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Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun At 80: Celebrating An Intellectually Energetic Octogenarian

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

 

By Toyin Falola

Positive and impactful energy is difficult to contain. It envelops everything within range like an aura, letting its positivity wash over them. In a world filled with gloom and uncertainty, it helps to surround oneself with positive energy. Thus, it is no surprise that people whose philosophy and interpersonal relations are marked by positive energy attract the very best of humanity.

I have known the Ekiti-born famed professor of history for decades, and I have always seen him as a positive energy that attracts the best humans because he also belongs to the clan of the few good humans. My affiliations with Professor Akinjide number more than one. Aside from being students of life and full-blooded Yoruba, we are both people who love, live and breathe history. Our ties even go beyond that, some of which might not grace these pages.

Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun At 80: Celebrating An Intellectually Energetic Octogenarian

Professor Akinjide Osuntokun

If one were to describe Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun by a cluster of words, it would be: “An impactful intellectual who radiates positive energy.” These words truly embody who Prof. Osuntokun is and what he stands for — he blazed trails right from the genesis of his education at Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, all through Ibadan Grammar School, at the University of Ibadan, and throughout all the colleges and universities where he pursued advanced studies. One of the most intellectually profound products of the Ibadan School of History, he was a historian before he resumed his scholarship at the University of Ibadan in 1963, where he became a university scholar and one of the few people selected for an exchange program at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. From the start of his career, he displayed the intellectual material he is made of, enjoying an early and illustrious career in academia. The roots of his academic sojourn are founded in the University of Ibadan, leading up to a Ph.D. at the Dalhousie University in Canada, and eventually being named Emeritus Professor at two of Nigeria’s prestigious universities — the University of Lagos and Redeemer’s University.

Professor Osuntokun’s academic career started from his days as an assistant lecturer at the University of Western Ontario in Canada around the 1970s. I was a high school teacher during the period. By the time I resumed as a lecturer at Ife in the 1980s, Prof. Osuntokun had moved to the University of Lagos, where he was already an associate professor. He was generous to drive me in his nice Volvo car to attend a conference on federalism in Abuja. The energy was impressive. We branched into his home town of Okemesi, where he told me his family history. I visited him in his house in Lagos, where his gracious wife hosted me to a good dinner. I also visited him in his house at Ibadan, where I once met his distinguished brother, the medical doctor who once served as the provost of the University College Hospital (UCH).

READ ALSO: Professor Akinjide Osuntokun At 80: The Tour De Force Life

Before his time as an associate professor at the University of Lagos, the famed historian had some stints at the University of West Indies and the University of Ibadan, all in the early to mid-1970s. It is a bit surprising — and I do not think I have ever mentioned it or asked him about it during any of our discussions — that he had a very short stint at his alma mater, the University of Ibadan.

You could describe Professor Osuntokun as the “come rain, come sunshine academic.” Throughout the nation’s turbulent Second Republic, he remained committed to the academic side of the country, helping to solidify it with his employment at some of the country’s universities. During the thick of the tumult of the embryonic Second Republic and the military’s recapturing of sovereignty in the early 1980s, he remained an academic, resuming at the University of Maiduguri. He became a professor of history during the second bout of military regimes in the country. He hosted the annual Congress of the Historical Society of Nigeria, and it became my first time visiting Maiduguri. Since then, Professor Osuntokun has shared his academic career between the University of Lagos and Redeemer’s University, attaining the position of emeritus professor at both. The Okemesi legend’s career as an academic is presently fixated at the Redeemer’s University.

However, anyone who thinks academia is all there is or could ever be to Professor Osuntokun could not have made a false statement. Intellectualism and excellence have defined the life and career of the seasoned academic. For Professor Osuntokun, prowess, excellence, and expertise are like a second skin; norms he acquired from the cradle as part of his family’s cultural orientation back in Okemesi. Service to humanity brings us the utmost fulfilment. The Osuntokuns of Okemesi are characterized by an inclination to serve humanity through public service, and Professor Osuntokun played his path as proof of the saying. The average Nigerian in the early 70s, 80s, and 90s would know of the other members of the Osuntokun family and how they worked for the betterment of society. Although demised, the astute scholar’s siblings were well-known names in their respective career fields. As a result, he knew no other way than to become an excellent and outstanding person in his chosen field.

