Now Reading
The Story, Politics, Reactions Trailing Nigerian ‘Professor’ Onyeka Nwelue

The Story, Politics, Reactions Trailing Nigerian ‘Professor’ Onyeka Nwelue

The Story, Politics, Reactions Trailing Nigerian ‘Professor’ Onyeka Nwelue

In May 2015, prior to his Oxbridge travails, This Day newspaper published a piece on him, titled “The dropout professor.” In the article, Nwelue was described as “one of those people who, after meeting them for the first time, leave you with a kind of curiosity, a hunger, a need-to-know.”

By Kingsley Alumona


The politics behind the story

In September, 2018, PM News reported that Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff of President Muhammadu Buhari, and the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, had been appointed to the International Advisory Board of the African Studies Centre (ASC) of the University of Oxford. The advisory board, which was inaugurated by the Nigerian vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, on October 12, also boasted seven other distinguished Africans who are leaders in governance, industry, business, finance, diplomacy, arts and the academy. On the inauguration day, Osinbajo delivered a lecture titled “The Challenges of Human Development in 21st Century Africa.”

Onyeka Nwelue’s and David Hundeyin’s Oxbridge drama began early in 2023 when the James Currey Society organised a writing and publishing workshop tagged “Glass ceilings and new vistas: How investigative journalism works.” According to the flyer that announced the event, it was scheduled to hold on January 31th, with Hundeyin in conversation with Nwelue. Originally, the event was supposed to hold at the African Studies Centre of Oxford, but suddenly the venue was changed. Hundeyin explained at a latter part of this report why the venue of the event was changed to the School of Medieval and Modern Languages of Oxford.

The flyer also announced that, at the event, copies of Hundeyin’s debut nonfiction book titled, The Jungle: A Personal Journey with the Enfant Terrible of Nigerian Journalism, published by Abibiman Publishing, which is owned by Nwelue, would be available for £20. Hundeyin, an investigative journalist and a 2023 James Currey Fellow at the Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge, is not one liked by many Nigerian public figures. Through his West Africa Weekly magazine, which he founded, he has published biting investigative reports about prominent business people, celebrities, and politicians. Some of the pieces includes, “How to spoof an entire career: The curious story of Kemi Olunloyo,” “Bola Ahmed Tinubu: From drug lord to presidential candidate,” “Cornflakes for Jihad: The Boko Haram origin story,” and others.

On the day The Jungle was launched, Hundeyin stated that despite the calls from Nigeria trying to stop Oxford from hosting him, he was happy the book launch was a success.

“On the same day, I met the legendary James Currey himself, as the recipient of the fellowship bearing his name,” he added.

But who are the Nigerians Hundeyin claimed were trying to sabotage his book launch, and why? Hundeyin himself answered these questions in a series of tweets on March 3rd, 2023 while telling his own version of the story, hours shy of the release of an investigative piece titled “Fake professor dismissed from Oxford apologises for misogyny at fraudulent book launch, targeted at him and Nwelue. The article was written and published by Cherwell, a student-run journal in Oxford.

According to Hundeyin, the James Currey Society, which gave him the fellowship, was founded at the University of Oxford, but has established a relationship with the University of Cambridge, adding that it was only natural that he scheduled some of his activities for the African Studies Centre of Oxford, one of which was his workshop and book launch event.

“I was never with Oxford. I was at Cambridge,” he tweeted. “The Fellowship just happened to be partnered with Oxford, hence my only involvement in any of this crap (my book launch at Oxford School of Medieval Languages on Jan 31).”

In addition to sitting on the ASC’s advisory board, Hundeyin alleged that El-Rufai also sponsors a scholarship at Oxford, which the Director of ASC, Professor Miles Larmer, values highly.

“For the non-Nigerians reading this, it is important to understand that Nasir El-Rufai detests me,” Hundeyin wrote. “I am one of the few journalists in Nigeria who has consistently stood up to his bullying and disrespect for basic human rights, and I have had regular run-ins with his children.”

