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Prof Ernest Igwe

High-Octane Inaugural Lecture of Prof Ernest Igwe at UNIZIK

By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

It was an Inaugural Lecture with a difference. The 80th Inaugural Lecture of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, delivered by Prof Ernest Chukwusoro Igwe on Thursday, April 20, 2023 was all-consuming. Igwe, a Professor of Food Processing Chemistry and Animal Products, Department of Food Science and Technology, Faculty of Agriculture, UNIZIK, delivered a profound lecture on the topic: “In-built Quality Controls in Traditional Food Processing, Sociocultural Food Practices and Food Politics: Catalysts or Inhibitors to Traditional Foods Processing Industry in Nigeria?”

The Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Prof. Charles Okechukwu Esimone, FAS, who was the chairman of the occasion, highlighted the crucial intercourse of town and gown via inaugural lectures, and commended Prof Igwe as a distinguished former Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture who deserves celebration for his multiform initiatives and drive in the foundational subject of the food industry.

The inaugural lecture which had a worldwide audience through Zoom started out on an entertaining note when, in the course of reading Prof Igwe’s citation, it was noted that the esteemed scholar had aliases such as Omekannaya (He who achieves like his father) and Onye-nwanyi-egbughi (A man who is not killed by a woman). Prof Igwe’s beautiful wife who was on hand with their new baby, Sam-Ben, informed all that a man not killed by a woman shall enjoy a long life! Prof Igwe added the funny dimension that a man not killed by a woman is missing something!

The UNIZIK Inaugural Lecture Committee thus paved the way for Prof Igwe to deliver his refreshing thoughts on “In-built Quality Controls in Traditional Food Processing, Sociocultural Food Practices and Food Politics: Catalysts or Inhibitors to Traditional Foods Processing Industry in Nigeria?”

Prof Igwe began the six-section lecture with the information that “the Biafran-Nigerian civil war was a negative turning point in the life and times of Ernest Igwe.” Born on July 16, 1962, he “could not start pre-primary education as and when due because of the unfortunate Nigeria-Biafra war.” His family was resident in Umuahia, the then Biafra capital which fell to the Federal forces thus forcing the Igwes to flee home to Achalla, Umuchu in Aguata LGA of present-day Anambra State.

After taking his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he started his lecturing career at the then Federal University of Technology, Yola in 1993 before transferring to Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Of course, he took his doctorate degree along the line.

Prof Igwe states that his reasons for the study of traditional foods, sociocultural food practices and food politics are legion. He is as ever determined to tackle huge post-harvest losses in Nigeria. There is “the understanding that people in Biblical and Pre-Biblical times not only lived longer but also lived healthier lifestyles.” It calls for attention “that the first four premier universities in Nigeria were established from proceeds from sale of agricultural produce as follows: University of Nigeria (Palm produce); Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, (Groundnut); University of Ife (Cocoa) and University of Lagos (Palm, Cocoa and Groundnut produce).

Prof Igwe puts his searchlight on the food processing industry and the concomitant preservation.

Traditional food plants and animals are duly analysed while food quality control and food safety are dissected. The evaluation of in-built quality control in traditional food processing in Nigeria is of course a major highlight. Diligent attention is given to sociocultural food practices affecting food quality and safety in Nigeria. In the charged field of food politics, Prof Igwe addresses conspiratorial politics of suppression of growth of Nigeria’s traditional foods. He does not pull any punches in dealing with what he calls “a neo-colonial mentality syndrome of inferiority of Nigeria’s traditional foods.”

Prof Igwe takes to task the persisting rivalry among professional groups and among Government MDAs. He condemns the “manifest lack of seriousness on policy directions by Nigerian leaders on the nation’s traditional food industry.”

He asserts that the “Nigerian government and her leaders through conscious and unconscious acts have been the greatest inhibitor to the growth of the nation’s traditional food industry.” He damns “the neo-colonial mentality that puts imported foods as being superior to Nigerian traditional foods.” It remains a cause for concern that NAFDAC does not have a formal database of statistics of traditional foods in Nigeria. He cites some Nigerian traditional foods that have in-built quality control to ensure safety such as fermented milk Kindirmo, Sobo, traditional soups, gari etc.

Prof Igwe recommends that the Federal Government should split NAFDAC into Drugs and Food and Water sections. He advises the government to stop “the bigotry of supremacy of health professionals’ over-and-above food professionals.”

He put it to the appreciative Vice-Chancellor Esimone that it’s time to establish a centre for traditional food study. The deteriorating situation in Nigerian universities irks Prof Igwe as he now sees them as Ivory Towers without the Ivory.

He makes the strong case that Nigerian traditional foods should be called by their native names first such as Ukwa before being baptized as Breadfruit! He would rather want Table Water as opposed to Pure Water that turns out to be Pure Cholera!

The Inaugural Lecture featured academic procession and the decoration of the Inaugural Lecturer by Vice-Chancellor Esimone. Prof Igwe showered deserving appreciation on his mentor, Prof P.O. Ngoddy, who was present beaming beatifically at the robust presentation of his mentee.

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