Kenneth Dike


Kenneth Onwuka Dike


December 17th, 1917

University of Durham, University of Aberdeen, King’s College London

Awka, Anambra State


Kenneth Dike was the first Nigerian Vice-Chancellor of the country’s first college, University College Ibadan, later renamed the University of Ibadan. He was a Harvard professor who led the Committee on African Studies. Kenneth Dike will always be known for his effort in promoting and ensuring that written African history is devoid of European influence.


Prof Kenneth Dike (left), and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Nigerian Prime Minister (November 1963|Photo Credit: Bob Golding)
Prof Kenneth Dike (left), and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Nigerian Prime Minister (November 1963|Photo Credit: Bob Golding)

Education and Career

Kenneth Dike was born in Awka, eastern Nigeria and he obtained his secondary school education at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, a bachelor’s degree from Durham University in England (1943), a Master of Arts degree from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland (1947) and a Ph.D. from King’s College London (1950).

Dike was the first African Professor of History, the first African to head a History Department in a university and he also led the founding of the Nigerian National Archives and the Historical Society of Nigeria.
His doctoral dissertation included the study of how economic change affected political and social life in Nigeria in the 19th century. Dike returned to Nigeria after his Ph.D. and served as a senior research fellow at the West African Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University College Ibadan from 1952 to 1954.

After Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, Dike took up more roles at University College Ibadan as a member of the history department. He played significant roles in promoting African leadership of academic work published on Africa. Shortly after the University College Ibadan attained full university status, and was renamed the University of Ibadan in 1962, Dike was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the university and continued to advance his research in history and African studies. In 1963, he was appointed head of organizing committee of the First International Congress of Africanists held in Ghana. He promoted the strengthening of non-colonial focused African research and publication of academic research in different languages, including but not limited to African languages. He pushed for the introduction of African History to native speakers and also encouraged people to consider African history from a familiar African perspective.


As a historian, Dike is said to have reformed Nigerian history by telling the country’s past from a Nigerian point-of-view and his work elucidated trade patterns along the Niger River and the Niger Delta during the 19th century. Dike’s book Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta 1830-1890 (1956) arguably best narrates this history. In his book, he examined in detail the process by which the existing native governments were gradually ousted by British consular power and replaced with the Crown Colony administration. In 1965, while still vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Kenneth Dike was elected chairman of the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

Service during the Civil War

When the Nigerian Civil War (Biafra War) broke out in 1966, Dike resigned his role as vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan. As an easterner and Igbo, social tensions created by the war made it difficult to preside over a government establishment in western Nigeria. After leaving the University of Ibadan, he moved to the eastern region of Nigeria (secessionist area) in search of new career opportunities. professor-dike-3His return was warmly embraced and he was appointed as one of Biafra’s ambassadors. He served Biafran authorities throughout the duration of war, traveling and giving speeches on behalf of the Biafran republic at home and abroad including his April 1969 speech before the National Press Club in Washington, DC. He became a vocal figure for Biafra in numerous negotiations that took place during the civil war always pushing for the recognition of the Biafran state on the international scene.

As a key scholarly figure, Dike was appointed vice-chancellor of the Nsukka University in Biafra. He continued to speak for the republic and by 1968, his position on the secession fight had become unshakeable. He was of the opinion that eastern Nigeria had put in so much effort into the fight, too much to turn back and make a peace deal with western Nigeria. As a result, he was deeply disappointed when Biafran forces had to unconditionally surrender to Nigerian government in 1970. Nevertheless, Dike represented the Biafra republic during the cease-fire negotiations in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

After the civil war ended in 1970, Kenneth Dike went into exile, taking up an academic position at Harvard University. He was appointed Chairman on African Studies and served in such capacity from 1971 to 1973. Later in 1973, he became the first Mellon Professor of African History at Harvard and would lecture there as a professor until 1978. By 1978, Dike returned to Nigeria and took on an administrative role as the President of Anambra State University, a position in which he served until his death on October 26th, 1983. He was survived by his wife, Ona; three daughters, Nneka, Chinwe and Ona, and two sons, Emeka and Obi.


Kenneth Dike is regarded as the pioneer of African history. His extensive and influential body of work served as turning points in African historiography. He was the first African to obtain western historical professional training. He was also the first African Professor of History and the first African to head a History Department in a university. He also led the founding of the Nigerian National Archives and the Historical Society of Nigeria. Through some of his work, he explained 19th-century economics and politics in the Niger Delta area. Kenneth Dike was instrumental in the creation of the Ibadan School of African History. He also encouraged other African historians to tell history from an African point of view.


  1. “Kenneth Dike”. Web. 16 July. 2016. <>.
  2. “Kenneth Dike Facts”. Your Dictionary. LoveToKnow, Corp, 2016. <>.
  3. “Kenneth O. Dike Dies in a Nigerian Hospital”. The New York Times. Web. 13 November. 1983. <>.
  4. Laurknck, Monya. “Former History Professor Dies; Was African Studies Pioneer”. The Harvard Crimson. The Harvard Crimson, Inc. Web. 14 November. 1983. <>.