Heart of Arts

Celebrating Toyin Falola at 70

Here’s my best recollection of how I met the erudite professor and how it impacted my life.


We had been in the same Diaspora group that discussed various African issues since 2013. I occasionally received invitations to submit papers or attend conferences, but we were yet to meet.

In 2017, I received an email inviting submissions for Toyin Falola @ 65. I looked at it and put it aside. Later that day, someone I only knew then by the handle of @adejokeomoiyabadan mentioned the conference in a DM because we occasionally talked about Yoruba culture. The following day, a friend from England emailed asking if I was going to Nigeria for the conference. I asked why and she said I should go since I had just written a book about Yoruba culture. Receiving three prompts in 24 hour period got my attention and made me take another look at the conference invitation.

To cut a long story short, in January 2018, I was on a plane travelling from Canada to Nigeria, without my travel companion, to attend the conference in Ibadan. In my pocket, I had a sheet with the names of people I must meet to let them know I actually came—Wale Ghazal, Jumoke Yacob-Haliso, Adeshina Afolayan, Samuel Oloruntoba, members of the organising team; AdejokeIyabadan, a connection on Instagram; Toyin Adepoju, a long-time diaspora friend and intellectual; and Gloria Emeagwali, a connection on LinkedIn that I have much respect for. But before landing in Lagos, I added one more name—Toyin Falola. Of course!

The first morning of the conference was different from what I had expected. I thought it would be an intimate gathering of perhaps 40 to a hundred interested individuals. Instead, there were learned academics and educators from every university in Nigeria; people from all walks of life were there, including those who, like me, came from far-flung corners of the world. There were books and objects on display and for sale, books I never knew of. There were artists, craftsmen/craftswomen, drummers, and traders from the surrounding areas. There were also several student and youth volunteers helping with various aspects of the conference. The University of Ibadan was abuzz.

I met people from Ghana, Sierra Leone, England, Scotland, Germany, South Africa, Canada and the United States during the conference. It was terrific and a bit intimidating for me when I saw the quality of the presentations listed and the presenters’ qualifications. I felt rightfully out of my league. This was not a design conference where I could hold my own, but a conference about world affairs with knowledgeable people in attendance. The small voice in my head said, “Be quiet. Look, Listen, and learn.” That’s what I did, and I am deeply grateful I did.

By the time the conference was over, I had made many new connections and a few friends. One such connection was a professor from Sokoto State who said to me as we sat under a tent in Ijebu land —”Giving to the poor is a duty, and I am glad to be in the position to give.” We formed a friendship that enriched my experience of the conference and expanded my worldview and knowledge of Islam till today. If I had any assumptions about those we labelled “people from the North,” he destroyed every one of them and helped me see the common destiny of Nigerians from his point of view, with a fresh sense of hope.

I thought this piece was about “Toyin Falola.” Okay, I finally met him on the corridor to the main auditorium. Met him is probably stretching the story. Well-wishers and friends completely surrounded him. Some wanted to take photos with him, and he would quickly pose with them. This went on for a while and finally, it was my turn. I handed a total stranger my phone. And that was it. I have now met the most important person on my list, the erudite professor, Dr Toyin Falola, whom I have since come to know as a generous soul, a learned man, an indefatigable scholar, a knowledgeable keeper and disseminator, a gatherer of people, purposeful academic, and so much more.

Since I met Professor Falola, I have benefited from his treasure chest of knowledge and vast connections, like the woman who touched the hem of The Master’s garment and was healed. In my case, I was held of post-colonial misinformation about the Yoruba people. Reading Toyin Falola offered a new appreciation of the future of Yoruba culture and language, Nigeria’s wealth of tribal diversity, and Africa’s ability to reach her highest potential.

During the pandemic lockdowns, Professor Falola brought a diverse group of people together on Sundays for Toyin Falola Interviews. Although the timing conflicted with Sunday devotions and church attendance, I could still attend many times, and I am glad for that. The Sunday gatherings helped fill gaps in my knowledge, expanded my horizons, and introduced various new concepts and ideas to me and, I am sure, to many others as well.

Before I close, I want to thank Professor Falola for helping to keep us sane during the pandemic lockdown with the various virtual Sunday discourses. I am thankful to be included in those. I wish I could express these thoughts during the virtual birthday celebration held for him on the first of January, 2023, but I had to leave because it was the First Sunday at church. I mention this so that anyone reading this will understand why I am writing instead. This is a well-deserved tribute.

On a recent trip to the United States, I saw an insignia hanging from the mirror of the Uber vehicle taking us to the airport. I said to the driver, “Ambazonia.” He responded with a bit of surprise, “Yes, sir.” We had a very intense conversation about Ambazonia as we drove to the airport, and I could hold my own. As he dropped us off at the airport, he made a comment that he had not carried any other passenger with such rich, in-depth knowledge about Ambazonia. Meanwhile, in my head, I said a heartfelt, “Thank you, Professor Toyin Falola,” as I adjusted my halo, picked up my luggage and walked on air. And, of course, my daughter quipped, “Dad. Why am I not surprised you know about Amba-what?”

Yes. Thank you, Prof. Ẹẹ pẹ fun wa. Gbogbo ohun ti ẹ ti ṣẹ ko ni parẹ. Ayọ ati alaafia ni ao fi ṣe ajọyọ gbogbo ọjo ibi ti o wa lona. Amin. Aṣẹ.

May all the good you have done never be forgotten. May you live long in good health to celebrate many more birthdays with your loved ones, family, friends, and all your counterparts and protégés worldwide. Amen!


Happy birthday, sir, from one of your silent beneficiaries.


‘Segun Olude

January 14, 2023

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