Professor
Aderemi Oluyomi Kuku is a world-renowned Professor of Mathematics and the
current President of the African Academy of Sciences. He is a Distinguished
Professor of Mathematics at the National Mathematical Centre, Abuja, and was,
at one time, the William W. S. Clayton Endowed Professor of Mathematics at
Grambling State University, Louisiana, USA.

Professor Kuku
began his teaching career at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo
University, 1965) before transferring to the University of Ibadan, where he
became a full Professor of Mathematics in 1982. And after 28 years of illustrious
career at Ibadan, he was a Professor of Mathematics at the International Centre
for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy (1995-2003). His research and
administrative experiences include: Sub-Dean Postgraduate, Faculty of Science
and Chairman, Committee of Sub-Deans Postgraduate, University of Ibadan (1978-80);
Head, Department of Mathematics, University of Ibadan (1983-1986); Dean,
Post-graduate School, University of Ibadan (1987-1990); Foundation Chairman,
Committee of Deans of Post-graduate Schools in Nigerian Universities (1987-90);
President, African Mathematical Union (1986-1995); Member, Institute of
Advanced Study (IAS) Princeton, New Jersey, USA (2003-4); Visiting Research
Professor, Mathematical Science Research Institute (MSRI) Berkeley, California,
USA (1992 & 2004); Visiting Professor, Cornell University Ithaca, New York,
USA (1993); Distinguished Visiting Professor, Miami University Oxford, OHIO, USA (2005-6); Visiting Professor, Howard
University, Washington DC, USA (1994); Visiting Professor, Max Planck Institute
for Mathematics, Bonn, Germany (1994 & 2007); Visiting Professor, Ohio State
University Columbus, OHIO, USA (2005); Visiting Professor, IHES, Paris, France
(2006), and a host of others.

Professor Kuku’s
mathematical research contributions over the years, have focused on Commutative
and Non-commutative Algebra /Arithmetic/Geometry through methods of K-theory,
Cyclic homology, encompassing Algebra, Number theory, Representation Theory,
Algebraic Topology, Operator Algebras, some Algebraic Geometry and Differential
Geometry. Some of his discoveries and fundamental results include:

- Formulating all Higher Algebraic K-theory (abstract topological constructions) in the representation theoretic language of Mackey functors, leading to his discovery of Equivariant Higher Algebraic K-theory and its relative generalizations in the contexts of exact and Waldhausen categories;
- Developing methods of computing Higher K-theory of non-commutative rings such as non-commutative orders and groupings as well as twisted polynomials and Laurent series rings over orders with applications to the computations of Higher K-theory of virtually infinite cyclic groups in the context of Farrell-Jones conjecture;
- Formulating the famous Baum-Connes conjecture (hitherto available only for group actions) for the action of quantum groups and verifying the conjecture in some situations e.g. for quantum SU_2;
- Computing K-theory and Cyclic homology and hence non-commutative Chern characters of Lie group C*-algebras and quantum groups;
- Constructing Profinite (Continous) Higher K-theory as extraordinary cohomology theory in the context of exact categories and proving several finiteness and l-completeness results for orders, G-schemes (G-algebraic group) and twisted varieties.

With over 85 publications
in world-leading journals in mathematics, as well as over 10 books and
monographs to his credit, Professor Kuku holds recognition as: Foundation Fellow,
American Mathematical Society (2012-); Fellow, The World Academy of
Sciences (TWAS, 1989-); Member, European Academy of Arts, Science and
Humanities (1986-); Fellow, African Academy of Science (1986-, President 2014-);
Fellow, Nigerian Academy of sciences (1989- Sec, Physical sciences, 1990-91);
Foreign Fellow, Mongolian Academy of Sciences (2005-); Honorary President, African
Mathematical Union (for life, 1995-); Foundation Fellow, Nigerian Mathematical
Society (2015-), and Fellow, Mathematical Association of Nigeria (1987-). He is
a recipient of the Nigeria’s National Honour of Officer of the Order of the
Niger (OON), as well as the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM),
which is the highest award for intellectual accomplishment in Nigeria, awarded
by the President of Nigeria. He also holds the traditional title of Otunba
Ofiran of Ijebu-Land awarded in 1993 by the Awujale of Ijebu-Ode, Oba S. K. Adetona.

