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Here lies Prof. VE Chikwendu, the fairest teacher

By Ikenna Emewu

Years back then in the Department of Archaeology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, now Department of Archaeology and Tourism, in the course of my grooming, I came across a man that influenced me most as far as teacher/student relationship is concerned.

A little to graduation, an issue arose that needed the intervention of a just and honest leader to resolve. It was about my final result and grade.

Then Prof, Vincent Emenike Chikwendu was the head of the department. On a certain day, he invited me to his office for a discussion, not just as the president of the department’s students’ association but as the person at the centre of the issues.

During that discussion with little me, the erudite scholar and professor came so low to my level to talk to me the way a father would to his son.

The conclusion and major take from the discussion was what he told me was his stand. He assured me that he would not sit there and see me suffer denial in what he felt I meritoriously deserved.

His very words I have not forgotten and I also internalised to be my own creed too was: ‘There is one thing I desire so much. I have taught many students at all levels and I have always held to this policy that I want my students to confidently write on my tombstone the day I would be buried that: HERE LIES PROF. VINCENT CHIKWENDU, THE TEACHER THAT NEVER VICTIMISED ANY OF HIS STUDENTS.”

That statement has remained tucked away in the most treasured recesses of my mind and personality,

Dear Professor Chikwendu, may I usurp the honour to inscribe that sentence on your memorial, as a bold epitaph:  Here lies Prof. Chikwendu, who never accepted that Ikenna Emewu be victimised and never victimised me either.” Adieu dear professor and father to his students.

The year we graduated was so testy in the long history of ASUU strikes. That particular year, there was at a point a division in the ranks in the awesome ASUU. While some said ‘yes’ to continued strike, others said ‘enough’.

In the department, you and Prof. Edwin Okafor (then Dr. Okafor) said a loud ‘No’ to continued strike and you two among others made it possible that we graduated because in the departments where the heads insisted on strike continuation, the graduation of our colleagues was delayed. In our case, it got so bad that we had to retake some degree courses the teachers, who had insisted on strike refused to release the results. You circumvented the process and beat them to the game by applying to the UNN Senate for us to retake the exams in the courses.

Myself and all the students of that class and year owe you and Okafor very special thanks because we never forgot.

Few years after graduation, we never met, but I had a reason to reach you to write my attestation to the University of Liverpool after I won the Guinness International Fellowship of to study for my masters degree in Communications Studies.

You were away in Washington at the Smithsonian Institute on sabbatical. But immediately I reached you by phone, you wrote almost the same minute an attestation on my behalf to the university. That was a continuation of your open mind to your students, even after they had left the department.

I must apologise to you for being absent at your funeral because I was in far away Renmin University of China Beijing School of Journalism pursuing my Fellowship of the China Public Diplomacy. Because I was the candidate for Nigeria in the programme that hosts about 30 African journalists, I was sure you would bear with my absence because that would have made you glad to hear.

You were a special teacher, and we said you knew everything in archaeology and taught everything in every course beyond the particular course allocated to you.

From you I heard at the beginning the popular and undisputed mantra in archaeology that  “there are only two means of survival – adaption and/or migration.” That remains the whole truth about life and survival in every ramification.

You were a teacher among teachers. You were a father, you were a mentor, you were a motivator, you were a believer and Knight of Saint John’s International. You were a family man and a down to earth person that never flexed his status or ensconced in the aura of his brilliant mind, respectability and high standing, having graduated in First Class grade in History/Archaeology in 1972 and attained the professorial chair 20 years later after delays.

You were outstanding and extraordinary. You have just gone to rest from your labour, but not absent or away. No! Not with the immense work: “In our understanding of Archaeology of Africa, Nigeria in general and Igbo land in particular.”

The scientist and culture icon “excavated and wrote reports on Ugwuagu Rock Shelter, Afikpo, Ugwuogu abandoned village. Ugwuele-Uturu Okigwe prehistoric site and Ogbod-Aba, Isi-Uzo LGA. of Enugu State. He experimented with Wild African yams to establish factors responsible for their domestication and with Paul Cradock, a scientist from University of London Laboratory, Prof. Chikwendu conducted survey on the local sources of raw materials used in prehistoric Nigerian Bronze Brass industries.

“He published books on cultural succession and continuity in South East Nigeria. He published over 50 articles in academic journals both within and outside Nigeria,” as the Department narrated in your honour.

All that you tutored and nurtured and I would never make light of your influence on what we are today. And if Prof. Okafor, another outstanding mentor of mine would write in his tribute to you that you moulded him into shape, what more would I say?

I script this because of my little opportunity in the media and I am sure if all that passed through you had same opportunity, they would have more exciting and beautiful things to pen about the Prof. Chikwendu they knew and passed through.

Rest on in the bosom of the Lord. You deserve it after the impact you made on humanity.

Goodnight to you, dear teacher.




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