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Nyaknnoabasi: 50 Years In The Library



Nyaknnoabasi Osso’s story is an account of a great intellect—signposted by passion, diligence, and top-notch organisational sense, with no eye for persona
Nyaknnoabasi Osso

Sam Akpe

Nyaknnoabasi Osso’s story is an account of a great intellect—signposted by passion, diligence, and top-notch organisational sense, with no eye for personal gain. Nyaknnoabasi is a librarian who has given the job a meaning that is outside the run of the mill. In his thinking and practice, a library is not only about books. It is principally concerned with a meticulous, purpose-driven management of information and knowledge. Librarianship, he insists, is about a diligent search for relevant information, the processing of the findings, their storage in retrievable formats, and their maximal use to meet set needs.

When a man has practised for 50 years in his line of training and yet believes much is still in store for him in the profession, the fellow cannot be ordinary. Nyaknnoabasi loves the smell of books. His collection of the written word, in digital and hard copies, is a reflection of how his mind works. In the last 50 years, hardly has any day passed that he has not contributed to knowledge and problem-solving by giving out information in various formats to people — even from the pulpit where he serves as a pastor.

Always pregnant with freshly-minted ideas, Nyaknnoabasi has refused to slow down. His inner mind is the mental equivalent of a construction site; always busy. He has an unparalleled enthusiasm for books; and believe me, he has acquired and read not a few of them. He adores biographies. The next thing he consumes with such fervour is gospel music.

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At 67, Nyaknnoabasi’s routine is unusual. He cannot be found sleeping in the afternoon. He goes to bed late in the evening and is religiously awake before midnight. From then till the following evening, his brain and his hands are at work.

A few years ago, someone moved into the neighbourhood where I live. I was ignorant of the person’s identity. Then one morning, I had a telephone call. As I tried to establish the identity of the caller, an authoritative voice silenced or rather pre-empted my enquiry with: “My name is Nyaknnoabasi Osso. I am your new neighbour, and I am at your gate.” I was out of Abuja. On my return, we met. That meeting is still on.

Today August 27, Nyaknnoabasi is 67 years old. Imagine that little boy from an unremarkable village called Ete in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State. Once upon a time, he sold kerosene by the roadside so that he could go to school. Primed to study medicine; he got attracted to the aroma of new books. That was in 1971. The boy has since become a man—a father and a grandfather. Let’s start from the beginning.

His mother had eight of them; all boys. He was the last. Seven died before he was born. None died at birth. They were all born alive and celebrated before death visited. Some died just before their first birthdays. They simply slept and did not wake up. None of them lived long enough to see the other’s birth. The unproven belief was that the same child was making rounds of torture in the family.

Therefore, when the last child was born, no one gave him a chance of survival. Prior to his birth, his mother had given up on child-bearing. His father vowed to remain committed to his only wife—no second wife, no concubine.

But that was not to be. His mother decided to do what the Biblical Sarah did with Abraham when their marriage produced no child. She told the husband: “I’m not going to stay here alone and die alone. I’m going to get you someone—someone that will give us children.” She found the husband a beautiful young woman; as wife.

The man, a committed Christian, protested. But he later succumbed to some social pressure; and accepted the free-will offering from his wife. Both entered the other room. However, to show his first wife that his love for her was still strong and intact, he spent most of the nights with her. Two excitements unfolded in quick succession: both women became pregnant; almost at the same time.

Nine months later, it was delivery time. While the labour lasted, the senior wife was obviously more interested in the unborn baby than her own life. She pulled the midwife aside and verbally declared her will: if I die in the process, this baby should be named Nyaknnoabasi, meaning I have given him to God. From multiple premonitions and the advantage of personal history, she was convinced, though without any tangible proof, that another boy was on the way.

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Soon, words reached her husband in the farm: your wife is in labour. He quickly left everything, mounted his bicycle and pedalled breathlessly in the direction of the local birth attendant. Before the expectant father reached the birth spot, the baby was in the safe hands of the midwife. A boy! As soon as he set his eyes on the baby, with teary eyes, he declared, I am leaving this one in God’s hands—Nyaknnoabasi. There was no consultation between husband and wife over the name. It came by divine, spontaneous inspiration.

Fast forward. The child, Nyaknnoabasi Osso, was special in many ways. From the community primary school, he passed through the legendary Regina Coeli Secondary School founded by Irish missionaries in 1955. Both in First School Leaving Certificate Examination and the West African Examination Council tests, he emerged with the best scores, in science and art subjects. Life was difficult for him. Though he was the only child of his mother, his father however had 10 other children from the second wife. But his mother was determined to give him the best education — both formal and informal.
His mother did something peculiar. As a way of guarding against another sudden death, she never allowed Nyaknnoabasi to sleep in the afternoon — afraid that he would not wake up. She had experienced the same nightmare from her deceased children. It was time to avoid the risk. When he moved into the dormitory during his secondary school days, the village elders collectively sent a message to the school authority: exempt this boy from siesta; he is a special case.

From Ette in Ikot Abasi where he was born, his first trip outside his state was to the University of Ibadan, where his uncle, Professor Eno Jumbo Udo, lectured. With excellent performance in the sciences, Nyaknnoabasi was already programmed to study medicine. But that did not happen because he was instead offered admission to study chemistry. He stubbornly turned it down because he could not endure the smell of chemicals.

This implied that he had to wait for the next entrance examination. With that decision, he condemned himself to certain undesirable home chores. For 10 months, he was a babysitter. As the only child of his mother, he never took care of a baby before then. There was no time to learn. He had to feed the baby and wash the napkins. At night, he washed plates and polished the wooden tiles. His bedtime was 2 a.m. Wake-up time was 5 a.m.

Then came the good news. One of his friends; Ukoyen, a post-graduate student, informed Nyaknnoabasi of a vacancy for a library assistant at the university. He applied, and got the job. That was in 1971. He was 17. It marked the beginning of a journey with a one-way ticket.

In fact, when he went for the interview, he was enraptured by the smell of new books, and was irresistibly charmed by the manner books were arranged on the shelves. It reminded him of how his mother used to arrange clothes and kitchen utensils back home. She drummed it into him that a disorganised person always led a purposeless life.

Driven by a gigantic zeal, Nyaknnoabasi applied and was admitted to the library school. But his uncle refused to pay his fees; insisting that his nephew must study medicine. Almost frustrated, Nyaknnoabasi sought help from far and near. He pulled through.

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On graduation in 1975, he met Professor Donald Ekong, Vice Chancellor of the newly established University of Calabar. It was on Ekong’s invitation that Nyaknnoabasi left UI on a leave of absence to work at the UNICAL library. On arrival in Calabar, he was informed that Ekong was out of the country. What? By divine direction, an old classmate introduced him to Chief Ekei Essien Oku — one of Nigeria’s earliest chartered librarians and the first woman chief librarian in Nigeria. He had an instant job.

One Monday morning, Nyaknnoabasi noticed a familiar face in the library. He had not met Ray Ekpu before; but had read his column the previous day in Sunday Chronicle — a paper edited and made famous by Ray. He walked up, greeted Ray, and offered to help with any information the editor needed. Conversation started.

Ray got curious and asked: “I have not seen you before, are you new here?” Nyaknnoabasi’s impressive self-introduction fetched him a lunch invitation. Ray informed him of the absence of a good library at the Nigerian Chronicle and asked for a feasibility study.

That assignment took the young librarian to major media organisations across Nigeria. His rich, voluminous report led to the establishment of one of the best media libraries in Nigeria. Unfortunately, that library is no more. It was razed down recently during a mass protest against police brutality.

His effort was rewarded with a job offer, which he could not reject. Encouraged by Ray, Nyaknnoabasi travelled to both the US and UK, made contacts and got loads of books from international bodies. He loved it!

Shortly after, Dele Giwa, the then editor of Sunday Concord was in Calabar for the Nigerian Guild of Editors conference. He stopped over to see his friend, Ray. When he needed materials to write his column, Ray proudly referred him to Nyaknnoabasi.

Something dramatic happened when Nyaknnoabasi pulled out a folder from his drawer containing cuttings of Dele’s writings from Daily Times to the Sunday Concord. Dele was visibly impressed. That encounter triggered a relationship that eventually took Nyaknnoabasi to Newswatch magazine in 1984.

It was at Newswatch that his career assumed an international prominence. His first assignment was to gather background materials and develop a data bank on 1000 issues which the magazine considered important to focus on as it took off. This took Nyaknnoabasi back to high-profile media houses in the UK and the USA.

He visited the BBC Media Enquiry Services; TIME magazine; the Economist; the Financial Times; the New York Times; the British Library at Corlindale, North London; Europa Publishers, CNN, Newsweek; Who’s Who in America, World Almanac Book, Editors and Publishers, among others.

