A tribute to Professor Steve Okpalefe Ogude
He left Ozoro to Lagos in 1947 through the creeks. Between 1953 and 1958, he attended the prestigious C.M.S Grammar School in Lagos from where he obtained the West African School Certificate in 1958. He proceeded to St. Andrew’s College Oyo in 1959. In 1960, he graduated with Teacher’s Grade IIA (Pivotal) Certificate from St Andrew’s College. In 1961, as a private student, Professor Ogude sat for the Advanced Level G.C.E in English Literature, History and Bible Knowledge and performed superlatively.
Professor Ogude was admitted into the University of Ife as one of the pioneer students in 1962 and graduated in 1965 with a B.A (Hons) English, Second Class Upper Division. He was appointed Graduate Assistant in 1966 at the University of Ife. To consolidate his place as an academic, Professor Ogude left the shores of Africa to King’s College, University of London in 1966 and returned with a PhD in 1970.
Between 1976 and 1978, Professor Ogude, in collaboration with Professor Imeh Ikiddeh, initiated a four-year English programme for the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Calabar, a feat he equally performed at the University of Benin in 1978 when he was appointed Senior Lecturer.
Professor Ogude remained in academia since the 1960s where he has influenced students, scholars and academics with his treatise on the lopsided relationship between Africa and the rest of the world. His journey as scholar, academic, mentor, teacher, administrator and cultural entrepreneur started in the mid-960s at the University of Ife (renamed Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, Nigeria and later University of Calabar, and then the University of Benin, where he retired formally.
He has served Nigeria in different capacities. He was Secretary, Association of University Teachers now (ASUU) Unife Chapter. He was both Acting Head of Department and Head of Department, English and Literary Studies, Dean, Faculty of Arts at the University of Benin and Niger Delta University, Chairman Board of Directors, Bendel State College of Agriculture, Anwai, Asaba, where he initiated and recommended the establishment of College of Agriculture, Ozoro, which later metamorphosed to Delta state Polytechnic, Ozoro. He equally served as the Special Assistant to Chief Alex Akinyele, the then minister of information during General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime.
He is the immediate past Dean of Graduate School, Niger Delta University. He was a founding member of Literary Society of Nigeria, where he served as Secretary and President and the Nigerian Academy of Letters where he served as General Editor.
Considering his groundbreaking contributions to literary and cultural studies, especially the portrait or the image of the African in Western cultural production before the twentieth century, it is indeed important to acknowledge, celebrate and restore, through Prof. Ogude’s extraordinary career the “the dignity of intellectual labour”.
Professor Ogude served as external examiner for both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in many universities including Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, University of Calabar, and University of Uyo amongst others.
Most of his students admired Professor Ogude for his commitment to academics, his exemplary humility and his liberal attitude to life. While alive he saw his students, not just as students, but as fellow humans and friends who should be treated fairly and decently at every point of interaction. Gentle and accessible, he gave a human face to his university teaching. Professor Ogude is a man of impressive personality. Professor Ogude was not only an ebullient academic and scholar he was equally a gentleman by every standard.
Indeed, he is a “most sensible individual”. In him was a fine combination of the neoclassic ideal of rationality, the profound thoughtfulness of the romantics and the nobility of African humanity. A lively, humorous and warm-hearted man, Professor Ogude took people for who they are, irrespective of status, gender, class or religion. He was completely detribalised such that his friendship cuts across ethnic boundaries. A true scholar, his mind is untainted by prejudices, pettiness and bigotry.
HIS seminal book, Genius in Bondage: A Study of the Origins of African Literature in English (1983), where he explores the trials, travails, burden of bondage and the encounters of first generation of Africans compulsorily expatriated to the New World. His scholarship on the subject is executed with an unprecedented authenticity and comprehensiveness as he reappraises the cardinal debate, which preoccupied scholarships on the history and evolution of African cultural product in the 1970s and 1980s. In that book, Prof. Ogude argues that African literature from the late 1950s began where Equiano’s Travel started – correcting Western impression about Africa.
Prof. Ogude’s inaugural lecture, ‘English Literature, Race and Africa: The Myth of the Global Village,’ extends and reinforces some of the issues raised in Genius in Bondage thereby focusing on delineating the genesis and reproduction of transnational socio-cultural formations, as well as the particular macro-societal contexts in which these cross-border/cultural and social formations have operated, such as ‘globalism’ and ‘multiculturalism’. His inaugural lecture equally draws our attention to new forms of migration – “the Equiano-Caliban complex”– which are supposed to be a kind of transnational intellectual collaborations realisable through sabbaticals, academic fellowships and exchange programmes, but have lamentably become the new strategies to extend and sustain slavery.
Prof. Ogude has been a major player in the field of Cultural Studies for close to 50 years. It is, therefore, fitting that we reconsider and acknowledge his contributions to Africana studies. Considering Prof. Ogude’s scholarship and research on the image of the African in the imaginaries of the 18th century, one can admit that he pragmatically defined something that was almost nebulous in the second half of the 20th century. Prof. Ogude’s contributions to this subject are eloquent because he did not only theorise slave narratives, he also gave useful insight to scholars, who otherwise struggled with the evolutionary dynamics of African literature in that Prof. Ogude’s research reiterates the fact that the “earliest African writing in English was produced by exiles: men and women who were unwilling exiles but who had to accept their social situation by force of circumstances rather than choice” (Genius 149).
The point is that Prof. Ogude’s scholarship on slave narratives is like a bridge that connects 18th century writers of African descent in the West to what we now describe as contemporary African literature.
As already noted, his first employment as a university teacher was in the University of Ife as a Graduate Assistant in 1966 and he climbed every rung of university promotion ladder from being an Assistant Lecturer in 1966 to becoming a Professor in 1983 at the University of Benin.
Friends, as we mourn the passing of this total gentleman, teacher and mentor, I present to the world, for those who never met him, a rare example of the teacher this academic colossus, world-renowned literary scholar, cultural enthusiast, an innovator, fore-sighted and thorough-bred manager of men and materials, an ebullient and distinguished Professor, a Professor of Professors a lover of his people, a likeable, humble, unassuming and companionable gentleman. Professor Steve Okpalefe Ogude. Adieu!!!! Sleep on, dearest Daddy and mentor of all mentors.
May the Angels bear him safely into the bosom of our Lord!
* Dr. Ogaga Okuyade is HOD, Department of English and Literary Studies, Niger Delta University, Bayelsa State