Burial of Professor Tejumola Olaniyan: Tributes by Friends, Colleagues

Burial of Professor Tejumola Olaniyan: Tributes by Friends, Colleagues

Thursday, December 5, 2019 6:59 pm

TheNEWS cover design on Professor Tejumola Olaniyan

Tejumola Olaniyan, the Louis Durham Mead Professor in English and the Wole Soyinka Humanities Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who died on Saturday 30  November, 2019 was buried on Thursday, 5 December in Madison, the United States. The turn-out at the ceremony was impressive. TheNEWS magazine  celebrates Professor Olaniyan with this special online edition in which his teacher, professional colleagues, friends and well-wishers pay glowing tribute. Thsese tributes are a moving portrait and assessment of Olaniyan.

Last honour: Casket bearing Professor Tejumola’s remains. Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga



I am Devastated

Wole Soyinka

Teju’s exit is devastating and, even now, still incomprehensible. I was with him in Cambridge – with Awam Amkpa, Okey Indibe, Mrs. Irele, Skip Gates, Bankole Olayebi- only a week ago. Not one wisp of premonition that we had all been fortuitously brought together for the implacable rites of a Last Supper. I deeply mourn with the wife and the family. It is such a cruel order of going.

Wole Soyinka, playwright, poet, essayist and political activist won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature


Teju: He Had No Room For Smallness

Niyi Osundare

 ‘Bountiful Baritone’ was my humorous moniker for him, an appellation which frequently provoked guttural laughter from both ends of the banter. But if his voice was large, his heart was even larger, his mind more capacious. For his was the kind of heart that had no place for smallness; his was a mind endowed with infinite plenitude. When William Wordsworth, England’s great Romantic poet said the following about Milton, another Titan of English letters:

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart,

Thou hadsta voice whose sound was like the sea

 You could have thought that Teju was the subject of that majestic eulogy.

For Teju blessed us all with his boundless generosity, his kindness, his purposive, boundary-bursting scholarship, the quenchless light of his imagination that propelled us to impossible heights, his almost monastic work ethic, his drive for diligence, for merit . . . . his capacity for laughter, yes, convivial, regenerative laughter.

‘First Class in many ways’: that was part of my oriki for him, a tribute which he acknowledged with characteristic humility and gratitude. And now, it is we who should be grateful to him for the numerous ways his life has enriched our own. He came at the right time. But he left too soon.

Sun un re o, Omoluabi. We know you are somewhere now where no one can arrest your music.

-Niyi Osundare, Professor of English, University of New Orleans is an award winning poet, essayist and playwright.


For Teju: I Miss His Capacity for Brutal Frankness

Ato Quayson

The dirge traditions of the Akan and the Ewe would have something to say about the loss of a brother and a friend.  An army of termites have eaten our homestead. Which god shall we call on in this emergency? Something has fallen into my eyes; when I wipe, it does not go.

It is impossible to think of Teju without recalling images.  Many of them casually recorded but no less powerful.  His habit of dropping his glasses from his face when reading a paper for emphasis (unlike most people these days, he wore his glasses tied to a small cord around his neck). I will also miss his deep bass voice and his unerring habit of saying “you know” to punctuate every thought and turn of argument.And his uncanny habit of starting every thought process with the most ordinary and banal example and building it to a resonance crescendo of absolute beauty and complexity.He spoke slowly, very slowly, but always thoughtfully.He had a way of making you lean forward, drawing you into the embrace of his thought. A generosity enacted even in his mode of speaking.

But it is at the personal level that Teju’s untimely death most hurts for me.  It pains me.  It pains me very much. He has been one of my oldest intellectual interlocutors and one whose judgment I trusted implicitly and without question.  I remember many years ago sending him a chapter I was working on for one of my books for his comments. It had what I thought to be a clever deployment of Jurgen Habermas for looking at the emergent crisis with Kabila in the then Congo crisis after Mobutu. Teju wrote back to say simply that I did not need Habermas to say what I wanted to say about the crisis in the Congo and that I said it much better without him. I dropped Habermas immediately.It was that capacity of brutal frankness that was not deflationary but designed to be affirmative of one’s best instincts that I miss him most for. He was not only a great scholar but a nourisher of people.I took it for granted completely when he was alive, but now that he is gone, I see what a big hole has been blown into the superb webwork of connections that he quietly wove around us all.  I have referred dozens of aspiring students and even faculty to University of Wisconsin-Madison simply on the idea to go and work with Teju.  He was always ready to support anyone with a kind word and an attentive ear.  He was, above all, a good man.  And so many people have said such kind words about him that I firmly believe that his passage to the other world is being facilitated by butterflies of light and brightness, nodal stars of the transition to the ancestors.  They are lucky to have him.

May His Soul Rest in the Most Perfect Peace.

-Ato Quayson, Professor of English, Stanford University and President of the African Studies Association

Professor Ndiragu Wachanga paying his last respect

 Tejumola Olaniyan: Thank You for the Gift of Friendship

Adeleke Adeeko

Let me get something out of the way quickly. And that is Teju Olaniyan’s outstanding record in scholarship. There is no literary critic of my generation who will look at Teju’s long list of publications and will not wonder, as Nigerian musicians often do about heterosexual envy, how come this C.V. is not mine! After all, he had only one head like me. Well, maybe he had more than one.

Teju had a knack—the key to which he never shared with me, perhaps because I never asked—for producing works that permanently stay in contention. His Scars of Conquest remaps the study of post-1945 Black drama by turning inwards the searchlight of radical aesthetics on its own critical conventions. Arrest the Music! Fela and his Rebel Art and Politics renders a full bore engagement with all dimensions—from composition, through lyrics, to album jacket design—of the arts of the foremost postcolonial singer, Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Fela). Arrest the Music is the first book, and remains the only one, to locate the meaning of Fela’s life, art, and politics within the larger intellectual ecology that the musician himself helped to create. The last time we spoke—10 days ago—on planning for the next conference of the African Literature Association he told me in his characteristic stern manner that the theme should be such that would not involve his taking a break from the book on political cartoon that he needed to finish immediately.

Professor Adeleke Adeeko, delivering his tribute. Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga

Besides the monographs, Teju edited seven other volumes. The historical range and critical depth covered in the ground-breaking  anthology he co-edited with Ato Quayson, African Literature: An Anthology of Theory and Criticism (Blackwell, 2007) canonized deserving viewpoints and scholars that define the field. Taken together, the other edited volumes articulate Teju’s abiding commitment to fathoming the twisted, but “enchanting,” fates of modernity in postcolonial African cultures. The contents of each book—whether about music, or drama, or state (mal)functions, or editorial cartooning—revolve around the mediation, which is also to say internalization, of the wobbly itineraries of modernity and modernization in African societies.

It is clear in these books that the power of “disenchantment” which normative modernity is believed to deploy in the regulation of life and society seems to have lost its force in the African environment. And there is no mystery about that particularity, one cannot but grasp from the main lines of thought followed in the collections. The peculiar techniques of subjection—racialism, metropolitan control of far flung territories, the rise of Christianity, creation of new states, the need for new allegiances—engendered by Africa’s historical march deliberately offered themselves as magical/miraculous procedures. Discernible in Teju Olaniyan’’s imprimatur in these volumes is the relentless search for a unique approach to understanding the relationship of Africa’s “enchanting” arts like literature, music, political cartoons, and self-fashioning narratives of government “magic” in official publications to the imperatives of modernity that surround their production. Better than strictly “social” studies, these arts reveal the African postcolonial order of things at the affective level, the locale at which socio-political existence is felt most intimately and transformed into cultural experiences.

Teju and I, 40 years way back were both young, and attending the then University of Ife. He was one of those we called “awon omo Soyinka yen.” They have all gone on to great things. I have in mind Awam Ankpa. Kemi Ilori is in that group. Ihuoma Anaele is one of them. So is Maximus Borojah. Of course, I must include Niyi Coker, the late Funso Alabi, and Uko Atai. Iyun Osagie (then Iyun Afolayan) should pardon me for numbering her among those rascals. Readers familiar with Nigeria know that to associate you with Soyinka means that you are radical politically, daring, iconoclastic, brave, often times brash. Most importantly you are very, very, creative, smart, and inventive.