Hundeyin noted that a few days to the event, the ASC suddenly developed cold feet about hosting the event. He added that no explanation was given, but they heard unofficially that El-Rufai was unhappy about his presence, which led to the change of the venue at the last minute, and at some cost.

“Out of nowhere, a few days later, a letter emerged from Professor Larmer terminating Dr Onyeka Nwelue’s Academic Visitorship at ASC because of the event (which did not even take place at the ASC),” he lamented. “In the letter, this man described me as a ‘disreputable figure’.”

Hundeyin stated that Larmer then sent e-mails to the University of Cambridge’s Centre of African Studies where he was, raising dust to make them take “some strange and unusual actions.” He further stated that when they reached out for comment, he (Hundeyin) informed them that his fellowship was not terminated, and that he showed them a letter to prove it. In the Cherwell’s story of March 2nd, 2023, it was reported that Cambridge had dissociated itself from Nwelue and Hundeyin as a result of the investigations into their conduct. Cambridge was also quoted to have said that the James Currey Fellowship is not administered, awarded, or funded by the university.

“They nonetheless ran the story anyway, and quoted an anonymous source claiming that Cambridge terminated me,” Hundeyin wrote.

To make it obvious who was behind all that happened, Hundeyin went on to say that Cherwell’s story made an unrelated and unnecessary mention of his (Hundeyin) support for Peter Obi – “a known political enemy of Nasir El-Rufai” − describing him (Obi) as a ‘populist politician’.”

“This once again makes the point to me that salvation for Africa will only ever come from within,” he tweeted. “If the legendary, venerated Oxford University is reduced to acting as Nasir El-Rufai’s personal fixer, then there are truly no institutions that Nigerian politicians cannot corrupt.” Hundeyin tweeted that instead of responding to the evidenced claims he made on posts, the ASC blocked him instead.

On the accusation of Nwelue as a fake professor, Hundeyin queries that assuming Nwelue were a ‘fake professor,’ would it be fair to say that his usefulness in raising funds for the ASC from prominent Nigerians, as well as his annual £9,000 Cambridge bench fee, provided an incentive for them to “look the other way”? Hundeyin stressed that all that superfluity about Nwelue being a ‘fake professor’ was unnecessary, since, assumedly, Oxford knew everything about him before offering him an Academic Visitor agreement.

“El-Rufai couldn’t find anything solid on me, so it was Onyeka who bore the brunt of his frustration,” he added.

In one of his tweets, Hundeyin stated that, “these places are just Nigeria with snow, decent infrastructure and some semblance of rule of law”. He emphasised ‘semblance,’ because according to him, when you strip away the thin top layer, it is the exact same nonsense as back home, adding that the people and their shenanigans are not different at all.

“The good thing I have learned in all of this is that the next time I meet someone who went to DELSU or UNIJOS,” he wrote, “I will never assume that they have necessarily received a lower standard of education than someone who went to Oxford or Yale. Cos now, I’ve been there.”

Nwelue’s side of the story

Onyeka Nwelue, the Nigerian author, critic and filmmaker with over 20 books to his credit, has lived an unabashedly eccentric and controversial life.

From absconding from his seminary secondary school in Imo State in order to attend an art event in Lagos in honour of Wole Soyinka’s birthday, to dropping out from the University of Nigeria as a Sociology and Anthropology student, to being brutalised by military men for trying to stop them from raping a sex worker,  to being in a fatal car accident that affected his hip and spine, to being arrested at the lobby of Onomo Hotel in Kigali and jailed for eight days for allegedly publicly insulting Rwandan president and RwandAir on Twitter.

Also, from pursuing his dream as a writer and publisher, to publishing over 20 books, to being a film and documentary maker, to travelling to over 80 countries in 15 years, to taking his academic career to many universities across the world, to his caustic social media engagements, to his combustive opinions on race, sex, women, class, etc., the 35-year-old Nwelue has been there, seen a lot, and done same.

