(First African Harvard Graduate)

Prof. Lawrence B. Ekpebu, born 2nd of May 1936 to Chief Naupa Ekpebu and Mary Geku of Okoloba town, Kolokuma/Opokuma LGA, Bayelsa state. From a humble background where there was hardly opportunity to graduate from primary school, he went on to become the first African to bag a Harvard degree, graduating with Honours in Government with specialization in International Law and Relations at age 25.

He won one of Harvard’s most coveted prizes for graduating seniors, the Francis H. Burr (1909) Prize Scholarship and broke an all- time record as the only black person to ever achieve this feat in the history of Harvard till date.

Indeed, his achievement convinced America of the brilliance of Black People, prompting the institution to grant scholarships to not just Nigerians but across Africa and even the Caribbeans. As a result, the scheme produced additional 200 professors from Nigeria alone and several others across the African continent. Among whom are Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Kalu Idika Kalu and His Excellency, President Quattara of Cote Ivoire. Prof. Ekpebu went on to bag Masters from Princeton University and later PhD from Havard.

After graduation Professor Ekpebu declined the best from the West and came home to educate young Nigerians. This followed the 1965 completion of his MA and Ph.D, Harvard. When General Yakubu Gowon created Rivers State on May 27, 1967, he again sacrificed a flourishing career at the University of Ibadan and came home to serve.

As the longest serving commissioner under Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff, Professor Ekpebu educated his people, replicating NASP in Rivers Automatic Scholarship Programme, ASP. To launch Rivers people into corporate Nigeria, he replicated Chase Manhattan Bank by establishing Rivers-owned Pan-African Bank, PAB. He conceived East-West Road and secured a World Bank loan to establish Risonpalm.

In 1984 General Muhammadu Buhari appointed him Nigerian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Cote d’Ivoire. When Buhari was overthrown, General Ibrahim Babangida asked him to remain in Abidjan and complete his term before retaining him for a second term. Professor Ekpebu’s achievements included reconciling Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire that were on virtual enmity over divergence of policies on Biafra, recognised by Cote d’Ivoire; and Apartheid South Africa, which Cote d’ Ivoire had ties with. The Nigeria House, Abidjan, was completed by him.

He was also Foreign Policy Adviser to the Mohammed/Obasanjo regime; Member of Governing Council, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Member of first Governing Council, University of Ilorin; Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, former Rivers State University of Science and Technology; University of Ibadan representative in the Governing Council, Nigerian Institute of Management; and member of immediate past Governing Council, University of Ibadan. The Federal Government repeatedly called him from retirement for national duties 2000, 2008 and 2014.

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