Besides gathering the required data, his principal mission was to understudy, return and build a media library that would compete with the best anywhere in the world. It is believed by those who should know that he did a good job of it.

At a time, Nyaknnoabasi became more popular at Newswatch than most of the journalists there. The popular belief was that any information Nyaknnoabasi could not provide in two minutes, or at least tell you the sure way of getting it, did not exist.

Mysteriously, he did this at a time computer or the internet was unheard of in this part of the world. It still remains a puzzle how he did it. As if that was not enough, he went ahead to publish the globally acclaimed reference book: Newswatch Who’s Who in Nigeria; 1989.

READ ALSO: Can Civil Service Profession Be Saved from Politics?

This was one of the high points of his professional ingenuity. The book, a compendium of background data on Nigeria’s most outstanding individuals, attracted international commendations and subtle enquiry: ‘how did he do it?’

As soon as the book came off the press, America’s Department of State bought 300 copies and invited Nyaknnoabasi over. They wanted to be briefed on how he managed to get all the information in the book, in a country that was completely blind to or slim on information management.

During his six weeks stay in US as an international visitor, Nyaknnoabasi was taken to Columbia University School of Journalism where he had interactive sessions with the authorities, on the book. He also had sessions with library officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon. They needed to know how Newswatch Who’s Who in Nigeria was conceived and executed without the required technology for such a project.

On his return to Nigeria, Nyaknnoabasi was decorated with various awards by recognised professional bodies. One day, he read a story in the Sunday Times about African Leadership Forum — an international leadership think-tank established by Obasanjo. While others saw the report as a mere news item, Nyaknnoabasi turned it into a huge opportunity. Twenty-four hours after one phone call, he had lunch with the retired general. It was the beginning of a new phase of a working relationship that lasted for 25 years.

Drawing from his international exposure, Nyaknnoabasi submitted a proposal to Obasanjo for the establishment of the first Presidential Library in Africa, located in Abeokuta. Though put in abeyance for several years when Sani Abacha sent Obasanjo to jail, the proposal was dusted up in 1998, with Nyaknnoabasi placed directly in charge of its execution.

This created opportunities for him to visit four Presidential Libraries in the United States. He met with three living American presidents including the late President George Walker Bush, President Jimmy Carter, and President Bill Clinton. He couldn’t meet the late Donald Reagan in person; but he interacted with members of his family. He even attended a Sunday School Class with Carter and family.

Located on a 32-hectre land in Abeokuta, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, the brainchild of Nyaknnoabasi Osso, is the first of its kind in Africa.

While serving with President Obasanjo as special assistant on library, research and documentation, Nyaknnoabasi underwent a study of information management system at the Executive Office Library in the White House. During the period, he interfaced extensively with officers of NARA—National Archives and Record Administration. The tutelage prepared him for his assignment in the Villa.

I thought I was merely going to pay a brief tribute to a neighbour on his 67th birthday, and 50 years of unprecedented professional achievements. But I have ended up writing a biography; because it is impossible to condense the life of Nyaknnoabasi Osso in few words! Let me simply say: happy birthday, Sir! Congratulations!


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NADECO’s Bliss That’s No More



NADECO’s Bliss That’s No More


Tony Afejuku

I have been doing some investigation on NADECO – National Democratic Coalition. At this point I do not want to go intoto into what I wish or need to say about this uniquely patriotic body of patriotically patriotic Nigerians (some of whom are dead) who were the original founders and members. But I should like to state urgently that NADECO, the original NADECO, was a movement – yes a movement, of intrepid men, real nationalists, of diverse political, professional and intellectual activities. They were generally public figures who were committed to establishing an imperial state – if I may use the term – of bliss for all our compatriots, an imperial state where no one would be discriminated against and barred from occupying the highest office in the land on account of his/her religious and ethnic background and status. In other words, their commitment was to a scientific welfare state where no form of oppression or any kind of ridiculous schemes for manipulating the people and opinion to serve any selfish interest and class would be allowed and tolerated. The conceived imperial state would discountenance any kind of revenge which would not be allowed to ring anywhere and in all observations and complaints; no malevolence was expected to be seen in any praise or words of praise that should bring bliss to all.

