Prof. George Obiozor was a renowned academic, diplomat, statesman, tenacious patriot and foremost Igbo leader.
Growing up in the then small community of Awo-Omanma Imo State where he was born on August 15, 1942, the young Obiozor’s dream was to follow in the footsteps of several family members who travelled abroad to study.
But it was easier “thought” than done.
He first had to attend Awo-Omamma Comprehensive Secondary School in Oru, in Oru-East Local Government Area (LGA) of the state.
It was not until 1966 – six years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain and a month after a military coup started a civil war – that he got his chance to leave Nigeria. He was 24.
Obiozor was accepted to the Institute of African Studies in Geneva, and Albert Schweitzer College in Vaud, a one-year preparatory institute in Switzerland, where he studied history and philosophy.
While at Albert Schweitzer, his teachers encouraged him to continue his studies in the United States, at the university of their American colleague, John D. Regester, then academic dean of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.
A year later, he made his first trip to America to attend Puget Sound.
Obiozor credited his kinsmen back in the village for inspiring him to hold on to his dream of a foreign education.
“Everybody had a strong passion for education and the power of ideas,” he said in a 2019 interview with the Puget Sound Press.
As a student at Puget Sound, Obiozor was known for spending a great deal of time speaking to campus groups about Nigeria and his experiences.
He was actively involved in the Tacoma community, speaking to local school and church groups and working as a football coach and instructor.
After graduating from Puget Sound with a degree in Political Science, Obiozor furthered his education in the US. Despite worries about his family in Nigeria, where civil war continued to rage, he matriculated at Columbia and ultimately earned a master’s degree in International Relations and a Ph.D in International Affairs.
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Obiozor remained in New York City after completing his Ph.D, teaching at City University before eventually returning to Nigeria in 1979.
He served the Government and academia in multiple ways.
He was Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and as the High Commissioner to Cyprus.
In 1999, he became the Nigerian ambassador to Israel, a post he held from 1999 to 2003.
He was the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States from 2004 to 2008.
On Sunday, January 9, 2021, Obiozor was elected as the President-General of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, a socio-cultural group that was formed to cater for the welfare of the Igbo nation.
Obiozor participated in dozens of conferences, delegations, and missions for Nigeria and the United Nations, and wrote or edited numerous books and articles on foreign policy and international relations.
“The main lesson of my education, both in Switzerland and at Puget Sound, was to seriously learn the ways and manner in which human beings behave,” George said in the Puget Sound interview.
He added that as ambassador, the most important part of his job was to be “present, ready and able to serve the interests” of his host countries, “negotiating and explaining the issues of mutual interest.”
He spent his later years writing op-eds on national politics and foreign policy.
Obiozor’s advice to Puget Sound students and graduates is one Nigerians could also gain from. He said: “Hold your dreams of what you want to be, and pursue them with determination and courage. Everyone has his or her own destiny—follow your own.”
Major: Political Science; History minor.
Graduate School: M.I.A. (International Affairs), Columbia University; M.Phil. in International Affairs, Columbia University; Ph.D in International Affairs, Columbia University.
Special Appointment: In 1998, Obiozor was named visiting professor in International Affairs at the African Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
Previous Positions: High Commissioner of Nigeria to Cyprus; Nigerian Ambassador to Israel; Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs