OBITUARY: Grace Alele-Williams, renowned pioneer and mathematician who tackled the cult as UNIBEN VC

During the month dedicated to celebrating women and encouraging the younger generation to dream beyond societal stereotypes, Nigeria has lost one of its prime examples of what women can achieve with unwavering determination.

Grace Alele-Williams, Nigeria’s foremost mathematician, has had a resounding impact in opening doors of opportunity for generations of women in Nigerian academia.

Alele-Williams was a woman of many firsts. She held the torch as the first female vice-chancellor of a Nigerian university, the first Nigerian woman to earn a doctorate and the first Nigerian female professor of mathematics education.

She not only broke records, but was also a champion of causes to help women break the glass ceiling in education.

The renowned educator breathed her last on Friday after spending 89 years on earth. She was blessed with five children and several grandchildren.


She was born Grace Awani Alele on December 16, 1932 in Warri, Delta State as the last of five children. She began her education at the government school in Warri before moving to Queen’s College, Lagos, where she graduated in 1949. That same year, Grace was admitted to the University of Ibadan and was said to have been one of only 10 women among the university’s 400 students at the time. She earned an honors degree in mathematics from 1954 and started his way to become a pedagogue. As an undergraduate, Grace would have taught math in her hometown during school vacations.

After graduating from the University of Ibadan, Grace was appointed as a Mathematics Teacher at Queen’s School, Ede, Osun State, where she taught mathematics to students for three years before moving to the University of Vermont, where she earned a master’s degree in education. in 1959.


Grace was admitted to the University of Chicago, Illinois, for doctoral studies after winning a graduate scholarship. With a dissertation titled “Dynamics of Education in the Birth of a New Nation: A Case Study of Nigeria,” Grace earned a PhD in Mathematics Education in March 1963, becoming the first Nigerian woman to earn a Ph.D.

In December of the same year, Grace married Babatunde Williams, a political scientist.


Alele-Williams with AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina

Three years after joining UNILAG, in 1968, Alele-Williams published a paper entitled “The Entebbe Mathematics Project” – the research was the final edition of the Entebbe Mathematics series, which includes 67 volumes of texts that cover teaching for primary and secondary education.

“The Entebbe Mathematics Series has sometimes been dubbed American, but this ignores the valuable contribution of African participants, who strongly feel the African origin of the series,” the newspaper read.

“Furthermore, the entire exercise provided an international forum for teaching and learning, unparalleled in the annals of education.

“Africans, working with Europeans and Americans, have produced mathematics texts good enough to be used anywhere in the world. All parties involved have drawn mutual benefits and the project has clearly contributed to international understanding.

The article was followed by the book ‘Modern Mathematics Handbook for Teachers’ in 1974 – the same year she became the first female teacher of mathematics education in Nigeria.

She was appointed Chair of the Bendel State Curriculum Review Committee from 1973 for 1979, after which she served as Chairman of the Lagos State Curriculum Review Committee and the Lagos State Examinations Council.


Alele-Williams crossed an important threshold on the Nigerian university scene in 1985 when she was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin – she became the first woman to serve as Vice-Chancellor of a Nigerian university.

Recounting his historic appointment years later, Alele-Williams said: ‘The excitement I felt on receiving the news from Professor Jubril Aminu (then Education Minister) had more to do with seeing them. in terms of opening up the field for women than anything else. other.”

“I saw it as an opportunity to show that women too could rise to the occasion. Also, I knew how heavy the expectations of women were. They were eager to see how things turned out and I wasn’t going to let them down,” she added.

“Notice that those who appointed me felt that I was qualified for this. It was therefore not only a question of wanting to satisfy the aspirations of women. It wasn’t that simple. »

Talk to Vanguard about their experience tackling the cult as UNIBEN VC, she said, “I’ve taken care of it.”


Alele-Williams was a strong advocate for bridging the education gap between the two sexes. During the 10 years she headed the Institute of Education at the University of Lagos, she introduced certificate courses which were particularly important in training older women to become primary school teachers. She was also very concerned about improving access for African female students to take more interest in science and technology related subjects.

At a 2004 lecture on gender dignity at Lagos State University, Alele-William said, “As long as we celebrate a female vice-chancellor because she is the first or a female judge in leader because she’s the first, so we didn’t arrive. We look forward to the time when we will have many women in such positions, and we will celebrate so many of them. »


Mahmood Yakubu, President of INEC, with the late Alele-Williams

Alele-Williams served on the board of Chevron-Texaco, Nigeria. She was also a Fellow of the Mathematical Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the Nigerian Academy of Education (NAE). A recipient of several awards, she was also the Chairperson of the African Mathematical Union Commission for Women in Mathematics (AMUCWMA).

In 2014, she received the Centennial Award during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan..


In an interview with Channels Television in August 2014, Alele-Williams also spoke about the extra effort women put into their jobs.

“We women, when we get to a job, like to be thorough. And many of the women who get past that stage are very thorough, thrifty, particularly vigorous and directed, because they have to do it to progress,” she said.

“Once you’re in that line you tend to do extremely well and since the men have the common tie we don’t have that. We have to do extra work to be seen and elected even at lower levels. And very often many of us are multitasking for such positions and we go out and get noted.

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