Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Introducing the Book: Great Nigerian Scientists, being authored by Chigozie Ubani

Sequel to inadequate practice environment and poor funding of science in our institutions, many have assumed that Nigerian scientists do nothing. Many have asked, “Are there scientists in Nigeria?” Some have even labeled scientists in Nigeria as theoretical experts, whose duties are to copy and paraphrase the works of their Western counterparts. In this light, I make bold to say that despite plagues bedeviling science development in this nation, many Nigerians have made outstanding contributions to the store of scientific knowledge. Many of them, have in many ways asserted their equality (if not superiority) to their counterparts in the developed world.
The great Zik of Africa, Chief (Dr.) Nnamdi Azikiwe, in one of his usual intellectual emancipation lecture of the Africa race said, “There is no achievement physical or intellectual, which is possible for human beings that is not possible to Africans”. This statement has indeed been proven by the works of many Nigerian scientists in their fields of sciences.
Science is the knowledge about the universe, and scientists strive in synthesizing this knowledge. Very important is the fact that scientists in the pure sciences do not make things. The applied sciences do. The question now is: between one who produces knowledge and another who transforms the knowledge into physical reality, who is more important? From my perspective, and with no reservation, I say both are equally important! Should we say because someone generated knowledge and no one has been able to bring it into physical reality, that the other (the provider of the knowledge) has made no mark? This is the dilemma of many Nigerian scientists, who have generated striking knowledge in their fields, but for paucity of fund, their knowledge is yet to be transformed into what the public call science (i.e. the making of things) and as such, their efforts and ingenuities shroud in obscurity and oblivion.

Let it be known that Sir Isaac Newton prestigiously became the greatest scientist of all time, not for inventing the reflecting telescope, but for the knowledge he synthesized. Newton’s Laws of motion and Universal Gravitation are monuments of contribution to the store of scientific knowledge. These laws would have remained ordinary knowledge had others not come in to fund and develop them in such a manner that they have become useful in the making of rockets, guns and other ammunitions. Newton did not fund these researches and neither did he develop them.

The world’s scientist of the 20th Century (Times Magazine), Albert Einstein, has been described by many writers as the genius among geniuses. His relativity equation became the most popular physics equation (with recognition even in the streets), and a redemption to the Jews. What exactly did he do? Einstein only gave an equation:E=mc2 (simple but ingenious). He did not even explain much to this energy-mass equivalence and the world began singing for him, despite stiff oppositions from many quarters. It took 30 years for Einstein’s equation to gain applicability and that was in the atom bomb of Manhattan Committee in 1945. It was after then that the world came to a full glimpse of relativity and its potential applications. It should also be noted that Einstein had nothing to do with the Trinity bomb. He was not even a member of the Manhattan Committee. It was also not funded by him, but the US government. Yet, he fathered the atomic bomb by virtue of a simple equation.

Archimedes, a great scientist of antiquity, is well known for his principles of floatation, which states that when a body is wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, it experiences an uptrust, which equals to, but opposite in a sense, to the weight of fluid displaced. This principle is simply knowledge. It would have also remained what it is if not for those who had it applied in constructing ships, submarines, hydrometer and hot-air balloon. Again, neither their funding nor construction was done by Archimedes.

These scientists mentioned above became celebrities in their various countries even when the knowledge synthesized by them were still subjects of scrutiny and criticism, not to talk of public acceptance and useful applicability. But here, in this part of the continent, the situation is different. Rather than appreciate our own, we downplay and trivialize their works. This is the environment in which Nigerian scientists have had to work.

The works of many Nigerian scientists have received wide international acclaim and could stand side by side of their renowned Western counterparts. The likes of many, whom for want of space, I may not mention here, are credible testimonies of the ingenuities of many Nigerian scientists.

One may ask: if Nigerians are this good, why has no Nigerian won a Nobel Prize in science? Let it be known that no Blackman has ever won a Nobel Prize in science. The Blacks have only succeeded in winning Nobel Prizes in peace and literature, but not in science. This is an attempt by the Westerners to validate their earlier conception of Blacks’ intellectual inferiority. Also, anyone familiar with this line of thought will cast his mind back to what happened over seven decades ago in Christ the King College (Onitsha), when a Western teacher in the school told his students that Africans cannot be Mathematicians. This myth was to be broken by late Emeritus Professors Chike Obi, J.O.C. Ezilo and Adegoke Olubummo, who not only demonstrated that Africans can be mathematicians, but great in it.

The above was also not different as Professor Amagh Nduka (renowned Professor of Theoretical Physics and Applied Mathematics) known for his Third Revolution and Absolute Theory of Science, narrates his experience as a student in one of the American universities:

While in one of the American universities, we were only six Black students – four Nigerians and two from other African countries. At this time, public lectures were organized periodically and eminent scientists were invited to give lectures. But in all these lectures, the one that will remain indelible in my heart was that of William Shockley (the transistor scientist and physics Nobel laureate). Every opportunity given to Shockley was used in demeaning the Blacks on how intellectually inferior we are, and at the same time, buttressing white’s intellectual superiority over us. This mindset pervaded the atmosphere to the extent that even the teachers who taught us never believed in us. These were the stimuli that drove most of us in making fundamental contributions to science.

This is, and will for a long time to come, be, the mindset of the whites towards the Blacks. It could as well be the reason why the Whites downplay striking discoveries and generalizations made by the Blacks. It could also be why no Black has won Nobel Prize in science.

Nobel Prize or not, the works of many Nigerian scientists are self-speaking. The works of many, who became great in areas of science where they lacked requisite foundation, but armed with ambition, hard work and commitment to self-improvement rose to positions of eminence in them. Many of whom are making ground-breaking contributions to science through researches conducted here in Nigeria.

This book – Great Nigerian Scientists, is therefore a need that must be met. It promises to paint in bold relief the works and biographies of many Nigerian scientists who have marched their peers, toe to toe, from all corners of the globe. This compendium will also be presenting an opportunity of informing Nigerians that there are still scientists in the country, not just scientists, but great ones. It will also serve to motivate and inspire both budding and balding scientists and others, who may have withdrawn to their shells as a result of not giving scientists in Nigeria their due recognition.