By Uche Samuel Ndidi
Andrew Jonathan Nok, renowned scientist, erudite scholar, university don, academician, a professor of biochemistry and Kaduna state commissioner of education died in the early hours of Tuesday, November 21, 2017, at the age of 55 after a brief illness.
Late Professor Andrew Jonathan Nok was born February 11, 1962, in Kaduna State, Nigeria. Professor Andrew hails from Nok village in Jaba local government area of Kaduna State. He attended LEA Primary School in Kaduna, then proceeded to Government Secondary School, Kafanchan where he obtained the West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1979.
That same year, the young ambitious Andrew was admitted into the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Nigeria where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1983, quickly followed it with a master’s degree in 1988 and doctorate degree in 1993. He joined the services of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria in 1986 as a Graduate Assistant and rose to the rank of professor in 2003.
Professor Nok at various times served as the Head, Department of Biochemistry, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. He was the pioneer Director of the Centre for Biotechnology Research and Training (CBRT), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (2007-2012). He served as the Dean Faculty of Science, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (2008-2012) and was a Member of the Governing Council of Ahmadu Bello University between 2006 and 2008. He was a contestant for the office of the Vice-Chancellor of the University in 2010.
Though Prof Nok had all his schooling in Nigeria and indeed all in public schools, by dint of hard work, perseverance and determination, he distinguished himself as one of the A-list researchers and scientists in the field of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Nigeria; nay, Africa and the world over.
Besides his three academic degrees, Nok obtained a postgraduate diploma in Biochemical Engineering from Tokyo Institute of Technology, Kyoto, Japan in 1994; a postdoctoral fellowship from the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nagasaki University, Japan in 1996; and a postdoctoral fellowship in Drug Design from University of Kiel, Germany in 1998. He was also a senior scholar at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland.
His erudition earned him Georg Forster Research Award (Humboldt Prize) given by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to internationally renowned scientists and scholars. A number of the past winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. He is a winner of the Nigerian Liquefied and Natural Gas (NLNG) Nigeria Prize for Science. Nok won this prestigious award in 2009 for his seminal work in discovering the gene responsible for the synthesis of sialidase, an enzyme which causes sleeping sickness in humans (Human African Trypanosomiasis, HAT) and nagana in animals (Animal African Trypanosomiasis, AAT). His research focuses on tropical diseases with special concentration on neglected tropical diseases and besides trypanosomiasis, his other research areas include malaria and snake venom.
In 2008, he was conferred with the Nigeria National Honours of the Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. In 2010, he was a recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM), the highest academic award in Nigeria, in the Science category. Some of the past winners of NNOM include Prof Chinua Achebe, Prof Wole Soyinka, Prof Anya O. Anya, HRH Prof Laz Ekwueme and Prof Chukwuedu Nwokolo.
Late Prof Nok was a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (FNSBMB); Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Science (FNAS); Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science; Fellow, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; Lady Davis Fellow (a program of The Lady Davis Foundation for the scholars to carry out research in various areas on the campuses of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Israel).
He was a visiting Professor at the Yale University, US (one of the top-ranked universities in the world) where he worked on developing DNA vaccines against African trypanosomes under The Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program. He was UNESCO Fellow at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan in 1998. He was also a visiting Professor at the University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany.
Until his death, Prof Nok was the public affairs secretary of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) and Commissioner of Education, Kaduna state Nigeria. He was previously Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Kaduna state, Nigeria.
In his about 31 years as a university don, Prof Nok graduated over 250 undergraduate students, over 35 MSc students, over 40 PhDs and mentored hundred others across Faculties of Science (Biochemistry, Chemistry, Biological Sciences and Microbiology), Medicine, Pharmacy and Veterinary Medicine. His sprawling office which doubles as a minilab cooked so many young scientists including this writer. His students can be found in almost every part of Nigeria and some are professors today.
Many of his students have – through his international connections, mentorship and push – won local and oversea grants/scholarships as well as had the opportunity of going overseas for bench work and/or for further studies. Many have made indelible marks in the field of biochemistry and molecular biology worldwide. One of his former students and mentees, Dr Amlabu Emmanuel, received Research Excellence Award (Life Sciences and Medicine Category) of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVC/AVCNU) in 2016.
Nok has over 125 published research articles in local and elite international journals. An uncountable number are in high impact journals. He has delivered over 30 invited lectures and papers in local and international fora and served as external examiner uncountable times and in many universities within and outside Nigeria. He has also made numerous radio and television appearances on issues relating to his work on trypanosomiasis and malaria.
No doubt, late Professor Andrew Jonathan Nok is one of the finest scientists of his generation, an accomplished academic, erudite academician, and a quintessential scholar of international repute. His demise is a huge loss to the Department of Biochemistry; Faculties of Science, Veterinary Medicine, Medicine and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; a huge loss to the entire science community in Nigeria and the world; and a huge loss to Kaduna state and Nigeria.
Late Prof Nok was a devout Christian and is survived by a wife and three (3) children.
May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace. Amen.
By Uche Samuel Ndidi