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Celebrating Man Who Made an American a Nigerian

 By Farooq A. Kperogi Twitter: @farooqkperogi February is Black History Month in the United States and Canada. As is my custom, I’ll devote ...

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

February is Black History Month in the United States and Canada. As is my custom, I’ll devote most of this month to highlight the enduring but often ignored trans-continental affinities between Black America and Africa and to celebrate known and unknown people who are central to the sustenance of the sometimes strained but nonetheless abiding kinship between Black Africa and its historic diaspora in the Americas.

Permit me to start the series with a tribute to my father-in-law by the name of Engr. Edwin Chukwumezie Erinne who has been married to a charming, good-natured, and kind-hearted Black American woman for nearly 44 years—and who also celebrated his 78th birthday yesterday. He is by far one of the brightest, kindest, pleasantest, least prejudiced, and most principled people anyone can ever wish to know.

He met his Black American wife by the name of Mrs. Cecilia Crump Erinne in 1975 when he came to Utah State University to study for a master's degree in engineering where was she also studied for a master's degree in mathematics. They fell in love and decided to get married in 1977 after completing their degrees.

Mrs. Erinne’s father wasn’t opposed to her getting married to a Nigerian, but he insisted that she first visit Mr. Erinne’s home in Nigeria and determine if she could live there. So, she visited New Bussa, the headquarters of Borgu Local Government Area in former Kwara State before it was ceded to Niger State in the 1990s, where Mr. Erinne worked as an agricultural engineer at the National Institute for Freshwater Fisheries Research.

She loved the serenity of the town and the easy disposition of its people. And, of course, the fact that her future husband was the same person in his home as he was in America convinced her she was making the right choice. They got married in 1978 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and she relocated to Nigeria thereafter. 

She taught mathematics at Borgu Secondary School, rose to become the school’s first (and only) female principal, and retired in 2004 as a director at the Niger State Ministry of Education. She trained generations of doctors, engineers, scientists, professors, and other professionals some of whom have become senators, members of the House of Representatives, and permanent secretaries. 

She is now so Nigerian that even Black Americans in her home state of Mississippi who didn't know her when she grew up there call her “that African woman”!

I’m from the Kwara State side of Borgu, and several people from my hometown and social circles who attended Borgu Secondary School used to talk about an exemplary Igbo-Black American couple in New Bussa whom I did not in my wildest dream think I would ever meet. But by a quirk of circumstances, they are now my parents-in-law!

I first met Mr. Erinne and his wife in 2012, one year after dating their daughter, Maureen, a former PhD student at the university I teach who was introduced to me by her former elementary school classmate in New Bussa by the name of Mohammed Dahiru Aminu.

Mr. Erinne took a liking to me the very first day he met me. He said he knew me in New Bussa (it turned out he was mistaking me for a cousin of mine) even though I’ve never visited the town. Out of politeness—and, frankly, intimidation—I didn’t dispute what he said. We now laugh over it.

The more I interact with Mr. Erinne, the more I understand why my mother-in-law would leave her comfort zone in America and relocate to a sleepy, mid-sized Nigerian town to live with him and give birth to all six of her children, except the last one, in Nigeria.

Mr. Erinne was born in Okija in what is now Anambra State around February 1944. His family name, Erinne, is the corruption of the Igbo word Ehilinne (which translates as contentment) by Christian missionaries with whom his father worked.

The Erinne family’s relatively early exposure to western education has earned them several claims to fame in Anambra and Igbo land. For instance, the late Chief Phoebe Chiadi Ajayi-Obe (nee Erinne), Nigeria's second female Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Eastern Nigeria's first female SAN, is Mr. Erinne’s older sister. His late older brother, Dan Erinne, is Nnewi South’s first graduate, and another older brother, Ben Erinne, is the first lawyer in Ihiala Local Government, which was carved out of Nnewi South. 

He is also one of the first sets of engineers to be trained at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and was Commissioner of Agriculture in Anambra State after retiring as Deputy Director from the Federal Civil Service.

In spite of his profound cultural insertion and pride in his Igbo culture, he is a deeply cosmopolitan and broad-minded person who respects and accepts people who are different from him. There is no part of Borgu he hasn’t travelled to. His open-mindedness, benevolence, and immersion in Borgu culture caused him to be beloved in New Bussa and beyond.

When I went to seek his daughter’s hand in marriage in 2013, three years after losing my first wife in a car accident, he didn’t show the slightest prejudice against me. He was warm, welcoming, and comforting. 

This was no surprise because some of his best friends, who are now like family members to him, are northern Muslims from Borgu. For instance, a few months after meeting him, he told me one of his best friends is Alhaji Isa Ibrahim Bio, who was Nigeria's Minister of Transportation, and later Sports, during the Yar’adua/Jonathan administration, and that their children relate to each other as if they were biological cousins. 

Well, Alhaji Isa is married to my cousin, Hajia Jummai! He was pleasantly shocked to know that—in addition to other unexpected connections—, and this discovery has so strengthened the bond that binds us that he now feels like my own biological father, although he chooses to tease me as “Alhaji ba Makkah” (an Alhaji who hasn’t gone to Mecca!).

It’s also interesting that people who found out that my father-in-law is Igbo used to say that my criticism of the Buhari regime was inspired by connubial solidarity with the Igbo when, in fact, Mr. Erinne was a passionate Buhari supporter until 2018! We used to disagree respectfully over Buhari.

