Between Mailafia, Stephen Hawking And Quest For African Einstein (II)


Jibo Nura

In 1895, Einstein planned to enroll at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich, but this plan failed because of his inability to pass the entrance examination. He managed, however, to pass the exam the next year and was graduated from the school in 1900. But formal study was so disagreeable to him that he did practically nothing for a year after graduation. He stayed in Zurich and supported himself by teaching part time because he was unable to secure a regular academic post. In 1901 he became a Swiss citizen and also published his first scientific paper. The next year, he secured a probationary position at the Swiss patent office in Bern. There, he developed several important friendships that lasted throughout his life. Also during this period, he married a fellow student from his Zurich days.

The year 1905 was Einstein's annus mirabilis; while still working at the patent office, he published five papers in the Annalen der Physik that proved to be revolutionary. Three of the papers—among the greatest in the history of science—were, in the words of J. Robert Oppenheimer, "paralyzingly beautiful." One of them outlined Einstein's special theory of relativity, on the basis of which he derived later in the same year the well-known formula commonly referred to as Einstein’s law, expressing the precise quantitative relationship between a particle's energy and mass. It was that mass and energy convertibility that scientists are today using to make bombs. For example, the U.S government under the presidency of Frank D. Roosevelt embarked on Manhattan bomb experiment, which resulted in bombs that were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945. But Einstein did not participate in the Manhattan bomb project. Instead, he advocated international law as the only way to prevent aggression between nations. Another of his publications was an important paper on Brownian motion, and then the one that dealt with the photoelectric effect. In this work, Einstein introduced a fundamental concept of quantum physics—namely, that of quanta of light energy, which were later called photons. It was actually for his work on the photoelectric effect (wave particle duality) —not for the relativity theory—that he received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1922. The wave particle duality eventually served as the theoretical basis for the 20th and 21st century advances in television, lasers, and semiconductors.

Ironically, it was on the basis of Einstein's work on relativity that the University of Bern had earlier rejected him when he applied for a place in the faculty of science. Only in 1908, after such great physicists as Max Planck and H. A. Lorentz had recognized his genius, was he given the position at Bern. After that, academic appointments came in sequentially.

In 1909, Einstein was appointed to a professorship at the university at Zurich; in 1911, to a senior professorship at the German university in Prague; and in 1912, again a position at Zurich. It was there, in 1913, that he published his first paper on the theory of general relativity. This work was brought to completion in 1916, when Einstein was a professor at the Prussian Academy and director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics in Berlin. Another great physicist, J. J. Thompson, called Einstein's work on the theory of general relativity "perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of human thought." Since then Einstein was widely regarded by friends and close associates as the greatest scientist of all times.

Born on 14th March 1879 at Ulm in Germany, he was so much loved by his parents who always carried him along on a “honeymoon”. His family, Jewish by descent, was freethinking and liberal in terms of religion. Einstein’s childhood was quite miserable, because he was slow in learning to speak and was therefore far from being fluent even at age nine. His Dad, Hermann actually feared that he might be subnormal, because he used to perform woefully in lessons other than mathematics. In fact, going to school for Einstein was really a matter of total hatred. He preferred to stay home and play violin with friends from the inner neighborhoods- just the way Obadiah Mailafia had wanted to hang out and milk cow with his friend, Lawal.

Because of this intense dislike for school, Einstein gradually developed high penchant for violin play even though he did well in mathematics and science. He was, however, encouraged by two of his uncles with fascination in mathematics and science, while his mother, Pauline Koch arranged for him to study the violin, an interest that she thought would remain with her beloved son all his life. To her, the “violin child” would eventually maintain a lifelong interest in music, and hoped that one day her son would become a professional violinist.

