Urhobo Historical Society

Alfred Opubor (1937-2011) Remembered



Professor Alfred Esimatemi Opubor

BA (London); MA (UCLA); PhD (Michigan State),

Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters

March 28,1937 – December 2, 2011



By John Nevboyeri Orife


Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor


It is with great sorrow and grateful resignation to the Will of God that we formally announce the passing of our mentor and big brother, Professor Alfred Esimatemi OPUBOR, Ph.D, FNAL., who was born on 28 March 1937  and passed away on  December 2, 2011, at the age of 74, in Cotonou, Benin Republic.


We lost this very illustrious Urhoboman, who lived a full and productive life. It is not going to be easy for us to adequately present the life of this outstanding and overwhelmingly charismatic man to OUR world. It will be impossible to capture the essence of this man, who led a very robust and fulfilling life, a life that is full of enormous vigor with which he served humanity selflessly. Below is the announcement of his passing as posted by his two children, Ms Tsemaye Opubor Hambraeus and Mr. John Opubor, on behalf of the family.


Professor Alfred Esimatemi Opubor passed away on 02 December, 2011 at the age of 74 in Cotonou, Benin Republic.


Professor Opubor was son of the late John and Emily Opubor, husband of Amelia Opubor, father of Tsemaye Opubor Hambraeus and John Opubor, and grandfather of Temisan, Radha, Omala, Neneh, and Om.


 Prof Opubor, an acclaimed African Communication Icon and a distinguished scholar, dedicated his life to contributing to Africa’s development through his substantive expertise and experience in Communication for Development.


 He was the first Nigerian Professor and chairperson, Department of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos and first Chairman News Agency of Nigeria. He also worked as a Senior Adviser in the United Nations, as a Secretary-General, Regional Director, Evaluator and Journalist.

Funeral service and memorials will be held in Nigeria on dates to be advised.


Since this announcement, we have spent countless hours reminiscing about our early interactions with this man and what he meant to us. He demonstrated very early in life that he was going to be an intellectual giant, having attended the prestigious Government College, Ughelli, in Delta State (at that time Western Region) and, from there to the premier University College, Ibadan (now University of Ibadan). Every time he came home with the handful of Delta boys at the University in those days, his humility was palpable without losing that air of intellectual elitism. When we both arrived MSU, fresh from just completing our undergraduate studies at the University of Nigeria, we met him as an advanced graduate student. He was a mentor and an older brother to us and he was generous in offering his experience and guidance to all and, particularly to those of us who share a kinship with him.


When we first arrived at Michigan State University in 1966, we were novices in graduate school.  He was the big brother who helped us adjust to the new environment, especially after it turned hostile to Nigerians during the civil war. He was the Nigerian who could communicate with both sides of the civil war divide because he spoke to us fluently in different languages. He would usually start with his flawless aristocratic English accent, and then he would change into Igbo, or Hausa or Yoruba as necessary and also Pidgin English.  He never forgot he came from the Niger Delta, the headquarters of Nigerian Pidgin English. He practiced what he was studying, communications. He was an unbelievable communicator.


He played a very important part in our development as young adults. He was the role model for those of us who were fortunate to have him around us and showed us how to navigate the sometimes frustrating academic waters. He celebrated the completions of our doctoral degrees with enormous pride and, in John’s case, he was not only the best man at his wedding, but also had the wedding held in the garden of his home. We spent countless weekends with him and his dear wife, Amelia, and, to Tsemaye and John, we were some of the “Nigerian Uncles” they actually knew and interacted with.


Alfred Opubor’s academic career was rich, and his service to higher education and to his country was very robust. He also served the International community with uncommon zeal. We have tried to include most of his services in this profile, but we can assure you that it is not nearly exhaustive, since our mission is to present the essence of this man to you.  


Professor Opubor was a communicologist. A graduate of the University of London, (B.A. Honors, 1961), and the University of California, Los Angeles, (M.A. 1963), he was among the first generation of students of communication as a behavioral science at Michigan State University, MSU, graduating with a doctorate degree in 1969. His specialization was in message systems, with application to mass media and cultural industries, and communication for development.

