A Tribute To M. Nelkon By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo

By Rudolph Okonkwo

I was still studying Integrated Science when my Dad bought Nelkon for me. It was the beginning of something new, something very exciting. Just the smell of the new Nelkon was different from the smell of all other books I had held. And it was the biggest book I had ever held in my hands. Before then, it was "Eze Goes to School ", "Tales out of School", "Oliver Twist", "This is our Chance", and other lightweight books. But when the heavyweight book Nelkon came, I knew I had entered the big time. It was the first book I could not finish reading at a sitting.

Those days at Nnobi High School, the end of Class Two meant the end of Integrated Science. What followed at the beginning of a new school year was decision time. Those inclined to science would have made up their minds based on their perceptions of Integrated Science. Others whose comfort level with the sciences as introduced by Integrated Science study was low would ask senior students for their opinions. A lecture from the wrong student would mark the end of the adventure into science. For others who were undecided at the beginning of Class Three, the decision usually would be to try science out and have a feel of it themselves. Most often, it was physics that would give prospective science students chills. Class Two students who were scared of Chemistry or Biology knew they had no place in science. So, the stumbling stone had always been physics and almighty Nelkon.

The first day in most physics classes in Class Three then dealt with the first equation of motion: v = u + at. Just seeing it written on the black board by a physics teacher magnified the horrors that most students had been told of by their seniors. A student, who could not understand how speed added to acceleration multiplied by time would give the velocity, had his or her adventure into physics foreclosed. It did not help when the example Nelkon used to illustrate the concept talked about trains and other objects foreign to a typical Nnobi student who had never seen the overhead bridge at Onitsha let alone understand what a suspension bridge looks like. After the v = u + at lecture, the physics wagon would experience a huge dropout level. And dropping physics meant the end of an adventure into science.

Those days, I had friends who were the extra careful ones. They would carefully wrap the cover up and treat the book like a baby. I belonged to those who would flaunt the book anywhere I go. Just carrying it bestowed upon us the rare honor of being science students. We competed with each other on who had finished the chapters, the different sections and the questions that followed. The more lines there were in your book, the more proof that you had been on top of your game. Nelkon was a genius in presenting questions at the end of each chapter. It usually begun with easy questions but down the line, one would see "questions tara akpu" (hard nut questions). Some of those questions could take weeks to solve. And if you were the one who cracked it, your ranking in the physics class would go up. Our inability to solve some of Nelkon’s most difficult questions was often blamed on printer’s error- yeah, the printer recorded the wrong answer. You dare not say that Nelkon was wrong. It wasn't uncommon to see teachers who could not solve some of Nelkon's questions either. They would give excuses when students approached them for help.

For those of us who read Nelkon as literature, we were able to appreciate Alexander Pope’s observation about Isaac Newton that, “Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:/God said, "Let Newton be!" and all was light.” Including the subsequent addition by John Collins Squire that, “It did not last; the devil howling/"Ho! Let Einstein be!" restored the status quo.”

Nelkon, wasn't a feminine book. It was masculine. Its presence brought shame to those who were carrying Commerce books, Bible Knowledge books, Onwubiko's History of West Africa or Igbo poems called Utala Nti. Up until the early 90s, before Abbot came in, High School physics in most parts of Nigeria was synonymous with Nelkon. His book, The Principles of Physics was the bible of physics students. Those who succeeded in getting a grasp of it; those not intimidated by it became science majors. They later became Doctors, Engineers, Architects, Chemists, Pharmacists etc . Those who were overwhelmed fell off the ladder and crushed themselves trying to be Lawyers.

No doubt, Nelkon was more than a book author. He was an institution in his own right. His book was the nearest to the Igbo description of Science- Ogbalu Igbo ghari (The stuff that is beyond Igbo). Many people could not remember the title of the book he wrote. Others could not remember the abbreviation of his first name. All that most students who used his book could remember was Nelkon. But who is Nelkon? Where is he now? Any chance of paying a tribute to him? Ever thought of how much influence he had on the minds of many African children? Ever thought of how many African children he scared to death about science? Why was Nelkon so influential? Did he write the book for African science students? Or was his book just adopted by African teachers? Why didn't any African ever write a book that would replace Nelkon? If there was, why wasn't that replacement implemented? Did his publishers ever review the book with the goal of injecting illustrations that Africans could relate to?

I understand that PN Okeke and M.W. Anyakoha’s book, Senior Secondary Physics has replaced M. Nelkon’s in many parts of Nigeria. But Modern Biology by Rinehart, Wilson and Holt and New Certificate Chemistry by Holderness and Lambert still hold sway. In Modern Biology, I learned for instance that even the cockroach has economic importance. Right there I learned to attach value to every living thing.

Looking back I know that Michael Nelkon, Holderness and Lambert; Rinehart, Winston and Holt killed a lot of witches and wizards for me. Together they wiped away superstitious beliefs that formed a canopy over the tropical rain forest.  Scientific thought through systematic observation of evidence-based claims that are open and reproducible is the only defense I had against magical and irrational beliefs that are unseen and non-replicable.  

