THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH BISI OLAGUNJU, PART 1
Who Is Lasisi Olagunju?
Dr. Lasisi Olagunju recently launched his new book, Cowries of Blood, a thematic collection of essays from his “Monday Lines” column. The book has received several acclaims, and I believe it has every right to do so, given that I have had the privilege of reading through each essay. Today, many know Dr. Olagunju as the author of a book rapidly gaining popularity within and even outside the country. However, before the publication of Cowries of Blood, who has Dr. Olagunju been?
Lasisi Olagunju is an award-winning columnist and the Editor of Saturday Tribune, one of the most vibrant arms of a foremost Nigerian media house, African Newspapers Limited. According to the Yoruba, a child who would be great shows traits of greatness from early on. This is the case in Olagunju’s life. He has always been designated for leadership and the responsibilities that come with it, as well as its attendant fame and success. Born as the second to the last child of his parents in, Eripa, Osun State, Olagunju started to demonstrate his alignment with excellence early in life. His earliest feats were in Arabic Studies at his Madrasa, where he was easy to identify among the top students in the class. However, his feats had only begun. When the scholar resumed school for western education, he continued to rank among the best in his class throughout primary and secondary school, and even at the university.
Dr. Olagunju is a proud product of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. He was a student there between 1986 and 1990, bagging a First Class Honors Bachelor of Arts degree in English Studies. Fueled by excellence and poised to make a name for himself in a field where he seemed naturally inclined to thrive, He attended the University of Ibadan for his master’s and doctoral degrees in Communication Arts and Political Communication, respectively, specializing in Social Media and Politics for his Ph.D. Thus, his path was carefully crafted. Another thing that has marked Dr. Olagunju’s life is that he is brilliant academically and humane. Aside from winning various awards at all levels of his academic sojourn, he has also received awards for his integrity. These awards include the 2016 Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA) Newspaper Columnist of the Year, and the Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME) Award for Informed Commentary Writing in 2019 and 2021.
Since he joined the Nigerian Tribune in 1995, working as a Senior Features Writer and Senior Reporter, Olagunju has enjoyed a successful career as a media man. It is often said that a man’s gifts will make way for him, and Dr. Olagunju’s gift of pen-wielding did stand him out from early on in his career, so much so that he was promoted to editor within four years. He became the News Editor of the Nigerian Tribune in 1999, rose to the position of Assistant Editor that same year, and within two more years, he became Deputy Editor.
As much as he enjoyed a stint in journalism at the Nigerian Tribune, Dr. Olagunju left to take up a political appointment as the Chief Press Secretary to the then Osun State governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, from 2003 to 2008. Following his excellent performance in that capacity, the journalist was again appointed as the Special Adviser on Media and the Chief Press Secretary to the governor between 2008 and 2010. In 2011, Olagunju resumed his job as a journalist with the Nigerian Tribune, following his engagement with the Osun State government. He was made the General Editor and a member of the Tribune Newspapers Editorial Board the same year. In 2012, he was promoted to the position of the Editor of Saturday Tribune. Within six years of active service with the Tribune Newspapers, he made it to one of the top positions in the organization — an organization that has hundreds of well-trained and professional journalists.
Dr. Olagunju is a poet to some, an author and literary critic to others, and to many others, he is a columnist who writes the “Monday Lines.” He has consistently written the “Monday Lines” column for about ten years, never missing a week. Therefore, it is safe to say that he has written at least 520 essays, all addressing vital aspects of the Nigerian society. Aside from writing his column and ensuring the Saturday Tribune brings color to the world of journalism in Nigeria, Dr. Olagunju has also authored some books, including Forest Flowers, a collection of poems; Every Inch a King, the biography of Oba Moses Oyinlola (which he co-authored); and Keeping Culture Alive: The Story of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), Osogbo. Cowries of Blood is the first of a series of thematic books based on the “Monday Lines” column.
