Chukwuka Benjamin Okonjo


Born: 21 June 1928 in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria

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Chukwuka Okonjo spoke of his parents in [5]:-
My father used to be a teacher working with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) in Lagos. Though it was a normal thing; I was happy I had a father and mother who liked and did things for me and my younger ones. ... I went to school because my father was a teacher. He told me many things which other people didn't know. So I did those things and he saw to it that I got as much education as possible and it seemed that I did slightly better than other people who were around. He said I should further my education so that I would become a "big man."
For a version of the interview [5] see THIS LINK.

Okonjo began his education at the age of six at the government school in the town of his birth Ogwashi-Ukwu. In the following year, 1935, his family moved to Lagos and he went to the Ladi-Lak Institute, Yaba, Lagos. This school had only been founded one year earlier, on 4 June 1934, by the lawyer Rita Akaje Macaulay. It was a small primary school with only four pupils in its first year. Okonjo was at this school for three years until 1938 when he went to the government school, Lagos where he spent the academic year 1938-39.

In 1939 Okonjo began his secondary education at King's College, Yaba, Lagos. This school, established in 1909, aimed:-

... to produce students of profound character and academic distinction - men who would build an independent Nigeria.
In 1944 Okonjo moved from to the Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha where he spent the year 1944-45. This school, founded and run by the Church Mission Society, was established in 1925, nearly 70 years after the Society began its mission in the area. This long delay was due to the Society believing for a long time that its role was the propagation of Christianity for which secondary education was not necessary. By the time Okonjo attended the school, it had made great efforts to provide top quality science teaching in line with government policy. E D C Clark was principal at this time and had improved standards. Okonjo was awarded University of Cambridge Overseas School Certificate in 1945.

The Higher College, Yaba, had been founded in 1932 and the most brilliant pupils from the Dennis Memorial Grammar School went there to follow higher academic courses. Okonjo followed this route, attending Higher College, Yaba from 1946. This college, opened in January 1934 in Yaba, a town which has now become a suburb of Lagos, was a men's college which was affiliated with the University of London, England. The college trained science teachers and offered diplomas but students wanting higher education had to study correspondence courses and obtain degrees from the University of London.

Okonjo attended University College, Ibadan in 1948-49, but registered for correspondence courses with the University of London. University College, Ibadan, was established in 1948, the year Okonjo began his studies there, as a College of the University of London, being the first university to be established in Nigeria. It became an independent university, the University of Ibadan, in 1962 after the country gained its independence from Britain. Okonjo was awarded a Diploma in Education in 1949.

His studies as an external student of the University of London from 1948 to 1951 led to Okonjo being awarded a B.Sc. in Mathematics, Logic and Scientific Method in 1951. He had studied as a University of London external student while teaching at various schools in Nigeria. He had been a Tutor at Government College, Umuahia (1949-50), a Tutor at West Boys High School, Benin City (1950-51), and Principal of Ibadan Boys' Grammar School (1952-55). Nurudeen Olorun-Nimbe Adedipe writes in [4]:-

The dominant rationale, which made all the difference, was the personality of the then Principal, then Mr Chukwuka Okonjo (now Professor Okonjo) who, himself, lived practically with the boarders across the street. If he, a whole Principal, with King's College background, could live there, so could I! If he, a mathematician, as we were quickly informed, could wear shorts and be so admired, who was I to complain about the colour of the School shorts! If he could come all the way from Eastern Nigeria (as we then thought), who was I not to leave home for 111 miles away and only a 4-hour journey from Lagos! The spirit of adventure ... landed me at the Ibadan Boys' High School in January 1954. ... Under the able leadership of Principal Okonjo, we were made to, and we did, feel equal to the other two boys' secondary schools in Ibadan.
In 1955 Okonjo went to Germany on a German government scholarship to study at the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg, where he remained until 1961. He was awarded a vor-diplom Prüfung für Mathematiker (equivalent to a B.Sc. in mathematics) in 1957, a Diplom Mathematiker (equivalent to an M.Sc. in mathematics) in 1960, and a Diplom Volkswirt (equivalent to an M.Sc. in economics) in 1962. He moved to the University of Cologne, Germany in 1961 where he studied for a doctorate advised by Ewald Burger and Johann Pfanzagl.