We who were not Drama Boys envied them, not because they were smarter than us, but because we had no opportunity to perform our idealisms practically, most significantly in theater. Indeed, my memory tells me that it was at a play performance—I believe it was written by Ahmed Yerima—that I first saw Teju playing a professor—yes a professor—in a prison cell that held political dissenters. Teju Olaniyan, the tallest person in the cast, played a dissident professor. In 1980 Teju pretended to be a professor on stage. But as events turn out, that act never stopped for him, and he remained a darned good professor for ever more.

My relationship with Teju grew around books. He once needed Okpewho’s Epic in Africa, and I happened to own the only copy floating around in all of Modakeke and Ile Ife. He borrowed it. Did he ever return it? His regard for the value of books was too high for him to not return it. When he moved to Cornell—I was already in Gainesville, Florida—and the friendship continued, generally by phone calls. By this I mean to underscore Teju’s unfailing loyalty. His friendship with many of us was profound, because he was extremely generous with ideas and material resources needed to put the ideas to work. Moreover, he was tenacious. The loyalty abided because he could sense lost causes and offered you realistic ways to move on. His loyalty abided because he would tell you straightforwardly when he believed you were not right. His loyalty and friendship abided because he demonstrated relentlessly the best way forward. I shall reserve for another day the story of 1990 Chicago MLA Convention when we were both on the job market together for our first tenure track positions. I should tell the story of the field-defining issue of Callaloo that Teju edited on postcolonial literature. But what will I say on other occasions, if I were to exhaust all my stories now? It should suffice for now to declare that I am very happy to have been Teju’s friend for so long.

At the surprise 60th birthday party that Moji and the family organized for him earlier this year in May, I reminded him that I looked forward to calling on him when I was troubled and needed directions on how to respond to a life crisis. I reminded him that I still looked forward to calling him at the last minute about sharing a room at conferences at which I agreed to speak but failed to book a room. I reminded him that we were yet to collaborate on the book project we kept talking about. I reminded him that we had done conferences together, that we had not done a book, and that time was of the essence. I reminded him that when I died, he was the one my family would ask to help send my books to Nigeria, specifically to the Hezekiah Oluwasanmi Library at Ife. Teju nodded his head in agreement, and I was assured because he kept his promises. Who do I call on now? The world feels lonelier for me at this moment.

Bye, bye, friend. 

The one who is the spouse of Moji 

The father of Bola

The father of Bimpe

Alias TeeJay

Illustrious progeny of Omu-Aran

The one and only Wole Soyinka Professor of the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin. 

Ó dìgbà o!

-Adeleke Adeeko is Humanities Distinguished Professor in the Department of English, The Ohio State University.


Professor Femi Taiwo at the funeral.
Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga

For Teju Olaniyan: Worker, Scholar, Friend

Moradewun Adejunmobi

Give the man his due: Teju Olaniyan was a brilliant scholar. There are only a handful of professors in African cultural and literary studies whose stature and reputation extends well beyond their named discipline. Teju was one of the few. But he was not content to be brilliant, to be the lone star blazing brightly in the dark sky. In addition to brilliance, he made it his mandate to invest in people, and to invest in institutions. Not just the big institutions that bring fame to the talented scholar. He was also willing to pour effort into smaller associations like the African Literature Association and the even smaller The Fagunwa Study Group. He had already made a name for himself, and did not need to associate himself with organizations that were still struggling to find a secure footing in the world of big names and big egos. And yet he gave himself diligently to the task. He believed that if the highest quality academic output on Africa was to make a lasting impact, it would not be thanks to individual geniuses toiling alone. It would be because there were healthy institutions and professional associations dedicated to ensuring the transmission of knowledge about Africa from one generation to the next. His former students can attest to his commitment to building up people, building up the next generation, and building up the organizations that will sustain that next generation. I took my cues from him: if he was not too big to labor on behalf of a wider community, who was I to say that I would not join him in that labor?

My last face to face encounters with Teju were at the annual conference of the African Studies Association in Boston from November 20– 23 2019. He accepted to participate in a panel that I organized for the conference on behalf of the African Literature Association. Strangely enough, he started his presentation on the panel with a personal anecdote. He said the presentation was dedicated to a dearly beloved late cousin, whom he considered almost a twin brother. He identified that brother simply as “K.B.”, and as his energetic sparring partner. He mentioned that this brother died of heart failure, but that the family was unaware that he suffered from this until he was on his death bed. The presentation that followed was, as usual, a deceptively simple, but profound and provocative intervention on the politics of belonging in Nigeria and on the African continent. However, it was the only time that I ever heard Teju dedicate a research talk to this brother whose death clearly pained him. A week and a day after that presentation, Teju too was gone from heart failure.

Teju, dramatist that you are, it is as if you departed the stage and will not return, as if you embarked on a journey from which there is no return. If that is how it is to be and that we shall not see you again, then farewell, dear friend, farewell.

-Moradewun Adejunmobi, Professor, African American and African Studies  University of California, Davis.

Tejumola Olaniyan


Tejumola, A Whole Library Burnt Down!

Odia Ofeimun

The day I heard that he died, I just screamed. Tejumola Olaniyan was particularly a good person, a good human being. When such a person dies, the first thing that hits you is: Who is as good that can continue to do the things that he used to do? When an old man dies, it is a whole library that is burnt down; the death of Tejumola is like a whole library burnt down. The man was an encyclopedia of knowledge in African Literature, African politics, relationships between the various groups. He was a particularly consistent monitor of the way popular culture relates to all the serious problems – cultural imperialism, cultural relationships, politics and education, or how they relate to development. He was in particular a great mind. Now, when you look at it from that standpoint, from the standpoint of knowledge production, we have lost in the death of Tejumola Olaniyan a focal point for the dissemination of knowledge about Africa and how Africans relate with the knowledge industry. He linked people of the various worlds together, especially in African studies. You are in South Africa and Tejumola has a link with you. In China, he has a link with you.

Olaniyan was active in helping to set up things. One of the great things he did was helping to create The Fagunwa Study Group. It was one of the ways he as a writer related to the general body of African literature. D.O. Fagunwa was promoted by a great writer, Prof Wole Soyinka and linking Soyinka and Fagunwa at their last well organized conference in Akure  is one way of trying to understand one of the best minds in African literatures and Yoruba philosophy, a very strong and growing body of practice which compares very well with any body of philosophy in any part of the world. And it is opening up the African continent’s body of knowledge that was not originally imagined by people simply treating it as anthropology. But Olaniyan, by bringing the consciousness of Fagunwa’s achievements to the centre of discussions, you can say that he made us look 21st century in the serious discussion of Yoruba philosophy, African cultural politics. They are no longer treated as black things, they are being brought to centrality in the way the world relates.

Also think of his book on Fela. It is like picking what people will normally not take seriously and lifting it to the level of very rare philosophical discussion. Fela has ceased to be just the man we knew at the Shrine or Kalakuta Republic; he became a world phenomenon. The beauty of the work done by Olaniyan is that you can discuss Fela’s music as a way of looking at the world in such an in-depth manner. You are not just going to see Fela but this particular scholar has brought us out of the woods in the enjoyment of our own creativity, enjoyment of the way we are transforming Africa. You can no longer treat Fela like someone you pass by; he is the very centre that cannot go away because of what Olaniyan has done in a serious book on Fela.

-Odia Ofeimun, poet, social critic, former Private Secretary to Chief Obafemi Awolowo and one time President, Association of Nigerian Authors


A cross section of mourners. Photo credit:
Ndirangu Wachanga


Remembering Teju Olaniyan

Linda Sheryl Greene

I want to share with you my memories of Professor Tejumola Olaniyan – Teju as he permitted everyone to call him. In 2001, I was Associate Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Charge of a form of faculty strategic hiring we called “cluster hiring”. Ordinarily, individual departments hire faculty to work in a common discipline such as English, or Mathematics. But some areas of research and teaching require the collaboration of faculty from a variety of disciplines working together to advance knowledge and produce creative works.

