Heart of Arts

Tayo Adesina’s Global Professorship Award: A Recognition of Brilliance and A Beacon of Hope for Decolonizing African Epistemology

Toyin Falola

The epistemological development of Africa, as well as the demystification of contextual conceptions in knowledge perception of its culture, traditions, and social dynamics, have been subjects of pertinent character since the end of colonialism and the evolvement of decolonization efforts. While the political stakeholders arrested the pendulums of political dynamics, epistemic modification, generation, and expansion have rested on the shoulders of African scholars who have, against all odds, propelled the endeavours beyond expectations. Since 1960, the quality and quantity of knowledge production in terms of redirection of African history have been determinants of the understanding of African identity both by Africans and non-Africa. Unfortunately, many of these intellectual heroes of the African identity and intellectual developments are seldom celebrated or recognized; hence, my excitement at the news of Professor Olutayo Adesina’s winning of the United Kingdom’s Global Professorship Award. I received the news at the airport and immediately called to congratulate him before things cooled off. This is not the case of an award to a Muslim to eat pork, offered by murderers of people of his faith, but of an Ifa priest committed to his art of divination and promoting Isese.

I concede that the thrill of being recognized internationally, like the British Academy’s 2023-2024 Global Professorship, is a lifetime achievement and attracts national, continental, and global celebrations, but the most important consideration in the wide festivities of encomiums is the subject behind the awards and the personality of the awardee. Professor Adesina did not just get internationally recognized like anyone else but for playing a significant part in the long-term effort of historical redirection of African knowledge and culture. I consider this to be a more important angle to the celebration of the achievement of Professor Adesina as it is relevant to the intense motivation of other scholars in the effort towards the fortification of African knowledge and culture.

“The Town and Gown Interface: Ibadan and the Decolonization of Social Knowledge in the 20th Century,” the topic that was considered for the conferment of the award, is strategically arrived and well-articulated. I am not surprised at the conferment of the award because of the quality of research as well as the trajectory of the aim of the subject submitted for consideration. This brilliance serves as one of the very few empirical, intentional, and strategic crystallizations of the relationship between academics and society and has become the beacon of the reflection on the town-and-gown relationship. The consideration of the role of the University of Ibadan (originally birthed as the University College Ibadan) in the transformation of the social knowledge of the nation to remove its shackles of colonial idiosyncrasies projects the symbiotic ideological diffusion between the realms of the academics and the cultural wild pool of the society to show how scholarship has been gradually modelled to reflect social characters and the impress of scholarly inquiries on social transformations; thereby gradually removing the shaft of colonial antecedents.

It could be understood that many would not be too surprised at these accomplishments, seeing the various efforts and commitment of Adesina to propel the African original knowledge and the deliberate contributions he has made in the past. There are testimonials all around him emphasizing the extraordinary approach he has in the fortification of African history through pedagogical intentionality and the trajectory of his research to reach the same effort of African historical and cultural decolonization.

Researching Africa and making distinguishable contributions like those that have made him most eligible for the consideration of the British Academic Global Professorship Award would not just come with mere efforts without some extraordinary reaches. Professor Adesina’s years of research expertise have been marked by multifaceted considerations in historiographic endeavours as well as cultural infestations to ensure that historical positions are made with the most necessary and accurate information and perceptions. This research approach has recurred in his subscription to the need and imperatives of town and gown relationship, a conviction that has taken him to this level of international recognition.

As an advocate of the evolvement of African history with special consideration for decolonization, he has always been very particular about making African historiography emphasize the trajectory of independent African history as well as the challenges that follow the efforts. One such dedication to the course was his department’s organization of the International Conference in honour of Emeritus Professor J. F. Ade-Ajayi titled “Illuminating the Pathways and Understanding the Challenges” in 2019.

Professor Adesina has been very accustomed to the history of decolonization movements in African history, and his role in the endeavour reconfirms the relevance of his consideration by the British Academy. Taking a purview of when IFRA-Nigeria invited him to deliver his publication on the Ibadan School of History and his ongoing research at that time, he gave a lecture on the origins and significance of the Ibadan School of History since the 1950s. He discussed the founding of the school, the theoretical and historical accomplishments of its supporters, as well as the modes of thought and civic involvement they advocated. The lessons that can be learned from the Ibadan School of History’s experience writing and researching Nigerian and African history in the modern era were also covered, with particular attention paid to how African universities are changing and how African epistemologies are evolving. Those who espied this engagement and publications would understand the relevance of the award on the temporal development of African history and the persuasion of contemporary scholars to decolonization efforts of African historiography.

In addition to the above, he played a remarkable role in the revitalization of archival materials and studies in Nigeria for his role as a member of the Committee of Experts of the Department of National Archives of Nigeria to the House of Representatives in Abuja, Nigeria, on the “Public Hearing on a Bill for An Act to Repeal the National Archives Act, 1992 and to Establish the National Archives and Records Administration.” It further foregrounds his long-term commitment to strengthening African historiography through the preservation of the systems built around archival knowledge.

The consideration for the award is further well made because of his ability to access the comprehensive diversity in the social tapestry of Africa through historical lens and scholarship engagements. In the past, he has done valuable research and contributed to the different aspects of the African cultural atmospheres, touching on nationalism, educational integrity, economic growth, social agencies, institutional influence, health, and other interdisciplinary and cross-cultural inquiries. These trajectories of research have been pertinent in Nigeria’s and African social and cultural developments as they afford information for the right social and cultural perspectives.

One of such diversified approaches to both remote and contemporary historiography on the Nigerian economic relationship with China is one in which he has been able to interject the same with the right knowledge applications. From a scholarly perspective, Adesina reflects on the essence of the relationship as well as the antics that follow. Also, his anticipated examination of the Indian influence on the temporal progression of Nigeria in “The Indian Diaspora in Nigerian History, Economy and Political Power Relations” gives a further analytic examination of dynamic perspectives that the inquisitions of Nigerian scholars would almost miss. Through these, he suggests the economic outlook of the country and the possible interference with other foreign policies and relations.

The British Academy’s Global Professorship Award is not the first or only international recognition that the sage has received. Without a doubt, his contributions and achievements, like those outlined above, have attracted different levels of recognition and fellowship, both local and international. He is a Harvard University’s Fellow of the Atlantic History and Institute of African Studies Fellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, among others. Hence, this award is a further testimony of his brilliance, diligence, and commitment to history and Pan-African perspectives.

In this light, I join the legion of other well-meaning scholars, stakeholders, and individuals who have celebrated this great achievement. To reiterate further, I am particularly interested in the positive influence of the Award on the continuous encouragement of African scholars to expand on the need for and efforts towards the decolonization of African society and ideologies. I am not in the business of advising adults, but when your yam sprouts, hide it under the heap and cover it well with good soil. There is no need for hired praise singers and journalists to boast that you have received the largest award in history since the University of Ibadan was established in 1947. Until Nigeria itself is transformed into a strong and developed nation, we must continue to work harder, seeking areas where knowledge can advance the mission of the nation-states.

A happy mouth cannot stop Sango from emitting fire!

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people.

× Let's Chat!