The university was established in 1981 through Law No. 4 passed by the Imo State House of Assembly, Owerri. This was amended by Edict 27 of 1985, another in 1986 and finally for the relocation by the Law No. 2 of 1992. Academic activities commenced at the temporary site located at the former Madonna High School, Ihitte, with Professor M. J. C. Echeruo as its First Vice-Chancellor. The decision to establish a State University arose when the absence of a Federal University was greatly left by the people of Imo State whose major industry is education. The State had so many qualified candidates who could not be admitted by the existing Universities.
The Government of Imo State under Chief Sam Mbakwe sought for and obtained the approval of the Federal Government for the establishment of Imo State University as a Liberal Studies tertiary institution in the State.
Initially the University was designed as a Multi-Campus Structure with one College to be located in each Senatorial District of the then Imo State with its main campus located at Etiti in the Okigwe Senatorial Zone while the Aba Campus, in Aba Zone, housed the College of Business and Legal Studies. The Multi-Campus structure was phased out because of logistics. They University was then relocated to Okigwe in one Campus.
The creation of Abia State in 1992 automatically meant that geographically the permanent site/campus of IMSU at Uturu Okigwe fell under Abia State's boundary. This led to the urgent establishment of Imo State University Owerri by Governor Evan Enwerem and eventual mandate and relocation of Federal University of Owerri (FUTO) from IMSU's present day Lake Nwaebere Campus to FUTO's present day Ihiagwa Campus.
Imo State University at Owerri was temporary accommodated within the campus of Alvan Ikoku College of Education from May to December 1992. The University later moved to its own premises of four building within the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, at the Lake Nwaebere Campus. All the translocation of the Federal University to the permanent site, Ihiagwa near Owerri, the Lake Nwaebere Campus of that university was then acquired for Imo State University. The first batch of students was allocated to the Imo State University by JAMB in February 1993. The National Universities Commission also formally approved the re-establishment of the University in 1992 at the Lake Nwaebere Campus.
Consequently, the government of Chief Evan Enwerem, in April, 1991 did not waste time in filling the vacuum by re-establishing the University in Owerri. Two options were considered by the government in the re-establishment of Imo State University at Owerri. The first option was to move at once, all staff and students at the various stages of their programmes in Uturu who want to remain in Imo State University, now in Owerri. The second option was to rebuild the University at Owerri over specified period of time. The second option was adopted after various constitutions by government then, and a target period of 5 years within which to complete re-establishment of the University at Owerri was considered. Professor T. O. C. Ndubizu, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka was then appointed the Vice-Chancellor with the enormous responsibility of relocating and re-establishing Imo State University.
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