Urhobo Historical Society



Professor Matthew Brafe Scott-Emuakpor PhD (1935-2011) Remembered

 

By Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, PhD, MD

 

 

 matthew

Professor Matthew Brafe Scott-Emuakpor, B.Sc (Hons) London; PhD Cantab.

March 14, 1935 - April 12, 2011

University Educator, Biologist for all seasons

 

 

 

 

We are human because we die. Without death we will be something other than humans. Therefore death defines our humanness. These days, it seems death surrounds me and whispering to me, “Live because I am coming some day”.

 

On the 7th of February, I had the misfortune of losing one of the most influential people in my life, my eldest brother and the Patriarch of the Scott-Emuakpor family, Chief Lawrence Enamrerehor Scott-Emuakpor. Exactly 9 weeks and 6 hours later, on April 12, 2011, I lost another very influential people in my life, my older brother and Cambridge University educated Professor of Botany, Professor Matthew Brafe Scott-Emuakpor. It is customary to add, “After a brief illness” but, in my opinion, that phrase diminishes the awesomeness of death and prevents one from coming to term with the deep sorrow that death brings. As I wallow in this deep sorrow, I am once again reminded of the truth in Khalil Gibran’s poem On Joy and Sorrow:

 

“Your JOY is your SORROW unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your LAUGHTER rises was oftentimes filled with your TEARS.” (Capitalized (emphasis is mine.)

 

May God unmask this sorrow and show us laughter from this well of tears. This is my prayer in this time of great difficulty.

 

Professor M.B. Scott-Emuakpor was born on March 14, 1935 to Chief Scott Johnson Masoro Emuakpor of Evwreni, in southern Urhoboland and in modern Ughelli North Local Government area, and Madam Janet Irorohwo Scott-Emuakpor (nee Ajogri) also of Evwreni. By this birth, he became the fourth son and child of our father and first son and child of his mother. He attended the Church Missionary Society (CMS) elementary school in Warri and, in 1949, entered the Urhobo College, Effurun. His career as a student of Urhobo College was marked by many distinctions. Aside from being an outstanding student academically, he was a nationally acclaimed student-athlete. He was a Greer Cup champion (National inter-secondary schools athletic competition) in both High Jump and Triple Jump and, in 1952, he broke the High Jump record, set by Dr. Garrett 13 years earlier, when he cleared 6 feet, 3 ½ inches. The Nigerian Sunday Times paper that carried the news of this accomplishment in its front page remained my companion and my constant source of inspiration for many years before I lost it to wear and tear. The following year, while training for another “Track and Field” competition, he accidentally scratched his left Achilles with the spikes of his jumping shoes. The wound became infected and very painful, making him to withdraw from the competition. I felt so cheated by that incident that I always remind myself, till this day, to be angry with all the other athletes who must have supernaturally caused this injury to my brother.

 

He graduated from Urhobo College in 1954, passing the Cambridge School Certificate examination in Grade1, and proceeded to Lagos in January of 1955. He lived with our older brother, Dr. Dia Scott-Emuakpor, and began work in the Federal Ministry of Information, an outfit that was to be directed years later by our eldest brother, Chief Lawrence E. Scott-Emuakpor. He worked at the Ministry of Information for 2½ years before gaining admission to the only University in Nigeria at that time, The University College Ibadan. He studied Botany and graduated with top honors in 1961. He was so focused in his academic work that he was never to participate in sports again competitively. Brother MBSE, as we fondly referred to him in the family, was very intolerant of and, in fact, hated mediocrity. He believed that the quality of a person’s life is directly proportional to his commitment to excellence and that he really did not have the kind of time needed to excel in athletics. This was the reason he gave for giving up athletics altogether.

 

Following his graduation from the University College Ibadan in June of 1961, he proceeded to Cambridge University in England in August of 1961 and was resident in St. John’s College of the university. At Cambridge, he developed fascination for Microbial Genetics and began working on the behavior of chromatids during cell-division in the red bread mold, Neurospora crassa. His work contributed enormously to the elucidation of the steps involved in the exchange of genetic materials during gamete formation. For his work, he received the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D. Cantab) from Cambridge University in June of 1964. My own academic interest and work in Human Biochemical Genetics was significantly influenced by my brother’s accomplishments. By this accomplishment, he became the first African to be awarded an advanced degree in Genetics and, thus the first African Geneticist.

 

I myself got into the University of Nigeria in 1962 to study Zoology. Every textbook that I used in the course of my studies was sent to me by Brother MBSE from Cambridge. I bragged about my modern state-of-the-craft texts and almost became intellectual elite in the process. Thanks to my brother’s nurturing and inspiration, when I was named the best graduating student in the sciences, it did not come as a surprise to those who knew the secret of my academic success. Soon after he returned from the U.K., my first holiday from the university was spent with him. My younger brother, younger sister and I had a “heck of a time” with Brother MBSE, leading us in endless intellectual discussions. He left his brand new Peugeot 404 car with us as we made ourselves the spoilt siblings of a serious-minded elite lecturer. At that time, he was dating a young woman who I thought was the most beautiful woman I ever met. Her beauty was not just in her looks, but in her mind and her overall carriage. Although no one asked my opinion, I felt that my brother deserved no less, because this woman always appeared, at least to me, as one of those happily created beings who please effortlessly and who take life easy and gracefully.  He was to marry this elegant woman, Ms. Adejoke Craig, a few years later, the only marriage he ever contracted throughout his rich and productive life.

