By Toyin Falola
For many people, age 70 is a point of celebration. They invite several individuals to felicitate with them for what they have been through, what they have achieved, and all that has happened in seven decades. It is worth the celebration. Casting one’s mind back to every single moment and drawing out several memories, journeys, and events, you understand that 70 years no be beans. Judging by my life, how I have strived all through, how I have worked 18 hours a day since I was a teenager, and looking at the falls, achievements, publications, and many feats I have reached, I was not surprised at the various attempts to celebrate the day.
Although I did not want any form of celebration, I received several offers from well-wishers and those who love me, recognizing my contributions in many ways. Alas! I decided to celebrate that age in sober reflection on the state of the nation and the continent. All my works have been geared towards portraying and propagating ideals of Pan-Africanism and the upliftment of Nigerian society. It is sad to have tried to nurture those ideals and still see that the nation and the continent have not adjusted enough to reflect what I and others have proposed. Then one has to ask, why celebrate? I have endeavoured to reiterate my positions and views in “A Meditation on Nothingness.” However, as several people told me, one could not have lived that long and done that much and expect that one’s celebrations would be personal. Unknowingly, my families, friends, mentees, well-wishers, and those whose paths had crossed mine had other plans.
They respected my desire for a solemn reflection; I guess that was why it was not made a physical surprise party. However, what was organized was better than a party; it was an online gathering of loved ones that allowed people from different locations to celebrate what I had done. The perspective was still quite rooted in love for the nation, Africa, and the human race. I was surprised, it was a fantastic idea, and I appreciate it. It was a gathering that witnessed several efforts towards developing the nation and Africa, and those that have strived to ensure a definitive transformation in how we do things. I was happy to see major players in society and people who have emphasized the need to wake up to the consciousness of a better nation and continent so that we will not disappear into the fogs of confusion.
It was an honour to see the commitment of “Baba Obasanjo” to attend and be part of the celebration. One of the first things that caught my attention was his patience when all technical issues were resolved to allow more people across different platforms to join. President Obasanjo waited until he was admitted, and I can assure you that he was very active during major parts of the celebration. Bringing him on such a celebration, especially when my initial refusal to celebrate was due to the state of the nation and continent, raises our consciousness of what we should be prepared for. The nation has reacted to the letter of President Olusegun Obasanjo for mostly political reasons, but that was not the only letter he wrote. He wrote me one in his unique epistolary style. I cannot agree more with the letter’s contents, as he recognizes the state of things and what comes with being 70. As he said, it is “an age of reckoning” and a period for sober reflection.
President Obasanjo, you will understand that after all we have done, there are still thousands of things left undone in reviving the Nigeria that produced us. You would agree with me that the youth and the nation do not find life comfortable the way it was largely so in the past, save for the technological advancement that has made life easier. But the economy is in shambles, and the rates of poverty and unemployment are increasing. So, I can relate to the philosophies behind Obasanjo’s message; they go with the mood, and I really appreciate it. Baba, taking time off your busy schedule and involvement to celebrate me is humbling.
While we, as scholars, can claim to be spectators and mere critics on political issues, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, respective former Governor and First Lady of Ekiti state, have proven to be major gladiators in the country’s political arena. As a scholar, I have always been careful when relating with politicians because, intentionally or unintentionally, their antecedents can either make or break you. Well, I will not appreciate them as politicians here but will direct you to how they have shown themselves to be good people and reflected their passions for nation-building – something we can all agree on. Taking precious time out during the celebration for almost the entire duration, despite being in a political season, is not something one can get just easily. The same goes for Michael Vickers and Ambassador Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu, with whom I have developed a good relationship since our paths crossed in The Hague. These are not the only political personalities who have shown their love and paid tributes to me, as others have made various releases, posts, and remarks, including President Thabo Mbeki, Omoyele Sowore, and others.
