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Professor Ochayi Okpeh: History In The Trenches



Prof. Ochayi Okpeh during the inaugural lecture.

By Toyin Falola

 Professor Ochayi Okpeh, a professor of African History at the Federal University of Lafia, made history as one of the first ten to deliver an inaugural lecture at the institution. On Tuesday, February 14, 2023, Prof. Okpeh delivered his Inaugural Lecture, “The Historian as a Catalyst: History, Ideology, and the Social Process”. I was privileged to receive the lecture before delivery, mid-air between three countries. I rescheduled my connecting flight to join the Inaugural via Zoom. Outspoken, trenchant, combative and assertive, he made a case for History, for the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) and the Historical Society of Nigeria (HSN). A mordant voice with stinging words well directed, his vitriolic is on target.

     Anyone who has known Prof. Okpeh or comes into contact with the details of his work can tell that the selected title is a brief encapsulation of Okpeh’s life and commitment, not only as an academic but also as an activist-historian. In extending his contributions beyond the theoretical frameworks of history as a field of study, Okpeh has also contributed to research and achievements in gender studies, inter-group relations, political science, development in contemporary Nigeria, and Pan-African Studies. It is wonderful to see that the conferment of a professorial title on Okpeh has eventually witnessed all the full rites, the last of which — in most Nigerian institutions — is often an inaugural lecture. Although he has been an appointed professor for 13 years, first at the Benue State University and now at the Federal University of Lafia, we all have benefitted from his lecture delay. 

His tribute to the University of Jos is inspiring. That acknowledgement shows his character. Foolish people declared themselves self-made and burned the bridge after crossing it. Whether a bridge that takes you to a positive definition is straight or crooked does not mean that you set it on fire after you have crossed it. Others need the bridge. I know of one such foolish person who failed his PhD and was later rescued, later to abuse all those he met along the way and destroy those who hired him. I cried with the Vice-Chancellor who hired him. I cried with the late Professor Bayo Lawal, who this fellow accused of sleeping with his wife. By the time he accused another of sleeping with his wife, people were asking whether it was the black-looking one or the red-looking one. Be careful of a man who can publicly tarnish his own wife for political calculations. Okpeh, the wise, remembers his origins with legendary acknowledgement. As I told someone, for the honour done to Jos, Peter will forgive him all his sins, and the gate of heaven will be thrown open for his glorious entrance.

Okpeh went to Jos, my alma mater, aiming to read Law but was admitted for History. The University of Lagos admitted me for Law, but I turned it down! Sometimes, our eventual paths are mapped out after disappointment and failure; the same was for Professor Okpeh. While I have no doubts that he would have equally succeeded in law — either as a practising lawyer or an academic — the field of history would have lost a great addition to its ranks if the initial plan of studying law had succeeded in Okpeh’s case. It took failure, disappointment, and an encounter with history to convince the academic that he had eventually found his path, and it is amazing to see how he has seen exponential growth in his career since then. Within 15 years of joining the faculty at the Benue State University Department of History, Okpeh was conferred with a professorial title, an achievement that places him among the fastest to be conferred in contemporary Nigerian academia.

Ochayi Okpeh is one of the astute and most dedicated scholars in the historical field in Nigeria. He is a serial researcher and editor that is always ready to contribute to new research or bodies of work in the field. Having collaborated with him on several projects, including Warfare, Ethnicity, and National Identity in Nigeria, and Population Movements, Conflicts, and Displacements, among others. Okpeh’s output rate and the quality of his books and research papers lend credence to his work and contributions to the field. Working as both an academic and- a professional historian, Okpeh’s contributions have cut across both the town and the gown, a solid reason why the title of activist-historian is befitting for him.

