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Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun at 80: Celebrating an Intellectually Energetic Octogenarian

 

By Toyin Falola

Positive and impactful energy is difficult to contain. It envelops everything within range like an aura, letting its positivity wash over them. In a world filled with gloom and uncertainty, it helps to surround oneself with positive energy. Thus, it is no surprise that people whose philosophy and interpersonal relations are marked by positive energy attract the very best of humanity.

I have known the Ekiti-born famed professor of history for decades, and I have always seen him as a positive energy that attracts the best humans because he also belongs to the clan of the few good humans. My affiliations with Professor Akinjide number more than one. Aside from being students of life and full-blooded Yoruba, we are both people who love, live and breathe history. Our ties even go beyond that, some of which might not grace these pages.

If one were to describe Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun by a cluster of words, it would be: “An impactful intellectual who radiates positive energy.” These words truly embody who Prof. Osuntokun is and what he stands for — he blazed trails right from the genesis of his education at Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, all through Ibadan Grammar School, at the University of Ibadan, and throughout all the colleges and universities where he pursued advanced studies. One of the most intellectually profound products of the Ibadan School of History, he was a historian before he resumed his scholarship at the University of Ibadan in 1963, where he became a university scholar and one of the few people selected for an exchange program at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. From the start of his career, he displayed the intellectual material he is made of, enjoying an early and illustrious career in academia. The roots of his academic sojourn are founded in the University of Ibadan, leading up to a Ph.D. at the Dalhousie University in Canada, and eventually being named Emeritus Professor at two of Nigeria’s prestigious universities — the University of Lagos and Redeemer’s University.

Professor Osuntokun’s academic career started from his days as an assistant lecturer at the University of Western Ontario in Canada around the 1970s. I was a high school teacher during the period. By the time I resumed as a lecturer at Ife in the 1980s, Prof. Osuntokun had moved to the University of Lagos, where he was already an associate professor. He was generous to drive me in his nice Volvo car to attend a conference on federalism in Abuja. The energy was impressive. We branched into his home town of Okemesi, where he told me his family history. I visited him in his house in Lagos, where his gracious wife hosted me to a good dinner. I also visited him in his house at Ibadan, where I once met his distinguished brother, the medical doctor who once served as the provost of the University College Hospital (UCH).

Before his time as an associate professor at the University of Lagos, the famed historian had some stints at the University of West Indies and the University of Ibadan, all in the early to mid-1970s. It is a bit surprising — and I do not think I have ever mentioned it or asked him about it during any of our discussions — that he had a very short stint at his alma mater, the University of Ibadan.

You could describe Professor Osuntokun as the “come rain, come sunshine academic.” Throughout the nation’s turbulent Second Republic, he remained committed to the academic side of the country, helping to solidify it with his employment at some of the country’s universities. During the thick of the tumult of the embryonic Second Republic and the military’s recapturing of sovereignty in the early 1980s, he remained an academic, resuming at the University of Maiduguri. He became a professor of history during the second bout of military regimes in the country. He hosted the annual Congress of the Historical Society of Nigeria, and it became my first time visiting Maiduguri. Since then, Professor Osuntokun has shared his academic career between the University of Lagos and Redeemer’s University, attaining the position of emeritus professor at both. The Okemesi legend’s career as an academic is presently fixated at the Redeemer’s University.

However, anyone who thinks academia is all there is or could ever be to Professor Osuntokun could not have made a false statement. Intellectualism and excellence have defined the life and career of the seasoned academic. For Professor Osuntokun, prowess, excellence, and expertise are like a second skin; norms he acquired from the cradle as part of his family’s cultural orientation back in Okemesi. Service to humanity brings us the utmost fulfilment. The Osuntokuns of Okemesi are characterized by an inclination to serve humanity through public service, and Professor Osuntokun played his path as proof of the saying. The average Nigerian in the early 70s, 80s, and 90s would know of the other members of the Osuntokun family and how they worked for the betterment of society. Although demised, the astute scholar’s siblings were well-known names in their respective career fields. As a result, he knew no other way than to become an excellent and outstanding person in his chosen field.

Prof. Osuntokun also enjoyed a successful, albeit turbulent, period of public service as a one-time ambassador of the Nigerian state. He served to the best of his ability in this role and had his unwavering stance throughout the upheaval. Political instability and threats from military leaders, among many other things, marked Prof. Osuntokun’s service to the Nigerian state, but he never shied away from committing to help the country stabilize and remain solid. His energetic and impactful life also teaches us to be focused on our goals and altruistic in pursuing our achievements. Thus, even when many want to deter us or when those we are supposed to collaborate with consistently aim to frustrate us, we would think nothing of their calculated evil actions and focus on the end goal — the greater good.

In addition to his services to the Nigerian state, Professor Osuntokun has held key positions in organizations and companies. His cumulative experience as an administrator would span up to thirty years. He has held several administrative posts, including as the Director of the National University Commission, Washington office, and a member of the council at the University of Maiduguri. Professor Osuntokun served on the administrative and academic sides of the university system. He is undoubtedly an excellent and world-class lecturer to his past and current students. Beyond that, he also proved his worth as an exceptional and result-driven administrator in several capacities, both within and outside university campuses.

When a man’s life is synonymous with greatness, he attracts honour and recognition like sugar cubes attract ants. Professor Osuntokun is the recipient of several awards, fellowships, and recognitions from the Nigerian Academy of Letters fellowship, the Officer of the Order of Niger award (one of the most coveted in Nigeria), and the Historical Society of Nigeria fellowship, among several other recognitions and awards.

What can we say about a learned man if there is no way to quantify how knowledgeable he is? And how shall we quantify that? How many books has he written? How many books is he featured in? How many research papers has he published? And if we were to ask these questions of Prof. Osuntokun, we would be surprised at the vastness of our discovery. Through his writings, he shows the diversity and intellectual prowess. I have read several of his works, from his op-eds in the dailies to his papers.

Prof. Osuntokun, whom I greatly adore and hold in the highest regard, will be 80 years old on April 26, 2022. I am glad that the historian has spent this many years on earth, and I send him best wishes. Two periods in one’s life are most likely the best — the 20s and wise years of old age, and the ingenious academic is currently in one of those periods. He lives to revel in the achievements of his lifelong dream and the joy that his now extended family must continue to inspire in him.

Happy Birthday, Intellectually Profound Positive Energy!

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