In May 2015, prior to his Oxbridge travails, This Day newspaper published a piece on him, titled “The dropout professor.” In the article, Nwelue was described as “one of those people who, after meeting them for the first time, leave you with a kind of curiosity, a hunger, a need-to-know.”

Recently, however, all that Nwelue has worked for and represented is seemingly threatened by the decision of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge to dismiss him from his engagement as an Academic Visitor at both universities over what they regarded as an unauthorised use of their logos/names, and his claims on being a professor without any academic qualifications to prove it.

Furthermore, according to Cherwell’s investigation, in Nwelue’s social media bios, he portrayed himself as a Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. However, Cherwell confirmed from SOAS that Nwelue was not listed as one of its Research Associates. Nwelue, while reacting to the story, opined that Cherwell wrote an article about a Nigerian, so it was sensational to sprinkle in words like, ‘fake’ and ‘fraudulent’ as captions to elicit the responses they wanted from the world about Nigerians.

“It was supposed to be a hit story, a story written to ridicule me. But before it was published, I sent them something similar, written in 2015, by Solomon Elusoji and published in the Nigerian newspaper, This Day,” Nwelue wrote on Facebook. “Nobody took note of that story.”

Nwelue stressed that he does not have a first degree and never claimed to have one, and that he has taught in more institutions of learning than many with PhDs. He further stressed that he has participated in trainings, where people needed to go home with certificates, but he did not take any. He went on to share a link to a YouTube video as a proof of him being a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Hong Kong.

According to Nwelue, before his sojourn to Oxbridge, he had received an Honorary Doctorate certificate from Queensland University in Haiti, and in 2015, he was invited to the University of Manipur in India, as a Visiting Fellow, to teach.

“It is public knowledge that I do not have any degree certificate,” he admitted. “There was never a time Oxford University requested for any first degree certificate from me. It was the idea of the University that I came as Academic Visitor.”

Being an Academic Visitor at Oxford and Cambridge was something Nwelue described thus: “impossible but someone did it.” He noted that Academic Visitors are unpaid at the universities they are attached to, and that they are not employees of the universities.

“So I never in this world told anyone that I was a professor at Oxford and Cambridge,” he confessed. “I was a ‘Professor’ before I came to Oxford.” According to him, he had bench fees to pay to the universities. “For Oxford, I paid a bench fee of £1000, and for Cambridge, the bench fee was £9000. We know how much these amount in naira. It’s over N10 million naira.”

On his social media bio, he wrote: “Professor + Academic Visitor at the University of Oxford and Cambridge.” He asked that if he were a professor at Oxford, why did he need to add Academic Visitor?

“Comprehension is a problem, so I don’t have to blame the writers of the article meant to scandalise me for not understanding what I said in the language of the country they live in,” he added.

According to Nwelue, the Spanish word for teacher is ‘professor’ and the French word for teacher is ‘professeur.’ He once again reiterated that he never claimed he was a ‘Professor’ at the University of Oxford or Cambridge.

“What will remain in my CV, eternally, is Academic Visitor, University of Oxford from 2021 – 2023, and Visiting Scholar, University of Cambridge from 2022 – 2023,” he wrote. “Nothing more than that, but I can see the university has begun to remove links that have my name from their websites!”

Nwelue stated that what brought him to Oxford was an idea he shared with James Currey who put him in touch with Professor Wale Adebanwi, who in turn, introduced him to Professor David Pratten. After weeks of deliberations, Pratten informed him that the proposal was approved, and that he had now been approved as an Academic Visitor.

At the juncture, it is important to note that it was during Nwelue’s engagement at Oxford that he founded the James Currey Society  − in honour of the British academic publisher, James Currey – and  in corporation with the African Studies Centre at Oxford, which he (Nwelue) was the inaugural director.