In this series, I Interviewed Dr. Lasisi Olagunju, a Weekend Editor at the Tribune. I covered his career, his weekly column, and his new book, Cowries of Blood.
Falola 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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How To Stop Military Coups In Africa – Bolaji Akinyemi
A former External Affairs Minister , Prof.Bolaji Akinyemi , has proffered an antidote to the rising spate of military coups in Africa.
Prof. Akinyemi who was a minister in the government of former Military President Ibrahim Babangida spoke against the background of a military coup that has removed a democratic government in Niger Republic.
Military coups which were a regular occurrence in Africa in the decades after independence have become resurgent recently.
The takeover in Niger, led by soldiers belonging to the presidential guard, is just the latest in a string of coups that have taken place in recent years.
There were two in Burkina Faso in 2022 as well as failed coup attempts in Guinea Bissau, The Gambia and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
In 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, four of them successful.
Akinyemi said during a session of the Prof.Toyin Falola Interviews on Sunday that there should be a charter on democracy that would be binding on members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He said that such a charter should be endorsed by the African Union and even the United Nations.
Akinyemi said that such a charter had become necessary because democracies are not only truncated in Africa by military coups. According to him, democracies are also truncated through civilian coups. This entails elected presidents changing their nations’ constitutions in order to get more tenures beyond the terms as stipulated in their constitutions.
He explained that ECOWAS leaders are opposed to the military coup in Niger as a way of protecting their own democracies.
But he condemned a development that he referred to as the ethnicisation of foreign policy. He referred to the opposition by a region of Nigeria to the plan of President Bola Tinubu to deploy the military in Niger in order to return to democracy. He said such ethnic and religious considerations in deciding foreign policies were non-existent in the past. He said this was why he supported the then Nigerian government’s decisions as regards military interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The interviewers who included Prof. Jide Osuntokun, Bishop Matthew Kukah, Ambassador Godknows Igali, Ambassador Jaiyeola Joseph Lewu and Prof.Richard Joseph asked Prof.Akinyemi questions about his family background, the university system, his career and national and international developments.
Professor Bolaji Akinyemi: The Don Of Public Affairs
By Toyin Falola
Focus is an often-romanticized characteristic among the human race. As powerful as the human brain is, there are piles of motivational messages with the sole aim of helping humans do away with distractions and focus on their end goal. Among those piles of messages is the notion that venturing into more than one thing at a time is a huge impediment to focus-based excellence. This notion is lodged within sayings like, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” a proverbial message that teaches contentment and the need to have undivided attention for one’s mission.
However, we have seen over the years that this message has been lost on a larger percentage of the human race. For one, variety is the heartbeat of existence in any given human society — it makes people tick and give them reasons to wake up each day and go about their duties. This variety is the ability to live their lives for more than one thing; to have a purpose yet have passions and hobbies. To take variety out of human society, to restrict people to a single way of life and to ask them to make their attention undivided for a single purpose could render life undesirable for many.
This variety has been at the core of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi’s life trajectory, making him an accomplished and fulfilled elder statesman. More often than not, happenings in countries like Nigeria prove a wide gap between the town and the gown — so much so that what seems to be the analyses and academic considerations of issues is a far cry from what eventually is the reality of the people. This phenomenon made the term “armchair critic” popular, a seemingly condescending name for someone that deals more with the theoretical provisions of happenings in the country with little to no experience in active political leadership. The term has often served as an easy way out for politicians to attempt to silence their critics by implying that expectations, analyses, and considerations do not align with the reality of the people and the political landscape.
The gap — between theory and practice, town and gown, scholars and politicians, expectations and reality — makes it a rare occurrence to have someone belong to both worlds in Nigeria, save for seeing scholars participate in the politics within the academic community. It is either one who leads a productive life by contributing to the betterment of our society through their work in the academic field or one who takes the challenge of serving the Nigerian state in different leadership capacities. To opt for either of the two is far more common than seeing someone lead both lives.
