Ejighiato Chi's Tribute To Her Sweetheart: Ufan Fo (2003)

“I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.”

It was my first year in secondary school [Aggrey Memorial College] that I was exposed to some of my favorite poems and passages, which I remember till this day. The person who performed the “magic”, our English teacher, Mr. John Abili; a good teacher, who sensitized us to the love of the subject. Among these unforgettable poems are “Sunset And Evening Stars” by Alfred Lord Tennyson and “Out Of The Night” by William Henley.  

“Sunset and evening stars and one clear call for me and man.

And may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea …”  

This poem has been put to music and is available in hymn books. The author expressed a desire to “see his Pilot face to face” when “he had crossed the bar”.

For us it was neither sunset nor evening stars, rather a bright African Sunday morning, October 13th 2002, that “one clear call” came for you Chi, and you “put out to sea”. But it was your life’s sunset and evening stars. 

After the round of hospitals and police stations, someone said “Prof is no more”. It struck me immediately that “He who gave has taken what was His”. There could have been intervention somewhere along the line, but since there was none; it was the Lord’s wish. The agent thus pales into insignificance; indeed irrelevance. I did not scream or roll on the floor; for I accepted my fate and that of my family. Destiny, must take its toll for as long as we find ourselves on earth. We must surely exit when destiny deems it fit.  

Rather, I thank the Almighty God for our forty-three years of marriage and for unmitigated conviction that after he “put out to sea …” and “he had crossed the bar” he had “seen his Pilot face to face”.  

The second poem goes like this:  

Out of the night that covers me

Dark as the pit from pole to pole

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul

Under the bludgeoning of sound

My head is bloody, but unbowed  

Yes “I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul”. I have been brave, brave for you Chi; and us and for our family.  

I look back earlier in the year, Erinma (our No 3 Baby!) was delivered of a beautiful girl; Ogo our second grandchild. Shortly after, as proud parents, we witnessed our No 1 Baby Goomsu and our First Son Ikenna take their vows in marriage to their spouses: Oke and Mary. So Kikachukwu, our first granddaughter had the opportunity to be a flowergirl twice within a few months!  

Barely two years had passed when you Chi, stood “ten feet tall” beside me as we buried my mother. There’s a lot to be grateful for to the Almighty.  

Even in that photograph we took at the wedding, your lips were barely parted; yet your face was radiant, full of vitality, contentment and fulfillment. You looked handsome, even younger! And I thought to myself “look at the old man I married!” Was it a parting gift? Did you have any premonition of October 13th? Never mind, who knows?  

In spite of everything, 2002 has not been too bad a year; it is a watershed. Even for you Chi. It is incredible how many lives you have touched: the number of visits and calls; both personal and telephone, from far and near, the deluge of messages, some from total strangers. They all acknowledge your kindness, humaneness, humility, approachability, tolerance, charity and rehabilitation of widows etc. The reaction has been overwhelming; it has been great and spontaneous. Thank you Lord for you know all situations better.  

But as mortals, in unguarded moments our strength is tested and betrayed. I had finished speaking with Erinma on the phone when Kika, our “teacher’s delight” (for so does her headmistress describes her) came to chat with grandma. I asked her about her school, her lessons, her friends and if she had been finishing her food (our anorexic girl) and about herself. She in turn asked how I was and then the bombshell quite unexpectedly “how is grandpa?” A lump materialized in my throat, my eyes were misty and dripping and that scene – grandpa, beside his bed, “the bludgeoning of sound”, the gun, and he fell to the ground, with me there made to witness everything - played out once more.

Since October 13th, the scene has played before my eyes innumerable times. I call it “my companion”. I did not and could not answer Kika. I surrender it all at his Lotus Feet.  

Shirley Bassey sand a song “The Trouble With Hello Is Good bye”. This goodbye will last a lifetime; my life that is.

Another songwriter wrote:

“the Rockies may crumble

Gibraltar may tumble

After all they’re only made of clay

But our love is here to stay”  

Death so devastating, so shocking, so mysterious, so brutal, so audacious, so final, so powerful! So many things. Yet, it is powerless to stop the way I feel about you. Ufan, I love you; there will always be a place for you in my heart.  

