By Toyin Falola
For many people, turning 70 is a time of celebration. They invite various people to congratulate with them for what they have experienced, what they have achieved and everything that has happened in seven decades. It’s worth the celebration. Turning your mind at every moment and drawing various memories, trips and events, you understand that 70 years don’t be beans Judging from my life, as I have pushed myself all the time, as I have worked 18 hour days since I was a teenager, and looking at the falls, achievements, posts and so many feats that I have achieved, I was not surprised by the various attempts to celebrate the day.

Although I didn’t want any kind of celebration, I received several offers from supporters and people who love me, acknowledging my contributions in many ways. Poor me! I decided to celebrate that time in a sober reflection on the state of the nation and the continent. All of my works have been geared towards portraying and propagating the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the betterment of Nigerian society. It is sad to have tried to nurture those ideals and still see that the nation and the continent have not adjusted enough to reflect what I and others have proposed. So one has to ask, why celebrate? I have endeavored to reiterate my positions and views in “A Meditation on Nothingness.” However, as several people have told me, one could not have lived so long and done so much and expect one’s celebrations to be personal. Unknowingly, my families, friends, apprentices, supporters, and those whose paths had crossed mine had other plans.

They respected my desire for a solemn reflection; I guess that’s why there wasn’t a physical surprise party. However, what was organized was better than a party; it was an online gathering of loved ones that allowed people from different places to celebrate what he had done. The outlook was still pretty much rooted in love for the nation, Africa, and the human race. I was surprised, it was a fantastic idea, and I appreciate it. It was a meeting that witnessed various efforts for the development of the nation and Africa, and those who have worked to ensure a definitive transformation in the way we do things. I was happy to see the main actors in society and people who have emphasized the need to awaken the conscience of a better nation and continent so that we do not disappear in the mists of confusion.

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It was an honor to see the commitment of “Baba Obasanjo” to attend and be part of the celebration. One of the first things that stood out to me was their patience when all the technical issues were worked out to allow more people to join on different platforms. President Obasanjo waited until he was admitted and I can assure you that he was very active during most of the celebration. Bringing him to such a celebration, especially when my initial refusal to celebrate was due to the state of the nation and the continent, heightens our awareness of what we need to be prepared for. The nation has reacted to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter mainly for political reasons, but that was not the only letter he wrote. He wrote me one in his unique epistolary style. I couldn’t agree more with the content of the letter, since it acknowledges the state of things and what it means to be 70 years old. As he put it, it is “an age of reckoning” and a period for sober reflection.

President Obasanjo, you will understand that after all we have done, there are still a thousand things to do to revive the Nigeria that produced us. He would agree with me that the youth and the nation do not find life comfortable in the way that it was largely in the past, except for technological advancement that has made life easier. But the economy is in shambles and poverty and unemployment rates are rising. So, I can relate to the philosophies behind Obasanjo’s message; they go with the mood, and I really appreciate that. Baba, taking time out from your busy schedule and participating in celebrating me is very humbling.

While we as academics can claim to be bystanders and mere critics on political issues, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, former Governors and First Lady of Ekiti State, have proven to be great gladiators in the political arena of the country. As an academic, I have always been careful when dealing with politicians because, intentionally or not, their backgrounds can make or break you. Well, I won’t appreciate them as politicians here, but I will point out how they have shown themselves to be good people and reflected their passion for nation building, something we can all agree on. Taking valuable time out during the celebration for almost the entire duration, despite being in a political season, is not something one can get easily. The same goes for Michael Vickers and Ambassador Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu, with whom I have developed a good relationship since our paths crossed in The Hague. These are not the only political personalities who have shown their love and paid tribute to me as various statements, posts and comments have been made by others including President Thabo Mbeki, Omoyele Sowore and others.

