Olusola Ogunnubi – Department of Political Studies, Queen’s University, Canada
On Wednesday, May 31st, 2023, US-based Nigerian renowned historian, Professor Toyin Falola, was awarded the distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award by the Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS) for his contributions to African Studies. The entire hall was full of elevation, and the side talk was that this was one of the best decisions ever made by CAAS.
CAAS is the umbrella body for scholars and practitioners dedicated to promoting the study of Africa in Canada, and according to its website, the Lifetime Achievement Award is indeed the highest honour of the Association awarded to senior scholars who have been actively involved in CAAS and have retired or about to retire. In the words of Prof Nduka Otiono, President of the Association, “this esteemed accolade recognizes your exceptional contributions, unwavering dedication, and profound impact on the field of African Studies in Canada and beyond”. According to the CAAS website, the selection of Falola for this prestigious award was on the merit of three criteria: (1) a lifetime of sound scholarship, (2) accomplishments (research, teaching and mentoring awards, etc.) and (3) involvement in the activities of CAAS. The award was formally presented to him during the CAAS Annual General Meeting and Conference hosted at York University, where coincidentally, Toyin Falola had been a professor between 1990 and 1991. Prof Falola stands in the illustrious company of previous awardees, including Prof Paul Lovejoy. The CAAS Distinguished Lifetime Award was the first awarded to a scholar in over five years.
Toyin Falola is a professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, where he holds the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities. He was also previously The Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor in History, a position he held from 1995 to 2012. His research is focused on African History since the nineteenth century, African Diaspora, Epistemologies, Theories and Methodologies. Professor Toyin Falola’s contributions to the field of African Studies and African History have continued to place Africa on the map of global recognition. Not only is Falola’s scholarship recognized globally, but he is also dedicated to mentoring a new generation of young and emerging scholars in the social sciences, arts and humanities. He also convenes the Annual Africa Conference, a platform for knowledge exchange between scholars from Africa and the diaspora. I had the honour of attending the Africa Conference in 2012, where Falola generously accommodated me in his house after the conference along with other guests from Africa. As a postgraduate student attending the conference from South Africa, this short period of interaction would eventually shape my resolve to aspire to greater heights within the academic space.
In 1981, Prof Falola finished his doctorate in History from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where he completed his thesis on “The Political Economy of Ibadan, c.1830-1900.” Remarkably, more than 40 years after his first PhD, professor Falola earned a D.Litt in African Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in 2020. Professor Falola receives 16 honorary doctorates and over 40-lifetime awards from several universities and countries. A brief list includes Monmouth University (2007), City University of New York (2013), Lincoln University (2015), University of Jos (2015), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (2018), Redeemer’s University, Nigeria (2017) Federal University, Lokoja (2021) among others. Falola has also previously been appointed to several distinguished honours, honorary professorships and visiting fellowships at various universities, including the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Centre for African Studies (2018-2022), Olusegun Obasanjo Centre for African Studies, National Open University, Abuja (2019-2021), Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South, Library of Congress (2016), Pontifícia Universidade Católica De São Paulo, Brazil (2007); Humanities Research Council, Australian National University in 1995.
Interestingly, Falola helped organize the CAAS conference at York University in 1991, where he started his career in North America. He had also previously delivered a keynote address at the CAAS Conference 1991 and again at the just concluded 2023 CAAS conference. In over 40 years since he left Canada for the US, Falola has continued to make an impact on the Canadian and the North American academic landscape in general through his invaluable contribution to CAAS, serving as external examiner to major Canadian universities, including Queen’s University, York University, Trent University, Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto, helping to shape the academic depth of the African Studies programs in Canada and being a mentor to Canada-based Africanist scholars. Notably, Falola has supervised over 100 Master’s thesis and Doctoral dissertations in History and African Studies and examined countless theses and dissertations. CAAS also acknowledges and recognizes Falola’s invaluable contribution as a reviewer for the Canadian Journal of African Studies and his longstanding role as a member of the editorial board of the Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora at York University.
Given his excellent and distinguished scholarship and its impact across disciplines, it is not surprising that this is not the first such prestigious lifetime award that Prof Falola has received. Some of his previous awards include the Distinguished Africanist Award in 2011 by the African Studies Association (ASA), which is the largest global Association by scholars of Africa, Nigeria’s highest National Merit Award – Member of Order of the Niger (MON) awarded by former President Muhammadu Buhari in 2022, Award of Excellence in recognition of support of tertiary education by Lagos State University in August 2022, Distinguished Award for Intellectual Contributions to Knowledge and Scholarship, University of Abuja, Nigeria (July 2021), Distinguished Award for Scholarship and Mentorship, Babcock University, (June 2021), Distinguished Africana Award, University of North Carolina, Charlotte (April 2011) among many others.
Several celebratory legacies and honours have also been named in recognition of Falola’s exemplary contribution and scholarship to African Studies. One such honour is the Toyin Falola Annual Conference on Africa and the African Diaspora (TOFAC), inaugurated in 2011 by the University of Ibadan Cultural Group (ICSG). TOFAC is a huge annual conference convened in an African university on different themes. Also, the Toyin Falola Book Award is administered by the Association of Global South Studies for the best book on Africa. Lunaris Review also awards the Toyin Falola Literary Prize, named after him for his contributions to advancing African cultures, people, and histories. Falola is also Series Editor for at least a dozen monographs and Encyclopaedias and has served on several Book Prize Committees.
Professor Falola has also led major academic associations, including as President of the African Studies Association (2014-2015) and the Nigerian Studies Association (2005-2007). He has also received several traditional titles, including the Bobagbimo of Ugboland in 2014, the Agbakin of Kusela-Ibadan in 2022 and Nii Kpani Ashaabla 1 of Adabraka Otukpai Palace, Accra, Ghana, among others.
Receiving the Award at the ceremony held to round off the CAAS conference, Falola expressed his gratitude to the Board and Members of the Association, seeing the recognition as a responsibility to continue to do more to extend the frontiers of African epistemic traditions. Falola lauds the Association for leading the intellectual path for the advancement of African Studies globally through the creation of opportunities for critical debates, research engagements, knowledge exchange and interactive space between academia, government and other non-state actors to drive policies and a commitment to ensuring that the systemic issues that African and Africans face are confronted through meaningful scholarship.
Professor Falola is today honoured because he’s been a solid and unforgettable part of CAAS’s contribution to African Studies. Prof Falola is humble to the core, and there’s a lot that old and new scholars in the field can learn from his humanity, simplicity and sincere concern for the academic well-being of everyone.