Prof. Osuntokun also enjoyed a successful, albeit turbulent, period of public service as a one-time ambassador of the Nigerian state. He served to the best of his ability in this role and had his unwavering stance throughout the upheaval. Political instability and threats from military leaders, among many other things, marked Prof. Osuntokun’s service to the Nigerian state, but he never shied away from committing to help the country stabilize and remain solid. His energetic and impactful life also teaches us to be focused on our goals and altruistic in pursuing our achievements. Thus, even when many want to deter us or when those we are supposed to collaborate with consistently aim to frustrate us, we would think nothing of their calculated evil actions and focus on the end goal — the greater good.

In addition to his services to the Nigerian state, Professor Osuntokun has held key positions in organizations and companies. His cumulative experience as an administrator would span up to thirty years. He has held several administrative posts, including as the Director of the National University Commission, Washington office, and a member of the council at the University of Maiduguri. Professor Osuntokun served on the administrative and academic sides of the university system. He is undoubtedly an excellent and world-class lecturer to his past and current students. Beyond that, he also proved his worth as an exceptional and result-driven administrator in several capacities, both within and outside university campuses.

When a man’s life is synonymous with greatness, he attracts honour and recognition like sugar cubes attract ants. Professor Osuntokun is the recipient of several awards, fellowships, and recognitions from the Nigerian Academy of Letters fellowship, the Officer of the Order of Niger award (one of the most coveted in Nigeria), and the Historical Society of Nigeria fellowship, among several other recognitions and awards.

What can we say about a learned man if there is no way to quantify how knowledgeable he is? And how shall we quantify that? How many books has he written? How many books is he featured in? How many research papers has he published? And if we were to ask these questions of Prof. Osuntokun, we would be surprised at the vastness of our discovery. Through his writings, he shows the diversity and intellectual prowess. I have read several of his works, from his op-eds in the dailies to his papers.

Prof. Osuntokun, whom I greatly adore and hold in the highest regard, will be 80 years old on April 26, 2022. I am glad that the historian has spent these many years on earth, and I send him best wishes. Two periods in one’s life are most likely the best — the 20s and wise years of old age, and the ingenious academic is currently in one of those periods. He lives to revel in the achievements of his lifelong dream and the joy that his now extended family must continue to inspire in him.

Happy Birthday, Intellectually Profound Positive Energy!

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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Opinion

Professor Ayo Olukotun, My Eyuze

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Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof Tony Afejuku

 

By Tony Afejuku

My bosom friend, Professor Ayo Olukotun, a man and personage for whom I placed considerable respect, who died recently, was committed to mother earth last Friday. The ever-delightful Professor Kayode Soremekun, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Federal University Oye-Ekiti pointed my attention to this in his tribute to Professor Ayo Olukotun symbolically captured in The Punch newspaper of Friday, 27 January, 2023. After reading his tribute on the very day Ayo Olukotun normally appeared on the back page of The Punch as a five-star columnist, I nodded my head in painful pain. Kayode Soremekun’s tribute essentially captured aspects of our friend’s public life, and I gave some long thought to our departed humanist of humanists’ hurried committal to the brown earth of Ibadan which was not near his homestead, geographically speaking, in Egbe Yoruba of Kogi State. Was an injustice done to him in his prompt burial in Ibadan of cultural and poetic seven hills?  Perhaps circumstances of his demise compelled his remains to be committed to mother earth in Ibadan of JP Clark’s “broken china in the sun.” (How my memory is failing me as a result of my emotional state!) The one who was supposed to get back to me for accurate information on and about the event did not when I was putting my words together. Another common friend and my friend’s course-mate at Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife, Ile-Ife), did not divulge this information in his similarly public picture of my friend in his The Guardian’s roaring tribute of Tuesday, 31 January, 2023. I am of course referring to Barrister Alade Rotimi-John who was one of the early bringers of our gone hero’s demise to my poor attention. The other person was Suyi Ayodele, Tribune’s Tuesday ace columnist.

