Ade-Ajayi: Electioneering: Were J.F. Ade Ajayi to be around
EMERITUS Professor Jacob Festus Ade-Ajayi went to be with his Maker on August 9, 2014. For the family, the pain of separation has been eased by God’s grace and the kindness of many who have visited and supported and talked and written kindly about his life and times. More than one commentator at the time of his transition took to referring to him as “Mr. History.” We thank God for his life and legacy and we are grateful to the President, ex Presidents, serving and former governors and ministers, Obas, colleagues, the Universities of Lagos and Ibadan and the Youth Forum of the Chapel of Resurrection, associations and clubs of which he had been a member as well as former students, wider family and friends.
One of his grandchildren when asked recently what JFA would say at this time if he were still with us, replied, “keep going”. I speculate in this piece, what else he might have to say to Nigerians at the start of the year 2015: He might say that 100 years following the creation of the Nigerian state, it is clear that we are facing major challenges, some of which we could not have previously imagined. Despite these difficulties, however, he was always of the opinion that there is a lot more that unites than that which divides us. He would remind us that many of our linkages predate Lord Lugard and the Amalgamation. He would emphasise our common history, shared norms, networks of trade and commerce, interethnic and interfaith marriage, our common humanity and the way all these have combined to evolve a uniquely Nigerian culture.
JFA understood the importance of the liberal arts in shaping national consciousness and promoting cohesiveness. His long view of history, and, in particular, his efforts to stimulate a more enduring sense of African history in us all, is one of his key legacies. For example, he would say that just as the colonial period was only one chapter in the life of our nation and did not and cannot define who we are as a people, Ebola and even Boko Haram are episodes that, in due course, will take their proper place in the history of the nation. He was passionate about the possibilities of education in national development and a better life for all Nigerians within a truly great Nigeria. He would say that our particular endowments, position us not just to speak of, but to actually play a leadership role, championing the interests of Africa and the Black African at home and in the Diaspora.
JFA was never formally involved in party politics. However, he could be described as an active nationalist in the mould of some of the early nation building educated elite drawn from the ranks of professionals, the intellectual community, clergy, etc. He understood deeply the potential of a form of politics driven by ideas to deliver development. He also felt keenly the disappointments when parochial, self-serving sentiments or interventions slowed or derailed national advance and development. He felt strongly that history has a particular role to play in helping to balance the tension between “the values of traditional Africa and modern universal (perceived as European) values on which the laws, economic, social and political institutions of the new nation were being constructed”. (History and the Nation and Other Addresses. JF Ade Ajayi 1991).
He favoured robust political discussion, open mindedness with no prejudgment of the issues. He preferred that the process be allowed to proceed transparently, free from violence and that the vote be according to conscience. This ultimately would ensure the right outcome. As he once wrote ‘one of the things I find most intriguing and perhaps most exciting about history is how rarely things turn out exactly as planned whether in the planning of Christian Missions to Nigeria or in political planning1’.
As we approach another pivotal milestone in the Nigerian journey, I am hopeful and persuaded by historical precedent, the trajectory of the Nigerian nation, the mood and aspirations of the majority of ordinary Nigerians for peace and progress, the interventions of civil society and the international community that we will, together, cross a major bridge safely.
After debate of the issues and the pros and cons of one group versus other groups at different levels of society and government, when all is said and done, we should all roll up our sleeves and “keep going” to the very best of our abilities. By so doing, we will build the Nigeria the early nation builders dreamed of. The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain.
• Ade Ajayi wrote this piece on behalf of the families of Ajayi of Ikole Ekiti and Martins of Ile-Oluji