HOW I RULED MY COMMUNITY IN ABIA FROM UNN â€“ PROF ONONOGBU
After 39 years as a University don laced with local administration, His Royal Highness, Eze Prof Ikendu Ononogbu, took a bow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to now serve his people in Nkpa, Abia State on full-time Ononogbu, a consummate Lipid Biochemistry Professor had reached the apex of his career as a university teacher and only eight years ago he was unanimously made the traditional ruler of Nkpa, a sleepy railway community in Abia.
Thus he had combined his university work with the rulership of his community in the past eight years.
The Lipid Biochemistry professor is the last of the young university graduates who took appointment in the University of Nigeria in 1971 after the civil war.
And only recently, this scientist and crusader who has made remarkable impact in the area of lipid studies for the past four decades, rendered account of his stewardship via the academic ritual of a valedictory lecture.
The occasion hosted at the UNN Princess Alexandria Hall, attracted who is who in lipid science from home and abroad, most of them Ononogbu's students.
The occasion was an admixture of the presence of royal as well as academic gurus, chaired by no other than the Asagba of Asaba and also a lipid scientist, Eze, Prof, Edozien.
In attendance also, were members of Bende Council of Traditional Rulers led by Eze Uche Elukwa and Eze Jerry Nwogu.
Ononoegbu's 25-man cabinet was led by the traditional Prime Minister, Chief G.C Ofondu; Palace Secretary, Elder B.C Ndajii and B.M Onwuka, the PRO.
The lipid crusader-cum-royal father spoke to Daily Sun at the end of the occasion facilitated by the Faculty of Biochemical Science, headed by Prof Obi Njoku.
Difference between inaugural and valedictory lectures
An inaugural lecture is delivered by a newly inaugurated professor. The lecture gives him the opportunity to prove to his colleagues that he deserves his professorial position. It gives him the opportunity to show what he professes. Similarity, valedictory lecture comes when the professor is retiring and this gives him the opportunity to tell the world and university community what he has used his position to achieve as a professor all the period he has been in the university system; his researches, inventions and publications.
I give God the glory
I have put in 39 years of service in the university. I started in 1971 as a junior lecturer. I think I have to give thanks to God for keeping me for this long period and in good health. All my pears and colleagues have since bowed out. We are the first set of junior fellows in the UNN and we stared in 1971. I am grateful to God for making me reach the apex position of a teacher in the university. I thank God particularly because God has helped me to bring up a number of professors and I have turned out students who are now professors, vice chancellors, eminent scholars and scientists. I can say that I am the last of the 'Modecans.'
Combining academics with traditional rulership
The positions were quite a lot of pressure on me. I had to shuttle between Nsukka and Nkpa, my community in Abia State most of the time. This was a lot of pressure on me. But I think the experience was worthwhile. To cope, I had to set up appropriate machinery to ensure my absence at home would not militate against my performance as traditional ruler. I go to Nkpa weekly. I delegated functions to committees and liaise with town union chairman regularly.
My cabinet is mixed. I have very intelligent people in my cabinet. Some are academicians, businessmen and leaders of thought. A traditional ruler ought to recognize that he is the number one citizen of the community as well as the chief security officer.
I was made traditional ruler on a platter of gold
The traditional stool of Nkpa which I am now occupying was given to me by my people on a platter of gold. There was no contest. When they approached me, the condition I gave them was that I would oblige provided it will not be contested. Initially I had rejected the offer. They abided by the agreement and I became traditional ruler in 2002.
My achievements so far
I have made modest achievements in the development of my community within these few years I have been on the throne as Eze of Nkpa Community. These include the reactivation and renovation of the disused Nkpa post office; our greatest problems now are roads, water and rural electricity.
In this regard, I have made useful contacts with the powers that be and in no distant future, these vital democracy dividends will be provided. Also, I attracted the European Union to build classrooms for our primary school.
Culture and masquerades
One erroneous impression many people make is to criticize their culture. I have always told my colleagues and the church that what we traditional rulers should do is to abolish aspects of the culture that are harmful and detrimental to society, or re-model them; I am currently working out proposal to resuscitate my community's age grade system. We intend to infuse new ideas and life into it.
Those who do not honour their past will soon go into extinction. Masquerades in the olden days are regarded as fetish, but in this modern time, they are not. In my community, we have eleven masquerade types.
They perform during festivals. What we can do is to re-model them. For instance, in one of the festival where masquerades performed in our community, I brought a priest to sanctify the ceremony and say prayers to God and commit the activities to God. New Yam Festival is meant to organize people to collectively give thanks to God for harvest. Breaking of kolanut and calling the name of our ancestors have nothing bad. It is another form of prayer; some say why is the kolanut given to the ancestors by throwing it on the ground and I ask them where else could it have been put, in the air? It is the same prayer that the pastor or the priest says; I don't see why we should be deprived of practicing our own culture.
My legacies after 39 years
I think that if I come back, I will still do everything the way I did it before. I will say Nigeria and largely in Africa when you talk about lipids, they will mention my name. I have been able to create awareness on what can be done. I have been able to train people who will take over from me and as I said earlier on, it is from this my programme that people started having specialized association on lipids. What I believe in is if you are a teacher, bring your students in such a way that there is community. If I leave this university without having somebody to succeed me, then I have failed. Thank God that I have successors scattered all over Nigerian universities and polytechnics.
I don't think I have any regrets at all. I articulated in my valedictory lecture what any vice chancellor wishing to succeed here should do in order to succeed. The university community is a global village in a global community. The village should be made stable for the global world. People coming there will discover that what are in Britain, America is also there. This will help make staff travelling abroad to adapt easily. The UNN master plan has since been abandoned in favour of random project plans. Much is left undone in the area of information technology and enhancement of general esthetics of the university environment.