By Samuel Okafor
From his myopic bubble Femi Fani Kayode claims the Yoruba were the first to acquire Western education; the first ever known record of a literate Nigerian in the English Language is the narrative of an Igbo slave who regained his freedom and documented his life history as a slave from the time he was 11 years old in present day Igbo land till the time when he gained his freedom in the middle of the 18th century. He later married an English woman and had 3 children. He died in 1795. Femi, a basic Google-research will do you good here; check out the name, Equanoh OLAODAH. Further Femi claims that the Yoruba were the first lawyers and doctors in Nigeria. This is again a big falsehood. The first Nigeria doctor was an Effik man Silas G. Dove who obtained a medical degree from France and returned to practise medicine in 1840 in Calabar. This fact can also be verified from historical medical records in Paris.
I would also ask that you google the name BLYDEN – Edward Wilmot BLYDEN – an educated son of free Igbo slaves who by the mid-19th century had acquired sound theological education. He was born in Saint Thomas in 1832. He is one of the founding missionaries that established the Archbishop Vining church in Ikeja. Before the next time you succumb to your long-running battle with logorrhoea, Femi please do some research.
What about the third president of a free Liberia – President J J. Royle – again, a man of Igbo descent. Please take some time to do some research so that we can discuss constructively. It is wrong to peddle lies to your people. It is academic fraud to knowingly misrepresent facts just to score cheap points with people who do not have the discipline to do research and accept anything you pour out simply because they say you are well educated. To again quote the great Nobel Prize Winner in Economics Joseph Stiglitz; Femi fits into the category of third rate students from first rate universities with an inflated sense of self-importance. Let’s go on!
Who was the first Nigerian Professor of Mathematics – an Ibo man – Professor Chike Obi – the man who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. He was followed by another Igbo man, Professor James Ezeilo, Professor of Differentail Calculus and the founder of the Ezeilo Constant. Please do some research on this great Igbo man. He later became the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria Nsukka and one of the founders of the Nigerian Mathematical Centre.
Who was Nigeria’s first Professor of History – Professor Kenneth Dike who published the first account of trade in Nigeria in pre-colonial times. He was also the first African Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan.
Who was the first Professor of Microbiology – Professor Eni Njoku; he was also the first African Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos.
Anatomy and Physiology – Professor Chike Edozien is an Asaba man and current Obi of Asaba. Who was the first Professor of Anatomy at the University College Ibadan? Who was the first Professor of Physics? Professor Okoye, who became a Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1960. He was followed by the likes of Professor Alexander Anumalu who has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Physics three times for his research in Intermediate Quantum Physics. He was also a founding member of the Nigerian Mathematical Centre. Nuclear Physics and Chemistry – again another Ibo man – Professor Frank Ndili who gained a Ph.D in his early ’20s at Cambridge University in Nuclear Physics and Chemistry in the early ’60s. This young Asaba man had made a First Class in Physics and Mathematics at the then University College Ibadan in the early ’50s. First Professor of Statistics – Professor Adichie who’s research on Non-Parametric Statistics led to new areas in statistical research. What about the first Nigerian Professor of Medicine – Professor Kodilinye – he was appointed a Professor of Medicine at the University of London in 1952. He later became the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria Nsukka after the war. What about Astronomy – again another Ibo man was the first Professor of Astronomy – please, look up Professor Ntukoju – he was the first to earn a double Ph.D in Astronomy and Mathematics.
Let’s go to the Social Sciences – Demography and statistical research into population studies – again another Igbo man – Professor Okonjo who set up the first Centre for Population Research in Ibadan in the early ’60s. A double Ph.D in Mathematics and Economics.
Philosophy – Professor G.D. Okafor, who became a Professor of Philosophy at the Amherst College USA in 1953. Economics – Dr. Pius Okigbo who became a visiting scholar and Professor of Economics at the University of London in 1954. He is also the first Nigerian Ph.D in Economics. Theology and theological research – Professor Njoku who became the first Nigerian to earn a Ph.D in Theology from Queens University Belfast in Ireland. He was appointed a Professor of Theology at the University College Zambia in 1952.
I am still conducting research in areas such as Geography where it seems a Yoruba man, Professor Mabogunje, was the first Professor. I also am conducting research into who was the first Nigerian Professor of English, Theatre Arts, Languages, Business and Education, Law and Engineering, Computer Technology, etc. Nigerians need to be told the truth and not let the lies that Femi Fani-Kayode has been selling to some ignorant Yoruba who feel that to be the first to see the white man and interact with him means that you are way ahead of other groups. The Igbo as the great Achebe said had within a span of 40 years bridged the gap and even surpassed the Yoruba in education by the ’60s. Many a Yoruba people perpetually indulge in self-deceit: that they were the first to go to school; to be exposed to Western education; that they are academically ahead of other Nigerian people. Another ignorant lie.
As far back as 1495 the Benin Empire maintained a diplomatic presence in Portugal. This strategic relationship did not just stop at a mere mission but extended to areas such as education. Scores of young Benin men were sent out to Portugal to study and lots of them came back with advanced degrees in Medicine, Law and Portuguese Language, to name a few.
