Nigerian author Onyeka Nwelue has had his Academic Visitor status at the University of Oxford terminated, a Cherwell investigation revealed.
The investigation revealed he was dismissed for misusing university logos and premises for commercial purposes. Mr Nwelue is also facing complaints of misogyny towards students and the spread of racist, classist, and sexist content online, the independent student newspaper revealed.
The filmmaker and author held an Academic Visitor status at Oxford’s African Studies Centre from 2021 until his dismissal in early February this year.
During this time, Cherwell said, he represented himself as a professor at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge but has been unable to provide evidence of an academic PhD.
Both universities confirmed to Cherwell that he was never conferred with a professor title throughout his time with them.
On 31 January 2023, Mr Nwelue’s Instagram bio described him as “Prof of African Studies & Academic Visitor at the University of Oxford & University of Cambridge” and on 1st February 2023, his Twitter bio said “Professor + Academic Visitor”, tagging the accounts of both universities.
He also tweeted: “I am a university professor, attached to two of the top best universities in the world”, along with many other tweets where he referred to himself as a professor.
However, when asked to clarify his academic affiliations in light of this, Mr Nwelue told Cherwell, “I have never ever posed as a professor at Oxford and Cambridge. My card says I am an Academic Visitor and that is exactly what I tell people. The accusation that I say I am a professor at Oxford is baseless.”
At Oxford, Academic Visitorship is set up on terms agreed upon between an individual and the university. The university confirmed that it does not employ Academic Visitors – they do not get paid, and are not expected to undertake duties for the university.
Additionally, Mr Nwelue has also described himself as a Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, but SOAS confirmed to Cherwell that he is not listed as one of its Research Associates.
“I have the equivalent of a Master’s as a filmmaker. I also have an Honorary Doctorate. I have been a Visiting / Research Fellow in other universities. Prior to Oxford, I made award-winning films and published a lot of books,” he said when asked to provide further details of his academic certifications.
At least 22 books have been published in Mr Nwelue’s name. Twenty of his books were either self-published or published by his companies. Nine of these have been published since 2021, and of the 17 listed on Amazon, 13 have no consumer reviews, the newspaper reported.
During his time as an academic visitor at Oxford, Mr Nwelue posted content on Twitter which were considered racist, classist, and misogynistic.
These include tweets where he stated: “being raised in a poor family chains you mentally to be stupid.”; “no poor person has any value”; “African women look like masquerades when they wear wigs and make up”; “Arabs are known to relish slavery and servitude”; China “is poor, filthy (smells a lot!) and overpopulated”; “Eastern Europeans…only produce pick-pockets and scammers”.
When asked about these tweets, he told Cherwell: “It was a social experiment to get feedback for a book I was working on. Apologies that they came off wrongly.” He denied being racist, misogynist, or classist.
The University of Oxford did not confirm whether any background checks were carried out on Mr Nwelue before he gained status as an Academic Visitor.
What led to Mr Nwelue’s dismissal
According to Cherwell, a recent book launch where he (Mr Nwelue) hosted the controversial Nigerian journalist and author, David Hundeyin, in affiliation with the James Currey Society, led to the latest controversy.
The James Currey Society was founded by Mr Nwelue and incorporated as a for-profit company in May 2022, under the name of James Currey International.
It is named after the South African book publisher James Currey and has sponsored African authors to attend both Oxford and Cambridge, through awards of the James Currey Fellowship.
While Mr Nwelue told Cherwell that the society was established in partnership with the University of Oxford, the university clarified that fellowships at the society are not awarded, funded, or run by the university.
Mr Hundeyin is a 2023 holder of the James Currey Fellowship at Cambridge.
Cambridge told Cherwell Mr Nwelue and Mr Hundeyin are no longer associated with the University of Cambridge. Their connections were terminated “following an investigation into their conduct”.
The book launch
On 31 January, the duo held a book launch together on the university’s premises for Mr Hundeyin’s most recent book, also published with Abibiman Publishers.
According to Cherwell, the book launch was marketed through the James Currey Society and tickets were priced at £20 for Oxford students which according to one of the students who spoke to the newspaper is usually free. Mr Hundeyin’s book was also on sale at £20.
Attendees of the event told Cherwell that misogynistic remarks made by its organisers and other audience members made them feel “incredibly uncomfortable”.
When asked about the event, Mr Nwelue told Cherwell, “I am very sorry if the students felt uncomfortable. About sexism and misogyny, I will never condone that. I am apologetic if that happened. Really sorry.”
On 20 February, he stepped down as Director of the James Currey Society, announcing his replacement as the Zimbabwean actor Charmaine Mujeri.
ALSO READ: Oxford University introduces Igbo language course
He confirmed to Cherwell that he resigned following the termination of his Academic Visitorship, “so that his personal affiliation with the University of Oxford can end there”.
It is unclear if the James Currey Fellowships at Oxford and Cambridge will continue or be awarded again in future.
Mr Nwelue has also written a letter to Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracy, seen by Cherwell, in which he unsuccessfully appealed the termination of his Academic Visitorship.
On Thursday, he locked his Twitter account after tweeting: “I am leaving social media this evening. It will be for a long time. I might delete all my accounts as well. Bless you all!”
Investigations into Mr Nwelue’s conduct during his time at Oxford University are ongoing, Cherwell said.
Mr Hundeyin reacts
David Hundeyin in a tweet said the newspaper reached out to him and “I had informed them that my Fellowship was not terminated, and I showed them the letter above as proof.”
They, however, ran the story quoting an anonymous source, he said.
He said the society was founded at Oxford but has established a relationship with Cambridge University.
“Thus it was only natural to schedule some of my activities for @AfricaOxfordUni, one of which was my workshop and book launch event on Jan 31,” he said.
Mr Hundeyin then went on to blame Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State for what he referred to as a “maliciously-worded hack story filled with ad hominem and unbacked claims.”
“A few days to the event, the African Studies Centre suddenly developed cold feet about hosting the event. No explanation was given, but we heard unofficially that Nasir El-Rufai was unhappy about my presence,” he narrated.
“The venue had to change at the last minute, and at some cost,” Mr Hundeyin said, describing himself as the most internationally decorated investigative journalist of his generation in Nigeria.
“Apparently, Dr Nwelue uploaded a video of me at my introduction to the centre on his Twitter handle, without getting permission from two people who appeared in the video,” Mr Hundeyin said.
He was asked to stay away until the end of my Fellowship, he added.
“Their next trick was to get a student newspaper which uses an “@gmail.com” address to write a maliciously-worded hack story filled with ad hominem and unbacked claims, which described my book launch – for some reason – as “fraudulent,” he added.
Support PREMIUM TIMES’ journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: Call Willie – +2348098788999