As uncommon as it may seem, many people have had their fair share of contributions within the Nigerian political and academic landscapes. It is of this order that Professor Bolaji Akinyemi belongs. Professor Akinyemi’s exploits as a professor of “applied” political science have made him a trans-generational reference within the Nigerian political and academic landscapes. This is why I’ve chosen to regard him as the don of public affairs — an academic that has stayed relevant and in the spotlight through his academic contributions and political commitment and service to the Nigerian state and people.
For someone that has led an excellent life in the public spotlight, the earliest years of Professor Akinyemi’s life did not start with an ambition to serve the country politically. This is not unexpected since the early days of post-independent Nigeria were filled with part-time politicians, people with other careers besides politics. Politics then was an aside, not a lifelong aspiration that one prepared for from their cradle like it is seen nowadays where even primary school students campaign and contest for prefectship positions.
What started as a passion for studying medicine soon translated into a career in a research-intensive study in international affairs, law and diplomacy, and philosophy — where he obtained two Master’s degrees and a Doctorate, respectively. Professor Akinyemi’s life has always been about variety, which also came to the fore in his studies.
As a prolific academic, Professor Akinyemi’s career started at the University of Ibadan. His excellence in teaching also saw him take up several teaching-related roles at the North Eastern University, DePauw University, Kalamazoo College, Nigeria’s University of Lagos, the University of California, the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Kenya’s Diplomacy Training Progam at the University of Nairobi, and St. John’s College in Cambridge, among other roles. If there is anything to speak to Professor Akinyemi’s excellence in teaching, it is how he got several appointments, sometimes concurrently, to impart knowledge. His excellence in teaching was also greatly influenced by his first-hand experience in the field and how that gave life and practicality to the theories and concepts he discussed in his classrooms.
But far from being an excellent teacher, Professor Akinyemi is also a prolific scholar and researcher whose love for and belief in Nigeria’s success was his biggest arsenal, helping him make several meaningful strides both in the academic community and as a politician. The books he is best known for are those he wrote as commentaries on the Nigerian state. Notable among those commentaries are his works on: The British Press and the Nigerian Civil War: The Godfather Complex; Angola and Nigeria: A Study in the National Interest; Nigerian Exceptionalism: Nigerian Quest for World Leadership; Nigeria: The Blackman’s Burden; A Farewell to Policy; Nigeria and the World: Readings in Nigerian Foreign Policy, and Foreign Policy and Nationalism: A Nigerian Experience. Most of these were books he wrote in the decades he served the Nigerian state as a foreign policy analyst.
As a public affairs guru, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi’s first service to the Nigerian state was as the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs during the regime of General Murtala Mohammed. That period is touted as one of Nigeria’s best periods, foreign policy-wise, and that feat could not have been achieved without the immense inputs of the Institute that Professor Bolaji Akinyemi chaired. As Director-General, he championed Nigeria’s focus on dialogue to forge stronger foreign policies and make international ties. The work rate of the Institute under Professor Akinyemi’s leadership was unprecedented, seeing to the organization of several dialogues, including the Nigerian-Chinese Dialogue, the Nigerian-United States Dialogue, the Nigerian-Soviet Union Dialogue, the Nigerian-Brazilian Dialogue, the Northern-Southern Dialogue, and the Nigerian-Scandinavian Dialogue, among several other dialogues and interventions.
The years that Professor Akinyemi spent in the Institute of International Affairs saw him commit intellectual resources to revamping the Institute and repositioning it as an organization of repute among federal-owned agencies in the country. Aside from the dialogues that the Institute facilitated, it saw an astronomical increase in its research output, so much so that successors of Murtala Mohammed retained Professor Akinyemi as the Director-General of the Institute.
Years later, this illustrious and hardworking spirit manifested when Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was appointed the Nigerian Minister of External and Foreign Affairs, succeeding Ibrahim Gambari in office. His tenure as a minister during the Muhammadu Buhari regime. At a time when war was ravaging some African states, Professor Akinyemi’s efforts successfully registered Nigeria as a force to be reckoned with and a big sister to other African states, especially in the country’s peacekeeping negotiations during the Chadian-Libyan and Malian-Burkina Faso wars. He was also a vocal Nigerian minister who steadfastly led Nigerian delegations to world conferences and UN assemblies—counting many who were more committed to and believed more in the Nigerian cause than Professor Bolaji Akinyemi is rare.
