Some weeks before the 2014 National Conference rose to bid farewell to officials and delegates, the Lamido Adamawa, Alhaji Muhammadu Barkindo Aliyu Mustapha sent a letter to him. It was dated June 27. The Lamido indicated that the Adamawa Emirate Council would like to honour the officer with a chieftaincy title. Six qualities endeared him to the Emirate, according to its custodian: patience, expertise, fairness, fearlessness, justness and firmness.
In the letter, Alhaji Mustapha noted: “I have observed your patience, expertise in handling of the National Conference, fairness, fearlessness, justness and firmness during the three months I have been participating in the plenary of the Conference. These are things which informed my decision to honour you with the traditional title of Hasken Adamawa, which means the ‘Light of Adamawa.”
With expressed humility and profound sense of appreciation the man received the Lamido’s letter; and accepted the emirate’s honour with pride. Few weeks after delegates must have all settled in their homes, and some completed their Ramadan obligations, the Adamawa Emirate went agog. And Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi, professor of political science, a man from Osun State, South West Nigeria, became the “Light of Adamawa”. He was born on January 4, 1942. January 4, 2022, makes him 80 years old. He is now an octogenarian.
Conferment of titles in Nigeria often comes with exaggerated platitudes. Usually done to confer status and justify the action. The conferrer usually paints the conferee in glowing colours, even if not real. Not this one! Those associated with Prof Akinyemi or have encountered him, no matter how brief, would corroborate the Lamido’s observation about the erudite scholar and celebrated diplomat. He is not enamoured of titles. He is used to them; and so would not be unnecessarily excited about an addition. Titles rain on him. It would be a wonder if he is able to reel off-hand all the academic, professional social and cultural titles he has garnered in his 80 years of sojourn on earth.
The fact remains explicitly that the man has traversed the global space and has left imprints that easily recommend him for acknowledgement, appreciation and recognition. The 2014 National Conference was one of such stops where he pulled off a brilliant performance which almost everyone acknowledged and commended. When that offer by the Lamido was announced at plenary, it received a standing ovation. That was a clear endorsement. Diligence has become his signature. He stamps it everywhere he goes. That is why he comes highly recommended for tasking assignments, even in retirement.
If Prof Akinyemi was not at the 2014 National Conference, the story would certainly not have been that exciting. He acted the bridge-builder at every contentious intersection and worked with the few real patriots among the delegates to see that situations never tipped over. As would be expected at convocations where tribesmen jostle for relevance, an intermediary often gets a black eye. He did get; a number of times. That notwithstanding, his eyes remained on the ball.
Even at the level of the Conference leadership, his role was obvious; but much more than that, his mien was soothing. Whenever there was a disagreement, misunderstanding or jostling for power, he would step in to interpret the mandate and offer a leeway. He is a man of monumental sagacity. He would acknowledge the chairman, the Hon Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi as a man of integrity, a man with an open mind. He gives credit to the leader and tells anyone who cares to know that “we all owe the success of the Conference to Justice Kutigi.”
True, Justice Kutigi who died on October 21, 2018 was also an intellectual giant in his field – Law. He retired after serving as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). He was very jovial and patient, but could not stand those who wear arrogance as a virtue. Whenever he was tempted to feel feverish, Professor Akinyemi would step in with a balm. And the situation would be arrested.
Notwithstanding, and where necessary, Professor Akinyemi could be very insistent on those things he is passionate about; even if standing alone. Rather than accede just for the sake of it, he tries to convince and buy over. He is neither interested in popular narratives nor dispositions; he interrogates issues and makes his decisions based on reality, fact and commonsense. He disagrees with his friends, colleagues and compatriots on some very critical subject matters. They sometimes assume it is betrayal or that he has sold out. But you need to convince him to the contrary. That is what he does also. Convince and convict. So the Lamido’s observations on him were real. No exaggerations. Not patronising!
