Thursday, September 9, 2021 5:22 pm
By Nehru Odeh
Prof. Adebayo Williams cuts the figure of an Olympian. Tall and huge with an imposing figure, his physique naturally makes him not just a giant literally but also a literary one who traverses the academic and media landscapes with panache and gusto.
Yet his signature smiles, sharp wit and eloquence also make him a man of the people, a global citizen and a jolly good fellow. Little wonder he has the interest of the common man at heart and is passionate about good governance and the common good.
This aptly describes Professor Williams, distinguished academic, journalist, writer, essayist, public intellectual and scholar, who turned three scores and ten today. Still, the remarkable thing about this Gbogan-born but internationally-acclaimed scholar is that he has been able to combine the seeming contrasting qualities of both town and gown and make good use of them not just for his own endearment but also for the betterment of the Nigerian people.
Here is a man who has not only the gift of the garb but also the brilliance of an egghead. Here is a man who though was born with the proverbial silver spoon also dines with the lowly and makes sure they get good governance. Here is a man who is not just cocooned in the Ivory Tower cracking his brain trying to unravel esoteric literary codes but has also spread his tentacles and experienced what it takes to live as a common man..
While the numerous students he had mentored – many of whom are themselves accomplished Professors today- attest to his intellectual brilliance, humility and amiable personality, Nigerians, irrespective of class, religion or tongue will never forget his passion for good governance and excellence. They will never forget his lucid prose written with style and published in the Nigerian media in the 80s and 90s.
Still, Williams’ achievements in the 70 years he has spent on earth are legion. Described by many as the greatest essayist to have come out of Africa, he maintained regular weekly columns in many Nigerian newspapers and magazines at various times from 1985 till date, columns in which he has been writing very brilliant and intellectually- stimulating essays that are critical of bad governance. And he has been able to dominate public discourse and drive the campaign for social change in Nigeria, what with his brilliance, his erudition, his sharp wit and penetrating intellect.
What makes Williams’ achievement laudable is that he is not just an academic who teaches literature in the University and deals only with abstracts and theories but has also put what he has learnt and continues to impacts others into practice. His novels, The Year of the Locusts and The Remains of the Last Emperor are both winners of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) prose prize in 1988 and 1995. He was also twice winner of the Odunewu prize for Informed Commentary in 1993 and 2000.
And he has proven to be exceptional in various fields of human endeavour, aside from being a journalist (a sub editor with the Tribune), even before he gained admission into the then University of Ife, he had excelled as a journalist. And as an academic, his books and scholarly articles span several fields, namely: Theory of Literature, Political Theory, Theory of Governance and Democratisation, Cultural Production, Post-Colonial Theory and Creative Writing.
Still, Williams displayed his exceptional scholarly qualities early on. While a visiting graduate student in 1981/ 82 session, he was appointed Honorary Visiting Lecturer in the Department of English, University of Sheffield, England, where he gave lectures and led seminars in the new area of Theory of African Literature. And In 1986, barely three years after being awarded a doctorate degree in Theory of African Literature, he became a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Literature in English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Small wonder President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, extolled Williams’ contribution to public discourse and 50 years of scholarship and university teaching that he has tucked under his belt.
He also praised him for being a source of inspiration to the younger generation and a source of pride to the country, noting that the multiple-award-winning writer, after years of teaching at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), took his intellectual prowess to Europe and America for many decades.
“President Buhari said Prof. Williams has used his God-given talents for the good of humanity round the globe.
“Rejoicing with the Williams family, the academia, friends and acquaintances of the celebrated writer and teacher, the President wishes Prof. Williams longer life, good health and greater contribution to scholarship and sharing of knowledge. He addresses the newspaper columnist not to relent in addressing issues of governance very crucial to Nigeria and Africa,” Adesina said.