 

In September of 1964, he returned to the University College, Ibadan (now the University of Ibadan) to begin a long and productive career as a University Educator, first as a Research Fellow, then as a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Professor. Professor Scott-Emuakpor had two passions, finding solutions to common human problems through research and the teaching of Genetics. These passions were largely instrumental in his decision to transfer his services from the Department of Botany in the Faculty of Science to the Department of Medical Microbiology in the Faculty of Medicine of the university. He very quickly began to look into the nagging problem of post-operative wound infections at the University Teaching Hospital (UCH). Within a couple of years, he not only described in painstaking details the organisms responsible for “wound sepsis” at the hospital, but also recommended simple hygienic measures that can be employed to prevent its occurrence. Through the findings from his work, specific therapeutic measures were developed to effectively treat infected post-operative wounds at the UCH in Ibadan and elsewhere in Nigeria and in the tropics.

 

Professor Scott-Emuakpor loved his work at UCH, but missed the teaching of Genetics. He had designed several undergraduate Genetics courses which his circumstances at the hospital prevented him from teaching. When the opportunity came for him to return to Botany in 1970, he did so primarily to satisfy his other passion, the teaching of Genetics. One year later in 1971, I myself joined him in Ibadan after I accepted a job as Lecturer in the Department of Zoology of the faculty of Science and the Department of Chemical pathology of the faculty of Medicine of the University. My home Department was Zoology and my brother and I began to redesign the undergraduate Genetics courses which we taught together. I remember him during my first few months in Ibadan carrying my PhD thesis everywhere he went to. He explained to me that he was reading it in details hence he carried it with him always, but I knew better. He was so proud that his younger brother had followed in his footsteps that he carried that thesis as a testimony of his enormous influence in my own academic career. He was naturally and generously biased in his description of my accomplishments. My four years with him in the Faculty of Science was very rich emotionally for me and very rewarding intellectually. As I embrace the torturous sorrow of my brother’s death, the thoughts of those years bring joy to my heart. Khalil Gibran is right.

 

Those who did not take the trouble of knowing my brother, Matthew, often labeled him as “snobbish”. This is because of his dislike for over-celebration and his love for simplicity. He will not visit people, sometimes even if you invited him because he did not want to be considered rude for not accepting items for entertaining guests. In the African culture, that behavior is not looked upon very well. His daily routine was critically regimented and he hated nothing more than to deviate from it. He had a time to drink water daily, a time to drink juices or tea and a time to snack on his favorite fruit, Paw-Paw. Anything that interfered with this daily routine offended him immensely. Most activities of his daily living, he liked to perform himself. Therefore, he cooked most of his meals himself, though he had house-help ( I passionately hate the term “servants”) paid to cook; he did some of his own laundry by hand himself, though he had house-help paid to do it; and he did his grocery shopping himself, though he could send anyone to do it for him. He was a very simple man who did not like many changes in his life and who did not like to explore too many new things.

 

Those who took the trouble of knowing my brother see him differently. If you spent a quiet moment with him, you find that he exuded warmth and that he was very knowledgeable about many subjects, ranging from the Art to any of the Sciences. He was very eloquent in and comfortable with discussing any subject and could be very engaging. In spite of his enormous self-control and discipline, he had definite and strong opinions about world events, particularly those related to conflicts, and he could be very animated in expressing them. My brother had a strong personal magnetism and I believe it is because of his consuming sincerity.

 

Matthew Scott-Emuakpor spent the later part of his academic career doing things he loved. He spent a sabbatical year in Calabar helping to develop curriculum for the teaching of Genetics. He spent a good portion of his post-retirement years, on a contractual basis, at Lagos State University helping to develop curriculum and teaching of Genetics. One would have expected that a man of my brother’s distinction, a pioneer in an important scientific field, would meet no difficulties in his career path. The truth was that he met many difficulties professionally and, in the process, he taught me that a “Man of Character” finds a special attractiveness in difficulty because, as Charles de Gaulle put it, it is only by coming to grips with difficulty that a man can realize his potentialities.

 

I can not sufficiently describe what a tremendously difficult time this has been for the Scott-Emuakpor family. Sorrow has taken hold of our entire psyche and it has been very difficult to shake it lose. For my brother, MBSE, every human experience, good or bad, is part of our being and he would have counseled that shaking loose this sorrow is a bad idea. Rather he would recommend that we allow this sorrow to take permanent residence in our soul so as to “ENLARGE” it. This is the legacy of my brother, whose death on Tuesday the 12th of April, 2011, I regard as a night’s sleep. For, as Martin Luther put it, “as through sleep all weariness and faintness pass away and cease and the powers of the spirit come back again so that in the morning we arise fresh and strong and joyous; so at the last day, we arise again as if we had only slept a night and shall be fresh and strong”. My brother, as promised in the Scriptures, shall arise again and shall be fresh and strong.






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