Chike Edozien Umezei Obi

Quick Info

7 April 1921
Zaria, Nigeria
13 March 2008
Onitsha, Anambra state, Nigeria

Chike Obi was a Nigerian mathematician and politician. He was the first Nigerian to hold a doctorate in mathematics. His research was on non-linear ordinary differential equations.


Genealogy sites contain somewhat confusing details of Chike Obi's parents. Some give no names for his parents (for example [8]) while on a couple he is described as the son of Nathaniel Okafor Edozien, an official in the Nigerian Coal Corporation, and Nwakuso Odogwu, the daughter of an Asaba chief (see for example [6]). Joseph Chike Edozien Obi, born on 28 July 1925 in Asaba, is recorded as having the same parents. Joseph Obi studied medicine and became a university professor. This information should not be inconsistent for Chike and Joseph should then be brothers. Looking at their biographies, however, makes it appear unlikely that they were brothers and the position is made more complicated by reports that when Chike died, several press reports mistakenly printed Joseph's picture instead of Chike's. We would hope that someone will inform us of what is correct.

There is one further discrepancy in the biographical information, namely his date of birth. Some biographies give 17 April 1921 as his date of birth, but copies of his travel documents all give 7 April 1921 as do several biographies. It appears certain that 7 April is correct. We note that Chike Obi was brought up a Roman Catholic, remaining of that faith throughout his life, but he showed his open mindedness by naming one of his sons Mustafa, a Muslim name.

Chike attended St Patrick's Primary School, Zaria, and obtained his Standard Six Certificate in 1933 before moving to Christ the King College, Onitsha in 1935. This school, founded in 1933, was a boys school which educated pupils in the Roman Catholic tradition. The principal of the school was Rev Fr Leo Brolly. Obi attended this school until 1939 when he was awarded a West African School Certificate. In 1940 he began his studies at Yaba Higher College, Lagos. This college, opened in January 1934 in Yaba, a town which has now become a suburb of Lagos, was a men's college which was affiliated with the University of London, England. The college trained science teachers and offered diplomas but students wanting higher education had to study correspondence courses and obtain degrees from the University of London. Obi took the college courses in 1940-42 but in 1941 he also began taking the correspondence courses as a University of London external student. He spent until 1946 taking these correspondence courses, and in 1946, after sitting the examinations as an external student, was awarded a B.Sc. in Mathematics with Special Honours from the University of London.

Obi began studying as a University of London external student for an M.Sc. and he won a scholarship to fund attending the University of Cambridge to undertake research for a doctorate. He was awarded an M.Sc. by University College London in 1947 and began research at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge in that year. We note that he sailed from Lagos to Southampton, England, on the ship Almanzora arriving in Southampton on 21 September 1947. He gave his address in England as University College London.

At Cambridge, his Ph.D. advisors were Mary Lucy Cartwright and John Edensor Littlewood who were working closely together on problems relating to differential equations. In July 1948 Cartwright was elected Mistress of Girton and she spent part of the year 1948-49 at American universities, including Princeton and Stanford, before taking up office. Obi submitted his first paper Subharmonic solutions of non-linear differential equations of the second order to the Journal of the London Mathematical Society in 1949 and it was published in 1950. At the end he writes:-
In conclusion I should like to express my profound indebtedness to Prof Littlewood for much help in the preparation of this paper.
He was awarded his doctorate in 1950 for his thesis Periodic Solutions of Non-linear Differential Equations of Second Order. The main results of his thesis were published in Periodic Solutions of Non-linear Differential Equations of Second Order parts IV and V appearing as two consecutive papers in Volume 47 of the Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1951.

Before returning to Nigeria, Obi spent time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, under the Foreign Students Summer Project. He sailed from Southampton to New York on the ship Washington, leaving Southampton on 10 June 1950. After the Summer Project, he returned to Nigeria where he was appointed as a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics of University College, Ibadan. The University of Ibadan was established in 1948 as a College of the University of London, England; it is the first university to be established in Nigeria. It became an independent university in 1962 two years after the country gained its independence from Britain. At Ibadan, Obi pursued two careers, one as a mathematician and the other a political activist arguing for Nigerian independence.

