Dr. Francis Odemerho and Dr. Emma Ojameruaye during UHS Conference at PTI Conference Centre, Effurun, Delta State

Tribute to Dr. Francis Odemerho

By Dr. Emmanuel Ojameruaye

I first met Dr. Francis Odemerho (aka Fodems) in the early 1980s when we were both lecturers at the University of Benin (UNIBEN) – he in the Department of Geography & Regional Planning, and I in the Department of Economics & Statistics. We were also founding members of Eyovwi Club of Nigeria, a club of Urhobo academics, professionals, and civil servants in their 30s to early 50s.  We both later left UNIBEN towards the end of the1980; he went to the U.S. to continue his university teaching work while I joined the UNDP Lagos Office as a consultant economist/statistician for the National Data Bank project. I later moved to the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) Lagos Office. We lost contact until 2002 when I moved to the U.S. on an international assignment (cross-posting) from SPDC as a loaned executive to the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help in Scottsdale, Arizona State. In mid-2002, I called his home but he was away in Nigeria. Unbeknownst to me, while he was in Nigeria, he and Dr. Tony Chokor, our mutual friend and former colleague, had visited my home in Warri where they were told that I had moved to the US. On his return to the US, his wife told him that I called and he quickly sent an email to me, and we resumed our friendship.

In early 2003, he invited me to Chicago to attend the reunification meeting of TUNA led by him and UPUNA led by Dr. Ona Pela, another former UNIBEN lecturer who had also relocated to the US. That meeting led to the formation of UNANA, the Urhobo National Association of North America with both of them as interim Co-Chairs. Later that year, the first UNANA convention was held in Los Angeles which was attended by Gov. James Ibori and UPU PG Benjamin Okumagba, amongst other Urhobo leaders. Unfortunately, in late 2005, UNANA experienced a crisis arising from a botched presidential election which led to another schism more or less along the TUNA/UPUNA lines into “UNANA” and UPUA. Undaunted, about four years later, Dr. Odemerho together with Chief (Major) Dogood Efenogo, Prof. Tanure Ojaide, and yours truly made another effort to bring both groups together but this effort was rebuffed by some leaders of UPUA who insisted on some impossible conditions. Even though I was then a member of UPUA, my friendship with Dr. Odemerho continued to be very strong. Both of us had earlier been admitted into the Editorial and Management Committee (EMC) of the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) led by Prof. Peter Ekeh, where we interacted from time to time. Dr. Odemerho made significant contributions to the UHS including the drawing of Urhobo and Niger Delta maps used by the Society.

A few years ago, when Dr. Odemerho was at DELSU, Abraka on Sabbatical leave, I visited him there during my trip to Nigeria and we discussed the need to assign graduate students to conduct research on the history, geography, and economy of key Urhobo towns, villages and historical and cultural sites, and then use the materials to compile an “Illustrative Compendium of the History and Geography of Urhobo Towns and Villages”. Earlier on, in a paper he and Dr. Pela presented at the 2003 Conference of the UHS in London, they called for the establishment of an Urhobo Institute that would serve the larger goals of research and planning under the auspices of Urhobo Progress Union. I have gone to this length to show that Dr. Odemerho was a great uniter and Urhobo patriot with an abiding interest in the history and geography of Urhoboland.

On a personal level, Dr. Odemerho traveled all the way from Edwardsville ( a distance of 1,500 miles, 4-hour flight time!) to attend my first son’s wedding in Phoenix in 2010.  On another occasion a few years ago, he accompanied his wife to Phoenix to attend a training workshop and I visited them at the hotel and brought them to my home.  In August 2017 when my wife and I were in Chicago to attend the UPUA Convention, we rented a car and drive all the way to Edwardsville (a distance of 275 miles) to visit him and his wife. We spent the night in Edwardsville and the next morning he prepared a sumptuous traditional Urhobo breakfast (“ukodo“) which all enjoyed (with the Asidis and his brother).  The last time I spoke with Fodem was during the UHS EMC virtual (zoom) meeting on September 19, 2020. He was in high spirits and looked good. After that, we got the information that he was sick but was recovering. I was planning to call to check on him when I got the terrible news in the early hours of December 4, 2020, that he had gone to be with the Lord. 