He was appointed on graduation in 1969 as Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University, and in 1971 was promoted Associate Professor of Communication and Director of the African Studies Centre. In 1975 he accepted the Professorial Chair and Headship of the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. There he trained generations of journalists and communication professionals, and introduced post-graduate programs, until withdrawing from service in 1986.

From 1978-1982 he was National  Director of the UNFPA/UNESCO Project on     ” Communication Strategies for Family Health, Family Welfare and Family Planning in Rural and Semi-Urban Nigeria”, based at the Department of Mass Communication.  At the University of Lagos, he also served as University Orator and Chairman of the Board of the Centre for Cultural Studies.

One of the founding fathers of the African Council on Communication Education, ACCE, he was elected Vice-President of the International Association for Mass Communication Research (1978-1982).  He served as Chairman of the Communication Sector of the Nigerian National Commission for UNESCO from 1975 to 1985.  A member of the UNESCO International Panel on Communication Research, (1971-1981), that defined the parameters of the New World Information and Communication Order debate, he was elected in 1981 as the pioneer Rapporteur-General of UNESCO’s International Program for the Development of Communication, IPDC. He was re-elected to the Bureau and served three terms till 1987.

He was founding Chairman of the Board of the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, (1979-83), as well as Chairman of the Board of the Bendel Newspapers Corporation,   (19 77-82). In 1986 he established Multimedia, a private communications consulting firm in Lagos, focusing on training and research in media, culture and development. During that decade, he was also Chair of the Friends of the National Museum in Lagos.

In 1988 he was elected Chairman of the Conference of Information Experts of the Organization of African Unity, OAU. In that capacity he supervised the drafting of the African Communication Policy and the Statutes of the Pan-African Advertising Union.

Between 1980 and 1988 in Nigeria, he was: Communication Consultant to the Nigerian Federal Environmental Protection Agency, FEPA, the Directorate of Social Mobilization, MAMSER, the Ministry of Health’s Department of Population Activities, and the Federal Ministry of Information; Chairman of the Inter-ministerial Committee for the preparation of the National Environmental Policy; Chairman of the National Committee on Information and Chairman of the National Committee on Census Publicity and Public Enlightenment. From 1982 to 1990 he organized the annual 10-day workshop on Environmental Awareness for the Nigerian Media, in collaboration with FEPA.

From 1980 to 1981 he was Member/Rapporteur of AFRICOM, the Eminent Persons’ Group appointed by UNESCO’s Director- General. He also served as research coordinator of the African Council on Communication Education, ACCE, and Chief Consultant for the UNESCO Regional Communication Office, both based in Nairobi, Kenya.

From 1983 to 1986, he lived in Dakar, Senegal where he was Information Adviser to the newly established Pan-African News Agency, PANA, with responsibility for research and editorial training. From 1986 to 1990 he was Chief Consultant on Information to the Secretariat of the Organization of African Unity, OAU; and from 1989-1990, he served the Economic Commission for Africa, ECA, as Consultant for the Working Group on the Dissemination and Popularization of population information.

For nearly a decade (1990-1998), he served as Senior Technical Adviser in Information, Education, Communication and Advocacy with the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, first in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, subsequently moving to the Country Support Team, CST, in Harare, Zimbabwe, covering more than 20 countries in east, central and west Africa. His assignment involved numerous diagnostic and planning missions, organizing scores of training workshops for national partners and collaborators, and writing dozens of sector analysis and strategy documents on the relationships between communication, culture and the arts, and their use in education, population, reproductive health and social development program.

His expertise in strategic communication has been requested by several national, regional and international organizations, especially within the United Nations system. As National Consultant to the ILO in the 1980s, he prepared the communication strategy to support the Nigerian population and development program. In collaboration with UNESCO, he organized activities for the creation and consolidation of the Nigerian Association of Media Women, from 19981 to 1986. Through his company, Multimedia, he also helped to establish Artists for Population and Development, with funding from the UNFPA Nigeria office, in 1987.