Unforgettable, adieu and fare thee well.

Chimere's Epitaph by his children

In spite of his achievements and attainments, he was full of humor, simple and humble. These qualities he and his soulmate Edem, who complemented him perfectly, have passed on to their children. A gentleman to the core, he treated his wife and indeed all women with the utmost chivalry; a quality uncommon in African men of his generation. His endearment for her was Ufan mi, which means “my friend” in her native language Efik. In later years he would add another, in his Aro dialect Ejighato Chi; meaning “the one that sweetens Chi!” A well-travelled cosmopolitan, yet completely at home in the Igbo countryside and its ways. A devoted father and proud grandfather. A family man, beloved in his Ndi Ikoku[adighim] Family and extended families of Ecomas, Otudors, Coco-Basseys as a son, brother, cousin, uncle and in-law. A man of letters and erudite scholar, a consummate teacher and scientist, a university administrator par excellence, a patriot of exemplary character; this was Chimere Eyo-Ita Ikoku. A rare Nigerian, who held many public offices and could have enriched himself; but resisted all temptations to do so. He could also have enriched himself by developing his many ideas for industry and enterprise; yet riches did not excite him. His passion was instead to lay a legacy for national development with his teaching and mentoring of young people. He held in high regard any man or woman who acquired their wealth honestly through hardwork and entrepreneurship; but was contemptuous of any of corrupt disposition. All his life he espoused a just and fair society; standing against all forms of oppression and even suffering personal deprivation because of his stand. It is therefore an irony of history that he was cowardly and gruesomely murdered by still unknown assailants.

We, his son, daughters, grandchildren as well as his extended family (Ndi Ikoku, Ndi Ijoma, the Ecomas, the Otudors, the Coco-Basseys, the Obasis and the Ugbohs); take solace in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Chimere Eyo-Ita Ikoku has left behind an untarnished name, and a heart as pure as gold. 


Chimere's Venture Into Higher Education And Public Service

1960 was a pleasantly memorable for Nigeria and many other African countries who regained their independence from Britain. It was equally for Chimere and his young bride; they travelled to the United States, where Chimere returned to his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago. Their first child, who sadly lived only a few minutes, was born soon after in Chicago. Between 1964 and 1965, Dr Chimere Ikoku had a brief sojourn in Canada as lecturer and postdoctoral research fellow (medicinal Chemistry) in the University of Manitoba.

Desiring to make their own contribution to the new nation of Nigeria, Chimere and Edem returned in September 1965. Chimere joined the young Chemistry Department of the University of Nigeria and was quickly promoted to Senior Lecturer and then Head of Department by 1970. In the meantime, he and Edem had three more children: Goomsu Affiong, Ikenna Otu-Ita and Erinma Hannah. Only a year after their return, Nigeria was embroiled in a bloody massacre of Igbos in the north; which led to the secession of Biafra (the erstwhile Eastern Region) and later the Civil War. The University of Nigeria suffered huge physically and psychological damage. Dr Ikoku and his colleagues spared no pains in attempting to rebuild the battered institution. Along with a few colleagues (including the renowned Nigerian writer, social critic and later Prof Emeritus Chinua Achebe), Dr Ikoku was active through Nsukkascope – the campus magazine – in drawing attention to the problems while proffering solutions. Frustrated by the insensitivity of the university administration to its failures, he quit his job in September 1973 and joined the North East College of Arts and Science as Principal Lecturer. By 1975 he had risen to Principal of the College. The upgrade of the college to the University of Maidugari in April 1976 would begin another phase in Dr Ikoku’s career; that of pioneering universities. He was made Dean of the Faculty of Science. In June 1977, he transferred his services to the then University of Sokoto (now Usman Dan Fodio University), receiving an elevation to Professor. Only a year after, his track record was again recognized in the appointment as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). He held this position until 1982 when the Federal government required his pioneering role as Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Abeokuta. Just two years later, the reins of government changed, and the brand-new university was merged with the older University of Lagos. Professor Ikoku was now free to engage in full-time research of a project close to his heart: coal.  He first set up the Coal Utilization Research Unit at the Project Development Institute (PRODA) in Enugu. He then proceeded to the University of Leeds in Britain; on his long-postponed sabbatical earned while with Usman Dan Fodio University.

