On Onyeka Nwelue and the Implications on our Collective Conscience – Ikenna Okeh

Very few news items have dominated the Nigerian media space as much as the dramatic termination of Onyeka Nwelue’s association with the British academic establishment. For days, this sensational news item almost eclipsed the rigged Nigerian Presidential elections and further announced Onyeka Nwelue to the few who had neither heard of him or encountered the impacts of his achievements within African and global cultural spaces.

There are quite a number of perspectives from which one could address this sensational issue and what it portends for the observer. Many have voiced their take on the matter in the heat of the moment and as things are dying down, observers are having a rethink on the brashness of their emotive, rather than analytic, stance.

The opinion in this piece aims to take the side of the individual, and from a perspective of mental health as it affects the individual in question, in view of social conscience.

Onyeka Nwelue is so many things to different people, genuine friends and mischievous associates alike – this is why the news about him became such a sensation. However the one, thing everyone will agree on is that, just as he never keeps his opinions – as disruptive as they seem to conservative folks – to himself, he also doesn’t keep his travails secret. They are all there in the open, for everyone to make of as they please; he was not born rich; dropped out of a bachelors degree program at Nsukka; maintains a celibate life; aims to become a major player in cultural enterpreneurship within the African space; and taught from his teenage years at notable universities and academic institutions around the world, despite being a serial university dropout.

And then there is the issue of his mental health condition.

Never for once did he keep all of these secret. And he has been vocal about them. Hence it becomes nothing but shameless dishonesty on the part of anyone, especially anyone found within his social circles, to act shocked or dare to regard as fraudulent his credentials with which he became an Academic Visitor to the British university establishment. Everyone hanging the noose of condemnation around him is the problem. And the mob that cheered and jeered should take the moment to appraise the condition of their moral compass. Because it sure needs some re-calibrating.

But let us leave all of that aside for now and attempt to glimpse into what all this negative publicity and defamation means for Onyeka Nwelue in view of his mental health – after all, he is an individual, a human beset with every (flawed) quality that makes one human.

In 2019, Onyeka Nwelue was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Schizoid Personality Traits. He has been on medication ever since. Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg has a file on his mental health condition. This, as stated earlier, is no news, as Onyeka Nwelue has repeatedly revealed on social media, against the advice of friends and relatives, that he takes Lithium Carbonate along with other prescription medication for his condition. This illness is the reason he can’t muster the patience to go through any curated academic program. It is the reason for his social media posts which are often dismissive and which he quite easily forgets about, owing to his memory lapses.

If this reminder is anything to go by, then we must begin to question ourselves. All of us. We should ask to know whether our collective judgement of Onyeka Nwelue is honest? Or better put: are we being honest with ourselves in thinking that he claimed to be what he isn’t? Does the ‘fake professor’ tag hold water? Where and how did we lose it as a people? What about all the while we celebrated his achievements which enriched the cultural aspects of our lives even as we were constantly reminded that he was doing all of these without the validations that come from academic certificates? What exactly is our problem? Or are we so bothered about his disruptive social media posts as to ignore our own capacity to make the right judgement? Should we now ignore everything his achievements have done for the continuous enrichment of the African literary space because the British university establishment has woken up one morning, on the wrong side of their bed, to brashly decide to be dismissive with him? Let us look again at a few of his achievements in the less that two years he has spent in England.

Onyeka Nwelue’s affiliation with the British University establishment in the capacity of an Academic Visitor – for which he pays an annual bench fee of  £1000 for the African Studies Centres at Oxford, and £9000 for Cambridge – has brought immense cultural benefits for all concerned. For Oxford, he instituted the James Currey Society which organises Afrocentric writing and publishing workshops; the James Currey Literary Festival which brings African writing and writers to the British reading public; the James Currey Prize for African Literature which awards £1000 to the winning entry; and the Igbo Language Class. For Cambridge, he instituted the Earl Lovelace Price Short Fiction Prize which awards £500 to the winning entry.

The question which this opinion piece will want to present to you is this: what does the abrupt manner in which his connection to the British university establishment was canceled mean for Onyeka Nwelue’s mental health? What is the implication of the media smear campaign on his mental health? And if these questions seem so ugly that we would rather not face it, what then have we become as a people? Surely, we are neither kind nor honest. This much is certain. And both the hangman, the noose and the mob have no justification for executing business with Nwelue in these past few days.

From May 15 – 23 , the UK observes the Mental Health Awareness Week. Perhaps we should wait until then to ponder on how aware we are of mental health and how we should care for our mental health as well as for others who suffer mental health conditions. Maybe it will be a day for us to reassess our collective conscience.

For now, Onyeka Nwelue who also has recently been diagnosed with diabetes has been driven into psychiatry care, following pressure from the smear campaign.



***Ikenna Okeh is the author of the novel, ‘Deportee’. https://www.waterstones.com/book/deportee/ikenna-okeh/9781739774769


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