The death has been announced of Professor Ebere Onwudiwe, a renowned economist, political scientist, prolific writer, promoter of Afro-optimism, and respected public intellectual. According to family sources, he died on Saturday, January 9, “due to…complications of the global pandemic.” He was born on October 10, 1952, and is from Isunjaba in Imo State of Nigeria, where he held the traditional title of Mba 1 of Isunjaba.
Apart from having a doctorate degree in Political Science, he also acquired postgraduate degrees in Economics and International Relations. He held several local and international positions in his lifetime, including serving as professor of Political Science at the Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, where he also became Director of the Centre for African Studies and Executive Director of the Centre for International Studies.
The late Professor Onwudiwe was equally a governance consultant at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and, until recently, was a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development, as well as the Lagos Business School. Until his death, Mr Onwudiwe was a regular commentator on contemporary issues and a well-read columnist with PREMIUM TIMES.
One of his closest associates, along with whom he was a Fellow of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development, Jibrin Ibrahim, could barely contain his shock at the rather unfortunate demise of the renowned scholar. For Mr Ibrahim, a professor, “the death of Prof. Onwudiwe is painful. He was a perfect gentleman, good friend, committed nationalist and fine scholar that so many of us will miss dearly. He gave up a high-flying academic career in the United States to contribute his quota to the development of his country.”
Another close associate, Pat Utomi, the founder of Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), described the late scholar as a passionate intellectual and afro-optimist, who left indelible marks wherever he worked. Mr Utomi, a professor, recalled their meeting many years ago, during one of the gatherings that Mr Onwudiwe convened for prominent African scholars in America. He further described the late professor as a person someone who took particular interest in the challenge of Afro-pessimism and deliberately promoted a positive flip for Africa through his numerous persuasive writings on Afro-optimism.
Just about two weeks ago during a ceremony in Mr Onwudiwe’s village, veteran journalist Ray Ekpu recalled how he met the late professor many years ago in the United States of America and persuaded him to come home. This was the call that he finally heeded on retirement from active teaching in the American university system.
The deceased is survived by a son, MbaMemme; daughters, Chinwe and ObiAwo; wife; and a number of other family members. Other prominent Nigerians like Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation and Steve Azaiki of the House of Representatives responded in shock to the death of Mr Onwudiwe and prayed to God for the repose of his soul.
Sam Amadi, a former Director General of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), described Mr Onwudiwe as a quintessential public intellectual, the news of whose passing is, “very sad and surprising.” To Mr Amadi, “COVID19 has now finally hit home. It has taken someone who is so close. I have known Professor Ebere Onwudiwe for more than 12 years. I met him first at an international conference organised by the Harvard African Law Student Association and the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. He was one of the distinguished speakers. As usual, he was brilliant on his submission on democracy and development. But he won our hearts with his charm and friendliness. He cared so much about our work as graduate students and encouraged us in our passion to gain insights about the African predicament.”
Mr Amadi further observed that, “unlike some of the African scholars who are either pessimistic or unduly optimistic about Africa’s future, Prof. had clarity about the challenges of development in the continent but maintained (a) healthy hope that African scholars and statesmen have what it takes to resolve these challenges. It was love of country that made Professor Ebere return to Nigeria to join other intellectuals and activists in the struggle for democracy and development. Until his death, he remained a firm believer in the future of Nigeria and the African continent, and through his writings, he promoted human rights based governance.”
“I collaborated with Ebere on many such initiatives to bring together public officers and academic researchers to seek solutions to Nigeria’s many economic and political crises. I cannot forget the experience of traveling with Ebere, Professor Jega and many other scholars and human rights lawyers to all the Nigerian military establishment to promote ideas about civil-military relations. Professor Onwudiwe was a patriot who believed in the future of Nigeria. He belonged to many leading think tanks and policy forums in the country. He built formidable partnership with many first rate scholars and intellectuals across ethnic and religious divides in Nigeria”,Mr Amadi said.
Also, “As an eclectic intellectual, Ebere synthesised his strong Igbo cultural consciousness and his commitment to universal values into a strong passion for social justice and democratic accountability. I will miss him for his solidarity, humility and positive energy as a collaborator in many policy and intellectual engagements. We had planned to establish a policy centre to drive innovation in governance. Now that dream has been shattered. Professor Ebere left too early. He left a big void. He left a sore pain.”
Dakuku Peterside, the immediate past Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), had this to say: “It is shocking to hear of the death of Ebere Onwudiwe who till recently was Chairman of Governing Board of Development and Leadership Institute (DLI). Prof. Onwudiwe was by every standard a great thinker and an expert in opening people’s minds to see things from a new perspective. He was an accomplished academic and a patriot per excellence who can go to any length to see a more equitable and more prosperous Nigeria. He was a true global citizen. We shall miss one of our very best intellectuals”.
Another ally of the late scholar, who is presently a Fellow at Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa (FLCA) at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Uche Igwe, described Mr Onwudiwe as a consummate thinker and prolific writer. He recalled their initial meeting with one Heiner Woller of the GTZ during the preparatory days of the Niger Delta master plan. Mr Igwe recollected their collaboration on several projects and how the late professor showed exemplary humility by relating freely with people who were far junior to him in age and experience. According to him, Mr Onwudiwe was an active mind and unrepentant patriot who understood the Nigerian political landscape deeply and still had a lot to offer to the country.
As pointed out by Mr Igwe, although Onwudiwe was Igbo, he was very inclusive in his approach and style, and highly cosmopolitan in his outlook. Mr Igwe described Mr Onwudiwe’s death as a most untimely and a devastating loss, as the pandemic has once again taken away a seminal mind, who was more so an intellectual bridge builder. He joined others to offer condolences to the Onwudiwe family, alongside friends and associates grieving his loss at this time.
Jerome Okolo, founder of Safi Africa Energy Limited and General Secretary of the National Think Tank stated that Mr Onwudiwe’s death is the shocking loss of a great man, a gentle soul, a lucid intellect and rare kind of person, who was strongly committed to daily exertions to make the Nigerian homeland a much better, equitable, developed and prosperous place. He added that for his work, Mr Onwudiwe was highly acclaimed across the world; he was full of ideas and energy, and never passed on any opportunity to help others. Mr Onwudiwe’s belief that charity must begin at home also informed his enormous contributions to his native Isunjaba and the general Igboland.
While the Canada-based Professor of Criminology, Tope Oriola, considered Mr Onwudiwe’s demise as “a massive loss”, for the Director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Africa Office, Kole Shettima, “this is a very sad news. May his soul rest in peace.”
To the Publisher of PREMIUM TIMES, Dapo Olorunyomi, the demise of the noted scholar on Afro-optimism is “a truly crippling tragedy. Just renders you numb. Ebere was civil, sensitive and decent in the best sense of the words. A deeply painful loss.”
In terms of the burial of Mr Onwudiwe, the family has stated that he would be buried immediately in their village in Isu-Njaba, Imo State, in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. However a proper burial ceremony will be announced and held at a later date.
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