Tribute to Professor J O C Ezeilo, CON

The following is a version of "BUK Mourns 2nd Vice Chancellor, Prof Ezielo, Bayero University, Kano, Official Bulletin 32 (10) (8 March 2013)":

Bayero University has expressed deep sorrow and sympathy over the death of Professor J O C Ezeilo, the former Vice Chancellor of the University and foremost Mathematician.

Professor Ezeilo, who died peacefully in Lagos on 4 January, 2013 after a brief illness, was the second Vice Chancellor of the University, between 1978 and 1979, when the then military government posted him to the University from University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as part of its policy of posting Vice Chancellors to different universities.

Bayero University highly regards the late Anambra-born Professor as an erudite scholar of high standing, who has left indelible footprints on the sand of time, and who earned himself a page in book of academic exploits. Expressing the University's sympathy, the Vice Chancellor, Professor, Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, Member of the National Institute, Member of the Order of the Federal Republic, said the death of Professor Ezeilo was a great loss of monumental proportion.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics), Professor Muhammad Yahuza Bello, who spoke on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, said Professor Ezeilo died at the time when his contributions to the upliftment of education in the country are highly needed.

The Vice Chancellor noted that the late University don had during his tenure as the Vice Chancellor exhibited rare traits of diligence, ingenuity and phenomenal scholarship. He said the former Vice Chancellor sacrificed his time by teaching some courses during his tenure at the University.

He will be buried on Friday March 8, 2013 in his home town, Nanka, Orumba North LGA of Anambra State.

The University will be represented at the ceremony.

James Okoye Chukwuka Ezeilo (JOC), one of Africa's foremost Mathematicians, was born on Friday 17 January 1930 to Josiah and Janet Ezeilo of Ifite, Nanka in present day Orumba North Local Government, Anambra State. He was the second child of four boys; Japhet (eldest), Walter (immediate younger) and Gabriel (youngest). He 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, 1943-48. 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 Ibadan (UCI), a college of the University of London at the time, He graduated with a B.Sc. 1st Class honours in Mathematics in 1953 and followed that up in 1954 with a distinction in a BSc Advanced Degree before successfully completing an M.Sc. in 1955. Whilst at UCI, he won the University 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 University Vice Chancellor (VC), substantively. He was subsequently moved to Bayero University, Kano, as Vice Chancellor also, in 1978. At the end of his tenure in 1979 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 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 he 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 took up a position of Professor of Mathematics at the budding Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki on 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 sixteen 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 and American Societies, 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 fifteen different scientific Organisations, Bodies, Societies, 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 4 years and was the Representative for the ICTP's West African Region for 7 years. He was also a Member of the Scientific Council of Institut de Recherche et Mathematique, Abidjan and the Scientific Council of Institut de Mathematique et des Sciences Physiques of Porto Novo, Benin Republic.

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 an Emeritus Professorship by UNN in 2006. Prior to this, he had been 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 Uzoamaka Ezeilo, née Uzoechina) and a doting father of his 4 children: Ada Erinne (medical doctor), Okechuku (mechanical/aerospace engineer), Obasi (architect) and Ijeoma (computer systems engineer), as well as his 6 grand children (Bosah, Sohpie, James II, Nnamdi, Okechukwu 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 Garki, Abuja. He was also a member of the Oxford and Cambridge Club of Lagos.

Professor Ezeilo will always be remembered in the annals of Bayero University, Kano.

JOC/EFR April 2019