In memoriam: Professor Bede Okigbo

bede-nwoye-okigbo

Professor Bede Okigbo
(Eze-Okigbo I n’Ojoto)

Photo source: TWAS Rossa
Sep. 29, 1926 – Mar. 31, 2017
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CELEBRATION OF A HIGHLY DISTINGUISHED LIFE
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The Okigbo Family is sad to announce the death of our father, grandfather, uncle and husband, Prof. Bede Nwoye Okigbo (Eze Okigbo III), who passed away at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, on Friday, March 31, 2017. He was aged 91 and had an illustrious career in agriculture while working for the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA), Accra, Ghana; the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria; and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Nigeria.

Prof. Okigbo was a devout Roman Catholic Christian and a Knight of St. Mulumba (KSM). He is survived by his wife Philomena and their six children Stella, Chima, Amaechi, Ndubuisi, Chinedu and Ijeoma. Friends and family will sorely miss him.

FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS

VIGIL MASS/WAKE-KEEPING:
Date: Thursday, May 25, 2017
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Venue: Prof. Okigbo’s residence at Ireh Village, Ojoto, Anambra State

FUNERAL SERVICE/INTERMENT
Date: Friday, May 26, 2017
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Venue: St. Odilia’s Catholic Church, Ojoto, Anambra State
Interment follows afterwards at Prof. Okigbo’s residence, Ireh Village, Ojoto

CONDOLENCE VISITS
Venue: Prof. Bede Okigbo’s residence, Ireh Village, Ojoto
Date:
Friday, May 26, 2017 (after interment)
Saturday, May 27, 2017: Condolence visits continue

THANKSGIVING MASS/OUTING SERVICE
Date: Sunday, May 28, 2017
Time: 9:30 a.m.
Venue: St. Odilia’s Catholic Church, Ojoto

TRIBUTES
Tributes may be submitted by email to Arc. Chima Okigbo (chimaokigbo@yahoo.com)

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and shoes
Professor Bede Okigbo with nephew, John Okigbo

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PROFESSOR BEDE OKIGBO: THE MULTI-TALENTED ICONOCLAST

By Prof. Charles Okigbo

Who would have thought that a 1953 bachelor’s graduate of Washington State University, who then proceeded to Cornell University to successfully complete a PhD in Agronomy in 1958, and went further to become, at different times, professor and dean of agriculture at the University of Nigeria, deputy director at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Commander of the Biafran Land Army, and Director of Natural Resources Programme at the United Nations University, Japan – after all these accomplishments, such a widely-traveled Nigerian would settle down happily (ensconced) in the sleepy little enclave of Ojoto, which is one of the least developed towns in Anambra State?

Yes, Ojoto is Prof Bede Okigbo’s choice for restful retirement after a lifetime of teaching crop science and genetics, experimenting with food crops cultivation, administering the Biafran Land Army, maintaining active membership in more than a dozen national and international scientific associations, and managing multinational teams in international settings.

Impelled by the same natural instincts that led Nnamdi Azikiwe to settle in Onuiyi, Nsukka instead of Enugu or Lagos, Prof. Okigbo, who clocks age 89 on September 29, 2015 could not resist the urge to settle in Ireh, Ojoto, instead of Enugu or Awka. His modest two-storey house in his ‘bushy’ compound that looks more like an arboretum than a family abode bears eloquent testimony to his life-long preoccupation with food crops, fruit trees, shrubs, grasses, ornamental plants, and benevolent insects of all varieties.

It all started from his high school days at Government College, Umuahia where he was first initiated into adopting ‘college farming and gardening’ as his hobby. He took to these with gusto and passion, and was naturally propelled to Moor Plantation, Ibadan after graduation, from where a Ford Foundation scholarship took him to the United States in 1953.

Professor Okigbo remembers every detail of that trans-Atlantic journey by Elder Dempster Shipping Lines, which took about 10 days from Apapa Quays to New York Harbour. The journey by Greyhound Bus from New York City on the east coast to Pullman, Washington, on the west coast, in the middle of winter, was as eventful as the 10-day sea trip. America in 1953 was an over-racialised country.

