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USAfrica: Tribute to Africa’s first Professor of Philosophy, Uzodinma Nwala

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By Dr. Dozie Chukwuokolo

Special to USAfrica [Houston] & USAfricaonline.com

It was on September 25, 1995 that I came — alongside new entrants –into the department of philosophy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. We were received by the HOD Rev. Fr. Prof. Chukwudum B. Okolo. In his evergreen speech, Fr Okolo introduced all the staff to us both those present and absent. Dr C B Nze and Dr T U Nwala were on sabbatical, Dr Nwala was at Nigeria’s Constitutional conference.

At the department he had larger than life image as a man that the university community deferred to in terms of rectitude. We were told by older students of Dr Nwala’s training and tutelage of radical activists in Nigeria. Such names as Emma Ezeazu, Innocent Chukwuma, Chima Ubani etc were mentioned. We were so expectant of this enigma until our third year when he taught us Marxist Philosophy (Phil 313). It was such an electrifying experience that we realized the extent of what we missed.

We had lectures at ‘odd’ times- in the late evenings sometimes 7pm till 10pm on a very relaxed mood. He would sit down while teaching as a fall out from his recent title of Ikenga (mind you I said teaching not lecturing) He was indeed a teacher and never a lecturer. I met him at a closer range when I took two courses of his in African philosophy at the MA level. Upon my graduation, he was again at Abuja establishing the department of philosophy at the university of Abuja where he promised me an assistant lecturership position.

When I came to give him my application package, another of us now Dr Godwin Okaneme who was physically challenged came and Prof. told me “JC you can survive better than Goddy and I have decided to give him the position”. I felt so bad and cursed my ill luck that made Goddy appear same day that I had come. But on reaching back home I felt that after all his decision was so thoughtful and I decided to get closer to this man who could take this kind of decision- a decision I later saw for the depth of its meaning where the apparently weak are ever remembered in this society of survival of the fittest. 

This was a man that hardwork bestowed on him firsts in a lot of areas: first graduate of philosophy department of UNN, first Executive secretary of ASUU, First to write a book on Igbo philosophy, first to be promoted as Professor and backdated to 22 years, first to start African philosophy as a taught course in any university all over the world etc. Prof. Nwala had his teeth caught by certain experiences. He was a Marxist scholar who was properly grounded in Igbo culture. 

At the constitutional conference of 1994/95, he worked with late Dr Alex Ekwueme where he transmuted from an activist to a statesman. I recall in 2015 when at the house of Prof. Ango Abdullahi a former VC of ABU, he (Nwala) was reminded of how he and his friend Dr Bala Usman was a nightmare to all VCs by Ango himself. Ango wondered how he could transmute from an activist to a statesman during the conference. 

In fact, Prof. Nwala was in the gap when Nigeria was at the brink of collapse as they helped in making certain palliatives that kept Nigeria moving on again namely geographical zones, federal character etc. One of the highest points of his was in risking his life during the Abacha tyranny. Mandela had invited Nigerian leftists to South Africa for strategy sessions on how to put an end to the Abacha tyranny.

At the end, Mandela had a damning position that the tragedy of Nigeria was that there was no alternative to Abacha. This statement was the bug that woke Prof. Nwala from his dogmatic slumber. He initiated the process that led to the formation of the G-34 that ousted Abacha. The irony of life is that the name of the man who initiated the G-34 and actually drafted its document was missing from the document. In 2003, at the launch of the second edition of his book, Igbo Philosophy, the representative of Dr Ekwueme offered an explanation. According to him, Prof. Nwala’s name was removed from the document to save him as a public servant. Did they seek his permission before removing his name? The answer will be for another day. Prof. Nwala had his stint with partisan politics where he was the first director of strategy for PDP. Prof.’s relationship with Prof. Chinua Achebe is very important to his service to fatherland. He had worked with Achebe immediately after the Civil war nay genocide against ndi Igbo at the institute of African studies of UNN where they developed reasonable conviviality. So when Achebe his book, There was a country, he reached Prof. Nwala to lead the campaign not to allow certain elements in the Nigerian society to distract others from the message of the book.

While this was going on and the preparation for the international colloquium on the Igbo question in Nigeria; before, during and after Biafra was been prepared for, Achebe passed on. Prof. Nwala chaired the burial committee where I was one of his assistants. May be it was during this period that the revivalism that led to our decision to work for Ndigbo till the end of our lives was hatched. 

The two day colloquium came with the birth of ADF and the rest is history. I had touched all these historical experiences that led to the maturity of the man T U as he is fondly called by his associates.

His leadership style, role modeling and mentoring are second to none. He’s a man whose uncanny disposition can transform the Igbo nation from its disorderliness and disorganization to a model nation. Prof. Nwala is a model family man, model teacher, mentor and workaholic. He’s a man meant for this moment in Ala-Igbo. My prayer for his birthday (March 16, 1942) and the remaining years of his life is: do not falter in leading our people like Joshua to the promised land of Igbo freedom in the world.

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