On 7 April 1951 he founded the Dynamic Party. In his book Our struggle: A political analysis of the problems of peoples struggling for true freedom (1953) he states that:-
... the only sane ideology for Negro nationalists in general and Nigerian nationalists in particular is the ideology of Kemalism, i.e. total conscription ... or totalitarian mobilization of all the nation's cultural, spiritual, economic and political resources in order to ensure the military security and rapid progress of newly liberated African states.
The policy of Kemalism which Obi followed is the policy implemented by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to move Turkey to a modern Westernised society. Obi served as the first secretary-general of the Dynamic Party. He writes in Our Struggle:-
No one can afford to change one's ideology easily or often. Great care must therefore be taken in working out one's ideology. The present writer has put in much thought into this matter. He is a colonial nationalist and has as much stake in his native-land Nigeria as anybody else. He and his comrades of the political party (the Dynamic Party) to which they belong have accepted the ideology of Dynamic Collectivism or Kemalism, and in this analysis in which only the pre-tactical problems of a colonial nationalist are considered, he will show that the only ideology for a colonial nationalist, especially if he is Nigerian, is the ideology of Kemalism.
For more information on Chike Obi and the Dynamic Party, see THIS LINK.

Obi married the nurse Belinda Nwanyife (1933-2010) in 1953. Their two eldest sons are Balogun Chike-Obi, who studied physics who became a professor of the University of Ilorin, and Mustafa Chike-Obi who obtained a degree in mathematics, then had a career in finance. Balogun Chike-Obi has published books such as Collisionless Magnetic Reconnection (1982). Chike and Belinda Obi had one further son and a daughter.

In 1953, in addition to the book Our Struggle, Obi published two mathematical papers, both in Volume 28 of the Journal of the London Mathematical Society, namely Periodic solutions of non-linear differential equations of order 2n and A non-linear differential equation of the second order with periodic solutions whose associated limit cycles are algebraic curves. In the summer of 1952, 1953 and 1954 he spent time at Pembroke College Cambridge. He sailed from Lagos to Liverpool, England, on 4 August 1952 on the ship the Accra. In the following year, he sailed from Lagos to Liverpool on 31 August 1953 on the Aureol. In 1954 he sailed from Lagos to Liverpool on 23 September 1954, again on the Aureol.

The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon was founded in 1944 with the aim to achieve for Nigeria:-
... political freedom, economic security, social equality and religious toleration.
Obi's Dynamic Party merged with the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon in 1956 when an attempt was made to ban political parties in Nigeria. In July 1947 a Pan-Nigerian delegation arrived in London, supported by Obi, with three demands, the third being:-
To demand that immediate steps towards self-government for Nigeria and the British Cameroons be taken now.
Obi was in England in the summer of 1947 and returned from Liverpool to Lagos on the Apapa, leaving on 11 July. He was in England again in 1958 arriving in Liverpool on 22 September on the Aureol. He was part of the Nigerian East Region Delegation and he was living with the East Nigeria Commissioner in London. On 27 October 1958 Britain set the date of 1 October 1960 for Nigerian independence. In Federal Elections 1959: Manifesto of 1959 Obi argued for the formation of the Economic Community of West African States stating that:-
... the best strategy for any country for reducing the number of her enemies, actual and potential, to a minimum is for her to organise as many countries around her as possible into a closely knit political union of which she must be a member. ... Nigeria's foreign policy should aim at the ultimate creation (the earlier the better) of a political Union of West African Republics.
In 1959 Obi was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Ibadan. In March 1960 he was elected to the Federal Parliament of Nigeria as a member for Onitsha Urban. Biya Afonja writes [1]:-
While at Ibadan, the renowned mathematician, Chike Obi, was a lecturer that one cannot easily forget. On many occasions, he would come straight from Lagos where he was a parliamentarian to give us lectures in Real Analysis and Differential Equations.
Obi was elected as member for Onitsha Urban East to the Eastern House Assembly in November 1961 but refused to give up his seat in the Federal Parliament. The Speaker of the Parliament ordered that Obi be physically removed by security guards, which is exactly what happened. Obi then decided that he would devote himself to regional rather than national affairs.

