Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje: Man, Mentor, Monument
By Tunji Olaopa
This is my fourth essay on Prof. Akin Mabogunje. And it is the only one to be written posthumously. When he became a nonagenarian ten months ago in October 2021, I published the last celebratory article to honor his birthday. After a long trajectory of relating with this larger-than-life personality, this is how I prefigured that birthday celebration: “It is better to celebrate life than death. Life, for me, does not consist in the length of existence but in the depth of the life’s worth measured in other-regarding capacities. In other words, it is better to celebrate the lives of those whose very existence constitutes a symbolic stretch of significant influences that a person has exerted on the collectivity. A hero is one whose life transformed the way we see life itself, and makes indelible contributions to our conceptual, intellectual and national infrastructures. This is the essential way in which I conceive of the fulsome life of Prof. Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, the grandfather of disciplinary geography in Africa, an intellectual, global scholar and patriotic exemplar extraordinaire.”
Now, the man and patriot has joined the ancestors. He lived for nine solid decades, more than seven of which have been spent serving in various capacities, from the personal and the state to the national and international. Now, he has been translated. And contrary to the Yoruba adage that we become deified after death, Mabogunje was revered when he was alive; he was a colossus. And now in death, he has become a monument.
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It is ever so difficult to quantify the measure of any life; and definitely not a life that carried a full measure of providential grace, as Mabogunje’s autobiography proclaimed. “The purpose of life,” according to Robert Byrne, “is a life of purpose.” Martin Luther King, Jr. caps it: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Prof. Mabogunje surpassed this question with his devotion not only to others but also to his family. I am one of the few, I think, that straddled family and others. And that long relationship I had with him speaks a lot about the passion that defined his entire life of achievement, from scholarship to public life. My mentor-mentee relationship with Papa began many years ago when, with his late friend, Ojetunji Aboyade, they made a conceptual and practical success of reengineering thoughts about grassroots development with the optimum community – OPTICOM experiment, that exploits the principle of social capital and subsidiarity in the rural areas, especially at Aáwé, my home town. My mentorship at the feet of Prof. Mabogunje had started as shared responsibility with Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade as at late 1993 when the latter passed on. As part of Aboyade’s programme for my induction into policy professionalism which was perhaps the most rigorous mentor-mentee learning arrangement anyone could imagine, I would also consult Prof. Mabogunje on those issues of policies that touched on his expertise. I was animated with his indescribable capacity to unravel the stories behind the stories and their philosophical underpinnings as education to embellish the policy analytics dimensions. So, I developed the practice of approaching him as sounding board cum unofficial source of knowledge and teacher, and he gladly obliged throughout my career years in the Federal service and after. In the process, I got enlisted into some of his networks. This, apart from his introducing me to distinguished statesmen like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (as president, which grace brought my public administration scholarship to bear on the national public service reform process); Chief Emeka Anyaoku (who delivered the keynote at the inaugural conference of the ISGPP); to dozens of global scholars and personalities around the world, and to many development projects like the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), championed by the Awujale of Ijebuland, HRM Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, to name just a few.
READ ALSO: Tale Of Visions: A Tribute To Professor Akin Mabogunje (1931–2022)
But my most significant learning experience came with the conceptual and administrative trajectories that led to the establishment of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). Throughout all the brainstorming sessions in that experiment in institution building, Prof. Mabogunje would patiently hear you out. And you will know he is very interested in your most earnest ideas and arguments. And like a modern-day Socrates, when he noticed the gap or limitations, as your knowledge of issues played out, he would stretch the necessity of closing that gap by recommending available materials and authorities. And only then would you begin to enjoy the moments of critical engagement with him. Some of those moments led to the sharpening of the ISGPP. Indeed, over many review meetings and technical sessions, Mummy, Justice Titilola Mabogunje, would call to say, “Akin, it is enough. Do you think you are still a young man?” And then, he would check his wrist watch and exclaim, “Do you mean I have been sitting here for these many hours?” That was how dedicated he was to the matters of the mind.