 READ ALSO: CBN Orders Banks To Pay New Naira Notes Over The Counter

Before Soremekun’s and Rotimi-John’s well-crafted tributes found me, Professor Olu Obafemi’s great elegiac poem of immortal diamond had galloped and gasped to me. The poem by our National Laureate, a Nigerian National Order of Merit winner, clearly made its mark on my mind. The privately circulated poem to a select audience was one in which Professor Olu Obafemi tried successfully to crowd Olukotun’s career with conquest in Olukotun’s years and years of eventful events. I never knew that Obafemi knew Olukotun until I read his afore-said poem entitled “Ayo, Omo Olukotun, Odabo!”

Professor Olukotun’s “Yagba homestead” and ancestry and scholastic biography right from “Titcombe College, Egbe in Kogi State” up to the “forest of Knowledge” in Ile-Ife and beyond as “hero of the Globe” were/are movingly and movingly rendered in the poem. But why was the dazzling adventurer “Okun, Son of Jege” committed to the red soil of Ibadan when his eyes finally and eternally closed? I tried in vain to reach Professor Obafemi, another worthy friend, and  my friend’s close kinsman, for an answer. All I got was prophetically rendered in the poem as follows: ”It is doubtful that this adventurer into/the forest of knowledge/Shall return to these shores again.” Another common friend, Professor Ademola Da Sylva, who knew Ayo in their Ife days, was similarly moved by Obafemi’s elegy.

    Professor Ayo Olukotun was no Professor Ayo Olukotun to me. He was simply to me – until he breathed his last breath Eyuze as I was to him Tone Baba. We first met in 1977 in Zaria now in Kaduna State. We were lecturing colleagues (Graduate Assistants – later Assistant Lecturers) at Ahmadu University. He was my tightest pal. Our other tight friend was the sociologist/criminologist Basil Owomero (a fellow Graduate Assistant) from Ozoro town in Isoko-land in Delta State. Basil died a pretty long time ago after earning a doctorate in Criminology. Of the three of us I am the only living one now. As I am reflecting on this confusion of thought, emotion, and vision of our then years a void stares at me pitilessly. The vastness of the then years of youthful youthfulness up to when we left Zaria at different times blurs and time becomes hollow. I am in the moment of writing remembering only one or two or three things of the happy and unhappy events we shared. 

    I remember that Eyuze Baba brought Adebayo Williams and me together. Adebayo Williams is now a Professor of Literature and a novelist and columnist of no mean repute. He and Eyuze were together as under-graduates in those years of tempestuous student unionism of patriotic patriotism when Eyuze made hay and held sway in Ife as President of the Students’ Union. But it is not this I am recalling and remembering. I am recalling and remembering… I am recalling and remembering Bayo Williams’ visits in his ever-faithful Passat to Eyuze (and then eventually to us) from Kaduna (where he was teaching at Federal Government College and at the same time working on his Master’s degree in Ife as we were doing in Zaria) when we dreamed dreams of Nigeria and our tempestuous love affair with your country my country our country. We dreamed the dreams of writing and of how to help this country to constitute ethical or moral or whatever science and knowledge of growth to shape it and humankind. Each of us endeavoured to adopt the method which would make him the peerless master of positive criticism of our country. Then we really had and held lofty dreams of enlightened patriots as young as we were with the whole world before us. Until he died Eyuze did not betray the dream and did not deviate from its anatomy.  Our man was a stammerer and stutterer in private conversations but in his public speeches and lectures he was a brilliant and very brilliant orator and analyst of acute dialectical proportions who always was an orator’s orator. He always reminded me of the late famous socialist novelist Professor Festus Iyayi of the University of Benin (who famously led the Academic Staff Union of Universities in the military era that in hindsight is hundred percent better than this civilian democratic regime of rotten rottenness). And in Professor Olukotun’s shining and shiny writings you would not notice any stammering and stuttering. Let me refrain from citing numerous examples. Eyuze was simply and more than simply audaciously brilliant and courageously courageous. He stood on a very high moral ground which his elegant writings are evidence of.

