Tribute on Professor Ukandi Damachi
Professor Ukandi Damachi was a good student who had started life as a prospective seminarian, but his prowess was so outstanding that he flew through his bachelors and masters degrees in record time. He had diplomas on various subjects but specialized in economics, labour, law and management, the subject of his Ph.D. thesis.
Ukandi Damachi worked for the ILO before, like most Nigerian expatriates in his time, he was persuaded to return to Nigeria. He found a job as Professor in the Business School at Lagos University where he rose to be Dean. Many famous Nigerians were under his tutelage; where they cut their academic teeth. His students were too many to mention but one such student was late High Chief Abel Ubeku – who was the MD of Guinness Nigeria.
During his time as professor in the University of Lagos there arose the usual government versus university friction. It had to do with academic freedom and satisfactory investment in the Universities. The Government felt that if Professors in university have been given quarters then they should not engage in any other business as the case with civil servants.
(Never mind the hypocrisy of those regulations but Ukandi was in the business field and he met many civil servants who were businessmen). That notwithstanding. Prof. Ukandi Damachi thought that he would not live a life that was a lie. He taught business and he should know about business and there was no better way to teach it than to be in business. He felt he could not live under the threat that one day someone would arrest him and disband his family because he was a professor of business. He and his family moved out and he resigned from University of Lagos.
Ukandi had now arrived as a big boy in the big bad city of Lagos. He was a very successful business man, with partners in Europe who were marine engineers, scientific companies etc. These companies had numerous contracts, which he performed creditably. He was consultant to numerous foreign companies. He maintained a fruitful and vigorous relationship with many foreign countries and their diplomatic missions in Nigeria, notably the US and its myriad agencies. The network of United Nations agencies here, the government of the European Union and also with Switzerland where he lived while with the ILO. He still kept a residence there.
Nevertheless Ukandi kept up with academics all over the world. He had been to Princeton University, taught there and was well regarded by that institution and the Business Schools of Harvard, Columbia and Pennsylvania (Ivharton).
I saw him several times during my many forays as a teaching pilgrim in universities, in the United Kingdom and the United States. That circle of academicians included Prof. Walter Oforagoro (Columbia), Alhaji Ude (Oxford/Columbia), and Stanley Macebuh (Columbia/City College). Dr Joe Okpaku, (Columbia), Ambassador Prof. George Obiozor and hundreds of other Nigerians- Lawyers, Doctors, etc. who were living in the tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Professor Ukandi wrote several books and articles in academic journals. Two of his books on management are de rigour essential reading for Labour Law and Management in Nigeria and Africa. Essential reading for anyone who was interested in Management Economic.
Here is the quintessential Nigerian intellectual giant, – an outstanding academic, and an extremely successful business man, a consultant par excellence, who did not stand before mere men but before Kings, Princes and Presidents.
The circle of Ukandi’s friends was exceedingly large. Many Presidents sought his advice which he gave anonymously. He was particularly close to the military elite that ruled Nigeria for many years.
I regard myself as an epicurean always searching for new good restaurants and clubs and relaxation places in Europe. Each time I find one, I would try to impress Ukandi by taking him there, pretty certain he would like it and that he had not been there. Soon after Ukandi would invite me to another club or restaurant and his choice was always better than my last effort. I would be furious and see Ukandi watching my discomfiture!! I grudgingly and admiringly agree that his choice was better than mine. He would never say so but the impish smile on his face told me all I wanted to know.
Dr. Imo Itsueli former Minister of Petroleum, MD Philip Petroleum, another Cambridge alumni, had tried to teach me the rudiments of what happens to an oil well that was not producing fully. He said that when major companies find an oil well that was no longer producing enough oil to make economic sense to the companies, they capped it: these capped oil wells have come to be known as marginal fields. He explained that with the large overheads incurred by a big oil company such fields are no longer profitable to them. (But there are other obligations the oil companies must do when a well was no longer producing. This is not the place to go into that.)
But some companies with lower management expenses may still profit from such marginal fields. In other words there was money still to be made. (The story of marginal fields is more complicated than I am making it out here.) He also told me that the oil companies could also contribute directly to the development of the event if a workable frame work could be achieved.
There was no principle of derivation to the oil producing states then. I mentioned these points to Prof. Ukandi Damachi, who took them to the President. Dr. Itsueli had written a short memo which I passed to Prof. Damachi, soon thereafter the Government introduced derivation of 1.5% and later the setting up of an agency that would use this money to benefit the area where oil was found. From such funds rose the need of how to spend the money. Hence the beginning of OMPADEC.
Ukandi had an interesting family life, complicated at times but he pursued the benefit of all members of his family with vigor, love and remarkable selflessness. His siblings saw the extent of his generosity which was unending. We, his friends, admired this generous intellectual colossus, his gentleness of spirit was our refuge. We lived in wonder at how he could, like the juggler keep so many balls in the air at the same time. That is a mark of his genius. We will miss that impish smile, which every now and again breaks into a belly-full laughter that come from a generous spirit.
Dr Cole MON is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil.