Pastor and Mrs. Jesse Clifford from England, were the first missionaries to proclaim the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) message in Eastern Nigeria after being sent to work in West Africa by the General Conference (GC) in 1905. After ministering in Sierra Leone and Ghana, the Cliffords arrived Abua in Rivers State in 1920 and later relocated to Oghor-Hill Aba, in 1923 which became the cradle of Adventist work in Eastern Nigeria. With their Bible, a projector, and prayers, they settled in the home of a missionary friend, Pastor A. V. Wilcox, after whom Wilcox Grammar School Ehere, Aba, was originally named.
At Aba, Pastor Clifford started a primary school and developed the foundation for Adventist education in Eastern Nigeria. Some of his students were: Nelson Ihmuka, Wilson Uzuegbu, Sunday Ubani-Ukaoma, Rovert Nnamdede, James Nwambu, Abraham Nzotta, Adonija Cookey, Josiah Evoh, Daniel Onyeodor, Robert Abaribe, and Philip Onwere, among others. With the assistance of Robert Abaribe and Daniel Onyeodor, he established a Bible School and additional primary schools. Not long, Rovert Nwosu and P.E. Onwere under his tutelage qualified as pupil teachers and B. I. Tikili (from Nembe) became a headmaster. Through Chief Nwogu and his kindreds of Umuola Egbelu in North-east Aba, the Cliffords got a piece of land on lease hold for their house.
In January 2008, at a Management Meeting of Adventist Secondary Technical College (ASTEC), Owerrinta, the idea of actualizing the “College” aspect of the School’s name culminated in the need to establish a College. This matter was discussed and referred to the Executive Committee of then Eastern Nigerian Union Mission (ENUM). Thus during the 2008 ENUM Mid-Year meeting, ENUM Executives under the leadership of Pastor Gideon C. Nwaogwugwu (President), Pastor (Dr.) Bassey E. O. Udoh (Executive Secretary), and Elder Emmanuel G. Manilla (Treasurer), inaugurated a Committee for the establishment of a Vocational College at Owerrinta. Members of this Committee were: Pastor Kanelechi C. K. Nwangwa, Ph.D. (Chair), Professors Christian U. Iroegbu, Nathaniel C. Nwezeaku, Friday M. Mbon, C. N. Bariko, Arthur Nwafor, Mathew Wegwu and Gabriel N. Okwandu. Others were Elder Naboth H. A. Nwafor, Ph.D., Engr. Kevin N. Nwaiwe, Elder A. C. Ogbonna, Ph.D., Elder M. N. Agbarevo, Ph.D., Mrs. Kate Ndukuba, Ph.D., and Mrs. Yetunde E. Alozie, Ph.D.
This Committee recommended that instead of establishing a “College,” it was better to have a conventional university at Owerrinta. At the Year-End meeting in 2008, the Executive Committee of ENUM voted to accept the recommendation of the Committee and subsequently extended its mandate. The Committee now became statutory and it was called “The Technical Committee for the Establishment of a University in Eastern Nigeria Union Mission.” The Committee further considered several names and finally proposed the name “Clifford University,” in memory of the evangelical, sacrificial, and educational exploits of Pastor and Mrs. Jesse Clifford. The ENUM Executive Committee equally approved the recommendation that the proposed university be sited at Owerrinta. A major reason for choosing Owerrinta was because of the vast land which the Adventist Secondary Technical College, under the leadership of Dr. K. C. K. Nwangwa (Principal), Elder James Onyendi (Vice-Principal Academic), and Elder Daniel Nwaejike (Vice-Principal Administration), had acquired from the Umuogbu kindred.
By 2010, there was a slight change in the administrative structure at the Union. Pastor (Dr.) Bassey Udoh became the President, Pastor (Dr.) Kingsley C. Anonaba became the Secretary, Elder Emmanuel G. Manilla remained as the Treasurer, while Dr. (Mrs.) Yetunde Alozie became the Education Director. The leadership of the Technical Committee changed and Prof. Benson O. Oluikpe became the new Chairman and Dr (Mrs.) Yetunde E. Alozie, the new Education Director became the Secretary. More members were co-opted into the Technical Committee, including Elder Josiah O. Anonaba, ENUM Associate Education Director and Ms Ngozi Dike, then a Principal in the Abia State Ministry of Education. After a while, Prof. B. O. Oluikpe withdrew his membership and Dr. (Mrs.) Yetunde E. Alozie took over the leadership of the Committee.
However, in 2012, there was a divine intervention. The then Governor of Abia State, Chief T. A. Orji decided to hand over some schools to the original missionary owners. Thus, on Friday, September 14, 2012 by 11:00 a.m. in Umuahia, the State Capital, our schools at Ihie were returned to the Adventist Church. These Institutions were established on the same campus formerly as Nigeria Training College (NTC), in 1948 and Adventist High School (AHS) in February 1953, respectively, with 28 students and Canadian-born Lawrence Downing as the first Principal of Teachers Training College (TTC). With the return of the land at Ihie by Governor Orji, and the existence of some old buildings, the Technical Committee, in consultation with the ENUM leadership under Pastor (Dr.) Bassey E. O. Udoh, recommended that the facilities at Ihie be used as a take-off Campus of Clifford University. Later, following a passionate appeal from the Church through Elder (Dr.) Emmanuel O. Adaelu, MFR, Governor Orji signed the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for the two campuses of Clifford University at Ihie and Owerrinta, on July 16, 2013. The amount the Church would have paid for this (in millions of Naira) was graciously “waived” by the Governor because “of the good education the SDA Church is bringing to Abia State.”
The Church voted to temporarily leave the 112.16 hectares of land already acquired at Owerrinta as a campus of the University, and to take off at Ihie after renovating the old buildings and constructing new ones and to start the development of Owerrinta as funds became available. Some of the old boys of the defunct Adventist High School include: Prof. Christain U. Iroegbu, (Rtd. Professor of Microbiology, the consultant for laboratory furnishing and pioneer Dean, Faculty of Science, Clifford University; Prof. Friday M. Mbon, University of Calabar (Visiting Professor of Religious Studies and pioneer Dean, Faculty of Humanities, Clifford University); Hon. Emeka Wogu, (former Minister of Labour and Productivity); Navy Commander Ebitu Ukaiwe (Second-in-Command to General Ibrahim Babangida); late Engr. Uzoma Azuogu; Senator Enyinna Abaribe (current Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria); Dr. (Mrs.) Salome Okwubunka (former Director of Education, ENUM); and Dr. Okezie V. Ikpeazu (present Executive Governor of Abia State), among others.