I believe it was Dwight Eisenhower who said that ‘’an intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.” A Nigerian professor at the University of Ibadan described a Professor as one who knows everything about so little, tending to nothing.
Professor James Nwoye Adichie (1932-2020) was a true intellectual. He was also Nigeria’s foremost statistician and first professor of statistics. Though his fame preceded him most often, it was a fateful meeting with his child prodigy, Chimamanda Adichie, who has blossomed into a fine writer of universal fame, which brought me to his presence. That was how a beautiful friendship began anchored on my numerous stories which made him laugh to no end, and his professorial tutoring of the adventurous spirit of mine.
Somehow, my huge interest in the art, poetry and writing endeared me to this intellectual family of his. But above all, we talked about my adventures and I would tease him about my unquenchable desire to partake in space exploration, where he would be my contact point, my repository of data who will be churning out my probabilities of success. He in turn would show me how to apply these same algorithms to my landward travels. Then, being both students of politics by default, he would briefly open my eyes to probable outcomes of every political jingoism; he loved to talk about the many political dances of our fatherland.
Universities in Africa, USA, and Europe have benefited from his research and works over the years. I thought and secretly wished Prof. could live forever, for he had so much to offer mankind. Prof. loved his country and perhaps wished he could have done more; he had the capacity and knowledge to do more. Which makes me wonder, and ask:
- Why did we let him go at this time without gathering from his data and statistics that would lead the nation to a sustainable political structure fit for 21st Century development?
- Why did we let him go without bringing him into our future economic development that will be based on provable science?
- Why did we let him go without bringing him into planning the research of our healthcare system and human development foundations?
- Why did we let him go, knowing that intellectuals like Professor James Nwoye Adichie are very few in the world?
Over time, he showed me that in this technological age, gathering statistics and data has become the guiding principles of businesses, corporations, and institutions. To buttress his premise, he would let me have a few case studies to digest at my leisure.
Our nation Nigeria has a long way to go in social, economic, technological, and infrastructural development. A country of little more than 200 million people, we have managed to develop a fair number of well-educated manpower that could hold their heads high in their various skill sets, given the right conditions. In the seventies and eighties, and borrowing a leaf or two from the western nations, our various governments at the federal levels established ‘Research and Development Departments and Institutes (R & D Departments)’ in almost all parastatals and most ministries. During these periods, the earlier military governments actively recruited Nigerian professionals and intelligentsia from Europe and America, brought them home to run important parastatals, agencies, and the various R & D departments.
Unfortunately, the geek heads of these institutions were never given the free hand to recruit adequate staff, their institutions were starved of funds, and they were above all denied the freedom to design and propose their preferred projects that would benefit the country. They were left at the mercies of politically appointed ministers and unqualified permanent secretaries who were only interested in executing ill-conceived contracts to the exclusion of professionals. The result was a degeneration of these institutes into a set of human resources pool of unqualified researchers leading the nation’s development and technological growth into comatose conditions.
On the other side of this national rot, professorial eggheads Like Prof. Adichie were left in the cold with their inputs into national data building and mining largely untapped. Some examples will be pertinent here. In the sixties and seventies, it was normal to have road overseers of the Federal Ministry of Works to inspect highways for road failures. These overseers will send their reports to resident engineers who in turn will collate these reports and transmit them to provincial engineers. The later will then take these reports to the ministry where the maintenance decision will be made, developed into contracts for resurfacing of the entire highway or sections of it before total and irreversible road failure occurs. Over time, these road overseers and resident engineers more or less disappeared or lost their mettles. Statisticians like Prof. Adichie and engineers could easily develop algorithms that can predict probable period when failure of the roads could take place so that plans can be made to resurface them before actual failure occurs. Unfortunately, this structure no longer exists. Or consider our repetitive failures at conducting a credible national census. We failed because we ignored the knowledge of the likes of Prof. Even when we use projected figures; we would rather go get such data from international agencies, ignoring our own professionals who in most cases actually work as consultants to the same UN agencies. A case of prophets not respected in their native countries!
No wonder, Professor Biyi Afonja, a friend of Professor Adichie, lamented the fact that the sung heroes of Nigeria are usually politicians, military generals, business executives, and athletes. Rarely do we celebrate fine minds and academicians like Prof. Adichie. He had a good life and sired literary giants. A favourite author of mine, Alan Cohen, once said that; “To be content means that you realize you contain what you seek”. Prof. always seemed contented, never moaning about what could have been. He loved his work, and his students were his constituency. But now that he is gone, I would give anything to learn about the probable discussions Prof. could be having with erstwhile Professors Ayodele Awojobi, Chike Obi, Takena Tamuno, Mr Tai Solarin, and Mr Gani Fawehimi, all of whom preceded him in the journey to the afterlife, and were roundly frustrated that several Nigerian administrations ignored their immense skills and knowledge. Their exits are all the more painful for what the nation failed to harness.
I will miss Prof. and the laughter we used to share. But I will remain the happier one for the honour of knowing him.