Okonjo was awarded a Dr.rer.nat. (Mathematical Economics and Statistics) by the University of Cologne in 1962 for his thesis Über stationäre Null-Eins-Prozesse . Returning to Nigeria, he was appointed as a Lecturer at the University of Ibadan in 1962 and promoted to Senior Lecturer two years later. In 1963 he published On the teaching of economics in Nigeria. His Abstract reads as follows:-

Although the 1962-68 National Development Plan recognises the need for trained economists, relatively little thought has been given to the training of the desired economists, the content and mode of their education. In this article the education which the Nigerian would-be economists receive in the universities is examined and the assumptions which underlie their training are critically reviewed.
In the paper, Okonjo presents a plan for a four-year economics first degree. His next paper, Patterns of population growth (1964) has the following Abstract:-
It had been hoped that the results of the 1962 census would be available for analysis and would form the basis of this paper. As the census was annulled, this paper is therefore being presented without the many calculations, using the 1952-53 census as a base and the 1962 census as a signpost, as had been planned. The author has been forced to forego the better insight into the pattern of population growth in this country, which an analysis of the figures from the two censuses might have provided. The article has the following parts: I. A review of thought on population growth through the ages; II. The concepts of growth, population and simple growth; III. Population growth; IV. The logistic curve and the logistic pattern of population growth; V. Patterns arising from a combination of different levels of fertility and mortality; VI. The pattern of Nigerian population growth.
On 1 October 1960 Nigeria became independent. The country saw increasing unrest, however, which was intensified by elections in 1964 with widespread reports of electoral fraud. A military coup in 1966 was put down but resulted in the army taking over. The Biafran War broke out in July 1967, the coup being a significant factor in the outbreak of war which was fought between government forces and the state of Biafra which was seeking independence motivated by ethnic and religious differences. In 1967, as a result of the civil war, Okonjo moved to the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where he was appointed as a Senior Lecturer. He became a Brigadier in the Biafran Army and Head of the Biafran Organization of Freedom Fighters during the war. The war ended in January 1970 with defeat for the Biafrans. In 1971 he was promoted to Professor of Economics at the University of Nigeria. He continued to hold this position until 1974 when he began working for the United Nations.

We quote from [17], the Press Release issued when Okonjo was the recipient of the Ghana National Award in November 2016:-

Mr Okonjo ... is a renowned mathematician and economist who worked for a long time in Ghana as a United Nations staff and later as a consultant to the Ghanaian Government. He joined the United Nations System in 1974 as an official based in New York with his duty station at Accra, Ghana as the Director of the Regional Institute for Population Studies (RIPS) at the University of Ghana, Lego, Accra. He worked as a Professor of Economics at the University from 1974 to 1985 at a time the country was going through severe economic and political difficulties. During that time, Mr Okonjo installed the first African population information network popularly known as the Population Information and Documentation System for Africa valued at $350,000. He also created a twelve months Master of Arts (M.A.) programme, eighteen months Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) and thirty-six months Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees in Population Studies at the University. Over 437 post graduate students successfully completed their studies under his leadership. Professor Chukwuka Okonjo later left the United Nations in 1985 and worked as the Education Adviser to Ghana's Minister of Education and Culture where he was instrumental in conceptualizing and implementing several reforms in the structure and organization of the minister. Some of the reforms include reducing the length of pre-tertiary education from 17 to 12 years, increasing secondary school admission from 26,000 to 260,000 and growing primary school enrolment at a rate of 12 per cent per annum (twice the rate approved by the World Bank for Ghana).
In the interview [5] Okonjo explained that the UN asked the Ghana government to set up the Regional Institute for Population Studies but the government could not afford to do this so the UN agreed to set up the Institute on condition that the Ghana government would take over running it once it generated sufficient funding. Okonjo was asked to run the Institute but the Ghana government did not take over running it. Instead the UN continued to run it as the Department of Population Studies of the University of Ghana, located in the University but run as a United Nations Organisation.

