A Nigerian man, Patrick O. Okigbo III, has shared his encounter with 79-year-old Professor Emeritus, Alexander Animalu of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), whom he met on a flight from Enugu to Abuja. The renowned professor Animalu is a physicist of international repute, member of the highest advisory body on Science and Technology to the Nigerian government, a pioneer of solar energy in Nigeria, the only African member to date of the Advisory Board of the Euro-Journal Physics and the only African member of the Editorial Board of the Hadronic Journal.
Below is what the excited man posted on Facebook after his meeting with the aged professor.
I am on the Air Peace flight from Enugu to Abuja. As usual, it is packed with a good mix of Ndigbo leaving the region to hustle in other parts of Nigeria and probably the world. It is always a good place to meet people and to get a sense for what’s happening in the region. You are sure to pick up interesting conversations.
As I walked to my seat towards the back of the plane, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I have been assigned a seat across the aisle from Prof. Alexander Animalu, the renowned theoretical physicist. He was already holding court with some of the people seated around him. He regaled them with stories from his days at the then-prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) also referred to, by rivals, as “Does Monkey Go to School”. Animalu was in the graduating class of 1957. There were two other “DenGramites” around us and they were in awe of the man. They had only heard stories of Animalu’s academic prowess but never had a chance to meet him in person.
Prof. Animalu told us stories of how he arrived in the USA on January 01, 1966 to study physics at MIT on a Shell-BP scholarship. I told him that it was coincidental that my dad arrived London on the same day to study accountancy on a scholarship from Eastern Nigeria Development Commission.
He mentioned that he is from Oba in Anambra state. I told him that I am from next door, Ojoto. He spoke about some of my uncles who were his contemporaries: Pius, Bede, Chris. At the mention of Chris, the discussion went to the War.
As is often the case, Biafra makes a cameo in these conversations. Prof. Animalu did not fight in the war because he was in the States. Like most people from the region, he lost many friends and family members.
We spoke about his academic career and how much goodwill he still enjoys. Most of the people on the plane who recognized him came by to shake his hands. Even some politicians came from the front of the plane to greet him.
I thought of all the big Ogas on this plane: current National Chairman of a political party, two candidates in the January 2018 Senatorial elections in Anambra, a former Honourable Minister, etc. None had the same level of genuine admiration as this reputed emeritus professor who sat at the back of the plane, hoping to remain incognito, but whose academic accomplishments, life’s work, and good name caused for a long procession of people who just wanted to shake his hands. I kept thinking, “eziafa ka ego” (good name is better than money).
As the air hostess announced (in a jumble of accents) that we should switch off our phones and get ready for departure, I asked Prof. Animalu for a selfie. He obliged. I captured the moment to use it to teach my kids that good name is better than silver and gold.