April 28 is a great date in history; a day literally consigned to the birth of heroes and great leaders that make uncommon contributions to human civilization. On that date in 1758 was the fifth President of United States, James Monroe, born. In 1897, Ye Jianying, Chinese Communist General and Politician (Head of State of the People’s Republic of China (1978-83) was born, In 1898, Grantley Herbert Adams, Premier of Barbados (1953-58) and Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation (1958-62), was born. Kenneth Kaunda, the President of Zambia (1964-91) took the same date in 1925.
But for his unprintable dictatorial and malignant tendencies, the former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein – who was born on 28 April 1931, would have also proudly earned a mention here. Dictatorship is never a virtue. That could also be why the Italian Dictator, Benito Mussolini and his mistress were executed on that same date – 28 of April, in 1945.
This date also produced phenomenal arts and literary icons. Charles Cotton, English poet and writer was born on that date in 1630. In 1906 Pierre Boileau, a popular French novelist was born. Back home, on Tuesday, April 28, 1931, an “Nkwo market” day in the Igbo market calendar and being the 118th day of that year, was Prof. Chukwuemeka Vincent Ike, an internationally renowned Nigerian Novelist, University administrator and Traditional ruler of Ndikelionwu Community, born.
Ike was not born with a silver spoon, but he had toiling parents – Charles and Dinah Ike, who loved education with an uncommon passion and were determined to accord their son one. Willing and determined, the young Chukwuemeka immediately began to burn the mid night candle. He attended the Government College, Umuahia (1945-1950), followed by University College, Ibadan (1951-1955), from where he obtained the B.A (London) degree in 1955. In January 1967, he obtained the M.A from Stanford University (USA).
He was an accomplished teacher having taught at primary, secondary, teacher-training and university levels. Prof Chukwuemeka Ike was also a seasoned administrator. He joined the senior administrative staff of University College Ibadan (1957-1960) and in October 1960, Ike joined the pioneer staff of University of Nigeria, Nsukka as Deputy Registrar, becoming the first Nigerian Registrar of the University in March 1963. At the end of the Nigeria civil war in January 1970, the Administrator of East Central State, His Excellency, Ukpabi Asika, appointed the 39-year old Chukwuemeka Ike, Chairman of the Planning and Management Committee of the University, responsible for reopening the war ravaged institution and managing its affairs. In that capacity, he functioned as interim Chief Executive of the University, combining the role of Vice Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council at a most trying period in the life of the University.
When eventually a Vice Chancellor was appointed and a regular Governing Council of the University installed in late 1970, Ike retired from the University service in 1971 and moved with his family to Ghana to become the Registrar & Chief Executive of the West African Examination Council (WAEC). He ran the affairs of WAEC from 1971 – 1979, and was the first Nigerian to hold this post.
A proactive and fore-sighted administrator, it was during his tenure in WAEC that the examinations body cut its umbilical cord with the University of Cambridge, University of London, Royal Society of Arts, and City & Guilds of London Institute, thus becoming an autonomous Examinations Council whose certificates received national and international recognition, among other landmark achievements.
In appreciation of his meritorious service as the WAEC Registrar, City & Guilds of London Institute in 1978 conferred on him the Honorary Fellowship of the London Institute (which carries the status of the Honorary Doctorate of the University of London). He retired voluntarily from WAEC and the Nigeria Public Service in July, 1979 at age 48. For the records, Ike had the distinction of being the first WAEC Registrar authorized to sign certificates of the Council along with the Chairman who had before then been the sole signatory.
His contribution to the literary profession in Nigeria and Africa is legendary. He was a literary icon with over 15 award-winning novels to his credit including: Toad for Supper, his first novel, published in1965, The Naked Gods, (1970), The Potter’s Wheel, (1973), Sunset at Dawn, (1976), The Chicken Chasers, (1980), Expo ’77, (1980), The Bottled Leopard, (1985), Our Children Are Coming!, (1990), The Search, (1991), To My Husband, from Iowa, (1996), Anu Ebu Nwa (Igbo), (1999), Conspiracy of Silence, (2001), Toad for Ever (2007), among others. He wrote almost till his last breath. Ike was known for his unique brand of fiction that mixed lampoon, humour, and satire.