Okpeh’s scholarly outputs and work are founded on an underlying belief that a historian is a change-maker. This underlying belief forms the fibres of the principles that guide Okpeh’s approach, research methodologies, academic quests, and choice of themes to focus on in his research pursuits. In examining the significance of this underlying belief — first to his work and also to the overall work of historians and their translated influence on the world — it is vital to note that history exists primarily as a channel through which we engage our past not only to understand the said past but more importantly to decode how the past influences the present and how it could influence the future. Therefore, the historian is not only a theorist or a scholar; they also serve to help us understand the motives and factors influencing present happenings, a role that, if played right, could lead to the historian positively influencing society on its choices and decisions — ergo, the claim that historians are also change-makers and catalysts. Equipped with deep-founded knowledge, research tools and methodologies and the right questions, Okpeh has historically examined the present happenings in Nigerian societies and within the Nigerian spatial entity.

     Beyond being a body of knowledge, history as a field of study is also a multi-functional tool for societal development and change. The multi-functional characteristics of history come to play in several instances, one of which is to serve as a tool for discovering identity — whether it is that of the self, the ethnic group, or the country-state. Identity is a multi-layered concept, where humans constantly seek to contextualize their known identity by juxtaposing it with other identities or carving it out within other identities. Nigeria has not fully tapped into the potential of its national history, which is why the country struggles to pinpoint its national identity and pass the same to its citizens. 

Although self-identity and ethnic identity seem strong among Nigerians, a lack of founded national identity makes it difficult or impossible for Nigerians to contextualize their self and ethnic identities within their national identity — or what could be termed their Nigerianness. In turn, this has led to a gross lack of national cohesion, patriotism, and commitment to a central goal among citizens of the country. Okpeh’s writings on inter-ethnic relations, migration, identity, and citizenship have all come from wanting to ask the big questions to extrapolate the concept of belonging and historiography.

Historical knowledge, although vital, does not enjoy enough recognition and application in our societies, especially in developing countries like Nigeria. The discrimination against history as a research field and disregard for it as a field of study are increasingly becoming widespread. This disregard and discrimination stem from the general disregard the humanities suffer in countries like Nigeria, where more seemingly practical-based fields like science and technology are overly emphasized and to the detriment of other fields. This is not to say the focus on science and technology is inherently wrong. However, suppose such focus ultimately leads to the near- abandonment of other fields. In that case, it is problematic, especially as fields like history are germane to the catalytic growth of a country-state if applied history is implemented.

As an activist-historian, Okpeh has headlined the advocacy for the revival of the status of history as a field of study. This advocacy has aligned with reshaping people’s perceptions of history as a field of study and making the course attractive to potential students. The disregard for history has been so widespread that, at a time, the Nigerian government eliminated history from the curriculums of primary and secondary schools. And even without the elimination, the bulk of the pre-tertiary schools in the country do not offer history as a subject. 

What that then means is that the students do not receive the grounding and foundational knowledge they need in history, so those of them that eventually end up as students of history in tertiary institutions are newly introduced to the course and do not have the foundational knowledge of it, and may not perform as expected. Beyond that, they’re also often students with little to no interest in the course and are not committed to learning it or understanding its many use cases and applications worldwide. The downside is that most of the graduates that history departments in universities across Nigeria churn out are neither passionate about the field nor interested enough to gain profound knowledge. Several of them opted for history because many universities in the country have added the suffix “international relations” or “international studies” to studying history. In turn, these half-baked graduates end up as the teachers passing on half-baked foundational knowledge to those in pre-tertiary levels of education, giving them a shabby foundation that would further be affected as they advance in their studies. And so does the seemingly unbreakable circle continue. Although history is not the only field of study plagued by half-baked or dispassionate graduates, the issue is glaring and remains a worry, as history plays a fundamental and catalytic role in societal development and growth. How will we expect growth-oriented interrogation of historical issues and historiographical examinations of current happenings from people who know little about the research methodologies in history? 

