Dr. Adetunji Adeniyan, a math lecturer in University of Lagos, who earned his PhD after 25 years, shares his insights with The Interview:
For many years now, there has been no groundbreaking research in a Nigerian university. Why?
Your record is incorrect. For example, I can recall vividly some mathematical research by late Professor Ayodele Awojobi in engineering.
Also, I can remember the research of Professor Chike Obi. He even taught me. Some of his findings are still being used today in mechanical fimbriation.
Why aren’t we hearing much about the researches you have mentioned?
People outside the country are aware of these researches. Because we usually have research base whereby you can check on what someone has done before.
It is not easy for one to start a research work from beginning. Someone must have done something on it. Perhaps you have heard of Isaac Newton and many others.
People cannot go and start what he has done. He has started the work, people can now go and improve on what he has done – the theory and applications.
So that is the essence of research. It doesn’t mean that we are not trying. Nigerians are really trying. We are having breakthrough in research.
Most of them are not in Nigeria. That’s another thing. Some left the country when the country became so hard and they are being useful to all these European countries.
Nigerians are trying. Even those of us who are still around, out of nothing, we still do something. If they are rating Nigerian universities outside the first 1000 or that, it is based of the facilities not because of research.
How can we make our environment more conducive for researchers to thrive since no country will transfer technology to us?
I think it is leadership. People are now aware. We are trying to make the federal and state government aware to cooperate with us and sponsor some of our research work so that we can achieve.
At times, we send people to local industries, asking them to come so that we can know their problems and assist. We don’t have another country.
China and India went through some of our problems at some point. We need the corporation of government, industries and even rich individuals who love this country to cooperate with us so that we can forget about importation.
Importation will always drain our economy. It is natural, it would drain our economy.
Nigerians are trying. Even those of us who are still around, out of nothing, we still do something. If they are rating Nigerian universities outside the first 1000 or that, it is based of the facilities not because of research
How can the synergy between industry and academia be achieved?
We can achieve it. Don’t forget we have so much personnel and expert in Nigeria. That is why Oyinbo countries don’t hesitate to steal our personnel.
If I am not so much dedicated here, I would have left. I would’ve left. But I have stayed so long that where am I going to.
This is the only country I have. So, I don’t believe we cannot do it. We can do it if we cooperate.
What should researchers do to make their work relevant in Nigeria?
I think it is important very for researchers to link up with industries to know what is happening. Not in engineering alone.
Even those in commercial sector need to go to the market to see what is happening. What are the difficulties?
What are people passing through and how to solve the problems? That is the essence of research to make things easier.
Math is a nightmare to many Nigerians. How can it be made more interesting to young people?
Thank you for this question. It is a very good question. I think the problem is not a problem of today. It is a problem of many years back.
It is the notion of people that mathematics is difficult. In my days in school, there used to be one additional mathematics, and because of this notion that name use to scare them, they now call it hard math.
Perhaps, that was why they changed it to further mathematics. Like I said, it is not a problem of today. The problem is bad teachers.
Bad teachers impart bad knowledge of the subject. Something happened to my child at the University of Lagos Staff School.
A teacher marked my child’s paper wrong. I find time to explain things to my child at home. My child was worried. He corrected the teacher; the teacher did not listen.
The following day I went to the school, I told the head teacher I wanted to see the teacher. They asked why, I said they should not bother because I do not want to embarrass the teacher.
I went to the teacher and called her aside and explained that my child was correct and perhaps she marked my child paper out of ignorance.
I then taught her and told her to find time to be coming to my office for me to be teaching her as well.
Now, supposing I am not good at mathematics, what would happen to the child? I am just telling you, it is the teachers.
Some of them are not competent. This is why government should be sending them for further training regularly.
Something should be done to arrest this situation we have found ourselves out of neglect. It is general. I don’t want to blame it on the government
What in your opinion can Nigerian mathematicians do to increase their visibility on the world stage?
