A Diary of God’s Grace: Autobiography of an Academic by Uka Iwuchukwu Ezenwe; Tamaza Publishing Company Ltd, Zaria, Nigeria; 2022; 246pp
Prof Uka Iwuchukwu Ezenwe excelled as the dean of dons in his more than 35 years of teaching in the university. He served as the President of the Nigerian Economic Society but prefers to tell his story from humble beginnings, thusly: “I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I lost my father at the tender age of six. I could not proceed to secondary school after my primary education due to lack of sponsorship and had to start teaching only one year after primary education. My situation helped me to develop an unstoppable mindset early in life, which has paid off.”
Many Nigerian personages gained from the tutelage of Prof Uka Ezenwe, one of whom, the former Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dr Suleyman A. Ndanusa, OON, wrote the Foreword: “The autobiography titled A Diary of God’s Grace, in one swoop, has brought together a story of a life’s journey in virtues and spiritual values laced in humility. Like the author said, the overall purpose of the memoir is to inspire, inform, educate and perhaps entertain and, above all, draw attention to God’s mercies in his life. “
Prof Ezenwe is a survivor who gives God all the glory for his life’s journey, as he writes in the Preface: “Aside from academic pursuits and achievements, I see the manifestation of God’s grace early in my life. I caught yaws at the tender age of twelve months and survived it; I have also survived two armed robbery attacks; one terrible car accident, a fall from ube tree, and a number of dangerous threats to my life.”
Born into the polygamous Ezenweinyinya family of Amaba kindred of Ugwuakwu village in Umuchu town, Aguata LGA, of today’s Anambra State, the young Uka was the 6th child of his mother and the 9th of the 14 children of his father. He renders his ancestry with the mastery of a historian and puts upfront the Ezenweinya Family Tree for all to see.
He started his early education at St. Thomas CMS School, Umuchu in 1945, that is, the year of the end of the Second World War. This his nearby hometown primary school did not have the full complement of primary education, so he had to in 1950 continue his education at St. Peter’s CMS School, Achina-Akpo that was nine kilometres away, a distance he had to walk on foot every morning. He placed 3rd at the completion of his primary school education in 1954 but had nobody to sponsor his education in secondary school.
Young Uka had to make do with studying in a 12-month church-sponsored teacher training programme in Ngwo in present-day Enugu State, and was posted as a teacher in 1956 to St. John’s Anglican School, Oko, the hometown of Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Uka was barely 14 years of age and bought a Raleigh bicycle in July 1956. A church evangelization plan entailed that teachers should be taken to their hometowns, and this put Uka back in Umuchu.
He gained further training at St. Cyprian’s College, Nsukka, and St. Mark’s College, Nibo-Nise, and studied privately for his GCE (A-Level) in Economics, British Constitution, and History.
He applied to study in either University of Ghana, Legon or University of Ibadan. While Ibadan denied him Legon answered his prayer. Fortuitously, a friend of Uka’s brother who had some business dealings in Ghana signed on October 5, 1965 to sponsor his studies upon the agreement that the student will refund the money starting from a year’s grace after getting employment.
Uka was in Ghana studying during the Biafra war years, a battle in which his younger brother, Chukwuemeka, died on the battlefield fighting for the independence of Biafra.
After Uka completed his first degree studies, a Dutch Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Stemeers, helped him to secure financial support for an M.Sc Economics programme. Uka also applied successfully to the Geneva-based International University Exchange Fund (IUEF). Prof Ojetunji Aboyade from the University of Ibadan served as the external examiner as Uka Ezenwe became “the second person to successfully defend his M.Sc (Economics) thesis in Legon. “
An ambitious lad, he applied to the University of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland to pursue a Ph.D. course and was offered admission on the grounds that he must pass the M.Litt course before proceeding to the Ph.D. degree. The Danish Inter-Church Aid and World Service offered him a three-session scholarship.
He briefly visited Nigeria and his Umuchu hometown before flying off to the United Kingdom in pursuit of the coveted Golden Fleece. While studying in Scotland, Uka had to bring over from Nigeria the angelic lady, Miss Regina Ezenwabasili, whom his family had done the necessary traditional rites to be his bride. He got her a clerical job at the Nigerian Consulate in Edinburgh, and Uka even worked as a part-time waiter at the Caledonian Hotel before they wedded on July 21, 1973 at St. Thomas Church of England, Glasgow Road, Edinburgh.
Uka Ezenwe’s eventful 30-year sojourn as a teacher at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria started in October 1973 from the post of Lecturer II, then promoted to Lecturer 1 in 1976, Senior Lecturer 1978, Reader (Associate Professor) 1981, and Professor in 1984, thus becoming the first Nigerian Professor of Economics at ABU, Zaria. He excelled as Dean of the Faculty in 1992, triumphing over the dire politics of a Southerner working in the North. He was even approached by the VC to be the Deputy Vice-Chancellor but murky politics put that on one side.
After his retirement from ABU, he enjoyed a rewarding stint at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Abuja from May 2, 2002 to May 2007. He made a return to the university system at the University of Abuja in 2008.
He published his first book, ECOWAS and the Economic Integration of West Africa, in 1983 and delivered his inaugural lecture on March 31, 1998.
He was the founding Chairman of e-Barcs Microfinance Bank, Abuja, and was given the high chieftaincy title of Ezeugonmuta (Champion of learning). Where he lives in Abuja bears his name: Uka Ezenwe Close, adjacent to the great labour leader’s Hassan Sunmonu Street.
A people’s professor, Uka Ezenwe undertook empowerment and development initiatives in his hometown of Umuchu and in Anambra State. He was unrelenting in promoting education and working in the Lord’s Vineyard. He is a champion of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
As a fitting conclusion to A Diary of God’s Grace, Prof Uka Ezenwe renders: “My Thoughts on Nigeria’s Survival: The Criticality of Restructuring.” Prof Ezenwe argues that “what can pull Nigeria out of the brink is the convocation of a sovereign national conference (SNC).”
A family man per excellence, Prof Ezenwe has been married to Lady (Lolo) Regina Akuadibe Ezenwe for some 50 years, and the marriage is blessed with four accomplished children, namely, Uchenna, Chinwe, Chidi and Ndidiamaka, alongside lovely grandchildren. What would have been the couple’s first child was stillborn on June 13, 1974 due to doctor’s negligence.
The well-packaged and reader friendly A Diary of God’s Grace contains invaluable photographs, including the radio that was stolen by “known criminals in Edinburgh” that the police eventually tracked, arrested, prosecuted and jailed with Uka Ezenwe serving as crown witness.
A Diary of God’s Grace: Autobiography of an Academic by Uka Iwuchukwu Ezenwe is a treasure throve of a book that deserves to be read by all.