Meanwhile the University of Nigeria and many other federal universities had become polarized communities. The Federal government, fully aware of Professor Ikoku’s credentials and proven ability, appointed him as Vice-Chancellor; to rescue the university from its sinking state. So Professor Chimere Ikoku had come full circle to where he began his career in Nigerian academia; back to the very same issues he tried to sensitize the university administration to as a young lecturer. He was much better prepared this time, having engaged in university administration and public service all over the country.  He assumed office in December 1985 and left a record of being the first Vice-Chancellor - since inception of the University of Nigeria in 1960 - to serve the full two terms of office. He gave the place a great degree of peace and stability, eloquently justifying the government’s choice of him. One particular moment of pride for him was celebrating the postponed silver anniversary of the university in 1986. Graduation ceremonies had not been held for some time due to the problems in the university. During the special convocation, he conferred the first of two degrees on his first daughter, Goomsu. His second daughter, Erinma is also an alumna of the university.

Professor Chimere Ikoku’s accomplishments were recognized and honored by many organizations and institutions, too numerous to be mentioned here. A few will suffice.

Honorary degrees were conferred on him by many universities, including: Lincoln University, USA; Technical University of Nova Scotia, Canada; Abia State University, Uturu. He was also awarded the “Ugwu Aro” in 1998 for his contributions to the development of the Arochukwu Kingdom; and the “Enyi Abia” on the 10th anniversary of the state in 2001. As a Science teacher and dedicated academic, Prof Ikoku belonged to many national and international professional and learned societies. He was Founding member and First Secretary of the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria; Life member of the Science Association of Nigeria; Life member of the Chemistry Society of Nigeria; member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Britain; Editorial Committee member of the Journal of the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria.   He was also honored by the University of Nigeria’s chapter of the University Women’s Association for his sensitivity to and action on many issues affecting women and children on the university’s expansive campuses in Nsukka and Enugu.    

Prof Chimere Ikoku wrote prolifically.  His writings in Nsukkascope as a young lecturer (along with Chinua Achebe and Ikenna Nzimiro) have been mentioned. He later authored two books, “Chemistry in The National Economy” and “Battle For The Mind And Black Survival”. He also edited and co-authored nine other books. He regularly contributed to learned journals in his primary area of interest and specialization; i.e. organic and industrial chemistry, fuel and energy, science education, industrial and national development, human resources development as well as university administration.

His public service engagements and appointments are equally prolific. Yet again only a few will be mentioned here.

As a graduate student in Chicago, he served as the first president of the Pan African Students Organization in the Americas (PASOA). In 1953 he was one of PASOA’s delegates to and a member of the Steering Committee at the All Students Conference in London. This conference prepared the way for the inaugural meeting of the Organization of African Unity the same year. Later, as a university teacher and administrator, he served as Vice-chairman of the National Committee on Southern Africa from 1976 to 1979 and took over the reins as Chairman from 1979 to 1987, when it became the National Committee Against Apartheid. He went on to serve as member of the Commonwealth Expert Group on Human Resources in post-Apartheid South Africa (1990-1991). He was most delighted to deliver the keynote address at Dr Nelson Mandela’s reception in Enugu, on the legend’s historic visit to Nigeria in 1990. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund from 1995 to 1999.

Professor Chimere Ikoku was a well-travelled man, having visited 6 of the 7 continents. He had been to 17 countries in Africa; 6 in Asia; several in Eastern and Western Europe; Canada and the United States; several in South America; as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Yet he also cherished his identity as an Aro and an Igbo. He wore the Igbo outfit at every opportunity. He was also active as a patron of The Society for Promoting Igbo Language and Culture (SPILC) founded in 1949 by Frederick Chidozie Ogbalu and as a member of Ohaneze.