That unflinching discipline is what led from the providential love for geography to an even more uncanny love for Nigeria. This is not a trajectory that anyone can claim to understand; how Mabogunje came to love Nigeria and dedicated himself to her national development and search for greatness. From transforming the study of an “arid” discipline like geography into a truly developmental one, to making Nigeria the centerpiece of his globally sound and locally relevant scholarship, Akinlawon Mabogunje defined the template of patriotic scholarship and socially relevant intellectualism. So, for Mabogunje, geography was not just a discipline, human or physical. It was essentially national—a theoretical articulation of cartographic manipulation to the understanding of Nigerian spaces and places. This becomes even more cogent within the context of Nigeria’s colonial and postcolonial dynamics. As a colonial creation, Nigeria’s amalgamation was an oddity that required postcolonial unraveling. And Mabogunje was right on hand. From his assignment with the 1962 census to the survey of the Kainji region to the delineation and mapping of Abuja as Nigeria Federal Capital Territory, Prof. Mabogunje’s ingenious understanding of geographical dimensions came to the fore in charting a path of development for Nigeria.
His expertise became especially significant with regard to what he called “realistic urban planning” that could lead to regional and national development, and the land tenure predicament in Nigeria. Land reform was especially constrained by the pre-capitalist elements of primogeniture and kinship. Mabogunje’s understanding of the significance of land speaks immediately to Hernando de Soto’s question of why capitalism has not led to the generation of wealth in third world countries, the same way it did in western society. Soto’s answer is that these developing countries, like Nigeria, hold the crucial factors of production, especially land, in “defective forms”: “houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them.” This tallies with Mabogunje’s belief that true development can only come when access to the factors of production is transformed into modern dynamics, for instance, the security of tenure and the property rights of citizens. Land use in Nigeria demands engaging with the deficiencies in the Land Use Act of 1978.
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The land reform assignment eventually and inevitably devolved into a fundamental concern with grassroots and rural development. For a plural country like Nigeria, focus on the grassroots is a significant dimension of the federal imperative. And Mabogunje saw it immediately. His argument, contrary to the efforts at capacitating individuals, is to strengthen the community cooperative structures that transform the entire grassroots on the basis of subsidiarity. The principle insists that the rural areas have the potential to not only transform its own developmental initiatives, but to also enhance Nigeria’s federal strength. And indeed, he insisted, there are four internal elements that are critical for transforming the rural areas: organization, technological innovations, credit institution and market access. And it should not be difficult to see why I read providential assistance to the choice of geography as the discipline that would make Akinlawon Mabogunje—from mapping to rural infrastructure to national development.
Unfortunately, the genius of Akinlawon Mabogunje was critically restricted by the formidable retrogressive forces in Nigerian politics. The bad politics that the Nigerian political class plays has a lot to do with how and why heroic patriotism in Nigeria is essentially crippled. There is a fundamental disjuncture between patriotism and development in Nigeria. Those who have the critical expertise, especially the non-politicians, like Prof. Mabogunje and a host of others, from Wole Soyinka to the Nigerian youths, do not have the means to break into the corridors where the core policies are made to affect Nigeria positively and transformation-ally. Mabogunje served his country to the best of his abilities and capacities. But he simply kept coming short against all the factors that have been restricting Nigeria’s growth and progress since independence. And he never relented, despite his advancing age. Now he has done his bit and has gone to the great beyond. He left his intellectual and scholarly footprints all over Nigeria’s policy mechanisms. He left his ideas and ideals all scattered deeply within the context of making Nigeria a great place; the context within which he maturated, and would want others to also benefit. But most significantly, he left his imprints on the many minds that he mentored in several ways.
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Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje was not just another Nigerian. In his autobiography, he narrated how he met the late Umaru Yar’Adua who asked that he be a part of his resolve to achieve a land reform. This invitation came at a point when Mabogunje, at 75, was determined to take a much-deserved rest for his aging body. And yet he accepted to serve. For all his adult life, he could not resist serving and deploying his humongous intellect and capacities to thinking and rethinking possible resolutions of the Nigerian predicament. While still alive, Mabogunje was a deeply entrenched monument that reaches deep into the intellectual, administrative and political sides of Nigerian postcolonial life. And now in death, Professor Mabogunje has now transited into a monument that reminds us all, and the political class, about what is possible when realistic policy ideas and frames of actions meet undaunting and focused political resolve in making Nigeria better. Mabogunje, like so many other patriots, believed in Nigeria. The last chapter of his massive autobiography is dedicated to an alternative set of perspectives of what he called an “emerging vision” of Nigeria. Indeed, his last sentence in the narrative of his life declared that he had lived a most fulfilling life in being allowed to play a “modest part” in the emergence of that vision. Only a patriot, who loved and lived for Nigeria, could say that. And may the soul of this giant Iroko, emeritus professor Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, NNOM, CFR, CON, rest in peace.
.Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos .
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Death At Dawn, Rebirth At Dusk
By Toyin Falola
Twilight-zone, Afterlife, What-Mays, and Whatnots;
Questions that transcend mortal thoughts.
Uncertainties plucked by the hands of certainty
pondering life beyond the galaxy.
Philosophies, religions, and sciences;
Ancient lenses to dissect and ponder.
Beliefs, opinions, and standpoints in their multiplicities;
Scalpels that open the heart of certain death
Blazing free the skins of uncertainty.
Science, a nobility I revere,
But it stammers answering to the afterlife.
For science is knowledge and knowledge from experience
But the dead neither speak, nor take records.
Their journeys, ordeals, triumphs or woes?
No one bears witness.
But as dead, we must all be witnesses;
witnesses that testify not.
So, for now, we survive the knowledge of death.
On my Agbàlàgbà head lies my Ọ́kpụ́ Ágwụ́
With eagle feathers, rare and honorable
Adorning it for three scores, a decade, and some more days.
I had flipped my Kente given by the Gaa
And danced to crescendos from Gàngàn drums
I have been celebrated and celebrating
For the miracles, I have worked with pen, paper, keyboard, and brain
I have taken the tales we tell in my village square beyond the Atlantic
Changed the songs that disdain us into appraisals
I have called my brothers not to point to our fathers’ house with their left hands
I have honed Africa and beyond
To answer the calls of the people’s need
I have reached the thinkable and done the unthinkable
So, I danced and keep dancing.
Suddenly, I felt a touch on my host?
Electrifying my hand, leg, brain, and my whole
Telling me that my jur from the Dinka people awaits me.
That my hourglass tells of crossing the bar.
I thought I knew what it was like,
But my grasping convictions of approaching jur were perceptions
Just surviving the death of the knowledge of death
So, arms wide open ready to abound
What was there to fear?
No catacomb of secrets
No palm oil-drenched white garments
I have taken many to my gourmet
To feast and to see.
What was there not to fear?
With medicine men and women,
Syringes, lights, water, ECG, Oximeters, voices, and touches
Hovering around me like a sacred etutu
Making conversations with me and beyond
I was thrown into a pool of reminiscence
one leg and a part of me were already in the boat
It beckoned but I heard another.
A loud voice like my mother’s.
Who takes a journey without locking his home?
Who takes the jur with unpatched palm fronds on his hut?
While the thunder rages up the sky?
The walls are broken and Balogun journeys?
So, I left the sea to clear the cobwebs and light up the night lamb.
The past few weeks have opened new lights of understanding to me. I now see the world from different hills and have helped to reach new resolutions. I know I have written about “transitioning to nothingness,” but my emphasis was on the “nothingness” with lesser attention on “transitioning.” I think we need to continue to ask questions. Philosophies, religion, sociology, psychology, science, and other ramifications are mere perceptions and we are uncertain. The transitioning occurs when death becomes an angel to hug not a beast to fear. We do not know what it entails but one must always endeavor to go with clean hands.
My recovery from an illness may have offered me a fresh opportunity to shout some more, point to societal needs, and settle unfinished businesses. No, not those caused by my personal undoing, but rather those of the people who would be left unguided, and for matters untold about life, society, and individuals. I can say I have passed through the lessons of tantra transfiguration, to use an elegant phrase that I recently came across, to move from secular to sacred activism. No one survives death because of its finality, but when it seems that you did, it is a renewed quest, offering a new purpose.
Professors On INEC’s Will (3)
By Tony Afejuku
The debate has progressed well so far. Our professors, whose strokes have centred on their fellow professor’s manned INEC have tried as best as they could not to confine their impressions solely to the prism of subjectivity. Even when their impressions seem to be subjective, they still make allowance for contrary views, for opposing views. This obviously gives clarity, objectivity and logic to the subject at hand. Is the will of INEC of a professor minder and mincer of words’ control the will of the people or of the masses? On whose side are the Professors who are as concerned as almost everybody is with what is going – or with what has gone on – primarily about our Presidential 2023 elections? Our Professors who are debating the subject constitute the courageous and prophetic Nigerian voices of our day. Their authentic and responsible thoughts are not restricted to the local or regional. They are also not confined to electoral duties and responsibilities expected of the umpire and the will that belongs elsewhere. The truth about the quality of leadership about our country and elsewhere is also told in the debate of the literati.