In the area of Non-Fiction, Prof Chukwuemeka Ike also made significant contributions to knowledge. Some of these publications attest to that: University Development in Africa: The Nigerian Experience, (1976), University of Nigeria 1960-1985: An Experiment in Higher Education, (jointly edited with Emmanuel Obiechina and J.A Umeh) – (1986), How to Become a Published Writer, (1991), Creating a Conducive Environment for Book Publishing, (1996), The Story Teller and National Transformation, (Nigerian National Order of Merits-NNOM). Award Winner’s Lecture, Abuja, (2013), among others.
Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike was a recipient of many national and international awards including:
*Honourary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt), University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1998)
*Honourary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt), University of Lagos (2000)
*Honourary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt), Anambra State University (2012)
*Honourary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt), Modibo Adama University of Technology, Yola (2015), etc.
*Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria-OFR (2001)
*Honours Award, National Council for Arts and Culture (2001)
*Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM)-Nigeria’s Highest National Prize for academic and intellectual attainment (2008)
*Ugwu Aro, Arochukwu Kingdom (2009)
*Thisday Newspaper, Lifetime Achievement Award (2009)
*Anambra State Government Lifetime Achievement Award (2011) etc
Upon becoming the Traditional Ruler of his community in October 2008 as Eze Ikelionwu XI, Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike brought his monumental intellectual resource and wide experiences in leadership to bear in the development of Ndikelionwu. He was instrumental in attracting a number of life-changing projects like Cassava Mill, Vocational Training and Skill Acquisition Centres, Boreholes and Overhead tanks at the Community Secondary School and St. Margaret Church Ndikelionwu, as well as the reconstruction of the Community Town Hall and construction of a new Doctors’ Quarters in response to the Anambra State Government’s “Choose Your Project Initiative” In addition, Eze Ikelionwu XI sponsored youths who were trained vocationally at Charles and Diana Computer Training Centre Ndikelionwu.
Ndikelionwu women were also given a pride of place in his administration. Aside being appointed members of the Eze-in-Council, the highest law making body, his reign also brought succor to the women who were for the first time, allowed to watch masquerade displays unlike in the past when they had to hide inside their backyards during the Ikeji Festival. This cultural reform accorded the women and visitors to the town the freedom to go about with their businesses without molestation.
He was a strong advocate of due process, probity and accountability in leadership just as he believed that leadership is a call for service to the people.
Paying tribute to Prof. Ike’s literary contributions, President Muhammadu Buhari, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said the distinguished Writer displayed “exceptional creativity in communicating wisdom in simple ways through his books”. The Senate President, Sen. Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan said Ike “was one of the brightest minds who exhibited uncommon commitment to God and man” The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, described the late Monarch as “an academician par excellence, astute administrator, devoted Christian, father, grand father and Community leader with impeachable character who led an exemplary life worthy of emulation”.
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State described Ike, who until his demise, was the Deputy Chairman (South) Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, as one of the state’s “greatest assets and totems of excellence”.
Delta State Governor, Sen. (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa in his own tribute said Prof. Ike fought discriminations in his various books and “he consistently called on Africans to be proud of what they have and reduce imbibing foreign culture.” Similar tributes also came from many Governors, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and his fellow writers.
Ike was Directors of Daily Times of Nigeria PLC (1971-1987) and University Press PLC (1978-2002). He was Short-Term Consultant to the Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland Schools Examination Council under the auspices of the Common Wealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (1974), Visiting Professor of English (Creative Writing), University of Jos (1983-1985), Pro-Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council, University of Benin (1990-1991), Pioneer Pro-Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council of Anambra State University (2001-2005), Founding President and Chief Executive, Nigerian Book Foundation (1993-2020), among others.
His Majesty Eze Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, OFR, NNOM, Ugwu-Aro, Eze Ikelionwu XI, was married to Her Majesty Ugoeze Professor (Mrs.) Adebimpe Olurinsola Ike, FNLA, and the marriage produced a son Prince Ositadimma Nnanyelugo Adeolu Ike and grandchildren. The remains of Prof Ike was privately interned on Thursday, June 11, in his home town, Ndikelionwu, without the usual pomp and pageantry that naturally accompanies such high profile personality, no thanks to the COVID 19 burial protocols. However, even his spirit would not protest because Ike himself was such a humble and easy going man who would prefer giving to the poor and vulnerable instead of ostentation. Indeed Nigeria has lost one of her most precious academic and intellectual assets. May his soul rest in peace.
Uchime, a journalist and public affairs commentator, writes from Anambra