He sits conveniently on any seat and delivers with intellect and panache. He is calm, cerebral, sociable; but very firm. In his consciousness, frowns jump in between smiles. He often begins with a welcoming smile; but when taken for granted, he frowns; and then returns with a reassuring smile. I learnt it is the nature of diplomats, but this one is a diplomat extraordinaire. He wears trust like his trade-mark bow-tie. He makes friends easily. Although he is very jovial, patient and tactical, he does not welcome betrayal with hugs.
In the common parlance, it could be said that the name Professor Bolaji Akinyemi rings a bell. That bell started ringing since when he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (cum laude) from Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. in 1964. He moved over to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, U.S.A. where he obtained a Master of Arts degree in International Affairs (1965) and then to Trinity College, Oxford where he bagged the D. Phil. (Oxon) in 1969. Ever since, the bell has been ringing. Now he is 80; and the bell is still ringing. Lest I forget, he is an Igbobi College old boy.
It is an indisputable fact that Akinyemi is one of Nigeria’s most celebrated intellectuals. His foray traverses spheres, platforms and subject matters. His imprints are on the sands of the major continents of the world; and in some of the most prestigious institutions across the globe. Back home, he is a familiar name in institutions – academic, corporate, community and governance. He has served in both the military and civilian political dispensations. He has led several diplomatic shuttles to countries and world bodies on behalf of his country and global institutions.
His citation is intimidating. His feathers are legion – colourful plumes that would make the Peacock green with envy. He was the chairman of the National Think Tank (2007); member, Presidential Committee for the Resolution of Conflicts in Nigeria (2013); member, Presidential Electoral Reform Committee (2007 – 2008) and Minister of External Affairs (1985 – December 1987) during which period he initiated the Technical Aids Corp. That initiative saw Nigerian professionals being sent abroad for volunteer work; to promote the country’s image and status as a major contributor to Third World development.
He was the Director General, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos (1975 – 1983) and in his time the Institute became a household name bubbling with research and institutional activities. He was the deputy chairman of the 2019 National Conference, a body set up by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to address weighty issues that have over the years been canvassed by the different stakeholders, but which were routinely ignored. It was an important national project aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving long standing hurdles to national cohesion and harmonious development of the country. It was to discuss the future and particularly the unity of the Nigerian federation.
He has walked the academic corridors severally and gallantly. He has been a Visiting Professor in African Studies, DePauw University, Indiana, U.S.A (1960 – 1970); Instructor in Politics of Developing Nations, North-Eastern University, Boston, U.S.A. (1965 – 66); Visiting Professor in Political Science, Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.A (1970); Lecturer and later Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Ibadan, Nigeria (1970 – 1975); Visiting Professor, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva (1977); Visiting Professor, Diplomacy Training Programme, University of Nairobi, Kenya (1977); Regent’s Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles, California (February 1979); Visiting Overseas Scholar, St John’s College, Cambridge (1984); and Professor of Political Science, University of Lagos (1983 – 1986). He has held more than 10 international consultancy posts and published more than 15 books and 42 articles, among others.
He is not done yet. Up till now he runs an online weekly interactive programme “truMyeyes with Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi” (Thursdays) during which he shares his views on various international events. On January 9, the Ijseha Society will in Lagos be hosting a lecture in his honour with the topic: Prof. Bolaji A. Akinyemi @ 80. The lecture, which will also feature a book presentation, is to be delivered by former Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Henry Odein Ajumogobia.
Prof. Akinyemi is a Life member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, England and Fellow, Centre for International Studies, University of Cambridge, England (1988 – 1990). He holds the national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR).
Being a bright and cheerful fellow, it has become part of his routine to be sending colourful flowers to his friends and colleagues every Sunday morning with the inscription “Have a good Sunday and a blessed week.” So, Prof, this is also wishing you a happy birthday and a deserving triumphal entry into the octogenarian club.
• James (fnge) was in charge of Media and Communication at the 2014 National Conference.