Adieu, Professor Akin Mabogunje

PROFESSOR Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje was Born on October 18, 1931 to the late Pa Joseph Omotunde Mabogunje, a retired UAC official, and Madam Janet Adeola Mabogunje, a trader from Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria. He was born in Sabongari, Kano, where he began his primary school education. He later attended Mapo Central School for a year before enrolling at the Ibadan Grammar School. He attended the University College, Ibadan, now University of Ibadan, for a general degree in Geography in 1953. Thereafter, Professor Mabogunje proceeded to the University of London where he earned a B.A. (Hons.) degree in 1956 and then a Master’s and a PhD degree in Geography in 1958 and 1961 respectively.

He joined the academic staff of the University of Ibadan in 1958 and rose to the rank of Professor of Geography in 1965. As Africa’s first Professor of Geography, Akinlawon Mabogunje served as a visiting professor to several ivy league universities across the globe. He was Head of Department of Geography (1972-1975) and Dean, Faculty of the Social Sciences (1968-1970), University of Ibadan.  He was also the Director of the famous Planning Studies Programme (1972-1981) at the University of Ibadan. In these positions and more, he made enormous contributions to the development of the University of Ibadan.

Professor Mabogunje made outstanding contributions to the discipline of Geography globally, especially in the subfields of urbanisation and urban governance. His works addressed issues of rural-urban migration, urbanisation, development and environmental challenges facing Nigeria and Africa in original and innovative ways. He was editor of several academic journals and book series in geography.  He was reputed for making outstanding contributions to these sub-fields in numerous publications and initiatives. He was President, Nigeria Geographical Association (1972-1982); Vice-President, Nigerian Ecological Society (1973-79); President, National Council on Population Activities (1986-1992). He was also the Vice-President of the International Geographical Union (IGU) (1980-1992), and later the First African President (1980-1984). He was Vice-President, Governing Council for Pan African Institute for Development, Douala Cameroon (1978-1984); Chairman, International Committee for Overcoming Hunger in the 1990s (1988-1994); Visiting Research   Fellow, World Bank, 1990; and Adviser to the Secretary General, United Nations Second Conference on Human Settlements (1994-1999).

Professor Mabogunje was a man of policy and practice. The town and gown meshed in his intellectual and interventionist activities. He served in various capacities both in the public and private sectors in the governance of the Nigerian economy and society. He was a member of the Western Nigerian Economic Advisory Council (1967-71); Member, Federal Public Service Review Commission (1972-74); Consultant, National Census Board (1973-74); Chairman, Nigerian Council for Management Development (1976-79); Consultant, Federal Capital Development Authority (1976-84); Member, Board of Directorate of DFRRI (1986-1993); Member, Board of Trustees Nigerian National Merit Award Endowment Fund (1983-1989) and later Chairman of the Fund (1989-94), Executive Chairman of the National Board for Community Banks (1991-94), and Executive Chairman, Development Policy Centre, Ibadan (1996-2000). Apart from his policy preoccupation at the Development Policy Centre, an independent think-tank in Ibadan, Professor Mabogunje provided expert advice on numerous issues of development to Nigerian governments and international organisations as a public intellectual, including the creation and development of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

As a doyen of the social sciences, he was often referred to as the father of Geography in Africa and one of the fathers of the Social Sciences in Nigeria.  He was a recipient of numerous honours in various academic, professional and administrative fields both at the national and international levels. These include honorary doctoral degrees from the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden (1973), Michigan State University, USA (1978), University of Benin (1995) and Ogun State University. He received the David Livingstone Centennial Gold Medal of the American Geographical Society for distinguished contribution to the study of geography of Africa (1972), Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM) (1980), Gold Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (1994), Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association of the USA (1997), UNCHS Scroll of Honour for outstanding contribution to human settlements development (1998), and Foreign Association of the United States’ National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. (1999).

Some of his most notable and enduring publications include the books Yoruba Towns (1962); Urbanization in Nigeria (1968); Cities and Social Order (1974); Shelter Provision in Developing Countries (1978); The Development Process: A Spatial Perspective(1980); Geography and the Dilemma of Rural Development in Africa (1981) and State of the Earth: Contemporary Geographic Perspectives (1997). Professor  Mabogunje was an outstanding public intellectual and one of Nigeria’s best in the tradition of academic excellence. In 2017, he was announced the recipient of the Vautrin Lud Prize, the ‘Nobel Prize for Geography.’ The prize was established in 1991 and it is the highest international award that can be gained in Geography. Laureates are nominated by a jury of five from a shortlist nominated by 240 leading international geographers. The prize is awarded for outstanding achievements in the field of geography, and Mabogunje was, until his death, the first and only African recipient of the award since its inception in 1991.

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