Dele Olayiwola at 60: Scholars Advocate New Africa

Dele Olayiwola at 60: Scholars Advocate New Africa

Thursday, July 5, 2018 1:21 pm

Standing Professor Dele Olayiwola, to his left, his wife, Adepeju and to the right, Prof, Tunde Lawuyi, Prof. Tunde Babawale and others.jpg

Gbenro Adesina/Ibadan

Monday 2 July to Thursday 4, 2018, scholars, family and friends converged at different venues in the University of Ibadan, UI, for various activities lined up for the celebration of the 60th birthday of a two term Director of the institution’s Institute of African Studies, Professor Dele Olayiwola. The major event of the celebration was a colloquium titled, “Postcolonialism and Beyond: Cultural Production and Social Sustenance”, which had 67 paper presentations.

The opening ceremony, which was anchored by a popular actor, Afeez Oyetoro and a seasoned broadcaster, Opeyemi Orimolade, held at the Arts Theatre featured various activities including poetry and musical performances rendered by Benedict Odukwe, Demola Adesina, Deolu Ogunsanya and others. In attendance were: Professors Niyi Osundare, Dan Izevbaye, S. O. Oyetade, Bolanle Awe, L. O. Bamidele, H.O. Ekwuazi, Obododinmma Oha, Duro Adeleke, Adejumo Arinpe, Babatunde Omobowale, O.A. Oyeshile, F. Offor, S. O. Ogundele and Akin Odebunmi; Dr Wale Ajayi, Dr Jide Ololajulo and Dr Sola Olorunyomi.

At the occasion, people including Professor Tunde Lawuyi, who stood in for the chairman of the occasion, Dapo Olorunyomi took turns to eulogise the celebrant who was described as a scholar of good repute, a man who has touched many lives in different forms and has immensely contributed to scholarship. While Lawuyi simply described the celebrant as a rare being, Dr A. I. Jimoh representing HOD, Institute of African Studies, Professor O. I. Pogoson, said, “Professor Olayiwola is a trustworthy person who has contributed immensely to the lives of many. He has a slogan which he says when you are doing what is good and the slogan is, “Keep up the good work”.

In his remark, the celebrant accompanied by his wife, Adepeju, thanked God Almighty for creating and putting him in the midst of good people as he noted that he was overwhelmed to see a programme being orgainsed for his 60th anniversary by his colleagues. “They came to me and said that we are only giving you invitation to attend”. Among those he described as friends and mentees who put up the programme are: Dr Tunde Awosanmi, Wale Ajayi, Ayo Adeduntan, Sola Olorunyomi, Abiola Ayodokun, Omotayo Olajoko, Afeez Oyetoro, Opeyemi Orimolade, Kola Akintola and Sharafa Ayoade.

He said, “I thank you all for honouring me. We must continue to serve. I am grateful that you chose my favourite topic. I represent my teacher, I represent you and various institutions and all of you have always reminded me that I am not alone. I want us to know that life is full of binary”.

Presenting a keynote address titled, “I am (not) your colony: Selective Memory and the Politics of Writing another Africa”, a former Director/CEO Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization, CBAAC, and a lecturer at University of Lagos, Professor Tunde Babawale, first set the tone for his discourse by situating it around colonialism which has largely responsible for various crisis in Africa. He was quick to highlight the ills of colonisation on Africa, particularly Nigeria which equally has spread to scholarship. According to him, “The trajectory of African scholarship reveals a history of domination and subjugation, by western literary tradition…The interrogation of the epochal nature of colonialism, and as the source of the contemporary social, political, and economic forces is crucial to the understanding of the state of African scholarship…African scholarship is a victim of the dependent status of African states in the hegemonic global system evident in the imported western style institutions, systems, and processes”.

Babawale said further, “There is a need to understand the challenges of postcolonial scholarship and intellectualism. Genuine scholarship questions the prevailing order in the society and offers solutions to society’s existential problems… The scholar and the intellectual have several things in common…pursuit of truth…They both aspire to meet societal needs…Thus, contemporary African scholars have attained great heights in scholarship by engaging their tormentors, the colonial structures and their local collaborators, the state, its agents and allies in the public interest”.

The political scientist pointed out that the circumstances of history, socio-cultural, economic and political development is crucial to the understanding of the trajectory of scholarship and the public intellectual in a postcolonial state. “They highlight opportunities and challenges that make the production of tested, reliable and liberating knowledge or scholarship imperative. The challenges and opportunities posed by the postcolonial state require sound scholars and committed intellectuals that are willing to share their knowledge in the public space for practical solutions. This has produced study groups, summits and conferences where ideas are generated with recommendations, demands and advice to relevant authorities that were never revisited. The postcolonial state rarely provided the enabling environment for scholarship to thrive due to myriads of structural and systemic constraints. Thus, in addition to lack of patronage, widespread mediocrity and underachievement on the home front, contemporary postcolonial scholars contend with less global visibility. The community suffers under-representation especially when scholars dare to address agenda different from those preferred by foreign interests”, he added.

A musical group performing

Declaring that the intention of his paper is to adopt the literary tradition established by scholars like Dele Layiwola and put African history, politics and literature in their proper perspective, Babawale stated that African history should be seen through the spectrum of the African’s interaction with nature as well as his interaction with other men. He said, “From the 1950s through the 60s…African historians started to devote time to the defence of their history by combating racist and colonial propaganda that had hitherto formed the bulk of African historiography… Sources earlier on referred to by racist writers, as being irrelevant (as in oral tradition) or non-existent (as in written records) were usefully employed. The writers affirmed that most African peoples preserve aspects of their tradition in their myths, proverb, poetry, rituals, tales and music…In the pre-colonial times, much of the writings of African history was tailored to suit the imperialist lords and provide justification for the impending colonisation of Africa. Often, the real motives behind colonialism were veiled under the guise of evangelism and moral crusade”.

