Over the years, there’s been an intensive campaign on the recognition of women as individuals who are capable of standing out rather than been seen as wives or concubines. A lot of women right advocacy groups have sprung up with one message, ‘women can do it too’. In Africa in general and Nigeria in particular, women have had to fight against the myopic religious and cultural biases that they are to be seen but not heard. The determination to prove many wrong and change the narrative has motivated many women to take up challenges and break barriers. These women have now become beacons of hope and pinnacles of strength to the weaker ladies who gradually take a stand and strive to reach their potentials. Across all fields, the presence of women is now massively felt and their impacts are recognized globally. Among these numerous women who are now pacesetters is Professor Grace Awani Alele-Williams.

Born on December 16, 1932 in Warri, present day Delta State, Mrs Grace Awani Alele’s childhood was one that required special attention from her parents as a result of her incessant ill-health. As the last child with four older siblings, Mrs Grace health hindered her from relating with other children in the society. Falling sick often and with a cough that seem not to go away, Mrs. Grace had only her siblings to interact with and learn from. Losing her dad while she was still very little, her mother, who had a passion for education, ensured that all her children were educated.  This motherly desire prompted little grace to be enrolled as a pupil of the Roman Mission School, Warri-Sapele in 1939. Determined not to allow her beloved daughter to be indoctrinated in the catholic school, Mrs. Grace’s mother changed Grace’s school so much that little grace had attended three different schools before she was 10years of age.

With a burning desire to further her education, knowing the pride that is attached to gaining admission into Government owned schools, Mrs. Grace sat and passed the entrance examination as well as the interviews expected and subsequently gained admission into Queen’s college, Lagos. Gaining admission at age 18 into the University college, Ibadan which is now known as University of Ibadan, she became part of the second set of students at the college. Some of her colleagues later rose to prominence and became renowned in their respective fields. These colleagues of hers include Chinua Achebe, Bola Ige amongst others. During her period as a student of the college, there were 400 students with only ten being females. Determined not to be pushed aside, though a student of Mathematics, she picked up interest in politics and joined a school political party. Studying Mathematics was great fun and engaged her mind so much that she didn’t have much time for leisure.

After completing her undergraduate education, Mrs grace then became a mathematics master at Queen’s School, Ede Osun State, from 1954 until 1957 and then got an assistance from the Nigerian Head of Service to attend the University of Vermont as a graduate assistant.  Few years down the line, with United states government attention shifting heavily to education Grace Alele got the opportunity to pick her choice school. With the options of University of Chicago, Columbia, or Harvard, she went for the University of Chicago, and in 1963 obtained her Ph.D. in mathematics education with a dissertation on “Dynamics of Education in The Birth of a New Nation: Case Study of Nigeria”.

Returning to Nigeria to contribute her quota in the Education sector and with a burning desire to ensure that mathematics syllabus of schools were reviewed to level up to that of Europe, she became a staff of the University of Lagos in 1965 and then became the first female professor of mathematics education in 1974 before leaving the institution in 1985 to become the Vice Chancellor of University of Benin, hence, becoming the first female Vice chancellor in Nigeria, a position she held till 1991. Seeing these achievements of hers as a motivation for women, her utmost desire was for women to occupy more top positions in the country and then stand out even amongst her male counterpart. As a hardworking and successful academician, Professor Alele-Williams has won many awards.  Among her numerous honors include Order of the Niger 1987, Fellow of the Mathematical Association of Nigeria and of the Nigerian Academy of Education, Merit Award Winner of Bendel State in Nigeria; and Regional Vice President for Africa of the Third World Organization for Women in Science” amongst many others.

Due to her works and determination to push the campaign for ‘girl child education’, Professor Grace Alele willaims was honoured with the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) by the Nigerian government and later received the honour of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR). She was also a recipient of the Nigerian Centenary Award in February 2014. Holding the position of Director of many international organizations, Mrs grace has been an influential and vocal personality in the clamour for girl child education. Blessed with 5 children and 10 grandchildren as at 2017, Professor Grace has shown that through focus and hard work, no height is impossible to reach, especially for women.


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