Deborah Ajakaiye: The First Female Professor of Physics In Africa

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Prof Deborah Ajakaiye is a distinguished Nigerian geophysicist whose work in geophysics has played an important role in mining in Nigeria. She is also the first female professor of Physics in Africa.

It is a puzzle though why this feat has gone unnoticed or perhaps no longer celebrated. Except you stumble on her name on the internet or have a personal encounter with her, you may never have heard of her.

Prof Deborah Ajakaiye’s achievement as the first female professor in Physics is indeed exceptional. In our world today we come across women doing great things in the science and tech world. However, back in the day, such was not common.

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She shattered the glass ceiling by actually venturing into the world of science. Coupled with the core conservative nature of the land of her birth, Deborah subtly achieved a great height that still stuns the world till date.

Birth and Family Background

Prof. Deborah Ajakaiye was born in 1940, in Plateau State capital, Jos, in the Northern region of Nigeria. She was the fifth of sixth children. Her parents where firm believers in gender equality and the power of education. She recalls back then how gender played zero roles in the domestic chores among her siblings. She was the 5th of 6 children.

In her later years, she would identify this trait as a motivating factor that gave her the psychological freedom to live out her potentials without any form of societal restrictions.

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In an interview with NTA, she encouraged modern day parents not to be gender conscious in choosing toys for their children. She is of the opinion that behaviors like this sends a message to the children’s psyche at that early stage.

Prof Deborah Ajakaiye in a chat with Nigeria's Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu
Prof Deborah Ajakaiye in a chat with Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu

At a tender age, Deborah had exhibited brilliance in mathematics. With the noble intention of contributing to the society, she opted for geophysics.

Education/Career

Prof. Deborah Ajakaiye obtained her undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Ibadan in 1962. She furthered her education and received a master’s degree at the University of Birmingham in England, and by 1970 received her Ph.D. in geophysics from Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. Originally interested in mathematics, Ajakaiye says she chose to pursue geophysics because she believed it could help her country.

With such brilliance, it was no surprise she ended up in the academic field. She was retained at Ahmadu Bello University and later also taught at the University of Jos where she served as the dean of natural sciences.

Ajakaiye became the first female professor of physics in Africa in 1980.

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Retirement/Philanthropy

By 1991 she retired from academic duties and gave focus to her charity Organizations, Christian Care for Widows, Widowers, the Aged and Orphans, (CCWA). Through this non-religious and non-political platform, Prof. Deborah caters to the all-round welfare- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually- of the target group.

CCWA marked its 25th anniversary on October 12-14, 2017 in Abuja, Nigeria with the theme, Think Positively. It has more than 30, 000 registered members from the target groups. CCWA is present in 25 states of the country with 509 centers covering all the 6 geopolitical zones.

So far, the organization has awarded scholarships to 663 orphans; trained 1600 widows in various skills; granted 822 micro loans to registered widows; and conducted medicals on 884 widows across the zones as well as organized health talks to over 2500 widows in HIV/Aids- Awareness campaign amongst several others.

Prof Deborah Ajakaiye’s Achievements

The Nigerian geophysicist played an important role in mining in Nigeria. She made notable contributions to the socio-economic development of Nigeria through hydrocarbon discoveries.

Courtesy of her work in geovisualization, Ajakaiye proffered ways to locate both mineral deposits and groundwater in Nigeria.

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For that, she was honored and awarded by The Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society. Ajakaiye was also the first black African to be named a fellow of the Geological Society of London.

Amongst other awards, Prof. Ajakaiye was among the 50 Nigerian women who were honored with a special award by the First Lady, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan, on September 29, 2010, at the 50th independence Award for Women of Distinction.

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She has written many books and made presentations at several lectures. Prof. Deborah Ajakaiye co-authored the book, Course Manual & Atlas of Structural Styles on Reflection Profiles from the Niger Delta, with A. W. Bally.

The book has become an international reference material on seismic studies and research on the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria and similar deltas worldwide.

Ajakaiye served as a member of the Advisory Council of AAPG from 2001 to 2004, and was elected for AAPG’s Africa Region President (2005 – 2007). She was the first and only African to win the AAPG award in 2011.

It is of a worthy interest to know that Deborah Ajakaiye is currently leading NNPC’s quest to increase the nation’s crude oil reserves through the geophysical exploration of the inland sedimentary basins including the Chad Basin, Gongola/Yola Basin, Benue trough, Anambra Basin, Bida Basin, Sokoto Basin and the Dahomey Basin.


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Chila Andrew Aondofa

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2 thoughts on “Deborah Ajakaiye: The First Female Professor of Physics In Africa

  • January 26, 2020 at 12:40 am
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    Wow! I feel motivated by Prof Deborah Ajakaiye’s story. Such stories of people doing brilliant things in science and tech makes me believe that there’s still hope for Nigeria.

  • January 31, 2020 at 6:36 pm
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    Till date her works are being referenced in researches related to geophysics in Nigeria. I referenced her in my Ph.D thesis carried out in OAU 2019. I respect her brilliance in a field dominated mostly by men.

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