Akinyemi’s exploits are for ages; his expertise and in-depth commentaries are still being studied and reimagined. To have encountered Professor Akinyemi would be to have met one of the most patriotic Nigerians. Even though he is no longer in active service to the country, he has stayed relevant through his commentaries and contributions to the Nigerian political space, and his work remains a relevant source of reference in the academic community.
In the Yoruba Alade’s proverbial cottage, one is refused the choice of having one’s cake and eating it — that is, eating both yam and pounded yam. However, if life were Alade’s proverbial cottage, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi would have had a taste of two sides and excelled in both. He also added asaro to it, eating not just the yam, pounded yam, and porridge. Three men in one! He is a Nigerian worthy of recognition and celebration, and it is with pleasure that I introduce him as our guest on the next edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews.
Join us on August 13, 2023, and we will touch on topical issues with one of the most profoundly gifted Nigerians alive.
Sunday, August 13, 2023
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
11:00 AM Austin CST
Join via Zoom:
How Kwame Nkrumah’s Ideology Of Pan-Africanism Will Develop Africa – Daughter Samia
The benefits of the late Ghanian President Kwame Nkrumah’s ideology of Pan-Africanism were reeled off on Sunday as her daughter Samia Yaba Nkrumah had a conversation with the Toyin Falola Interviews.
According to Samia Nkrumah who is a politician like her father, the need for Pan-Africanism has become urgent in view of the multi-faceted political and developmental challenges plaguing the continent.
She advocated a Pan-Africanism that incorporates indigenous systems to check corruption, the current political trend of winner-takes-all and loser-loses-all, and enthrone transparency.
She urged that because of the benefits of Pan-Africanism, it should be at the front burner and be taught in schools.
Over 50 years after her father who promoted Pan-Africanism has died, Simia Nkrumah said one major outcome of the ideology is the African Continental Free Trade Area ( AfCTA).
She noted that as has been shown in the AFCTA, Pan-Africanism can give the continent of Africa a strong trade front and strengthen its economy.
To her, as African countries are currently constituted, their economies are too weak for the citizens to optimally benefit from them. But according to her, Pan-Africanism will make the African continent to have a big economy that will make it easier for it to be able to borrow money from Western countries and institutions without too many stifling conditions.
She noted that Pan-Africanism will give a voice to Africa in international affairs as the continent will be respected as a big bloc.
Since Pan-Africanism will translate to the unity of Africa, according to her, it is a potent ideology for checking xenophobia that has resulted in recurrent attacks on African nationals such as Nigerians in Ghana and South Africa.
Simia Nkrumah mentioned some factors that have sustained her in her political career especially as a woman. These include a clear-cut ideology, a good education and a deep spirituality.
She disclosed that despite the challenges she has faced in politics, she will never quit because she thinks she has something useful to contribute to improve the lives of Ghanaians.
The aftermath of the 1966 military coup that overthrew Kwame Nkrumah saw Samia’s immediate family divided between Guinea and Egypt, where she had her elementary education. At the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, she obtained a Bachelor of Arabic Studies in 1991 and a master’s degree in Comparative Politics of Contemporary Middle East at SOAS in 1993. In 2008, Samia Nkrumah entered Ghanaian politics and served as the Member of Parliament for the Jomoro Constituency of the Western Region of Ghana between 2009 and 2012. In her quest to revive her father’s political party, Samia Nkrumah became the National Chairperson of the Convention People’s Party between 2011 and 2015. Currently, Samia Nkrumah is the founder and president of the Kwame Nkrumah Pan-African Centre, a non-profit organization committed to promoting the vision and ideas of Kwame Nkrumah.
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