Professor David Ker took a complete and irreversible bow yesterday, (Monday, Sept 13th, 2021) to go and meet his Creator. It was an elaborate, many sided rites of passage that captured his multiple roles while he lived. He was, first and foremost, an academic of (African) Literature, a field in which he wrote what is, by popular reckoning, a ground breaking text in The African Novel and the Modernist Tradition. It was published in 1997.
Then, he was an administrator, a domain in which he ran two universities as the Vice-Chancellor in quick succession. While he won the National Universities Commission, (NUC) award for running the best State Government owned university in Nigeria as the Vice-Chancellor in 2003, three years after his appointment, he ended up as the substantive pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic owned Veritas University, Abuja. That appointment was certainly an upscale reputational statement for his personal and academic credibility from the ownership. Although he was never a priest, he was trusted to defend the intellectual, moral and administrative standards that go without saying with the Catholic civilisation in matters university, historically. Above all, Veritas University makes the fourth of the universities he was illustrating his very self. The first was the University of Ibadan, (UI), then Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where he had been Head of Department, amongst other such positions, then BENSU and Veritas University.
It was not all academics for him as was a Commissioner for Education in Benue State for quite some time.
And, yes, he was a traditionalist too, being a traditional title holder in Idomaland. Chief John Eimonye, his own schoolmate at Saint Michaels Secondary School, Aliade and the incumbent Och’Otukpo Odu conferred on him Ochinokwu k’Otukpo, a crude translation of which could be an Iroko tree-size solidariser for Otukpo. So, aside from the reputational endorsement of the Catholic establishment, he also had the endorsement as a cultural barrier breaker.
Corresponding to this diversity of roles in his life were the different players in the rites of passage. Not only was there a symbolically powerful delegation from Veritas University led by the Vice-Chancellor himself, Prof Hyacinth Ichoku, there were, amongst others, the Oglinya dance troupe from Idomaland where Prof Ker’s wife comes from. Of course, there were the politicians, scholars, members of the Church, former students of his and sundry mourners cum sympathisers.
The 4-day long rites of passage started Friday, Sept 10th, 2021 with a Valedictory Session for him at the Senate Chambers of Benue State University, Makurdi. The Commendation Mass for him took place the following day while there was the Night Vigil in his country home on Sunday, Sept 12th. The last day featured the Funeral Orations, the Requiem Mass and his internment at the Family Cemetery at Tse Ker Donor Mbam on Aliade-Makurdi Road.
Professor Ker’s departure has caught many in his various circles totally unaware. Some colleagues who interacted with him at an activity of the English Studies Association on August 12th, 2021 shortly before his demise were shocked at the news of his death shortly thereafter. They didn’t see any signs of death at that point.
It would be difficult to find someone who is spoken of in so glowing terms across the board, particularly on his reportedly remarkable capacity for empathy –getting into the other person’s problem and trying to help by assisting with coming to terms with it; uncommon passion for mentoring, reading and commenting elaborately on whichever academic papers sent for his comments.
Bayero University, Kano’s Prof Ibrahim Bello-Kano aka IBK who worked closely with him on an incoming TETFund book on Literature said the deceased was such a nice person, free of pride or arrogance but very hardworking and strict in assessing academic works, his age notwithstanding. According to IBK, the late Prof Ker would read whatever was sent to him, returning it with comments asking the recipient to read this or that text to raise the bar. In other words, he had empathy but never lowered the gaze.
He is leaving behind Professor (Mrs) Beatrice Ker and four children. The consensus is that he lived a great life. Unlike some others, the government, the Church and academia all detected in him the capacity to get things done and brought him on board at various levels and times to do so. The jury is saying that he did not disappoint.
Other senior members of the literati such as Prof Olu Obafemi, Prof Tanimu Abubakar, to cite just two, are no less saddened by the death, Prof Obafemi being one of those who inserted the following blurb review of Prof Ker’s book thus “David I. Ker has written a rare and eloquent book that treats the evolving African fictional aesthetic from the modernist perspective. This highly perceptive book transcends the current practice among literary scholars to apologize for the fledgling status of modernist fiction in Africa to embark on a comfortable location of African unique contribution to modernist discourse in a comparatist mode. I fully recommend and unequivocally endorse its publication as a major contribution to the study of African fiction”
– Olu Obafemi, Professor of English and Dean of Student Affairs, University of Ilorin, Nigeria
If only the Benue State University and Veritas University, Abuja, if not more universities, could jointly negotiate reprinting of the 2nd edition of his book which is currently out of stock and privilege the text in their reading list for their good fit Departments of English and Literary Studies. That way, Ker though dead would remain a frontline participant in the conversation on re-imagining and transforming Nigeria given his highly rated demonstration of comfortable unity between African novelists and modernism.