Heart of Arts

Toyin Falola: An Elder In Dignity

Lateef Olatunji Raji

Department of General Studies (Yoruba Unit)

Lagos State University of Science and Technology,

Lagos, Nigeria


Every man will always have his first contact with people of note. This could be physical or otherwise. The window through which I first had access to Prof. Oloruntoyin Omoyeni Falola was at the Department of African Languages and Literature (now Department of Linguistics and African Languages), Obafemi Awolowo University, not as my lecturer but as one whose name would feature in some of our courses of historical contents. A postgraduate programme in the same department years later (2016) gave me another great opportunity to interact with Prof. Falola as a historian through one of his edited works, The Yorùbá Diaspora in the Atlantic World, as one of the books studied. One could ask if Baba is a historian when reading his book on language, culture and literature. Emerging Perspective on Akínwùmí Ìṣọ̀lá is a book on language, culture, and literature. This is the manifestation of the Yorùbá proverb, Àgbà ló tóórò lọ̀, ọba ló tó eyín erin fọn.  To me, the late Professor Akínwùmí Ìṣọ̀lá is a man of great influence. He, with another Professor of repute, Akintunde Akinyemi, would have a book edited on Ìṣọ̀lá.

Curiosity to learn and know about a subject matter or being could passionately endear one to such subject matter or be. The only thing that came to my mind some time ago when I was reading his introduction on Professor Àtàndá for a lecture in his honour as he mentioned those people who have changed the story of Africa around the world, he left his own name out. I understand people will have to write and put him in the group of these people. The question of who will write on this Prof. consistently ran through my mind. And people have not stopped doing that. He is one of the scholars of his age whose ingenuity has not stopped intriguing many people around the globe because of his wonderful, impactful and timely engagements. I have always wanted to know more and learn about this noble Prof. I have different interactions with various media of his engagements. There are lots to learn. Prof. Falola is more than a man. Behind his back, people call him Iwin or Irunmole. In Brazil, they call him Yemonja!

The fear that the space on paper could be too small to capture his greatness will always prevent me from writing about his nobility, but the eternity of paper and people on paper are greater quests of endless adventure (So long as men can breathe and eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee, as Shakespeare has it) as this can motivate an individual to write. If spirit seems farther and more mysterious to visualize, technology brings this closer to us. It is difficult for ordinary minds to find space like digitalised texts or pictures. Yet, it is mysteriously significant and globally observable. If there is anything that keeps people wondering about great minds like Irunmole Falola, it is his multiple visibility and availability around the globe every time. No one wakes to become a knowledge repository; it results from gathered experiences and uneasy exploits. That is why “Àgbàlagbà” has a special place in an African context, as it connotes warehouses of wisdom.

His highly philosophical statement, “On my Àgbàlàgbà head…” in his dense piece, “Death at Dawn, Rebirth at Dusk”, is rooted in the dedication to dignity and celebration of achievements. No race honours a lazy fellow and celebrates a loser. Falola is not an evil man that gives his race a bad name. His is among the host of angels that “changed the songs that disdain us into appraisals”. No race is free of crude and refined people. Let me extend the use of John Pepper Clark’s words and tell the world that Falola is one of the splashes of gold flung and scattered across the globe. Báa bá dàgbà, à á ní nǹkan àgbà ni (he has not only grown to become Àgbàlagbà, but he has also become a good reference point). Àgbà ò ṣeé bínú dà (Àgbà has developmental stages):



Níjọ́ tábùkù bá kanni lóde

Nítorí owó

A lè bínú ká fipá wówó

Láìrò ìgbẹ̀yìn ọ̀rọ̀

Níjọ́ tábo bá kọni

Nítorí ìyà

A lè wò sùn ùn

Ká dáràn

Ká dọlọ́pọ̀ aya lọ́dẹ̀dẹ̀

Láìwo ohun tí ó bini

Ọjọ tálágbára

Bá dúró lóríi ipò

Fìyà jẹni

A lè fakínkanjú wápò tán

Ká wá hun tí ń fúnni lágbára

Ká pàṣẹ ipò láìmisẹ̀

Aìfípa wọ́gbọ́n

Aìfagbára wágbà

Aìfakínkanjú wáàrírí

Tí wọ́n ń pé lágbà

Bóo rágbà, o pọ́n ọn lé

Bóo rọ́lọ́gbọ́n, o kan sára

Bóo bá wá rágbà tó lọ́gbọ́n lórí

Bíi tọmọ Fálọlá

Àyẹ́sí ló yẹrúu wọn


Ohun tàgbà rí, tó mójú jìn

Bọ́mọdé rírúu rẹ̀, ojú á fọ́

At times, we cherish what we have ignored in preparation for achievements. “A child that falls and moves forward and an adult that falls and reflects” indicates patience and impatience. A patient one has his achievements in stages as such a person lives to live again.

Prof. Falola!

You have left the sea,

You have cleared the cobwebs,

Certainly, there are still so many night lamps to light up

And you have not relented in doing that.


**This essay is inspired by the Toyin Falola at 70 Conference, Kenyatta University, Kenya, May 10 to 13.

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