Celebrating Professor Bolanle Awe At 90: A Pioneer And Towering Influence
By Toyin Falola
Welcome to the big feast in honor of Professor Bolanle Awe! We start on January 28 with a social celebration organized by family and friends. Next, Professor Dele Layiwola is presenting a festschrift in the months ahead. And the “queen” of all the events, a major collaborative partnership by the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Lagos, and the University of Ibadan, is the two-day conference on February 13 and 14 at the University of Ibadan on the theme “Oral Traditions and Written Histories.” Length of age is a blessing; she can now enjoy all the accolades.
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Being, emerging, or coming first is a heavily romanticized concept among humans. As we are innately wired to be competitive and continually pursuant to goals, it is not surprising that “first” is one of society’s most desirable qualities or outcomes. We all have our personal stories about being on either side of the divide — being the first or not. For some, it was joy and celebration among family members. For others, it was the famous question of whether the one that had emerged first had two heads. And still, some were severely beaten for emerging first — 1, the least among other numbers, only superior to zero.
The concept of first has other sides that do not receive as much thought, attention, and discourse as humans wish to lead, emerge first, and stay ahead of others. However, like the head that wears the crown, uneasy is the first position. In a more generic context, to be first means to be spotlighted. And in being spotlighted, one draws attention to oneself, and every other person’s pursuit and mission is to best the first or leading competitor. Unlike others that have someone they could feel motivated to overtake, the person in the first position can only compete with themselves and seek to be better than their previous records.
In a more specific context, being a pioneer in one’s field is desirable and enjoyable. However, several expectations, struggles, and obstacles come with this same feat. On the one hand, to have been the first or a pioneer in your field means you had little to no material to work with; and there was hardly any guidance for you. There was no one in whose footsteps you could have followed, and while you could have had mentors, their mentorship would not have been fully specific and tailored to a field you’re pioneering.
In the same vein, a pioneer in their field would bear the burden of serving as the guide to the several others that come after them. Even when a field has successfully had other experts, the pioneer will continually be consulted and expected to actively contribute to the field and participate in research and discourses — and there also exists the unspoken but ever-present pressure to remain relevant in the field.
For Professor Awe, the concept of first or pioneer is not new; it has been with her throughout her sojourn in academia. Schooled at some of the best colleges and universities in the United Kingdom and the world, Professor Bolanle Awe’s academic quest started in 1960 as the first female lecturer at the Department of History, University of Ibadan. Incidentally, her appointment marked the milestone for the first female member of academic staff in a Nigerian university, sharing the space and era with Adetoun Ogunsheye, who became the first female professor in the library and information science field. In a male-dominated field in a male-populated university, the then-young Bolanle was committed to making her mark and charting the course for women who would come after her, and in 1976, sixteen years after her first academic appointment, she became a professor of history.
Professor Bolanle Awe was not only the first woman on the academic staff of a Nigerian university but also one of the pioneers of the comprehensive study of women’s history and feminist history; she equally emerged as Nigeria’s first female professor of history. These pioneering roles meant that the professor experienced every aspect of being the first. In her role, and being the first woman to be in such an academic role, she would have had little to no guidance to inform her perspectives that, in turn, shaped her into the intellectual colossus in history that she is today.
Personal experiences and the benefits of being a pioneer in the field would have formed the basis for what, although it could have been exerting, ended up being foundational to the study of Nigerian women’s history, oral history, feminism, and feminist history.
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Professor Awe has spent about sixty years of her fruitful and fulfilling life in commitment to studies, research, contributions to, and the advancement of, history and historical studies in Nigeria, with a special focus on Nigerian women’s history, feminist history, and oral history. Despite the foundational challenges of being the first to chart the course as a female historian, Prof. Awe made large strides and wrote her name alongside the pioneering greats. History and historians cannot forget her immense contributions to the study of pre-colonial Nigeria and Nigerian women across several pockets of historical timelines, many of whom had been maligned and marginalized, having little to no traced history and documentation of the exploits that they did. Prof. Awe’s scholarship saw her produce intellectual assets to enrich and support the academic community at a desirable rate.
In the 1970s, when women-focused historical research was still in its embryonic stage, and there were fundamental issues that needed to be addressed to better inform the research into and documentation of Nigerian women’s history, Prof. Awe was one of the leading voices that contributed actively in academic research, seminar participation, and engaging in the diplomatic and external work that was needed to get the right support for seminars, conferences, and comprehensive research and reports. For years, she served as an active member of the Women in Nigeria (WIN) association — Nigeria’s first cohesive feminist movement that directly influenced women-focused research.
