Toyin Falola’s golden era

Continued from yesterday

Take his position on the place of religion in Nigerian politics for an illustration. His perspective on the topic as delivered in Violence in Nigeria: The Crisis of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies has become critical in evaluating the impact of religion on state politics and political economy in Nigeria. In threading the discussion on the relationship between religion and State, Falola dispels prior notions of a limited influence by the former on a secular state by establishing its historical antecedents as a source of pre-colonial ethnic violence and political power-play. Therein a trajectory is established from the 19th century Uthman Dan Fodio Jihad in the pre-colonial period, through the colonial period of Christianity and Western education, which provided a further basis for deep division between a better exposed South and a less influenced North, all in a quest to control the state apparatus which became accessible based on educational qualification. After independence, the mutual distrust grew, giving religious colorations to national decisions and events—constitutional reviews, elections, and censuses. These occasions soon became potential kindles for religious crisis trailed by the wanton destruction of lives and properties, especially in the country’s major cities, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, and Zaria.

In Africa, Falola’s voice has also rung very clear and true. He has intervened in a series of challenges facing contemporary Africa with his characteristic insight and in-depth historical approach at diverse instances and through varying mediums. He called for indigenous knowledge production as a way out of Africa’s predicament. What African predicament is implied here? The outcome of four successive eras of rape and plunder, namely the trans-Saharan slave trade, the transatlantic trade, colonialism, and globalization. These have conspired to reduce Africa to a theater of social ills, including, but not limited to, poverty, insecurity, poor healthcare, low life expectancy, ethnoreligious crisis, bad governance, corruption, human rights violations, and other undemocratic practices. As an issue that has topped the agenda of Africanist scholars for decades, it has also inspired a considerable number of scholarly efforts in conferences, workshops, and seminars that have produced large volumes of material, a good portion of which Professor Falola contributed to directly or indirectly.

After years of direct involvement in assessing the myriad problems bedeviling Africa and the quest for solutions, Falola advocated a change in resolving them through several of his publications. In one particular 2018 publication titled The Toyin Falola Reader on African Culture, Nationalism, Development and Epistemologies, he concluded that the solutions to these African problems lay in changing African thought. Hence the call for curriculum changes in the continent’s tertiary institutions, from a colonial model to a new realistic one, fashioned to suit 21st century Africa’s demands.

Falola is one Africanist scholar who has never stopped believing in the potential inherent in a unification of purpose between Africans on the continent and members of the African diaspora community in a pan-African quest to deliver Africa. Pan-Africanism, as an idea of shared interest and purpose, uniting peoples of African descent everywhere in the world against forces of oppression, stigmatization, and discrimination, has driven the struggles for abolishing slavery, independence, and decolonization, and has also featured prominently in the discourse on nation-building. However, over time this link between Africans on the continent and those in diaspora weakened considerably, owing to the relative shift in focus from topics that provided the momentum in its heydays, but not enough for either party to completely give up on the “motherland.”

Toyin Falola yet believes that Africa’s diaspora community has an important role to play in changing the situation on the continent. Hence the advocacy for a rekindling of the pan-Africanist ideal which retains the potential to whip up sentiments—on both sides—powerful enough to inspire commitments to change the status quo in the “motherland.” In several publications, Falola addresses a range of issues, covering African diaspora communities, the differences in their experiences, the impact of their experiences on their African-ness, how they perceive their African identity, the locations, growth/expansion of African diaspora communities, the perseverance of the African spirit in these communities, and how the wealth, ideas, and experiences of these communities can contribute to changing the African narrative for the best.

The University of Ibadan should be congratulated for this outstanding record. By persuading the humble Falola, based on his excellent record of research and originality, a distinguished career, and a remarkable academic achievement, to register as a student for a degree, was an honor to the university itself. However, we must plead with its authorities not to allow the D. Litt. to be corrupted by admitting people of mediocre stature. Should this happen, the University of Ibadan would have tarnished itself and Toyin Falola, who is now in the league of Wilmot Blyden, Cheikh Anta Diop, W.E.B. Dubois, and Ali Mazrui as the pantheons of African scholarship.


Teboh is Professor of History

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, USA.


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