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Were these basic values of NADECO not ones of Utopia? Was the ideology of NADECO not suspect in view of the fact that some property-owners would still like to exercise colonial control over their property and their communities where they commanded considerable influence? And who among the original NADECO members and founders were prepared in the real sense of the word to be linked to a different kind of nascent political power as conceived by them? Were they real? Were they genuine? These were some of the questions I posed recently in a discussion I had with a NADECO insider and originator and which I wanted him to answer as simply and as truthfully as possible. Meanwhile, his towered up thoughts shall be in abeyance.

What inspired our discussion (which was part of my NADECO investigation) was primarily the fresh released report of the Lekki procession of last year’s October which was the subject of this column last Friday. Our discussion dwelt on what would have been if NADECO’s divine strive against inequality and predominance of one group or class had come into being. The tarantulas that went to Lekki to bite the EndSars protesters would not have had any place in the land. And your country my country our country would have since become your country my country our country that we always have beautifully yearned to have. All kinds of tarantism would have since bitten themselves out of here. And all our young chaps would have since seen that NADECO is the clearest parable of a pleasurable political body to legitimate acutely the status also of refined political authority to serve the people.

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Today we would not have been talking of restructuring as latter-day NADECOists are basically doing. As I understood (and I still understand it) the original NADECO’s capital was that of the political and professional intellectual: oratorical skill as a politician of beauty and rhetorical proficiency as a writer on the ideological sphere of combat to bring to bay that which must be significantly brought to bay to avoid past errors of our politics. NADECO’s politics as originally conceived and planned was the politics of the Superhero, the politics of the Superman. Each original NADECO personage was expected to possess some doses of Obafemi Awolowo’s extraordinarily significant organic intellectual capability and political acumen. To all intents and purposes therefore every original NADECO member knew and understood the meaning and “closeness to real political power” to be employed as Awolowo intellectually did as an important humanist who was very conscious of the main current of our clime. His distinguished reputation was expectedly expected to flow invariably in the consciousness of each one’s own private and public mind.

Clearly, today’s NADECO – if it still exists – possesses a mind which has since changed from the conscious past of progressive politics and governance to the conscious present of political and administrative restructuring that is remote from the awareness of the past that the current NADECOists’ consciousness is not at all prone to develop.

Who are or were the original NADECO members and founders? Comrade Jonathan Ihonde, an original member and founder – a foremost one – who was highly instrumental to the coming into being of the organized organization committed to wiping out of our land the poison spiders of our politics, is writing a book on the subject. The book is detailing what I don’t want to detail here. For now it is suffice to say that on account of the late MKO Abiola’s plea to him when he purposely came to visit him in Benin City, Comrade Ihonde, the creator of the then very popular NTA Benin “Hotel de Jordan,” a high drama of politico socio-cultural dimension, went to the late Chief Anthony Enahoro to plead for MKO Abiola after contacting various interest groups from every region of our country. This was after IBB killed Abiola’s presidential electoral victory in 1992. Of course his SDP – Social Democratic Party – top guns and fellows had bitten him badly. He meant and vowed to survive the poison of his party’s tarantulas.

READ ALSO: Lekki Procession One Year After

NADECO was thus born in Benin City. The Soviet-trained Comrade Jonathan Ihonde became the organization’s revolutionary Vice-Chairman after Chief Anthony Enahoro was equally elected/appointed its chairman. Other patriots who were visible members/originators of NADECO were Mr. Mike Ehimah (Secretary), the late Senator Olu Akpata, Mrs. Nadena Emovon, Mr. Alex Ayatola (Enahoro’s PA of Igbo stock) and others I cannot immediately recall. Of course, the late Alfred Rewane was aware of the formation and was part of it from inception even though he was abroad at auspicious times of its meetings. But he was NADECO’s indisputable tower of financial strength. Eventually, it was agreed that Abiola’s Western Nigeria should champion the divine battle against the injustice which the northern juntos led by IBB master minded.

