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November 09, 2005

To Professor Akpan with Thanks

by Uche Nworah (London, UK) --- I still believe that our encounter with Prof. Emmanuel David Akpan was pre-destined, that God had placed him at the University of Uyo to bless us with his wisdom, and to give hope and pride back to us. I remember vividly our first lectures with him, in the Communication Arts studio it must have been.

How he started by running Prof. Emmanuel David Akpanus through his undergraduate days at the San Francisco State University, he wanted to let the class see that he had also been through life’s journey and that we could really achieve whatever we wanted to achieve.

He may not have known it then, but his regular pre-lesson pep talks did help keep our feet on the ground, having journeyed through our teenage years at the mercy of the almighty Joint Admissions & Matriculation Board (JAMB), some of us came to Uyo as frustrated students, because Unilag, OAU (then Unife), UNN, UI and all the other ‘Ivy League’ universities in Nigeria had seemed out of reach.

He made us all to appreciate the Uniuyo (then Unicross) that we had, and encouraged us to work hard and excel, that way we would help to raise the profile of the University. He narrated how he had to leave his lecturing jobs first at UNN, and then Unical to come to ‘obscure’ Unicross to help found the Communication Arts department. Teachers like him don’t come any more in dozens; he was a true communication scholar, alongside the other communication scholars of his generation, the likes of Prof. Frank Okwu Ugboajah, Prof. Onuora Nwuneli, Prof. Solomon Unoh and Prof Ikechukwu Nwosu. If there was ever a Nigerian version of, I am sure that the praises of the many students, whose lives he touched will easily fill the columns.

He was one of the old school teachers; he believed in what he was doing, and had so much joy in helping his students come through, he believed so much in the future, the future of his students. For this reason, all through our 4 year degree programme, he never sold, nor caused to be sold any handouts in his name, a practice that was prevalent at the time.

Though he was a professor, but that didn’t affect his teaching style, he still regarded himself as a teacher, I remember the lecture we had with him on the topic synergy, he couldn’t have explained the concept any better with his pot of soup and ingredients example. I used to marvel at the fluidity of his thoughts, and the simplicity of the examples he used, tapping from everyday things to explain difficult concepts. He did not revel in academic jargons or big grammar, something the academic world is known for.

This was obviously as a result of his simple nature, attired usually in native adire clothes, he was always reachable, we didn’t need any protocols to see him, he didn’t mind our stopping him on the sidewalks and discussing any issues. I remember also how he wouldn’t be dragged into some of the university politics at the time, especially over the deanship of the faculty of arts (a position he eventually occupied) and the ASUU/Babangida/Jubril Aminu crises; one of his expressions then was ‘let me quietly go about my business’.

He couldn’t understand the madness and irrationality of what was going on at the time. Injustice inflicted on man by man.

It was from him that we learnt about and experienced positive marking, he judged the students more on their potentials, he recognised that students sometimes have their bad days, and so may not perform well in tests, quizzes and exams. This was at a time that most lecturers took pride in branding students as failures, never-do-wells, olodos etc. These types of lectures took joy in failing students, they had no issues in awarding a zero out of ten marks for a student’s effort, and then would throw in the icing by drawing in human eyes, and a big smile inside the zero. For these lecturers, such tactics opened opportunities for them to prey on female students or to engage in sorting.

I have carefully preserved this particular test script which he marked in my first year; his comments on my performance couldn’t have come at a better time, he had asked us to explain what we understood by the phrase; man can not, not communicate, having spent half of the time, scratching my head, and looking up to the heavens for help and inspiration, I was surprised at the six marks I scored out of a maximum ten marks, but still more surprised at his encouraging comments; I could see some hope in you, keep it up, he wrote.

Most of our teachers thrive in a culture of condemnation, praise is not anywhere in their dictionaries, not Prof. Akpan. Janet Jackson, the American R & B singer once confessed in an interview that despite her success, she was still hunted by her high school teacher’s comments; the teacher had repeatedly told her that she would never amount to anything in her life. What a difference Professor Akpan’s positive approach made in our lives.

Though it’s now 10 years since he passed on, I want to thank him and to tell him that I enjoyed being his student, he is indeed one of the best teachers that I ever had. His many students scattered all over the world are indeed flying the flag of their Alma matter and proudly carrying the torch lighted by him and the others.

Now that I have also become an academic, I draw lots of inspiration from his style, I assess the students based on what is there, rather than looking for what is not there, this is something several teachers, lecturers or what ever name they prefer to be called these days should seriously consider, especially this one lecturer I once had who seemed to have a penchant for terrorising students, imagine telling me on the first day of his course lectures that no matter how hard I tried, that I wasn’t going to pass the course.

Hopefully, one day all Prof. Akpan’s past students would be able to pay a more befitting tribute to this great teacher.

In memory of the late Professor Emmanuel David Akpan (Etok Emman) 1938 - 1995

Uche Nworah studied Communication Arts at the University of Uyo.

Posted by Administrator at November 9, 2005 01:35 PM


I must start out first by saying thank you Mr. Nworah for such a wonderful article about my father. After my uncle brought this article to my attention some days ago, i felt that it would be an injustice for me not to thank you for acknowledging my Dad in such a sincere and honest way. I am glad that he affected so many peoples lives. I hope that I will be able to keep holding the fort even in his absence. This article really brought me to tears, and enabled me to re evaluate my goals.
Once again, thank you Sir.
Sincerely yours

Posted by: Ani at November 16, 2005 03:09 AM

What a wonderful article by Uche about our late Prof. Emmanuel Akpan. Uche have said exactly what the Prof was to his students; an academic father who took all us his students along encouraging and advising us whenever we were academically wanting. The untimely absence of his presence and the endless time of his ever coming back has made all of us who passed through him to believe that a real academic genius is missing from the department of Communication Arts particularly and University of Uyo generally. I wish his spirit rest and hopefully look forward to when all of us shall pay our great teaher a befitting tribute.

Halley Bapebe Ochui was Uche Nworah's class/course mate.

Posted by: Halley Bapebe Ochui at November 26, 2005 12:35 AM

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