In the 1980s, when a group of women banded to work assiduously toward the founding of the Women’s Research and Documentation Centre (WORDOC), domiciled at the University of Ibadan’s Institute of African Studies, Prof. Awe was, as you guessed, one of those women. The founding of this Center catalyzed the intensity of women and gender studies in Nigeria and the expansion of the scope of women’s history and studies that had existed before the establishment of the Center. The significance of the Center to women’s studies in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized, as it served as the pioneering means of fostering intercontinental exchanges, collaboration and research among Nigerian scholars and universities and foreign scholars and universities in North America, Europe, and Asia on women’s studies, gender, and women’s history.
Beyond the academic realm, the Center also built a robust relationship with the town — which it still actively builds on to date — and this relationship has positively affected the availability of research assets and resources, opening scholars’ eyes to existing concerns in society through their engagement with women outside the academic environment, and also forming the basis for discourses and providing research areas and perspectives to the scholars.
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Today, the Women’s Research and Documentation Centre remains in existence and continues to do its work in engaging the community and gown, organizing conferences, being the home for women scholars and researchers, and supporting women-focused research. Although the founding members may no longer be the active faces of the organization, their legacy and commitment have birthed the contemporary generation and leaders of the organization. Indeed, another win for the pioneering Professor Bolanle Awe.
Aside from administrative work, Prof. Awe has authored several books. In her collection of written books, one stands out for me, especially as it ties back to the essence of her work and commitment over the years. It is a book titled Nigerian Women and Pioneer Icons. It’s a solid tracing and evaluation of the contributions and achievements of Nigerians in several fields of endeavor. Particularly, this book draws on data from the pre-colonial era and, more importantly, how these women’s contributions, though individually, form part of the collective contributions that could be historically traced vis-à-vis the evolution and development of the Nigerian nation-state.
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Beyond academia, Prof. Awe excelled in her service to the Nigerian nation and the world. From 1990 to 1992, she served, yet again, in an inaugural position as the first Chair of the Nigerian Commission for Women, which was set up in 1989 by the Federal Government. She assiduously served to push for women’s welfare and development without the attendant political undertones that were initially the government’s basis for establishing the Commission. Prof. Awe’s service was faithful to the mission statement of the Commission, a bravery that would eventually result in her resignation when the lines became blurry as to the service the Commission was supposed to commit to.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and weary are the shoulders that bear the weight of responsibilities. To be a pioneer is to be constantly in the spotlight and under the scrutiny of people, many of whom did not have enough bravery to embark on the course that you chose to chart. For Prof. Bolanle Awe, life has been full of its challenges and resplendent with successes and bouts of joy. More importantly for her, life has been fulfilling, satisfying, and laced with legacies printed on the sands of time. It is indeed a historic time to be ushered into the exclusive club of the nonagenarians, Prof. Awe. Happy Birthday and hearty cheers!
Please join us in February at the University of Ibadan for an elaborate intellectual feast. https://bit.ly/3iz80KL
- Falola , Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Lead City University, Ibadan, is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Rigged Elections And The Moral Burden Of Illegitimacy
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Adamu: A man who rigs his way to power carries a moral burden!
Orezime: A moral what?
Adamu: You heard me, didn’t you?
Orezime: I’m not sure I heard you right. Moral what you said?
Adamu: A moral burden, I said!
Orezime: Hahahahahahaha! You make me laugh! Are you from the moon?
Gani: Or Mars?
Emeka: In which country? In Nigeria? That principle does not apply in Nigeria! There is no moral burden on anybody in this country! The election which produced Bubu in 2015 was rigged. Where are the two million voters from Kano State who voted in 2015? Was an INEC official not burnt alive after that election? The one which brought Obj to power was also rigged by the forces which wanted him to ease the tension of the Abiola tragedy on the Yoruba people. Yet those men had the temerity to preach against corruption!
Orezime: The international community winked at the whole exercise.
Gani: Yes! That’s why those two could only preach; they couldn’t really act decisively. A moral burden? They spoke from both sides of their mouths on the issue of corruption. The late President Yar Adua confessed that the election which produced him was compromised. An honest man, he didn’t live long enough to right the wrong of the period!
Orezime: That’s why I laughed when Adamu talked about a moral burden arising from rigged elections.
Bankole: In the ideal world, any power that is stolen and acquired through a dubious means imposes a moral burden on the power holder. No matter what the person does, that power remains stained.
Orezime: What does that amount to in our country? Even the brigands who shot their way to power in the notorious days of military misadventure in Nigeria soon became legitimate.
