Celebrity of the Month: Prof. Uzodinma T. Nwala: Africa's First Professor of African Philosophy



His official birthday is March 16, and he was born in the bush where his pregnant mother had gone to farm, about this date in 1942 in Itu town in Ezinihitte Mbaise in Imo State of Nigeria. His birth took place during the intense period of the Second World War with its acute salt scarcity
. Neither his mother nor his father went to the white man’s school and no birth register was available in his village at the time.
After passing his First School-Leaving Certificate Examination with distinction in 1957, he was, therefore, employed a pupil teacher in the Apostolic School where the white missionary monitored his educational progress closely. He discouraged him again, this time from attending the Federal Government Umuahia, and instead gave him a loan to train as a teacher at Qua Iboe Elementary Teachers College, Oloko in 1959-60.
At a time when the General Certificate of Education was a very hard nut, Uzodinma made a mockery of both the Ordinary Level and Advanced Level Examinations, taking one year to prepare and eventually passed six papers (including English and Mathematics) at a sitting at the O’ Level in 1962 and five months to prepare and pass three A’ Level papers in 1963. Through self-discipline and self-study, he taught himself Mathematics and the other subjects with the help of books, without any formal lessons by teachers. Thus, after barely two-and-half years of post primary college education and through self-study, he qualified to enter the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in June 1964.
His original choice of degree programme was Economics, but his teacher and intellectual mentor, Prof. Otonti Nduka advised him to study philosophy, because according to him, he was ‘a philosophy material’.
Of all the more than thirty (30) students who were enrolled in the Philosophy Department by 1966 - (1964, 1965, 1966 sets) - at the University of Nigeria, it was only Uzodinma who was able to make the degree in Philosophy by 1967. Having rejected the directive of the University Senate to all philosophy students to change to other Departments since there were no more teachers in philosophy, following the exodus of non-Easterners, including foreign teachers from Eastern Nigeria on the orders of the Government of Col Odumegwu Ojukwu, Uzodinma was stranded but adamant, insisting that the University of Nigeria must graduate him in philosophy.
His student life at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka was full of activism. He was an elected member of the Student Representative Council, member of the Supreme Council of the Students Parliament and Hall Chairman of Awolowo Hall of the University.
He had his postgraduate studies at the famous Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, New York, where he did his M.A (1975) and PhD (1977), all in Social and Political Philosophy. His PhD dissertation on The Structure of the Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes was supervised by Professor Anthony Quinton (later Lord Quinton) of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.), who was, at the time, a Visiting Professor at the New School.
In addition to being a Federal Government Scholar, he was awarded the prestigious Hiram J. Haille Fellowship of the New School as the best student of his class. One of his teachers, Prof. Kenly Dove, described him as having maintained a record unmatched in the history of the Department of Philosophy at the New School. The elderly world famous Professor, Hans Jonas, in introducing Uzodinma to his wife, described him as “a phenomenal African student”.
As a graduate student in New York, Uzodinma lived at the International House, became an active member of the Community of International Student Leaders and rose to become their leader in New York. As Chief Representative of the International Students Movement (ISMUN) to the United Nations, he was elected Chairman of the United Nations Youth Caucus. He and his colleagues were vigorously active in the Anti-Apartheid movement, in the movement for restructuring of the World System to achieve greater equity and a New World Economic Order and in the Campaign for Women’s Emancipation. They participated actively in the First International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico, South America, in 1975.
As Head of the Department of Philosophy in 1990, he founded William Amo Center for African Philosophy and remained its Co-coordinator for several years. He was Head, Department of Philosophy, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), in 1991, and 2000-2002. He re-organized the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Kogi State University, and got two programmes (Philosophy and Christian Religious Studies) accredited by the NUC. He initiated the Department of Philosophy at the University of Abuja and nurtured it to fruition.
In 1992-3, he was a Commonwealth Fellow at the University of Oxford. His major research theme was on the relationship between Western Philosophy and African Philosophy. In an attempt to popularize African Philosophy, he delivered a Public Lecture on African Philosophy at St Anne’s College, Oxford in 1993. This was at the same venue President Sedar Senghor had delivered his lecture on NegritudePhilosophy in the early sixties of the last Century.
Professor Nwala has held several distinguished positions in his professional field. He was National Vice-President, Nigerian Philosophical Association (NPA), 1980 – 1982, and National President of the Association in 1982-84. Other distinguished positions include Member, Nigerian National Universities’ Commission Accreditation Panel for the Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan; Consultant on African Society, Economy, Politics and Modern Thought, to the Africa Center, London, 1993, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Development of Education in the Federal Capital Territory, .
Professor Nwala is one of the most outstanding patriotic sons of Mbaise. He is the major link between the founding fathers of Mbaise and the new generation. He has exerted tremendous influence on the course of the development of contemporary Mbaise. He is an acknowledged Mbaise historian, just as he is acknowledged as a great African and Igbo philosopher. He is one of the founding fathers of Ezuruezu Mbaise which is the central organization uniting all Mbaise people, and which is a reincarnation of the Mbaise Central Union founded by the founding fathers of Mbaise. He has also been a major influence and inspirer in the formation of several Pan-Mbaise organizations, including the various campus units of the Federation of Mbaise Undergraduates, the Mbaise Frontline Circle and the Mbaise Peoples Congress. The book: Mbaise In Contemporary Nigeria (first and second editions) of which he is the editor, remains the major reference point on Mbaise’s cultural, social and political history.
Professor Nwala is a man of many parts, and in each role, he remains pre-eminent. He is a farmer and holds the prestigious Ezeji title of Mbaise. He initiated his two sons into the Ezeji Society and had them also initiated as members of the Society. He holds a Chieftaincy title of Ikenga of Itu Mbaise, the only Chieftancy title he agreed to take. He has done a lot to promote Igbo Culture and civilization, a measure of his commitment to African cultural revival.
culled from online.


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