Prof Okpeh Ochayi Jnr @ 50: Celebrating an Extraordinary Pan African Scholar and Mentor

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On the 7th of January, 2019, scholars, students and friends of Professor Okpeh Ochayi Okpeh, Jnr. will gather at the Nigeria’s Benue State University College of Health Sciences Auditorium to celebrate and honour a quintessential doyen of knowledge who has established himself doggedly, through sheer hard work, as a written epistle in the landscape of historical scholarship in contemporary Nigeria.  

The essence of the convening is to celebrate a scholar who recently turned fifty years on earth.  Therefore, it is a befitting birthday gift to a man of substance and the present number one historian in Nigeria.

For scholars and students in the fields of history, gender studies, conflict, inter-group relations and development in contemporary Nigeria and beyond, Professor OkpehOkpeh Jnr is a household name.Through his excellent skills in the intermeshing of conventional and unconventional research methodologies to advance research, OkpehOkpeh has produced numerous publications that are read and cited across the globe.

Professor OkpehOkpeh Jnr. is currently, the President of the Historical Society of Nigeria (HSN) — the largest and oldest body of professional historians in Nigeria committed to deepening historical scholarship in Nigeria through conferences, publications, advocacy and network building among scholars and students. The Historical Society of Nigeria, which was established over five decades ago, was instrumental in the recent return of history to national educational curriculum after it was unceremoniously removed and replaced with subjects like civic education, government and social studies few decades ago by ignorant leaders who saw nothing good in the study of history.

This short piece is intended to briefly illuminate who Professor OkpehOkpeh Jnr is within the contours of contemporary historical scholarship in Nigeria, adumbrate his impact and contributions in the knowledge distilling industry in twenty first century Nigeria.

Born fifty years ago to Idoma parents, he had his primary and post primary school education at Makurdi. He attended Government College Makurdi and thereafter moved to the popular School of Basic Studies (SBS) Makurdi. At both Government College and SBS, he demonstrated staggering proportions of intellectualism and actively participated in drama and debate clubs.

He later proceeded to the University of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria to study History. He graduated in 1991 and had his mandatory National Youth Service at Ora Grammar School in Ifedolun Local Government of Kwara State. During his National Youth Service, he taught History, Economics and Literature.

After the completion of his National Service, he went back to the same University of Jos for his Master’s and PhD degrees in history which he successfully completed in 1994 and 2004 respectively. In between these years, OkpehOkpeh Jnr in 1995 was employed at Benue State University Makurdi as a Graduate Assistant from where he rose through the ranks to become a full Professor in 2012.

Professor OkpehOkpeh Jnr while at Benue State University carved a niche for himself through teaching, research and publications. His research interests dovetailed within the ambits of African history, globalization, inter-group relations, gender, conflict and development studies.

Through a multidisciplinary approach with specific geographical focus on Central Nigeria, he pioneered path-breaking research in the area of inter-group relations. His PhD thesis at the University of Jos was on aspects of Inter-group relations between Idoma and her neighbours in contemporary Central Nigeria.  Pained by the pejorative and ephemeral representation of pre-colonial Africa, especially the Idoma as a people or group without history and living in perpetual warfare with their neigbours, Okpeh’s central concern was to deflate this balloon of ignorance that permeated the African historiography by historically isolating and analysing the nature, factors and patterns of inter-group relations between the Idoma and her neighbours in the Central Nigeria region.

 Drawing largely from his thesis, OkpehOkpeh was able to co-edit a massive 883 paged volume titled Inter-Group Relations in Nigeria During the 19th and 20th centuries. Professor Okpeh in collaboration with other contributors in this book pooh-poohed the Eurocentric description of Africa by demonstrating the changing contours of inter-group relations in Nigeria during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Before his departure from Benue State University Makurdi to Federal University Lafia, Nigeria, Okpeh had supervised numerous PhD theses on inter-group relations from different parts of Nigeria and Cameroon.

