People from all walks of life gathered in Kaduna on 1st and 2nd December, 2017, to pay their last respects to the brain
behind the Africa Centre of Excellence in Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology (ACENTDFB) at
the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Professor Jonathan Andrew Nok. The erstwhile Leader of the Centre,
aged 55, passed away, following a brief illness, on 21st November, 2017. It was the eve of his wife’s 51st birthday and
14 short months after his mother was laid to rest.
The ECWA Church, Barnawa, Kaduna, was filled to capacity on the first day of the rites, as thousands gathered at the
Service of Songs to pay tribute to the great Scientist, who put Nigeria on the global Biotechnology map. The train
moved, the following day, to the Umaru Musa Yar-Adua Indoor Sports Hall at the Murtala Square, for the funeral
service that was attended by the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, his Deputy, Arc. Bala Bantex and
their spouses, among many other dignitaries. His colleagues and students at ABU as well as representatives of the
National Universities Commission and the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) Secretariat at the Commission were
Governor El-Rufai had appointed Professor Nok Commissioner for Health and Human Services, in July 2015. He was
later redeployed to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, where he served until his death. In his tribute,
the Governor described Nok as “a selfless man of distinction, immense in character, learning and fame… a leader,
who personified the possibilities of this country.”
Indeed, Professor Nok was born on February 11, 1962, in Nok village, Jaba Local Government Area of Kaduna State,
attended Local Education Authority (LEA) Primary School, Kaduna, and Government Secondary School, Kafanchan.
He was admitted into ABU in 1979, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree (Second Class Upper Division) in
Biochemistry in 1983, Master’s degree in 1988 and Doctorate degree in 1993. Though fully ‘home bred’, Nok went on
to be a renowned Scientist, the first in the world to discover the gene responsible for Sialidase (SD), an enzyme which
causes sleeping sickness (Trypanosomiasis).
The research breakthrough helped in forming the baseline for developing DNA-based vaccines against the disease,
which affects 60 million people and animals, mainly in rural parts of East, West and Central Africa. It also earned the
Researcher the prestigious Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Prize for Science in 2009, the Nigerian National
Order of Merit (NNOM) award (Science category), the following year and the Alexander Humboldt prize in 2013.
Professor Nok was a Member of the Federal Republic (MFR), Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Japanese
Society for the Promotion of Science at the Institute of Tropical Medicine (Nagasaki) and Alexander von Humboldt
Foundation, in addition to being a Lady Davis Fellow and Visiting Professor to world-class universities.
Governor El-Rufai noted that Nok “was a big man, but he was not too big to serve. This international figure provided
dedicated service at state level with energy, focus and determination. Prof. Nok was one of the very best persons this
country has produced, and he gave Kaduna State one of the best exemplars of public service.
“He was aware that there were people who sniggered that a Professor of his stature accepted to be a mere State
Commissioner. He was too accomplished to possess that kind of inferiority complex, and responded by serving the
people of Kaduna State with his very best. He graced our government with his presence, his intellect, his capacity for
hard work and an outstanding sense of objectivity.
“As political leader in our ministries of Health and Education, he set a new bar for public service. He was decisive,
and took important decisions, undeterred by calumny or influenced by caprice. As Commissioner, he was firm in his
beliefs. For instance, this government was ready to send 30 students on scholarship to study medicine in Cuba. When
he had doubts about the integrity of the selection process, he personally re-set the examination, personally invigilated
and marked the scripts. Professor Nok insisted that it must be an exercise in meritocracy, not patronage! And so shall
it be. Only the six students who passed the test that he set will go to Cuba”, the Governor said.
In a tribute to their former Dean, Faculty of Science, the Management and entire community of ABU stated that
Professor Nok was an epitome of distinguished career in academics, who achieved a lot as a Biochemist in the areas of
‘Parasite Enzymology’ and ‘Biotechnology’. In the University and his Department, they said, Professor Nok made
tremendous contributions in many facets, supervising more than 100 postgraduate students. “He helped in developing
many programmes as well as served as a Visiting Professor, external examiner and guest lecturer to many institutions,
nationally and internationally…He won many highly competitive and lucrative research grants for the University, the
latest was the World Bank-funded Africa Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology (of
which he was the Centre Leader).”
Many had good things to say about Professor Nok and paid their tributes. Many others who wished to could not do so
for lack of time. His colleague, Professor Danladi Amodu Ameh, remarked that Nok was “the Rose Flower of the
Department of Biochemistry.” According to him, each time he travelled abroad, he used his hard earned money to buy
rare chemicals, which he liberally shared with his colleagues for their research.
While urging Professor Nok’s aged father, wife, three children and other relatives to hold their heads high for being
blessed with an honest, humble and brilliant man, who wrote their name in gold, Malam El-Rufai’s concluding
remarks, was an encouragement that, indeed, there is always reward for hard, honest work. According to him, “He was
a moving spirit for better schools, higher standards and the celebration of merit. Kaduna State will, therefore, honour
Professor Nok. We will name one of our secondary schools and general hospitals in his memory and locate a campus
of one of our tertiary institutions in Nok, his hometown. In his public service, Professor Nok tried to create
opportunities for the children of the poor. For this reason, the Kaduna State Government will sponsor his own children
to Ph.D. level!
“May his children and their offsprings live to see and enjoy the country Jonathan Andrew Nok strove so hard to help
realise, and may his record of service, his discipline and love of humanity inspire those of us who remain to offer
nothing but our very best”, Malam El-Rufai concluded.
Prof. Jonathan Andrew Nok Funeral in Pictures