Chief Anthony Enahoro and Mr. Alex Ayatola were mandated to visit the late Chief Michael Ajasin at Owo to persuade him to take over the leadership and to gaze into the far field in the endeavour to give Abiola joyful splendour and to usher bliss post-Awolowo to our fatherland. Chief Ajasin had the full mandate to reach out to fellow like minds from his region and elsewhere to give daylight happiness to everyone in the land. The rest from my end is history. But how many of us now cannot but be giddy with pain – how many of us? Are the tarantulas still not poisoning our bliss and happiness? “There must be punishment and justice” (not revenge) to cleanse your country my country our country when our Superman appears. The consciousness of the original NADECO must be re-awakened in us. The real progressive leftists have been silent for too long. We must wrench our true daylight from the darkness and dark hands and dark grips of the current poison spiders that are worse and more than worse than pythons. And let me share this gem with you: the Supreme Spiritual Masters of Merit (SSMM) are seriously turning well in their deathless states.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059


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Covid-19, Managing in Crisis Times And Public Administration



Covid-19, Managing in Crisis Times And Public Administration


Tunji Olaopa

The year 2020 would be remembered in the annals of world history as the year that the coronavirus visited the world and transformed every dimension of human endeavors, from eating and greeting habits to administrative frameworks and the way we see the human world. With millions already dead and many more infected, especially through many variants deadlier than the original virus, the pandemic has already defined a new normal in human relations and activities. It does not take any serious reflection to see that public administration becomes the most significant human endeavor to be challenged not only in dealing with the pandemic, but also in responding to the ordering of the human world in a post-COVID-19 world. All across the world, public administration has often been called upon to deal with wars, pestilences, development efforts, and state projects of all kinds. In Nigeria, for example, public administration had to contend with the task of prosecuting the Nigerian civil war as well as outlining an administrative framework for a post-war social rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The implication of this assessment of public administration and its confrontation with existing realities of each period in history is that public managers must always operate efficiently within what has been called a VUCA — volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous — administrative environment. In such an environment, public managers and the public service are tasked beyond what the traditional administrative machinery is  able to take charge of. This is the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has created a volatile situation determined by the unpredictable behavior of the virus. This makes the administration of human activities even more complex than it usually is. For instance, the lockdown procedures come with stringent economic realities that affect human freedom and well-being.

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One of the greatest challenges of the public service, especially in a postcolonial administrative context like Nigeria, is the determination of what bureaucratic model could best enable a public service that is effective and efficient sufficiently to deal with the challenges of the VUCA environment while also smartly delivering democratic services. Max Weber, the German philosopher who did a lot to influence the emergence of the traditional administrative model, was also confronted with this kind of VUCA-situation in the early twentieth century. The crisis situation came as a result of the hostility between the German Emperor, Wilhelm II and his Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, over the content of foreign and social policies. The emperor’s erratic foreign policy has been considered to be one of the root causes of World War I. Max Weber was a very keen philosophical observer of the defeat of Germany in the first world war, as well as the bureaucratic implications of the power tussle between Wilhelm II and Chancellor Bismarck. For instance, he noticed how administrative dominance of the state consolidated in the absence of a strong political leader. This led him to reflect deeply on how to juxtapose political leadership with a bureaucracy that assists  the state in terms of modernisation and development.

Weber’s understanding of the crisis led to a need to model politician-bureaucrat relationship in ways that determine the boundaries of power and authority around policymaking. For Weber, the way out was to generate a bureaucratic tradition that centralized legal-rational authority founded on hierarchical structure and a one-size-fits-all service-wide standardization of governance and operations. The command-and-control structure constructed the public servant as apolitical, loyal, neutral and anonymous. With the bureaucratic model, Weber achieved a crisis management dynamic in the aftermath of the first world war. The question, however, is whether that Weberian model is sufficient to handle the crisis occasioned by the COVID-19 and the myriad challenges of the new normal. This question resonates even more so in a postcolonial context like Nigeria considered one of the worst administrative settings in Africa. An even more fundamental question is how can public services  become efficient in a time of crisis like the pandemic and its future variants?

Putting the questions like this speaks to the need for organizations like the public service to recognize the necessity of change as the most constant factor that demands of organizations a reform template made up of continuous learning, change management and iterative incremental improvements. In organizational development theory, organizations usually fall prey to three development traps that define what has been called the “first cycle” of the bureaucratic culture. First, organizational success leads to self-satisfaction and an unreflective defense of the status quo. Second, size brings the fragmentation of organizational procedures that takes the public managers far away from customers’ feedback which serves as the mechanism for innovative growth. Third, the age factor implies that the older an organization gets, the more it breeds tradition which over time tends to supersede innovative and creative handling of challenges.

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The question of high-performing public service in a time of crisis also demands the emergence of astute public managers who see decision-making as the nerve of organizational efficiency. In other words, the smart public managers need to transform the public service into a bold, preemptive and high-performing organizations with the capacity to make fast and effective decisions in the time of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. However, decision-making must not be allowed to degenerate into groupthink that hinders individual and organizational creativity, information overload, analysis paralysis that leads to indecision, or overconfidence in the crisis management competence in ways that create tension at both the operational and strategic levels.

