CELEBRATING A ROYAL ICON AT 90: Obi (Prof) Joseph Chike Edozien [The Asagba of Asaba]
Obi Professor Joseph Chike Edozien, CFR, JP, is the 13th Asagba of Asaba in Delta State, Nigeria.
Born on July 28, 1925 in Asaba to the famous family of Edozien –the direct descendants of Nnebisi the founder of Asaba. His father was Nathaniel Okafor Edozien a renowned son of the soil, and one of the most senior indigenous officials of the then Nigerian Coal Corporation in Enugu. His mother, Nwakuso Edozien née Odogwu, was the daughter of a prominent Asaba chief, and a notable trader.
He was still tender when his father sent him to live with an uncle who was a school master in Warri, Bendel State now Delta State, Nigeria. There, he attended the Catholic School in Warri from 1933 to 1937. His secondary education was in Christ the Kings College, Onitsha between 1938 to 1942. In 1942 he attended the Higher College Yaba and then proceeded to Achimota School, Accra, Ghana.
Professor Edozien began his university education in 1944, after he had secured an admission into the University College of Dublin, Ireland. He successfully completed his BSc degree with honours in Physiology from the National University of Ireland in 1948, with further success on MSc in Physiology in 1950, Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Chemotherapy (MBBCh) in 1954. He received several academic awards in the process to justify his satisfactory performance.
His academic career began with an appointment as a Lecturer in Clinical Biochemistry in Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London in 1951. In 1952 he was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Chemical Pathology at the University College, Ibadan. He returned to Ibadan, Nigeria after his successful studies in Ireland.
In 1955, he married Modupe Smith; a radiographer at the University of Ibadan teaching hospital. Her father was one of the first indigenous managers of the United Africa Company and her maternal grandfather was Herbert Macaulay, Nigeria’s first surveyor and one of the principal actors in Nigeria’s independence movement.
Professor Edozien’s groundbreaking research in nutrition came at a time –during the nation’s early independence, where educated Nigerians rapidly occupied positions of responsibility in politics, commerce and academia. Everyone’s hopes were high during this period that in a short time the country would bridge the gap with the more developed countries of Europe and North America. The euphoric mood and moment permeated the University of Ibadan, particularly the acknowledgement of Edozien’s scholarly works in nutrition helped win it a reputation as a rising academic centre. He was appointed a professor in 1961 and became the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in 1962.
Unfortunately, Edozien’s career at Ibadan ended in 1967, a casualty of the political crisis that ended the euphoria of the late 50′s and early 60′s and resulted in the coups of 1966 and eventually led to the Nigerian Civil War. However, he was instrumental in the efforts to establish the University of Benin in the newly created Mid-Western Region of Nigeria in 1967. He was also implicated in the plots that resulted in the Biafran invasion of the Mid-Western Region at the beginning of the civil war and was forced to flee the country.
After a period as a refugee in France, he was appointed as a professor of Nutrition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. In 1971 he became a professor and head of Department of Nutrition, of the School of Public Health of the University of North Carolina.
In 1990, Professor J.C Edozien was appointed the Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research. Shortly thereafter he was selected to become the 13th Asagba of Asaba. He retired as a Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina and returned to Nigeria in 1991.
Obi Edozien’s tenure as the Asagba of Asaba has coincided with dramatic changes in the character of the town. When the government of President Ibrahim Babangida created Delta State out of the old Bendel State, Asaba was chosen as the capital. Its new status as the seat of the state government has brought much of the chaotic development associated with contemporary Nigerian urbanization. The population of the town has grown and the influx of non-Asaba indigenes has strained the traditional institutions of the town.
A major challenge of Obi Edozien’s tenure as the Asagba has been balancing of rapid development, modernization of traditional norms and institutions with preservation of the positive aspects and moderating influence of traditional values. Several on-going initiatives such as the Asagba’s permanent palace, civic centre and the documentation of the town’s traditional laws and customs have sought to balance these concerns.
His Royal Majesty remains an important figure in modern day Nigerian affairs. In 1997, he was elected as Chairman, Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers. The then Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo conferred the national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) on him in 2003. He is also the Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
Outside been the first Black-African indigenous dean of medicine in a foreign land and royal father of Asaba clan Delta State, Prof. Edozien has earned numerous awards and Status.
As a leading icon in the field of medicine, Prof. Edozien’s sterling leadership is a perfect blend of tradition and western modernism. He is happily married to his wife Modupe, and is also a father, grandfather and a great-grandfather.
As the good people of Delta State, most especially the indigenous sons/daughters of Asaba prepare to celebrate this erudite scholar and nonagenarian monarch, with a double event that equally marks his 24-years-reign as the traditional ruler of Asaba, we say HAPPY BIRTHDAY –Your Majesty!
Nna Agu! Nna Agu!! Nna Agu!!! Asagba, Igadi kaa echi –Ise
Wishing you more healthy years ahead..
– Comrade Augustine Ogechukwu Nwulia
» Freelance Writer/Biographer and Social Crusader wrote from Port Harcourt, Rivers State.