By Toyin Falola
Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed faculty, revered alumni, and the spirited students of Obafemi Awolowo University, it is with profound gratitude and a sense of immense honor that I stand before you today. As I accept this honorary degree, I am reminded of the rich tapestry of history and resilience that this great institution embodies. The legacy of Great Ife, particularly during the tumultuous military era in Nigeria, is a testament to the unyielding spirit of knowledge, justice, and courage. In those challenging times, when the fabric of our nation was tested, this university emerged not just as an academic institution, but as a fortress of intellectual resistance and a beacon of hope. The students and lecturers of this esteemed university, against overwhelming odds, stood tall. Their resilience in the face of oppression, their unflinching commitment to truth and justice, did not just shape the contours of our nation’s history, but also activism in the path of fairness and justice.
The university’s role in championing the causes of Nigerian youth and students during these trying times is particularly noteworthy. It was here, within these walls, that critical voices rose against injustice, that debates and discussions fueled a movement for change, and that the clamor for justice found its most resonant echo. This institution did not merely witness history; it made history as it actively bent the arc of our national narrative towards justice, equality, and freedom.
As a product of this institution, my memories are not just of academic rigor, but of a vibrant community where the spirit of inquiry knew no bounds, where every lecture, every seminar, was an invitation to explore the vast realms of knowledge. The vibrancy of the student body, their engagement with complex sociopolitical realities, and their unwavering commitment to societal transformation, have always been the hallmark of Obafemi Awolowo University.
I recall with fondness the eclectic academic environment that defined my years at Obafemi Awolowo University. In my time in the early 1970s, Ife was more than a mere assemblage of classrooms and lecture halls; it was a crucible where minds were molded, where horizons were broadened, and where the seeds of multifaceted knowledge were sown and nurtured. During my time here, the breadth of academic exposure was truly remarkable. Students were not just confined to their specific disciplines; we were encouraged to delve into a myriad of subjects, gaining considerable knowledge in sociology, religious study, languages, history, epistemology, philosophy, political science, and economics. This interdisciplinary approach did not merely equip us with facts and theories; it cultivated in us a holistic understanding of the world, fostering a sense of interconnectedness and a deeper appreciation for the diverse perspectives that shape our global narrative. Today, I write on a wide range of disciplines, including Literature, Economics, Political Science, International Relations, Creativity, History, Religious Studies, Political Economy and the interfaces and intersectionalities. The foundation of my multidisciplinary control of the Humanities started at Ife. Today, I occupy a distinguished professorship of Political Science at the University of Pretoria, and a Professor of Human Rights in the Faculty of Law at the University of the Free State. And on my campus in Texas, I am a Professor of History while I hold a Chair of Humanities. Without Ife and its renaissance tradition, the unique achievements would not have been possible. We owe our intellectual foundation a loud applause in such unparalleled spate of achievements.
The vibrancy of intellectual life at Obafemi Awolowo University was further enhanced by the myriad of seminars and workshops organized by students and faculty alike. Those forums were not just platforms for academic discourse, they were vibrant hubs of innovative thinking, where ideas were not only shared but also challenged and refined. The university, in its wisdom, recognized the immense value of these gatherings, supporting and encouraging them as integral components of our educational journey. I was part of the tradition of seminars and workshops which led me subsequently to greater leadership in academic positions.
This culture and atmosphere of intellectual engagement, this spirit of inquiry and dialogue, have always been a defining feature of this university. It is a tradition that transcends the boundaries of the campus, influencing and shaping the broader academic and societal discourse. The impact of this inclusive and dynamic academic culture is evident in the myriad of contributions made by our alumni in various fields, both within Nigeria and on the global stage.
In the heart of Obafemi Awolowo University lies an unwavering commitment to political activism and justice, a commitment that has been the cornerstone of its identity. This university has never been a bystander in the face of societal challenges; rather, it has always been a proactive agent of change, a voice for the voiceless, and a force for societal transformation. The political activism inherent in the DNA of this institution is not just a response to external circumstances, but a fundamental part of its ethos. The university has always encouraged its students and faculty to engage critically with the social and political realities of our time, to question, to debate, and to seek solutions to the myriad challenges that confront our society. This spirit of activism is not confined to the realms of academia; it is a living, breathing part of the university’s culture, manifesting in various forms of advocacy, community engagement, and public discourse.
Obafemi Awolowo University’s role in shaping political thought and action in Nigeria cannot be overstated. From organizing symposiums on national issues to leading peaceful protests for justice, the university community has consistently demonstrated its commitment to upholding democratic values and human rights. This activism is not mere rhetoric; it is rooted in a deep understanding of the power of education to effect positive change, and a steadfast belief in the responsibility of academic institutions to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society.
