PROFESSOR David Roger Jowitt is dead! It’s a very shocking news to many academics, and it’s an irreplaceable loss in the Nigerian academic community.
He was one of the last men standing in the delivery of quality education – one of those who hold the academic sceptres. In May 2023, President Buhari, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria, conferred the citizenship of Nigeria on him. Until his death, he was a renowned professor of English Language at the Department of English, University of Jos.
He was an exponent in phonology – a rare specialist in the area – and a native speaker of English who first came to Nigeria three years after Nigeria’s Independence – in 1963. He didn’t stay in Nigeria all the time though, but had been in Nigeria about fifty-one years altogether. He had worked in Nigeria at different levels of education in different states: Delta, Anambra, Kogi, Plateau, Kano and back to Plateau. He was at the Bayero University for about eighteen years, and at the University of Jos for seventeen years – up to his demise on Monday 14th August, 2023.
I write this not because I want to announce his death to the world, but, as someone who rode in his intellectual vehicle in all my academic journeys, to announce to Nigerian students, their parents and would-be students that university education has suffered yet another blow; that one of the few remaining true tutors and academic mentors in the Nigerian university system has gone, when the ever-degrading Nigerian education system needs someone like him most. Now quality teaching suffers further depletion by his death. He was an accredited pride of Nigerian universities. An Iroko in the Nigerian academic forest has gone!
Prof. Jowitt, the most amiable lecturer who taught me in both undergraduate and Master’s degree levels and supervised my research projects at both levels, was a rare gem as a secondary teacher and university lecturer. He was a faithful and dedicated lecturer who couldn’t afford to miss his classes, and, as he put it himself, never believed in “let my people go”. He would not let any postgraduate student who did not meet 70% attendance in his courses write the examination.
He was never married due partly to the fact that, according to him, he could not combine academic demands and family demands.
He said: ”I am not married. It’s partly because…I found that I was just too busy (with academic duties)… I have always been conscious of the fact that when you are married and have a wife and children, you have to take care of them, and devote time and attention to them. Suppose you have other big things in your life as I have, how would you be able to cope? You might then well ask if I think that a serious teacher or lecturer cannot be married… I am not saying that, because there have been many wonderful examples of people, teachers included, who have been able to cope…with the demands of a job and also have a full family life. But I think I lack that kind of heroism.”
Prof. Jowitt contributed greatly in helping teachers and students of English in Nigeria, and promoted the the nativized variety of English in the country. He co-authored the English textbook titled: Common Errors in English, and also published, amongst others, two unmatchable academic books on Nigerian English that lay unwavering foundation for the standardisation of the variety of the English – a unique and peculiar variety in the speech of educated Nigerians.
Olohy, a social critic, writes from Keffi, Nasarawa State.