By Emmanuel Ofuasia
National Open University of Nigeria,
Growing up in Lagos during my primary school days, I was very familiar with a passage in one of the Macmillan series on the English Language for studies at the primary level. The opening line of one of the passages in this series reads: “Edet lives in Calabar. He is eight years old. Every morning he goes to school…” There is a picture of the boy, Edet and he looks fair in complexion. His surname or middle name was not given but his fair complexion was not denied even by the faint impression of the print. Throughout my primary and secondary school days, I had never come across this Edet. It was during my undergraduate studies at Lagos State University that I first encountered the name ‘Mesembe Edet’ through his former teacher, Professor Princewill Alozie who told me some wonderful things about this Edet. Later on, I was fortunate to come across some essays on philosophy authored by this same Edet. So I thought to myself: “Indeed, Edet, since the time I first heard about him cannot remain that eight-year-old boy in the pages of a Macmillan English text for primary students. So, this boy eventually studied philosophy and became a professor of philosophy even as he didn’t leave Calabar, having attended the University of Calabar where he taught and researched.”
It was not until July 2019 that I was able to see Edet in person when I visited Calabar for a book launch of Michael Eneyo’s Philosophy of Unity. By this time, he had already become a professor of philosophy, an author of several works, and a staunch member of the formidable intellectual group – The Conversational School of Philosophy (CSP). And allow me to inform you that indeed he was fair in complexion, just like the Edet I created through abstraction. Upon sighting him, I had no doubt that indeed abstraction had coincided with concreteness. We had an interesting time together unbeknownst to us that this physical meeting which was the first would also double as the last, even as we kept in contact over the years. I should relay that Mesembe Edet specializes in African Philosophy, Comparative Philosophy, Philosophy of Culture, and Oriental Philosophy. Of all of these, I’d say that he is well-published mainly in African Philosophy and Comparative Philosophy judging from the arguments and style of presenting his ideas.
Our humble Edet from the pages of that Macmillan text eventually grew into an editor of journals such as Ndụñọde, a journal of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calabar even as he served as an associate editor to Nigeria’s foremost journal of philosophy, Filosofia Theoretica. He is like most postcolonial philosophers engaged with the liberation of the African intellect from its excessive reliance and domination. Hence, he will be remembered mainly for his theory of Conceptual Mandelanization which he continued to expound and impress on his students before the arrival of that which signals the departure of a human’s physical sojourn on earth knocked him out.
Being a philosopher, the news of the “death” of Professor Mesembe Edet reinforces the humble realization that even the question of life was not put to us. Phenomenologically speaking, Mesembe Edet did not experience his death. For he cannot utter the statement: “I died on so and so date, and this is how I experienced my death.” Of course, it is we, the mourners, that have experienced the death of Professor Mesembe Edet. He will be remembered for his hospitality, tolerance, charm, intelligence, and above all, his commitment to scholarship. Physically, Professor Edet may be no more with us but intellectually he lives on. Indeed, the Edet that I know not only fulfilled his ambition from the pages of a Macmillan text as an eight-year-old schoolboy but went on to live a fulfilled life as a professor who impacted lives from far and wide. His contribution to the intellectual life of the University of Calabar, especially as a staunch member of ASUU discloses the selfless personality of Edet. It is in this realization that we should bask in and rejoice over.
A TRIBUTE TO MESEMBE I. EDET
By Emmanuel Ofuasia