Professor Okpeh’s work as an activist-historian has involved engaging and elevating historical knowledge and scholarship as a basis for understanding human society, thus ultimately contributing to the body of work on Nigerian and African history. Furthermore, he has helped generate historical consciousness and propagated its deployment in interrogating contemporary development questions confronting Nigeria in particular and the continent of Africa at the broader level. In addition, he has been involved in the struggles of contemporary Nigerian historians against the postcolonial Nigerian state and how the ruling elite has strived to negate history and Nigerians’ collective memory as a people;

Okpeh’s dedication to provoking change and transformation in the operations of Nigeria’s public university system for the common good is yet another reason he is an activist-historian. He has embarked on this mission by taking up several roles in the administration of the universities he has worked at. While coordinating the Benue State University’s Diploma in Nigerian Cultural Studies, Okpeh and his team worked on a strategic collaboration with the Ministry of Culture within North-Central states in the country, thus getting tasked with the mission to train staff members of the ministry in each state in Nigerian Cultural Studies. This move, although beneficial to the institution, would have been more beneficial to the trainees and the ministries, seeing as it would be a solid way to train the ministries’ staff members on cultural appreciation and awareness, a training that would also invariably be beneficial to the states. 

Okpeh’s contributions to the field — both as an academic and an activist — have been immense, and I felicitate him on delivering his inaugural lecture and being formally inaugurated as a Professor of African History. We can only expect that he will continue to deploy history as a valid tool for activism, advocacy, and growth-oriented interventions. Let me end this piece not with my words but with those of Professor Okpeh:

For almost three decades now, I have actively participated in civil society activities at different levels and in different parts of the country and the continent of Africa. My involvement with these organisations is based on my convictions that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are alternatives to formal state structures and by the nature and character of their engagements, they are more directly connected with the yearnings and aspirations of the people. By their mandates, they represent alternative voices in the governance process and offered me yet another outlet to ventilate my commitment as a professional historian in the scholar – activist tradition alluded to earlier. After years of closely relating with these organisations, I was soon to realise how many of them are actually agents of imperialism masquerading as apostles of people’s rights in Africa. Indeed, the politics of development, which amplified their activities in contemporary Africa necessarily transformed many of them into the Trojan horses of neoliberalism and the recolonisation agenda of the West. This realisation was to underscore my aloofness and caution in dealing with most of the CSOs who constantly inundated me with requests for consultancy.


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Death At Dawn, Rebirth At Dusk 



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola




Twilight-zone, Afterlife, What-Mays, and Whatnots;

Questions that transcend mortal thoughts.

Uncertainties plucked by the hands of certainty

pondering life beyond the galaxy.


Philosophies, religions, and sciences; 

Ancient lenses to dissect and ponder.

Beliefs, opinions, and standpoints in their multiplicities;

Scalpels that open the heart of certain death

Blazing free the skins of uncertainty.


Science, a nobility I revere,

But it stammers answering to the afterlife.

For science is knowledge and knowledge from experience 

But the dead neither speak, nor take records.


Their journeys, ordeals, triumphs or woes?

No one bears witness.

But as dead, we must all be witnesses;

witnesses that testify not.

So, for now, we survive the knowledge of death.



On my Agbàlàgbà head lies my Ọ́kpụ́ Ágwụ́

With eagle feathers, rare and honorable

Adorning it for three scores, a decade, and some more days.

I had flipped my Kente given by the Gaa

And danced to crescendos from Gàngàn drums


I have been celebrated and celebrating 

For the miracles, I have worked with pen, paper, keyboard, and brain

I have taken the tales we tell in my village square beyond the Atlantic

Changed the songs that disdain us into appraisals

I have called my brothers not to point to our fathers’ house with their left hands


I have honed Africa and beyond

To answer the calls of the people’s need

I have reached the thinkable and done the unthinkable

So, I danced and keep dancing. 


Suddenly, I felt a touch on my host?

Electrifying my hand, leg, brain, and my whole

Telling me that my jur from the Dinka people awaits me.