In 1961 he published the political pamphlet The People: Facts You Should Know. He stated:-
Down with the enemies of the people, the exploiters of the weak and oppressors of the poor. The days of those who have enriched themselves at the expense of the poor are numbered. The common man in Nigeria can today no longer be fooled by sweet talk at election time, only to be exploited and treated as dirt after the booty of office has been shared among the politicians.
In 1962 Obi was arrested and, as Edwin Madunagu relates in [7]:-
Most of the time Chike Obi was either with the police, or in prison, or in court. The offence was either sedition, incitement or defamation. But one particular arrest that has not been mentioned - to the best of my knowledge - took place in 1962. Chike Obi was one of the people arrested and detained with Chief Obafemi Awolowo on the charge of treasonable felony. He was later released for "want of evidence". I regret that I could not ask Chike Obi whether, indeed, an attempt was made to overthrow the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1962 and if he was, despite his release, part of the plot.
Also in 1962 Obi published Our Struggle Part II. He continued as a member for Onitsha Urban East to the Eastern House Assembly until June 1966. The country had seen increasing unrest since independence which was intensified by elections in 1964 with widespread reports of electoral fraud. A military coup in 1966 was put down but resulted in the army taking over. Regional governments were abolished which was why Obi ceased to be a member of the Eastern House Assembly. The Biafran War broke out in July 1967, the coup being a significant factor in the outbreak of war which was fought between government forces and the state of Biafra which was seeking independence motivated by ethnic and religious differences. Onitsha was in Biafra and with Obi a Christian, the Biafran side was the obvious one for him to support. During the war years he worked for Odemegwu Ojukwu, the Biafran leader. The war ended in January 1970 with defeat for the Biafrans.

With the end of the Biafran war, Obi returned to mathematics. He was appointed as an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Lagos. Obi's two eldest sons had been educated during the years that Obi was first a lecturer in Ibadan, then a politician in Onitsha, and finally a professor in Lagos. Mustafa Chike-Obi said in the interview [10]:-
My father was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan, which you may consider lower middle-class. Let me tell you about my educational upbringing. First, I went to a school in Ibadan. It was a public school and my brother, Balogun and I used to walk two miles to the school. Then, we went to Mayflower School, Ikenne-remo, Ogun State. It was a very tough school and very underprivileged. After that, because he had become a politician, we moved to Onitsha and I went to St Joseph's Primary School, Onitsha. Again, not a school for the privileged. We didn't own a house and we were living in a rented house in Onitsha. Thereafter, I went to Christ the King College in Onitsha. Then, the war started and because of the war, we didn't go to school for three years. In 1970, when I came back from the war, I went to King's College, Lagos. You may consider King's College a privileged school, but that's the only privileged school I attended. From there, I went to University of Lagos. So, it was at best, a middle-class background.
Back into mathematics at the University of Lagos, Obi began mathematical research again having not published a paper since 1955. He picked up his research very much where he had left off and the first paper published after a gap of nearly twenty years was Analytical theory of non-linear oscillations. I. An existence theorem for periodic oscillations of equations of the second order which appeared in the Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1974. This was, in fact, the first of a series of ten papers he published on Analytical theory of non-linear oscillations. He was promoted to Professor of Mathematics at the University of Lagos in 1971 and in the same year became Chairman of the Mathematics Department and Dean of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

