Nigerian chemist forced to quit Britain

January 26, 1996

A Nigerian PhD student conducting important research in to renewable natural resources at Bradford University is being forced to leave the United Kingdom and abandon his work.

Jonathan Obaje is a casualty of the Nigerian government's execution last year of eight democracy activists, including the writer Ken Saro Wiwa and Nigeria's subsequent suspension from the Commonwealth.

Mr Obaje said the deaths had been a double tragedy for him. "I wept when I learned of these killings and now I am suffering myself because of them," he said.

Mr Obaje, a chemist who has worked at Bradford for 19 months, had just secured backing from the Commonwealth Office to continue his research in to refining vegetable oils for industrial use. But three days later he learned that the Nigerian government's suspension from the Commonwealth meant his scholarship would be terminated. "This research is important for the government of Nigeria," Mr Obaje said. "It would provide the country with a cheap form of chemicals."

Bradford University research coordinator Michael Slater agreed. "The project has great importance for the Nigerian rural economy since palm oil and animal fats are in abundance and could be converted to more valuable products."

Some of the results have already been published and a photo reactor has been built to allow further study.

Mr Obaje said it was impossible to continue the work in Nigeria since laboratories there were so poorly equipped. "There is no funding because the government has other priorities - the laboratories there are empty," he said.

Bradford University had tried to help by seeking private backing for the research but to no avail.

Mr Obaje has survived financially on a combination of tutorial work at Bradford and menial jobs in the evenings. He has often had little time for sleep before returning to his daytime research. This final blow means that he is now admitting defeat. "Going back is giving up but what can I do?" he said. He plans to leave Britain next week.

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