To crown it all,
at his 70

^{th}birthday (March 20, 2011), Nanjing University, in faraway China, held an International conference on “Algebraic K-theory and its Applications” (March 17-21, 2011) in honour of this intellectual colossus. The proceeding of that conference was the embodiment of a special issue of the Journal of K-theory, Vol.12 No.1, dedicated to him and published by Cambridge University Press.
Professor Kuku
had this interview with The Budding Scientist’s editor,

**Chigozie Ubani**, on Thursday May 23, 2016. Excerpt:**On his background:**

I came from a
very simple background. My father was a photographer by trade and my mother, a
trader. My father hails from Ijebu-Ode and was the last
born son of Chief Bello Kuku, the Balogun of Ijebu-Ode. Moreover, his mother
was a great grand-daughter of Oba Ofiran, the ninth Awujale of Ijebu-Ode. But
my father had special pride in training all his children. So, we all went to
school. When we were very young, our most senior brother was doing very well in
school. He went to Igbobi College and later chose a career in telecommunication
and did well. And right now, I have a younger brother who is a Professor of
Electronics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. And the one older than me
(immediate elder brother), who is late now, was an electric technician. What
I’m saying, in essence, is that everybody had a career.

**On the schools he attended:**

My early and
middle elementary school education was at Bishop Oluwole Memorial School, Agege,
Lagos State. And I had my first school leaving certificate in St. James School,
Oke-Odan, Egbado division, Ogun State. I came first in the first school leaving
certificate. Thereafter, I gained admission into Eko Boys High School in Lagos,
where I led my class from the first year until I eventually became the Senior
Prefect (Head Boy) and finished school certificate in 1959. I also did Higher
School Certificate (HSC) at Abeokuta Grammar School in Mathematics and Further
Mathematics and Physics. That already shows my bias (where I wanted to be). And
you see, in secondary school, things were relatively easy for me. In
mathematics, if they bring a problem, we would get everything and still
struggle with those that say they know geography or history or something else.
So that is why we do better overall – because of the way we scored high in
mathematics and many other students could not.

After my HSC, I
got the African Scholarship Programme of American Universities (ASPAU) to go to
US. At the same time, there was a special programme organized by USAID to take
some students from West Africa, particularly Nigeria, to Makerere University College
in Uganda (East Africa), which was a college of London just like Ibadan used to
be. At that time, American degrees did not have much reputation in Nigeria. So,
on listening to advice, I went to Makerere and got a British first degree from
University of London. After the programme, I was recommended to do research by
my Professors at Makerere, and when I came back to Nigeria, I was offered a
position as an Assistant Lecturer at the University of Ife (1965). At the same
time, I registered for higher degree (masters) at Ibadan. Luckily for me, my
supervisor, Professor Joshua Leslie, who was a well-known mathematician (he got
his first degree from University of Chicago in the US and Ph.D from University
of Paris) was just returning from a sabbatical spent as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at
Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Again, very few black people have ever been members
there, and in fact, even when I became a member of IAS much later, I was still
one of the few blacks to go there. But the important thing is that this man had
just returned from sabbatical at IAS Princeton, where he met Professor Hyman
Bass, who was one of the mathematicians developing the field where I am now.
Then he (Leslie) told me, because I was interested in algebra and related mathematics,
that there is something new going on at Princeton that if I can produce a
dissertation on it that I would be in good shape. So I went to the library (as
he was not a specialist in it). Again, that is one unique thing about me. At Makerere,
which was like Ibadan, where you get a London first degree externally, what was
unique and difficult about such a system is that your exams are external exams
and you have to, apart from being talented, be specially oriented towards
passing such exams because the Lecturers in Africa are normally not the same
standard as those in London. And secondly, you have to study to pass internal
exam from first year to second and third years, but then you have to pass
London exam at the end of three years. So we had to juggle around with such
situation, and doing well under such circumstance was not very easy. Also, at
Makerere, we took what was called Special Honours degree, where very few people
are accepted and had to go through a special mathematics programme throughout.
(I just mentioned this to show I was already used to studying on my own). So
when I got to Ibadan for graduate work, and I had to produce an M.Sc thesis on
a subject that was not the field of my adviser, I had to go to the Library,
find out what is going on and produce something – simultaneously with teaching
at Ife. After two years of my being at Ife, I was promoted to Lecturer II,
simultaneously with finishing my M.Sc at Ibadan. Now, when I finished my M.Sc,
the external examiner was Professor Hyman Bass of Columbia University, who my
Professor had met at IAS Princeton. After my M.Sc, I got a direct link with him,
and as soon as I got my leave at Ibadan, he invited me to come and write my
Ph.D at Columbia University and I completed my Ph.D in 1971. Meanwhile, the man
who got me started at Ibadan had left. He was now in the US at the North
Western University. I joined University of Ibadan in 1968 as lecturer II and remained
there until I became a Professor in 1982.

