Friday, December 30, 2016

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Re: Toyin Falola, Man of the Year

Congratulations to the Toyin Falola of Nigeria, the Toyin Falola of Africa, and the Toyin Falola of the world. May God continue to bless and strengthen you, sir. For me, you and your academic feats, are emblematic of kind the of commitment, courage and spartan grit we all dispassionately need to put on the global table as Africans. Osakue S. Omoera. .

On Thursday, 29 December 2016 22:11:30 UTC+1, Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso wrote:




 "A harvest (of 12 published books in 2016, and numerous keynote addresses) is a testimony and this is mine. The glory is not mine; all that is mine is how God works in me". -Toyin Falola 23rd December 2016.


"Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort"- Paul J. Meyer


Men and for that matter women, the German radical philosopher, Karl Marx famously wrote, do not make history in circumstances of their own choosing. However, the human specie can rearrange and has often rearranged, its circumstances. Recall the epigram which saluted the ingenuity of the Dutch in reclaiming their country from the Sea: "God created Man and Man created the Netherlands".


The power of agency, of human beings to line up with God in the quest of creation often trumps the stranglehold of inclement environments. So, austere, harsh and brutal as 2016 was for most Nigerians, there were, here and there, spurts of innovativeness, ingenuity, outstanding productivity and narratives of notable strides, in the face of adversity. You see this in Lagos state governor, Mr Akinwumi Ambode turning the tables on hunger by producing Lake Rice, in partnership with the Kebbi state government, in the heroism and gallantry of our military in subduing and liberating the dreaded Sambisa forest, the exploits of our paralympics at Rio, and the magnificent exertions of Professor Toyin Falola, chosen as our Man of the Year, for publishing 12 books, in spite of a busy academic itinerary.


This short list of achievers does not exhaust the number of transformational individuals and groups who made startling progress by cheating adversity;it is merely illustrative. Some may argue that Falola's achievement in the outgoing year occurred not in the social and economic frying pan that Nigeria became in 2016, but in the more opportune context of the United States, where he has not only been a Distinguished Professor since the early 1990s, but has been bedecked with a string of academic laurels and diadems, too many to count. Before you run away with this caveat however, please note that an inhospitable environment can be personal or national. Listen to Falola:  "I never knew it will be a productive year. I closed 2015 with uncertainties, not even sure I will make it to 2016". The uncertainties referred to here relate partly to a health challenge, surmounted by the scholar. In other words, he wobbled into 2016 by struggling to live down the tremors of the preceding year. That apart, the griping tales of achievement by Nigerians in the Diaspora are very much part of our national history, to the extent that they showcase in the global arena what Nigerians are capable of doing, should the country succeed in transforming our current pessimism and dystopia into a beckoning utopia.


Of course, our Man of the Year, is no stranger to landmark achievements. For several years now, he has being identified as one of the few academics who has published over a hundred books. He has held several key appointments such as President of the African Studies Association in the United States and he is currently a member if the Council of Scholars of the United States Library of Congress. He also holds a plethora of Life Time Achievement Awards and a growing number of Honorary Doctorates bestowed on him at home and abroad. To be sure quantity is not necessarily quality. As one philosopher remarked " it is not enough to be industrious, the ants surely are; it depends on what you are industrious about". However, several eminent scholars have paid tributes to the quality, breadth, depth and encyclopedic nature of Falola's wide ranging publications, including those books he published this year. When in 2013, he was honored with the Doctor of Humane Letters by the City University of New York, the University Orator remarked that the honoree is "a profoundly original thinker, intellectual leader, engaging teacher and Institution builder. You have made a global impact in the study of African history, modern Africa and African Diaspora". It is also well known that Falola's former students, many of them Distinguished Scholars in their own rights, have honoured him with five publications celebrating his epic academic achievements. His distinctive contribution has itself become a thriving sub field of intellectual history, illustrated by Distinguished Professor Abdul Bangura's book entitled 'Toyin Falola and African Epistemologies'.


The question can be asked: if Falola has already been well recognised and celebrated for his inspiring achievements, why make him Man of the Year 2016? Is this not an over kill? My simple answer would be that in 2016 he scaled a new height of productivity, by turning out books, his essays are not counted, which many academics do not equal in their lifetimes. For doubting Thomases, I can confirm that I have copies of several of the books he published this year, and indeed contributed to his major edited book entitled Encyclopedia of the Yoruba (Indiana University Press 2016). So, there is nothing made up or arranged about the prodigious productivity of our Man of the Year. As mentioned earlier, the number of publications does not include keynote addresses, and lectures given at such fora as African Studies Program George Town University, Washington  DC, Howard University, John Hopkins University, Temple University Samuel Adegboyega University and the Adeyemi College of Education among others.


Celebrating excellence is agenda setting, to the extent that it invites us to reflect on how it is produced. As American Business man and Motivational author, Meyer, quoted at the outset reminds us, excellence is not the product of random and unfocused exertions but a result of goal directed planning follow through industry. Far too often, Nigeria has glorified mediocres, who by hook or crook attain public office while relegating original thinkers and achievers. I seek to restore the balance by drawing attention to excellence, in this case intellectual excellence displayed by one of our own. Considering also, that a crisis of underachievement persists in major areas of our national life including our Universities, it is important to interrogate our status by borrowing a leaf from illustrious pages composed by industrious and justly celebrated Nigerians.


One of the pitfalls of our University system is that it does not adequately reward excellence or penalize sloth. For example, the practice of post tenure appraisal for professors, which keeps them from sinking into disrepair or intellectual obsolescence is alien, thus far, to our universities. We must somehow find ways, including the endowment of professorial Chairs to keep our scholars productive and at the cutting edge of knowledge generation and dissemination. It goes without saying too that the funding of education holds the key to making Nigeria the knowledge hub that it deserves to be.


Overall, the Falola example of outstanding productivity in 2016, is being held up in order to unshackle and liberate our mind from imaginations constrained by persistent under achievement and dysfunction. Expressions like "how can someone publish 12 books in a year' is a product of imaginaries bounded by disorder and persistently low achievement.


For stretching the boundaries of possibility to a limit, and reawakening us to vistas of intellectual greatness lurking in our unexplored potentials, Professor Toyin Falola is chosen as our Man of the Year 2016.

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