Professor (Mrs.) Razinatu Mohamed in her submission, in her salvo-cum-explosion actually, drew attention to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s explosive explosion in the presidency. If Professor Osinbajo had provided the right vice-presidential leadership there would not have been the need for him to explode as he did as per a viral video Professor Razinatu Mohamed referred her fellow debaters to. “What has he been doing in the eight years of their administration? Irritated my foot; he is complicit.” Not done, Professor Razinatu drew attention to the kind of leaders that Nigeria and Africa need: “Leaders that understand the rudiments of modern socio-economic development and systems; Leaders that understand the crux of requirements for economic growth. Leaders that could demonstrate to the rest of the world that just as the world needs Africa, African countries need the world in a symbiotic relationship and partnership context where assistance becomes a dual role…..”
Razinata’s concern is clear. Nothing in Nigeria will climb out of its hollow hole. In fact, the will of the people will remain hollow so long as a hollow mincer and minder is in charge of its electoral affairs.
Professor Da Sylva perhaps responds better to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s algebraic stroke. “Unfortunately, Nigeria’s democracy is trapped in its primordial self-made ethnic and religious sentiments and so, standards, merit, competence and pedigrees are measured by their curious divides of religion and ethnic inclinations. Until we all come to realize that heavens help those who help themselves, Nigeria ain’t going no-where – meeen!”
But below is Professor Da Sylva’s sledge hammer response to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s Osinbajo hammer blow:
“Prof Osinbajo’s office demands he does what he did. Besides, it shows maturity and spirit of sportsmanship on his part. Every loser in a game “healthily” contested, is naturally expected to do the same. The only difference which again shows Osinbajo’s magnanimity is that in this context, the contest under reference was neither healthy nor just. The umpire seemed compromised and merely worked to a prepared answer. Yet the gentleman did the needful. I guess, brothers and sisters, that we should put all that behind us, and work for our common good, and the wellbeing of the country, provided the mythical Aso cabal will let the President-elect be, and let the masses be, and as such, they should not create any cause for us to think otherwise, lest they provoke our sense of patriotism to take appropriate action! I guess that those were the reading or feelings of the dirty-minded Aso Villa cabal. People that kill with sword never wish that any folk should pass a sword over their heads, a wise saying goes in Yoruba. The human principalities simply suspected that should they allow PMB to give the VP the intended latitude, they might not be able to control him. I remember on his return from London, he commended the efforts of his VP while he was away. He said he would still continue acting while he would still have some more rest at home. The following day everything changed, PMB decided to take charge as the President. I suspected some back door politics was playing out. My co-debaters, quite naturally, you’ll agree with me that, it is not over-ambition or sheer opportunism as you might insinuate for any deputy in an office to aspire to the next higher office, in a legitimate manner, there is nothing really unusual about it, and it would amount to killing a mosquito with a sledge hammer, should Oshinbajo be crucified for that, if at all. And as for his wishing Buhari’s non-recovery, I think that, again, like my Sister R, is a little unkind and not fair to the gentleman who I know to be a servant of God. He knows as much as I do, by our true Christian orientation and Biblical injunctions that, should he ever wish Buhari’s death or wish him any form of misfortune in those trying periods of the President, God Almighty who we serve would deal mercilessly and ruthlessly with him. That is what Psalm 41:1-13 is all about. So rule that out, because it is not, and could never be in his character. I can vouch for him. Rather, I saw him in those times that he acted for his principal, as someone zealous and appreciative of the trust his principal invested in him, and as such he tried to do his very best to merit the trust and the opportunity! I know and I am also sure that this is what an IBK, or a Razinat, would have done too had they found themselves in a similar situation! It does not amount to wishing one’s principal any evil, not at all. Not everyone can be like Chief Obafemi Awolowo who resigned his position under Gowon when the regime became financially reckless shortly after the civil war. Awolowo also gave very profound argumentation to justify convincingly his actions. He also turned down some other appointments including the “49 Wise Men of the Constitution Drafting Committee.” Oshinbajo couldn’t have resigned, normally, and naturally his principal, PMB should have supported him as a capable successor, but again, the President’s ethnic and religious bigotry took the better part of the President. Besides, PMB’s mind was long poisoned against his VP, a clean job by the Aso Villa cabal. IBK, Lady R, until the faceless cabal is permanently silenced the wheel of Nigeria might continue to go round in a circle, and to nowhere in particular”.
