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Sanya Dojo Onabamiro: Scientist and Statesman (1913 – 1985)


Nigerian Copepodologist and Statesman

For some decades, I have been interested in the history of the study of copepods (small crustaceans in oceans and fresh water).  When one of my colleagues asked me for biographical information on Sanya Onabamiro we were both surprised that there was so little material readily available.  It quickly became apparent that Onabamiro was an honored son of his town and country and that he should have a wider recognition within the international community.  Therefore, a biography was published in the 2013 Journal of Crustacean Biology 33(1):143-149, from which the following was abstracted.]

Before Sanya Onabamiro, the dangerous guinea-worm parasite ravaged the whole of southwest Nigeria.  Strong United Nations programs prematurely predicted that this scourge would be eradicated by the year 2000, through improved sanitation and drinking-water filtration.  Although many previously common regions for this parasite have been cleared, it still affects tens of thousands of people in thirteen African nations.  Even with the revealed nematode life-cycle, there were not many reports in the copepod literature until the 1950s, with Onabamiro a pioneer in that regard, with relevant published papers and his doctoral dissertation addressing the intermediate-host Cyclops copepods.
Nigeria in particular was lacking in highly educated and committed citizens in all areas of government.  To the detriment of science, Onabamiro found himself as one of his new country’s leaders and overwhelmed by extraordinary events.

Nigeria, in the twenty years before and after achieving national independence [in 1960], has passed through momentous times. Such were the traumatic events that have convulsed the young nation that those of her sons and daughters born ten or twenty years before those momentous forty years would, for the rest of their lives, continue to wonder if they were the same people and if their country was the same country…. 


Nigerians found themselves fighting a World War on the rice fields of Burma and listening to eminent world statesmen declare that it was a natural birth right for colonial peoples to strive for and obtain political independence from foreign rule….  A University was eventually established in Nigeria from which young Nigerians graduated to take up public appointments with the same status and salary as British Colonial Officers in the country.  Representative Regional Governments were conceded by the British over-lords, as a result of which Nigerian ministers planned for their fellow Nigerians the type of roads, houses, hospitals, but most important of all, the type of education the people yearned for.  When the orchestrated voices of the people told the British to pack up, the British, with consummate good grace, packed up and went home.


Within a year of the life of the young independent country, a few young Nigerian army officers had started to plan the overthrow of the Federal Government.  After barely five years of civilian administration the soldiers…struck, killing some of the country’s political leaders,…thereby inadvertently introducing into the fabric of Nigerian history the element of violence.  As violence, by the order of nature, necessarily begets violence, one coup rapidly superseded another coup…in a costly and protracted civil war….  Eventually…the Federal Government [passed] to a civilian administration on 1st October 1979 — all these breath-taking military events taking place in thirteen short years! (Onabamiro, 1983).

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