Mr. Erinne is fiercely loyal, unquestionably protective, and brutally honest. He would never say behind someone’s back what he can’t say to his face. But in his brutal honesty, he is also thoughtful and compassionate. 

The first State Security Service (SSS) officer from my hometown, who died a few years ago, benefited from Mr. Erinne’s brutal honesty and benevolence. After his teacher training education in New Bussa, his path fortuitously crossed with Mr. Erinne’s. He wanted Mr. Erinne to help him get a job in a federal establishment, but he just had a Grade II certificate.

Mr. Erinne told him that with that qualification, he would perpetually be a low-level worker. He encouraged him to earn a higher education qualification and paid for his education quietly. I knew the story but had no idea whom my hometown man’s benefactor was. It was during one of our lengthy conversations that I serendipitously discovered that he was that “kind Igbo man” I’d heard of who took the responsibility to fund the higher education of a total stranger.

One of Mr. Erinne’s distinct qualities is his extraordinarily capacious and retentive memory. He doesn’t seem to forget anything, including phone numbers. He types people’s phone numbers from memory and has little use for a phonebook! Maybe that’s why he is such a mathematical genius. 

Each time I connect his wife with some of her past students from my part of Borgu and the wife has trouble recalling them, he remembers them with remarkable fidelity, especially if they had ever had cause to visit the family. I’ve never known anyone in their late 70s whose brain has remained as alert and as fecund as his.

He is also a tough, resilient soul who has defied death in multiple, mysterious ways. He has been involved in accidents in Nigeria in which only he survived. His relocation to the United States in 2007 was unplanned. He and his wife merely came on a flying visit to see his parents-in-law—and their six children who live here—and had planned to return to Nigeria.

But he was diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition, which he didn’t know he had, and which would have killed him if he hadn’t come here. His diagnoses compelled him to settle in America and acquire U.S. citizenship, which he had resisted acquiring.

On multiple occasions, he has had health crises that caused us to give up on him, but he would bounce back up like nothing happened. The last crisis he survived stretched everyone’s optimism to its elastic limit. When he survived it, we decided to celebrate his life while he was alive, but COVID flared up and he requested that we cancel our plans.

Please join me to honor this remarkable man whose life has been spent building bridges across cultures within Nigeria and between Nigeria and the Black Diaspora.

Related Articles:

An English Bishop’s Unintentional Blasphemy in Igbo

Black Americans in Nigeria

A Nigerian Black American Who’s Also Black American Nigerian


  1. I celebrate from my own corner of the world Papa Erinne who by God's grace will enjoy many more years on earth. Your write-up reminded me of good natured Nigerians like him who made our childhood memorable. These people were Head Masters, Teachers, Principal, Islamic and Christian clerics, Civil Servants and traders. Their communal spirit and collective care for all children and neighbors without prejudices still bring tears when we look at what Nigeria has become today. We had many 'mothers' and 'fathers' who were just neighbors but held us more like their own. In my community then was Hajia Gbambo Sawaba of blessed memory and his brother Emigi who at one time ensured that one of my junior ones who was always at the Stadium to exercise with him and his children got admission to Secondary School merely on hearing from him one morning that he was having difficulty with that. There were so many of them like this that time and space will not permit to mention here. You dare not skip school or someone will deal with you and also deliver you to your parent for further pruning. Sadly this was before tribal political champions and demonic clerics finally put knives between us.
    Attempt to live like that now brings suspicion and outright rebuff from neighbors. A lot of us have relocated in the past and more recently because of tribal and religious hatred manifesting in deadly riots and killings. We now have more tribal and religious champions than detribalized good men like our dear Pa Erinne.
    For the sake of our children and generation unborn, may this nation recover spiritually and physically.

    1. Good bless you for this. You just reminded me of so many people that helped me in my formative year.

  2. What a gracious and fantastic man. Until recently when we begin to give politicians license to divide us along ethnic and religious lines nigerians were happy and quickly coalescing into one people without bias. The coming of Buhari who got country wide support but through his ethnic and favouritism style of appointments has divided us and make us to be suspicious of one another. Men of your in-law disposition are quickly disappearing from our horizon.

    Now one important observation. Why do we choose to continue with corrupt versions pronunciations of our names,towns and festivals when it's clear to us that those who corrupted this names did out of difficulty. It still surprises me when we leave this things though we know the truth. Country like India have reversed almost all corrupted names and places and it doesn't make them less. That's why I can't understand why they will choose to be called Erinne which has no meaning except that it's a corruption of Ehinille which means contentment.

  3. Farooq, this is q beautiful, inspiring story/tribute. Obviously the world would be a far better place with more Engr. Erinnes. I'm going to ask a very good friend who's from Okija if he knows the Erinne family. Wishing the Engr. many more years of good health and service to humanity.

  4. Professor Farooq Kperogi is such a wonderful creatively intelligent nerd aside being spontaneously a logophile.

    No weekend is complete for me until I read your Page. It's a learning time for me to enrich my knowledge and intellectual sagacity.

    1. Honestly, I thought it's only me. I always look forwards to his article.

  5. This is such a lovely piece. May God bless Pa Erinne and bless us with people like him to heal our nation that is increasingly disuniting along ethnic and religious lines.

  6. I celebrate him too my prof. Reading your article completes my weekend.


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