And Professor IBK takes the floor: “Prof. DAO, yours is a powerfully convincing submission, at least in a large measure. Now I am willing to hold a slightly different opinion about Osinbajo. Yet, I cannot fathom why he chose to run against Tinubu, days or weeks after the latter had begun his campaign in the party primaries. There’s much we don’t know about why OSBJ decided to run against BAT. Nothing is wrong with that politically but a little problematic from an Ethical or, at least Moral, point of view. Osinbajo did a poor job of it and came out a distant 4th in the primaries. I think he didn’t read the situation correctly and was probably misled by some cabal of sorts. Either way Osinbajo made a politically fatal error in this regard. Perhaps he must have sensed, or was told, that BAT was not the anointed candidate, or that BAT would be crippled by some ill-health or a medical condition. I remember the party’s screening committee publicly recommending that only younger contestants would be recommended to the NWC or such. Clearly there was an attempt to sideline BAT. Whatever the explanation, Osinbajo make the error in his campaign of promising to be more Buhari than Buhari. A man despised by whole sections of the northern population, a man whose reputation for laziness and incompetence was on the ascendant. Anyway, all is now history and Osinbajo has not given a good account of himself in this particular case. Prof DAO, I think your concept of the Trickster should account for Osinbajo’s situation here. FULL DISCLOSURE: a very close family member of mine was drafted to head Osinbajo’s campaign effort in Kano. We discussed extensively about Osinbajo’s pledge to carry on with Buhari’s policies. There was bewilderment and shock within the members. A week later half of the membership resigned on account of Osinbajo’s increasing identification with Buhari’s policies. Many mistakenly thought that Osinbajo was Buhari’s anointed one! I could go on…”
Interestingly interesting and intriguingly intriguing, dear, dearly dear readers: this debate.
To be terminated by the columnist-terminator and terminator-columnist next week after Professor Olu Obafemi’s summation of the debate he presided over.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
With Us, Not For US
By Ijeoma Fynecountry
The 21st of March of every year is international day for the celebration of persons living with down syndrome. The advocacy and push for communal and political recognition of the basic fundamental rights for persons living with various types of disabilities, particularly intellectual disability, just as enjoyed by their peers who do not have any form of challenge – physical or intellectual has recorded a substantial success around the globe, especially in more developed climes.
While the same cannot be said of the situation in Africa and Nigeria in particular, scanty breakthroughs have also been seen over the years, with the consistent and dogged efforts by some specialized organizations such as Down syndrome Foundation, Nigeria (DSFN).
The theme for this year’s celebration is “With us, Not for us”. This theme is apt particularly in the current era where the push for inclusion has taken a center stage in the campaign worldwide. While it is comforting to know that people, government and communities alike are now becoming more empathetic to the plight of persons living with disability, it is also necessary and most important that their rights as human beings deserving of not just empathy but actual concrete benefits accruable to other citizens without disability, is massively taken into consideration and actually provided for.
Therefore, it is not enough for the government to map out and create as in Lagos state and few other states, sections in the public schools to admit children or persons with intellectual disability, it is necessary to adequately equip these special schools with the needed “specialized” manpower, infrastructural and educational aids to attain the targeted educational goals for these persons. Likewise in the provision of better healthcare, economic, social needs of persons with disability etc.
Persons with intellectual disability do not just need to be specifically educated in accordance with his or her type of disability, but MUST also necessarily be able to aspire to or expect to be employed according to his or her learned ability. That way, a full right, befitting of a person, be him a person with disability or not, is assured. For what is the need of going through a learning process, acquiring a specialized knowledge about a craft or handiwork and eventually still not being given the opportunity of gaining employment as supposed, not due to lack of knowledge but for having a disability? No human being should be subjected to such. Our government should do better. The society at large should do better.
The theme for this year is enjoining all stakeholders – the government, communities, corporate organizations, religious bodies/organizations, individuals to open up their hearts, and recognize the very urgent and important need to help in the actualization of these basic human needs, rights of persons living with intellectual disability as we are all human. No human rights or needs should be prioritized over the other no matter the state of their health, mental and physical capacity. Stand with us by taking actual intentional steps towards uplifting and elevating the humanness of persons living with disability. It is not enough to say that you are for persons living with disability, your specific, intentional, targeted actions toward ensuring the practical applicability of these rights matters.
Fynecontryis a Lagos-based legal practitioner and the legal resource person for the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria.
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