However, in another Cherwell investigative piece published on March 15th and titled “Dismissed academic visitor ran unofficial ‘Oxbridge fellowship’ scheme for financial associates,” the journal stated that The James Currey Fellowships were created by the James Currey Society, which Nwelue incorporated as a for-profit company in May 2022. The article further stated that fellowships provide funding for African writers to visit Oxford or Cambridge in a research capacity, although Oxford and Cambridge confirmed the fellowships have not been administered, funded, or awarded by either university.

“Recipients have been listed as academic visitors rather than fellows on the university websites and Nwelue said their visitorship fees were paid ‘from my own pocket,’”  the journal reported.

However, Nwelue had stepped down as the director of the James Currey Society, handing the baton to its new director, the Zimbabwean actress, Charmaine Mujeri.

Nwelue seemed surprised that the termination of his Academic Visitorship at Oxford and Cambridge appeared to people like he lost a job. He admitted that he was not an employee of Oxford or Cambridge; that he paid them, and that they did not pay him. He also admitted that Academic Visitorship was a platform to be seen as powerful, a platform to leverage on.

“That was why many people came around me, to associate with power and prestige; and when it was announced by Cherwell, I saw those people distancing themselves from me,” he lamented. “What money and power cannot do, does not exist!”

According to him, the only problem was the accusation of misogyny, and that students paid money to attend an event for the book launch of Hundeyin. Nwelue admitted that Hundeyin is not a character many people love, and not many people love him either. Nwelue also pointed out that the venue he used for the event was paid for, and was not advertised as an event for students. He further pointed out that fans of Hundeyin came from cities like Liverpool to attend the event.

Another problem, he added, was the use of the logos of the university, an action which he apologised for. Nwelue removed the logos after he was asked to.

On the other hand, after his associations with Oxbridge were terminated, Cherwell reported that Nwelue wrote in an email to the Oxford staff: “I did not mean to tarnish the image of the African Studies Centre … I am very sorry to have brought the embarrassment I brought. About bringing David Hundeyin here, I didn’t read the signs properly. I am also sorry about that.”

See Also
Oladips Peak Foolery moment in 2023 - Afrocritik

Cherwell noted that investigations into whether any background checks were carried out on Nwelue and the fellowship holders he appointed are ongoing.

Nwelue was unhappy that Cherwell mocked him for self-publishing most of his books. He was also definitely displeased with the outcome and consequence of the mockery.

“The first message I received, when the article was published, was from my Canadian publisher, Bibi Ukonu, telling me they will remove my book, ‘The Strangers of Braamfontein’ from their list,” he lamented. “For him, it is business, so he will throw me under the bus to protect his business. Because I am now a pariah dog.”

Reactions trailing the story

As Nwelue’s Oxbridge travails rages on, even before he narrated his own side of the story, his friends, colleagues, well-wishers, admirers, fans, creative, and writers alike trooped out en masse on social media to empathise with him, and some, to defend him.

Reacting to Nwelue’s Canadian publisher removing his book, The Strangers of Braamfontein from their list, after the Cherwell story was published, Soyinka stressed − among other things – his shock at that.

“This is over-reaction in the sententious mode, a dangerous, extra-curricular response,” Soyinka lamented. “The charges against this author do not involve plagiarism or other literary offence, nor any crime against humanity.”

He noted that among Nwelue’s intimate associates, unfortunately, are some “dubious hangers” who exploit his (Nwelue) own susceptibility and frail health to nurse their hunger for notoriety.

“The ultimate responsibility is however his, and he has emerged upfront to accept this in a letter of apology,” Soyinka added.

Charles Awuzie, a Nigerian South African-based entrepreneur and opinion leader, cautioned that before anyone judges Nwelue, they should honestly ask themselves if “he is intelligent or not.” Awuzie stressed that, while he strongly condemns Nwelue’s empty classism, he has respect for his journey to greatness.

