By LAWANI MIKAIRU, with agency report
A Nigerian, Professor G. Ugo Nwokeji was last week announced the winner of The 2011 Melville J. Herskovits Book Award in Washington, D.C., United States.
Nwokeji, who is a professor of history and African American Studies at the famous University of California, Berkeley, won the award for his book, The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra: An African Society in the Atlantic World. This was selected from more than 200 books nominated for the award this year.
Awarded by the African Studies Association ,ASA, the Herskovits Award is considered the premier book prize for non-fiction in African Studies worldwide. The ASA was formed in 1957 and is the largest of all scholarly associations that focus primarily on Africa.
Given to the author of an outstanding original book published on Africa in the previous year, The Herskovits Award has been awarded continuously since 1965 in honour of preeminent American anthropologist, Melville J. Herskovits, who was instrumental to the emergence of both African studies and Afro-American studies as academic disciplines in the United States.
According to the book’s citation by the panel of experts that appears in the programme of the 54th Annual Conference of the ASA, “Undoubtedly, the major strengths of The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra is Nwokeji’s ability to decompress the complexities surrounding an almost obscure history of the slave trade and to bring out one of the least discussed issues of the trade – women.” The citation praised Nwokeji’s introducing of innovative methodology to the study of the Atlantic slave trade.
Concluding, they said “The book points is several ways to the difficulty of providing a logically complete story using incomplete data and drawing on inferences. Nwokeji’s attempt to provide a comprehensive history of the Bight of Biafra and the slave trade will expand our understanding of the history of African enslavement, but it is also an excellent source material for researchers and the general public interested in studying the obscured dimensions of the Atlantic slave trade.”
After receiving the Award, from the incoming President of the ASA, Professor Aili Mari Tripp of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, during the 54th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Professor Nwokeji declared, “When you consider the great quality, breadth and depth of talents in all of African studies and the quality of books they produce every year, as well as the pantheon of past winners, you can understand why this occasion is a humbling experience.”
He thanked his colleagues for singling out his book for the highest honour. He also paid glowing tributes to his family as well as his alma maters – University of Port Harcourt, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and the University of Toronto.
Although Nwokeji was trained as a historian, his publications have crisscrossed history, energy policy, politics, economics, and political economy, among others.
Among his books and numerous publications in professional journals, his widely acclaimed The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Development of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry: History, Strategies, and Current Directions, published in 2007 by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, the leading energy think-tank in the U.S., has been described as a tour de force of the Nigerian hydrocarbons sector and was the first scholarly and independent analysis of the NNPC. He is also co-editor of Religion, History and Politics in Nigeria: Essays in Honour of Ogbu Uke Kalu, published by University Press of America in 2005.
Previous winners of the Herskovits Award have included some of the most eminent names in African studies from a variety of disciplines, including history, political science, economics, anthropology, sociology and philosophy.
Nwokeji joins a highly exclusive group that includes such previous winners as Leo Kuper, Jan Vansina, Elliot Skinner, René Lemarchand, Ivor Wilks, amongst other. This year’s joint winner is Professor Neil Kodesh of the University of Wisconsin, Madison for his book on Uganda.