By Sunny Awhefeada
When scholars and students assembled in the Large Lecture Theatre of the Faculty of the Social Sciences at the Delta State University, Abraka, to celebrate the life and times of Professor Bright Ukori Ekuerhare two Wednesdays ago, the conclusion was that the departed professor of Development Economics did not die as the regenerative ideas he professed, the generations of students and scholars he taught and mentored will continue to make his name Bright remain brightly aglow. Professor Bright Ekuerhare lived his name. The opinion canvassed by speaker after speaker at the gathering tagged SYMPOSIUM AND DAY OF TRIBUTES was that he was a Bright that was truly Bright! Professor Ekuerhare who died recently was a university man through and through. He was an embodiment of what some would call a thoroughbred and a hardnosed university don!
Born in 1945, the young Bright blazed through primary and secondary education with distinctions. He wasted no time in registering his effulgent presence in the Department of Economics of Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan in 1966 and obtained the B. Sc. in Economics in 1969. The lure of academe made him return to Ibadan for postgraduate studies and received the MSc in 1972 with Distinction. Something spectacular happened the day he defended his MSc thesis. The visiting Head of Economics Department at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who was awed by Ekuerhare’s academic prowess, offered him an on-the-spot appointment as a Lecturer II. Thence, the young MSc holder bounced off to Zaria. More academic adventures lured him to the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester. By the time he returned to Nigeria in 1978, he did so with, the Golden Fleece, a PhD in Economics.
The young and ebullient Dr. Bright Ekuerhare returned to Nigeria when the country nay Africa was in ebullition. Nigeria, and most of Africa, was under military rule and the hopes that attended the independent struggles were getting dimmed and distant. Ekuerhare and his ilk in the Ivory Tower had thought that they could brighten the horizon and birth hope for the continent. From Zaria to Ibadan, Benin, Calabar, Lagos, Jos and other university towns, Ekuerhare and his co-travellers resolved their choice of engagement in favour of the revolutionary framework erected by Karl Marx and Fredric Engels. They fancied themselves as teachers of hope whose radical thoughts would implant the seeds of revolution that will not only alter the means of production and distribution of wealth, but also undo the bourgeoisie and enthrone the proletariat on the saddle of governance.
Ekuerhare’s ideological boon companions bestrode different fields of human and academic endeavours and at a time they did hold sway. The famous Ali Must Go crisis that rocked the nation in 1978 was largely seen as a direct influence of the ideological gung-ho the students imbibed from their Marxist lecturers. That crisis dazed the Ahmadu Bello University, the very university where Ekuerhare was a teacher from 1972 to 1984. Much of the vibrancy that sustained the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) from around 1978 when it was founded to the early 1990s also derived from the tenacity of the Marxist radicals and their fidelity to the ideology they professed. In truth, ASUU’s first president, Professor Biodun Jeyifo was a leading Marxist scholar. Ekuerhare exercised immense fidelity in abiding by the tenets of Marxism for as long the ideology blossomed, but that was not for long.
The military dictatorship of the 1980s was uncomfortable with the bearded Marxists and moved against them. The crisis in Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the asphyxiation of Communism, the fall of the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics contributed to the emasculation of Marxist ideology in Nigeria and by the end of the 1980s Marxism has had its day. The collapse of the economy, worsening condition in the universities coupled with the deliberate impoverishment of university dons ushered in an era of brain drain. Unable to cope with the harsh reality of life, many celebrated Marxists scholars voted with their feet and relocated abroad. Others sought refuge in the corporate world to enjoy the comfort and glamour it offered, while some joined governments at different levels. Ekuerhare didn’t do any of these.
Having left ABU in 1984 for the old Bendel State University, now Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Ekuerhare had become a leading negotiator in ASUU – FGN crises during which he deployed his monumental gift of the gab. He became the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Ekpoma before relocating to the Delta State University, Abraka, in 1993 as the pioneer Dean of the Social Sciences. At Abraka, he was to become Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor before he retired in 2010. As the University’s most senior tenured professor having attained that rank in 1985, it was his lot to deliver its first inaugural lecture in 1997. He was also the University’s first orator. Outside the University, Professor Ekuerhare rendered services to both states and federal governments at different times, but maintained an academic aloofness which scoffs at government foibles.
Professor Ekuerhare was a great family man, a point emphasized by every speaker who spoke at the symposium. Together with his supportive wife (Rose) of many decades, they raised their children as well as those of relatives without anybody knowing that the latter were not their biological children. Mrs. Rose Ekuerhare, who called him BRIGHT with all the emphasis conferred by affection, was singled out for praise for her role in the making of BRIGHT.
Professor Bright Ekuerhare lived his name as Bright and Ekuerhare. The latter means “heap of fire” in Urhobo. Yes, he lit up the world of academics and the path of the struggle for the emancipation of the Nigerian people. Surely, the fire will not go out until victory is won by the people and for the people. Ododegho from whence he came receives him today. Professor, gbe tode oooo…