With the support of my provost colleagues, some of whom are here, and distinguished  interdisciplinary faculty advisory committee, I conducted the competition that led the Provost and Chancellor to award new faculty hires to an African Diaspora Cluster. The African Diaspora Cluster would study the dispersion of African people from their original homelands and include faculty from a variety of discipline such as Geography, History, Literature, Art, Music, Dance, Education, Political Science, Sociology and other disciplines. The African Diaspora Cluster had its eyes on the recruitment of Teju Olaniyan to lead this cluster.

But this was going to be a grand challenge. At 40 years old, he was a superstar at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, an established scholar of African Literature, African American Literature, Caribbean Literature, and popular culture. He was a rare polymath with depth in Literature as well as the role of media, music, culture, and theatre in the construction of the African Diaspora. Of course, Virginia would try to retain him, and as soon as other universities realized that he might be willing to move, the bidding war would begin. Oh, and by the way, it doesn’t snow in Charlottesville. But we still had a shot. He earned his PhD at Cornell in icy Ithaca, and he did a post doc at Northwestern University. He already knew about snow and ice. We also had to recruit Moji who was a lawyer and an academic administrator with a brilliant career of her own.

Professor Linda Sheryl Greene. Photo credit: Ndiragu Wachanga

It was a team report, with a lot of oars in the water. But at the end of the day the University of Wisconsin-Madison appointed him as a tenured full professor in the Department of English as well as in African Languages and Literature. All the accolades attest that the rest is a history of the profound enhancement of the field. The cluster continued to focus on the traditional African diaspora research and teaching that emphasized the study of Africans who dispersed from the African continent to places such as the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and South America. Under Professor Olaniyan’s leadership, and with the dedication of many others, the cluster began to expand and redefine the scope of African diaspora research and teaching. It also focused on the movement of African people, both forced and unforced, within Africa itself. The cluster embraced a global contextual framework for the study of African peoples “abroad”. It examined how these specific diasporas adapt, reproduce and transform culture, politics, and social institutions in these new spaces.

Teju’s pursuit of his global and ambitious work would not have been possible without the amazing Moji Olaniyan, his wife, mother of their children, his intellectual partner, a formidable lawyer, educator, and administrator. She has made indispensable contributions to this community, this university, and especially to legal education at our law school. Their home was both a gathering place for the African diaspora in Madison and, at turns, Think Tank as well as retreat and refuge for diverse people of all ages and backgrounds. Thank you, Moji.

Others will speak with much more gravitas and depth about the contributions of Professor Olaniyan to our understanding African experience, community, politics and culture worldwide. We are still trying to process the scope of his contributions and the depth of the loss. I would like to close by sharing a personal story about my experience with Teju the teacher. My involvement in their recruitment blessed me to know both Moji and Teju as humans as well as professionals. I paid attention to Moji’s many endeavours as well as to Teju’s — his diverse pursuits, his writings, his love of film, music, literature, sports, his courses. Speaking of courses, I had heard so much about his dedications to teaching that I set a goal to take his graduate seminar in colonialism and post-colonialism. For one thing, I wanted to formally update my youthful knowledge of post-colonialism in a class taught by a professor of world renown on the subject. Like so many, my initial idealism about post- colonialism had been dashed and displaced by disasters both humanitarian and political. It was time to take a fresh look. But it wasn’t simply the knowledge that I sought. I also wanted the chance to be a student in a class taught by one of our most beloved, respected, and sought, after professors. I audited the course. I attended every session. I participated in the discussions. There I was able to experience and observe the qualities that led to his renown as a teacher. Of course the content was global, sophisticated, and multidisciplinary. But that was just the beginning. Professor Teju Olaniyan created a warm and caring environment for his students, one that empowered them to think more deeply, and speak openly about their assumptions, misgivings, and new insights. As important, he encouraged them to move beyond his own analyses and to embrace their own. I never thought of myself as a professor in that class. Rather, like his students, I had the rare privilege of becoming a  student colleague to one o the most formidable intellectuals of the 21st century. I, like you, will never forget him. Moji, thank you for the opportunity to speak.

-Linda Sheryl Greene is professor of Law at University of Wisconsin-Madison.


With What Spirit Did He Meet Death?

Akin Adesokan

One of the recurrent questions I pose to myself each time I move closer to accepting that Tejumola Olaniyan is really, really no longer among the living: how did he confront Death? With what spirit? Did he see it coming as he stepped up the task of packing for his earthly trip, the trip to Amsterdam? At that moment when Death pulled the cord of life from him, did he flinch? I knew him to be supremely confident, confident but not arrogant; unflappable, and practical. I knew him also to be a man with a well-tuned sense of drama, a deliberate enjoyer of life. I have since learnt that he met Death as he did Life—with total acceptance, and that the expression on his now-dead face was serene. And beauteous. My question is answered, but I am not satisfied. For what I am after, the object of that question, is the futile hope that I will see his face again. Or, rather, the refusal to accept that I will never see the face again, and so I am left to imagine what is left of it, that leading figure of his outer life.

Professor Akin Adesokan. Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga

Then, that refusal to accept the fact of his death—that says everything. It will take a long time to get used to his absence from our lives, those of us whose lives have coalesced with his in the past three to four decades. It may sound like a cliché to say that TJ’s death had left a hole too big and deep to fill. The shock of his death may also lead one to engage in extravagant claims about his personality. Yet, the cliché and the outlandish claims bear the honest truth. He was an outstanding human being, with a capacious ability, accepting responsibilities that fell to him with such ease that, like a house to which one returned at the end of the day, it was only natural that he would be there. He was a force of nature, a built force of nature. The resort of the needy. In the past decade, it was to him I turned for practical scholarly collaborations: as co-sponsors of the nomination of Nigerian poet Odia Ofeimun for the Foulon-Nichols Award of the African Literature Association (2010); as the academic coordinators of the first International Conference on D. O. Fagunwa (2013); as co-organizers of special panels to mark the 70th birthday of our former teacher, Biodun Jeyifo, (2016). I turned to him for personal reasons, too, as one would, to an older sibling. And his response each time was an unstinting, unconditional Yes.

It is natural, also, that I refuse to accept the fact of his death. What if, in fact, that question about the face with which he regarded Death, is just a simple, Where are you? The quest of the needy younger sibling entertaining the fantasies of life without end. Wherever you may be, TJ, you will always be with us.

-Akin Adesokan, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Indiana University, Bloomington. He is the author of the award winnig novel, Roots in the Sky.


His Life Was Spent Trying to Lift Others

Chigozie Obioma

I first met Prof Tejumola Olaniyan in April 2015 after he was contacted by my publishers or he contacted them and asked to host a reading for me at the university of Wisconsin-Madison. His introduction of me was so flattering that I was dumbstruck. This was a man twice my age, and speaking of his admiration for my writing in ways that was not only encouraging but actually flattering. When my second novel came out in early 2019, he was one of the first persons to get in touch, wanting to host again. This time, so great was the event that it was my best of the year. But what was more was the evening I spent with him—for five or so hours we dined and chatted about so many things. But at every turn, he wanted to get the discussion back to me, to my experience as a young academic and writer, and how he might encourage and support me. His life was spent trying to lift others and support the literature from the black diaspora.

His laughter was full-throated, his kindness genuine. He was a man of high intellectual honesty and truly good man. He struck me as a quintessential Yoruba man, one who had a love for the language and culture, but also sees its integration into the global cultural moment. I cannot begin to fathom the extent of my grieve at his death. I feel like an awning has been torn away from over me. My sincere and heartfelt condolence to his wife and kids and extended family who must all be in deep pain from this loss.

Oga Olaniyan, e sun re o!

-Chigozie Obioma, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and English, Department of English, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is the author of The Fishermen and An Orhestra of Minorities. The two novels were shortlisted for The Booker Prize.