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Academia has been my forte, and since I was a teenager I decided that I would never pursue fame or wealth, but instead teach and be diligent about it. My 40+ years of teaching experience at the university level have resulted in something everyone celebrates today. That is why I take the various expressions of my superiors, colleagues and trainees very seriously. Hearing the words of the academic legend, Professor Ayo Banjo, that day was dazzling. If someone like Professor Ayo Banjo, who has left unbeatable marks in the history of education, English language and the University of Ibadan and served as one of the outstanding Vice Chancellors in the history of the university, makes such good comments and I would finds it worth spending such time, one should have the satisfaction that he or she has been on or is on the right track. The presence of distinguished professors like Akinjide Osuntokun, Niyi Osundare, Chief Olu Obafemi, Professor Ojaide, Professor Richard Joseph, Abiodun Bello, Professor Labode Popoola, Moses Ochonu, Gloria Emeagwali and others like Chief Ajibola Ogunsola who have expanded the global body of knowledge in your different fields of interest is a debt that I don’t think you can pay. The number of these people, including the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Idowu Olayinka, shows that we cannot measure the advantage of human relations and connectivity. This has been one of my motivations in conversations and meetings with people with whom I may not have shared my past. The Zoom meeting had close to 300 attendees, many of whom are respected members of academia and society whose successes emulate those to come.

I was not surprised at the level of efficiency of the program, seeing the substance embedded in those who organized it. Having Professor Tunji Olaopa chair the meeting would normally suggest what to expect. Dr. Samson Ijaola added his voice to the congratulation as presenter. Professors Abimbola Adelakun, Jumoke Yacob-Haliso, Musikilu Mojeed, Segun Olopade and others who made it possible to have a meeting are wonderful. I am very happy that they celebrate me in that way.

He nigerian grandstand It was one of those institutions that surprised me the most. I was flabbergasted to see the dedication of the newspaper’s pages even before January 1st and subsequent publications. Seeing my name appear on the pages of your publications made me feel honored. This recognition also extends to other media houses and journalistic companies, such as Premium Times, ThisDay, Heart of Art, The Nation, Punch, The Culture Newspaper, New Times, Naija Times, and others, who have given their platforms to different expressions of congratulations. This makes me appreciate those who have written an article or two about me in a unique way, which has inspired me to keep talking about the development of this nation and continent. Professor Farooq Kperogi’s piece led the way; he ate the chicken at my house and in the next six months you will know that he was eating his own chicken.

The Yoruba adage that a deity we refuse to worship in the presence of the young is on the way to perdition has been one of the reasons why I have decided to do my best in national and continental construction. I am determined to invest time and energy in raising the youth and those who have seen fit to see me as a mentor. If the ideas of Pan-Africanism, nationalism and other relevant ideals are to grow, they must first show those behind us what they are and help them grow in these shared values. Therefore, today I have met many colleagues and collaborators on all continents, and this achievement is greater than any honor I may receive. Seeing some of them at this gathering gave me confidence, and their display of willingness to remove my cloak like an old man has created joy in my heart. I cannot thank you enough for trusting my advice and positions and participating in the celebration meeting.

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I was flattered by Dr. Lasisi Olagunju’s tribute at the nigerian grandstand on January 2, 2023, but I must point out that the Iroko as you described to me did not stand alone. Infinite supplies support its elegance through its multiple roots. This is the position of my family and friends. Maybe if I hadn’t married my wife, Dr. Bisi Falola, I wouldn’t have been able to climb some of the hills I’ve done in my life. God also blessed us with wonderful children and grandchildren, and I have enjoyed the comfort of his company for so long. Seeing what you did on January 1 of this year brought joy to my heart and I appreciate all of that and love you very much.

The meeting was attended by so many influencers that I may have to make this article into a series if I can cover some of them. However, I would like to thank everyone who attended the meeting online and those who joined via YouTube. Your eyebrows are older than my beard. May everyone earn interest on their investments.

However, I want to implore all of us to strive to be better people today than we were yesterday and always be mindful to make efforts to fight for Nigeria, Africa and the world today that is better than yesterday. This is the same attitude that we must take towards tomorrow. We are a crying fish in the water, but you cannot see our tears. We are forced to climb thorny trees, not because we are brave, but because we must all survive or perish. The insects that bite us are hidden in our clothes. Our fingers will never be alike, but we must use them together to build the nation. My feet cannot create a path without yours. We have been pushed down, but we must fight to get up. Misfortune will never befall your wealth and health.
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African studies. She currently holds the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.