    What else am I remembering? When I was leaving Zaria finally, with my all-what-not, Eyuze accompanied me to the Mid-West. This attests to the measure of our tight friendship. We spent three days together in Sapele and Warri before we travelled back together in order for me to tidy up my disengagement from Ahmadu Bello University. I can write a treatise on the pure geometry of our healthy relationship. But it is immaterial now. Yet let me say this. In later years, in much later years, after we were fully committed to marital duties – with the vagaries of our politics and economy not helping matters – the cruel wind and breeze of boisterous Nigeria roped, wrestled, beat bare our friendship but we never ignored the generosity of our closeness through ample calls. In one of those calls I related the gloriously memorable one night I spent with him in the Lagos Daily Times estate/quarters he was staying in then as an editorial staff  member of that once famous global newspaper before he was a faculty member of University of Lagos. He enjoyed it all then. I can imagine how he and our elderly GG Darah, who is also now a Professor, cordially and graciously – and very warmly, welcomed me to the editorial office when I visited Kakawa! Or is memory failing me again? No, no, no.

    Is there anything further I want to recall about Eyuze? Of course, there are many more things to say about my kind and joyfully-minded Eyuze. But I must hold my breath here. In despair, of course. And my despair is not the vigorous pleasure of despairing. Our gone revolutionary humanist was every revolutionary’s humanist. He should not have left us now. But his time was surely up. I say this as a revolutionary mystic and peace activist – if you permit me to say so.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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Opinion

Witch Persecution And Dream Experiences In Nigeria

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Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches welcomes the arrest of a young man, Joseph Friday, who allegedly murdered his father for witchcraft in Akwa Ibom. The development represents some of the best ways the police could help end impunity and beat back the tide of witch-hunting in the country. The suspect told the police that the father used to appear to him in a dream. He said that the father would hypnotize him before depositing a spell in his body. Mr. Friday said, “My Father used a charm on me; he appeared in my dream and hypnotized me. Whenever he appeared, something like a tortoise entered my body, and I would start to behave abnormally”.

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Akwa Ibom is one of the states in Nigeria where witch persecution is pervasive, and abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs are widespread. As in this case, many cases of witchcraft accusations are linked to dreams, mystical interpretations of dreams. It will take more than arresting suspects and perpetrators to end these savage acts.

In Akwa Ibom, people are taught to take their dream experiences seriously. They believe or are made to believe, that those who appear in dreams are witches or agents of the occult. People are taught that dream experiences are revealing; they disclose potential harm and harmers. So people believe that their dreams point to what would happen to them or their families. So, whenever a person sees someone threatening or attacking them in a dream, they confront, attack, or kill the person when they wake up. Some people have noted cases where they have seen people pursuing them with a machete, or pressing their chest in the dream. And they felt horrified upon waking up. People who see others in a dream prefer to expose and kill them before they wreak further havoc. People take the dream experiences as real-life experiences. Incidentally, this mistaken idea of dreams is real and dangerous. And as this case has illustrated, the mystical idea of dreams leads to horrific abuses.

To end witch persecution, Nigerians need to change their attitudes towards dreams. Nigerians should understand that dreams are natural, not supernatural phenomena. Dreams are a stream of images and sensations that well up in the mind whenever a person is asleep. They have nothing to do with witchcraft or magic as popularly believed. People dream because their brains are not dead. Dreams are rooted in thoughts and imaginations that the mind entertained while awake. It is grossly mistaken to attack or kill someone based on another person’s dream experiences.

Dr. Igwe is an executive director of the
Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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Opinion

Where Did All The Money Go?

