BY ONYEKACHI ONYEMELUKWE & MMA KEN-AKPARANTA, Et Al
Today, a brand-new septuagenarian, Professor (Mrs) Ifeoma Mabel Onyemelukwe, is taking an illustrious bow out of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, escorted by a bagful of feats. Seventy years ago, a gentle woman, Catherine Nwakalor, fondly called ‘Mama Awka,’ who could hurt no fly, gave birth to the amazon, Ifeoma, meaning ‘a good thing’ in Igbo language. As names are prophetic, she remains a true reflection of her name. The third of seven siblings was born on September 23, 1950 to the family of the late Mr.& Mrs John Hilton Genegbo Nwakalor of Umubele village, Awka in Anambra State.
Without any doubt, she is exiting the university a fulfilled woman. As a seasoned academic who remains unwavering in her pedagogical pursuits, her official retirement can at best produce an enormous void that may be tough to fill. Her accomplishments are heroic. Her work ethics are not only admirable, but revolutionary for a woman of her time. She forged a path to success that few women had dared before. Her children, biological, academic and spiritual are spaced around the globe, flourishing and those core qualities she impressed on them have held stead. This matriarch and pillar has successfully held a home together alongside climbing the academic ladder of success.
From inception, she is not one to ever accept mediocrity, but exudes excellence in whatever has her name on it. She earned a distinction in her First School Leaving Certificate (1962) and distinctions in Post Graduate Diploma in Education (ABU) (1982). Ifeoma attended Anglican Girls’ Secondary School, Ogidi, where she distinguished herself as an all-round and excellent student, finishing with Grade 1 and the best WASC result in her school in 1970/71. She was the pride of her father, in particular, who displayed her excellence to whoever cared to know. She secured admission into University of Benin to study Medicine, but preferably, opted to study a BA (Hons.) degree in Modern Languages with French as major and German as subsidiary in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she earned a 2nd Class Honors, Upper Division (1976).
For the first time, the National Youth Service Corps programme brought her to the North, Zaria precisely. Here, she met Prof. Geoffrey Chukwubuike Onyemelukwe (MON) and got married to the young medical Doctor. With her husband’s immeasurable and relentless support, she pursued vigorously and successfully her postgraduate studies, completing all in record time. The hard working and brilliant academic, in her career, received French Government Scholarship Awards (in recognition of her note-worthy contribution to the progress of French Language Teaching and Learning in Nigeria) for a one-month intensive course in Besançon in France (2001) and in Nantes in France (2012). Her numerous researches have taken her, at various moments, around the globe.
Prof. Onyemelukwe began her career as a Graduate Assistant on 6th February 1978, with a tenure appointment at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, first with the Institute of Education, deployed in the French Department of ATC/ABU, Zaria. She was fully transferred to the Department of French, Faculty of Arts, ABU, Zaria, in 2002, where she rose to the rank of Professor in 2005, specializing in African Literature of French Expression. Distinguished Professor Ifeoma Onyemelukwe presented a well-attended inaugural lecture on 14th October, 2015. She served as: Visiting Professor, External Examiner, External Assessor of some colleagues for promotion to Associate Professorial and Professorial cadres, Accreditor of French Programmes in some tertiary institutions of Nigeria, Editor-in-Chief and Field Consultant to some reputable academic Journals. She dutifully discharged her full academic responsibilities till her retirement date. At the ripe young age of seventy, we are stunned at how she remains quite energetic and relevant not just to our family, but to a troop of people around the universe. She is indeed, a helpmeet for our dad. As her children, we aspire to climb her heights of sacrifice and hope to emulate her nobility and heroism.
As an astute administrator, endowed with expert leadership qualities, she held various leadership positions in administration, academically, socially and culturally. She was Head of Department of French while on Sabbatical Appointment in Kaduna State University, Kaduna, leading to the department obtaining full accreditation (2009-2010); Appointed Chairperson, Academic Monitoring Committee of Faculty of Arts, ABU, Zaria to ensure quality control (2011-2015); Chairperson, Faith Management Board (2004-2006) and President of many women organizations. In her career, she left indelible phenomenal imprints. This indefatigable scholar with virtuous conduct and character, recognized early, her talent of literary creativity and writing in general and used it profusely to edify the Church of God, women and children. She published several gospel plays, poems, short stories, novels and children’s literature and edited several women magazines. She is a devout Christian whose life is guided by Biblical principles and she professes Christ readily in her writings. She is an active member of the Anglican Communion and also preaches in the church of God. The 21st Century icon of African Literature has churned out an impressive number of books relevant to the study of African Literature. She published two key books recognized by authorities in French as appropriate indigenous instructional materials for teaching French in Nigeria at all levels.
Our mother is one of the most original, creative and prolific persons in the field of African Literature and French. The great researcher has to her credit 156 publications: 126 articles in peer reviewed national and international journals/books, 3 in conference proceedings and 27 books. Her well researched publications, as can be gleaned from ResearchGate, attract wide readership from the international community and help increase the visibility of Ahmadu Bello University, the great Institution she served for these past 42 years. She participated actively in international and national conferences and workshops, with a record of 39 conference/seminar papers. The professionally trained teacher taught with passion at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Her teaching/supervision record is exemplary, as she supervised with thoroughness many undergraduate and post-graduate students, scores of them having got their undergraduate projects (200) and dissertations and theses (49) completed successfully under the expert supervision of this mentor extraordinaire. Some of them have become Professors or reached the zenith of their professions. She has been and indeed remains, a role model and mentor to young researchers around the globe. Our mother has made unmatched contributions to the academic achievements as well as personal and social development of university students within and outside Nigeria. Her mentees love her dearly. Prof. (Mrs.) Ifeoma Mabel Onyemelukwe’s success story is not one devoid of challenges. Through doggedness and the full backing of God, this fearless amazon conquered battles to the shame of her adversaries.
The immeasurable contributions to knowledge and humanity of our mother earned her numerous awards and honours. Significantly, her community decorated her with the title, “Okammuta Ada-Beleanwunya” (Awka, 2016), while His Majesty Onyeso of Nri crowned her Female King with the title, “Nne Ora Ndi Igbo” (2016). Countless cachets are ascribed to her name. The illustrious Professor of international repute is a: Fellow, Chartered Institute of administration (2014), Fellow, Institute of Management Consultants (2018) and Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Letters (2019) and is cited in The Contemporary Who is Who (2002 – date) and The International Who is Who of Professional and Business Women (2000 – date), among others.
As she turns 70 on active retirement from service, her children, their spouses and her grandchildren celebrate her with a resounding ‘Happy Birthday Mummy’. We are blessed with a mother who is super astounding in every way. Over the years, we have repeatedly marveled at her blazing command of strength; how competently and elegantly she does it with a natural seal of brilliance. She has always been a gift. We all love you and we are grateful to God you were born. As you commemorate this well-deserved milestone celebration of 70 years of your life, it is our prayer that God rewards you with complete joy, good health and great peace in the years ahead. Thank you for sharing yourself so selflessly all these years. Thank you for lessons. Thank you for making our lives enhanced day in and day out. Thank you for the coatings of love, richness, beauty and depth you have added to our image. Through the length of our days we will never forget that we are blessed with a mother who is extraordinary in every way. At this all-important landmark in our mother’s life and in our lives as her family, we celebrate her today, always and forever.
The views expressed in this tribute are shared by Obiageli, Ogochukwu, Ikechukwu, the grandchildren, sons and daughters in -laws