Prof. Okigbo is naturally multi-talented as a cook, nutritionist, pastoralist, farmer, scientist, traditionalist, compulsive story teller, and, above all, an auto enthusiast of the first order. In his younger days, he was a master baker and took great joy in daily baking bread for his family. Today, he still derives great joy in preparing simple dishes using fresh vegetables and fruits. He knows the nutritional value of most traditional vegetables, and never misses an opportunity to educate those around him about such things as paw-paw leaves being the best meat tenderizers or bitter leaf roots being poisonous.

Although he is a thorough-going scientist, he is also a most ardent Christian with unshakable faith in God. He suffers no conflict in his mind wrapping scientific explanations around Biblical or doctrinal beliefs. Rain or shine, he cannot miss Sunday mass and lives the true Christian life of complete resignation to the will of God and seeing in anybody – relatives, friends, or strangers -the invisible persona of Christ. In fact, he avers that being a scientist and geneticist make it easier for him to believe there must be an all-knowing super power, Chukwu-oke, who is the architect of the unfailing regularities that mark our natural environment, from meteorological weather to fruiting cycles.

People who know Prof. Okigbo from infancy say that he is not a farmer because he has a PhD in agronomy, but rather he has the PhD because he was a natural-born farmer. His high school classmates remember that he was wont to be found in the school garden than in the dormitory or games field. Sixty five years now since he left his farm and gardens in Umuahia, the attachment to fruits and flowers has not left him.

Although Prof. Okigbo is a trained scientist who has wide knowledge of all manner of experimental research methods, as applied in general agriculture, crop science, genetics, nutrition science, and entomology, he is also a thorough-going traditionalist. A truly genuine ‘native man,’ he is most respectful of Nigerian culture and traditions, particularly Igbo and Ojoto cultural beliefs. This is surprising, but not inexplicable. His father, Chief Nnebue Okigbo was an arch-traditionalist who not only took the highest Ozo title of his town, but had his face scarified (ichi marks) to communicate his high status among his people.

Today, Prof. Okigbo is following on those steps of his father’s and has taken the Ozo title in his own right, taking the appropriate Ozo name of “Eze-Okigbo” out of respect to his grandfather who was the first and only Warrant Chief of the town.

Prof. Okigbo’s many years of living and working outside Nigeria did not rob him of the intimate knowledge of his people and their ways. But as the Igbo say of the value of traveling far and out, “the widely travelled knows more than the white-haired local.” Just as Chinua Achebe was reputed to have been called “Dictionary” in his secondary school days because he knew the meaning of every big English word, Prof. Okigbo’s friends and professional peers refer to him as “Encyclopedia” because he seems to know something about everything.

Prof. Okigbo is very passionate about many preoccupations, particularly great admiration for cars, which is ostensibly a family tradition. His cousin, the world renowned economist, Dr. Pius Okigbo, of blessed memory, took to Mercedes buying the first one from Leventis in 1958, and his other cousin the great poet, Christopher Okigbo, also of blessed memory, took to Jaguars and MGBs. Prof. Okigbo was more eclectic, starting with a Woolsey in 1962, then a Rover 2000 in 1967, and later the custom-made 1990 Mercedes E320 Diesel, which is still rendering excellent service having acclimatised to Ojoto’s bad roads.

It is indeed an irony of fate that Prof. Okigbo is now living out his retirement in Ojoto after a career in the white man’s profession which took him to the four corners of the globe. His father, Chief Nnebue Okigbo, had been selected to be steeped in Ojoto traditions and not be contaminated by western education. Today, Prof. Okigbo is not only the most educated man in the town, but also one of the most religious. A man of many talents, his life is an example of hard work, perseverance, honesty, and seeing Christ in every person, knowing as he often says: “We have to answer to our God individually for all our actions or inactions while in the world.”

Dr. Okigbo, is a Professor of Communications at North Dakota State University Fargo, North Dakota, USA.

 
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1 comment

  1. Charles Quarcoo June 29, 2017 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    May his soul rest in peace. I was his Secretary at the UNU/INRA in Accra. The world has lost a giant in knowledge.

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