That my hourglass tells of crossing the bar.


I thought I knew what it was like,

But my grasping convictions of approaching jur were perceptions

Just surviving the death of the knowledge of death

So, arms wide open ready to abound


What was there to fear?

No catacomb of secrets

No palm oil-drenched white garments

I have taken many to my gourmet

To feast and to see.


What was there not to fear?

With medicine men and women,

Syringes, lights, water, ECG, Oximeters, voices, and touches

Hovering around me like a sacred etutu

Making conversations with me and beyond


I was thrown into a pool of reminiscence

one leg and a part of me were already in the boat

It beckoned but I heard another. 


A loud voice like my mother’s.

Who takes a journey without locking his home?

Who takes the jur with unpatched palm fronds on his hut?

While the thunder rages up the sky?

The walls are broken and Balogun journeys?

So, I left the sea to clear the cobwebs and light up the night lamb.


The past few weeks have opened new lights of understanding to me. I now see the world from different hills and have helped to reach new resolutions. I know I have written about “transitioning to nothingness,” but my emphasis was on the “nothingness” with lesser attention on “transitioning.” I think we need to continue to ask questions. Philosophies, religion, sociology, psychology, science, and other ramifications are mere perceptions and we are uncertain. The transitioning occurs when death becomes an angel to hug not a beast to fear. We do not know what it entails but one must always endeavor to go with clean hands. 

My recovery from an illness may have offered me a fresh opportunity to shout some more, point to societal needs, and settle unfinished businesses. No, not those caused by my personal undoing, but rather those of the people who would be left unguided, and for matters untold about life, society, and individuals. I can say I have passed through the lessons of tantra transfiguration, to use an elegant phrase that I recently came across, to move from secular to sacred activism. No one survives death because of its finality, but when it seems that you did, it is a renewed quest, offering a new purpose.

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Professors On INEC’s Will (3)



Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof. Tony Afejuku

By Tony Afejuku

The debate has progressed well so far. Our professors, whose strokes have centred on their fellow professor’s manned INEC have tried as best as they could not to confine their impressions solely to the prism of subjectivity. Even when their impressions seem to be subjective, they still make allowance for contrary views, for opposing views. This obviously gives clarity, objectivity and logic to the subject at hand. Is the will of INEC of a professor minder and mincer of words’ control the will of the people or of the masses? On whose side are the Professors who are as concerned as almost everybody is with what is going – or with what has gone on – primarily about our Presidential 2023 elections? Our Professors who are debating the subject constitute the courageous and prophetic Nigerian voices of our day. Their authentic and responsible thoughts are not restricted to the local or regional. They are also not confined to electoral duties and responsibilities expected of the umpire and the will that belongs elsewhere. The truth about the quality of leadership about our country and elsewhere is also told in the debate of the literati.

Professor (Mrs.) Razinatu Mohamed in her submission, in her salvo-cum-explosion actually, drew attention to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s explosive explosion in the presidency. If Professor Osinbajo had provided the right vice-presidential leadership there would not have been the need for him to explode as he did as per a viral video Professor Razinatu Mohamed referred her fellow debaters to. “What has he been doing in the eight years of their administration? Irritated my foot; he is complicit.” Not done, Professor Razinatu drew attention to the kind of leaders that Nigeria and Africa need: “Leaders that understand the rudiments of modern socio-economic development and systems; Leaders that understand the crux of requirements for economic growth. Leaders that could demonstrate to the rest of the world that just as the world needs Africa, African countries need the world in a symbiotic relationship and partnership context where assistance becomes a dual role…..” 

Razinata’s concern is clear. Nothing in Nigeria will climb out of its hollow hole. In fact, the will of the people will remain hollow so long as a hollow mincer and minder is in charge of its electoral affairs. 