Being introduced to the laws of physical science did a lot to illuminate for me that fertile ground where delusion blooms. Science is a core requirement needed for one to develop the thirst for empirical proof. For me it came from reflecting on the wonders of these books. By immersing myself in the laws of Chemistry and a good understanding of the human body and how it works, it becomes difficult to convince me that a woman gave birth to a horse right inside a church and thereafter walked away.

The movement for the decolonization of African literature has been successful in a lot of ways. Probably, it is time to decolonize the African science. The apparent lack of indiginized science books is inhibiting in many ways the development and appreciation of science especially at the junior level. Abandoning science education constitutes a grave disadvantage for those who may never have the opportunity to explore the world of “established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol.” In the interest of science and our children in the information age, Africa must fast forward the decolonization of science studies if only to save our children from the torture that Nelkon sometimes was.

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There was a co-author of a Physics book named Folivi and Physics was simplier if you had read that book. Thanks, Rudolp Okonkwo for taking us to the good old days of phy-chem-bio as it was called in form 3in Nigeria. @ AFOLABI, YOU ARE RIGHT, ABBOT WAS EARLIER THAN 1990 BECAUSE I READ THE BOOK and I was in high school from 1980-85.

"GERD MEUER (aka Prof Penkelemes) ............


OK, now I know better.


He is also a SHAMELESS LIAR because he did rant against
Ndibe many times.

Either he shuts up OR if he really lives in Nigeria,

He seems to be sick in the head!

Can someone supply his address?

"GERD MEUER (aka Prof Penkelemes) ............


OK, now I know better.


He is also a SHAMELESS LIAR because he did rant against
Ndibe many times.

Either he shuts up OR if he really lives in Nigeria,

He seems to be sick in the head!

Can someone supply his address?

I have long since

... Emeka ...

started pitying that OKONKWO for his cheapish

can'get any cheaper:
yes he keeps goin' at it.

da diaspora must have done it to him,

unlike to Okey N, Pius, Niyi Osundare:

that much I am sure of !!!

Emeka - how can I pity you ... I really can't !!!

Go join Dele, Oyeyemi and Fuckkaoyde -

that's pretty trans-tribal, as we used to be at U.I. - must I tell you what that is ...

seems so ...

il n'y pas de solution pour les primaires ...

as Voltaire used to say ...

Prof tout court ...


you sabe read-o?

I HIGHLY respekk Prof Okey !

you sabe read-o?

my only ploblem, well not da only one ... admitted !os wid pipul like you wey dey no sabe read-o!!!

when will you yourself a brain?? WHEN ???

I pray for thee...

but me-seems it is a wate of time.

I pity illiterates: I DO!

Prof Penkele

Nelkon, Whitely and Abbott were the Powers.

M. Nelkon was not the only physics book for good science students then (70's) I mean. Principle of physics By Nelkon; General Physics By Whitely and finally T. Abbot. These tre books made us suprem among the every students not only NELKON. With these books, one of them must always tell you an easy way to solve any problem in physics. Only Nelkon can't make you an outstanding student then.

It will amaze you to know

It will amaze you to know that Prof PN Okeke's wife is a visiting Prof (Physics) in a university in Japan. That is a physics family that takes physics to all parts of the world!!!

@Emeke Obidike

"Who is this idiot of a Gerd Meuer?"

Good question

Gerd Meuer (aka prof penkelemes) is a 79 yr old German he-goat who came to Nigeria in 1962 and has refused to go back ever since.

check out this link


Who is this imbecile that always comes here to abuse Rudolf Okonkwo, Ndibe and others? What kind of name is that?

If this idiot is too daft to understand these guys, too crude to understand civility, then he should go and hang himself!

Nelkon is not Igbo?

Nelkon....Thought he was Ndigbo.

I don't think its fair to

I don't think its fair to wait d whole week fr ur column only for u to write things dat dnt make meanin...xpecially whn nigeria is swimming in corruction and maladministration.

brilliantly took me back to good old days

M.Nelkon and his book did not scare me. My mum bought me Ababio,Nelkon and a modern biology used by my elder sister,when I was on my long break after Junior weac,then I had pass to go to speacial science school. I read evolution in that biology till date I keep asking the validity of evolution,why has human being not turn to something else. Binary number and quadratic equations put of in science of course I did believe that mathematics is all about counting money until mathematics introduced me to those topics that got nothing to do with counting money. Binary and equations did. But now I know better about their usage being an Engineer. It awesome to be a scientist.

Good one!

