Revered traditional ruler of Asaba, Obi Joseph Chike Edozien, passes away at 99

The late Asagba of Asaba, Obi (Prof.) Joseph Chike Edozien

The 13th Asagba of Asaba, His Royal Majesty, Obi (Prof.) Joseph Chike Edozien, has passed away at the age of 99.

Asaba, the capital of Delta State, is mourning the loss of the revered traditional ruler. Although the death has not been officially announced due to tradition, sources confirm that Edozien joined his ancestors on Wednesday, February 7, 2024.

The news of his passing has spread throughout the city, with residents expressing their condolences and describing his death as a great loss to the entire Asaba kingdom. 

The Asagba of Asaba had recently begun activities to mark his 100th birthday anniversary. Efforts to obtain an official response from the Palace Secretary, Chief Patrick Ndili, have been unsuccessful at this time.


Born in 1925, his father, Nathaniel Okafor Edozien, a direct descendant of Nnebisi, the founder of Asaba, was one of the most senior indigenous officials of the Nigerian Coal Corporation in Enugu. His mother, Nwakuso Edozien née Odogwu, was the daughter of a prominent Asaba chief, and a notable trader.

His father sent him at an early age to live with an uncle who was a school master in Warri, Delta State then Bendel State, Nigeria. 

He attended the Catholic School in Warri from 1933 to 1937. He attended Christ the King College, Onitsha for his secondary education from 1938 to 1942. In 1942 he attended the Higher College Yaba and then proceeded to Achimota School, Accra, Ghana.

His university education began with an admission to the University College Dublin, Ireland in 1944. He completed his BSc with honours in Physiology from the National University of Ireland in 1948, MSc in Physiology in 1950, Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBCh) in 1954. 

He won several academic awards in the process.

His academic career began with an appointment as a lecturer in Clinical Biochemistry in Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London in 1951. In 1952 he was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Chemical Pathology at the University College, Ibadan. He returned to Ibadan after further studies in Ireland.

In 1955, he married Modupe Smith a radiographer at the University of Ibadan teaching hospital. Her father was one of the first indigenous managers of the United Africa Company and her maternal grandfather was Herbert Macaulay, Nigeria’s first surveyor and one of the principal actors in Nigeria’s independence movement.

Edozien’s groundbreaking research in nutrition helped win it a reputation as a rising academic centre. He was appointed a professor in 1961 and became the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in 1962.

Edozien’s career at Ibadan ended in 1967, a casualty of the political crisis that ended the euphoria of the late 1950s and early 1960s and resulted in the coups of 1966 and eventually led to the Nigerian Civil War. He was forced to flee the country.

After a period as a refugee in France, he was appointed as a professor of Nutrition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. In 1971 he became a professor and head of Department of Nutrition, of the School of Public Health of the University of North Carolina.

In 1990 Edozien was appointed the Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research. Shortly thereafter he was selected to become the 13th Asagba of Asaba. In 2012, he was appointed the Eze Ndieze. He retired as a Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina and returned to Nigeria in 1991.

Edozien’s tenure as the Asagba of Asaba coincided with dramatic changes in the character of the town. When the government of President Ibrahim Babangida created Delta State out of the old Bendel State, Asaba was chosen as the capital. Its new status as the seat of the state government has brought much of the chaotic development associated with contemporary Nigerian urbanization. The population of the town has grown and the influx of non-Asaba indigenes has strained the traditional institutions of the town.

A central theme of Edozien’s tenure as the Asagba was the challenge balancing rapid development, modernization of traditional norms and institutions with preservation of the positive aspects and moderating influence of traditional values. Several on-going initiatives such as the Asaba permanent palace and civic centre and the documentation of the town’s traditional laws and customs have sought to balance these concerns.

Edozien was an important figure in modern-day Nigerian affairs. President Olusegun Obasanjo conferred the national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic on him in 2003. He was also one of the most respected traditional rulers who encouraged and promoted mutual coexistence, especially between the people in the south and Northern Nigeria.

He was also the Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

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