James Ezeilo takes his exit
The passage of renowned mathematician and university administrator, Professor James Okoye Chukwuka Ezeilo in a way marks the end of an era. For those who had the privilege of meeting and associating with this extraordinary academic and advocate of mathematics education, news of his death has been rather shocking.
Born on Friday, 17 January 1930 in Nanka in the current Orumba North local council area of Anambra State, Professor Ezeilo was one of Africa's foremost mathematicians and university administrators. He was a one-time Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria where he left positive marks.
The second child of his parents, the late James spent most of his early years at various Anglican missions in Eastern Nigeria where his father who was a church catechist worked. He attended the famous Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Onitsha for his secondary education from 1943 to 1948. On completion, in 1949, having achieved the highest score in the prevailing University Entrance Examination, he was admitted to study Mathematics at the then University College lbadan (UCI) a college of the University of London at the time. He graduated with a B.Sc. First Class Honours in Mathematics in 1953 and followed that up in 1954 with a distinction in a B.Sc. Advanced Degree before successfully completing an M.Sc. 1955.
While at UCI, Ezeilo won the university's Major Scholar award along with numerous other faculty and departmental prizes. In 1955, he was awarded a Leverhulme scholarship to the prestigious Queens' College Cambridge, for doctoral research studies. He successfully completed his studies and was awarded a Ph.D. in Mathematics by Cambridge University in 1958. He returned to Nigeria same year and took up an academic position as Lecturer II in Mathematics at UCI, rising to Senior Lecturer in 1962. He went on a one-year sabbatical leave in 1963 as a Visiting Lecturer and Research Associate at the Department of Mathematics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA. Upon his return, he was appointed Professor of Mathematics in 1964. He transferred his services to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 1966, at the onset of the crisis leading to the Nigerian civil war, as a Professor of Mathematics, subsequently becoming the Head of Department in 1967. He remained in that position till 1975, broken only by the civil war period, 1967-70, and by a brief stint as Acting Vice-chancellor of UNN for four months (November 1970-March 1971). In 1975, he was appointed the substantive Vice-Chancellor of the university. He also served as Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, between 1978 and 1979. Thereafter, he proceeded on a one-year sabbatical leave as Visiting Professor of Mathematics at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota and Howard University Washington DC, both in the USA. He returned to UNN in 1980 as Professor of Mathematics and stayed on till 1988, when he was appointed the founding Director and Head of the National Mathematical Centre (NMC) at Abuja.
In 1996 Professor Ezeilo went to University of Botswana for one year as a visiting Professor of Mathematics. Thereafter, in 1997 he took up a similar post at the University of Swaziland, until his final return to Nigeria in 2001. Not one to stay away from Mathematics and the academia for too long, JOC as he was popularly known took up a position of Professor of Mathematics at the budding Ebonyi State University Abakaliki an a part-time basis in 2002, remaining there until his final retirement in 2009.
Among his past students are highly distinguished academics and professionals who have made their marks in various fields of endeavour, including the public service, education, industry, commerce and even religion. He was also in addition an External Examiner for graduate degree examinations at 16 different universities in Nigeria and Africa at various times.
In his extraordinarily impressive career, JOC published over 90 articles in international scientific journals. For some of these, he received international awards of distinction. The Nigerian Mathematical Society in particular honoured him with a commemorative plaque for outstanding pioneer contributions to the advancement of mathematics in Nigeria in 1993. He was a fellow of six mathematical societies, including the London Mathematical Society, the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of Nigeria (Past President), the National Mathematical Society (Past President), the Nigerian Academy of Science (foundation member), the African and Third World Academies of Science. In addition to these, he chaired or presided over 15 different scientific organisations, institutions, agencies, councils etc. across Nigeria and Africa. He was a member of the Scientific Council of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) Trieste, Italy for four years and was the Representative for the ICTP's West African Region for seven years. He was also a Member of the Scientific Council of Institut de Recherche et Mathématique, Abidjan and the Scientific Council of Institut de Mathématique et des Sciences Physiques of Porto Novo, Benin Republic. He chaired the governing boards of PRODA, Enugu and Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, and was a member of the board of the Nigerian Institute of Policy & Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos for several years.
JOC received an honorary D.Tech. Degree from the Federal University of Technology, Akure in 1995 and honorary D.Sc. Degrees from the University of Maiduguri in 1989, UNN in 1996, and Anambra State University in 2008. In further recognition of his outstanding achievements and service to Mathematics and the university, he was awarded a Professor Emeritus by UNN in 2006. Prior to this, he was awarded national honours as a Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 1979, in consideration of his distinguished service to the nation.
As a devout Christian of the Anglican persuasion he was admitted into the knighthood of St Pauls by his then home Diocese of Awka, in 2001 He was a very loving husband of his wife of 52 years (Dame Phoebe Uchechukwu Ezeilo, née Uzoechina) and a doting father of his four children: Ada Erinne (medical doctor), Okechuku (mechanical engineer), Obasi (architect) and Ijeorna (computer systems engineer), as well as his six grand children (Bosah, Sophie, James II, Nnamdi, Okechuku Jnr. and Lotachukwu).
In his lifetime, JOC was variously member, Charter President and Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary Club of Nsukka, as well as member of the Rotary Club of Nsukka, as well as member of the Rotary Club of Garki, Abuja. Professor Emeritus J O C Ezeilo (CON) passed away peacefully on 4 January 2013.
JOC/EFR April 2019
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