Professor Martin O. Ijere

A Legacy of Nation Building and Empowerment

Professor Martin O. Ijere made a significant impact as a nation builder. He was recently inducted into the prestigious Nigerian Books of Record Hall of Fame.

BACKGROUND

Professor Martin Ohaeri Ijere was born on July 4th, 1929, in Umuanunu, Nsu, Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria. Determined to be educated, after losing his father at the age of seven, his devoted mother, a farmer, sold foodstuffs from her farm in the local market to pay his school fees.

Professor Ijere pursued a rigorous education. He attended St. Columba’s School from 1935 to 1942, then St. Anthony’s College, Onitsha, for one year, before enrolling at St. Charles College, Onitsha, completing his secondary studies in 1949.

With financial support from his relatives and townspeople, he joined Fourah Bay College, University of Durham, Freetown, Sierra Leone, earning his B.A. in Economics from 1954 to 1958.

A German lady who visited the University, impressed by his proficiency in German and overall demeanor, offered him a merit scholarship to study at the University of Freiburg-in-Brisgau in Southern Germany.

His doctoral thesis in Agricultural Economics, titled “The Foundations for the Organization and Improvement of Agricultural Credit in Nigeria,” was completed in 1961. Concurrently, he pursued an M.A. in Economics by correspondence with Durham University in England, focusing his thesis on “Development and Banking in Germany” (1959).

In 1961, he began his professional career as a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He played a pivotal role in developing this department.

Deeply religious, Professor Ijere was knighted as a Knight of Saint Lumumba in 1964 and sponsored a nephew’s priesthood journey. He represented Nigeria at a pivotal Vatican council meeting but couldn’t return home due to the Civil War closing borders.

In 1966, he received an ILO fellowship for Labour Studies in Geneva. After its conclusion, he became an Associate Professor at the renowned Claremont Colleges near Los Angeles, California. In 1971, he returned to Nigeria, nurturing the Department of Economics until 1972. Once firmly established, he founded the Department of Agricultural Economics within the Faculty of Agriculture. Owing to his extensive publications vetted by international professors, he was promoted to full professor in 1975.

From 1975-1976, he was the Commissioner of Cooperatives, Trade, and Transport for East Central State. After Imo State’s inception, he transitioned to Owerri, serving as Commissioner of Agriculture and Natural Resources until October 1977. Encountering excessive political interference, he resigned, refocusing on academia within the Department of Agricultural Economics.

Driven to amplify rural development and cooperatives in Nigeria, he founded the Centre for Rural Development and Cooperatives. To fund it, he personally met prominent figures nationwide who shared his vision. By 1985, he was named the Centre’s Director and also served as an External Examiner for various universities.

An esteemed scholar, Professor Ijere was passionate about farmers’ welfare. He played integral roles in national programs such as Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), Mamsa, Defri, and Better Life for Rural Women.

He chaired the National Advisory Council for Cooperative Development of Nigeria (1979-1981) and served as Director on the National Board for Community Bank (1991-1994) and the Centre for Food and Agricultural Strategy, University of Agriculture, Makurdi (1993-1994). He also chaired the Alvan Ikoku College of Education Governing Council (1992-1994).

A prolific writer, Professor Ijere authored 26 books in Agricultural Economics and 11 in related areas, alongside 48 scholarly articles. He frequently presented papers at national and international conferences.

Deeply committed to his country and hometown, he elevated his village’s status to a recognized township, complete with a clinic and secondary school. He also championed infrastructure maintenance and development.

In recognition of his invaluable contributions, he was honored with three chieftaincy titles. The most cherished being the “Agbawodike-izu of Nsu” in 1981 from his hometown. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka awarded him the Vice-Chancellor Research Leadership Prize in 1989.

Professor Ijere was a proud father of seven children. His wife, Muriel Udoka Ijere, a Swiss national, was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Nigeria, specializing in French. She penned articles on African literature and culture, reflecting her and her husband’s dedication to African development.

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  3. He was and still is Greatest of All Time. He legacy will continue to inspire generations. My happiness is that his lovely daughter, Mrs Ebere is following her Dad’s footsteps. She’s also a great Patriot and a fantastic Nation Builder.

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  6. This man, Professor Ijere came before his time. So much is known about his academic and administrative cum managerial prowess, but only his family and a few of his ‘disciples’ would be able to give a peep into his thoroughly humble personage. Prof. Ijere would a hundred memos to his staff while travelling from Nsukka to Abuja and would have them delivered by his driver the next day. Prof Ijere would jump on the back of a 911 lorry and keep moving towards his target,, if for any reason he lacks access to his car. During his numerous journeys,he would take a meal from the nearest buka or ‘mama put’ while his accomplices are still searching for a ‘befitting’ cafe. Pof Ijere answers ‘sir’ to his subordinates and have them share his groundnuts and coke during his often excruciating office beats and tells them that idleness, rather than work, kills. And his demand for excellence, integrity and ethical conduct excludes a lot of dubious persons from his circle. These human beings who could meet his high standards often reccoiled into levelling unfounded allegations. Prof Ijere had a plaque emblazoned with the quote “Action will remove the theory that doubt cannot solve”, which underlines his acutely impatient mien as far as action and solutions oriented academic endeavours. He understood the urgency of social progress and development in backward societies. In further expression of this desire, Prof Ijere would often caution that while perfection was nonnegotiable, procrastination and interminable editing of ideas and documents would often lead to failure.

    Prof Martin Ijere, by his philosophy of using enlightened action to solve the doubt that theory cannot cannot solve; by his surprising honesty and unsurpassed fecundity of mind, endeared himself to statesmen and captains of industry, which paved the way for his almost single-handed aggregation of resources to germinate and grow the Centre for Rural Development and Cooperatives which became a reference locus and resource centre for matters of cooperatives and rural development in Nigeria. Through the instrumentality of this CRDC, Ijere pioneered actions and critical scholarship on town and gown convergence in community and institutional development. Perhaps Ijere’s work on black entrepreneurship in the 1950’s fired his early leadership on entrepreneurial studies and training, leading to the endowment of the Sony Odogwu Chair in Entrepreneurship in thecrarly 1990s much before it became a popular pursuit in our universities.

    Let me adjourn this treatise for now.

  7. My impression when I first heard of the title of the book, “There was a Country”, written Professor Chinua Achebe, was that the latter times of Nigeria was not a progression from her former times. Dr. Martin Ijere was part of the former times. Children in Elementary Schools and Colleges knew about him and his leadership thoughts in Agriculture Science and Farm improvement practices.
    I am amazed that he came from nadir to zenith and became a lustre. What I read here about him and his wife is a cautionary tale to those who dwell on neo-colonialism, as cause of underdevelopment. Ohaeri Ijere, our brother, our leader, our father, was lifted by nwa nne di na mba and he returned as dike, to search for and rescue oha ndi noo na mkpa.
    Indeed, there was a country. There was Martin Ohaeri Ijere! His memory is good. May he be counted among the blessed.

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