Emeka: You are going too far in our history. See what happened in Lagos State in the governorship elections of March 18. Ethnic jingoists went about preaching hatred against Igbo people and warned them against coming out to exercise their constitutional rights. Security officials looked the other way when ballot boxes were snatched in broad daylight in places where the opposition was leading.
Gani: A serving state governor personally went about snatching ballot boxes and threatened to shoot whoever got in his way. The same governor declared somebody wanted without recourse to the Inspector General of Police! He worked against the party on which platform he won the seat to spite the party hierarchy!
Adamu: And to think that this is the President-elect’s state. He kept mute through the horrendous attacks on Igbo people in Lagos State just the way the incumbent president has looked the other way when herdsmen went on the loose!
Bankole: Rigged elections are so familiar yet notorious in our land. It was the main trigger to the crisis in the Western Region in the First Republic because the people reacted when they saw a rape of their rights and wishes! It soon snowballed into a conflagration that consumed the nation in the late 1960s. Already, the youths are talking about a protest in the ENDSARSNOW# manner. I hope it doesn’t result in disaster. We have lost too many lives already!
Orezime: What I fear is the rise of ethnic profiling in a supposedly democratic society. To be sure, Governor Sanwo-Olu and the party hierarchy did not single out any ethnic group for verbal attacks. They even courted them. Yet they didn’t caution their followers to stop the degeneration into ethnic hatred. It is a dangerous curve what is happening in Lagos. I don’t subscribe to the Lagos is no man’s land nonsense which some misguided fellows are spewing, but threatening anybody not to vote their candidate is a new low! Can a Sanwo-Olu victory be said to be legitimate if a significant percentage of the electorate is disenfranchised?
Emeka: Good question. They did not stop there. They rolled out the culturally dreaded Oro rituals on election night. Come on! Who is fooling who? The Oro festival was designed to drive fear into non-Yoruba in Lagos. In the 21st Century?
Gani: I am sure the reports from election observers will be damning.
Bankole: I don’t care about those biased observers.
Adamu: Where are we headed in this country?
Orezime: We are on the road to Kigali!
Bankole: May we not travel that route!
Orezime: It’s a good prayer. But what are we doing to avoid the descent into anarchy? Nothing. Those monkeys are simply interested in acquiring power.
Gani: The Obedient Movement seems to have lost steam once it was misbranded as an ethnic agenda to grab power at the national level. Peter Obi needs to tread carefully so he doesn’t become another June 12! Some people are egging him on to challenge INEC through protests.
Orezime: If he decides to lead a protest, it would be within his constitutional right to do so, especially as INEC is stalling on the issue of inspecting elections materials despite an order from the courts. Peaceful protests are guaranteed by the Constitution.
Adamu: No one can be sure whether a peaceful protest will remain peaceful after it starts. That’s the experience the ENDSARS people had.
Gani: It’s not enough to stop people from taking to the streets. Protests are fundamental to democracy.
Adamu: We do not want dead heroes! Mark my words.
Bankole: That’s ominous!
Emeka: It means nothing. Nigeria must change. We cannot go on like this forever! Things are just going down. No cash. No fuel. No power supply. No security. No nothing. Peter Obi gave a glimmer of hope. Now that has been dashed to the ground.
Adamu: Rigging will remain a moral burden each time our President-elect travels outside the country, each time he meets foreign observers, especially those ones who have a dossier on him. History will also judge him and assess how he came to power. This applies to all the states as well where some politicians have turned themselves into demigods and have compromised poor INEC officials with mouthwatering sums. This is not how to build a democracy. The votes must be counted and must count. Seventeen people have their lives during the governorship and House of Assembly elections. We are supposed to count ballot papers, not bodies. Sad!
Bankole: The moral burden of rigged elections is on all of us. Without our connivance there would be no rigging. We can only hope that this will end some day!
Emeka: Tough luck!
Professors On INEC’s Will (2)
By Tony Afejuku
On Thursday, 2 March, 2023, the Financial Times based in London, England published a blistering editorial on the February 25, 2023 Presidential election which up to now is the talk of everywhere beyond our shores. The said Financial Times editorial was entitled “Nigerians badly flawed election fails to set an example.” Indeed, it was a positively blistering presentation as any positively blistering presentation can be. Professor Olu Obafemi FNAL; NNOM drew the attention of the literati to the editorial that argued succinctly that “If Tinubu’s victory is challenged the courts should take a hard` look.” In his summation of the editorial Professor Olu Obafemi, who headed the debating literati, said he had nothing to add to the efficacious editorial but he would be happy – by my inference – to have the viewpoints of others. Thereafter the debate began. The arguments and counter-arguments began. Whose will was INEC propagating: Was it its will or the will of the cabal in the presidency or the will of the Nigerian people?
