The news of the death of Prof. Peter P. Ekeh which was carried yesterday by Sundiata Post and tilted: ‘Tears As World Acclaimed Nigerian Scholar, Prof Peter Ekeh, Passes On At 83’ (See https://sundiatapost.com/tears-as-world-acclaimed-nigerian-scholar-prof-peter-ekeh-passes-on-at-83/) came to me as a shock as one of his students. The joy, however, is that he lived a fulfilled life and left an indelible mark globally on the sands of academic and intellectual history.
One was very privileged to have been taught by many erudite and internationally distinguished lecturers at the University of Ibadan’s Political Science Department in the 70s and 80s of which Professor Peter P. Ekeh was remarkably outstanding. We saw him in our undergraduate years as a father figure who was very unassuming in the way he carried himself.
We were lucky to have been taught by him a political sociology course, containing one particular topic in the course outline that distinguished him more and more internationally. I am talking about his famous article titled: ‘Colonialism and the Two Publics in Africa: A Theoretical Statement’. It was very intellectually exciting listening to this topic from the horse’s mouth in his class. As a distinguished and well-known professor, I cannot be writing his biography here for Prof. Peter Ekeh is an open book. But I can only touch on an aspect that I can easily comment upon based on an experience with him.
But before going further, it is fitting to pay homage to my undergraduate supervisor, Prof. Alex Gboyega, whose high sense of humility in scholarship and teaching during our undergraduate years has significantly impacted on my academic career. I do not take it for granted any time I have the opportunity to acknowledge him publicly when talking about my University of Ibadan (UI) lecturers. This is one of such opportunities and one is very pleased that Prof. Gboyega is still strong and kicking. Any student must be highly blessed to be supervised by a lecturer who could be said to be good and exemplary. The outstanding virtues of selfless service of those years are fast vanishing in our academic institutions these days. What a pity.
A tribute to Professor Peter Ekeh is a delight because of two memorable encounters with him after graduating from UI. The first meeting was at the Kongo Conference Hotel, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, during the National Conference on Nigeria Since Independence, March 1983. The conference was organised by the Nigeria Since Independence History Panel chaired by Prof. T. N. Tamuno (eminent historian and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan). On arrival at the conference, I ran into my distinguished and highly revered lecturer, Prof. Peter Ekeh. I attended the prestigious conference as a mere (and somehow timid) graduate assistant from the then University of Sokoto and fresh from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). And surprised to see me, Prof. Ekeh asked why I was there, and I replied that “Sir, I am here to present a paper”. He became more delightfully surprised hearing that. He then made a joke that encouraged and gave me confidence in my career. The joke was “let us see how the Misters will compete with the PhDs” (i.e. the Drs). My paper for the conference, which came out from my undergraduate research project (supervised by the then Dr. Alex Gboyaga) to my delightful surprise was accepted on its merit by the panel. At the end of the day, he (and my former VC Prof. Tamuno) were very happy at my performance at the conference. Interestingly, the paper was among my first publications as a very young lecturer. It was a confidence-boosting experience.
The second encounter was at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY at Buffalo), United States of America, where Prof. Ekeh had settled after leaving UI. After over two decades of my graduation from UI, it was a great privilege to be appointed a visiting scholar (on short fellowship) in 2006 in this prestigious institution. I secured the fellowship without any knowledge that Prof. Ekeh was at SUNY at Buffalo. On settling down there, I was informed that a great Nigerian scholar was in the great institution. The rest is now history as all could guess rightly how happy he was to see me, coming directly from the University of Botswana, Southern Africa, at the time.
One of the good qualities of great scholars is to build confidence in their students who are very thirsty for good mentorship experience. There appears to be a vanishing culture of good mentorship also these days. We owe a lot to students in our own generation in keeping this encouraging culture going.
Prof. P. P. Ekeh played his part by challenging young minds to think critically and to excel. I count myself very lucky to have benefited from Prof. Peter P. Ekeh’s fountain of knowledge. May God bless his gentle soul – AMEN.