Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe: Nigerian academic mentor and researcher who made an impact
Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, who died earlier this year, was the former president of the Nigeria Academy of Science. He was also a former vice-chancellor of both the University of Lagos and of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike.
He pioneered the study of stochastic methods in mechanics and the development of computer algorithms, applying Martingale Concepts to the control of nonlinear dynamical systems. That is: how to monitor and control seemingly random events in engineering via computer programmes.
He was also a great mentor who made a notable contribution to deepening the pool of Nigerian academia and professionals.
Ibidapo-Obe was born in Ile-Ife, Osun State, southwest Nigeria, on July 5, 1949. He studied at the University of Lagos from 1968 to 1971, when he was awarded a first-class Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. He was the overall best graduating student of his year.
In 1972 he obtained a Master of Mathematics degree in applied mathematics with a minor in computer science. In 1976 he was awarded a doctorate in civil engineering with specialisation in applied mechanics and systems. Both were from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The university also gave him its postdoctoral Distinction Award Fellowship.
He was appointed a professor in 1983. He published over 100 papers in reputable international journals. His contributions were in the areas of control and information systems. Most of his work was applicable to urban transportation, water resources, biomedics and robotics.
A great mentor
Ibidapo-Obe was a great mentor. I first encountered him in 1987 when he taught my undergraduate set in engineering statistics and computing at the University of Lagos. He was the youngest professor then, and noticeably brilliant. He didn’t spend much time in class. But he imparted more than many others via his practical examples while explaining mathematical concepts.
He later became my PhD supervisor when I switched from civil engineering to engineering analysis. Under his leadership, we co-authored numerous research publications. Along with the late Professor Vincent Olunloyo, he founded the Department of Systems Engineering at the University of Lagos.
He arranged international exchanges for scholars like myself. Later he supported our efforts to establish the Nigerian Young Academy in 2010.
His contribution to deepening the pool of Nigerian academia also manifested in his chairmanship of the Presidential Brain Drain Panel in 1988. The body was charged with identifying and suggesting solutions to academics leaving Nigeria.
Passion for Africa
Ibidapo-Obe was one of the initiators of the first Africa-US conference on manufacturing technology at Abuja in 1993.
In December 2016, he was appointed a member of the African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies by the then chairperson of the African Union Commission. There, his passion for sustaining Africa’s indigenous knowledge was demonstrated vividly. He believed in effectively harnessing local knowledge in addressing continental challenges.
He was a fellow of numerous scientific and professional bodies. This included the World Academy of Sciences, which he served with merit.
Ibidapo-Obe was the first managing director of University of Lagos Consult, a consultancy outfit of the University of Lagos. It boosted internally generated revenue and enhanced the town and gown linkages.
Later, when he was vice-chancellor, the university established the first university radio station in Nigeria. It also introduced an annual research conference and fair, drawing participants from around the world.
He was a chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities. He twice won the best vice-chancellor’s prize (in 2004 and 2005) for the Nigerian University Systems.
The University of Lagos honoured him as Distinguished Professor in 2012. He retired in 2019 as the longest serving academic in the university’s history. He was scheduled to be honoured as Professor Emeritus at the forthcoming convocation ceremonies.
Ibidapo-Obe acknowledged that he would retire without any worry after his department produced the best graduating student in the university in 2017.
It is also gratifying that the department of systems engineering is now staffed by professors that he trained personally. It won several awards and attained global acclaim for research excellence in his lifetime.
Fittingly too, we were able to produce and present a Festschrift in his honour in February 2020.
Such an excellent scholar and administrator will be sorely missed, though his many legacies live on.
*The author, Olumuyiwa Asaolu is Associate Professor of Systems Engineering, University of Lagos
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