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Mike Hunder

By Mike Hunder

For eight straight years, the Buhari administration had been turning up the “no money” rhetoric.  Added to the puzzle, at a time when oil-producing countries were reaping sustained windfalls from high oil prices, at above $100 per barrel on average in 2022, following the Russia-Ukraine war, the NNPC made zero remittance to the federation account for most of the year. 

Now, a series of striking revelations have contradicted the administration’s “no money” claim, at a dramatic speed.  

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First, the Auditor General, in a 2022 letter to the Senate revealed that “a total of 17,877,705 barrels of crude oil valued at $1,020,969,281.12 (over one billion, twenty million dollars), were exported between 2016 and 2020, without proper records. This perhaps explains the non-remittance of funds by the NNPC into the federation account that characterized the administration. 

Second, things got so bad that, the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, locked horns with NNPC over shortchanging the government on several occasions. In one instance, in June 2018, there was a standoff between the National Economic Council and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), when the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, pointedly accused the NNPC of short-changing the government.  She declared NNPC’s account to the federal accounts allocation committee (FAAC), “unacceptable” and asked that they render the full account of the “missing billions”!

What happened there after?  The “deep state” clipped her wings, with allegations that she forged her NYSC certificate. Three months later, she resigned, and life went on.

Another revelation came to fore on the floor of the Senate in December 2022. That about 100 federal MDAs failed to account for the sum of #1.9 trillion naira from 2017 to 2021, despite several invitations. More shocking, most of the agencies involved, report to the presidency. This included the State House, Presidential Fleet, Ministry  of Finance, the armed forces, Police, Accountant General office,  NEMA, Ministry of Defence,  Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and many others.

The fourth was a bigger problem than many first thought. The CBN embarked on unfettered “printing of money” for the Buhari administration since 2015, in repeated disregards of the laws. Under the CBN Act, “ways and means” facility (a code for printing money for government), should not exceed 5% of the previous year’s revenue of the government and must be paid within the financial cycle. Then again, Section 38 provides that, “ways and means”… must be refunded before the collection of another one.” Yet, the Buhari administration kept collecting “ways and means” from the CBN, without making a refund, in a zeal not seen before, hitting #23.7 trillion by December 2022.

When the Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki, first spilled the beans about CBN’s printing of money for the federal government back in April 2021, the government denied it. Now, realizing that the “ways and means” account, cannot possibly be kept way from the public beyond May 2023, the president has sent a request to the Senate to give it a second life. Asking for a legislation to restructure it, and pass the repayment to future generations over a period of 40 years! Added to the puzzle, the request contained no records of how, when and what the #23.7 trillion was spent on.

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Until recently, the administration claimed that Nigeria does not have a debt problem, but a revenue problem. Then, it embarked on constant external borrowings, increasing external debts by 300% between June 2015 ($10 billion) and June 2022 ($40 billion), without a corresponding increase in foreign currency earnings.  Now, Patience Oniha, the director general of the Debt Management Office, when appearing before the House of Representatives to defend the 2023 budget, revealed that Nigeria does have an external debt problem. To the extent that Moody’s and Fitch downgraded Nigeria to a Category ‘B’ economy in 2021, the international market has closed its doors of borrowing against Nigeria, making it difficult for the country to borrow.

On top of this, fell the huge national debt stock, at seventy-seven trillion Naira.

Thus, an ugly spiral has developed: huge sums of money that are unaccounted for, constant external borrowings without a corresponding increase in foreign earnings – and a gigantic national debt of seventy-seven trillion Naira, completes the circle!

In the current climate, what is puzzling to people is, where did all this money go? Many who have defended the administration on financial prudence, now say they cannot go beyond this caricature. Then again, post-May 2023, things will probably get worse, before they get better. So, now comes the hangover! 

*Mike Hunder, an economist and business-training consultant based in Lagos, is a former General Manager at Union Bank Plc and Oceanic International Bank, respectively. He can be reached at: hundermike@mikehunder.com

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