By the way, be it noted here and now that the Financial Times, though headquartered in London as already indicated, is owned by Japanese, by Nikkei, a Japanese holding company with “core editorial offices across Britain, the United States and continental Europe.” Why this point is necessary here will reveal itself in the debate I hereby tender to fit my creative and journalistic purpose. But you will notice that there is a shift in focus from the substance of the editorial to the question of anti-black or anti-African Western propaganda.
This is how Professor Ademola Da Sylva, FNAL puts it:
“The Western media are so powerful that they have their ways of turning non-Western genuine patriots and revolutionaries to look like some nameless demons all because they failed to toe servile line as underdogs! Idi Amin, for example, might not get it right in his choice of modus operandi, but he knew what he wanted for his Uganda people. His successful ejection of the British Asians was one of his policies that did not go down well with the hegemons because it devastated the British economy. So the Western media descended on him and painted him as a blood-sucking Dracula! Of course, there were Uganda compradors and cronies of multinationals from within who tried to undermine Amin’s revolution, too. Dedan Kimathi was also considered a “terrorist and a bandit” by the British imperialists; they got him arrested and hanged him, but we know he wasn’t a demon they tried to make us believe he was! Furthermore, no matter what we may think of Mugabe, the immediate past Zimbabwe President, he meant well for his country, he revoked the licences of large parcels of fertile lands, and also a large chunk of the lands from the White occupants and re-distributed the lands among the black peasants. That was ordinarily unthinkable in Africa by an African leader who wanted justice and equity for his people, but he did it and called the bluff of the West. Again, the Western media took over from there, painted a devil of him, and many Africans uncritically swallowed the gambit, too! The first accusation of the West against these patriotic leaders has always been that they were antidemocrats! Democracy is anti-African governance principles. It is the primary reasons why we never get it right, but it has always paid the West because it keeps Africa underdeveloped to the advantage of the West. The truth is: Why would you want to change a leadership that is up and doing, responsible and responsive, and doing very well, why? That principle foregrounds our sense of monarchy. A king remains on the throne for as long as his reign brings progress and security. Where a king fails, as in the cases of the indigenous Yoruba Obas, he is made to commit a voluntary suicide, and another Oba replaces him. Anyway, let me pause here.”
Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano’s stroke goes thus: “My view is that if humans have (or bear) an original sin, according to Christian eschatology, and if humans need to pray and carry out religious duties to be worthy of divine grace, and if secular education requires progressive edification of humans, and if humans are brutes unless they are inserted into a humane culture complete in all its sides (as Matthew Arnold has argued), and if the classical calculators looked forward not to human nature, with its brutal immersion in self-interest and wars and strife, and if humans have repeatedly to struggle to rise above their petty narrowness, then how can their voting behaviour or action be perfect, pristine or excellent? Those who expect a perfect electoral behaviour or outcome in a country brutalized by a savage economic policy and an insensitive and thieving cast of state officials, and the electors riven by religious and ethnic divisions are expecting a miracle. Yet at the local level, the electors did succeed in electing a new set of people to represent them. The problem with macro analysis is that it is positivism at its worst. At the micro level, the elections were expressive of the will of the people. In Kano State, for example, the newly formed NNPP swept the board with more than 18 out of the available 22 seats for the House of Reps and 2 out of the 3 Senate seats. Thousands turned out to vote. Finally, why should we believe anything the Western press says about us? Look at their reporting of the war in Ukraine. They keep saying, against the evidence and the facts, that Ukraine is winning the war with Russia, despite the former being slaughtered on the battlefield and having lost a staggering number of soldiers.
“Humour comes from the ridiculous and the ridiculous from the comical. Here is an example of a statement that is hilarious because it is ridiculous and ridiculous because it is comical: “Ladies and gentlemen, meet the newly elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Reverend Mullah Professor Mr. Mallam IBK of Madagascar!”
Do I have any doubt that our readers will find it hard and uneasy to follow the mind patterns and strokes of the debaters who are trying in their peculiar ways to say something tangibly tangible about our will as voters and INEC’s will as electoral umpire? Not at all!
To be continued.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
Stomping For Sheriff Oborevwori
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
The political, social, cultural and perhaps spiritual forces which have produced Hon Sheriff Oborevwori as 2023 governorship candidate for the PDP are a watershed in the political history of Delta State. For as a humble, friendly, and perhaps unlikely candidate different from past candidates, his emergence took some in the party by surprise and indeed shock. It has brought joy to the Okpe people, the largest of the Urhobo clans who have rightly argued that the governorship of the state ought to come to their zone.
