Dillibe Onyeama, author of Nigger at Eton dies at 71

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Dillibe Onyeama, the author of Nigger at Eton has died, aged 71 years.

His death was announced by his son, Dillibe Jnr. on his Facebook page on Friday.

He stated that he has learnt a lot from his father’s life.

He wrote, “Even though we were far apart, I have never stopped loving you, never stopped thinking about you.

“I’ve learned a lot from your life, your love and your motivational words. Until we meet in the resurrection morning sweet daddy.

“Go with God. This isn’t goodbye.”

The older Onyeama was famous for his controversial novel, “Nigger at Eton”, where he detailed the racial discrimination he faced at the Eton College.

He was subsequently banned from visiting the school after writing the book in 1972. However, in June 2020, the school apologized for the “appalling” racism he experienced in the 1960s and extended an invitation.

Dillibe Onyeama told BBC he was shocked by the school’s offer of an apology, but would return as long as Eton covered the cost of his travel and accommodation.

He said: “Who is going to pay for the trip? If they want to pay for the airfare, the hotel and everything else, then I would be happy to go.”

He said he was surprised by the attention his story had received, and by Eton’s apology.

“My attitude is that it is not necessary. It was neither solicited nor expected, it was not fought for. There’s no obligation on the part of Eton college to apologise for anything. So really, to me, it is a non-issue.”

Onyeama was interviewed by the Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani for the BBC and recalled the racism he experienced at the school, such as fellow pupils asking him: “Does your mother wear a bone in her nose?” and “How many maggots are there in your hair?” He was the second black student to attend the school, joining two terms after fellow Nigerian Tokunbo Akintola was admitted.

Eton’s headmaster, Simon Henderson, told the BBC: “I am appalled by the racism Mr Onyeama experienced at Eton. Racism has no place in civilised society, then or now.” He confirmed he would invite Onyeama to meet “so as to apologise to him in person, on behalf of the school, and to make clear that he will always be welcome at Eton”.

After leaving the school, Onyeama worked as a journalist and moved into publishing, writing Nigger at Eton and then returning to Nigeria in 1981. The novelist, who was born in Enugu, Nigeria, in 1951 and came to England in 1959, said he experienced little racism while attending prep school at Grove Park in Sussex, but when he moved to Eton the racist abuse was regular and systemic.

“When I got to Eton college and I encountered supremacist attitudes, I reacted violently, because to me, it was like blasphemy,” he said.

Onyeama said he regularly fought with racist classmates and his teachers automatically attributed “any shortcoming academically to race”. If he showed any competence at sport or a physical exercise that was put down to “beastly strength”.

When he obtained seven passes at O-level, the faculty and students could not believe he had done so legitimately. “‘Tell me, Onyeama, how did you do it?’ I am asked time and time again,” he wrote in the book. “‘You cheated, didn’t you?’”

His father, Charles Dadi Umeha Onyeama, studied at Oxford University and became a judge at the international court of justice in The Hague. Onyeama said his father registered him to attend Eton on the day he was born and thought highly of Britain after his time at university.