Heart of Arts

Professor Bolanle Awe at 90 Conference: Now That Everything Is In Order

Toyin Falola


Planning an event is no mean feat, no matter how small it may seem. If it does not require huge resources, which is a rare case, it will require time and movement from all the parties involved in the preparation. How much more when the event is not a small one? There is also the fact that events and event planning are organisms that change in form, strategy, and approach; therefore, because you have handled hundreds of successful events does not guarantee that the new one you are planning will be without stress or challenges before and during the event.

For the upcoming “Professor Bolanle Awe at 90 Conference”, despite how recent happenings in Nigeria have militated against the last phase of the planning, we have successfully scaled through all the pre-event challenges, and we are prepared. The program booklet is ready; the team is set. In four days from now, specifically from February 13 to 14, 2022, the conference, which was conceived as an idea to give honour to whom honour is due, will hold at the University of Ibadan. Professor Olufunke Adeboye, the amiable Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos; Professor Rashidi Olaniyi, talented historian and Head of Department of History, University of Ibadan; and Dr Sharon Omotosho, the innovative feminist scholar and head of Women’s Research and Documentation Centre, University of Ibadan, all readily adopted and committed to this event, which birthed a series of activities, including planning, meetings, and outreaches, the climax of which will be witnessed at the appointed time.

Our unanimous decision and choice to go back to the academic and career roots of the matriarch — the University of Ibadan — as the select venue for the conference can be interpreted as a return to Professor Awe’s academic and professional roots. However, there is no denying that the octogenarian does not belong to the University of Ibadan alone. She is also the pride of the University of Lagos, where she spent good years building her career and contributing to the academic repertoire. There is hardly any birthday present that will match up to an event like this. For Professor Awe, “This is the day that the Lord has made!”

As the world celebrates the concept of love in its varying forms on February 14, we will also show our love and respect for the matriarch of Nigerian history, Professor Bolanle Awe. The panellists have spent the past few months working on their conference papers, from the initial abstract phase to fully fleshing out topics on the varying themes of the conference. All the work that has gone into that is an expression of admiration and reverence for Professor Awe’s work. Beyond showing our love and support, we will also be celebrating love — the love that a brilliant and ingenious mind has for history and how she applied her knowledge across different fields, from academia to the management of governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Also, the conference is a mission dedicated to contributing to existing research and overall scholarship in oral and African history, feminism, women’s studies, gender studies, and the interconnectedness of all these academic disciplines. The sheer breadth and vastness of the topics initially submitted show that the academia has a lot to unearth as it concerns the selected focus topics of the conference. In selecting participants, we have regrouped scholars and contributors from varying disciplines and, with their distinct approaches and perspectives, a move we expect to birth a compendium of works that will spark new discourses and chart new paths. It is amazing to see how people have rallied around from all quarters to participate in this conference, one way or the other, demonstrating that the world celebrates people who have led fulfilling lives that have benefited several people, institutions, and organisations.

With the theme, “Oral Traditions and Written Histories”, the conference is designed to be beneficial to participants, not only as a form of recognition of their contributions to the academic body of work on the selected theme and sub-themes but also as a learning curve, seeing as the presented research papers will be peer-reviewed. In itself, the theme shows a progressive trajectory in African history, starting from oral traditions that became integral parts of our African oral history, then advancing to the adoption of globally standardised writing in Africa, thus bringing about the emergence of written history, first by Europeans about Africans, then, by Africans about Africa — a move to save African history from biased perspectives on the continent’s historical representation. Today, African history is steadily attracting researchers, collaborators, scholars, and students because, although many have done tremendous work in the field, a lot remains untapped, leaving the field as a juicy and attractive discipline. This point is reinforced by how the presenting scholars at the conference stretched the sub-themes to their ends, developing research topics that are central to or divergent from the theme.

The special conference in honour of Professor Bolanle Awe is structured to accommodate discourses and special sessions that are reflective of her work in relation to the city and beyond the gambit of academia, especially with international bodies and non-governmental organisations such as the MacArthur Foundation and the Women’s Research and Documentation Center (WORDOC). Professor Awe was instrumental to the research and documentation efforts of organisations like the United Nations, the World Bank, the MacArthur Foundation, and the DAWN Commission, among other organisations that have, during different times, researched women-related issues in the country. The first specially incorporated session will centre on Professor Awe’s work in the field, examining her immense contributions to women’s history and development, women’s rights in Nigeria and Africa, as well as her work with several women-related organisations in Nigeria and outside the borders of the country.

Revisiting gender discourses is a special panel session to look forward to, as it regroups some of the country’s best and foremost academics in women and gender studies. The title of Professor Ebun Oduwole’s proposed paper, “Are We Still Discussing Gender Equality?” is thought-provoking in its position as a reality check for everyone. Despite the tremendous body of work and efforts, fighting multi-dimensional gender-based inequality is still a very heated topic with seemingly unending discourses in varying forms — from semi-formal social media discourses and unrefined banters and arguments to the more structured and refined academic events. Gender inequality is fast positioning itself as a topic that will not exhaust its conversational relevance, which is a somewhat dangerous phenomenon because it draws attention away from what needs to be done and acted upon and focuses on discourses that, more often than not, do not spark widespread action or moves for a change in the status quo. Professor Oduwole’s research and perspectives are things to look forward to at the conference.

In addition, Professor Oyeronke Olademo set out on the daunting task of tracing the essentiality of women-run and women-based agencies among the Yoruba people in her paper titled “Women Agency, Power and Orality among the Yoruba: Past, Present, and Prospects”. This historiographical research is a bold adventure into the relevance of women in Yoruba history and the contributions of communalism to the growth and expansion of women’s influence — if it ever existed. The biggest feature of this expected paper is how the author is prepared to propose deduced prospects based on trends and available data on what can be experimented on regarding Yoruba history and women and women-related topics. Likewise, Professor Mobolanle Sotunsa, who incidentally is Professor Awe’s namesake, will share how she explored and assessed historical literature to unearth gendered themes and tropes in African historical texts, focusing on Yoruba texts. History is the mirror of society and one of the biggest forms of expression for a people. Whatever Professor Sotunsa has unearthed, which she will share during the special session, will reflect the realities of the periods on which the work is based.

The participating scholars of the conference have been distributed across 29 panels and are expected to present their papers and actively participate in the peer review process. As envisioned, this conference will not be just another celebratory event; it will serve as a milestone in celebrating a colossal figure as Professor Awe and as a marker for the commencement of another academic tornado.

Immense appreciation goes to Erelu Bisi Fayemi, scholar, activist, and feminist who will chair the opening ceremony, as well as the long-standing distinguished scholar, Dr. Kole Shettima, the Centre for Democracy and Development and the Nigerian Academy of Letters that keyed into our plans, understood our mission, and have served as supporters and financiers of the conference. I cannot wait to listen to Professor Bisi Aina, the guru of women’s studies, whose draft of the Keynote is magisterial.

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