Rudolf, your belief in atheism had put me off reading your columns but when I saw the name, 'Nelkon', I was attracted to read because many of us who read science and used it for professional purposes know very well about Michael Nelkon, M.Sc. 'Principles of Physics', by M. Nelkon was for the 'O' Level Physics studies. Then if you went further in Physics as I did, you would have read 'Advanced Level Physics', by Nelkon and Parker. That was the physics you would read if you were to study medicine, allied, pharmacy, and, of course, engineering. To reveal to you, my physics teacher in the high school was an Indian who happened to be Nelkon's classmate! He too had a M.Sc in physics. He would boast to us that we must never read 'Nelkon' because Nelkon was an average student! And this teacher proved this because he taught us much physics that one did not have to refer to 'Nelkon', at least at the 'O' Level!


M Nelkon help my science life indeed the book was a great one. People don't really like complex things again so they go for less demanding ones which just touch knowledge a little without going deep.


said CRAP ?


it's simply cheapish, wordish ... diasporitic ...

OKONKwo !!!


so says

Prof Penkele

Total crap..rubbish..hot and

Total crap..rubbish..hot and cold rudolf..

Rudolf, I can categorically

Rudolf, I can categorically tell you that my Nelkon is still very new (Scared to read) in-spite of age.
Menn! showed me pepper those days.
But thanks for the lash-back for i have forgotten about NElkon entirely.

Check: http://usaveone.blogspot.com

The shining back of M Nelkon

Yeah! I will not forget the book, M Nelkon, with a shining back. I remember our seniors in science class clutching the book by their side,sign of seriousness. The only book i saw bigger than the bible in those days.
I was always looking to when i will get to class 4 and i will have my own. I remember when i got to class 4 and was disappointed when my father brought home a white back principle of physics,much less than a quarter of M Nelkon by volume written by Pro Ayodele Awojobi.I will never forget how my class mates made jest of me when i took the book to the school first and the last time.
T Abbot came much earlier than early 90's. Much simplified and easy than Nelkon but contain the same principle.

thanks for the memories!

I remember this book well. Those were the days. Calls into question our way of teaching though and failure to incorporate our own culture into science. Practicalities local to children are always more important than theory. Using examples like lorries at the motor park, cars on the highway or even children running in the playground would have made Physics much more relevant and easier for many pupils. A British child would have understood Nelkon's examples immediately as he described situations and examples local to them. Awojobi the genius understood these things and tried to Africanise/Nigerianise our scientific learning, but no one would listen to him.

Believing is seeing

I'm an avid reader of your column. Your pieces are top-notch, no doubt. However, your claims of atheism amazes me. In my 21 year life, i've never been so profoundly convinced about the existence of God. It goes beyond human reasoning. Believing is seeing! I know it hurts you guys out there what the bible says about those who say there is no God. I find your claims unfathomable too.
One thing gives me tremendous hope and it is that your quest for answers (which is commendable) shall ultimately lead you to the true knowledge of your Creator! (that's if this is not a hoax afterall) lol..
Let there be Okonkwo!

God bless you. I completely

God bless you. I completely concur. I had same experience with Nelkon and later accepted such books as pillow in the boarding school



Better Alternatives Are Emerging

Nice taking us down memory lane. What you are asking for is inculturation of science education in Africa. I support you wholly. I read Nelkon and Abbott before I discovered PN OKEKE. PN Okeke's methods and simplicity of language was so amazing that it could be said that "what Nelkon drove away from physics, Okeke won back". We pray for more of such. In Chemistry Osei Yaw Ababio replaced Holderness and Lambert. Like PN OKeke, Ababios simplicity of delivery increased the occupancy rate in the chemistry lecture hall. Nice observation Rudolph, we pray for more indigenous authorship in the core sciences.

Tribute to M. Nelkon

Thank you. I couldn't have done it better. Nice piece on one of our true heros, who dispelled and banished the fear of wizardry or whitchcraft for me.


will Okonkwo at long last have th decency to SHUT UP

W H E N ???

it is simply so cheapish:

it IS !!!

Prof Penkele

the man knows NO decency !!!

he does NOT !!!

and Sahara allows him to go on and

to masturbate verbally !!!

a conceited IDIOT "!!!

in the employ of Sahara

and diasporitic ... as ever !!!

But there is more relevant science to be decolonized

But there is more relevant science to be decolonized...some of which are:
1. The science that all Unions/Nations unlawfully & unfortunately created by the exploitative imperial powers, are supposed to remain as illegally created.

2. The science that peace awaits you in an imaginary enclave of bliss, when you die bombing unarmed worshipers,especially when you believe you are fighting for a god.

3. The science of trepidation. In the Nigerian context, the science of failure to react to irresponsible confrontation or aggression by any region or group of persons living or dead.

4. Finally, the science of false unity & false country. Nigeria is a continent. Never a country. This MUST be decolonized. U can't run a continent as a country. Its waste of time! Long live United Rep of the SS&SE

Nelkon equates to Nightmare

Whoa this is a write up from the top draw. The name Nelkon sends shivers down my spine. I will never forget how that name and the ridiculous huge A Level tomb of a book dominate my live. I passed and went on to become an Engineer, but that name Nelkon always gives me nightmares.
Thanks Rudolf for spoiling my day!