Teju in the House

Kunle Ajibade

Tejumola Olaniyan and I met at the University of Ife, Ile Ife, in the early 80s and we remained very close friends till his last breath. Each time Teju visited Nigeria from the US, he stayed in our house. He often brought bags of books and journals for the Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan; the Department of English, University of Ilorin; and the Department of English, Lagos State University. He would enthusiastically accept to give talks and conduct Master Classes in those universities. He would seek out the best students and encourage them to apply to graduate schools in America, Canada and Europe. To offer to be a mentor to students in our country where many aspiring scholars are constantly betrayed, crushed and destroyed by thieving and irresponsible elites—both inside and outside of the academia— is a lot of sacrifice indeed. His prospective mentees would sooner than later assail him vigorously with emails, asking for information which they could easily get on the internet. Yet, with patience imbued with optimism and stubborn hope, Teju would be kind in his detailed replies.

Because of the generous tropical trees that surround our home in Lagos, different birds that live there unmolested coo and shrill and chatter. Dawns are marked by mellifluous songs from doves, owls, pigeons, partridges, eagles, etc., etc. Amazingly, Teju knew many of their tunes, having spent his boyhood in Omu-Aran, his small home town in Kwara State of Nigeria. He loved to watch these birds as they assembled solemnly. He would ask, Why do they meet in complete quiet? What visions do they have? What are their plans? Why do they exchange glances in silence? The diligence of their care for their young ones, their vigorous wooing and mating methods, and sometimes their ferocious fights, interested him a lot. He would bring out his powerful camera and, as he took pictures of the beautiful ones among the birds, he would say repeatedly in his baritone voice: Wow, somebody should study this pattern! In night after night, with vintage wine lubricating our throats, we would have long conversations on literature, sciences, journalism, politics, healthcare, history, architecture and food. Teju loved soccer and recorded every major game for careful viewing when he was less busy. In the dead of night, I would hear his guttural clearing of throat as he wrestled in his room with ideas, on his iPad and Apple laptop – always the latest. If he was not reading a student’s dissertation, he was helping to read a manuscript or working on a chapter of a new book. If he was not doing any of these, he was just writing recommendation letters for his former students. In the light of our unresolved arguments on modernity, instigated largely by Olufemi Taiwo’s insightful and controversial Africa Must Be Modern: The Modern Imperative in Contemporary Africa, he brought for me, last August, an autographed copy of Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time, a formidably erudite book by Susan Stanford Friedman, the well-respected professor with whom he worked in the English Department and at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He obviously enjoyed the life of the mind, and it was a life he would have preferred to live for a longer time if his heart had not packed up when he was just sixty years and eight months. The last time I asked him about the Graduate Class he would be teaching, he sent eleven pages of course outline titled “English 813 — Enchanting Modern: African Literatures, African States.’’ The synopsis was detailed and succinct. He wrote on the first page: “In this course, we will bring into systematic interaction three composite entities that are traditionally the objects of different study areas and therefore are studied together rarely or only casually: contemporary African literature, the postcolonial African political state, and the larger global modern context that subtends them. African literature is renowned for its “highly charged political character.” We will historicize this popular knowledge by exploring the evolution of the literary tradition’s fixation with macro-political state matters. We will also pay close attention to the postcolonial state and its transformations, to understand why it attracts such absorbed scrutiny, especially of the oppositional kind. The literature and the state, we will learn, are really intimate siblings of the parent—the global modern. We will study this modernity and its particular inflections in the African context. Our course goal is to have a better grasp of not just Africa’s literary history but also a political history of its literature, and a literary-cultural history of its politics. In addition to literature and literary scholarship, we will draw materials from history, political science, philosophy, and sociology. We will also incorporate popular non-literary forms such as film, music, and cartoons.’’ Of course, apart from the schedules of attendance, active participation and presentations in class, he included a long list of books. The teacher was ready to fly—he was simply asking his students to fasten their seat-belts. While he agreed that normative disciplinary duty was important, he strongly believed that “thinking across conventional disciplinary divides” was more challenging, more rewarding. Almost every year, latest texts in his field that brought him up to speed led him invariably to design new or redesign old courses, or merely add to an already long list of books. He always brought to the University of Wisconsin-Madison African writers, major cartoonists, visual artists, cultural workers for conferences, readings, or for talks at the intellectually engaging ‘Africa at Noon’ programme.

Professor Tejumola Olaniyan was a hard-working man. He was extremely organized. He was a taskmaster who always called to the deep because he was deep. He was very honest and prudent. His imagination was admirable. His erudition was truly enchanting. He was genuinely loved by many of his students for his care and concern for their progress, and respected by his colleagues for his acute sense of duty, keen collegiate sensibility, academic prestige  and razor-sharp intelligence. He was self-effacing—he only wanted to do the job. William Styron, one of the best American novelists and essayists, who wrote Darkness Visible and The Confessions of Nat Turner, among other masterpieces, said in his “Jimmy in the House,’’ an essay in praise of James Baldwin published in The New York Times when he died in 1987, that the steadfastness of Baldwin’s progressive convictions, his great personal support for great causes, his affirmation and re-affirmation of his good character, his essential quality, his burnished eloquence, his friendship inestimable, helped to shape and define the moral contours of many others. We can deploy those Styron’s words to describe the achievements of Teju, our great friend, a passionate mentor, a wonderful human being and a loving husband to Mojisola and doting father to Bolajoko and Olabimpe. I speak of Teju who constantly remitted welfare money generously to his relatives in Omu-Aran and Ilorin. I speak of Teju the surrogate father to family members in America and Canada. Having lost his own parents very early in life, he never wanted anybody around him to lack parental succour. I speak of Teju who did not know how to steal; he was always impressed by colleagues, relatives and friends who gave proper accounting of all monies collected and disbursed for every project he was part of. He was a beloved son-in-law to Mojisola’s aged parents in Ibadan. He was extremely lucky to have Moji as a very good friend and counsel as wife – twin in aspiration and conduct. Her devotion to him helped to give Teju the stability to concentrate on his demanding and jealous scholarly job. When he came to Akure in Nigeria last August for The Fagunwa Study Group’s conference to celebrate Wole Soyinka at 85, he visited with every family member. That was the last they saw of him. Tejumola had more love to give. He had more ideas to share. He had more books to write—I mourn all those excellent books that will never be. His elegant and profoundly penetrating prose; the power and warmth and glory of his voice; his enormous talent for friendship; and the inspiring nobility and dignity of his spirit will be sorely missed. I’m deeply, deeply saddened by his death. I will continue to remember him with respect, affection and admiration.

– Kunle Ajibade is Executive Editor/ Director of TheNEWS and PM NEWS. He is the author of Jailed for Life: A Reporter’s Prison Notes and What a Country!

Professor Tejumola Olaniyan

 My Consequential Dinner With Tejumola Olaniyan

Okey Ndibe

There’s for me something personally cruel and devastating in the fact that Professor Tejumola Olaniyan (TJ) would die this year, and a painful significance in the date of his death, 30 November, 2019. I had for years admired TJ’s distinguished work as a scholar of African literature and culture. True, he and I had occasionally run into each at conferences, but my engagement with his extraordinary scholarship—and the admiration it inspired in me—was mostly conducted remotely. That relationship—in other words, my conversation with Professor Olaniyan’s penetrating discourse—would change dramatically in 2019. In May, we met in Columbus, Ohio, venue of the annual conference of the African Literature Association (ALA). He had come to know from mutual friends about the imminent publication of my book titled The Man Lives: A Conversation with Wole Soyinka on Life, Literature and Politics. He asked if I was open to attending the Fagunwa Study Group conference he was curating in Akure in August. Soyinka was going to be the focus. It proved to be one of the most exciting conferences I’ve ever attended. The reason had something to do with the interdisciplinary accent as well as the superb quality of intellectual presentations and exchanges. But there was more—a fraternal bond among participants, which in turn produced a festive air, and evidence that the planners set the organization to the highest international standards. There was, everywhere I turned, evidence that TJ’s organizational genius had informed the gathering.

