Professor Adebanji Akintoye: Humanising Yoruba history

Professor Stephen Adebanji Akintoye is an academic with a difference. Aside taking a leading part in the politics of Nigeria during the Second Republic, serving as a senator from 1979 to 1983, his knowledge of the history of the Yoruba race puts him ahead of many of his peers and his sojourn abroad has in no way diminished his interest in the culture, history and tradition of his people. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE writes.

“Balance of power is rooted in our traditional governance system. The Council of Chiefs makes the law though the laws are seen as the king’s laws. The balance gave us a beautiful governance system.

“Yoruba had been practicing balance of power long before the Magna Carter movement. Yoruba are organized, orderly and our chiefs carry themselves with utmost dignity.”

These words represent the core belief of a Yoruba man who though exposed to the highest level of western education believes in the management and self reliant skills of the race which rather than being sharpened, continues to be devalued with cultural imperialism.

Though he lives in Pennsylvania in the United States of America,  his name reverberates across Nigeria, especially the Yoruba race as a historian in a class of his own. Indeed, Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, is a historian that takes the lead when issues concerning the Yoruba race is to be discussed.

He is presently tagged as one of the leading scholars on the history of Yoruba people and he has publications that are based on decades of new findings and thinking on Yoruba studies that challenges some previously dominant notions about the origins of the Yoruba. One of his publications dispels the Middle Eastern and Arabia origins propounded by early scholars.

He is one of the scholars that believes strongly in the ability of the Yoruba race to stand out based on the principles attached to its way of life and has advocated that the race goes back to the system of its forebears if it wants to stand tall.

The renowned historian once at a forum, Yoruba Historical Conversations in Ibadan organized by the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, once advocated that a return to communal life is a step the Yoruba nation must take if the culture is to be rescued from degeneration. He argued that communal economic efforts such as esusu, aaro and oya, before they were eroded by Western civilization, bonded the people together economically, culturally and educationally.

He believes that to for rescue efforts to be set in motion, every Yoruba man and woman must start by doing the right things, including speaking Yoruba language to their children, promoting the concept of omoluabi at every opportunity.

For him, to revive the cultural values, there must be a creation of independent, non-political and non-governmental institutions and agriculture, adding that despite the fact that farming was the predominant occupation of the Yoruba, he advocates that developments in the world have necessitated value addition to whatever Yoruba can produce from their large farms to enable them earn higher income and relevance in economic terms.

Prof Akintoye believes entirely in the ability of the Yoruba race to create a functional working system that span all spheres of life and  is impressed with the Yoruba system of government which gives room for checks and balances in the power equation of the  traditional governance. It is his belief that the system put in place by the Yoruba race before the advent of white people in the governance system has more value as it prevented traditional rulers from becoming dictators or maximum rulers.

Prof Akintoye is an embodiment of history, culture and heritage which is further sharpened with education and exposure. He attended Christ’s School Ado Ekiti from 1951–1955 after which he studied history at the University College also known as the Overseas College of the University of London in Ibadan between 1956–1961 and doctoral studies from 1963-1966 at the University of Ibadan, where he was bagged a PhD in History in 1966.

Prof Akintoye lectured at the History Department of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, where he became a professor and the Director of the Institute of African Studies from 1974-1977, from where he moved to United States where he taught African History in universities the University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida; Montgomery County Community College, PA, and Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania among other institutions.

He is a writer who has not only published his own books but has also co-authored many while his articles that have been published in diverse academic journals and newspapers are numerous.