The efficiency of any CEO or public manager depends on three critical competences. The first is the capacity to effectively delegate authority in a way that prioritizes the discretion of a crisis manager to independently work in the organizational frontline within a framework of exceptions to the rules that do not however erode the normal regulations in ways that break down the organization. The second competence the public manager needs requires creating a balance between the command-and-control dynamic on the one hand, and participatory team-based decision-making approach on the other.

The third competence that a crisis period demands, is the need for intelligent public managers to be open to alternative scenario planning that anticipates both uncertainties and possibilities. This enables the public servants to bring multiple perspectives to policy challenges and public service delivery using foresight techniques to test different scenarios, and building resilience into policy design from potential shocks and unforeseen events.

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Fashioning new professional skills set involves several other requirements. First, it demands a human resources management architecture around which a new professionalism will be built. Second, this affects the way we reflect on the workplace, work structure and work dynamics that will affect the performance and productivity Nigeria needs. And thirdly, the professionalism must be undergirded by new culture and value changes that enable the public servants to focus on the new enabling values and ethos as well as helping them to think outside of the administrative box.

The idea of scenario planning speaks to the familiar four stages of “forming-storming-norming and performing” model of organization formation that enables any institution and organization to become efficiently formidable not only in dealing with a present challenge but also in anticipating future situations. A public service that wants to be efficient in the new normal created by the COVID-19 pandemic must, within the imperative of scenario planning, adopt a framework of strategic thinking that becomes strategic by challenging the status quo, challenging assumptions and framing strategic choices that allow the public service to not only wade through the difficult times, but also make the best of the situation for the benefit of the citizens.

Furthermore, such a public service must reorder its institutional and structural dynamics and frameworks through several processes, in organisational development trajectory, that must continually refresh the organisational dynamics and prevent it from going into institutional stagnation. These include: (a) Learning organization: An all-out effort is required on the part of managers to keep its employees educated on the latest technology, systems, knowhow and processes; (b) Total quality management: TQM involves employee involvement, teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving, high-level involvement, adopting a work culture aimed at growth and quality of product and services. TQM requires total commitment, removing fear psychosis  due to failure at lower levels, development of successful work culture and continuous improvement; (c) Visioning: Visioning envisages as to what the organization would look like in the future. It is related to the shape in terms of which HR facilities, the growth and the needs of people it is likely to fulfill. Based on the vision, database is required to be built, leading to interpretation of information, arriving at suitable decisions and setting a course of action leading to growth. Visioning refers to looking at the organization in ‘totality’; and (d) Virtual organizations: Getting whole system in one room, evolving action plan and implementation.

READ ALSO: When God Visits A Beleaguered World

In the new normal, public administration is now doubly tasked to achieve an efficient service delivery to the citizens. This means that it cannot not be business as usual for public managers, not in terms of the traditional bureaucratic culture and definitely not in terms of the skills and competency sets. The new normal requires a new public service that is smart and decisive with regard to a decision that transforms the well-being of citizens who are struggling to make sense of their environment.

Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and  Professor of Public Administration, the National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos


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Ibadan: My City of Fame



Ibadan: My City of Fame


Toyin Falola

I have searched; I have attempted, and I conclude that there are not enough words to quantify how much Ibadan     the city of the brave and fierce     means to me. Yes, I did attempt to describe my love for and affinity to the city in my memoir, A Mouth Sweeter than Salt, but I have since acquiesced that Ibadan is that indescribable lover. It is valid to say this love and affinity can be likened to what everyone feels towards their city of birth and origin. However, for me, it is beyond that.

Ibadan is my place of birth; the city of my forebears; and the place where I was raised. What I am today has its roots in where I was born and the receptivity of the environment in which I grew up. It is what psychologists call the nature-nurture continuum. A wise man reminisces, and in reminiscing, he is able to tell how circumstances interwove to produce a unique turn of events. For decades, I have researched and produced papers and studies in history, and at the heart of my scholarly works is African history. I am deeply interested in African history, and that interest can be traced back to Ibadan. As breastmilk to a neonate, Ibadan was my first taste of Africa. Thus, at the mention of Ibadan, or whenever memories of Ibadan surface, a fountain of happiness and contentment surges in my heart, so much so that joy flows through my veins and touches a smile upon my lips.

