UHS Mourns the Death of Frank Ukoli

Urhobo Historical Society Mourns the Death Of

Professor Olorogun Frank Ukoli, 1936-2004


Members of Urhobo Historical Society in the United States awoke on December 21, 2004, to the grievous news of the death of Olorogun Professor Frank Mene Adedemisiweaye Ukoli. He had driven himself to a clinic a few days earlier because he felt sick. When his condition became much more serious, he was transferred to Shell Hospital in Warri. His friend and cousin, Professor Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, a physician and a  leading member of Urhobo Historical Society, was monitoring Professor Ukoli’s condition by telephone from his home in Michigan in the United States when the news of his death in the early morning hours of Tuesday, December 21, 2004, was broken to Frank’s family at Warri.

Frank Ukoli occupies a special place in the history of Nigeria’s higher education. Having been born and raised in his native hometown of Warri, he had access to a good elementary school education which enabled him to be selected in the early 1950s to attend one of the most highly competitive and prestigious secondary schools in colonial times, namely, Government College, Ughelli. Frank followed his rich Ughelli experience with a superb academic training in Nigeria’s only university in the 1950s. The University College, Ibadan, which changed into University of Ibadan in Nigeria’s year of Independence, became home to Frank Ukoli’s rich family and academic life until he retired in 2001 from that institution, after forty-four years of association and service.

Frank Ukoli benefited from a powerful and rich educational system, as good as any in colonial times. More importantly, he contributed enormously to the expansion and strengthening of the University of Ibadan and indeed of university education in Nigeria, right from his debut as a young lecturer at Ibadan in 1964 to his retirement from university teaching as a seasoned professor in 2001. We will leave the assessment of his contribution in his chosen field of Zoology to the experts in that field. But we are impressed that such of his landmark publications as Prevention and Control of Parasitic Diseases in Tropical Africa: The Main Issues (Ibadan University Press, 1992) range beyond academic Zoology to applications in Medicine with Africa-wide references. Of the many honours that he received, Frank Ukoli proudly displayed that of Fellow of the Academy of Science (FAS) after his name, an honour he richly deserved and one that he and only twelve others pioneered.

Frank Ukoli’s contribution to university administration was diverse and rich. He was among the first batch of Nigerian university teachers who took over responsibilities of administering academic disciplines from expatriate lecturers. Frank Ukoli was Head of Department and Dean of Faculty of Science during a period of transformation of the University of Ibadan. His expertise was sought in setting up various departments and faculties of science in newer universities in Nigeria. It was in recognition of his talents in academic institution building that he was appointed the first Vice-Chancellor of Delta State University. It is entirely fair to say that Frank Ukoli served his country well in his chosen vocation of university teaching.

While he can legitimately be classified as among the foremost contributors to academic development in Nigeria’s history, among his own people Frank Ukoli will always occupy a special place in the history of education in Urhoboland. This is because he was a pioneer. At its recent Fifth Annual Conference, Urhobo Historical Society awarded for the first time a special prize newly named after M. G. Ejaife, Urhobo’s first University graduate. It is remarkable that this first award for pioneering achievements in the history of education in Urhoboland was presented to Professor Olorogun Frank Ukoli at Agbarha-Otor on October 31, 2004. The short citation on the plaque that was presented to this highly decorated university teacher reads as follows:

Presented to Professor F.M.A. Ukoli for pioneering achievements in higher education, having become Urhobo’s first Ph.D., first university professor, first dean of a university faculty, and founding Vice-Chancellor of Delta State University. His friendship with many young Urhobos and the fame of his achievements have inspired many Urhobos to aim high in diverse educational fields.

For these rare achievements, Frank Ukoli will be in the history books forever.

Frank Ukoli’s numerous friends will remember him for embodying another virtue. Having hailed from a large Agbarha-Warri family, including that branch of his family that bears Urhobo as surname, Frank has been celebrated as a family man. The great G. M. Urhobo, founder of God’s Kingdom Society, was Frank’s father’s elder brother. Frank’s home was many times a place of assembly of the Ukolis and Urhobos. Moreover, his attachment to his children was legendary. Between Frank and his dear wife, Philomena Araba, we have a strong example of that Urhobo virtue of total service for the sake of one’s children. We know that Frank has left behind for his children a firm legacy of absolute dedication to family and children, a virtue that is highly treasured among the Urhobo.

Urhobos will remember Frank Ukoli for other achievements. In his last years, particularly after his retirement, Frank Ukoli participated actively in the chiefly traditions of his people. He was awarded a title of Oboiriro of Ogor (literarily, Doctor of Thought of Ogor). He was of course awarded the honorary D.Sc. of Delta State University, Abraka, a university which he founded as its first Vice-Chancellor. Remarkably, at many points Frank Ukoli admonished the ethics of chieftaincy bearers, often rebuking his chiefly peers for failing to attend to the needs of the people whose culture has enabled their entitlements.

We all will miss Frank Ukoli. None will miss him more than Urhobo Historical Society. A member of the Society, Frank featured prominently in the three most recent UHS Conferences. His scholarship and leadership registered strongly in UHS Conferences in the United Kingdom in 2002 and 2003. In the Society’s recent Conference at PTI, Effurun, his review of Warri City and British Colonial Rule in Western Niger Delta was a star performance that intellectually dominated the first day of the Conference on October 29, 2004. He was passionate in his review because, as he himself acknowledged, Warri was his native home. It was here where he was born on November 5, 1936. It was in his father’s hometown of Warri where Frank’s rich life was terminated, sixty-eight years later, on December 21, 2004.

May His Soul Rest in Peace.

Editorial and Management Committee, UHS

Ovie Felix Ayigbe,  B. Pharm., R. Ph.; Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A., M.Sc.; Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D.; Edirin Erhiaganoma, M.Sc.; O. Victor Ikoba, M.S.N.E., MBA, P.E.; Joseph E. Inikori, Ph.D.; Isaac James Mowoe, Ph.D., J.D.; Omokere E. Odje, Ph.D.;  Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Ed.D.;   Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, M.D., Ph.D.; Elehor O. Urhiafe-Bobson, B.A. (Fine Arts).  Executive: Peter Ekeh, Chair and Editor; Andrew Edevbie, Secretary; Edirin Erhiaganoma, Treasurer.

December 21, 2004


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