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I’ve no confidence in Nigeria’s political leaders — US Professor

Professor Adeniran Adeboye

President of Oodua Foundation, Professor Adeniran Adeboye, a distinguished Professor of Mathematics at Howard University, USA in this interview with the Publisher of Nigerian NewsDirect Dr Samuel Ibiyemi in Washington Dc, USA speaks on the challenges of training students in mathematics with African language. He speaks on the benefit of role model as a path to success and reasons he has refused to partner political leaders in Nigeria. Oodua Foundation is a Yoruba Think-tank based in the US. Excerpts.

We are happy to learn that there is a professor of Mathematics from Nigeria teaching Americans in Washington. Sir, can you tell us the summary of your rise to Professor in a foreign land?
This is a big question. It started at Gbongan, Osun State in 1948 when I was hawking Ake. I planned my Mathematics that way because the community taught me how to count and make change I was talking about when I was five years old. So, it was difficult to fail Mathematics when I went to school two years later because all I needed was the symbolism for writing down what I already knew. Unfortunately and fortunately or both, Mathematics became my favourite subject during the period of schooling. It also helped me to get to be admitted to a good school like Government College, Ibadan because the entrance examination in those days was excessively compulsory. And what I was able to do with Durel and Lancombe Upper standard gave me the kind of score that would admit me to Government College and to University of Ibadan.
Becoming a professor is what I always wanted to do but because my father died when I was at U. I. and I have young sisters and brothers behind me, I didn’t go to school immediately. I was working at the Examinations Council Lagos as a writer of Mathematics examinations for school leavers. I was minding my own business when I received a call from Professor Supo Fagbemi, of University of Lagos, who was the Head of Mathematics Department.. He called me in his office to come and see him and I went there. Anybody who knows Professor Fagbemi knows that he was a kind of rascal and Ijesha from the present Osun State. You know how Ijeshas are. So, I got into his office and he said this is your schedule; I said schedule? He answered yes that I’m going to be teaching these courses and I told him that I have a job. He said he knew and the reason for scheduling my classes for evening time. So, what happened was that Prof. Fagbemi needed somebody to teach Electro magnetic theory and relativity. He called Professor Olubunmo, Mathematics H.O.D at the University of Ibadan asking him if he has anybody to recommend. So, Olubunmi told him that Adeboye is in Lagos, catch him and he caught me.
I had to resume teaching at the UNILAG at parallel with my research fellow at the exam council. Of course I like the job because I hated office job where you sat down eight hours a day. I don’t do that at the governing council because I went around. But, principally, Lagos University job, teaching 10 hours a week gave me a rise because now I’m going to be working at the uppermost level of what I know. It also helped me because I have to take care of these children. Double salary really helped me. So, i banked it and left Nigeria with a lot of money in the bank to take care of my sisters and brothers. I love Mathematics, It’s logical. Mathematics is the only exact thing that you know. It is the only truth, any other thing is relative. What people think is difficult in Mathematics is really what is easy about it. From my point of view, any sequence of idea that avoids ambiguity is easy. What you see is what you get. Whereas, in other affairs, there are nuances that are very difficult sometimes to sift through. Mathematics is the only thing that I know that says what it means and means what it says, and therefore makes it easier to handle. However, because of the language aspect of mathematics, if one was unfortunate not to have gotten that language in childhood , it becomes more difficult overtime .What people are irritated about in Mathematics is not so much the content of Mathematics but the language of mathematics. The language of French or Yoruba or Chinese is best acquired when you were young. The older you grow, the more resistant you are to a language with its own grammar, its own vocabulary, its own syntax and sort. So, what we must do in order to advance, is to find underutilized mathematical functions in our community and make them available to our children from day one so that we are not learning a symbolic language like mathematics through a foreign language like English. We are making life difficult for these children.
What informed you studying Mathematics, apart from learning it from your mother?
At Government College, we were a little bit stupid or arrogant. We wanted to be things that we didn’t think were available. We wanted to be engineers. My aspiration those days was to be an aeronautical engineer. The bigger the word, the better, and I was doing very well. To be an aeronautical engineer was not a tall order but when my father was very sick and there was no engineering to talk about in Nigeria. The only school that had engineering in those days was a new school called Ahmadu Bello University and our arrogance at Government College was that Ahmadu Bello University is for somebody else. But even there, they do not have all kinds of engineering. Since, I knew I couldn’t go abroad, and abandon my mom with the children, the nearest thing to engineering I could do was Mathematician, and it was okay with me. I didn’t think I wanted to be a pure Mathematics but if that is all I could do, with my circumstance, it is okay and that was how I started.
There was this young man called, Olunloyo, who got his Phd in 1962 and came to Government College to deliver a lecture. He showed us a bunch of problems that were unsolved in Mathematics in our assembly hall. Well, that made Mathematics more attractive. So, if I was not going to be able to become an engineer, at least I could do Mathematics and get familiar with those problems.
How can you use Mathematics to solve the problem of the crises in the global economy today?
Mathematics is not going to solve problems directly. It’s going to point the way, but only human beings will solve their own problem. The problem of global economy is complex. The fundamental issue in global economics is power relations. The powerful countries, the people who have amassed wealth and have amassed military power on our planet are not getting ready to surrender them. They are only interested in manipulating the global economy to their own advantage. Sometimes, they manipulate it well and sometimes they don’t. The Mathematical models exist for doing the right thing. Although, I don’t know what the right thing is. However, it also depends on political philosophy. Communism believes in equitable distribution of resources. Under capitalism, you are on your own. Mathematics is not sensitive to all those things. Mathematics says, what is your goal? And here are the designs that can help you achieve the goal. If you have the goal of a communist, there is a design; if you have the goal of a capitalist, there is a design. Mathematics does not have morality attached to it about what is good or bad. It’s just going to give you how to achieve optimal outcome with the use of your resources. Whether the resources are money, products, government or labour, optimization problems exists and they can be solved. It is your objective that Mathematics can have a model to achieve. Also, Mathematics is working with exact things, but the data we present to Mathematics are not always exact. In operation research, for instance, you are in one position, but you have a number of directions that you can go. You go to this direction, the probability of success is so much and to another direction, the probability of success is also high. But the pay-offs at each of them are different. So, when you do expected pay-off, it is like a company salesman asking himself, which of these paths should I take? I know they pay-off that at the end of each one of them but the probability of success varies. Mathematics is going to compute all of those and show you the best part if all the numbers it is giving there are accurate. If they are not accurate, you won’t get what you want. Mathematician doesn’t create these numbers. The numbers are fed into mathematics as a probability of some sort.
As a lecturer in the US how do you feel, do you feel you have achieved?
Well it is not the US that makes me feel a sense of achievement. If I go to China I will do the same thing and if they have a University of Akriboto, I will do the same thing. What I have found and I think I knew it before I came is that all human beings are equipped to do mathematics very well. For instance, my late brother Adeolu was seven years old when I was a teacher at the University of Lagos. My mum will send all my little siblings to me when they are on holiday in Lagos. He was a troublesome child, so, when I came back from work in the evening, my sister would have beaten him up, I’ll have to spend the rest of the night settling.
Source: NewsDirect
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