Sunday, 10th December 2023

Scholarship as service: Lessons from EJ Alagoa

By Lindsay Barrett
01 September 2023   |   3:40 am
Professor Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, popularly known as E.J. and generically as ‘Kala Joe’, was the celebrant at a glorious ceremony in the capital of Bayelsa state last weekend to mark his 90th birthday which had actually fallen on the April 14th.


Professor Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, popularly known as E.J. and generically as ‘Kala Joe’, was the celebrant at a glorious ceremony in the capital of Bayelsa state last weekend to mark his 90th birthday which had actually fallen on the April 14th. The celebrant has created an impressive legacy of scholarship in Africa by his use of traditional sources to interpret the historical relevance of indigenous information about the origins of the Nembe communities, His deployment of this methodology in his masterful historical text entitled ‘The Small Brave City State’ impressed me greatly when I first encountered it in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

It was therefore with considerable pleasure and conscious respect that I had the opportunity of meeting and being able to interact with him in later years. In achieving this acquaintance, I have observed that Professor Alagoa’s professional concerns are held with profound moral sincerity by him, and that all his works have been undertaken to impart this element of sincerity to those who are the subjects as well as the students of his expertise.

His intellectual conscientiousness’ has remained vital and extraordinarily alive throughout his long years of existence and his devotion to true scholarship has never waned. As a consequence, his devotion to service to his ancestral community has been deployed through the implementation of his devotion to the highest standards of historiography.

In spite of the fact that he has been elevated to Emeritus stature in retirement for several decades now. Professor Alagoa has not only remained active but he has led the charge to record the realities of the life experiences of the Izon peoples of the Niger Delta as an integral value system from ancient to modern times.

An extensive anthology of reports, and analytical essays edited by the trio of himself, the late Professor Tekena Tamuno, and the late poet John Pepper (Bekederemo) Clark entitled THE IZON Of The NIGER DELTA is the most credible evidence of this. In the first chapter which is an introduction to the work written by himself, he states that the work would “provide a global history of the Ijo people from their homeland in the Niger Delta through their interactions with other nationalities across Nigeria, and their dispersal or migration, forced or voluntary, through West and Central Africa and over the Atlantic to Europe, the Americas and the West Indies or the Caribbean.”

At the time that the editors of the work embarked upon this task, all of them had attained their seniority in excess of seven decades and were in retirement, with EJ being the oldest and undoubtedly leader of the team. As the sole survivor and having reached his ninth decade, his humility and continued professional concern is exemplary.

In spite of the enormity of the breadth of work involved in putting this remarkable volume together, it stands as an undoubtedly important contribution to contemporary universal African studies of our times. For this reason, if for no other, all African scholars owe Professor EJ Alagoa an enormous debt of gratitude.

His exemplary engagement with scholarship at the level of communal memory right from the outset of his illustrious career has lasted until these very late years of professional relevance Professor and he has served as a guide and a setter of standards for all those who have encountered him. He has been a promoter of cultural consciousness across the generations and a generous supporter of the
principles of harmonious inter-disciplinary collaboration throughout his life.

These remarkable attributes have preserved his role as a professional collaborative pedagogue at the upper echelons of both academia and literary practice in Nigeria.

Because of this one publication that might eventually be regarded as one of his most important contributions to Nigerian history is the comprehensive biography of the pioneering Nigerian journalist entitled Ernest Sisei Ikoli 1893-1960. This remarkable work of recovered and deeply researched information is authored by E.J Alagoa and Professor John Horace Ememugwem tells the story of a brilliant and precocious individual whose humble Nembe antecedents did not prevent him from carving out an influential domestic and international reputation for himself in the period of colonial rule.

The book will set the Nigerian historical record straight on many issues and provoke a comprehensive re-assessment of several others. In establishing such social criteria by practicing this level of scholarly professionalism at this late stage of his life Professor Alagoa has established a fundamentally valuable standard for younger scholars to emulate as they endeavour to serve society.

That will be his legacy whenever he answers the home call but it is particularly rewarding that he has lasted this long with the ability to perform his scholarly service, and that he has remained devoted to using scholarship serve his community.

It was therefore no surprise when the Governor of Bayelsa State Senator Douye Diri delivered the following message after the ceremony last weekend, “This evening, I joined family members, friends, associates and other well-meaning Bayelsans to celebrate an academic giant, distinguished scholar, renowned author, historian par excellence, teacher, mentor and great son of Ijaw nation and Bayelsa State, Emeritus Professor of History, Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa to celebrate his 90th birthday.

I wish to acknowledge his untiring contributions to the promotion and preservation of our culture as Ijaw people through his many books. On behalf of the Government of Prosperity and the great people of the State, I congratulate this great and global icon. Congratulations and may God continue to keep him in sound health”.