**On other experiences he had in secondary school that helped form who he is today:**

At Eko Boys High
School, just as I was doing well academically, my teachers also recognized
leadership potentials in me. I was made Senior Prefect of the school (i.e. the
Head Boy), and that came with all sorts of responsibilities and experiences
with my colleagues. You have to learn to discipline not only your junior
colleagues but also your friends who are also your colleagues. That is a tricky
point. So, gradually, one got used to leadership

**On what made him chose mathematics:**

It was a natural
choice. I was doing well in most of the subjects, but I found I had special
flare for the subject. It was indeed a natural fascination.

**On his achievements that should inspire younger generations of scientists and mathematicians:**

I am currently
President, African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and Distinguished Professor of
Mathematics, National Mathematical Centre, Abuja. I was also President, African
Mathematical Union (AMU) for nine years (1986-95). I have over 40 years of
teaching and research experience at the University level. I was Professor, Head of Mathematics (1983-86),
Dean of Postgraduate School (1986-90), all in University of Ibadan, and at the
same time, Chairman of Committee of Deans of Postgraduate Schools in Nigerian
Universities. I was Professor of
Mathematics at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste,
Italy (1995-2003), and William W. S. Clayton Endowed Professor of Mathematics,
Grambling State University, Louisiana, USA. I have held many visiting positions
at Universities and Research Institutes in the USA, Canada, Europe, Hong Kong,
and China including Member, Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), Princeton, New Jersey, USA; Visiting Research
Professor, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), Berkeley,
California; Visiting Professor, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Visiting
Professor, Ohio state University, Columbus, OHIO; Visiting Professor,
University of Bielefeld, Germany; Visiting Professor, Max Planck Institute, Germany,
and others. Moreover, I have given numerous colloquia and seminar lectures and
organised numerous conferences, symposia and workshops all over the world.

I have been a
recipient of several honours. I am Fellow of the American Mathematical Society
(2012-); Fellow of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS, 1989 -); European
Academy of Arts, Science and Humanities (1986-); African Academy of Sciences
(AAS, 1986-); Nigerian Academy of sciences (1989, and Secretary, Physical
Sciences, 1990-92); and Foreign Fellow, Mongolian Academy of Sciences (2005-); Fellow
of the Nigerian Mathematical Society (2015); Fellow of the Mathematical
Association of Nigeria (1987), and the Nigerian National Honours: Officer of the
Order of the Niger (OON, 2008), and Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM,
2009) – the highest honour in Nigeria
for academic excellence awarded by the President of Nigeria.

**On factors that enabled him earn these distinctions:**

I like to tell
young people in Africa that I grew up in Africa like any of them. My background
is heavily Nigerian and African. It is not that I spent four or five years
abroad trying to get Ph.D – although it turned out that I have visited the most
important places in the world where mathematics is being done. So that shows
that the sky is the limit for everybody who aspires. To imagine that I was a member the Institute
of Advanced Studies (IAS) at Princeton, where the office Einstein used to
occupy (where Einstein did his seminal work) was just a few doors away from my
office. And apart from being a Professor at ICTP, at Trieste, Italy for nine
years before I retired from there in 2003, I have been a Visiting Research
Professor at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkeley,
USA. In Europe, I have been to Max
Planck Institute in Bonn, Germany and at IHES in Paris. So, what I can say is
that there is no limit to where everybody can reach – irrespective of
background. That is one lesson everybody has to learn. And of course, doing
well means some resilience and focus on some good research programmes. Even when we were young lecturers, I focused
on my research and tried to put my papers where everybody would see them.
Again, this is the advice we give to young people, because many people are more
interested in quick-fix and in counting numbers of papers. At Ibadan in those
days, people were not just counting numbers of papers – emphasis was on
quality. So I would say that everybody
has his fate in his own hands. For instance, the way I learnt many of the
mathematics I know is not in a fixed way that you can tell people. Because what
scares people is the amount of mathematics you have to know to get on with
research in such fields. But everybody has his or her own way of acquiring
these stuffs that you cannot teach or advise people strictly about especially
if you are based in an African University, where there are not many graduate
courses available for you to take. Except that if you need to acquire some
knowledge, you have to leave what you are doing and go after it. And when you
get it, you come back to use it where you want to. But to be frank with you,
everybody has to devise his own way of studying these things.