“Onyeka Nwelue has no degree − not a Bachelor’s degree and he never hid it. It’s a story he’s proud of, and that story endeared him to the institutions he worked with,” he said. “But unfortunately, for obvious political reasons, some powerful people exploited his story to end his glory.”

Writer and social media influencer, Hymar Idibie, advised that it is important for the other side of the story to be put out, especially knowing how the side B of a story hardly gets coverage. Idibie wrote on his Facebook page that people who are closer to Nwelue know that the accusations of misogyny, racism, etc. are laughable, and that he (Nwelue) does not have anything against a specific group of people. According to him, “Everybody dey collect – friends, family, men, women, black, white. Everybody.”

Entrepreneur Alvan Chinaka pointed out that Nwelue may not have interacted with people in ways that are appropriate, but that did not mean he did not possess sides that are worthy of emulation.

“At the end of the day, a man has many sides − the side other people might not love, and the side others find interesting and worthy of emulation,” he stated. “In Onyeka Nwelue, you’ll find that side of taking life by the horn without fear.”

Most of the people criticising or rejoicing over the Oxbridge travails of Nwelue are those uncomfortable with his stance on class, race, and sex, One of those who did not speak well of Nwelue on his current predicament is the popular Nigerian blogger and social media personality, Kemi Olunloyo. Recently, on Twitter, Nwelue had addressed Kemi in a manner she did not approve of. The post went thus: “Dear Kemi love, I am a university professor attached to two of the best universities in the world, but you have just recklessly addressed me like I am one of your kids. My mother does not even call me Onyeka.”

Reacting to Nwelue’s and Hundeyin’s Oxbridge travails, Kemi tweeted: “David Hundeyin disgraced by world-renowned Oxford and Cambridge by con artist Onyeka Nwelue he could not even detect as a so-called investigative journalist. The truth prevailed. People masking as journalists will be exposed.”

In August 2016, Premium Times published an interview it did with Nwelue, titled “Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is not the great African novel.” In the interview, Nwelue was noted to say that Things Fall Apart should be buried and never made to resurrect.”

“Yes, Anthills of the Savannah is a very beautiful book; it’s well written,” he said. “But I don’t agree with Things Fall Apart being called the great African novel by everybody. There are better books,” Nwelue said.

Nnaemeka Anthony Okoro − while reacting to the Premium Times interview, in the face of Nwelue’s currently predicaments − stated that he first read about Nwelue in 2016 and was eager to know the young writer that had so much negative things to say about Achebe and his debut book.

“That guy (Nwelue) has been parading himself as a professor for a long time. If you are so in love with an academic title, please earn it the right way,” Okoro advised.

A Facebook user, Valylight, wrote a piece titled “Onyeka Nwelue: Principles, gullibility and bandwagonism.” In the story, Valylight stressed that a person’s popularity does not make them infallible. Valylight recalled that hours after he started following Nwelue on Facebook, he saw one of his posts that read: “Avoid poor people,” and after some time he ‘unfollowed’ him.

“I wasn’t surprised when I read the news about him,” Valylight wrote. “Someone who practically struggled to attain genuine success will never shame those who are still struggling to come up.”

 

Kingsley Alumona is a geologist, writer, poet and journalist from Delta State, but lives in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. He has a B.Sc. in Geology from the University of Nigeria, and an M.Sc. in Geophysics from the University of Ibadan.  He is a reporter with the Nigerian Tribune newspaper. His works have appeared in the 2018 African Book Club Anthology, Kalahari Review, Nthanda Review, TUCK magazine, Brittle Paper, Afritondo, Digirature, Ngiga Review, Pawners Paper, Omenana (Issue 17), Transition Magazine (Issue 131), and Botsotso Literary Journal. You can reach him on Facebook: @kingsley.alumona.1

What's Your Reaction?
Excited
0
Happy
0
In Love
0
Not Sure
0
Silly
0
View Comment (1)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2024 Afrocritik.com. All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top