Without doubt, Nigeria has lost a renowned mathematician and university administrator in the death of Emeritus Professor James Okoye Chukwuka Ezeilo, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN) and Bayero University, Kano, (BUK), on January 4, 2013, at the age of 83. Born on January 17, 1930 in Nanka, Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Ezeilo attended Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha from 1944-1948.
He was at the University of Ibadan from 1949-1953, where he obtained his B.Sc (1st Class Honours) in Mathematics. This was followed with a Master’s degree in Mathematics in 1955. Later, he proceeded to Cambridge University and bagged his Ph.D in Mathematics in 1958. The deceased served as a lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Ibadan from 1958-1962; Senior Lecturer in the same University from 1962-1963.
He was also a visiting lecturer and research associate at the University of Michigan, Ann Abor, USA from 1963-1964. Ezeilo served as a professor of Mathematics at the University of Ibadan from 1964-1966; Professor and Head of Department of Mathematics, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1966-1975. Ezeilo, Nigeria’s first professor of Mathematics and one of Africa’s foremost mathematicians, was Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, from 1975-1978 and Vice-chancellor, Bayero University, Kano, from 1978-1980.
He was the founding Director and Head of the National Mathematical Centre (NMC), Abuja. He was also a foundation Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science and founding Chairman, Project Development Institute (PRODI), Enugu. The extraordinary academic and advocate of mathematics education did not only teach in universities in Nigeria, he also taught in many universities including those in the United States, Swaziland and Botswana.
His last teaching appointment was at the Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, from where he retired in 2009. A selfless fellow, Ezeilo was a great man and patriot. He was described by Chinua Achebe recently as Nigeria’s leading mathematician alongside Chike Obi. Ezeilo was a mentor to numerous scholars he taught and supervised. His love for Mathematics led to the formation of the National Mathematical Centre in Abuja.
That love led him to pioneer the Mathematics Department of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki. He published over 90 scientific papers in reputable international journals apart from other contributions to books and local journals. His scientific papers deal mainly with the problems on qualitative properties of Third Order Non-Linear Differential Equations. He was one of the best mathematicians the nation has produced. Ezeilo will be sorely missed by his numerous admirers and colleagues in the various universities where he taught.
His contributions to knowledge, especially in the field of Mathematics, are immeasurable. As a result of his immense contributions to education in Nigeria, he was awarded the national honour of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Ezeilo was a member of many professional associations, including London Mathematics Society, Science Association of Nigeria, Mathematical Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Council for Science and Technology and Reviewing Panel, Mathematical Reviews and Zentralblatt fur Mathematic.
We urge the younger generation of Nigerians to aspire towards attaining the heights that Ezeilo reached. He also deserves to be immortalised by the Government of Nigeria as well as that of Anambra State for his sterling contributions to scholarship. We commiserate with his family, friends and academic colleagues for the great loss. May the good Lord grant his soul eternal repose.