Tribute From Prof. Onwuka Njoku

A TRIBUTE TO A DEAR FRIEND AND MENTOR

I was in my natal village in Ohafia, Abia State of Nigeria when one of the sons of Adiele Afigbo phoned to inform me that their father had passed on a few hours earlier. The news dumfounded and knocked me out for a variety of reasons. It was the most devastating news I have received in many years. Afigbo had been my mentor and intimate friend since I graduated from the University of Nigeria where he was my teacher in the 1970s. In recent months, we had been in almost daily contact, discussing a wide range of issues, including academic research projects. We had virtually arrived at a final decision regarding the publication of some of the papers presented at the International and Inter-disciplinary Conference held at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in his honor. And he had been scheduled to feature prominently in a special anniversary of the University of Ibadan of which he was its first PhD product. All these and many more other projects suddenly seem to go forlorn.

The passing on of this “academic warrior” and guru is without a shred of doubt a tragedy of staggering proportions to the study of Igbo history and culture and the Igbo nation, as well as the Nigerian academic community. That Afigbo salvaged Igbo History from a state of obscurity and stereotyping to that of national and international recognition and acceptance is not in doubt. There is hardly any aspect of Igbo history and culture – ancient and modern – that he did not burrow into with outstandingly refreshing results.

Something else about this academic guru seems to go beyond the ordinary. The conference which we held at Nsukka in his honor kicked off on 8th December, 2008. That day was Monday and happened to be a Muslim holiday in Nigeria. This academic giant passed on exactly three months later, 9th March, 2009, which happened, curiously enough, to be Monday and a Muslim holiday in Nigeria. Muslim holidays are no ordinary days because they resonate with history; the same can be said of Afigbo: his name resonates with history and he certainly was not an ordinary historian.

The indefatigable warrior has laid down his arm at last, leaving on the rock of time footprints too indelible to be erased. This fact should serve as consolation to all his admirers, friends, colleagues and relations, including his children, even amidst our tears of sorrow. To his countless lieutenants he has left behind, the challenge is to keep a loft the academic banner which he hoisted about half a century ago and kept it flapping till his last hour.

Fare you well Adiele. May our extraordinary spirit and soul repose peacefully in the eternal care of God, the Almighty. AMEN.

Onwuka Njoku

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