It is this unwavering commitment to justice and equality that has cemented Obafemi Awolowo University’s status as an activist institution, political or otherwise. The university has not only produced some of the finest minds in various disciplines, but it has also nurtured leaders, activists, and changemakers who have gone on to play pivotal roles in shaping the political landscape of Nigeria and beyond. The legacy of this institution in the realm of political activism is a beacon that continues to guide and inspire, reminding us of the critical role that academic institutions must play in advancing societal progress.
The intellectual vibrancy of Obafemi Awolowo University is a remarkable feature that distinguishes it as a premier academic institution. This vibrancy is not confined to the academic prowess it is known for; it extends to the very essence of life on campus, where every corner echoes with the spirit of inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge. Within the walls of this university, intellectual stimulation is a constant. The classrooms buzz with lively debates and discussions, the libraries are sanctuaries of deep thought and exploration, and the lecture theaters are stages for the unfolding of new ideas and perspectives. This dynamic environment fosters a culture of intellectual curiosity and academic excellence, encouraging students and faculty alike to push the boundaries of knowledge and understanding.
What makes Obafemi Awolowo University truly unique is its inclusive approach to intellectual engagement. Here, every voice is valued, every perspective is considered, and every idea is given the space to flourish. This approach has cultivated an environment where learning is not just a transfer of knowledge, but a collaborative process of discovery and innovation. The intellectual vibrancy of this institution is also reflected in its diverse range of academic programs and research initiatives. From the humanities to the sciences, from arts to technology, Obafemi Awolowo University offers a rich tapestry of disciplines, each contributing to the creation of a holistic and enriching educational experience. The university’s commitment to interdisciplinary research and collaborative projects further enhances its intellectual climate, making it a hub for pioneering thought and cutting-edge innovation.
This vibrant intellectual space has a profound impact on everyone who steps foot in Obafemi Awolowo University. It is a place where minds are opened, where horizons are broadened, and where the leaders of tomorrow are shaped. The university’s intellectual legacy is not just its academic achievements, but the countless lives it has transformed through its commitment to fostering an environment of intellectual excellence and innovation.
Obafemi Awolowo University, in its glorious journey, has not only been a beacon of academic and political activism, but it has also stood as a vibrant mosaic of cultural and ethnic diversity. This dynamic interplay of different cultures and traditions within the university has enriched its character, making it a microcosm of our nation’s beautiful diversity. The university’s ability to embrace and celebrate this diversity is one of its most defining and praiseworthy attributes. The campus life here is a colorful tapestry of ethnic backgrounds, languages, and traditions, each bringing its unique flavor to the university’s rich cultural landscape. This diversity is not just visible in the social interactions and cultural festivities but is also an integral part of the academic discourse and curriculum. It fosters a sense of inclusivity and mutual respect among the students and faculty, creating a learning environment that is both dynamic and harmonious.
As we look towards the future, I believe there are key areas where Obafemi Awolowo University can further enhance its impact and continue its legacy of excellence. Firstly, the establishment of an incubation system for students would be a significant step forward. Such a system would bridge the gap between academic learning and the practical realities of the labor market. It would provide students with the necessary skills, resources, and mentorship to transform their innovative ideas into viable ventures, thereby enhancing their readiness for the professional world.
Building a large body of alumni committed to making the University rely on its most valuable resources will start from the first week a student enters the campus. The system must insist on a student-friendly teaching approach to anchor the learning experience. This approach should focus on fostering a relaxed and interactive classroom environment, encouraging open dialogue, and making learning a more engaging and enjoyable experience. Such an environment not only aids in better knowledge retention but also instills a lifelong love for learning. A good memory will later open the wallets, a model known for its success in enhancing institutional foundations and alumni support.
Lastly, the running of a vibrant and functional mentorship and career office would be invaluable. This office would play a pivotal role in guiding students through their academic and career paths, offering personalized mentorship, career advice, and opportunities for professional development. It would serve as a bridge between the university and the industry, ensuring that students are well-equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities of the outside world.
In conclusion, my journey at Obafemi Awolowo University has been transformative, and the honor bestowed upon me today is not just a recognition of my personal achievements, but a testament to the indelible impact this institution has had on my life. As I look back at the vibrant history, the intellectual rigor, and the dynamic cultural landscape of this university, I am filled with immense pride and hope for its future.
May Obafemi Awolowo University continue to thrive as a beacon of knowledge, justice, and cultural richness.