Dr. Odemerho was a great uniter, an Urhobo patriot, and a first-rate intellectual. He was simple, unassuming, and gentle. His exit is a great loss to his family, the Urhobo people in America and the homeland, and to Nigerian scholarship. May his soul rest in peace.

*Dr. Emmanuel Ojameruaye

Treasurer & EMC Member,  Urhobo Historical Society

Chair, Board of Trustees, Urhobo Progress Union America (UPUA) 


Prof. G. Darah, Prof. P. Ekeh, Dr. E. Ojameruaye and Prof. S. Oyovbaire during a UHS Conference at PTI Conference Centre, Effurun, Delta State

In 2003, I was invited to join the Editorial and Management Committee (EMC) of the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) that was established in 1999 by Prof. Peter Ekeh and a handful of Urhobo intellectuals and professionals in North America and the UK who share a common passion to promote Urhobo history and culture. Thus began my interaction with Prof. Ekeh. We had a special relationship because his wife, Dr. Mrs. Helena Ekeh, and I are from the same town (i.e., Ovu) so I was his in-law sensu lato. Thus, he sent his wife to represent him at the wedding of my first son in 2010. She flew all the way from Buffalo to Phoenix (about 6-hour flight).  I also had the opportunity attend Helena’s special birthday celebration in Buffalo in 2014.

Prof. Ekeh served as the President and Editor-in-Chief of UHS from its founding in 1999 until early 2020 when he voluntarily gave up the presidency due to his failing health. Throughout his tenure, he sacrificed his talent, time and resources to serve Urhobo history and culture.  He was an exemplar of the phrase “you pay to serve the Urhobo people”.   In fact, he was the quintessential “servant leader”.  He singlehandedly created the website of UHS ( ) more than 20 years ago which became the leading online source of information and documentation on the Urhobo people and Urhoboland. After organizing the first four annual conferences in Canada, the US and the UK, UHS moved subsequent conferences to the homeland. A total of seven conferences were held in the homeland between 2004 and 2018 under his leadership. In 2016, he encouraged the EMC to move the UHS Headquarters to the homeland and offered his country home at Okpara Island to serve as the  UHS Office and Documentation Center with a staff of four. The several publications he wrote or edited under the aegis of the UHS are among the most authoritative sources of information on Urhobo history, culture and environment. He mobilized many Urhobo leaders, traditional rulers and intellectuals to support UHS in its mission to serve Urhobo history and culture. Today, UHS has become a household name among Urhobo people in the Diaspora and in the homeland. Thanks to him, history became my passion and pastime. In particular, I became more interested in the history and culture of my people.  I am proud to call him a mentor and role model.  We must continue in his footsteps and realize his vision to make UHS a world-class historical society like the Royal Historical Society (

Prof. Peter Ekeh was not born great, neither was greatness thrust upon him. He achieved greatness through hard work, intellect and perseverance. But his greatness was concealed in his gentleness and simplicity.  He knew very well that “Great achievement is born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness” (Napoleon Hill). I dare say he would have earned a Nobel Prize in Political Economy for his seminal theory of two publics if he was not “distracted” by his devotion to Urhobo history and causes during the last 30 years of his life. But he was willing to pay that price. His exit is a great loss to the Urhobo people. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “when comes another Peter Ekeh”? May his gentle soul rest in peace, and may his memory be a blessing to his family, UHS and the Urhobo people.   May I also use this opportunity to salute his wife and children for sharing him with UHS and the Urhobo people.  Behind most great men, there is a supportive wife and children who also made extraordinary sacrifices.  

        *By Dr. Emmanuel Ojameruaye, Member EMC & Treasurer, UHS & Chair Board of Trustees, Urhobo Progress Union America.

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