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Tribute to Professor Akinola Agboola (1932-2020)

By Anthony Akinola
28 June 2020   |   3:22 am
Coming back from America or Europe after years of searching for the “golden fleece,” was once like coming from another planet!

Coming back from America or Europe after years of searching for the “golden fleece,” was once like coming from another planet! The locals would want to know if the returnee still shared their values – spoke the local language and even ate the local food. A returnee would be welcomed with great pomp, his or her successful return from the “unknown” deserving of praise to Almighty God.

This was the situation in many Nigerian localities, even in the early 1960s when Professor (as he later was) Anthony Akinola Agboola returned from the United States with degrees in Agronomy. However, being the down-to-earth man that he was, his approach to life downplayed the myth some of the earlier “being-tos” had tended to exaggerate in exotic mannerisms and accents. Professor Agboola was as comfortable with the locals as he was with those at the upper strata of society. Even when his achievements provoked envy and admiration, it was that air of simplicity and modesty about him that one would want to commend and recommend to future generations of Nigerians.

The highly-cerebral Professor Akinola Agboola was born at Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, in 1932. He received his education at St. Luke’s primary school, Ikere-Ekiti; King’s College, Lagos (1953-1958); University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, 1960-64; University of Ibadan, Ibadan, 1967-70. He was Research Assistant at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign from 1963-64; Research Officer, Federal Department of Agricultural Research, Moor Plantation, Ibadan (1964-65); Lecturer, University of Ife, Ile-Ife, 1965-68; Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, University of Ibadan 1968-78; Professor of Soil Fertility Evaluation, Management and Farming Systems, 1978-85; Head, Department of Agronomy, University of Ibadan 1985. And, of course, he was the first Professor of Agronomy in the African continent. He was a member of the Soil Society of America, as well as that of the International Soil Science Society, among numerous other appointments, honours and decorations (source: Newswatch’s Who’s Who).

An accomplished academic, well-respected by colleagues and held in awe and admiration by former students, Professor Agboola published well over 120 articles in soil testing, fertilizer use, soil fertility and farming in various local and international journals. One of his former students and author of a newly-published book, Dr. Abimbola Jekayinfa (now Mrs. Solebo), who holds an MSc degree in Agronomy (Soil Science) from the University of Ibadan (1992-1994), pays glowing tribute to the great professor- “…with great appreciation to Professor A. A. Agboola for sharing his gift of teaching countless students most, especially at the Agronomy Department of University of Ibadan. You had the mastery of soil science, the commitment and passion of teaching your students. You taught us with authority so much that we thought you originated soil science, you stimulated us “apparently ordinary” people to unusual effort and you made winners out of us. I want to thank you sir for guiding us, inspiring us, and making us what we are today! You were a fascinating teacher. I am glad to have been your student, a million thanks to you!”

However, for us his relations of the Oisa/Olotin family of Ikere-Ekiti, Professor Agboola was in the words of his cousin, the late Colonel Emmanuel Akinola,  “our quintessential role model.” He was a pioneer in Western Education, the first member of our family to graduate from university. Col. Akinola recounted the story of the professor as being that of “rags to riches,” not least because he was able to achieve what his talents commanded in spite of financial difficulties. His late uncle, the ever-progressive Chief Josiah Akinola (Oisa of Oke-Ikere), played a major role in ensuring he did not miss out in his quest to study in the USA.

Professor Agboola appreciated role of the great chief in his life. Even when domestic politics pitched them in “opposing tents,” the respect a son must show to his father was always there. The “domestic politics” in question had to do with “succession sentiments” in the aftermath of Oba Fabikun Adegoriola’s demise in 1969. The late Oisa advocated the restoration of Oba Adewumi Aromolaran, who was deposed about 1949, while Professor Agboola and Colonel Emmanuel Akinola (the Chief’s first child) were prominent among those who championed the installation of the now late. Ogoga of Ikere, Oba Adegboye Akaiyejo II. There was always bound to be tension in matters of this nature, but our House did not catch fire. Far from being that of dis-unity in the family, it was a case of loyalty to friendship and generational values on both sides. Akinola Agboola was a childhood friend to Adegboye, while Oba Aromolaran was both an in-law to Akinola Oisa as well as the one who installed him as Chief in 1944.

Professor Agboola, a devout Christian of the Catholic persuasion, was an accommodating character, taking every member of his larger family and others as his own. In those days, the regional headquarters (Ibadan) were usually the next port of call for those who had finished secondary school education and must now find something to do. Jobs were not easy to come by, so Professor Agboola’s house was always crowded with “parasitic” cousins, close and distant relatives. I was one of three job seekers, who “colonised” his place between December 1965 and June 1966. We ate regular meals and I even had a room to myself! The Professor’s beautiful wife, Julianah Durodola (nee Adefila) treated us with utmost respect and consideration. It can only be when one is matured and confronted with parasitic relations, even in the face of meagre resources, that one would appreciate the kind heartedness of the late Professor and his ever-caring wife.

Professor Anthony Akinola Agboola, who died on June 25, 2020, would be remembered as a great human being, a world-class scholar and intellectual, as well as a great role model to his children and relations. His cultured example as a practising Christian will be forever appreciated at the Catholic Church, where his presence was almost perennial. Great Professor, may God rest your soul, and may the family you left behind be comforted. If you were asked at the great beyond who wrote this tribute, tell them it was your boy you fondly called 50-50. Rest in peace.

• Dr. Akinola wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom