Why I’m in Oxford, non-fiction by Onyeka Nwelue

If I had money, I will donate all of it to the University of Oxford, to fund research about Africa and for Africans and by Africans—beginning at the African Studies Centre, where I am an Academic Visitor. However, I do not have the kind of money that they need to develop projects. Those who have that money, are doing what they love with it. 

I hail from a lineage that, on both the paternal and maternal branches, is steeped in the knowledge and traditions of the Igbo people, a lineage of griots that is prodigiously talented in the enterprise of storytelling, a lineage that is characterized by academic and professional distinction in various spheres, and members of whom have consistently ventured into, and distinguished themselves in public service.

My story extends a legacy about which my family is rightfully proud. I have written and published over 16 books—including novels, a play, poetry collections, a narrative in verse, works of non-fiction, a children’s book, and anthologies of essays. I have also produced feature films comprising documentaries—one about my dear aunt, Flora Nwapa—and a biopic about the late Ikemba of Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

There is one in progress on James Currey, called Rediscovering James Currey. 

At the African Studies Centre, I have offered myself for service to my people under the auspices of the James Currey Society, where I bring a unique fusion of knowledge of the grassroots, cemented in my rich awareness of our culture and history, and the rich insights derived from my travels across cultures, through my pen and in film. This is not to mention a vast network of influential associates, within and beyond Nigeria.

We are living through a critical period in the Nigerian story. More so, we are living through defining times for Ndigbo and for the South-East of Nigeria. Given the spate of insecurity and a case of snail-speed development that is now being made even slower, fresh thinking is required to chart the course forward for the region. My venture into culture promotion, beginning from the grassroots, is intended to position my culture for what it has always been known for: excellence of art, ideas, and even beliefs and philosophy.

I also believe that, for our continent, the future lies in assembling and nurturing young talent that will carry forward the legacy of the founding generation. On my part, this process begins with revisiting the past to make projections for the future. 

I traced something tangible to Africa in Oxford, where I discovered Christian Cole, the first African to graduate from the University of Oxford. Originally from Sierra Leone, Mr. Cole became a lawyer. Why can’t he be celebrated? So, I commissioned an artist to recreate his image and have it exhibited at Weston Library during the James Currey Literary Festival from 1-3 September, 2022. 

The journey of Christian Cole will be displayed visually. This is how we are bringing the narrative to the West. 

And this is why I am in Oxford.

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