We get some idea of the life he was leading at this time from Edwin Madunagu who was studying for an M.Sc. with Obi at the University of Lagos in the early 1970s [10]:-
I carefully studied Chike Obi's movement outside his home. He usually arrived at the office early in the morning. Between that time and when other offices opened, he solved his Differential Equations. I also established that whenever he returned to the office in the evening he usually moved from there to town to "wind down". And I knew his usual joints. So, whenever I was going out in the evening, I had to go to the department and check if his K70 Volkswagen car was parked at the usual place. If it was there, I would either cancel the outing or move farther afield. But Chike Obi was not mean; in fact, he was the opposite. He was intellectually hard and disciplined. But no other teacher of mine was as tolerant of me as Chike Obi. For I was not a particularly "obedient" student.
Madunagu is also quoted in [3]:-
Many of us (his students, including the leader of the Deeper Life Bible Church, William Kumuyi) remember what joy and pain it was to be in his class. He was a disciplinarian. As a scientist, he believed in rigour. There were no assumptions. Everything must be explicitly stated.
Although Obi returned to full time mathematics in 1970, he did not give up his attempts to improve the lot of Nigerians. For example, in the 1980s he wrote a newspaper column entitled "I Speak For the People". In fact this title was also the title of the maiden speech he made to the House of Representatives in 1960. In 1985 he retired from his chair at the University of Lagos and returned to Onitsha where he set up the Nanna Institute for Scientific Studies.

In 1985 Obi was awarded the Sigvard Eklund Prize. The announcement states:-
The International Centre for Theoretical Physics Prize in honour of Sigvard Eklund (Sweden), Director General Emeritus of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria), in the field of Mathematics, was awarded to Chike Obi, University of Lagos, Nigeria, for significant contributions in the study of nonlinear ordinary differential equations with several parameters for which he established numerous results on the existence, number some analytic expressions of harmonic, subharmonic or uniformly almost periodic solutions.
Obi travelled to the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste in November 1986 to receive the prize. He was awarded the prize on 12 November 1986 and he addressed delegates in the Main Lecture Theatre of the Centre.

Earlier Obi had been honoured with election to the Nigerian Academy of Science in 1977, being one of those elected at the establishment of the Academy on 18 January 1977.

Most biographies of Obi relate how he solved Fermat's Last Theorem in 1997 providing an elementary proof. He published his "proof" in 1998 in a ten page paper which, sadly, contains an error. Obi is one of several leading mathematicians who, when fairly old, have believed, incorrectly, that they have solved a major mathematical problem.

After his death he was [11]:-
... laid to rest in his Obiezoba family home of Ogboli Olosi Quarters in Onitsha amidst eulogies from prominent Nigerians.

References (show)

  1. B Afonja, In His Hands: The Autobiography of a Nigerian Village Boy (STATCO, 2005).
  2. O Nwakanma, Christopher Okigbo, 1930-67: Thirsting for Sunlight (Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2010)
  3. T Agbali, Prof Chike Obi: Nigeria's foremost Mathematics Professor is dead - Incalculable loss, ThisDay Newspaper Nigerian (14 March 2008).
  4. A O E Animalu, Professor Chike Obi [b. 1921], J. Nigerian Math. Soc. 11 (1) (1992), i-iv.
  5. Chike Edozien Umezi Obi, African Success.⟨=en
  6. Chike Obi + Melinda, Nigeria Family Tree.
  7. E Madunagu, For Professor Chike Obi, Urhobo Historical Society (27 March 2008).
  8. Obi, Prof Chike, Who's Who in Nigeria, Biographical Legacy & Research Foundation Nigeria.
  9. Professor Chike Obi, The Guardian (27 March 2008).
  10. Thank God I once failed all my papers at UNILAG - Chike-obi, Nigerian Tribune (28 October 2018).
  11. V Ujumadu Awka, Nigeria: Chike Obi, Renowned Mathematician, Buried, Vanguard.
  12. S W Williams, Chike Obi, Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, The Mathematics Department, State University of New York at Buffalo (2008).

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Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update May 2019