In our society, it is unarguable that there abound countless heroes whose praises are not sung quite enough. One of such heroes is the man who demystified Physics and has, through that singular act, raised loads of Nigerian scientists. How much appreciation will be proportionate to the immense contribution of this erudite scholar and indefatigable scientist to education in Nigeria?
Prof Pius Nwankwo Okeke is an Professor Emeritus at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His humble beginning further establishes the notion that one’s background does not have to put one’s back to the ground.
Born on October 30, 1941 to the family of a bricklayer father, Mr Daniel Ndubuisi Okeke, and petty trader mother, Mrs Beatrice Ugobe Okeke, both of Oraukwu in Idemili Local Government Area, Anambra State, P. N. Okeke did not let his parents’ status define his future.
He had his primary education and obtained his First School Leaving Certificate in Oraukwu. From a tender age, he discovered his love for mathematics. As a matter of fact, he did not just love mathematics; he solved mathematical problems with ease and also excelled in the subject.
It would be indeed surprising to know that although the highly celebrated Physicist attended a private secondary school, there were no offers for science subjects – chemistry and physics. Thus, after his secondary school education at Washington Memorial Grammar School in 1962, he left Oraukwu for Lagos, not giving up on his aspiration to be a scientist. In Lagos, he attended Emergency Science School and took all the science subjects. He sat for O level GCE and then A level GCE, passing with distinction in Pure and Applied Mathematics and Physics.
In 1965, he got admitted to the University of Lagos to study Physics. Being the best student in the entire Faculty of Science, he was awarded a faculty scholarship to study from BSc level up to PhD level in any country of the world.
As fate ran its course, Pius Okeke transferred his admission to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), due to the Nigerian Civil War. There, he graduated as a Physicist with a Second Class Upper Division in 1971. Subsequently, in 1972, he was appointed by UNN as a Junior Research Fellow.
Pius Okeke proceeded with his studies, and by 1975, he was awarded a PhD Degree, being the first person to have a Doctorate in the University of Nigeria. He further went on to do a Postdoctoral research in 1979, under the supervision of Professor, M. J. Rees, an Astronomer at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Besides his enormous contributions to the field of Physics, Astronomy, Space Science, and Manpower Development, one prominent achievement of Prof Pius Nwankwo Okeke that will certainly outlive him is the writing of the secondary school Physics textbook. Through this simplified text, many Nigerian students have had their love for the sciences further deepened and have gone on to become professionals in their chosen scientific fields.
Other achievements of Prof Okeke include:
He has produced over 70 Professors and Associate Professors of Space Science.
Over 70% of Nigerian Astronomers are products of Prof Okeke.
He is the author of over 40 Physics and Astronomy books.
Prof Okeke is the African recipient of the 2007 UN/NASA Award for “Contributions to the Development of Astronomy in Africa”.
He is the Director at African Regional Centre for Space Weather Research and he has set up a 25 metre radio telescope in collaboration with China.
He set up a network of 20 automatic weather stations. These weather stations operate through wireless telemetry to monitor the Nigerian Climate and to also study Radio Propagation.
Prof P. N. Okeke is regarded as an international scholar. He has the following awards to his credit: Senior Research Fellow, National Astronomical Observatory, Tokyo (1993); External Board Member, South African National Science Foundation (1994-2000); Visiting Scientist, University of Tuebingen, Germany (1995); Visiting Professor, South African Astronomical Observatory (1996); Visiting Scientist, Harvard Smithsonian Centre, USA (1997); Fellow, Royal Astronomical Society, London; Fellow, Planetary and Radio Science; Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Science; Fellow, African Academy of Science; Fellow, International Academy of Astronautics; Fellow, Royal Astronomical society England; Fellow, Nigerian Astronomical Society;Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Physics; Fellow of IAA; and United Nations Consultant for Space Science in Africa.
The first Director of NARSDA Centre for Basic Space Science, Nsukka/Abuja(2006 –2014); now serving as a consultant & Member of Technical Advisory board
He was recently awarded Professor Emeritus at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), for his immense contributions to the academics and the field of sciences at large.
He is currently working on revolutionizing the Physics textbook for tertiary institutions under the umbrella of Physics Writers Series Creation (PWSC).
Scholarly traits run in the family of Prof P. N. Okeke. His wife, Prof F. N. Okeke, is a Physicist too. She won the L’Oreal Laureate Award– Woman in Science – presented by UNESCO in 2013.
They have six children – 4 men and 2 women (1 Doctor, 3 Pharmacists, 1 Engineer, and 1 Physicist).
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