A trailblazer who built people and nation

Professor Martin OhaeriIjere was born in 1929 in Umuanunu, Nsu, in Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State in Nigeria. He was determined to be educated but as he lost his father when he was seven years old, his devoted mother who was a farmer would walk to the local market to sell foodstuffs from her farm to pay his school fees.

BACKGROUND

Professor Ijere received a quality education and scholarly training. He successfully attended St. Columba’s School from 1935 to 1942. He then proceeded to St. Anthony’s College, Onitsha, for one year and finally joined St. Charles College, Onitsha. He completed his secondary studies in 1949.

With the financial help of his relations and the people of his home town, he was able to attend Fourah Bay College, University of Durham, Freetown, Sierra Leone, and studied for his B.A. Economics from 1954 to 1958. A German lady visited the University, was impressed with his level of German language and his general attitude and offered him a scholarship on merit to study in the University of Freiburg-in-Brisgau located in Southern Germany. His doctorate thesis in Agricultural Economics was written in German and translated in English as follows: The Foundations for the Organization and Improvement of Agricultural Credit in Nigeria. It was completed in 1961. As he wanted to make sure to return to Nigeria with a higher degree, at the same time, he did a M.A. in Economics by correspondence with Durham University in England. The title of his M.A. thesis is: Development and Banking in Germany (1959).

He started his professional career as a lecturer in 1961 in the Department of Economics of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He developed this department and recruited staff and students to make it recognized in the University.

Professor Ijere served his Church. He was made a Knight of Saint Lumumba in 1964 and sponsored one of his nephews to become a priest. He represented Nigeria at an important meeting of the Council at the Vatican but could not return to Nigeria because the boarders were closed due to the Civil War.

In 1966 he was given an ILO fellowship for Labour Studies in Geneva and when his contract ended, he became an Associate Professor at the prestigious Claremont College near Los Angeles, California. He returned to Nigeria in 1971 and continued to develop the Department of Economics until 1972. When it was well established, he created a new Department in the Faculty of Agriculture: the Department of Agricultural Economics. Thanks to his numerous publications assessed by foreign Professors, he became an outstanding Professor in 1975.

He was appointed a Commissioner of Cooperatives, Trade and Transport for East Central State (1975-1976). With the creation of Imo State, he moved to its capital, Owerri, and served as Commissioner of Agriculture and Natural Resources until October 1977. He faced too much politics and could not achieve what he wanted to help the rural community, so he resigned and went back to the Department of Agricultural Economics to continue heading the Department, teaching, doing research and writing books. He felt the need to concentrate more on rural development and cooperatives in Nigeria. So he created the Centre for Rural Development and Cooperatives. To fund it he travelled all over the country to contact in person important men interested in helping the rural people who would agree to sponsor the building of the Center. He was quite successful and was appointed the Director of the Center in 1985. He was also an External Examiner for many Universities.

Professor Ijere was an erudite scholar very concerned and passionate about the plight of the farmers. He was involved in the development of various nationwide programs like Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), in Mamsa, Defri and a Better Life for Rural Women. He was the Chairman, National Advisory Council for Cooperative Development of Nigeria (1979-1981). He was also the Director, National Board for Community Bank (1991-1994) and the Director of the Centre for Food and Agricultural Strategy, University of Agriculture, Makurdi (1993-1994). He was also interested in promoting education in the country and became the Chairman, AlvanIkoku College of Education Governing Council (1992-1994).

His books are numerous, too many to be listed below. They are 26 in Agricultural Economics and 11 in other related fields. Professor Ijere also published a lot of articles in international journals. In the field of Agricultural Economics, he published 48 articles. He also had an impact on other scholars by presenting learned papers at different conferences in Nigeria and around the world.

 He was very attached to the development of his country and his home town. As a Commissioner he succeeded in developing his village to be recognized as a township with a clinic and a secondary school. He encouraged the local people to build a house for the principal of the secondary school and to maintain the roads.

He was honored with three chieftaincy titles given by communities who were grateful for his help in their development. The most important title for him was in 1981 when he was given the Honorary Chieftaincy Title of “Agbawodike-izu of Nsu, his home town. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka also recognized his impact in the University and in the country by making him the winner of the Vice-Chancellor Research Leadership Prize for 1989 which was awarded at the 25th graduation in 1991.

Professor Ijere was the father of seven children. His wife, Muriel UdokaIjere, a Swiss National, was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages of the University of Nigeria where she taught French. She published articles about African writers and culture. She shared her husband’s interest in developing his country and contributed to the welfare of the African woman in her writings.


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