On 23 November, my wife, Sheri, and I drove to Boston where the 2019 conference of the African Studies Association (ASA) was holding. Soyinka was in nearby Cambridge for an engagement. His and my Nigerian publisher, Bankole Olayebi, proposed that a bunch of us have dinner with the laureate at a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge. The others at the dinner were TJ, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (who was Soyinka’s student in the UK and Tejumola’s teacher at Cornell University), Gates’ wife, Mrs. Bassey Irele, and my wife. It was an exuberant gathering, full of gaiety, filled with banter and reminiscences and humor. Teju, in particular—to use a phrase that, in the circumstance, strikes one as cruelly ironic—seemed to be full of life! Nobody could have had any inkling that, exactly a week from that boisterous dinner, he would be no more.

Yet, last Sunday, Olayebi rang me with the incredible news that Professor Olaniyan had died on November 30—exactly a week after we shared that Chinese dinner. His passing has robbed us all—the tribe of Africa’s and Africanist literary and intellectual laborers—of a true star. TJ was a star even when he modeled self-effacement; he was eloquent even when he elected to speak in whispers.

-Okey Ndibe is the author of the novels Foreign Gods, Inc. and Arrows of Rain, and the memoir Never Look an American in the Eye

The mourners. Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga

Tejumola “TJ” Olaniyan: A Voice So Deep Will Never Be Silent

Ogaga Ifowodo

That voice, the deep octave sound of it, clean and assured, then deeper when it breaks into laughter and reverberates across the room. I last heard it just over three months ago. In Akure, at the second international conference of The Fangunwa Study Group, convened with the theme “Wole Sòyinka, D.O. Fagunwà and the Yorùbá Artistic Heritage” in honour of Soyinka’s 85thbirthday. I attended it purely in continuation of the celebration of the birthday, the promised screening of Tunde Kelani’s film adaptation of The Lion and the Jewel, and to reconnect with so many of the people I would rather be seen within our hapless country cursed, it seems, with dull and uninspiring citizens. On sighting me, Tejumola had moved quickly from delightful greetings — we hadn’t seen each other for quite some time — to enquire about my return home from the United States. “Ah, Ogaga!” he exclaimed. ”Good to see you! How are you doing? I hope you have settled down now. Have you brought your family home?”

The never-failing clarity of that voice also marks TJ’s scholarship. I entered Cornell University, first for a Master of Fine Art (MFA) in poetry, a full decade after he had obtained his Ph.D. When five years later I began grappling with my dissertation, TJ’s own doctoral thesis, published in 1995 by Oxford University Press as Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African-American and Caribbean Drama was one of my guideposts. It is a mark of TJ’s eloquence and insightfulness that although his work focused on drama, I found him very helpful writing my chapter on Derek Walcott’s fraught poetic examination of an identity ”divided to the vein.” The results of my own labours were published in 2013 by Palgrave Macmillan as History, Trauma, Healing in Postcolonial Narratives: Reconstructing Identities. Only TJ’s endorsement adorns the back of the book: “Ogaga Ifowodo’s book,” he said, “is boldly ambitious in coverage and outstanding in theoretical and scholarly density. There is no question about it: this is a major contribution to African diaspora postcolonial literary and cultural studies.” That was enough for me. Though written, I hear those words now in the deep octave silenced here on earth but reverberating in the chthonic realms. Adieu TJ!

-Ogaga Ifowodo is an award-winning poet and practicing lawyer.


Adieu My Friend, Professor Tejumola Olaniyan

Niyi Coker, Jr

Another void has been left in the world. A void in the lives of those of us who attended Ife Department of Dramatic Arts back in the early 1980s. The wonderful and erudite colleague who made record graduating with a First Class degree from the department. We would complete our memorable years at Ife and proceed to the USA for further studies.  Memories of days at Ife are not complete without the department student Librarian and friend. I do not ever recall him ever raising his voice or get upset with anyone. He was such a fine gentleman who took every set back or disappointment in philosophical stride.

His brilliant and humorous mind was the envy of all. He was an avid photographer with a keen eye for the detail.  We will forever miss that melodious baritone voice. We will miss his warmth and camaraderie. You cannot think about Teju without vividly recalling his very captivating and infectious laughter. Thanks so much for the memories my friend, and for sharing your friendship and getting to know you in this lifetime. We are the richer for it.

Rest in perfect peace. You remain in our hearts eternal.

Niyi Coker, Jr. Director of the School of Theatre, Television and Film, San Diego State University, California.

In memory of Igi Iwe

Femi Falana

Professor Tejumola Olaniyan was one of the Nigerians that have done our country proud in the United States. In Olaniyan’s death Nigeria, our country, has lost one of its brightest scholars and intellectual ambassadors. He was the Long Durham Mead Professor in English and the Wole Soyinka Humanities Professor at the University of Madison. His prodigious book, Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics” remains the most authoritative work on the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

As a student leader at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), I came in contact with a number of progressive students.  Tejumola Olaniyan was certainly one of them.  He was introduced to me by a friend, Dapo Olorunyomi who described him as “igi iwe” (tree of knowledge). Since Dapo was not given to flattery, Teju earned my respect instantly. From that moment he became one of my friends on the campus. He was an embodiment of humility.  Teju was one of the students who quietly supported the student union during our undergraduate days.

Since we left Ife we maintained contacts through Dapo or Kunle Ajibade. He visited my office while he was working on the book on Fela. Whenever he visited Nigeria in recent times he usually contacted me  through Kunle. However, I  missed him last August at the Fagunwa Study Group’s Second International Conference to celebrate Professor Wole Soyinka, D.O. Fagunwa and the Artistic Heritage at Akure, Ondo State. He had promised to see me in Lagos on his way back to the United States. But as I was out of the country at the material time, I called him to apologize.

Based on the rich content of his book on Fela, he had accepted my suggestion that the late musician be nominated post humously for the prestigious Grammy Award. He had also agreed to the idea of having a public presentation of the book next year possibly at the 2020 edition of Felabration. Hence, the news of the sudden death of Professor Tejumola Olaniyan who died of heart failure in his home in Madison, United States last weekend came to me as a shock. We have lost Teju at a time that intellectuals of his caliber are badly needed to challenge the manipulation of our country by men and women of expired ideas.

May the surviving wife and two daughters of professor Tejumola Olaniyan have the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.

-Femi Falana, political activist, Fela’s lawyer, is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria

Assistant Professor Ainehi Edoro Glines. Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga

For Teju Olaniyan

Dele Jegede

The terse message flashed over my cell phone on the evening of Saturday, November 30th as my wife and I attended a friend’s birthday bash. “Obituary: Teju Olaniyan is gone.” The message, broadcast to the USA Africa Dialogue List Serve, was from the moderator, Toyin Falola. The hilarity of the packed arena suddenly faded into a muffled buzz as I found myself sinking into an imaginary hole. The crowd, comprising Nigerians, many of whom were dressed in “Aso Ebi,” became a massive blur like splotches of muted colors on an artist’s palette. I stole another discrete look at Falola’s main message. “We lost him, an outstanding scholar.” I went into shock. I was paralyzed; dumbfounded. Since Saturday, I’ve struggled to find the words and courage to express my incredulity. For me, Teju’s loss is visceral.

He was (and will forever remain in our books) one gem of a scholar. More than that, Teju did succeed in excavating extant cartoons as embodiments of national lore and collective foibles and codifying them into scholarly narratives. This was at once epochal and pivotal. From his academic trench in Wisconsin, Teju made it his life-long mission to curate and analyze the fugitive and slippery intangibles that give cartoons their mirth into graspable narratives. He elevated the genre to a rarified level that gives prominence to the artists behind the cartoons. The outcome can be seen in his body of scholarly output, including his https://africacartoons.com/ an encyclopedic and interactive website that is devoted to showcasing African cartoonists and, in the process, drawing attention to the seemingly contradictory thesis that cartoons are not funny; that cartoonists are not jesters; and that society should take this genre seriously. This quest to theorize African cartoons into scholarly discourse led to his most recent monograph, Taking African Cartoons Seriously, which he co-edited with Peter Limb.

