Biyi Afonja on Adichie

James Nwoye Adichie: Nigeria’s first professor of statistics

By Biyi Afonja

THE most celebrated group of people in Nigeria are political office holders, business tycoons no matter their source of wealth and occasionally top executives and professionals. J.N.Adichie does not fall into any of the enumerated categories. He, like many other academic giants in Nigeria remain, by and large, unsung heroes. I believe that Nigerians should learn to celebrate people like him along with several other distinguished retired and active academic geniuses while they are still alive. Such celebrations will no doubt inspire our youths, who by and large, through the corrupting influence of our society do not seem to believe in academia. I am writing this piece to celebrate Adichie.

James Nwoye Adichie was born on March 1, 1932 in Abba, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State. After passing the Advanced Level General Certificate of Education (‘A’ level GCE) examinations in Pure mathematics, Applied mathematics, English and Latin, he was admitted into the University College Ibadan (UCI) now the University of Ibadan (UI) in 1957 to read mathematics. In those days when the UCI was a college of the University of London and was the only university institution in Nigeria, it was a remarkable achievement for a student to be admitted into the College. He graduated B.A. Mathematics of the University of London in 1960 among the top three students in a class of 13. At that time a student was awarded the B.A. degree if his/her A-Level subject combination included arts subjects in addition to the mathematics subject; and the B.Sc degree if his/her subjects combination consisted of mathematics and science subjects.

Soon after graduating, he went on to lecture first at the Nigerian College of Science and Technology, Enugu, and later at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) until September 1963, when he proceeded to the prestigious University of California at Berkeley, USA. This is one of the greatest centres of statistical excellence in the USA if not in the world. In a record time of three years he earned a Ph.D. degree in statistics in 1966, the first Nigerian to do so. He promptly returned to the UNN and 10 years later, in October 1976, he was promoted a Professor of Statistics, the first of his kind in Nigeria.

Adichie’s main area of research is Non-Parametric Methods of Statistical Analysis. These methods seek to develop new methods of analysis that are valid under realistic assumptions. He was such a renowned scholar in this field that he was invited by some leading British universities to deliver a series of lectures on his work. The universities are Cambridge, London (Imperial College), Aberystwyth, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Glasgow. At different points in his brilliant academic career, he was a visiting fellow at the University of Sheffield, England and a visiting professor at the San Diego State University, California, U.S.A.

Apart from delivering many brilliant academic papers at several workshops, conferences and seminars locally and abroad, Adichie has published numerous scholarly papers in reputable learned journals and has served as a reviewer for some of them including the Journal of the American Statistical Association, the Annals of Mathematical Statistics, the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, etc. He is a member of many learned societies including the International Statistical Institute (ISI) of which he was the first Nigerian to be elected a full ordinary member in 1978; the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the Mathematical Association of Nigeria of which he was once the general secretary, to mention a few. Incidentally, the ISI with headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, is the world apex statistical organization. He was the first editor of the Journal of the Statistical Association of Nigeria and at one time an associate editor of the ABACUS – Journal of the Mathematical Association of Nigeria.

At the UNN where he was a distinguished teacher of statistics for 33 years, he was the supervisor of the first post-graduate student to obtain a master’s degree of the UNN in 1971 and in 1973; helped in the establishment of the department of statistics, one of the first two such departments in Nigeria, the other one being that of the UI. As the first head of that department, Adichie spent the next six years nurturing it to enviable heights. He was again made the head of the department from 1985-1988. He served as the Dean of the Faculty of Physical Sciences and as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Nsukka Campus of the university.

As an elected member of Council of the University, he made tremendous contributions to the progress of the university through his activities in the various committees of the Council and some other non-Council Committees. His activities are not limited to the UNN. He served as external examiner in mathematics and statistics at various Nigerian universities. Apart from his contribution to the development of statistics in the Nigerian university system, he played a key role in the development of the National Mathematics Centre (NMC). He, with three others, prepared for the Federal Government in 1987/88 a proposal for setting up the NMC. He later served as member of a Representative Group of Mathematical Scientists that met the Technical Expert Committee Visitation Panel for the upgrading of the NMC to the status of an International Centre for Excellence. He served the Centre in various capacities. He was a member of its academic board, a member of two of its strategic committees, and professor and coordinator of its statistics programme.. He organised the Centre’s first Foundation Post-Graduate Course on mathematical statistics and the first Foundation Post-Graduate Course on Exact and Asymptotic Statistical Inference.

Adichie took to the international fora his passion for giving statistical education a pride of place in the curricula of Nigerian and indeed of African countries. On several occasions, he delivered papers relating to Statistical education and training not only in Nigeria but also in the whole of Africa. .In the administration of statistics in the Nigerian public service, Adichie’s name will also feature prominently. He was a member of the National Advisory Council on Statistics and served as the Chairman of the Committee for the Reorganisation of the Federal Office of Statistics (FOS) which is now called the National Bureau of Statistics.

It is interesting to note that Adichie is not the only one in his family to have scored a first in his chosen career. Ifeoma, his wife of 46 years was the first female registrar of the UNN while his fifth child, Chimamanda, is the first young female Nigerian literary voice to be world-acclaimed. She has received many international awards and nominations for her literary works. Having demonstrated the main reason for writing about Adichie – that of giving honour to whom honour is due, I have two other reasons which, though, may appear personal, do speak volumes about the personality and integrity of the man. .As already mentioned, Adichie and I first met and became friends at the UCI. In fact, one of our lecturers, Chike Obi, who became famous for being the first Nigerian holder of a doctorate degree in mathematics, used to call us brothers because he thought that we looked so much alike.

Since graduation, we have crossed each other’s path at the professional level on various occasions. I will mention only two of them. Adichie was one of the sponsors of my nomination in 1980 for election as a member of the ISI. With my election, I became the second Nigerian to be so honoured, he having been elected in 1978.

When I was the Chief Statistical Training Adviser at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa, he requested some information needed for the preparation of a paper to be presented at an international conference on the teaching of statistics. I gladly obliged. Lo and behold, he included my name as a co-author of the paper. What a mark of intellectual integrity! My last, but by no means the least important reason is that every now and then I get embarrassed when I am introduced in public as the first Nigerian Professor of Statistics. Let Nigerians now be informed – James Nwoye Adichie is the first Nigerian Professor of Statistics!

(Afonja, the second Nigerian professor of statistics, lives in Abeokuta, Ogun State. This article was first published in the Nigerian Guardian, May 28, 2009.)