Indeed, some went with their Yoruba and Igbo slaves who served the sons of the Benin nobility while they studied in Portugal. These are facts that can be verified by the logs kept by ship owners in Portugal from 1494 to 1830. It is kept at the Portuguese Museum of Geographic History in Lisbon.
Why then would several Yoruba people peddle all these falsehoods to show that they are ahead educationally in Nigeria? The true facts from the Federal Office of Statistics on education tell otherwise, showing that 3 Igbo States for the past 12 years have constantly had the largest number of graduates in the country, producing more graduates than Ondo, Osun, Ekiti and Oyo states. These eastern states are Imo, Anambra and Abia. Yet he calls Igbos, traders. Indeed, the Igbos dominate because excellence dominates mediocrity – truth.
Let me enlighten this falsehood’s mouthpiece even further: before the civil war the Igbos controlled and dominated all institutions in the formal sector in Nigeria from the universities to the police to the military to politics:
The first Black Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan was an Igbo man
The first Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos was an Igbo man
The first Nigerian Rector of the then Yaba College of Technology was also an Igbo man
The police was run by an Igbo IG
The military as a professional institution was also run by elite-ilk Igbos.
Facts can never be hidden. To be first does not mean you would win the race; let us open up all our institutions and may the best man win. Let us not depend on handouts or privileges but on hard work. Let us compete and give the best positions to our brightest – be it Ibo, Yourba or Fulani, and then we shall see who is the most successful Nigerian.
I find it difficult not to respond to some of these long-held lies that are constantly peddled by Yorubas. One is that the Yoruba have the largest number of professors in the country. I would again ask that we stick to facts and statistical records. The Nigerian Universities Commission has a record of the state with the largest number of professors on their records and as at 2010 that state is Imo State followed by Ondo State and then Anambra State; the next state is Ekiti and then Delta before Kwara State. I am sure you Yorubas are surprised. When you sit in the South-West do not think others are sleeping.
I wish to address another historical fact and that is who were the first Nigerians to receive Western education. It is important that these issues be examined in their historical context and evidence through research be presented for all to examine.
I have continued my research for as the great sociologist and father of modern sociology – Emile Durkheim – put it, the definition of a situation is real in its consequence. What this simply means is that one must never allow a perceived falsehood to become one’s reality and by extension individuals who accept a defined position act as though the situation is real and apply themselves in that narrowly defined perspective.
Why is this important to state it is because for long the Yoruba have peddled lies that have almost become accepted as the truth by other Nigerians but it is important that we lay down the facts for others to examine and come to their own conclusion for facts are facts. Let’s go back to education. Historically, Western education resulted as a product of indigenous ethnic groups interacting with the whites through trade. The dominant groups sold slaves, ivory gold and a host of other products to their European counterparts in exchange for finished goods – wine, tobacco, mirrors, etc.
The Bini who were the dominant military force from the 15th to the 19th century raided and sold other ethnicities to the Europeans. Top on the list of those they sold were the Yoruba, Igbo and Igala. Various other ethnicities suffered as a result of the Bini military expansion. And the Benin Kingdom stretched from present-day Benin up to what is now geographically referred to as Republic of Togo. Indeed, the influence of the Benin Empire extended to the banks of the river Niger to present-day Onitsha. There are huge Yoruba settlements in the Anioma part of Delta State who fled Yoruba land as a result of these attacks and constant raids. Yes, there are Yoruba people who are currently living with Igbos in the Igbo-speaking part of Delta and they are full citizens of the place no one refers to them as strangers and there is no talk about the Igbos being the host community like we hear from the Governor of Lagos State. But let me return to research. Slaves were moved from the hinterland to the coast and many were sold through Eko to the New World. These slaves were the first to encounter the Europeans and by extension their way of life – this included education in a Western sense. The Bini King had taken pains to establish a diplomatic presence in Portugal and the relationship developed into areas that extended beyond trade in the late 15th century and lasted well into the early 19th century. Scores of young Bini youth were sent to Portugal and studied there, coming back with advanced degrees in various disciplines. The next sets of people to receive Western education were the slaves themselves. Some of them managed to buy their freedom and develop themselves further.
For the Igbo it does not matter who your father is; the question is: Who are you? Who was Obasanjo’s father? Was he the most educated Nigerian? I am sure the answer is no. Yet this Great Nigeria led this nation two times as a military Head of State and as a Civilian President. What about Goodluck Ebele Jonathan? Who was his own father? Was he the first Nigerian to go to London? The answer is no. In fact, he had no shoes, yet he is fully in charge. So it does not matter if your father was the first Lawyer or first Doctor in Nigeria but rather what matters is what an individual does with the talents the Almighty has given to him. Let us open up Nigeria for competition. That is the solution to our problems. Those who want privileges keep reminding us that their fathers were the first to go to school in London. Every generation produces its own leaders and champions. Like Dangote who is the biggest employer of labour in Nigeria today and the richest man in Africa. Was his father the first to go to study in London? Yet he is the master of people whose parents gave them the best. My brothers, the answer to the Nigerian problem is that we should establish a merit-driven society. “I get am before” no be property.
Samuel Okafor has a PhD in History.