This same episode reminds me of a childhood friend in primary four who was also not performing and paying much attention to class lessons; neither was he interested in what our arithmetic teacher, Malama Hanne was teaching. All he does then was playing with his fingers by folding them across. One day, I curiously asked on our way home the rationale behind folding his fingers and at the same time soliloquizing. Poor Ibrahim took his time to explain how he used his fingers as “timesing” and multiplying factors the same way numbers are multiplied in multiplication tables that were usually found at the back of our primary school exercise books. He explained every single finger of his and what it stands for; starting from the small one down to the thumb, which according to him the small, middle and the last fingers on his hands stand for 6, 8 and 10 units of ten digits each. And if you can fold the rest of the fingers by leaving the 6th and 7th ones  unfolded on both hands as ten digits each, taking their additions in tenth from both hands, you have fourty digits out of the four unfolded fingers all together. And if you multiply the folded ones i.e. the remaining three fingers on one hand, and the three on the other, you get nine as single units. And fourty plus nine what do you get, asked Ibrahim. I then waited for quite some time just to get my multiplication done carefully and later said Arba’in da tara i.e. fourty nine. He laughably said “bakwai sau bakwai ba arba’in da tara ba kenan?” meaning: seven times seven is it not fourty nine?

I therefore started wondering what kind of lad was poor but clever Ibrahim.

I know I could be more hard working than my puzzled friend, but the truth is, most of us in the class were not wise enough to understand the multiplication “finger tips” the way he did. One could also be a bit older than the careless looking youngster, but certainly not as smart and arithmetical as him. Before we know what was happening, he had already known and familiarized himself with the multiplication tables from 1 to 12 up head. Since then I started calling him Sarkin lissafi-king of arithmetic. But to date, I never know where to trace or find my arithmetical friend. And I always cherish that very moment as often as I recall. Ibrahim, a genius of a sort was really missed, but his memories still lingers on my mind.

Immediately after publishing his theory of general relativity, Einstein started working out its cosmological implications, including the idea that the cosmos is, on the whole, dynamic and expanding. Back from the many travels that ensued from worldwide fame, Einstein began his last great project, the search for a unified field theory. He worked on this until the last day of his life, but the project remained unfinished. Also, by the late 1920s, the main focus of interest in physics had shifted paradigm to quantum mechanics, which proved extremely fertile in application but which lacked, as far as Einstein was concerned, philosophical rigour and aesthetic beauty. He could never accept as complete and final the probabilistic interpretation of cosmic processes offered by quantum physics, and thus he was gradually estranged from the mainstream in his field.

Einstein was always a loner, often pursuing unfashionable paths. As he, in his well-known essay "Science and Religion," wrote, "It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely." He could not accept the probabilistic interpretation of nature because of his "deep conviction of the rationality of the universe." He called this conviction a "cosmic religious feeling" and regarded it as the "strongest and noblest motive for scientific research." His intuitive feeling for this rational order was offended by quantum mechanics.

Hence, Sir Albert in an attempts at unraveling the mysteries of God’s creation, tried to establish a down-to-earth pragmatic relationship between man, God and the universe. He therefore drew a cogent explanation of human being as a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. Human being according to Sir Albert experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.

Indeed, Albert’s explanation takes recipe in one of the Koranic verses where God in His infinite mercy said “Lakad kalaq- al- insan fi kabad”, meaning God Has surely created man in hardship. Therefore, our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. It is not so much that man is a herd animal, said Freud, but that he is a horde animal led by a divine entity called God.

 We shall therefore seek solace in the words of Dalai Lama i.e. “we humans are social beings that come into the world as the result of others' actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others' activities”. For him, life is a quid pro quo of a sort-it’s a matter of give and take. And for this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.

I therefore understand that to put Africa right in order, we must first put our nations in order; to put the nations in order, we must first put our families in order; to put the families in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right and pursue our goals with deep commitment and inherent analytical mind. As Friedman Edwin rightly said “the colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change”. Change does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the change undertaker is ready to initiate, comprehend and embrace the message in its entirety. But I know people can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choices words lose their power when they are used to overpower.

Indeed, the truth is: our finest moments, especially in Nigeria are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our furrow state and start searching for different ways or truer answers. And I think the likes of Muktar Gadanya-the 29 year old Member of the Federal Republic (MFR), are surely the kind of people that I hope Professor Stephen Hawking will one day meet because he is doing Nigeria great. I understand that this young chap is perhaps the youngest MFR award recipient that I have known so far in the history of our dear country. What is quite interesting about this promising man is his innocent outlook. One hardly notices him in a crowd. All I could remember that very day he was conferred with the membership of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, my mind captured his picture well as the person that mostly sits by my side inside the AKTH Internet Café where we usually spend hours surfing the Net. But unknowingly that the MFR recipient has over fifty national and international awards added to his cap. Because of his dedication to community service, he prefers to stay in the rural suburb of Kano city with the poverty stricken and endemically disease prone rural populace and practice his profession. He perhaps chose to practice in a remote rural area because he came from the village.

