Tribute to renowned Emeritus professor, Andrew Godwin Onokerhorasye @ 78

Johnson Egbemudia Dudu Ph.D

My friend, Neto Amos College, drew my attention to the name as he pointed to a page in the Guardian Newspaper on a story written by Mr Eddy Akpomera (Now Professor in the University of Benin) who was the Benin Bureau Chief at the time.

“This is the current Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin,” he announced with an air of victory.


I had previously shared with Neto, my intention to get admission into the great University of Benin (Uniben), however, I was intimidated by the comparatively high standard, judging from its always high JAMB cut-off mark.

Neto’s joy radiated from his knowledge that the new man at the helm of affairs of the school was from Delta State and an Urhobo man like us, and that I had filled Geography and Regional Planning as my first choice of course. This was in 1992.

Surprised at the height of his ecstasy, I asked what the new VC being from Delta State and an Urhobo man have to do with my admission.

 “This man is not just from Delta State, an urhobo man but surprisingly, he is the Doyen of Geography – your intended course of study. This means that he will be willing to give admission to students who wish to study his course. Your chances of being admitted will be higher,” Amos went on and on.

True to his prediction, I was one of the few persons that got admission that year. However, it came on merit as I was the third best student among those that applied to read Geography in the university.

Then, I found myself in the same department with the great scholar, Professor Andrew Godwin Onokerhoraye (now a Professor Emeritus of the University of Benin). Prof (Captain) Omiunu, another great geographer, was the Head of Department at the time.

Notwithstanding being in the same environment, my chances of seeing the distinguished academic physically remained an illusion for a very long time, except for one fleeting occasion when I sighted him from a distance.

The closest I could get to know him were just through stories as his colleagues, the likes of Professors Omuta, Omiunu, Okafor, Chokor and other lecturers chatted about him and make references to his earlier activities as a former Head of Department and former Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

My chance however came at the end of my second session when I emerged Scholar of the Year, alongside two of my course mates and, at the ceremony held in the university auditorium, all the scholars were opportune to have a handshake with the VC.

Even though I was used to the kind of ritual, having severally clinched top positions in my secondary school, in Ughelli South Local Government Area, and had received the Amrayivughere Prize for Outstanding Performance in my Senior Secondary School, the occasion of a hand handshake with the Vice Chancellor of the great University of Benin whom Neto once showed me in the Guardian Newspaper was a momentous milestone in my life.

It reassured me that I have remained as studious and on tract in my studies, despite my humble background with deprivations over time. This was moreso remarkable as the achievement conferred on all the university scholars not only monetary rewards but also free accommodation for the next session.

 On that day, I was enthralled by the captivating smile of the President of the University, as he shook my hands warmly. That was the only time I saw him until I got to 400 level.

The next contact was when he requested the Head of Department through his Personal Secretary, Mrs Orere, to call the Class Governor of 400 level to see him, since he was allocated to teach History of Geographic Thought, Philosophy and Methodology.

I happened to be the Class Governor at the time and, once again, it was an honour for the VC to send for me to discuss how the classes will go.

I held my highest meeting in the University then with him in his office where we agreed that, instead of the 8am on our time table, we should make it 7am to 9am, so that we can cover enough ground each time we meet with him.

Much like someone under the supervision of another boss, he kept religiously to this schedule every week and throughout the session.

The encounter with a Vice Chancellor handling a course by himself thought me some things about Prof AGO (Acronym for his three names).

He was passionate about his profession as not only a lecturer but as a teacher. He applied all the techniques every other tutors will espouse in a normal class, seeing to it that all students were carried along.

I cannot remember a day we sat down in the board room for more than five minutes before his appearance which usually started with: “Good Morning ladies and gentlemen, I hope you guys had a great week.”

“Yes Prof,” we would chorused, then the next question was on the previous lesson.

He demonstrated his experience as a total teacher who taught in all cadres of schools from primary, secondary and university with all the requisite qualifications.

Yes, he never took any class for granted nor assumed previous knowledge. He tried severally to sample from the class the extent of their previous knowledge from other classes and, in some occasions, he would give a run-down of all he thought before commencing the day’s work.

The demonstration of his class teaching proclivity also stemmed from his end of class questions: “Monitor, please write these questions down. Make sure you keep them till the end of the semester,” he would say and, true to his words, he requested me to compile the questions and send to him at the end of the semester and these became the substance of the examination questions in the course of Geographic Thought, Philosophy and Methodology.

Prof AGO did not carry the fearsome disposition which many high office holders usually displayed. He was humble and listened to all categories of persons. Looking back to those days, we were a privileged class of 1997 and as the monitor of his class, I was proud to be so close to him and I told my friends in my community with excitement.

The realization of my relationship with the VC by my friends also placed a burden on me as everyone came to me for admission matters of which I was also willing to support but only within the limits of my powers.

For one thing, I learnt at an early age not to be too familiar with a superior no matter how accustomed they are with you. Till today, even though I can discuss practically everything with the Emeritus Prof, I have not allowed the privilege to becloud my sense of respect for him just as with any other top figure I am associated with. So, it was always a huge burden to take issues of admission before him.

After classes, I would follow him and, seeing me scratching my head as little kids do, he would ask, “Monitor, what it is?” Then, I would tell him the need for admission for my friend.
“Please give the name to Mr. Djukpen,” he would say.

