Celebrating Professor Bolaji Akinyemi at 80
Yesterday was Professor Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi’s 80th birthday. And for his countless exemplary roles, outstanding achievements and glittering credentials, numerous tributes are being aptly dedicated to celebrating the accomplished octogenarian, who exemplifies the best of Africans.
Professor Akinyemi’s path to 80 is a long journey of distinction and immutable footprint in international diplomacy. His life and career are a mirror for Diplomats and Scholars with eyes for distinction. Simple, humble and gentle will be some of the epithets to describe Professor Akinyemi, but these three have their foundation in his vision and doggedness.
The brilliant diplomat who became Nigeria’s External Affairs Minister in 1985 at 43 is known for setting records and breaking them. He is so self-driven that he surpasses himself effortlessly. Earning a PhD at 27 remains an outstanding feat even 53 years after Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi set the record for generations of academics to chase. Becoming the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) at 33 and earning his professorship at 41 are some of the impressive figures that adorn the scholar’s curriculum vitae.
Before his announcement to the world, Professor Akinyemi had prepared himself and taken advantage of his youth. May be that is something peculiar to anyone named Akinwande if we x-ray the life of our own Professor Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka. Professor Akinyemi, who was born on January 4, 1942 in Ilesha, Osun State, had his secondary school education at Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos from 1955 to 1959, Christ School, Ado-Ekiti, from 1960 to 1961, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, from 1962 to 1964, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, US, 1964 to 1966, and Trinity College, Oxford, England, from 1966 until 1969.
He earned his doctorate degree from the prestigious Oxford University in 1969 and was appointed an instructor in the Politics of the Developing Nations in the North-Eastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. He later became a Visiting Professor in African Studies at the DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana and a Visiting Professor of Political Science at the Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Even though the unifying theme in Professor Akinyemi’s life is distinction, I find it important to break the confluence of achievements into two. One will be Professor Akinyemi’s contributions to scholarship in political science, international relations, diplomacy and foreign policy through research and teaching. The other is his life and career as a diplomat of repute, an outstanding African, whose representation of Nigeria across the world has become a reference point.
At the Faculty of the Sciences, University of Ibadan where he taught in the department of political sciences as a Senior Lecturer, his footprints remain indelible. He brought in innovation and pragmatism into the international relations and foreign policy modules in the nation. Perhaps, Professor Akinyemi’s presence was the nectar that pulled some of the nation’s outstanding political scientists to the premier university in that era.
It is interesting to note that even as the Director General of the Nigerians Institute of International Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi was a Visiting Professor at several leading institutions in the world. These include the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva in 1977; The Diplomacy Training Programme of the University of Nairobi, Kenya; and Regent’s Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles, California in 1979.
He was also appointed a Professor of Political Science by the University of Lagos, Nigeria in 1983 and served as a Visiting Overseas Scholar at St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1984. Beyond his deep-seated interest in scholarship, Professor Akinyemi who was the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs for a decade signposted his tenure with several laudable and transformational initiatives. Notable amongst them was the notion of “Dialogue” to broaden the base of foreign policy consultation.
Accordingly, he organised and presided over several bilateral engagements between Nigeria and some strategic partners, which include: Nigerian – United States Dialogue (1978), Nigerian – Soviet Dialogue (1978), Nigerian – Chinese Dialogue (1979), Nigerian – Scandinavian Dialogue (1980), Nigerian – Brazilian Dialogue (1980), Dialogue on North – South Dialogue with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1981) and the Nigerian – Chinese Dialogue (1982).
As External Affairs Minister, Professor Akinyemi’s sagacity and professionalism put Nigeria on the global map and helped push African agenda in the international politics. His role in bringing to an end the Chad-Libyan and the Mali-Burkina Faso wars will not be forgotten in a hurry.
At the home front, in addition to the numerous undertakings he championed, he also introduced the Technical Aid Corps Scheme which radically restructure the Nigerian foreign assistance programme, and internationally; he conceived and moved the concept of the Concert of Medium of Powers, which brought together middle powers to use their collective bargaining power to mediate disputes within the international system.
This very accomplished scholar and diplomat, who is an epitome of integrity was the Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the United Nations Annual General Assembly Session, New York (1985); Deputy Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Commonwealth Summit, Bahamas (1985); Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Organisation of African Unity, Council of Ministers Session (1986); Deputy Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Organisation of African Unity Heads of State and Government Summit (1986); Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Non – Aligned Foreign Ministers Conference, Harare (1986); Deputy Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Non – Aligned Summit, Harare (1986); Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Annual Session (1986); Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the Critical Economic Situation in Africa (1986); Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Budget Session of the Council of Ministers of the Organisation of African Unity, Addis Ababa (1987); Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the Organisation of African Unity, Addis Ababa (1987); Deputy Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Annual Summit of the Organisation of African Unity (1987); Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Annual Session (1987); Deputy Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Commonwealth Heads of State and Governments, Vancouver (1987) and Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the Extra – Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the Organisation of African Unity devoted to African debt, Addis Ababa (1987) during his tenure as the External Affairs Minister.
Since the completion of his tenure as Nigeria’s Minister of External Affairs, Professor Akinyemi has made the world his stage and leveraged his influence to the benefit of Nigeria. For instance, the Centre for International Studies, University of Cambridge, England appointed him a Fellow of International Relations and he is a Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, England.
He is also serving as a member of several reputable global associations including the International Advisory Board of the Centre for Strategic Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, USA; International Institute of Strategic Studies Committee on Regional Security Studies; Academic Advisory Board, Candido Mendes University, Brazil; United Nations Group of Experts on Disarmaments and Development; United Nations Group of Experts on certain aspects of the Middle East; United Nations Institute for Disarmament Panel on South African Nuclear Capability and several others.
He was also appointed by President Umaru Yar’Adua in 1987 to the then expedient Electoral Reform Panel chaired by a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Lawal Uwais. To a patriot, a worthy Nigerian, Scholar and leader, I say, happy 80TH birthday.
Professor Ogwezzy-Ndisika, former Head of Department of Mass Communication, UNILAG, is a Visiting Member, Editorial Board, The Guardian.