To be sure, it has led to a falling out, a disagreement among erstwhile comrades sworn to the preservation of PDP hegemony in the state. But the party machinery which was controlled by incumbent governor Senator Ifeanyi Okowa was able to pull through his candidacy even though he was pitted against some other candidates who had powerful forces behind them and who also paraded academic certificates that could intimidate the fainthearted. And so Oborevwori’s paper qualifications, his antecedent as a ‘street boy’, and his association with the incumbent governor have become campaign issues meant to denigrate the authenticity of his candidacy! But the courts, even the highest courts in the land, have validated his paper qualifications. David, the shepherd boy has emerged as the anointed of the Lord; so be it! It is also important to state that a man who was a street boy, gained admission into a university, took a first degree and a subsequently a second degree must be given credit. How many ex-street boys have lifted themselves to the level which Oborevwori has done?
A close interaction with Sheriff Oborevwori would reveal the deep stuff that has made it ensured his successful tenure as Speaker of the State’s House of Assembly for seven odd years. He is calm, patient, a great listener and a team player. Those who cry foul about his antecedents should also give him credit for staying a steady course as Speaker. He may not be Harvard educated but he definitely has matured on the job. Interacting with him shows how much he has learnt in the last seven years. It is sad that he is being castigated for the loans which the House passed after requests from the executive arm of government. The truth is that hardly any House of Assembly refuses requests from the state governors. This applies to the National Assembly and the President of the Federal Republic. When accounts are rendered, it should be for the Executive arm to account for how the funds were expended.
Sheriff has assured all those who have listened during interactions that he will shock the state in two years when he implements the infrastructure development programme which has been conceived and put into a blueprint. Sapele, Warri, Ughelli, Patani, Obiaruku, Orerokpe, Aboh, Ozoro, Ogwashi Uku will receive profound attention in terms of urban renewal. The youths will receive attention in terms of employment and empowerment. Our own Silicon Valley will help to redirect the minds of our youths to the positive aspects of the internet. There should be an end to Yahoo Yahoo because they would focus on development of different apps. Delta will be transformed to a construction site. That is a powerful thing to say. The team of highly-educated political gurus and technocrats around Sheriff will drive the development agenda. It is not going to be business as usual in development strides. The people must see the worth of their money. As a man who is widely in consultation with the grassroots, his agenda will be people-friendly, driven by inputs from the user’s end. In other words, he is not going to sit in Asaba and dictate what the people of Isoko need in the budget.
Those who criticize Sheriff’s association with the incumbent administration should remember that it is the executive arm that drives development programmes. Policy initiatives come from the governor. No matter the brilliant ideas which a legislator has, they won’t come to fruition without the blessing of the governor. As governor, Sheriff will introduce programmes that are close to his heart. To be sure, he has seen the weaknesses in all the administrations in the state and will plug loopholes to ensure service delivery. As a beneficiary of the incumbent governor’s benevolence, he will not turn against him. But areas that need better attention will be dealt with. For example, payment of pensions and gratuities will be vigorously pursued. Ditto for DESOPADEC. That organization will be better positioned to deliver on its mandate especially for oil producing communities. The goose which lays the golden egg must benefit from the wealth of the egg. Indeed, the MORE slogan of the Sheriff campaign means that he plans to do more and build deeply on the achievements of the outgoing administration.
The performance of LP in the February 25th presidential election showed a strong outing for Peter Obi, closely followed by PDP. This is comforting to the PDP. This is a clear sign that things are not as they used to be. Once Sheriff wins the ballot, he must ensure that development-focus is people-oriented. The mass disenchantment with the two establishment parties – PDP and APC- will need to be addressed radically through policy initiatives and implementation. Those who erroneously believe that APC will be different in Delta State should look at the abysmal performance of the party at the national level and forget the idea of an APC government in Delta State. Sheriff is a man on the ground who will not disappoint the people of Delt State.
Sheriff Oborevwori has matured with time and exposure. He served as Chair Conference of Speakers of Nigeria and the presence of some of these speakers at his campaign outings show his ability to build and sustain bridges. He has the good health, composure, and humility to widely consult stakeholders in order to keep the state together after victory come March 18. He also will keep intellectuals very close to the corridors of government. In other words, his government will not suffer intellectual deficit. He has the capacity to listen to profound ideas and distil the same into policy framework.
Finally, we should allow the ballot box speak for the people in the governorship elections and with the spirit of God’s favour with him, in counter disposition to mammy water spirit, Sheriff Oborevwori should be the next governor of Delta State. Grace speaks, principalities take a bow!
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