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Culturally rich, historically blessed, full of resplendent human resources—Ibadan—the city of the brave! To be born of Ibadan parents is to be doubly smart in human dealings. To be born of Ibadan parents, in Ibadan, is to be triply knowledgeable on how to navigate this world of humans. Fortified with thrice as much knowledge and smartness, I ventured into the world. But not until I had learned at the feet of my people. But to love Ibadan goes beyond having natal affiliations to the historical city. Spread like a terrestrial mat across seven hills, Ibadan is famous for its bravery and the intelligence and dexterity of its warriors. Military strength and prowess were at the heart of the dealings of Ibadan people in the past. From the very beginning, the rulers of old Ibadan were warriors who had to prove their superiority by the number of wars they had successfully led their charges to win.

The evolution of Ibadan is worthy of aesthetic praises in itself. Ibadan, at inception, was just scattered war camps on an unmarked forested territory. Lagelu, touted as the founding father of the now extensive city, only wanted a common ground for warriors from Ijebu, Ife, and Oyo. What started as a haven of defense rose to become one of pre-colonial Oyo Empire’s most respected and famous cities. Ibadan went to wars, and Ibadan won wars. Ibadan military gurus were known to specialize in the art of going to wars and winning them.

Miniature industrialization sprang up in some focal cities in Nigeria   Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, among others. With this miniature industrialization came amenities such as the railway, which strengthened the commercial and political importance of a city that was strictly a growing expanse of war camp settlements. Ibadan has greatly developed, and it is still developing. Three things are enviable about Ibadan: its large expanse of land that spreads so far; the boldness of Ibadan citizens to speak their minds, even at gunpoint; and the beauty of Ibadan’s historical aesthetics, better viewed from Layipo, which now houses Bower’s Tower.

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The history of Oyo    as a region and then as a state    cannot be complete without the mention of Ibadan. Decades after the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, there was the compartmentalization of the new Nigeria, resulting in the regional system of administration, which ran till the independence of the state. And, which other city in Western Nigeria would have become the regional capital, if not Ibadan? Ibadan was the regional capital of the Western region, from where the administration and development of the various extensions of the Western region took place. Today, we have Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ekiti, Kwara, Delta, Edo, Lagos, and Ondo    states whose development started from the days of the Old Oyo region, when Ibadan was the center of administration and developmental policy-making. Ibadan is, today, the capital of Oyo State.

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Self-actualization comes for different people in different ways. For many scholars, self-actualization comes from the continual recognition of their works and a commitment to lifelong learning. I am among such academics and scholars who see these two phenomena as a means of self-actualization. Thus, this should help you have an inkling of how thrilled I am to be receiving the Doctor of Letters degree from Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, domiciled in the city of history. I have received several Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) degrees, but this one, from Ibadan, my City of Fame, is a degree for which I went into an academic sojourn. My life and times have been principally about histories    through studies, analyses, and extrapolations. And yet, another history is made as I am the University of Ibadan’s first graduate of the Doctor of Letters degree in the humanities. For this, I am grateful, and I am delighted to identify with one of the most prestigious universities in Africa and a citadel of learning for excellent and world-class education.

It feels amazing to be back home, to my City of Fame, and to receive this honor with the deepest gratitude to everyone who made this remarkable journey worth the while. I appreciate the support I received from the Provost and Deputy-Provost of the School of Postgraduate Studies, as well as my examiners and evaluators at various levels, and the Director of the Institute of African Studies. To those who facilitated the paperwork, payment of school fees, the assemblage of diplomas and essays, the heavy running around, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Professor Adeshina Afolayan and Mr. Wale Ghazal. Professor Ademola Dasylva, in his relentless promotion of the University of Ibadan and what it stands for, paid for the elegant academic gown. I am grateful for the invaluable guidance and encouragement I received; all these spurred me on and made this day possible.

There is the affection, joy and fulfillment that come with us as humans and the humanities. This degree and other awards are testaments to the richness and importance of the work I have done and continue to do as an historian. My affinity with the Ibadan School of History is equally significant. All these culminate in a climax of deeply-seated emotions that I will embalm and keep with me for as long as I breathe.

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Again, I sincerely want to thank everyone who made this history-making occasion possible. Thank you all.

The above was Prof. Falola’s  gratitude statement  on the conferment of the D.Litt. degree at the University of Ibadan on November 17, 2021.


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