Exit of Professor Cyril Agodi Onwumechili (20 January 1932 – 16 May 2023)

And so, the news of the passing away of Professor Cyril Agodi Onwumechili came to us with great impact such as in sudden commencement of a geomagnetic storm. The exit of this great and all-round scientist has further depleted the rank of distinguished scientists that have ever come out of Africa. I was privileged to meet him in person for the first time in 1992 when I was a Masters student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was my mentor and the leader of our space research group who in his characteristic ways of developing different aspects of space science that introduced me to him. He brought me under the supervision of the erudite scholar as he wanted me to learn the science of the geomagnetic phenomena from one of the best in the world. It has since paid off. The day I showed the first results from our plots of sequential variability of geomagnetic field to Prof Onwumechili in 1992 in his makeshift lodge opposite IMT Enugu, where I often visit him, was a day I will never forget in my life. He sighted the hand-drawn plots and while holding the graph sheets in his hands, danced with joy as if he was holding a baby. Really, a baby was born that very day. I am one of his scientific sons. I had privilege of being in his country home at Inyi, Enugu state, South Eastern part of Nigeria. We were also with him when he was honoured with the honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2000. He did not only teach me science, he gave me some lessons that border on university administration and culture as well. I found him highly inspiring, truthful, simple, humble, intelligent, creative, brilliant and humane.


Professor Cyril Agodi Onwumechili, born on 20 January 1932, hailed from Inyi (Enugu State, South Eastern part of Nigeria). He was educated at the King’s College, Lagos 1944-1949; University College, Ibadan, (then a University of London affiliated College), 1949-1957; International Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Argonne National Laboratory, operated by the University of Chicago, U S A, 1960. He held the following qualifications: B. Sc. General (London) in Pure and Applied Mathematics and Physics, 1953; B. Sc. Special (London) in Physics, 1954; Ph.D. (London) in Physics, 1958; Diploma in Administration and Operation of Nuclear Facilities, 1960.

He also possessed honorary Doctor of Science (Hon. D.Sc.) of the following Institutions: University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), December, 1977; Enugu State University of Science & Technology, May, 1992; and University of Nigeria, Nsukka, April 2001.

 Professor Onwumechili worked as Professor at the following Universities: University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1958 – 1966; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria, 1966 – 1978; University of Alaska, Fairbanks, U S A (as Visiting Professor for one year), 1972; and University College of the University of Wales, Cardiff, U K (as Professor on Sabbatical for one year), 1987 –1988. Has served in the following capacities: Head of Department of Physics, for three separate tenures in University of Ibadan and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. 1965-1966, 1966-1970, 1976-1978; Dean of the Faculty of Science, for four separate tenures in University of Ibadan and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. 1965-1966, 1970-1971, 1973-1976, 1978; Vice Chancellor, University of Ife, Nigeria, Jan. 1979 – Dec. 1982; (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) and Vice Chancellor (President), Anambra State University of Technology, Enugu, Nigeria, Jan. 1983 – Dec. 1986 (when it consisted of Campuses that became the current Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu; and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; and it gave birth to Campuses that became the current Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki and College of Medicine, Nnewi).
As a global scientist, he participated actively in the International Geophysical Year IGY (1957-1958). In his career, he established two and directed four geomagnetic observatories. He was a brilliant researcher who directed several research projects financed nationally and internationally; and supervised several successful Masters and Doctoral students. He was the first Editor-in-Chief of the Nigerian Journal of Science. He attended well over 100 international conferences and read papers in most of them.

Onwumechili published extensively for many decades from the late 1950s to early 2000s, his literary articles dominated the space of geomagnetic phenomena with emphasis on ‘equatorial electrojet’.
His name is synonymous with equatorial electrojet EEJ, a current that flows at an altitude of about 106 kilometres and within a narrow strip around the magnetic equator. His contributions have increased our understanding of EEJ.
His continuous current distribution model enabled the estimation of the parameters of EEJ, counter equatorial electrojet CEJ, Solar Quiet daily Sq, and counter Solar Quiet daily CSq ionospheric currents from ground- and satellite/rocket data.

