Mary Ekpiken

First female African student at QUB

Born in Assang Eniong, Cross Rivers State, Nigeria, Mary Ekpiken arrived in Belfast in 1953. She came to study economics with a Nigerian government grant. She resided at Riddel Hall until she graduated in 1955.

After Queen’s, Mary returned to Africa to work for the Nigerian Civil Service. In 1965, she was Senior Labour Officer within the Employment Division of the Federal Ministry of Labour in Lagos.

She continued in the Ministry until she retired on 18 May 1984 as a director in the ministry. She was the first woman to reach such position in Nigeria and was awarded a Nigeria National Honour (OFR).

She passed away in 2010, leaving behind an adult son, Tunji Roberts, who is a media entrepreneur in the United State. Tunjo visited Belfast on his mother’s traces in November 2012, and saw the small dossier the QUB archives hold of her mother.    

2 thoughts on “Mary Ekpiken

  1. Interesting, I am very proud of a woman of this magnitude, an Eniong woman, a Nigeria woman, an African mother. She is an epitome of emulation. A rare gem, I celebrate her life.

  2. By chance, when I was researching something else, I read an article about Mary Ekpiken in The Belfast Telegraph from 8th July 1958. There was a photo, which I can’t upload, but the article text read as follows:

    First Queen’s girl from Nigeria

    Petite Mary Anwatim Ekpiken received special applause when she mounted the platform to collect her economics degree certificate at Queen’s University graduation ceremony today. She is the first Nigerian woman to study at Queen’s. Miss Ekpiken, barely fire feet tall, said: “There are over 30 boys from Nigeria here so I’m well outnumbered by the other sex.” She plans to return to Nigeria as soon as possible. ” I’ll probably join the Civil Service,” she said.

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