Teju Olaniyan will rank high on the list of African sojourners on the global arena who have succeeded in using their talents and intellect to edify Africa. In the process, Teju has inscribed himself into our consciousness. I remain stunned by the fact that he is no longer in our midst. I am however consoled by the certainty that Teju has created an enduring template, one that will stimulate the scholarship of African cartoons.

In times like this, the indescribable pain of Teju’s wife and children plays strongly on my mind. For those of us who have been in a situation such as this, it is undoubtedly gut-wrenching. Negotiating the five stages of grief—from denial and anger, through bargaining and depression, and finally to acceptance, takes time. It also takes the support of family, friends, and associates. May the Lord give Teju’s family the fortitude that is necessary to cope with their loss.

Dele Jegede, Professor Emeritus, Art & History, Miami University, Oxford, OH. 

Mojisola Olaniyan being consoled. Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga

For Tejumola, Who Lives On

Wumi Raji

He was tall, lanky. His voice was deep, baritone. He had a gentle, unassuming appearance. His mind was fecund and his thoughts, profound. He was capacious. His prose flows like a stream following a smooth course, freshly watered by a gentle rain. It was simple. Tejumola was kind, humane. He had charm and charisma. He inspired confidence in people. He was honest and highly principled. He was brilliant, and he ranked among the best and brightest, anywhere. When Kunle Ajibade called me on the evening of Saturday 30 November, 2019, I never suspected that the news he wanted to break to me was in any way terrible. I had tried to reach him the night before but he didn’t answer the call. As soon therefore as we got over the routines of phatic communion, I went into the reason why I had called him originally. Kunle indulged me, allowing generous time to tackle the original issue. When eventually we were done, he told me he had “very, very, tragic news” for me. Even so, it still never occurred to me that it would so terrible. This was such that when eventually he broke, I just couldn’t say or do anything again. I was totally, totally, devastated.

The relationship that grew between Teju and I was not on the basis of physical interactions. To be sure, we met a number of times while he was teaching in Ife. From the moment he travelled out in 1987 and the time when I myself went to Germany in 2000, we never set eyes on each other. Not even once. From 2000 on, however, we met at conferences in USA and Europe and, occasionally, when he visited Nigeria. This year, we worked closely together organizing The Fagunwa Study Group conference held in Akure on 9 – 11 August. Teju and I never met too frequently, no. Our relationship, on the contrary, depended more on exchange of communications via letters, emails, telephone calls (long and short) and, most recently, WhatsApp.

I don’t know what Teju based his judgement on, but there was no doubt that he had confidence in, and trusted, me deeply. He always deferred to me on issues and arguments, and when he differed, as it happened time and again, he was ever gentle in pushing the other angle. If he noticed that I wasn’t convinced, that I just gave up, probably because it happened that the majority was on that other side, he would insist on making me see why the other perspective was the superior position. I served as a peer reviewer to many of the publications which Teju edited, and he also always included mine on the list of names he sent to most journals and publishing houses which sought his advice on who to contact as reviewers. Whenever he wanted to visit Nigeria, he would write to ask if there were books or other materials that I would like him to get for me. Once I introduced a former student of mine who graduated with a First Class to him, wondering if he could assist him to secure funding for postgraduate studies in the US. Teju promised to try his best. A year or so later, the guy was on his way to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a doctoral degree in African Cultural Studies. The two of them would later fall out with each other, but Teju never held that against me. He felt bad about the wasted resources which the crisis with my former student ultimately meant but was convinced it had nothing to do with me. Teju wrote recommendations no end, in support of my applications at different times for jobs, fellowships or grants.

Teju was a very generous person. He was never tired of giving his publications and books out to people, including students, colleagues and friends. He donated several volumes of journals and books at least more than once to each of the Departments of Dramatic Arts and English, and the Faculty of Arts of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. And he did this to other institutions as well. Just as it happened with my former student whose story I just narrated above, Teju assisted many other graduates of Nigerian Universities to secure funding for postgraduate studies in the US. He was generous with his earnings as well. For example, when it began to seem as if The Fagunwa Study Group would not be able to raise enough funds for its 2019 conference, Teju made it clear that he would be willing to make funds available to the group just to ensure the success of the conference. Happily though, the support was not needed in the end.

Teju was a writer. Yes, he was known as a creative writer of great promise before he left Nigeria for further studies in the US in the 80s.Once he got to Cornell, however, he took a decision to pack aside his manuscripts and devote full attention to scholarship. In no time, Teju had distinguished himself as one of the greatest humanities scholars that Africa has ever produced.

Tejumola’s scholarship is stunning in depth and it traverses different fields of humanities. The scholar’s energy was itself boundless and his ambition uncommon. In the tribute he wrote for Teju when he turned sixty in April this year, Biodun Jeyifo described his protégé as possessing the qualities both of a fox and a hedgehog. The fox is the restless animal, always on the move, traversing new terrains, discovering new fields. The hedgehog on the other hand restricts itself to an enclosure, foraging deep within the hedge. I think Jeyifo’s metaphor is apt. Tejumola dug deep in his analysis and the statement he made were many times unsettling. At the same time however, he was never tired of breaking new grounds and testing new waters. His original background was in drama, and his first book Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African American and Caribbean Drama represents a solid contribution to the field. Added to this is African Drama and Performance, a book he co-edited with John Conteh-Morgan and African Theatre Review, a journal he edited jointly with Jane Plastow, James Gibbs and Femi Osofisan. There also are several essays in the same area. In fact, if he had done nothing else, his publications in drama and theatre alone are enough to establish a reputation for him as a major scholar of African and Diasporic studies. But Tejumola did more. Much, much, more. Like the fox that he represented, he continued to cut into new fields, researching and publishing in music, art history, the novel, politics and culture, popular culture, film and cinema. And still a lot more. There is an anthology of criticism and theory of African literature he co-edited with Ato Quayson and the important essay on illustrations in the novels of Fagunwa. Tejumola was finalizing work on African Political Cartoons when he suddenly passed on.

Tejumola died on Saturday, November 30, 2019 and was buried in Madison US, Thursday 5 December, 2019. This fox had indeed travelled far afield, wandered far away from Omu-Aran, Kwara State, Nigeria, where he was born on April 3, 1959. Tejumola is buried but he will never really die. His footprints will remain visible in the different fields through which he had travelled. He will continue to be remembered by the different people he had interacted with while on the way. His different works will continue to illuminate the paths of generations of scholars yet to come. The example he set will continue to inspire others. And the many lives he touched will continue to remember him.

– Wumi Raji, Associate Professor, Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife

Tejumola Olaniyan



What Teju’s Death Taught Us was the Transience of Life

Tunde Babawale

It is most disheartening and heart-rending that one has to write about Professor Tejumola Olaniyan in the past tense. He was so full of life and ideas that one would never have imagined him leaving us so soon. Teju’s death has reminded us all of our own immortality. What he taught us was the transience of life and the need to live every single day of our lives as if it was the last.

My last memory of Teju was at the FSG Conference at Akure, Ondo State, last August. He was not only full of ideas but also full of energy all through the Conference. As the Convener, the lot fell on him to take charge of the organisation and direct proceedings. This he did with effortless ease as he ensured that the timing of sessions and programmes was precise and that discussions were frank, scholarly and sincere.

Teju was a man not given to flamboyance, yet he had the gift of a robust intellect, incomparable organisational acumen and an unwavering commitment to intellectual rigour that endeared colleagues to him. He paid keen attention to details in any venture he laid his hands on. He was disarmingly simple but could not stand academic indiscipline and neither did he suffer fools gladly. Our friend was a quintessential academic whose commitment to the intellectual enterprise was total. He was also an accomplished scholar who showed academic leadership as he helped colleagues and mentored younger academics with an uncommon devotion. What many would not forget about this great scholar of our time was his humanity, selflessness and kindness.