In fact, the good news about Gadanya is his original work in community medicine, especially on HIV/AIDS. It has fetched him a sponsorship to attend a summer course at University of Maastricht, Netherland on HIV prevention. His dedication to fighting the Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) is quite astounding. That is why when he applied to University of Sheffield for a lower course (MPH) admission, the University admission board agreed to offer him a place straight away in the Doctor of Public Health (DPH) programme that will eventually gives him a PhD. As a registrar in Public Health at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Gadanya, I understand was the overall best graduating medical student in his class in 2004. He is also a recipient of International Youth Foundation/ Nokia Youth Action Net Award for designing community programme on HIV/AIDS for Baltimore, U.S.A. And as destiny will have it, one can never tell whether this gentleman will be amongst the ones to make breakthroughs in providing a panacea for the protracted monster and world no. 1 killer disease.

All we need to do as a people is to wish him well in his promising journey the way African American Benjamin Solomon Carson made his mark by successfully performing what can arguably be called the most complex operation in medical history: the separation of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head! Carson’s operation plan we were told, involved stopping the two German infant’s hearts, draining their blood supply and then restoring circulation only after they were separated. The operation lasted for 24 hours with only 1 hour allowed to separate the twins’ tangled blood vessels i.e. after their hearts had been stopped and their blood drained. Once involved in the surgery, he got to understand that the twin’s blood vessels were tangled than anticipated. Within fourty minutes time frame, this genius of a sort rebuilt the blood vessels in each twins head, making new veins out of heart tissue, and patched part of their heads where they had been joined. Today, Patrick and Benjamin are no longer Siamese twins, but just twins because of the God-sent Ben Carson. Throughout his career his life has been filled with operations that doctors believed could not be successfully done.

In fact, the internationally acclaimed Neurosurgeon could not have been known as an expert in hemispherectomies where half the brain is removed to stop seizures as in Rassmussen’s encephalitis. He would not have been discovered if he had surrendered to life challenges because of his poor family background. His Dad married his Mum at the age of 28, then Carson’s Mum was just thirteen; she married to escape a difficult home situation. Both Carson and his brother Curtis had difficult moments in school, and their low grades fanned their racial prejudice against them in one of the world’s greatest preachers of liberty and freedom, but racially prejudiced country. Benjamin Carson’s Mum took charge of their education by giving them support that eventually raised their hopes, dreams and aspiration. Since then, Carson began to love books and enjoy learning even when he continued to face racial prejudice. There was a time when his teacher scolds his class for allowing him, a “black” student to win an achievement award. These early difficulties left Carson with a violent temper as a young man.

Because of the Whites’ racial segregation that was meted on him, he nearly killed a friend in an argument by stabbing him in the stomach, but lucky Carson escaped murder because the boy was wearing a heavy belt. It is this same scenario that often makes me feel disgruntled whenever I thought of another African Medical Genius who was reduced to nothing other than a pensioner that went through life; sometimes posing as a cleaner and sometimes as a gardener. Very few people would recognize his name were it to be thrown as an answer in a jeopardy face-off. He never had the benefit of formal education beyond the basic primary stages. Yet this untutored, obscure, shy, modest and retired man should have been lionized, celebrated and rewarded for his ingenuity in one of the most spectacular feats of modern medicine and scientific achievements.

In 1967, Dr. Christian Bernerd was feted with a gazillion accolades globally for the feat of pulling off the first human heart transplant in the world-an honour that was supposed to go to someone who should have shared the major limelight, but did not as a result of the racial segregation meted on him in one of the most apartheid countries in Africa.

This man full of promise was once invited by South African Dr. Bernerd to join his surgical team that was to operate on the body of a young woman who was brought unconscious to the hospital. She had been hit by a car on her way to buy a cake in one of the streets of Cape Town, Southern Africa. Her case was very serious and was therefore thought dead, but her heart was still thumping.

