. The total students’ enrolment in the University’s degree and sub-degree programs is about 35,000, drawn from every state of the Federation, Africa and the rest of world. There are about 1,400 academic and research staff and 5,000 support staff serving the University. The University has also nurtured two University Colleges , the Abdullahi Bayero College (now Bayero University , Kano ) and the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa College Now Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University of Technology, Bauchi). While 27 tertiary Institutions made up of Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Schools of Basic of Preliminary Studies are affiliated to it.
Within the 40 years of existence, the University had to a great extent, met the development needs for which it was founded, especially with regards to the production of high-quality graduates and Community Service in Engineering, Environmental Design, the Medical Sciences, Agriculture, the Humanities, Education and the Natural Sciences. The University’s five hundred thousand alumni are found in all parts of Nigeria , Niger Republic , the Cameroon , South Africa , Europe , Asia and the United States . Its products occupy important positions in the public and the private sectors of the economy, at all levels of Government, and in educational Institutions of higher learning in and outside Nigeria.