FAMILY OF PROFESSORS
Their father, Mallam Aliyu Amali, was a peasant farmer in the village without education. Yet, all the Amalis were educated to the extent that among the people of Benue State, they are known as a family of professors and doctors of philosophy. Their wives are also professors, associate professors and PhD holders.
Aside that when one is educated such wants the wife to be the same, the reason the Amalis insist that their wives must rank high educationally among other Idoma women was based on the advice handed down to them by their father. They hold that to a very high esteem, so they do not joke with that fatherly counseling.
Professor Idris, the second in rank among the seven professors in the Amali family, told Saturday Sun that in the family marrying an educated woman or sending their wives to school is a topmost priority because, 'our father had told us to make sure that we train all our wives to be educated also because we will die before them. So by the time you die before your wife you must have left a valuable and highly educated wife to take care of your children.'
He disclosed that in the family, they have an uncle who died in 1956, but his wife just died two years ago. 'That is to say she was there for about 53 years after the husband's death. That does not mean a wife cannot die before the husband, but in Idoma tradition it is believed that the husband dies leaving the wife.'
This adherence to their father's instruction has entrenched a tradition in the family that no woman married there has less than a master's degree. 'So it is very correct to say that ours is a family of professors. It is a family where all the men want to be professors. They also want their wives to be professors and those who have not attained that height make all efforts to be there. Our elder brother and his wife, Ebele Amali, are professors. Myself Professor Idris Amali, I am second in seniority among the rank of professors in the family.
We have Professor Emeli Amali and Professor Okwoli Amali, who is a professor of Microbiology. The wife of Prof. Okwoli is a PhD holder but will become a professor soon by the special grace of God. In fact, when the wife of our elder brother became a professor of economics in the University of Ilorin, when her husband was the Vice Chancellor, her inaugural lecture in 2007, entitled Gendernomics: Of Women, Work and Experience, was quite remarkable. Of course you know that a sound inaugural lecture stands a professor out. It is already a family tradition that we want to see all our wives become professors so that we have Professor and Professor (Mrs.) as our elder brother is always introduced in functions.''
Disclosing that this zeal combined with hard work had always trailed the family members wherever they found themselves and even bring the best out of them, he recalled that about 30 years ago he was the first President of the Student Union Government (SUG) in the University of Jos.
He added: 'Indeed, ours is a family of academics where scholarship is a priority. In most things we do we rank among the best. We have up to seven doctorate degree holders in the family. We have them in the US. We have a Nuclear Physicist in the family. He is in the US. He ranks among the best around. If Nigeria is serious it should look for Dr. Amali. He is a nuclear expert. He was among the first batch to be sent to the US from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. After his PhD in Nuclear Studies, the US government took notice of him and invited him over because the nuclear programme he was championing was abandoned by the Nigerian government.''
Another feather on the scholarly cap of the Amalis is the fact that they produced the first professor of Theatre Arts to become a Vice-Chancellor in Nigeria in the person of Prof. Shamsdeen Onyilokwu. He was the former VC of University of Ilorin, now VC, Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK). He was the first professor of Theatre Arts in northern Nigeria. In his tenure as VC in Unilorin, he played a remarkable role as the Vice President of Association of African Universities (AAU), made of up 199 universities in 45 African countries between 2005 and 2009. In addition to these, Prof. Shamsdeen, a prominent bilingual playwright, is the first Nigerian to obtain a doctorate degree in modern drama and subsequently he became the first professor of the same modern drama in Nigeria.
In bilingual writing, in theatre arts circle, Prof. Shamsdeen, who writes both in Idoma language and English, is respected like the late Associate Professor Bode Osanyin, a playwright, who wrote in Yoruba and English. Their works, written in these native languages, have been described in the culture sector as a legacy to African heritage. He was conferred the national merit award of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Then Idris, professor of Oral Literature in the literary community, is known to have done the first bibliographic compilation on Nigerian oral poetry, Bibliography of Oral Poetry in Nigeria that has more than 2000 references. In Idoma and Igala kingdoms, he is known to have done remarkable works, like Bibliography on Idoma and Bibliography on Igala which help researchers in those areas in doing good literature reviews in their projects and theses. Bongos Ikwue, a famous Idoma musician, once admitted that the Bibliography on Idoma carefully documented the Idoma nation as it showcased its culture, cosmology, literature, politics, economy and its entire worldview.
Professor Okwoli Amali, in line with this excellence in the family, has made remarkable researches that were published in several reputable national and international journals. 'In addition to all these, we have over 16 graduates in the Amali family. It is a tradition that in the family you must make second class upper or first class. Some of our graduates have started pursuing their master's and even doctorate degrees. We will sustain this academic quality in the family. We are educating those coming behind to see the need for the value of education they have all embraced.'
When asked the secret behind this academic tradition in the family, he said their uneducated father who was a farmer instituted it. 'Our father was highly disciplined. He went to the farm every day, except on Sundays. This is because our farms are five kilometers away. It is community kind of farm, where people will live and go to the farm together and come back. Our father was not educated but he stopped us from taking jobs with our first school leaving certificate. He insisted we must all further our education. Some of my colleagues joined the army. But when we finished, my father said none of us will join the military or work. I was supposed join the Biafran army, but my father said because the there was looting, none of his children would be part of that.
'The old man saw value in education and trained us. He was a great farmer and we all rallied round the first son, Prof. Amali Snr. When he was in Ibadan and Lagos, we would carry yams on our head to the town and deliver to those who will send them to him to Lagos. We continued like that because ours is a very coordinated and highly homogenous family. So education was our target and not money.'
The university scholar said one thing that goes for the family is that they feel humbled even as they love to train people who are not related to them. 'If you want education you are our friend. No mater where you come from; Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa etc. Once you have interest in education you are our friend. There was a professor who settled in our family. When he died he was buried by our family in our traditional home. This was because he saw a family that has value for education. This does not mean that other Idoma people do not have value for education, but he saw a family that is highly coordinated. We respected him. We did researches and published our works together. He was one of an influence on me.'