I think we are trying to do that. I am part of that.
There is Mathematics Association of Nigeria (MAN) and National Mathematical Society of Nigeria (NMSN).
We also have National Mathematic Centre Abuja. We are liaising. This thing we are talking about is giving us concern.
Something should be done to arrest this situation we have found ourselves out of neglect. It is general. I don’t want to blame it on the government.
It affects everyone. Because as a parent, you know 2 + 2 = 4. If somebody now marks your child wrong even when he or she gets the answer, can’t you create time for your child at home?
You are looking for money but at the end of the day that money would be useless if you fail to train your child.
That is why the advanced countries don’t joke with math. To improve the visibility of our mathematicians at the global stage, government should make room for training for teachers in secondary and primary schools.
If I had changed my field, I would have got a PhD between three – five years. But PhD is not just PhD. I wanted something that is relevant
You earned a PhD after 25 years. Would you blame the delay on the system?
Not the system. If you have read that my story, that is the truth.
Somebody like me who made grade 1 in secondary school, grade 1 in those days was like first class.
Not many people could do that. If somebody like that now spends many years to get a PhD you know something must be wrong along the line.
What was wrong was that the country was down in that period. The chips were down and all the Oyinbos teaching us then left.
And my area of study was a special area. People who knew my ability counseled me to change to another area of study, but I refused.
That’s why some of them say Adeniyan is too stubborn but at the end of the day I achieved what I wanted. My specialty is fluid dynamics.
Fluid itself occupies about 99 percent of the universe. So, why should I drop it to study something that is abstract? So that’s another reason.
You see I spent many years because I didn’t want to change my field.
If I had changed my field, I would have got a PhD between three – five years. But PhD is not just PhD. I wanted something that is relevant. And my field not many are there now. In those days.
The situation that young people are in these days is a blessing. It’s computer age. If a student is serious you don’t have to running helter-skelter to get textbooks or data to use
What unique contribution(s) did your PhD make in the field of mathematics?
The contribution is in the field of Nano technology. Where temperature is very high you can use Nano influence to regulate it.
Also, when an aeroplane is in flight and the temperature is becoming too high, the device can give them signal. A mathematical report can now be put into censor by engineers.
So that when they sense that, they can go back. Or if a rocket is going into the space, the temperature could be very high.
It can be sprayed with some Nano fluid. Another contribution is if for example you have a thermal station, like Egbin, thermal energy can be converted into electrical energy.
But along the line there must be temperature threshold. When the temperature threshold is about to be reached there should something to sense it.
Mathematically we would have done that and computerise it. That when it is getting to this level, you stop the machine or stop production. And it will do that. That is part of my contribution.
If I had the power, I would improve allocation to education to ensure that students learn in good environment and facilities will be given to students and to researchers
How would you describe your experience with students in the university environment?
Well, my experience with students, not in Unilag alone is that they are not very much devoted to their studies unlike in our own days . And it’s not in Unilag alone.Two or three years ago, I went for my sabbatical leave at Covenant University, Ota.
I have some friends in other universities and we use to discuss generally. I think it’s a general problem.
The situation that young people are in these days is a blessing. It’s computer age. If a student is serious you don’t have to running helter-skelter to get textbooks or data to use.
With a quick browse you have what you need unlike in our days when you need to hide yourself in a library and be checking.
And in most cases, you will not even find what you want. But now there is nothing you want in your field that you cannot find.
Nowadays, majority of student are not serious. Just a few of the students are serious. That’s my feeling about them. But if they are serious; things will work very well because they are in a better learning environment.
If you could influence policies, what would your priorities be for education?
I think I will give priority to education. ASUU has been saying this for long. If a child is well educated things will go better.
So, if I had the power, I would improve allocation to education to ensure that students learn in good environment and facilities would be given to students and to researchers.
Also, I would improve the relationship between industry and the academia.