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Igbo, Yoruba fight over maths

By Emeka Obasi

Always at war but never apart, that is the story of Igbo-Yoruba ties. If they are not talking about rivalry between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, there is debate on the role played by Emma Ifeajuna and Victor Banjo in the Biafra war.

Healthy rivalry it is. The Igbo and Yoruba love themselves as much as they disagree. Some of  Azikiwe’s children bear Yoruba names. Chinua Achebe had Yoruba in-laws. All through the civil war, the first daughter of the Oba of Lagos lived in today’s Imo State, married to an Igbo naval officer. At the moment, First Lady of Ondo State is Igbo.

Handshake Across the Niger summit
Handshake Across the Niger summit

There is an interesting development on the Internet about the first Nigerian to hold a doctorate in Mathematics. There is also talk about the first to become Professor of Mathematics. Three names: Chike Obi, Adegoke Olubunmo and James Ezeilo, are on top.

The good thing is that these men were not enemies and worked towards the development of the Mathematics in Nigeria and Africa. One of them, Ezeilo, ended up as Vice Chancellor while another, Chike Obi joined politics and once found himself detained in Biafra.

Historian, Dr. Samuel Okafor, did a lot of research and his work has helped put a lot in order. I have discovered that some of us just wake up and say things that may not be true. I did that once and thank God I was promptly corrected.

It is certain that Chike Obi, even in death, remains the first to bag a PhD in Mathematics. This he achieved in 1950 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge Massachusetts, US. However, the Onitsha man spent more time outside the ivory tower in the first Republic.

That paved way for Adegoke  Olubunmo, from Orin-Ekiti, whose doctorate was obtained in 1955, to emerge in 1964 , as the first Professor of Mathematics. In terms of popularity, he would not tower above some of his colleagues because he was neither a politician nor a vice chancellor.

James Okoye Chukuka Ezeilo[JOC] became a Professor, a little after Olubunmo, but by 1970 had risen to the post of Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He also became VC of the Bayero University Kano[BUK]. Some think he was the first Professor of Maths. No, he was not.

Two other mathematicians have become so popular that many do not remember they began with solving equations. Pastor Enoch Adeboye could have picked a lot from the teachings of Chike Obi. I doubt if he has been able to determine the number of converts he has all over the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

Pastor Wiiliams Kumuyi is so deep into quadratic equation. He also made a first class. It is not certain he has been to all Deeper Life ministries scattered around the country. He is a fisher of men as well as an expert in numbers.

The women are not left out of the debate. The high point is that the first female Vice Chancellor, Professor Grace Awani Alele-Williams, is a mathematician. She is the first Nigerian woman to earn a PhD. That came in 1963. Thirteen years later,1976, she became a professor.

Grace Olabisi Ugbebor earned a PhD in Mathematics in 1976. She is also a professor. The argument now is that Alele-Williams bagged her doctorate in Mathematics Education while Ugbebor’s is in Mathematics Science. Therefore, the former is touted to be the first woman to hold a PhD in Mathematics and also the first female professor of Mathematics.

Quite interesting. Both are Grace. They  were at the University of Ibadan. They attended Queens College Lagos. Ugbebor is from Osun. Alele-Williams taught  in Osun[Queens School, Ede] and is married to a Yoruba man although she hails from the former Mid Western Region. Of course, Ugbebor is not a Yoruba name. Mid Western.

There is even a more serious exchange going on. The first Nigerian medical doctor. We have to look at it from a wider perspective. It will be proper to talk of Nigeria as from January 1, 1914. There was no country so called before that time even if the British treated the North, South and Lagos as protectorates and colonies.

We had Igbo, Yoruba, Bini, Hausa, Nupe and other groups scattered all over what later became Nigeria. During the trade in slaves, thousands of Africans were moved to Europe and the Americas. Many of them traced their roots. Some found their way back to Africa, others chose to remain overseas.

We must also not forget that as early as 1472, the Bini and Portuguese were in contact and exchanged diplomats. Oba Orhogbua[1550-1578] had European education and could speak Portuguese. There are records of  Bini princes who lived in Europe, some with their slaves.

But  there is need to use the accounts that are available. There was  Dr. Silas G. Dove in France. He was said to have returned to practice in Calabar in 1840. Then there was no Nigeria, so we could refer to him as the first Efik Medical doctor.

There was an Igbo doctor, Africanus Horton[James Beale], in Sierra Leone  who qualified in 1859 with William Broughton Davies, a Yoruba. There was Nathaniel King, another Yoruba, who graduated in 1875. They were not Nigerians because there was no Nigeria at the time.

Herbert Kodilinye was the first Professor of Medicine. He was at the University of London in 1952 long before Theophilus Oladipo became one at the University of Ibadan in 1965. Kodilinye relocated to the country and became Vice Chancellor of thje University of Nigeria Nsukka[UNN]. Many felt he was more British than Nigerian since he could hardly pronounce Igbo names.

There is no question about this. Agnes Yewande Savage  was the first female doctor[1929]as well as the first Nigerian woman degree holder. Do not give it to Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi who qualified in 1936. Some even describe Irene Ighodaro, a 1944 graduate as the first.


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