For a version of the interview [5] see THIS LINK.

In 2000 Okonjo published The Quiet Revolution. On creating an information-age education system for Nigeria. The Preview states:-

The author, an experienced demographer, argues that abundant intellectual capital, high educational standards and first class work skills are the key to modernisation, characterised by economic growth with equity and diversity. After a detailed survey of the education system at all levels, he concludes that modernisation can be achieved in Nigeria through the total reconstruction of the education system which includes an increase in the time pupils spend at school, changes in the curriculum, use of teaching aids and development studies.
For further information about Okonjo's views see a version of the interview [5] at THIS LINK.

Okonjo married Kamene Ofunne and they had seven children. The most famous of these seven children is Ngozi Okonjo (born 13 June 1954) who married the neurosurgeon Ikemba Iweala and is now known as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She is an economist who worked for the World Bank for 25 years, reaching the No 2 position in the bank as the Managing Director, Operations. Her father said [5]:-

If it wasn't for the politics, she should have been President of the World Bank.
She also served two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria, the first 2003-2006 and the second 2011-2015.

In 2007 Okonjo became the Obi of Ogwashi Ukwu. The position of Obi is essentially that of a local king and is an hereditary position. This was disputed by another family who claimed that they had the right to succeed to the position of Obi of Ogwashi Ukwu. In [7] the dispute is summarised:-

... there has been a protracted kingship tussle over who occupies the throne between the Umudei ruling house represented by Izedunor lineage and the Umuobaha ruling house represented by Okonjo lineage. The state government had presented the staff of office to Chukwuka Okonjo, father of Nigeria's Minister of Finance as the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom following his victory at the lower courts. However, Okonjo's victory at the lower courts is being challenged by the Izedunor lineage at the Supreme Court and as such the police advised both parties to maintain the status quo until judgement was delivered.
On 10 December 2012 Okonjo's wife Kamene was kidnapped. Kamene Okonjo [15]:-
... the retired 82 year old professor of sociology and Queen mother of the Delta state town of Ogwashi Ukwu, was kidnapped Sunday by 10 armed men in her husband's palace when she came out to serve drinks to workers.
After being held for five days, with a ransom demanded for her release, Kamene Okonjo was released. It was not clear whether Okonjo had paid the ransom that had been demanded. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala [9]:-
... told the press that the kidnappers told her mother she had been kidnapped because of the minister's policies concerning oil subsidy payments.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala published the book Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The story behind the headlines (2018) in which she wrote that it:-
... is not the book I intended to write. But when I sat down with my laptop, what came out was an account of my mother's ordeal at the hand of kidnappers and their demand that, for her to be released, I had to resign my position as Finance Minister and leave Nigeria. I followed this account with notes about my encounters with corruption that is pervasive within a certain segment of Nigerian government and society. It was my husband, Ikemba, who insisted that "you have to put all this together into something that people can read. You owe it to your mother." I am grateful to him for his insistence and his pressure on me to write a few lines every day until the book was done. The book is dedicated to my mother, Kamene Okonjo, and my father Chukwuka Okonjo, because they - especially my mother - are the inspiration and instigation for it. I owe them too much to capture here, but I am grateful to God that they are alive and of sound mind and can read the book.
Okonjo recieved the National Service Award in June 1982 for the support he gave to the National Service Scheme of the Ghanaian Government. He received the Ghana National Award in 2016 "in recognition of his contributions to the country's education system."

Finally, let us record that Okonjo gives his hobbies as gardening and dancing.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson


List of References (20 books/articles)

Mathematicians born in the same country

Additional Material in MacTutor

  1. Reminiscences with Prof Okonjo
  2. Entry in the list of African men PhDs

Other Web sites
  1. Mathematical Genealogy Project
  2. MathSciNet Author profile

Main Index Biographies index

JOC/EFR May 2019
Copyright information
School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

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