Professor Da Sylva perhaps responds better to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s algebraic stroke. “Unfortunately, Nigeria’s democracy is trapped in its primordial self-made ethnic and religious sentiments and so, standards, merit, competence and pedigrees are measured by their curious divides of religion and ethnic inclinations. Until we all come to realize that heavens help those who help themselves, Nigeria ain’t going no-where – meeen!” 

    But below is Professor Da Sylva’s sledge hammer response to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s Osinbajo hammer blow:

“Prof Osinbajo’s office demands he does what he did. Besides, it shows maturity and spirit of sportsmanship on his part. Every loser in a game “healthily” contested, is naturally expected to do the same. The only difference which again shows Osinbajo’s magnanimity is that in this context, the contest under reference was neither healthy nor just. The umpire seemed compromised and merely worked to a prepared answer. Yet the gentleman did the needful. I guess, brothers and sisters, that we should put all that behind us, and work for our common good, and the wellbeing of the country, provided the mythical Aso cabal will let the President-elect be, and let the masses be, and as such, they should not create any cause for us to think otherwise, lest they provoke our sense of patriotism to take appropriate action! I guess that those were the reading or feelings of the dirty-minded Aso Villa cabal. People that kill with sword never wish that any folk should pass a sword over their heads, a wise saying goes in Yoruba. The human principalities simply suspected that should they allow PMB to give the VP the intended latitude, they might not be able to control him. I remember on his return from London, he commended the efforts of his VP while he was away. He said he would still continue acting while he would still have some more rest at home. The following day everything changed, PMB decided to take charge as the President. I suspected some back door politics was playing out. My co-debaters, quite naturally, you’ll agree with me that, it is not over-ambition or sheer opportunism as you might insinuate for any deputy in an office to aspire to the next higher office, in a legitimate manner, there is nothing really unusual about it, and it would amount to killing a mosquito with a sledge hammer, should Oshinbajo be crucified for that, if at all. And as for his wishing Buhari’s non-recovery, I think that, again, like my Sister R, is a little unkind and not fair to the gentleman who I know to be a servant of God. He knows as much as I do, by our true Christian orientation and Biblical injunctions that, should he ever wish Buhari’s death or wish him any form of misfortune in those trying periods of the President, God Almighty who we serve would deal mercilessly and ruthlessly with him. That is what Psalm 41:1-13 is all about. So rule that out, because it is not, and could never be in his character. I can vouch for him. Rather, I saw him in those times that he acted for his principal, as someone zealous and appreciative of the trust his principal invested in him, and as such he tried to do his very best to merit the trust and the opportunity! I know and I am also sure that this is what an IBK, or a Razinat, would have done too had they found themselves in a similar situation! It does not amount to wishing one’s principal any evil, not at all. Not everyone can be like Chief Obafemi Awolowo who resigned his position under Gowon when the regime became financially reckless shortly after the civil war. Awolowo also gave very profound argumentation to justify convincingly his actions. He also turned down some other appointments including the “49 Wise Men of the Constitution Drafting Committee.” Oshinbajo couldn’t have resigned, normally, and naturally his principal, PMB should have supported him as a capable successor, but again, the President’s ethnic and religious bigotry took the better part of the President. Besides, PMB’s mind was long poisoned against his VP, a clean job by the Aso Villa cabal. IBK, Lady R, until the faceless cabal is permanently silenced the wheel of Nigeria might continue to go round in a circle, and to nowhere in particular”.

