Remembering Prof. Nolue Emenanjo: The St Paul of Igbo Studies

Remembering Prof. Nolue Emenanjo: The St Paul of Igbo Studies
Remembering Prof. Nolue Emenanjo: The St Paul of Igbo Studies


Lives of great men all remind us that we can make our lives sublime. And departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


In Retrospect

Just as Egypt is the gift of the Nile, so Igbo Studies is the gift of Emmanuel Nwanolue Emenanjo.  In ancient Egypt, it was the River Nile, the longest river in Africa, which gave Egypt life in the sphere of agricultural and maritime activities. What the river is to Egypt today is what I cannot speculate and determine but in those good old days, there was no Egypt in the absence of the Nile. Yes. What the Nile was to Egypt is what Emenanjo was to Igbo Studies, for the missionaries and Ogbalu planted, Emenanjo watered, and God gave the increase. In another dimension, Emenanjo can be compared to Saint Paul the Apostle who arrived somewhat late in the pastoral field, but contributed immensely in the evangelization ministry of Christ.

Professor Emenanjo was not originally a scholar of Igbo, but God, like in the case of Saul, “converted” him to give Igbo the impetus it has today. This son of titled parents- Obi and Obi Emenanjo of Umueze, Ibuzo, had an honours degree in English at the University of Ibadan. On graduation, he took immediately to teaching at Warri, and went back sometime to Ibadan for a Post-Graduate diploma course in education to really qualify as a teacher. At about the time of this academic pursuit, Professor Kay Williamson (Emenanjo’s academic mother) of the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages was looking for a research assistant for the Igbo dictionary she was compiling. Emenanjo abandoned his PGDE bid to join the Linguistics Department in 1972 as a Research Assistant. At this point in time, Igbo was introduced into the curriculum of the Linguistics where Yoruba was already being taught. Emenanjo was a great asset, and he pioneered the teaching of Igbo even though he had formally not studied Igbo. During this period, he did a Post-Graduate Diploma in Linguistics and embarked on a Master’s degree in Linguistics with Igbo as his base Language.

With him in mind, the department put up an advertisement for the post of a lecturer. Somebody, already with a Masters degree in Philology from a Russian University, also applied. The candidate was preferred instead. The candidate with a Masters degree in Philology was Mr. S.U. Obi who became the sole lecturer of Igbo courses from 1973 to early 1980s. The Oxford University Press (OUP) put up an advertisement for the post of an Igbo editor about the time of the recruitment of Mr. Obi, and Emenanjo was recruited. Even though he did not stay long with the OUP, his experience there was like that of Saint Paul whose sojourn in Arabia immediately on conversion prepared him for his aggressive evangelization ministry for Christ (Gal 1:11-24). Emenanjo’s sojourn with OUP was, therefore, a booster not only for Igbo, but also for other Nigerian Languages.


Emenanjo Waded Into Igbo Academics

Luck had always been with Emenanjo and Igbo Studies. In a School Certificate marking centre of the West African Examinations Council in one of the years, Emenanjo met Dr. Betram Osuagwu of the Department of Igbo, Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri, who picked interest in him and begged him to come over to Alvan and help them out as a lecturer. Like Simon and Andrew (sons of Jonah) and James and John (sons of Zebedee) who left their fathers and fishing industry to follow Christ, Emenanjo left OUP and his editorial work to follow Osuagwu to the famed Alvan to join the academic staff.

On arrival at Alvan, he made himself prominent academically on the entire campus. He rose very fast and became Head, Department of Igbo from 1978-1980; took over the Deanship of the School of Arts (1981-1983) from Professor Ernest Emenyonu who proceeded to the University of Calabar on appointment as Professor of English. In 1981, he obtained his PhD in Igbo syntax from the University of Ibadan. In 1984, Emenanjo joined the services of University of Port Harcourt as a senior lecturer and rose to the post of a professor of Igbo Linguistics within a relatively short period. He became, as in Alvan, Head, Department of Linguistics & African Languages. On completion of his tenure, he contested and won a landslide victory in an election to the Deanship position of the Faculty of Humanities. On completion of the deanship tenure, he was appointed for four years, the Provost, College of Education, Warri. It did not rain for Emenanjo. It poured. While in Warri, the Federal Government of Nigeria appointed him the Executive Director, National Institute for Nigerian Languages, Aba, where he served two-term tenure. In all these institutions and positions, Nolue exhibited maturity and dynamism of leadership, promoting academics generally and Igbo Studies particularly. At the University of Port Harcourt, he was instrumental to attracting and influencing Igbo scholars from various higher institutions to embark on higher degrees in the Department of Linguistics & African Languages.

Emenanjo bestrode Igbo Studies by being at home with its language and literature. Call on him on either aspect, and he would give a good account of himself. He had an edge over everyone else in Igbo Studies. Emenanjo had published extensively in both books and journal articles on language and literature. His entry into Igbo Studies had brought a great change for the better just as Saint Paul’s entry into Christianity brought great change in the evangelization ministry of Christ. Emenanjo was a man of many souls rolled into one. He was a great biographer. His biographical perspective on Chief Ogbalu: “F.C. Ogbalu: His Times, Vision and the Igbo Language: An Overview” (1995) was a classic. He was a Poet. His six published poems- 3 in Utara Nti and 3 in Nkemakolam­- are very sarcastic, satiric and critical of the society and government. He was a grammarian, having written many grammar books, the last published in 2015 entitled A Grammar of Contemporary Igbo is a 638 page work which Prof. Ozo-Mekuri Ndimele described as a magnum opus. He was a powerful essayist, a literary and social critic, an analyst and an educationist. Whoever talks ill of Igbo Studies in any form, talks ill of Emenanjo, and he does not spare such a person. He disagreed with Chinua Achebe at Alvan in 1978 on the occasion of the launching of Emenyonu’s The Rise of the Igbo Novel (1978) and Emenanjo’s Element of Modern Igbo Grammer (1978) when Achebe passed some unpleasant remarks on Igbo Studies and its processes.

Emenanjo Brought a Change

Emenanjo’s short sojourn in the editorial profession brought a great influence and change in the structure and volume of Igbo and other Nigerian indigenous literature textbooks. Before he joined OUP, all published literature books (mostly novels) were novellas and novelettes, the size of Omenuko (1933, 93pp); (1952, 56pp). Emenanjo, as an Igbo editor in OUP, caused the editorial policy of the Company towards literature in indigenous languages to be changed. He started with Tony Ubesie’s Isi Akwu Dara n’Ala (1973, 206pp). He stood his ground that the entire volume of the manuscript be retained and published. Today, not only (UPL) but other publishers have learnt to publish novels of Forster’s (1927) imposed standard of 50,000 words minimum.

It was also during the era of Emenanjo’s editorship that other genres of literature featured and came into focus in Igbo Studies. Before him, there were no drama texts and poetic anthologies. With him Igbo had her first drama book- Udo Ka Mma (1974) and her first written poetic anthology- Akpa Uche (1975). Oxford University Press (OUP) published them. Like the motto of the extinct West African Pilot founded by Zik, which was “Show the Light and People will find the Way”, Emenanjo opened the way by editing those works. Today, novels, plays and poetic anthologies have grown by leaps and bounds. Today, Igbo can boast of over 300 novels, 220 plays, 65 poetic anthologies despite the 30 wasted years of orthography controversy (1929-1961) and the civil war,  (1967-1970) which retarded the growth of Igbo Studies.

Prof. Inno Uzoma Nwadike, (KSM) is of UNN




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