The University of Benin was established in 1970, during the years of military governance in Nigeria, with Gen. Yakubu Gowon as Head of State and Col. Samuel O. Ogbemudia as Military Governor of the Mid-western (present-day Edo and Delta) state. Originally named Midwest Institute of Technology (MIT), it was proposed as an external campus of University of Ibadan, to run technologically-oriented courses that were not readily available at older universities, while not duplicating the traditional courses offered there. Modelled after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA, it was designed to be equal in status with a University of Technology. However, it became autonomous and consequently elevated to a full-fledged university on 1st July 1971 by the NUC.
The pioneer Vice-chancellor was Professor Kenneth Robson Hill, a Briton and professor of pathology, but his tenure lasted only four months due to ill-health. World-renowned economist, Professor T.M. Yesufu, succeeded him and was the first indigenous Vice-Chancellor of the institution.
A change of name, to the University of Benin, was announced in a budget speech by Col. S.O. Ogbemudia, in April 1972. On 1st April 1975, at the request of the then Midwestern government, it was taken over by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Optometry was among the first set of innovative courses offered at the University. The first five (5) students to graduate from the course were Esenwah E.C, Kragha I.K.O.K, Mordi J.A, Akako P. and Kio F.E.