Academia has been my forte, and I decided since I was a teenager never to chase fame or wealth but to teach and be diligent about it. My over 40 years of teaching experience at the college level have resulted in something everyone celebrates today. This is why I take the various expressions of my seniors, colleagues, and mentees very seriously. To hear the words of the academic legend, Professor Ayo Banjo, on that day was scintillating. If someone like Professor Ayo Banjo, who has left unbeatable marks in the history of education, the English language, and the University of Ibadan and served as one of the outstanding Vice Chancellors in the history of the university, gives such good remarks and finds it worthy of dedicating such time, one must have a fulfilment that he or she has been on the right path or is on it. The presence of distinguished professors such as Akinjide Osuntokun, Niyi Osundare, Chief Olu Obafemi, Professor Ojaide, Professor Richard Joseph, Abiodun Bello, Professor Labode Popoola, Moses Ochonu, Gloria Emeagwali, and others like Chief Ajibola Ogunsola that have extended the global body of knowledge in their different fields of interest is a debt I do not think I will be able to repay. The number of these individuals, including the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Idowu Olayinka, proves that we cannot measure the advantage of human relationships and connectivity. This has been one of my motivations in conversations and acquaintances with people with whom I might not have shared my past. The Zoom meeting had close to 300 attendees, many of whom are respected members of academia and society whose successes are emulative for those coming up.
I was not surprised at the program’s efficiency level, seeing the substance embedded in those that organized it. Having Professor Tunji Olaopa as the Chairman of the gathering would ordinarily suggest what to expect. Dr Samson Ijaola added his voice to the felicitation as compere. Professors Abimbola Adelakun, Jumoke Yacob-Haliso, Musikilu Mojeed, Segun Olopade, and others who made it possible to have a gathering are wonderful. I am very happy to be celebrated in such a way.
The Nigerian Tribune was one of those institutions that surprised me the most. I was dumbfounded to see the dedication of pages of the paper even before January 1st and subsequent publications afterwards. Seeing my name pop up on the pages of their publications made me feel honoured. This appreciation is also extended to other media houses and newspaper companies, such as Premium Times, ThisDay, Heart of Art, The Nation, Punch, The Culture Newspaper, New Times, Naija Times, and others, that have given their platforms for different expressions of congratulations. This makes me appreciate those who have written one or two pieces about me uniquely, which has inspired me to keep talking about the development of this nation and continent. The piece by Professor Farooq Kperogi blazed the trail; he ate the chicken in my house and will know in the next six months that he was consuming his own chicken.
The Yoruba adage that says that a deity we refuse to worship in the presence of the young ones is on its way to perdition has been one of the reasons I have decided to try my best in national and continental building. I am determined to invest time and energy in raising the young and those who have found it appropriate to see me as a mentor. If the ideas of Pan-Africanism, nationalism and other relevant ideals must grow, they must first show those behind us what they are and help them grow in these shared values. Hence, I have found many colleagues and collaborators across continents today, and this achievement is greater than any honour I might be conferred with. Seeing some of them in this gathering gave me confidence, and their exhibition of readiness to take the mantle from me as an elder has created joy in my heart. I cannot thank you enough for trusting my advice and positions and participating in the celebration gathering.
I was flattered by Dr. Lasisi Olagunju’s tribute in the Nigerian Tribune on January 2nd, 2023, but I must point out that the Iroko he described me as did not just stand on its own. The endless supplies support its elegance through its many roots. This is the position of my family and friends. Perhaps if I had not married my wife, Dr. Bisi Falola, I would not have been able to climb some of the hills I did in my life. God also blessed us with wonderful children and grandchildren, and I have enjoyed the solace of their company for so long. Seeing what they did on January 1st of this year brought joy to my heart, and I appreciate all that and love them so much.
The gathering was attended by so many influential individuals that I may have to make this piece into a series if I can cover some of them. However, I will like to thank all who made it to the online gathering and those that joined through YouTube. Your eyebrows are older than my beard. May you all gain interest in your investments.
However, I want to implore all of us to endeavour to be better people today than we were yesterday and always to be conscious of making efforts to agitate for Nigeria, Africa, and the world of today that is better than yesterday. This is the same attitude we should take to tomorrow. We are a fish that weeps in the water, but you cannot see our tears. We are forced to climb thorny trees, not because we are brave, but because we must all survive or perish. The insects biting us are hidden in our clothes. Our fingers will never look alike, but we must use them together to build the nation. My feet cannot create a footpath without yours. We have been pushed down, but we must struggle to get up. Misfortune will never fall on your wealth and health.