For Prof Toyin Falola at 70
By Lasisi Olagunju
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 02 January, 2023)
He is a deity among scholars; we should have a shrine for him. There was nothing which the deified ancestors did that he has not done a hundredfold. Yesterday, hundreds of us – family, friends, students and mentees of Africa’s preeminent historian, Professor Toyin Falola,
gathered (online) from all over the world to celebrate a man who embodies everything the Yoruba encased in the name Omoluabi. A scholar defined an Omoluabi as a person with two hundred friends. I add that the whole world knows not the number of friends of an Omoluabi; even he himself knows not. Omoluabi is that gentle giant with a spirit that serves the universe.
Great in all respects but humble enough to bend and hold hands with the lowly. That is Prof. Falola. I sent a message to him on 7 December, 2021 informing him that I planned to present a book of my column in the new year. “Send me a soft copy,” he instructed the caller and I did. Whatever he wanted to do with it, he did not tell me. Days later, he called me and said he “thoroughly enjoyed” what I wrote. Then on December 19 he sent a message: “When should I release my review of your book.” I could only say ha! Speech failed me. The event was on February 8, 2022 but two weeks to the day, he told me his review was “in three parts” and promised to make it available two days before the event. All those unsolicited favours for a reporter, from an Iroko that had barely known me for a year! I thought I did not deserve it, but I have heard many others with similar experiences of the man who turned 70 yesterday.
In ‘Paradise Regained’, 17th century English poet and intellectual, John Milton, says “the childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day.” The world and its reality have not said the poet lied. Falola told the Nigerian Tribune in an interview published at the weekend that he was really “not conscious of the absence of a First Class or Second Upper graduate” in History before his time at the University of Ife, yet he blazed the trail, pioneering distinction in his course of study at that university. He has since taken the world of intellectualism by storm such that he ranks among Africa’s greatest professors of all time. But where does all the energy come from? As an Ibadan man, he said he “found strength in the activities of all the great men and women whose very contributions have shaped us as a people.” The historian said he “took the bragging rights” from them to pursue his dream and grow his career. As an Ibadan-Yoruba, he found courage in the efforts of his ancestors, “those who stood their ground in resisting predatory pressure.” The actions of all those great men and women before him, he said, gave him “all the motivation” he needed to face his future “with ultimate confidence.”
You know the path of giants by the prints of their footfall. How many books has he written? His answer: “I do not honestly know the number of books or essays that I have written or participated in, for I have dedicated myself to writing so much that I find nothing rewarding outside of that engagement except the comfort of my family and friends.”
Seventy is the age of retirement for many but for Falola, it is just a milestone on his continuous journey of scholarship and service. The man told the Nigerian Tribune that going forward, he would “become useful to people through the activities I would be engaged in. Conferences would continue, academic writing would not cease, and mentoring the younger ones would go on.” All these experiences, he said, “help to rekindle the spirit and redefine one’s purpose.”
A divine light shines over his head, and guides his steps, such that the world rises to meet and applaud him wherever he goes. The world really has no choice; the ‘old’ man has paid his dues. His Maker placed bowls of service in his nimble hands, he delivered them perfectly at all the intersections of life without breaking the wares.
Prof. Toyin Falola clocked 70 yesterday and was well celebrated all over the world. He deserved it. We wish him many happy returns.