This Onwumechili model which was first published in Nigerian Journal of Science in 1965 and later re-published in 1967 (in Onwumechili C.A. 1967. Geomagnetic Variations in the Equatorial Zone. Chapter III-2, Volume 1, 83 pp, in: Physics of Geomagnetic Phenomena, Edited by Matsushita S. and Campbell W.H., published by Academic Press, New York.) has continued to be relevant in contemporary research work. Global scientists are utilizing the models to generate parameters of EEJ in American, Indian, Africa and East Asian sectors. His 632-paged treatise titled “The Equatorial Electrojet”, published by Gordon & Breach Science Publishers, Amsterdam, has become the bible of ‘Equatorial Electrojet”. The book is available from Taylor and Francis Group, United Kingdom.

He also published some good books on University Administration including the ‘Cost Effectiveness and Efficiency in African Universities: Experience in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife in Nigeria’, a 227-paged book sponsored by Netherlands Government in 1993, under the Association of African Universities, Accra, Ghana. His biography titled “Coming A Long Way” was published in 2010 by King Printing Company, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA.

He served Nigeria in several capacities and made meaningful contributions to the national development. He was a member of the Governing Councils of the following Institutions: University of Ibadan, 1967-1968; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1970-1973 and 1974-1976; Advanced College of Education, Uyo, 1975-1976; University of Ife, 1979-1982; and Anambra State University of Technology, Enugu, 1980-1983 and 1983-1986. He was a member of the following bodies: National Science Research Council of Nigeria, 1973-1976; National Science and Technology Development Agency of Nigeria, 1977-1980; and Panel of Experts that formulated guidelines for a comprehensive and integrated energy policy for Nigeria, 1984. He was a member of the following Commissions: Sixth Form Commission of the National Universities Commission to plan the introduction of Sixth Forms in Nigeria, 1966; Chairman of a Panel of Scientists to formulate and advise the East Central State Government on Agricultural Research, 1971; Visitation Panel commissioned by the Governor of the Western Region of Nigeria to assess the progress, and formulate plans for the future of University of Ife, 1974; Nigerian Energy Commission, 1989-1995; Board Member of National Universities Commission 2002 – 2005. He was the chairman of the following Governing Boards and Councils of the following institutions: PRODA, a Federal Industrial R and D Projects Institute, 1974-1978; Interim Board of Adeyemi (Advanced) College of Education, Ondo, 1981-1982; the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Ibadan, 1979-1982; Industrial Development Centre, Enugu, 1983-1984; and the Anambra State University of Technology, Enugu, 1984-1985.

He was involved in several committee works of many international scientific organisations and activities, some of which are: Commonwealth Consultative Committee on Space Research, 1961-1966; Treasurer, West African Science Association 1961-1965; Manager, Journal of West African Science Association 1962-1967; International IQSY Committee 1963-1967, of International Council of Scientific Unions, as representative of Africa; Several Committees of International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy; International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics; International Scientific Programmes Committee for the International Symposia on Equatorial Aeronomy, 1972-1990 and 1993-2000.

Also at global level, he served in the following capacities: Chairman, Panel of Experts from France, Nigeria, Philippines, Sweden, USSR and Venezuela to advise Secretary General of United Nations on the Plans and Nuclear Capability of South Africa, New York, July-August, 1980; member of the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), 1980-1982; member of International Panel of Experts (ACSTD) advising the United Nations on Science and Technology for Development, 1981-1983; member of Consultative Panels of Experts to advise UNESCO on Higher Education, 1983 – 1984; member of United Nations CSTD Panel of Specialists on Human Resources Development for Planning, Management and Implementation of Science and Technology in Developing Countries, 1983; Vice President of the Association of African Universities, 1984-1989; Chairman of the Management Committee of UNESCO’s African Network of Scientific and Technological Institutions (ANSTI), 1985-1989; Chairman of International Commission on Developing Countries for IAGA Sciences, 1991-1995; Chairman, Scientific Committee of “Study Programme on Higher Education Management in Africa” by Association of African Universities, 1993 to 2002.

Professor Onwumechili was widely travelled and has sojourned in well over 100 cities in all the continents of the world. Of scientific interest were his numerous scientific tours which include the commissioned extensive tour of the following: Educational and nuclear installations in Midwestern and Western USA,1960; Educational and geophysical institutions in Germany, 1964; Nuclear and some agricultural institutions in France, 1979; and Nuclear reactor installations in USSR, 1974; and all Institutes on Space Research in India, 1991. He was also, at different times, a guest scientist to the following Academies of Sciences: Royal Society of Great Britain, London, 1979; French Academy of Sciences, Paris, 1979; Italian Academy of Sciences, Rome, 1982; Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, 1982; and Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, 1986.