**On whether he attributes his success to talent or luck**:

Well, you need a
bit of everything. But in this business, you need a lot of talent and you need
luck too. Like I ran into people who could help me get off the ground, even
though I have to ride myself. When I went to write my thesis in Columbia
University, I did not have much time to spend there because I had to come back to
Ibadan after my study leave. And I remember my wife thanking my supervisor in New
York and he said, “Don’t thank me, but thank your husband”. This is because the
man did not really have much time for me because he was an extremely busy and
famous man. It was me chasing him around that he should read what I have
proved. So, if I was expecting spoon-feeding and so on, it probably would not
have worked. So that is why I say it depends on individuals, and a bit of
talent and luck.

**On how inspiration or insights come to him:**

The point is
that you have to think about what you are doing. There is no way you can get
results without thinking about it. But when the idea or insight will come is
what you cannot predict. It may be in the bathroom or on the road. But the
truth is: to get anything, your mind must be revolving around it at all the
time (or may be intermittently). Even when you give it up, it may suddenly come
to you. Sometimes, I will be sleeping in the early hours of the morning and an
idea will just hit me on the bed and if I don’t wake and write it down, I will
lose it. For instance, there is this colleague of mine at University of
Chicago. My family was very friendly with him and his wife. So when my wife and
I visited their home in Chicago (around 1974 or so), I was told that my friend
was in the hospital. So, I felt pity for him, but on the contrary, the wife
told me I should not pity the man because that is the only time he could rest.
Why? Because they have a blackboard in their bedroom, and when you think the
man is sleeping, he is busy working away on something. Well, not many people
have blackboards in their bedroom. But this is to show the extent this man went
because he did not want to lose good ideas. The point is: there is no way you
can fly high without extreme dedication. Some of the ideas people get in
mathematics (especially some Field medalists), one sometimes wonder how they
invent them. And when the deep ideas come, they are peculiar to people who
invent them, and until they explain it to you, you may never understand it.
There are Professors at IAS Princeton (and some other places in the world) that
have permanent positions only to spend their time thinking, and these people are
producing extraordinary results. This is the result of extreme dedication and
talent.

**On his other contributions to education in general**:

There are about
23 of my publications that are not strictly on mathematics. They are on
science, technology, innovation, education and so on. I have also done some work in popularizing
science and mathematics.

**On his job as President of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS)**:

When you aspire
to be President of any organization, usually you tell people what your vision
and experiences are. People don’t just elect you as President. When I was the
President of African Mathematical Union (AMU) for nine years (1986-95), there
were several ideas I wanted to inject into the scientific realm, some of which
have to do with the four commissions I initiated – on History of mathematics,
Mathematics Education, Pan-African Mathematics Olympiad, and Women in Mathematics.
These commissions have now been replicated for Sciences – African Scientific
Heritage, Science education, Pan-African Science Olympiads, and Women in Science
in Africa – in the African Academy of Sciences. I also believe that Nigeria had
not been involved in the affairs of the AAS even though Nigeria has the largest
number of Fellows in the AAS. So, as AAS President, I have been injecting
Nigerians into one committee or the other – basically to bring in more
Nigerians into the activities of the academy. Also, the structure of AAS has
nine specialties and some of these specialties, for example, Health and Medicine,
are now big platforms supported by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, Welcome
Trust and United Kingdom DFID (Department of International Development). So
what I am doing now is to diversify our activities to other fundamental areas
in science that encompass many science areas. For example, the AAS/AMU symposium
on “Recent Research Advances in the Mathematical Sciences and Applications
together with a pre-symposium School” that we concluded recently at Abuja in
Nigeria. We are also building capacity in several research areas – stem cell
research, climate change, energy and others.

**On his advice to young people in science:**

I advise them to
be focused. They should find viable research projects that can distinguish them
as researchers. They should try to create a niche for themselves in research
and put their work in reputable international journals that will be able to
promote them and their research. And if they are invited to an International
conference, they should try and publish good articles in the proceedings so
that they could be invited next time.