Babawale, who lamented the mindless brutality unleashed on African peoples dismissed various wrong notions and statements of colonisers on Africa. Speaking on the subdivision of his paper titled, “Politics and the imperative of writing another Africa”, Babawale cited relevant scholars to prove that Africa’s post-colonial experience, Nigeria’s inclusive, has been characterised by the crisis of the state and a state of crisis adding, “The crisis is exemplified in the lack of economic independence and the ‘lack of self-conviction about self”.

According to him, progress requires that the African continent disconnects from the umbilical cord that ties it uncritically to western literary tradition reiterating that African scholars and writers should aim at changing the paradigm from a situation in which Africa only consume ideas to one in which it begins to produce them.

The scholar narrowing his lecture to Nigeria aptly affirmed that Nigeria is a failed state which needs to be quickly revived in other to avoid worst experience. His words, “Many African states are living in trying times in our contemporary period. A number of countries are enmeshed in civil and cross-border conflicts and wars putting pressure on resources and human survival. Nigeria in particular, has in the last eight to nine years faced insurgencies and internecine conflicts that have been gravely destabilising in their impact and almost literally pushed the country into the inglorious club of failed state. The failed state phenomenon is typified by the paralysis of government within the state. The worst indicator of the failed state syndrome is that the agencies of government entrusted with the task of bearing arms and monopolising the force of coercion are now being challenged by “rivals” who appear in the form of Islamic insurgents, killer herdsmen, kidnappers, armed robbers, etc. these challengers of the monopoly of the instrument of coercion often terrorise communities, while extorting goods and services from them”.

He noted that this situation has resulted in forced internal migration, human rights violations, violence and a general atmosphere of fear in the country adding, “One phenomenon that characterised failed states, although not limited to it, is the phenomenon of corruption which gets compounded because of the breakdown of society’s economic order. Everything in the society comes with a price and everybody knows that everybody else is corrupt. As corruption becomes widespread, it erodes the ethical and moral order of society, as even the youths get infected by the virus. Once corruption intensifies, society decays, violence spreads and further deepens the decomposition of the state. The state gradually loses its essence and sovereignty. Sovereignty requires that the state monopolises the use of “legitimate” violence but that becomes impossible when such a state faces very strong contenders. The danger facing our country is that we have carelessly found ourselves in this quagmire and indeed to find urgent means of retrieving our country from this perilous situation. The reality of the state failure must become a priority concern for our intellectuals and scholars and the need to “write” a new Africa (nay, a new Nigeria) becomes imperative. The solution to this problem cannot be found in neo-colonial prescriptions often mouthed by western institutions and western scholars. Prescriptions of institutions like the IMF or the World Bank have turned out to be irrelevant to our needs as a people”.

Babawale advocated the indigenisation of African concepts and prescriptions with emphasis on enhancing state legitimacy and efficiency while at the same time building the economy adding that effort must be made towards establishing an institutional order that would ensure that political structures and institutions function effectively and impartially within a democratic context. “What I am advocating here is that just as the causes of conflicts in Africa are political, economic and cultural, the solution to them must necessarily assume cultural, political and economic dimensions. Such solutions must be the pre-occupation of our intellectuals and scholars as we struggle to create a new Africa”, he added.

Babawale noted that the search for peace, democracy and a vibrant state requires the collective effort of Africans themselves stressing that the collective effort must accommodate a cultural rebirth to enhance the reclamation of our dignity as a people stressing, “It is only within the context of a cultural rebirth that we can command the desired respect from other nations and people. Culture is so important that one cannot separate it from a people’s history, geography, economics as well as their political, legal and intellectual institutions…Culture includes a people’s worldview, their understanding of the nature of being and character that defines inter-personal universal relationships. Unfortunately, due to a combination of factors such as colonialism, bad governance, irresponsible leadership, corruption, etc., Africans have relegated their cultures to the background and are almost becoming alienated from those cultures”.

He made a clarion call for a return to culture to enhance the dignity and self-worth of Africans stressing that greater value should be put on the aspects of African culture that are edifying and ennobling. “In this regard, we can mention our communal lifestyle, which breeds trust and, by extension, social capital that can enhance genuine development. Similarly, our indigenous language must be revived to restore them as appropriate vehicles of our culture. Our tendency to ignore/disregard our indigenous languages is robbing our children of their creativity, self-worth and even dignity. These indigenous languages are pathetically on the verge of extinction. More importantly, we need to link our indigenous cultures with our forms of government so that the governance structures can serve the interest of the people. Our culture of tolerance must be brought to the fore in the arena of politics to replace the existing practice of politics of warfare. Our ethical values need to become dominant in political contestations as viable alternative to the current situation where indiscipline pervades the political process”.

He concluded, “Indeed, what we need to restore our dignity, especially in Nigeria, is a new culture that emphacises: the rule of law and the due process, a true federal arrangement that respects the individualities of the component units and respect the rights of minorities, justice, equity and fairness in the distribution of power and allocation of resources, respect for civil liberties and fundamental rights of citizens and a participatory and inclusive governance system”.

Also, Professor Gbemisola Adeoti and Professor Akin Alao, from Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, presented papers titled, “Social Sustenance, Africanity and the Arts in an Age of Breaching Borders”, and African History, Cultural Production and the Allure of Multiple Narratives”, respectively.

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