The VC was humble to a fault. He loved all of us his students at the time. While some lecturers constituted themselves as terrors to their students, making life hell to them, any meeting with the VC was a time for life mentoring, apart from learning on the subject.

I cannot forget a class on Models in Geography. The discussion dovetailed into life after the study and, looking through the class he quickly noticed that the spirit of the students had gone low. I remembered one of us (Mr. Ogbeide – now in the UK) asking him why they would allow us to study Geography if they knew of the picture he painted in the class.

Like a father, he rose to the occasion, pointing to us that we should work more in the realm of thinking, self-motivation and determination as we take on the challenges of life. According to him, though there are disciplines tagged “Grade A” courses, what comes from all of them is the practitioners.

“Look at me very well. Do I look hungry?” He asked standing up.

“I have lived a fulfilled life like all other professors. Life is 80% of what you put into it and 20% the course you study. Try and be the best in your field and be creative and you will be rewarded handsomely in your field,” he advised with the usual broad smile while demanding for further questions from us.

The ideals of equality, equity and competence are some of the values that drive the life of Emeritus Onokerhoraye. Over time, I fell in love with his life style and I told him of my desire to be a lecturer like him.

“It is a good thing that you want to be a lecturer. The salary is not much. But it is a job with dignity, if you know what you are doing. At least, you must have a Second Class Upper Division and be among the best. I am promising you this. Once, you meet the minimum requirement of a Second Class Upper, I should be able to discuss your employment with our Head of Department. One thing you must understand is that the university always goes for the best. Therefore, you have to work harder because we must make sure equity prevails in the system,” he told me.

When the final result was released, I went to inform him of my status. “I have seen your result” he returned. “That was very impressive of you. You have made the job easier for me. It will be easy  convincing the HOD.”

This dream of becoming a lecturer never materialized because his second tenure was cut short.

Prof Onokerhoraye went on Sabbatical at Harvard when he left office. On his return, the structure of Centre for Population and Environmental Development (CPED) which he started from the Benin Social Science Series was budding. It was at this time I joined CPED as one of the pioneer staff. This Centre has touched the lives of many Nigerians across the six geo-political zones.

At this time, I got closer to him as I had to report to him every now and then. It was during this period that I found out the real person in Prof. AGO.

If I had known him before, I came to know more about the milk of human kindness in him.

The first question he asked me was my life aspiration in academic. This question was followed by his prompting to commence my registration as an M.Sc. student while I was a staff of the Centre, that was even after first enrolling me in a computer school.

He was never bothered with my absence from the office. Sometimes, I would wait for him in the office. Surprised that I was still in the office, he always urged me to go to school on time. He was of the view that the course work was for only one year.

It was the same when I registered for a Ph.D Programme in faraway Kogi State, where I used to drive six hours to school every Thursday/Friday.

The Emeritus Professor was a mentor per excellence. He believed that every of his staff at the centre should be able to at least get to his level of competence, insisting that he will not always be doing what he was doing. He believed in equity for all his staff, including ladies.

He abhors self-centeredness but loved collaborations among his workers, especially treating the ladies just like their male colleagues.

His insistence on equity and justice was what made him get mad at a fellow professor in Delta Forum. As the leader of this forum, after extensive deliberations, all the senior academics agreed that the Benis, Ishans and other tribes have supported Deltans to rise to the pick of the University. He was very particular about the Benis who were the host of the institution. It was from this perspective all the academics agreed that no Deltan should participate in the VC’s election that year.

After this discussion, a professor from Delta State went behind to apply secretly. This was later leaked to the Emeritus Professor who was full of rage against the Don in question.

His sense of equity also extended to his relationship with all his staff. Regarding them like his biological children, he never failed to attend any ceremony they were hosting, no matter their destination and distance.

In 2015, as I was about to finish my sojourn in the UN, I went to him to discuss my return to CPED and to take up appointment as a lecturer.

“I know you want to become a professor in the future but you need some time to work on your publications. You know the only language the university understands is publications and publications. Therefore, it is imperative you work on this aspect of your life. I know how effective you can write but you need to demonstrate this through your publications. I have no doubt in my mind you will succeed in this too like your other endeavours in CPED. Remember, you will still need these publications for your next promotion in the centre”, he advised with his ever charming smile.

We started out in publications with great rapidity. He refused to personally give verdict on any of my publications, insisting the reviewers should first do their job before his corrections.

He succeeded in mentoring me on writing peer reviewed works. Even though this has been the tradition in CPED, he took special interest to mentor and pray for me before it was time for my movement into the wide ocean of university academics.”  

“Johnson, I succeed as an academic. So shall you also have success. I rose to the top cadre of academics. Your case shall be the same. You shall surpass any achievement I have been associated with in my academic career in Jesus Name,” he prayed with his hands on my head.

He has continued to monitor my progress in my new zone of work through lengthen academic discourse and invitations to high profile meetings where I can continue to build on my strength and improve on my areas of weakness.

Emeritus Professor Andrew Godwin Onokerhoraye is a man with exceptional vision, an astute school administrator, a community/family man, a man with human consideration and a mentor per excellence.

As he celebrates his 78 years of life, I call on my family, friends, old students, Deltans and indeed all well-wishers to help shout 78 happy cheers to this distinguished academic and development oriented Nigerian, my mentor, benefactor and my greatest academic fan.

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