In 1999, UNFPA and UNAIDS assigned him to lead the team of consultants that prepared a report on HIV/AIDS advocacy based on field research in six African countries. The report recommended diagnostic and strategic tools for national communication and advocacy programs that are currently widely used. In 2000, he led a consultation organized by FAO in defining procedures and tools for the establishment of national communication policies in West Africa.

With the World Health Organization he conducted training workshops and prepared projects on the future of health communication in Africa, 1998-2000.

In 1999-2000 he was commissioned by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium, Harare and the Secretariat of SADC to prepare “SADC: Information 21”, a communication strategy for the Southern Africa Development Community.

In 2001, he was a Communication Consultant to the World Bank for the Urban Water Reform Project in Ghana, as well as the preparation of a development communication strategy for the Government of Ghana. 

In 2002 he served as a Ford Foundation consultant to mentor the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana for the establishment of their program in Chieftaincy Studies. He also provided technical assistance to the National Film and Television Institute in Accra as part of the Ford Foundation consultancy.

As Senior Consultant to the Chairman of the African Union Commission, he proposed the conceptual framework and operational procedures for the establishment of a Pan-African Radio and Television Network in 2005-2006.

Among other activities, he has been: Chairman of the African Script Development Fund and Member of the Board of the Centre For African Family Studies, CAFS, the leading regional NGO in reproductive health, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Professor Opubor is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Nigerian Community Radio Coalition, an advocacy and capacity-development group working for the recognition of community broadcasting as the third tier of broadcasting in Nigeria. He was nominated in 2004, by the Nigerian Federal Government, to an Experts' Working Group to review the national communications policy, and subsequently, in 2006, was appointed Chairman of the Community Radio Policy Drafting Committee whose report was submitted to the Minister of Information in December that year. As a Consultant to UNICEF and the Ministry of Information and Communications in July 2010, he led a preparatory stakeholders’ workshop and updated and finalized both policy documents for adoption by the National Council on Information and presentation to the Federal Executive Council.

From 2002 to 2007, he served as Coordinator of the Working Group on Communication for Education and Development, COMED.  Co-sponsored by ADEA, the Norwegian Education Trust Fund and the World Bank, COMED is located at the WANAD Centre, in Cotonou, Republic of Benin. The COMED Working Group trains journalists reporting on education, as well as information and communication officers of ministries of education. As part of developing a media specialization in education reporting,  COMED established a continent-wide network of over 350 media professionals, and  ten national chapters, supporting them with capacity-development activities as well as updated information.

In 2008-2009, as Consultant to the ECOWAS Commission, he prepared the communication policy and strategy for moving ECOWAS from “A Community of States to A Community of People”.

As Chief Executive of the WANAD Centre, Professor Opubor designed and oversees the mass media component of the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Project funded by the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The five- year project (2007-2012) is implemented in five countries on the West African Coast: Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria, and seeks to address prevention, treatment and care issues concerning HIV/AIDS in the context of trans-border mobility among the countries. WANAD partners with 25 broadcast media organisations (five per country) to ensure capacity reinforcement for demand creation, public awareness and behavior change through quality programs.

From 2003 until his passing, Professor Opubor was Secretary-General and Chief Executive of the West African News-media and Development Centre, WANAD. He is currently Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Panos Institute (West Africa), and Member of the Africa Board of Inter-Press Service, the Rome-based international news agency with regional headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

 In 2010 he was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Reporting Development Network Africa, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and based at Rhodes University in South Africa. He is also a member of the Nigerian Think Tank on Climate Change created by the Special Climate Change Unit of the Federal Ministry of the Environment, and Coordinator of the Selection Committee of the Water and Food Award in Copenhagen, Denmark.

As we mourn the death of our big brother, we are grateful that God in His infinite wisdom gave him to us to enrich our lives for a while. We pray for his widow, Amelia, and for his children and grandchildren.


May His Soul Rest in Perfect Peace.