Chimere's Further Studies, Teaching Career And Marriage

Only two years later, now aged 20, he travelled overseas and enrolled in the University of Nottingham in Britain; where he passed the Inter B.Sc. in Chemistry, Physics and Pure Mathematics. He was admitted into Honours School of Chemistry there, but chose to transfer to the University of Chicago. Coming to America gave him even more opportunity of seeing the world, which was rapidly changing at the time. He completed his Master of Science degree in Chemistry in three years and immediately started on his doctoral work in Industrial Chemistry. However, duty called; his father asked him to come back home to help at Aggrey. Loyal and understanding son that he was, he did. Along with his elder brother’s wife, Mrs. Eileen Ikoku, he started the teaching of Science at Aggrey. Eileen (an English woman) and Chimere were soon daubed communists by the government; communism was outlawed in Britain and it colonies. Thus Chimere was forced to leave his father’s school in 1956. It was clear to all that this decision by the government was politically motivated. By this time Nigerians were advocating for independence from their colonial masters and Chimere’s father, Dr Alvan Ikoku, was the Leader of Opposition in the Eastern House of Assembly. Although favoring a gradual rather than immediate return of the reins of government to Nigerians (unlike the younger Ikokus i.e. Chimere and his elder brother Samuel Goomsu); Dr Alvan Ikoku spared no pains in pointing out the failings of the then Colonial government. The decision to have Chimere removed was to reduce the number of graduate teachers at Aggrey, thus disqualifying the school for government grants.

Chimere returned to Lagos and continued teaching Science in many secondary schools from June 1956 to December 1959; ironically schools receiving government grants. He also served as training supervisor, Esso West Africa in Lagos. He was one of the three highest Africans in Esso at the time; the other two being former Vice President Alex Ekwueme and former Education Minister Prof Babs Fafunwa.

One of the students, however who benefitted from Chimere and Eileen’s introduction of Science at Aggrey was then Edem Otudor; she would later become a pharmacist. She was also the daughter of Chimere’s father’s friend and classmate at the famed Hope Waddell Training Institute in Calabar: Mr. Otu Edet Otudor. Her mother, Mrs. Hannah Otudor, was from the same Coco-Bassey family as Chimere’s maternal grandmother. She was one of the bridesmaids when Chimere’s elder sister, Mrs. Ekanem Chima-Oji got married in a first-of-its-kind ceremony in Amannagwu. The wedding took place at Abner Hall, the assembly hall of Aggrey.  In a whirlwind romance, Chimere and Edem later married in 1959.

Chimere's Childhood And Early Education

Chimere Eyo-Ita Ikoku was born on July 3rd 1928, the third child of Dr Alvan Azinna and Mrs. Goomsu Ikoku. Both his parents were consummate teachers. His father was for long the President of the Nigerian Union of Teachers and also founder of Aggrey Memorial College in 1936. Located in their hometown of Arochukwu, Aggrey was one of the first six secondary schools in the former Eastern Region of Nigeria and the very first co-educational in West Africa. Chimere’s mother Goomsu, popularly known as Nne Sam, was a founding teacher of the school and a social worker in the community. She taught Domestic Science and so had the privilege of mentoring countless girls. A great philosopher and statesman, his father Alvan, is one of five national heroes of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and appears on the ten naira currency note.

Chimere began his education, of course, in Aggrey Primary and Memorial College. In spite of the hardship of World War II, he graduated from secondary school in 1944, aged 16, with a Grade One Cambridge Overseas Certificate.  Because of his father’s desire for a Science teacher at Aggrey, Chimere proceeded to C. M. S. Grammar School in January 1946. The school was in Lagos, the then capital city. It is still one of biggest commercial cities in Africa, as well as one of the most culturally diverse. Here the teenage Chimere would make many livelong Yoruba and Muslim friends; through he himself was Igbo and a Christian. Within a year of his enrollment at C. M. S. Grammar School, he obtained O Level in Biology and Physics with Chemistry.