There is no doubt that his untimely transition has created a big vacuum in the Fagunwa Study Group which will be hard to fill. I share in the pains of his immediate family at this time and pray that the Lord consoles the wife and children in particular. As for us members of his extended biological and academic family, this loss is one  that we cannot and will not forget. May the Lord bless his kind soul.

 Tunde Babawale, Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, Nigeria.


Aliko Songolo: A close friend and colleague of Teju. Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga


No More Tears For Teju

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

No tears can be enough, so I have decided to stop shedding tears for my classmate, friend and brother, Professor Tejumola Olaniyan ( 3 April, 1959 – 30 November, 2019).It is cool by me reverting to the smiles and laughter I shared with Teju in his lionized life. My very last encounter with Teju was the Twenty Thousand Naira he handed over to me unsolicited in a Lagos hotel for the treatment of my ailing wife. Teju and I were all smiles with our classmates with whom we shared a most rollicking reunion. Not many people out there know that Teju’s name is Jacob. I used to call him Jacobo! There was nothing he could do about it but laugh at my antics. Teju came into our Drama class at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in our second year in 1979, having gained admission as a direct entry student with Awam Amkpa. Even from the early days, Teju was even more professorial than our Head of Department, Prof Wole Soyinka. Soyinka was as ever full of joie de vivre while Teju was eager and serious. I committed very mortal sins like being caught by Soyinka drinking beer in his class in his home while Teju took charge of always advising me as though he was my father!

Teju’s avuncular kindliness belied the fact that we were actually classmates. He always insisted on reminding me that I ought to understand that I was in the university to study, not to play with the panoply of high jinks. He was fond of my nickname Borojah, and kept repeating that I really “fitted the part of Borojah with a cap on the head.”  Because of Teju I wore a cap almost all the time I was in Great Ife. You can from this gain an insight on why Teju took such an interest in studying cartoons as a field of study in his diverse fields of the academe.

We graduated in 1982 when the Nigerian economy sank into a deep hole, and Teju was full of lament that nations that came last to the table of world capitalism are only left with bones to masticate. The pity is that our class has lost two professors in Professor Foluke Adesina and now Professor Tejumola Olaniyan. It’s not for nothing that Professor Wole Soyinka had a party for our class after our graduation, mincing no words in stressing that we were the most challenging class he had ever encountered in his teaching career. With his first class brain, Teju joined up with Soyinka upon graduation in giving the Ife Drama Department the nous that intimidated all others.

When he travelled abroad in pursuit of the fabled Golden Fleece you did not need any jumped-up evangelist to prophesy that Teju would make a success of scholarship. Teju took the Masters degree he got at Ife to Cornell University in the USA and doubled up the Masters there before capping it all up with his PhD. It was Akin Adesokan who gave me a copy of Teju’s treatise Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African American and Caribbean Drama to review, and I was riveted by Teju’s masterly dissection of Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, and Ntozake Shange, with Imamu Amiri Baraka thrown in for good measure. Teju’s other book, Arrest the Music!: Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics, made some of us who frequented Fela’s Shrine when Teju never went there look like laggards. We ought to have written our own books on Fela! Maybe it was the thick hemp smoke in the Shrine that blinded us the devotees to the book possibilities that Fela’s music presaged, only for a non-devotee with the requisite aesthetic distance like Teju to beat us to the book. Teju always gifted me with his American university T-shirts and suchlike whenever he visited Nigeria.

He revealed to me the untidy delays and searches he experienced in airports across the world when he travelled with the Nigerian passport; but once he acquired the American passport he breezed through the airports with so much respect! He had to wonder if he had instantaneously changed colour! Teju insisted on keeping in touch. It was in this Teju vein of maintaining a community that the Great Ife Drama Class of 82 organized a reunion in Lagos. Teju had just done The Fagunwa Conference in Akure, and then met with us his old mates in a Lagos hotel. Teju had an ongoing documentary shoot he was undertaking on our teacher Soyinka. He engaged all of us as talking heads in the documentary.Trust Teju to insist on the finer details, he directed us to go beyond Soyinka’s activism to delve more into the theories and inventions of his theatre and overall literary oeuvre. It was a very engaging session intervolving memories of the special time we spent with Soyinka before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi who was the teacher closest to us as students came to meet us in the hotel and volunteered to host our reunion in 2020 in a five-star hotel on the island. Now this: Teju will not be there!

-Maxim Uzoatu, a poet and essayist, was on the editorial board of AM NEWS and TEMPO

L-R: Mrs Folasade Akhigbe, Mojisola’s eldest sister; Mojisola Olaniyan, Olabimpe Olaniyan, Mayowa Ajibade, Bolajoko Olaniyan with a guest and others in the hall

Tejumola: The Introspective Scholar

Edmond Emuesiri Enaibe

For many who had the rare privilege to study at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Great Ife was a leveler. Everybody was an equal. Yet there were some students that stood out for one quality or the other. Tejumola Jacob Olaniyan stood out. He was a quiet observer yet integrated into the daring adventures of a pioneering class of students providence brought together. Teju, as he was mostly called by all, joined us at the Department of Dramatic Arts as a Direct Entry (A-Level) student in 1979 along with three others: Awam Amkpa, Dele Aturamu and Achinike Wachukwu. They met a formidable group of boys and two girls who were propelled for academic and social excellence beyond Dramatic literature and performances. Like a collective they took elective courses in other faculties and departments to broaden their knowledge base.The culture of learning that pervaded the Great Ife horizon, the freedom of expression in debates and symposia on national and international issues; and the many radical intellectual posturing of the university community; were all elements that became catalyst that produced students who challenged many “established” academic theories and social mores.

In all these Teju was an active participant. After two years of failed attempt to start the Dramatic Arts Students Association (DASA), Teju emerged the first successful President in circumstances that could be described as Providential. He led DASA to the first ever Nigeria Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF), held at the University of Ibadan in 1981 and also directed Ahmed Yerima’s “The Asylum”, a play that was Ife’s main entry to the festival. Great Ife’s total participation gave the gathering a spine of life. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Teju-led delegation to NUTAF ’81 was the refocusing of the students’ festival from one of just theatrical spectacle to a socially relevant gathering of conscious future leaders/ practitioners. Thus the idea of a Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Students Association was formed and Unife was saddled with the responsibility of writing a draft constitution and modalities of operations. By 1982 when the second NUTAF held in University of Jos, Teju submitted to the congress a draft constitution that had been tirelessly put together by a committee of Owei Lakemfa, Adeolu Ademoyo, Awam Amkpa, Edmond Enaibe, John Onwah, Maxim Uzoatu, Niyi Coker, Funsho Alabi, etc. Teju’s scholarly disposition was natural. Involved as he was in some of these activities, he somehow excelled in academics. He shared knowledge and books. He took time off studies to join the exodus to Oduduwa Hall every night to watch movies. Yet he remained a straight ‘A’ student. It was no surprise therefore when at graduation in 1982, Teju became the first person to obtain a First Class degree in Dramatic Arts, a feat that made him to be retained as a Graduate Assistant Lecturer in the department.

However, the tie that held us together as students was not rekindled until 37 years later in August 2019 when we had a re-union in Lagos, Nigeria. Teju was an active advocate for this coming together especially after the demise of Anthony Obi and Prof Foluke Adesina. The re-union had in attendance Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, our teacher, lecturer, big brother and later HOD, who shared with us an emotional recall of mentorship with his special group of students. Ironically, after all the reminiscences of the years gone by, Teju raised the issue of our health status and the need to go for regular medical checkups. To drive the point home, he told us of how he did not know that he was hypertensive until he chanced into doing a routine medical test where it was diagnosed. Since the discovery he had been on medication to suppress the condition. Low and behold, Teju fell to the cold pangs of the very condition he already knew of and prepared against. How are the mighty fallen. Why was there no premonition to guide us against this loss. How were we to know that the re-union of Class ’82 in August 2019 was Teju’s last super with us? The back slaps, the hugs, laughs, smiles and photographs have become indelible memories of a great crowning moment with one of the world’s most renowned scholars of contemporary African Literature. Rest well TeeJay Moola!