Professor Onwumechili’s scientific exploits were indeed universal and beyond boundaries. In 1964, he was Commissioned by UNESCO to give a series of lectures exploring the appropriate areas of investigation in preparation for the inauguration of the Equatorial Rocket Launching Site at Thumba in Southern India. In 1972, he was a consultant for three months to the Institute for Space Research (INPE), of the National Research Council of Brazil, Sao Jose dos Campos, to formulate and introduce projects, and train some Brazilians for research in a certain area of Geophysics. In 1987, he was a consultant for ten weeks to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, to formulate and submit a report on the establishment of African Energy Commission (ANEC). In 1988, He was at the Commonwealth Science Council, London, to prepare draft guidelines on Technology Assessment titled, “Technology Assessment: Anticipating the Consequences of Technological Choices”.

He was a consultant to the Association of African Universities, in various periods of 1989-1991, on a World Bank sponsored project, “Study on Cost Effectiveness and Efficiency in African Universities”, with a view to providing guidelines for the development of policies on Higher Education in Africa. Between May and June, 1992, he served as a consultant to United Nations Economic Commission for Africa on “Experiences in the acquisition and transfer of nuclear science and technology as applied to agricultural production, food processing and preservation”. In 1993, he was a consultant to the Association of African Universities, on “Cost Effectiveness and Efficiency in African Universities, Phase II”, sponsored by Netherlands Government. From 1993 to 2002 he led a project on Study Programme on Higher Education Management in Africa” as a consultant for the Association of African Universities.

Onwumechili was the 2nd President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, 1979-1981. Ownumechili, a Chartered Physicist, held fellowships of several scientific organisations. He was a Foundation Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science (FAS) (elected 1977), Science Association of Nigeria (FSAN) (elected 1974), the Nigerian Institute of Physics (FNIP) (elected 1993), and the African Geophysical Society (FAGS) (elected 2014). He was elected as a Fellow of British Institute of Physics (F.Inst.P) in 1969; Fellow of New York Academy of Sciences, 1982; Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences (FAAS), 1987; and Fellow of Third World Academy of Sciences, 1989; among others. As far back as 1968, Professor Onwumechili’s biography was listed in “World Who’s Who in Science”, by Marquis Publications. Thereafter, he has been listed in more than ten “Who’s Whos” including: “The International Who’s Who”, first in 1986-1987 by Europa Publications.

The reality is here with us that our distinguished Professor Cyrli Agodi Onwumechili passed away on the 16th May 2023. He came in a solstice and left in another solstice. With his exit, Africa and indeed the whole word has lost a colossus. He lived a fulfilled life molding men and institutions all over the globe: He was a two-time former Vice Chancellor at two different Universities, a professor of professors, a former president of Nigerian Academy of Science, a professor without border, a global scientist, an embodiment of empowerment, foremost African geomagnetic physicist, an epitome of excellence, a mentor, a flavor of honour, an academic par excellence, an excellent administrator, an all-round scientist, a pioneer nuclear scientist, a pioneer physicist, a space scientist of repute. He started so early in life, bagged two Bachelor degrees in Mathematics and Physics before the age of 22; obtained his PhD degree at the age of 26 in 1958; and became a full Professor at the age of 30 in 1962. It is worthy of note that Onwumechili and one other person were the only two first Nigerian holders of Bachelor of Science in Physics to be ever produced by the now University of Ibadan in 1954. Though out of this world, we shall continue to live with him as we quote his published works in literatures and bear him in our hearts. Then it is fulfilled of him, that “people like Professor Onwumechili don’t die like others; rather they live on in the hearts of those that they have touched positively”. Hence, he has become immortal of a sort. His relay batons are in several active hands. His labour has not been in vain. Just like many others who have benefited from him in life, I owe him eternal gratitude in many ways. Sleep on erudite Professor. Adieu Professor Cyril Agodi Onwumechili.

Professor Babatunde Rabiu,
United Nations African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education – English
Obafemi Awolowo University Campus, Ile Ife, Nigeria
Email: tunderabiu2@gmail.com

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