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Dr. Gabriel Akinola: The exit of greatness


Dr. Gabriel Akindele Akinola, retired lecturer at the University of Ibadan, historian par excellence, teacher of teachers, pioneer researcher in the history of East Africa and accomplished historiographer would be buried today, May 25. He died after a brief illness and is survived by the wife and two sons.

He belonged to the generation of academics who chose the profession, because of the satisfaction it gave them and the conviction that the study of History can support the process of national unity and global peace. He was a thorough scholar, a great writer whose mastery of the English Language gave him a distinction at the Cambridge School Certificate examination, which he took at Christ’s School Ado-Ekiti, his alma mater. He proceeded to the University College, Ibadan for his undergraduate studies, and chose History as the subject of study.

His classmates included the veteran historian, the late Dr. Aderemi Adeleye, former Federal Commissioner who was also a teacher of History at the University of Ibadan. Adeleye specialised in the study of the Sokoto Caliphate and his thesis on the subject remains a classic. Akinola on the other hand chose to specialise in the study of East Africa. For this purpose he was sent to the University of Ghana where he obtained the Master’s degree in History.


Both Adeleye and Akinola had to learn Arabic in order to have access to the original documents required for a clear understanding of the subject written in Arabic. On his return to Nigeria, he was appointed lecturer at the University of Ibadan. His freshness of teaching the subject attracted many students. He, however, decided to continue his study at the postgraduate level, took to learning French and German and visited France and Germany to collect and collate materials for his work. His thesis, like that of Aderemi Adeleye, was a masterpiece. He rose through the ranks, contributed articles to learned journals and was promoted Senior Lecturer.

At the University of Ibadan, Akinola was appreciated for his firmness, his mastery of his subject and strict pursuit of excellence. He was given the Historiography course to teach and he used the course to challenge many of the basic assumptions about the writing of history. On one occasion he argued that writers on African History should find out why there are no materials from the conquered peoples whose stories should also be reflected in accounts of historians. He was of course feared by his students including this writer who dreaded answering his questions and who predicted low scores because of the insistence on writing in elegant prose and intelligible manner.


Akinola was zero tolerant of mediocrity, ethnic chauvinism, religious bigotry or pettiness in any form. He was a dream teacher, researcher, nationalist, dedicated patriot and sincere person.He retired as Senior Lecturer. Like his colleague Aderemi Adeleye who retired as Reader, Akinola did not rise to the position of Professor, because he was reluctant to simply acquire and accumulate articles to meet the minimum number specified for promotion to the position. He believed that the system was faulty and that promotion across the disciplines was like comparing the juice from mangoes to that from oranges. But he bore no grudges but simply laughed in silence when new promotions were announced.

His pension was ridiculously very little and embarrassing for someone who had served the nation for many years productively and with commitment. His pension was hardly paid on time and on one occasion, I accompanied him to a pensioner verification exercise where he waited for a long time in a noisy environment to confirm that he was still alive. He had no property but lived in a small building that was sparsely furnished. But he continued to live in dignity, and enjoyed his freedom and peace of mind. In his later years he spent much time at home, subscribing to few newspapers, which he believed could convey news with accuracy and courage.

He appreciated journalists who spoke truth to power and who were consistently analytical and balanced in their contributions. He constantly drew the attention of his few friends who included the eminent poet, Professor Niyi Osundare, to columnists in newspapers whom he considered noble and made many cuttings of their articles. He expressed disappointment with governance and the failure of administrations that did little to review pensions or provide security, good roads and health facilities. He once asked, more out of curiousity than in desperation, why politics should be more rewarding than any other occupation in a developing nation that requires all resources to make life more comfortable for people. His death raises many issues for which he lived and died and is another loss to this nation.Michael Omolewa is Emeritus Professor of the History of Education at the University of Ibadan and Emeritus Professor of History and International Studies at Babcock University

In this article:
Gabriel Akindele Akinola
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