Saturday, 19 January 2013
PROFESSOR M.A. KENKU @ 70: A WORTHY MODEL FOR YOUNG PEOPLE – By Prince Joshua Oyeniyi (As published in the BusinessDay Newspaper on Tuesday, 15th January, 2012)
If there is a hall of fame for academics who have made their mark in the field of learning and research, professor Monsuru Akangbe Kenku is unarguably a distinguished member of that caste. This celebrated mathematician and administrator, who recently clocked seventy years, is a quintessence of value and excellence. He is one who has proved his mettle in the ivory towers as well as in government circle.
Born on the fourteenth of December, 1942 to Alhaji Nojiu Buraimoh Kenku and Alhaja Nimota Aduke Kenku, Professor Kenku briefly attended Ireti Primary School, then went on to Lagos Government School in 1953. In 1956, he was admitted into Ahmadiyyah College, Agege before taking his school certificate examination in 1960. He later gained admission into the premier university in 1961, where four years later, he graduated with a first class degree in mathematics. That same year, Kenku got admitted into Balloil College, Oxford for his doctorate degree which he completed three years later and then joined the payroll of the University of Ibadan. He rose through the hierarchies to become an associate professor in1981. He was, however, appointed a full professor of mathematics in 1983 in the University of Lagos.
In a chat with this soft spoken man, he reminisced that studying mathematics was one of the most beautiful decisions he ever made. In his words, “I was lucky to have passed through some very good teachers in secondary school and then, mathematics was my best subject. These factors motivated me to go into mathematics as a career in the university.” This goes to underscore the all-important role of competent teachers in the early stages of education. Our educational institutions are long bereft of astute a professionals whose calling is teaching and who have got the content to deliver.
In 1983, Professor Kenku was appointed commissioner of works and transport in Lagos, serving for three and half years before returning to lecturing. He recounts, “When I was a commissioner with Lagos state, I am sure that the government realised that with my mathematical background, I could help in solving problems that would not have been so without the luxury of that background. I remember a particular incident when there scarcity of essential commodities such as food items and the federal government started the distribution of essential commodities to the populace. I, as one of the commissioners of Lagos state at that time, had the duty of supervising the distribution in some of the local governments. So we paid visits to various centres where the distribution was being carried out. When I got to one particular place at Somolu, I realised that the queuing system was problematic and there was no way that enough people would be served through the system that was in operation. So, I quickly changed the system such that we had more service points and outlets and things improved rapidly.” From his experience, it is an obvious fact that the imperativeness of developing creative ingenuity by students cannot be overemphasized as this would transform them from being victims to being problem solvers when they get into the workforce.
Besides these, Professor Kenku had some stints in Berkeley, California and the Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton, where he made contributions to the field of number theory, particularly arithmetic of elliptic curves. He became an associate fellow of the Institute in ‘80s which led him to participate in sponsoring an insurance company, a group that invested in Crusaders Insurance. The group eventually made him the chairman of Crusaders Insurance, a position he has held from 1993 till date whilst working as a lecturer in the University of Lagos. As a mathematician, ‘Baba’, as his students fondly call him, is a man of intellectual ascendancy and mental immensity. In fact, he did his doctoral research in an area that is cut-off from International world of research and was still able to make an impact owing largely to tenacity of purpose.
One striking virtue that you would leave with from a visit to this iconic mathematician is the humility. He is a man of lowliness despite his many national and international achievements. Professor Kenku would never raise his shoulders neither use his position to intimidate his colleagues and juniors. What a lesson to our current generation of young people. The holy book says “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses” but by imparting lives positively.
Academically, administratively and morally, this septuagenarian professor is an embodiment of values and virtue is as well as a worthy model for those who aspire to be great. Remember, “If you are too big to serve, then you are too big smaller.