-Edmond Emuesiri Enaibe, former Arts Editor of The Republic newspaper, is a distinguished Nigerian actor


The Arrest of a Dream

Gbemisola Adeoti

As undergraduate students in the Department of Dramatic Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Tejumola Olaniyan and Kemi Atanda-Ilori served as models and sources of inspiration to us in creative writing, pedagogy and scholarly research. They were early career lecturers then, close to their students. Outside official precincts of teaching and learning, I had a closer encounter with Tejumola Olaniyan (Uncle Tee Jay or TJ as we fondly called him) in 1987, when he, along with Kemi Atanda-Ilori, Kunle Ajibade,  Femi Dunmade, Sesan Ajayi and other postgraduate students, started the Ife Literary Series. This was a “coterie” committed to the production and criticism of literary arts. Some of us had the privilege of meeting at this forum with our teachers and seniors. We had a lot to learn from and admire in the organizing skills, simplicity, clarity of thought, accessibility and originality of ideas demonstrated by Tejumola Olaniyan. Personally, I was further fascinated by his adaptation for the stage, Aminata Sow Fall’s The Beggars’ Strike. I took part in the staging of the adaptation. The Nigerian domestication of the story of this Senegalese novel within the context of Nigeria’s failed Second Republic bore the creative imprints of Olaniyan. He remained since then, a motivating spirit, even when he left Ife for Cornell University, Ithaca, USA around 1989, in pursuit of “scholarly Golden Fleece”. I remember assisting him in 1996 in an aspect of data gathering for his research project on Nigerian political cartoons which has begotten several scholarly essays and of recent, a definitive book on the art of political cartoon in Africa. I still have faint echoes of his deep voice and pedagogical delivery as he presented a paper on the same subject in 2014 under the OAU Institute of Cultural Studies Seminar series while I was the Director of the Institute.

When we  gathered in Akure from 7th to 10th of August, 2019 at an International Conference organised by The Fagunwa Study Group to mark the 85th birthday of Wole Soyinka, no one had any premonition that one of the prime movers of the Group would soon move on to another terrain and be seen no more. It is quite sad, shocking and devastating that we have to lose another African scholar of global reckoning. Olaniyan was a literary critic of distinction with refined taste and painstaking predisposition. He was a humane and humble academic who elicited hidden potentials in many students that came his way. He represented the limitless possibilities that a creative, consistent, competent, urbane, altruistic, determined and focused scholar can bring about. With his research activities and publications, he conferred a greater prestige on popular literature, especially music and cartoon in literary studies, making it a worthwhile field of scholarly inquiry beyond the familiar genres of literature. Unlike some people who would be given small positions and would turn such positions into instruments of bullying, oppressing, tormenting and intimidating fellow human beings rather than serving them, Tejumola Olaniyan used his many positions and opportunities to share with colleagues, lift up the upcoming ones and make impact in the composition, dissemination, theory and pedagogy of literature. With his exit on 30 November, 2019, heaven has arrested a blooming dream.

Gbemisola Adeoti, Professor of Literature, English Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.

Teju Will Not Die

Olakunle George

How am I supposed to write about Tejumola Olaniyan and dying? I know it is not possible to pay proper tribute to Teju at this time. The feeling of dejection is still too deep. Yet I am surprised at how difficult it is to even say that he is dead. I have been friends with Teju and his spouse Moji (“de Law”), since our years at Cornell University. He is known for his seriousness and strict discipline. But this was a man who effortlessly took to the dance floor at parties. 

In 1989 I saw him dance most joyfully, boyish yet somehow old with wisdom, at the christening party for Bola his first daughter. I’ve heard him speak, so very proudly, of the smartness of his children, Bola and Bimpe. He had texted me to ask how my son, now a sophomore in college, was getting on. Periodically, I had quarreled with him for one annoying habit he had: Teju innocently assumed that everyone (myself included) possesses his boundless level of confidence and energy. So how am I supposed to write about Teju in connection with the stasis of death?

If I could talk to him now, he would probably tell me to cut the rigmarole and write the damn tribute. Teju was resilient and efficient in a way that should serve as inspiring example to us all. He truly believed that academic brilliance gets nowhere if it is not reinforced by hard work and organization. This belief showed in his life, work, and his tireless commitment to the professional institutions he cared about. His role models are partly to blame for this exemplary approach to work and life. The culprits are his former teachers at Ife, and a number of others at Cornell. These teachers inspired Teju and turned his life into  meaningful teaching, writing, and institutional stewardship. Teju’s humanist commitments and sense of vocation came, at least in part, from the influence of these predecessors. He was proof of the luminous excellence that Nigerian universities were capable of producing not too long ago. In time, we will find adequate words to convey what Teju means to African studies, black diaspora studies, and postcolonial studies, to name just three of his fields of impact. For now, it is important to tell the world of the magnitude of our loss. On a personal note, I will in time learn to accept that he is really gone. 

For now, I join countless others in mourning the loss of this delightful writer and critical thinker.

Mojisola, Bolajoko, and Olabimpe: please know that he is out there somewhere, resting and watching with pride. Tejumola Olaniyan is an unforgettable friend and colleague, ènìyàn iyì, who has now become immortal. He will not die, because we will continue to read him and think with him.

-Olakunle George, Professor of English and Africana Studies, Brown University.


From The Olaniyans: Appreciation

Olabimpe Olaniyan

On behalf of the Olaniyan family, my mother, my sister and myself, I would like to give a word of thanks. I just know that if my father were here, he’d look around and say, “Don’t you people have jobs? I mean seriously, this is mid-day, mid week. You all really ought to be at work.” And yet, here you all are.

Olabimpe Olaniyan, daughter, paying tribute. Photo credit: Ndirangu Wachanga

I know that there are no words of gratitude that would feel like any more than a gross understatement. We are absolutely humbled by the turnout, and by the consistent and fervent support of all of you in this immediate local community and far beyond. To the institutions that served as his intellectual homes throughout the years -University of Ife, Cornell University, Northwestern University, University of Virginia, and, of course, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To the academic organizations ALA and ASA. To the local community of Africans and particularly Nigerians in UNIMA. We have been surrounded and lifted up and supported with his same iconic discipline.

We know the shock of his passing is because of his heart condition, which he lived with for 13 years. In every single moment until the last, the fact of his condition seemed contradictory to the fullness with which he lived his life. He was as determined to prioritize enjoyment as he was motivated in his work and scholarship.

Thank you so much again for your words today. We are truly touched. I know many others wanted a chance to speak, so we’re hoping you will join us at the celebration of life next year. Details to be announced.

Thank you. Thank you so much.

-Olabimpe Olaniyan (daughter of Tejumola Olaniyan), an engineer, works at Accenture, US.





Join The Conversation


  • Betty Akumatey says:

    Teju… A true friend and Lover of souls

    “Hullo Betty” would occasionally appear in my gmail account, followed ultimately by by ” cheers Teju”.

    Though written I could instantly hear the deep voice conveying the cariing words from the heart of a loving friend several thousands of miles across the Atlantic ieither simply on me or in urgent pursuit of “Akosua’s” political cartoons or photos of urban cemeteries in Ghana.

    The news came through a mutual friend and colleague a couple of days after you took your last breath. There was no way I anticipated the mention of your name after the all the effort by our friend to prepare my mind for it. How could I? When a few months earlier Moji had dropped a hint about the secret preparations towards your 60th birthday and oh, how glad and privileged I felt to be an accomplice to the surprise package all the way from Ghana.

    “You deserve it” I whispered to myself, as I embarked on my nationwide search across sophisticated art galleries. Moji knew exactly what would blend with the canvas of your soul. Something unique that would definitely release the depth of gratitude from your innermost being.

    Oh Teju, a friend who transcended consanguineal bonds, Fare thee well. May the extra terrestrial realm receive your sweet soul and give you eternal rest. Moji once again may God comfort and strengthen you and the entire family.
    Betty Akumatey

  • ycaptain says:

    never met him in person, but he is a scholar whom we will all miss sorely. His publications helped strengthen my Diaspora studies. yvonnecaptain.com

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