Friday, December 15, 2017 3:28 am
Evening of Wednesday 13 December 2017, family, friends, students and scholars gathered at the Quadrangle, Faculty of Arts of the University of Ibadan, UI, venue of “An Evening of Tributes”, held in honour of a literary critic, late Professor Francis Abiola Irele. The event was put together by The Committee of Friends in conjunction with the Department of European Studies, and the Faculty of Arts of the Premier University.
The occasion had in attendance, Professors Dan Izevbaye, Remigius Onyejekwe Oriaku, Dele Olayiwola, Olatunji Oyesile, Oladipo Irele (younger brother to the deceased), Obododimma Oha, Duro Adeleke, Dr Eyiwunmi Bolatito Olayinka, wife of the institution’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Abel Idowu Olayinka, Dr. Tunde Awosanmi, Dr Kayode Omotade, Dr Mathew Umukoro, Emeritus Professor Pai Obanya, Professor Festus Adesanoye, Professor Jacob Eyitayo, among several others.
At the occasion, various scholars paid their tributes to the late literary critic as they shared testimonies of how they met him and his impact on their lives as well as his contributions to scholarship.
In his welcome address, the Dean of Faculty of Arts, Professor Ademola Omobewaji Dasylva, noted that he first met the deceased through his works before they had personal contact saying, “At a conference in Toronto, Canada, he related with me and others as if we were mates. There can’t be a dull moment with Professor Irele. He was a great mentor and a workaholic”.
The Head of the Department of European Studies, Professor Lateef Babatunde Ayeleru, described him as a leader, a father, a teacher stressing, “Many of us didn’t meet him but we met his legacies. He left many of his books for us in the department”.
The Chairman of the occasion, Professor Ayo Bamgbose, in his remark, lamented that often Nigerians forget people who made contributions to scholarship.
He said: “Abiola Irele should be among the first to be celebrated because he was among the best literary critics. The qualification that I have to stand here as the chairman of this occasion was that I entered University of Ibadan with Abiola Irele in 1957. In the class of 12, Irele was the most talented in Literature, Music, Art, name it. He was everything. He did not limit himself to books like most of us. He was someone who was restless. He did English here and went to France and studied French and he was fluent in French than a Frenchman. He was a restless spirit because he always on the move. I am happy that Ibadan has not forgotten him”.
Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo described the late Irele as one of the champions of Negritude Movement as well as a first class critic who will be difficult to beat. “He was a charming scholar who combined many gifts. He interacted very easily with everybody”, Banjo added.
Professor Dan Izebaye who spoke on “Biola’s Significance”, said that the deceased did not only generate scholarly idea or researchable topic, but would also ensure that an avenue is created for such papers to be published. He said, “Biola was a great person. He will surely be missed because nobody can do what he was doing. He can’t be replaced. Abiola Irele’s pursuit was the pursuit of African imagination. Through his books, students have cultural and literary enlightenment and he was deeply rooted in African culture. It is something to be friend with Irele. He was full of jokes”.
One of Irele’s supervisees, Professor Grace Aduke Adebayo, narrated how she met him at University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU as her external supervisor and how he was instrumental to her being employed in the university thereafter. She described Irele as a thorough, hardworking scholar. “If he supervised you, you had to read a lot. He would not allow you to write a proposal for the first year. In the first year, he would give you books to read which you must summarise and submit to him. Now, during the supervision, there would always be deadlines and you had better keep to his deadlines. He was strict and did not suffer fools lightly. He was easily annoyed but when he had calmed down, he would try to win you back. He made people to feel important. He was humble. He left lots of legacies. I want to thank Irele for training and mentoring me”.
Irele was a Nigerian academic best known as the doyen of Africanist literary scholars worldwide. He was Provost at Kwara State University, founded in 2009 in Ilorin, Nigeria. Before moving back to Nigeria, Irele was Visiting Professor of African and African American Studies and of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University.
Abiola Irele was born in Ora, Edo State, Nigeria, and moved to Enugu very early in his life. While he was of Edo ethnicity, and had been born in an area where Ora was predominantly spoken, the first language he learned was Igbo, which he learned from the servants who worked for his father and took care of him growing up. After moving to Lagos in 1940, he began to speak Yoruba. In 1943, after a fight between his parents, Irele returned with his mother to Ora, where he picked up and developed a fluency in the Ora language over the course of a year. However, after returning to Lagos in 1944 to live with his father, he began to predominantly speak Yoruba and he maintained it as his ethnic identification.
Irele’s first encounter with Literature was through folk tales and the oral poets who recounted “raras” in the streets. During the years of his formal education, he began to read more English Literature.
Irele graduated from Ibadan University in 1960. Immediately after graduation, he went to Paris to learn French and completed a Ph.D in French at the University of Paris, Sorbonne, in 1966. On his return to Nigeria, he was employed on the Languages Faculty at the University of Lagos, and then at the University of Ghana, Legon. He was editor of Black Orpheus magazine, from 1968 until 1975. He also held teaching positions at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and in 1975 at the University of Ibadan, where he was Chair of Languages. In 1989, he moved to Ohio State University in the U.S. as Professor of African, French and Comparative Literature.