Prof Akinjide Osuntokun at 80 — The Nation Editroial

Posted by News Express | 26 April 2022 | 271 times

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The defining essence of his life is fierce commitment to truth and integrity and an unbending fidelity to values and principles he holds dear. When he lost his beloved wife, Dr Abiodun Osuntokun, in 2003 at the age of 53, Professor Akinjide Osuntokun, who turns 80 today, was devastated to the core of his being as he has reiterated often in several interviews and writings. In his words on that heart-rending experience, “There were attempts to persuade me to marry another woman, but it wouldn’t have been fair to the memory of my wife, nor would it have been fair to the person I would have married, because I would have been comparing the two of them. But I thank God it made me to bury myself in my writing, my commitment to whatever the activity I enjoyed, especially writing”. That is the essential Professor Osuntokun – a lifelong loyalty and faithfulness to a sacred marital bond that not even death could break.

One of the country’s most exemplary and productive academics, Professor Osuntokun obviously takes very seriously his responsibility to seek and speak the truth at all times irrespective of the consequences he may personally suffer. As the first Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Nigeria to a united Republic of Germany between 1991 and 1995, an appointee of the General Ibrahim Babangida military regime, Professor Osuntokun refused to compromise the truth to suit the fancies of the succeeding General Sani Abacha dictatorship. He did not identify with the regime’s campaign to gain international support for the incarceration of the winner of the annulled June  12, 1993, presidential election, Chief M.K.O Abiola, as well as secure global legitimacy for its self-perpetuation agenda, a stance that not only cost him his assignment but later earned him a six-month detention in the dictator’s gulag.

Many people in his position would have readily forsaken principles to curry favour from the regime and remain in its good books, but not Professor Osuntokun. He valued his reputation, character and good conscience above the allurements of temporary public office. Speaking of his harrowing experience in detention at the military facilities in Apapa, he said, “That was the way I was released without any trial, without any accusation, without any interrogation. I was just treated like a common criminal. This was somebody who just finished representing our country as an ambassador”. But did this bitter experience dampen his faith in Nigeria and his commitment to public service in the interest of the common good? Certainly no. His newspaper columns, public lectures and books over the years testify to his patriotic love for Nigeria and his faith that her manifest destiny can still be realized despite current travails.

Professor Osuntokun’s belief in public service is perhaps not surprising as he comes from a family with a well-known reputation for active pursuit of communal wellbeing. History records his grandfather, Dada, as a faithful Deputy of the Commander-in-Chief of the Ekitiparapo forces during the prolonged intra-Yoruba wars, which lasted for nearly 16 years from July 30, 1877, to March 14, 1893. His eldest brother, Oduola Akintola, was not only one of the earliest university graduates from Ekitiland, he was minister in the Western Region government of the First Republic for 10 years. Another of his siblings, the late Professor Kayode Osuntokun, was a world renowned neurologist whose service to humanity in his field remains a reference point years after his demise. Professor Akinjide’s life has also been one of selfless service to his country in the areas of academic research, teaching, university administration, and the deployment of his expertise in history, politics, diplomacy and international relations to enhance the public good.

A striking demonstration of Professor Osuntokun’s patriotic selflessness is his serving for eleven years with Chief Emeka Anyaoku and four others as honorary presidential adviser on international affairs from 1999 to 2015. This was an assignment for which he received no salary but in his words, “It was the closest one could get in helping the country to make its foreign policy, and I’m very proud of it”. He had also served at various times as Director, Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC), Washington DC, USA, from 1972 to 1982 and Director of the Commission’s office in Ottawa, Canada, from 1978 to 1979. Although no substantial benefits accrued to him for this assignment, he is acknowledged for helping to secure foreign scholarships which many Nigerian students benefitted from. He also served on the Governing Council of the Lagos State University (LASU) from 1987 to 1989; the Board of the National Directorate of Employment between 1987 and 1988 as well as a member of the Presidential Commission on the National Question from 1986 to 1987 among others. He was a member of Nigeria’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1988, 1989, 1991-1993, 2005-2006, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Born on 26th April, 1942 in Okemesi, Ekiti State, Professor Osuntokun’s epochal journey to academic stardom and professional excellence began with his primary school education first at Holy Trinity School, Ilawe, and later Emmanuel Primary School in Ado-Ekiti. He attended Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, and Ibadan Grammar Grammar School for his secondary school education before gaining admission into the University of Ibadan from where he graduated with a B.A Hons. in History, Second Class Upper Division (Magna cum laude) in 1966. Other renowned institutions at which his academic skills were honed include School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Queen Mary’s College, University of London, 1964-1965; Institute of Commonwealth Studies and SOAS, University of London, April 1968-February 1969; Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne University, Paris, France, February 1969 -April 1969 and the Historite Seminar, University of Hamburg, Germany, April 1969- October 1969. He obtained his PhD in history from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1970.

In a career spanning over five decades from 1972, he rose from the position of lecturer to full professorship of history teaching at various times at the Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, Maiduguri and now the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, where he has been a professor of History since 2005. He has served in key positions in university administration in various institutions in the course of his career contributing invaluably to the evolution of higher education in Nigeria. Professor Osuntokun is an Emeritus Professor of the University of Lagos and Redeemer’s University, a Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Letters, Fellow, Historical Society of Nigeria, an awardee of the National Honors, Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), an awardee of the Faculty role of honours of the University of Ibadan, an awardee of the Irving and Bonar Graduate Prize as well as Presidential Honor of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.

He is the author of several books on different aspects of Nigerian politics, history and foreign policy including Nigeria in the First World War; Chief S. Ladoke Akintola: His life and times; Power Broker:.A biography of Sir Kashim Ibrahim and Festus Samuel Okotie-Eboh: In Time and Space to name a few. Given his stellar academic record and global peer recognition, Professor Osuntokun would have secured financially rewarding appointment in reputable institutions across the world but he has chosen over the years to remain in Nigeria, another example of his selfless commitment to the nation. We wish this humble and unassuming man of distinction and excellence a happy 80th birthday.


Source: News Express

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