Urhobo Historical Society

An Immemorial Tribute to

John Ono Edewor's
Engineering Feats

By Alfred Akpoveta Susu
Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Lagos, Nigeria

/logo_min.gif - 1122 Bytes The Guardian Online - http://www.ngrguardiannews.com
Thursday, September 20, 2001

PROFESSOR John Ono Edewor died in his sleep on July 21, 2001, at the relatively young age of 53. Between the time of his birth and the end of his life, John could definitely be said to have fulfilled the enormous potential that God had endowed him with. He gave his best to every conceivable task that he participated in, so that it can be said of him that he did not sacrifice his enormously endowed gift. He was at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where he joined the pioneering chemical engineering class in Nigeria from 1969-1973. Not only did he graduate with a first class degree but was also the best student in Chemical Engineering and the Faculty of Technology.

 He first worked for Mobil Producing Nigeria UNLTD as a production engineer from 1974 to 1976. He used the period of employment to formulate his research interest. For his postgraduate studies, he attended the University of Manchester, Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), UK, from 1976 to 1979. His research topics were relevant to the industrial aspirations of the country as the masters thesis was on petrochemicals and the doctorate on Energy Economics. His Ph.D. thesis on the production of synthetic fuels was published by the Applied Science Press in 1980 under the title: "An Energy Economics Study of the Production of Synthetic fuels." Based on his doctoral work, the Greater Manchester Council gave the research group in UMIST a grant with John as the principal investigator. The project was on the conversion of Municipal Wastes to Synthetic Oils.

 John's knowledge and expertise in chemistry was beyond that of the ordinary chemical engineer. He applied this intimate knowledge to the development of substitutes for imported products. Examples include the development of industrial greases, brake fluids, lubricating oils, insecticides, herbicides, from local raw materials. His departmental office and an adjoining laboratory were the locations for the development of many of these products. In one particular instance, he was experimenting with a new process using locally fabricated equipment with local raw materials. There was an accident as the process became uncontrollable and fire engulfed him and the equipment that he designed and built. He did suffer serious burns, but for the quick intervention of nearby colleagues with the fire extinguishers that were then available in the laboratory, his condition would have been very serious. Just as an aside, our laboratories are no longer equipped with routine safety-related facilities, a disaster waiting to happen.

 Prof. Edewor was a researcher of high repute and looked for funds from outside of the university to carry out his projects. He got substantial grant from the then Ministry of Science and Technology to do research in the area of Cellulosic/Plastic Waste Conversion to Synthetic Oils and Gases in 1981. His vast knowledge of analytical chemistry allowed him to foray into the medicinal applications of plants and roots. I was always perplexed by his dexterity in advancing prescription of plant extracts for many local afflictions. Any time he visited me on campus, he made it a point of duty to educate me on the herbal properties of the various plants in my garden. He was essentially an alternative medical practitioner and he was toying with the idea of writing a book on the subject.

 Another area that merits mention is the development of liquors for the local drink industry. When importation was very difficult in the early to mid-1980s, one of the local distillery companies had contacted him to source for substitutes for imported liquors. Prof. Edewor produced more than six products from local roots and the company found them satisfactory and marketable. The next phase of the project was the development of the processes to the level of industrial production. Unfortunately, before this aspect of the project could be commenced, the perennial problem of a change of managing director scuttled that project. In any case, all was not lost as Prof. Edewor later created the Ladoke Akintola Distillery, with a retail outlet in Ibadan.

 The singular yardstick by which John's accomplishment can be judged at the Ladoke Akintola University is that the chemical engineering programme there was dully accredited by COREN at the first accreditation exercise. This is no mean feat as much older departments of chemical engineering attract provisional accreditation. I had the opportunity of finding out from a friend of mine what informed the decision of the accreditation team. He told me that they were most impressed with the fact that all the equipment and machinery needed for the training of young chemical engineers were all locally designed and fabricated. Not just that, they were all in good working condition. This was an example worthy of emulation by older departments of chemical engineering in the country. The new laboratory was built from privately solicited funds. He was the serving Dean of Engineering, Ladoke Akintola University, at the time of his death.

 The last notable task that attracted the enormous talents of Prof. Edewor was his concern for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and its future directions. He informed me that he was interested in participating in some capacity in the activities of the NDDC. In this regard, he had submitted a proposal to relevant authorities on a comprehensive requirement of infrastructural and industrial development of the Niger Delta. His concerns transcend the university walls and encompass the larger society. That was vintage Edewor.

 His Ogbomoso students will surely miss Prof. John Ono Edewor, for they have lost a most dedicated and competent leader. He is respected by students for the manner in which he communicated the knowledge in the classroom. Because of his practical accomplishments, his students always talk about the exciting and enthusiastic presentation of lecture materials, interlaced with practical examples. He was easily accessible to all his students and participated fully in their research projects, either at the senior undergraduate, masters or doctoral level. As for me, I have lost a friend and a worthy colleague whose counsel I had come to cherish.