And Professor IBK takes the floor: “Prof. DAO, yours is a powerfully convincing submission, at least in a large measure. Now I am willing to hold a slightly different opinion about Osinbajo. Yet, I cannot fathom why he chose to run against Tinubu, days or weeks after the latter had begun his campaign in the party primaries. There’s much we don’t know about why OSBJ decided to run against BAT. Nothing is wrong with that politically but a little problematic from an Ethical or, at least Moral, point of view. Osinbajo did a poor job of it and came out a distant 4th in the primaries. I think he didn’t read the situation correctly and was probably misled by some cabal of sorts. Either way Osinbajo made a politically fatal error in this regard. Perhaps he must have sensed, or was told, that BAT was not the anointed candidate, or that BAT would be crippled by some ill-health or a medical condition. I remember the party’s screening committee publicly recommending that only younger contestants would be recommended to the NWC or such. Clearly there was an attempt to sideline BAT. Whatever the explanation, Osinbajo make the error in his campaign of promising to be more Buhari than Buhari. A man despised by whole sections of the northern population, a man whose reputation for laziness and incompetence was on the ascendant. Anyway, all is now history and Osinbajo has not given a good account of himself in this particular case. Prof DAO, I think your concept of the Trickster should account for Osinbajo’s situation here. FULL DISCLOSURE: a very close family member of mine was drafted to head Osinbajo’s campaign effort in Kano. We discussed extensively about Osinbajo’s pledge to carry on with Buhari’s policies. There was bewilderment and shock within the members. A week later half of the membership resigned on account of Osinbajo’s increasing identification with Buhari’s policies. Many mistakenly thought that Osinbajo was Buhari’s anointed one! I could go on…”

Interestingly interesting and intriguingly intriguing, dear, dearly dear readers: this debate.

To be terminated by the columnist-terminator and terminator-columnist next week after Professor Olu Obafemi’s summation of the debate he presided over.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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With Us, Not For US



Barrister Ijeoma Fynecountry

By Ijeoma Fynecountry

The 21st of March of every year is international day for the celebration of persons living with down syndrome. The advocacy and push for communal and political recognition of the basic fundamental rights for persons living with various types of disabilities, particularly intellectual disability, just as enjoyed by their peers who do not have any form of challenge – physical or intellectual has recorded a substantial success around the globe, especially in more developed climes. 

While the same cannot be said of the situation in Africa and Nigeria in particular, scanty breakthroughs have also been seen over the years, with the consistent and dogged efforts by some specialized organizations such as Down syndrome Foundation, Nigeria (DSFN).

The theme for this year’s celebration is “With us, Not for us”. This theme is apt particularly in the current era where the push for inclusion has taken a center stage in the campaign worldwide. While it is comforting to know that people, government and communities alike are now becoming more empathetic to the plight of persons living with disability, it is also necessary and most important that their rights as human beings deserving of not just empathy but actual concrete benefits accruable to other citizens without disability, is massively taken into consideration and actually provided for.

Therefore, it is not enough for the government to map out and create as in Lagos state and few other states, sections in the public schools to admit children or persons with intellectual disability, it is necessary to adequately equip these special schools with the needed “specialized” manpower, infrastructural and educational aids to attain the targeted educational goals for these persons. Likewise in the provision of better healthcare, economic, social needs of persons with disability etc.

Persons with intellectual disability do not just need to be specifically educated in accordance with his or her type of disability, but MUST also necessarily be able to aspire to or expect to be employed according to his or her learned ability. That way, a full right, befitting of a person, be him a person with disability or not, is assured. For what is the need of going through a learning process, acquiring a specialized knowledge about a craft or handiwork and eventually still not being given the opportunity of gaining employment as supposed, not due to lack of knowledge but for having a disability? No human being should be subjected to such. Our government should do better. The society at large should do better.

The theme for this year is enjoining all stakeholders – the government, communities, corporate organizations, religious bodies/organizations, individuals to open up their hearts, and recognize the very urgent and important need to help in the actualization of these basic human needs, rights of persons living with intellectual disability as we are all human. No human rights or needs should be prioritized over the other no matter the state of their health, mental and physical capacity. Stand with us by taking actual intentional steps towards uplifting and elevating the humanness of persons living with disability. It is not enough to say that you are for persons living with disability, your specific, intentional, targeted actions toward ensuring the practical applicability of these rights matters.

Fynecontryis a Lagos-based legal practitioner and the legal resource person for the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria.


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