A cerebral scholar with intimidating and inspiring gifts of the garbs, Okpeh is enormously gifted in oratory and can easily hold his audience to ransom for several hours.  He is a mobile encyclopaedia, a man whose penchant for vocabulary remains legendary. 

OkpehOkpeh Jnr has equally made indelible footprints in the areas of gender studies in Nigeria. At a time when gender studies were at infantile stage in Nigeria, OkpehOkpeh Jnr turned his research interest towards investigating the intersections of history and gender. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Centre for Gender Studies at Benue State University, Makurdi. The centre was mandated to design and teach courses on gender and women studies and also serve as a resource centre for civil society organization and government.

OkpehOkpeh Jnr until his departure from Benue State University served as the Deputy Director of the Centre.

During his tenure, the centre convened many international conferences on diverse gender and women related issues, in addition to collaborating with international development agencies to commission research on the dynamics of violence against women. One of the fruits of the Centre’s collaboration culminated in the publication of a book in 2006, titled Perspectives on Violence Against women in Nigeria. Also, in 2007, OkpehOkpeh co-edited another volume entitled; Gender, Power and Politics in Nigeria and in 2015, Themes on Women Studies in Africa: Perspectives from Nigeria.

Apart from these achievements, OkpehOkpeh Jnr was one of the most widely published and read scholar in the faculty of Arts before he left for Federal University Lafia. He has lost count of the number of B.A and M.A students he has supervised. Without exaggeration, he produced the highest number of PhD for the first state owned University in Nigeria.  He has authored over a hundred scholarly publications on multifaceted issues in African history, gender and conflicts.  He is the editor of many international and local journals including the Journal of Globalization and International Studies as well as serving on the editorial board of many high impact factor journals.

OkpehOkpeh contributions to African studies have been recognized both nationally and internationally. For instance, on March 27, 2010, he was announced winner of the Distinguished Africanist Research Excellence Award by the Department of History, University of Texas at Austin., United States of Africa.  The award was in recognition of his unparalleled scholarly versatility, academic mentorship and immense contributions to African studies and the decolonization of African history.

Through supervision and mentorship, OkpehOkpeh Jnr has trained and reproduced himself in many forms. Today, most of his former Master’s and PhD studentsare doing extraordinarily well in different fields.  In fact, one of his supervisees, Patrick I Ukase who is an Associate Professor of History at Kogi State University, Anyigba has established himself as a true emblematic scholar and teacher of global standard. Patrick Ukases’s PhD thesis, which Professor OkpehOkpeh supervised in 2008 was adjudged by international panel of examiners as the best PhD thesis in humanities in Nigeria.  The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TetFUND) in collaboration with the University Press Ibadan published the thesis titled A History of Executive-Legislature Relations in Nigeria,1914-2007.

OkpehOkpeh Jnr at Benue also supervised Vaaseh A. Godwin and M.S Audu who are today full professors of history at Edo University Iyamo and Federal University Lokoja respectively. Vaaseh’s PhD thesis on Ethnic Militias in Tivland remains a classic reference while M.S Audu’s thesis on Political Leadership in Ebiraland in its present book form is an indispensable resource material for students and policy experts in Ebiraland.

Other students of OkpehOkpeh are Professor, Associate Professors, Senior Lecturers and many are into full time politics, civil and public service and in the Non-profit sector doing excellently well.  Beyond supervision, OkpehOkpeh Jnr is a philanthropist per excellence. He has enormous love for people irrespective of ethnic, religious or political affiliations. He has trained and supported many students financially as a way of giving back to his society and God. In fact, he has given a lot to Nigeria and humanity in general.

As a man who taught me at various times in various universities and whose works I continue to read steadily, I make bold to say that this honour is fitting and well deserved. Africans and Nigerians should continue to celebrate and reward their teachers here on earth while they are still alive.

At 50, my ultimate prayer for you is for God to imbue you with more divine grace and strength to continue to empower the younger generation with knowledge that liberates.

Happy birthday Prof. Okpeh O. Okeph Jnr! Long life and Prosperity!!

– Abah Danladi

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