The Nigerian Guardian Editorial on Late Chike Obi

By The Nigerian Guardian, 27th March 2008.

Chike Obi (1921-2008).

 ON Thursday, March 13, 2008, Prof. Chike Obi, the first Nigerian to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree in Mathematics, passed on. He was aged 87. While he lived, he acquired international renown as a consummate mathematician, a maverick politician, an international scholar and a passionate patriot. He, along with Adegoke Olubunmo, the late first Professor of Mathematics and Professor James Ezeilo simplified and revolutionised Mathematics research in Nigeria. In particular, Chike Obi became a role model and an inspirational figure for younger persons who developed interest in the study of Mathematics.

Prof. Chike Obi was born in Zaria (now in Kaduna State) on Thursday, April 7, 1921. He attended St. Patrick’s Primary School, Zaria (1933) Christ the King College, Onitsha (1935-39); Yaba Higher College, Lagos (1940-42); University of London, as an external student (1941-46); University College, London (1947); Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, England (1947-50), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA (1950). His consuming interest in Mathematics, a subject that many a student considered difficult was simply legendary. He exhibited extraordinary versatility in all areas of Mathematics, including pure and applied Mathematics, although his area of special focus was Non-Linear Differential Equation of the Second Order.

It was in this seemingly unnavigable labyrinth of Mathematics that Chike Obi, who became a world-acclaimed mathematical virtuoso, gave scientific proof to a 361-year old mathematical puzzle known then as Fermat’s Last Theorem, named after the 17th century French mathematician, Pierre de Fermat: This theorem stated that “xn + yn = zn; where x, y, z and n are positive integers and has no solution if n is greater than two”. For over three centuries, Western mathematicians strained at this theorem until 1994, when they solved it, with the aid of modern technological gadgets, such as the computer.

Soon thereafter, however, Chike Obi, relying only on his fertile brain, presented in 1998 an elementary proof of the arcane Fermat’s Theorem which had been described as one of the most famous problems in Numbers Theory. A Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science, the late Chike Obi won laurels, including the Ecklund Prize from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics for original works in Differential Equations and for pioneering works in Mathematics in Africa.

He started his career as a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, University of Ibadan, 1959-62. He became an Associate Professor, University of Lagos (UNILAG) in 1970, and a full Professor (of Mathematics) of the same university, a year later. From 1971-73, he was Dean of the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences of UNILAG, and Chairman, Department of Mathematics, UNILAG, from 1971-77. From 1981-82, he was acting Dean, Faculty of Science of the University, and in 1985, he became Emeritus Professor of the University.

In 1986, this illustrious polymath won the University of Lagos Silver Jubilee Anniversary Gold Medal Award. At various times, he was visiting Professor to the Universities of Jos, Rhode Island and the Mathematics Institute of the Chinese Academy of Science. The late Prof. Chike Obi was a man of many parts. His incursion into the arena of politics was no less significant than his accomplishments as a teacher of Mathematics. In the days when it was almost a crime for an Easterner to belong to another political party other than the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), the late Chike Obi veered away from “custom” to found the defunct Dynamic Party, which simultaneously won seats both in the Federal House of Representatives and in the Eastern House of Assembly (1960). When, in 1961, he won election to the Eastern House of Assembly, he refused to vacate his seat in the Federal Legislature, whereupon the Speaker of the House ordered that he be physically carried out of the House. This order was obeyed, and he proceeded to the Eastern House of Assembly, where he served till 1966.

A maverick politician, the late Prof. Chike Obi was a man of great conviction. He was passionate about the politics of Nigeria, and the country’s development process. He was an adherent of Kemalism, an ideology based on the teachings and beliefs of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk (1880-1938), the putative father of modern Turkey. Ataturk sought to create a secular nation-state based on the principles of Republican democracy, social revolution, rule of law, and nationalism. Prof. Chike Obi shunned tribal politics and kept religious fanaticism at an arm’s length.

He, however, was such a “fanatical” believer in one Nigeria that he christened his two sons Balogun Chike Obi and Mustapha Chike Obi, thereby building nominal bridges to link the West, the North and the East. Father also to many great mathematicians, the late Prof. Chike Obi established the Nnana Institute for Scientific Studies, located in Onitsha, Anambra State, to encourage research efforts, among other things, into mathematical theorems and “to bring about a scientific technological revolution in Nigeria”.

In appreciation of his laudable services to humankind, particularly in the realms of Mathematics, for which he became world famous, and politics, in which his positive non-conformism was generally acknowledged, the late Prof. Chike Obi was honoured with garlands of national and international awards, including, Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), and the Sigvard Ecklund Prize of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (1986). In Onitsha, his native community, he was a highly regarded member of the Agbalanze society He was also a distinguished member of the Mathematical Association of Nigeria, and author of Our Struggle, sub-titled “A Political Analysis of the Problems of Peoples Struggling for True Freedom” Part I (1986) and Our Struggle, Part II (1962).

Additionally, he had numerous publications on Non-Linear Differential Equations in both national and international journals to his credit. Survived by a widow, Melinda, herself a Mathematician and midwife of note, and four children, the late Prof. Chike Obi was a martinet, a stern disciplinarian, and an optimist who insisted that all equations must be equal.  

Culled from the
Nigerian Guardian Newspaper

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9 thoughts on “The Nigerian Guardian Editorial on Late Chike Obi

  1. One by one the roses are withering and one after the other the men, and the women that you entrusted the pillars of Nigeria are coming back home. They have finished their assignments here and back to you flawlessly. We are conscious of your kindness to them and we are sure you will give them peace and be kinder more on them.

    Professor Chike Obi was one of the true Nigerians and we will miss him. I grew up knowing his name and temerity in education especially in Mathematics both in the Nigerian community and the world.

    My sympathy goes to his family and friends.

    Igi nla subu ni gbo ilemi.

    Good night and thank you Chike Odaro o for all of us Adupe o.

  2. i have been hearing of him before leaving nigeria. I hope the lagacy he left would allow the Govt of Nigeria to take potentials like him very seriously so that our country can come out of the dark age

  3. On behalps of my self,iam very happy for comprehending this history becouse it up grade my knowledge.the reason why its my area of specialization mathematics. In a nutshell,i’m proud been a student of mathematics becouse its the most simplest among the other subject.it depend on how you take it.thus,iam adverse my colleagues student of mathematics to enlight the student to devote in to mathematics b/c is the most simplest among the others.your’s ibrahim Ali jahun Department of mathematics j.s.c.o.e Gumel Jigawa state Nig.

  4. I started hearing of Chike Obi when I was a child. As a child, I didn’t know he was a Nigerian because I never believed that such a feat could be achieved by an African. His breakthrough made me to develope a special interest in the subject mathematics.

  5. The name “Chike Obi” has always been synonymous with intelligence, while still in primary school any day my grandmother sees me reading my book she will call me Chike obi. So I kept wondering who this Chike obi is not until one day I decided to ask my dad and he told me that he is such an embodiment of knowledge especially maths. He was such a great man

  6. your editorial on the prof. is a good one. A biography of this caliber of man is necessary, especially for generations following to know that once upon a time there was a man like him here in Nigeria, here in Africa. Such a work will help teach our children that their fear of mathematics is in fact, a mark of laziness, a mere lack of diligence.We thank you for this editorial.

  7. Pingback: Chike Obi; The Man, His Politics, His Mathematics. | Eneke The Bird

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