However, the rules of the hospital did not allow any “black” person to participate in the treatment of any white person as entrenched in the apartheid laws. In view of this therefore, Bernerd’s invitation of a “black” man into his team was heavily criticized, and so there was a sharp reaction on the black man’s entry into Denise Darvall’s rescue operation. But as destiny had it, the man was eventually let into the operation theatre after being warned not to reveal  to anybody that he has been allowed access into the “whites’ operating theatre”. The hospital management made their position known to the surgical team that “we are allowing this black man to join this operation, but he must know that he is black and that is the blood of the white. Nobody must know what he is doing”.

Ironically, the black man that was initially denied entry gave all of them the greatest shocker they had never expected during the operation, because he was too good to be labeled as “black”, which is always reduced to nothing by the Whites so-called. In fact, the British conservative weekly, the Economist once carried the news in one of its reports that “this black man, with his steady dexterous hands and razor-sharp mind, was simply too good at the delicate, bloody work of organ transplantation”. Therefore, the “black” man with the help of Bernerd, prepared the woman and made her became the world’s first recipient of a transplanted human heart. Indeed, the skilled “black” hands plucked the “White” heart from the White corps, and for hours, hosed every trace of blood from it, replacing it with the donor’s own. The heart was then set pumping again with electrodes.

But instead of this “black” genius to be honoured, Dr. Bernerd, became over night, the most celebrated doctor that performed the first heart transplant in the world!

Born in the village of Ngacangane in the windswept Eastern Cape, had been pulled out of school at 14, when his family could no longer afford it. His life seemed likely to be cattle-herding, barefoot and in sheep’s skin, like many of his contemporaries. Indeed, his childhood upbringing was eventfully similar with the way I was brought up between the age of 10 and 13. Then, going out for early cattle-rearing with brother Ibrahim was the perfect thing I loved doing so much. When Dad decided to leave me under Grandpa in a nearby village close to my hometown, I was busy hanging around with my Bull that I named Kuri. I used to rear Kuri from morning till dawn; surviving on raw grinded millet mixed with fresh milk cow just the way our honourable Cardiac Surgeon was brought up in Ngacangane.

Instead of this genius to give up job and concentrate on cattle-herding, he hitch-hiked to Cape Town to find work and managed to land a job tending lawns and rolling tennis courts at the University of Cape Town Medical School.

Unsung, though not forgotten, Hamilton Naki never learned the techniques of performing operations formally; as he puts it “I stole with my eyes”. But he also became an expert at liver transplant, which is by far trickier than heart transplantation. Hamilton instructed several thousand trainee surgeons whom mostly are now heads of several Surgery Departments.

Sadly, as a Gardener, he drew pension of 760 rand about $275, a month. He could only pay for one of his five children to study up to high school, and recognition with the Order of Majungubwe and an honorary degree in medicine from the University of Cape Town, came only a few years before his death, and long after South Africa’s return to “black rule”.

What is therefore left for Africans is to rise to the challenge of this colour segregation that is always symbolized and associated with bad omen. It is a well known fact that if you wronged a White man, for instance, he/she might wish to list you into his/her “Black book or record”. Likewise, if you are in a military setting or any armed forces outfit, especially in Nigeria, once you are a hardened criminal, you hardly escape going into the “Black Maria” (now Black Jeep). Also it is common particularly in Nigeria that anytime there is light off in the night, you hear people shouting from all angles “blackout”!

We shall therefore try as much as possible to seek redress globally by accepting to be called simply Africans but not “Blacks”. The so-called Black Americans in the United States have already started doing the battle for us. They are no longer allowing themselves to be addressed or called as Blacks but African Americans instead.

I therefore look forward confidently to the day when all mankind will work for a living with no thought to his separateness as Negro, Jew, Italian, Black, White or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into the full realization of the Africa’s dream- a dream yet unfulfilled.

For Nigeria, it is categorically clear that our politicians so-called, cannot lead the country to progress; neither can they offer anything that will be of benefit to Nigerians. I understand that the so-called Nigerian leaders, intellectuals and elites are the most selfish citizens in Africa, because of their entitlement mentality, lack of respect for ingenuity and dignity of human person and neglect for culture as a critical factor to progress. What we have today are charades of people who preach rule of law, but in the end operate favouritism.


To be continued.


Nura works with MOBAT Quants’ Consultants and Project Managers, Yankari Holiday Resort and Safari Project, Bauchi State. 08063234772, E-mail: