The Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS) has awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award to Toyin Falola, a professor of History, University Distinguished Teaching Professor and the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas, Austin. CAAS is the preeminent association of Canadian scholars studying Africa. The Lifetime Achievement Award is the highest honour of CAAS. Therefore, it is rarely bestowed.
For context, no scholar received this honour in my three years on the board of CAAS as vice president, president and past president (2019-2022). The latest in Professor Falola’s constellation of global awards represents another acknowledgment of the worldwide status of the Bobapitan of Ibadanland. As a former president of CAAS, I know the painstaking process involved in the adjudication of CAAS awards. I am particularly delighted that Baba Falola, as we all call him, is recognised in this manner.
It was unusually fitting that York University, Toronto, was the venue of the conferment. Falola was a professor at York University between 1990 and 1991. He had also previously delivered keynote addresses at the CAAS signature annual gatherings and helped to organise the conference in 1991. The president of CAAS, Nduka Otiono, a professor and director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, noted that the “esteemed accolade recognises (Falola’s) exceptional contributions, unwavering dedication, and profound impact on the field of African Studies in Canada and beyond.”
The United States took Falola from Canada but his influence is very much like he never left. The University of Texas, Austin has somehow managed to hold on to Professor Falola. I am curious about how Texas has done that since 1991.
I met Professor Falola at the 2016 Africa conference at the University of Texas, Austin. I was immediately struck by his fine magnetic personality. You immediately felt an instant connection as you would a family member. The annual conference convened by Falola is an excellent gathering and for some young scholars, their first international conference outside Africa. The conference also attracts senior scholars and university administrators across Africa and the diaspora.
Toyin Falola received his B. A. (Honours) in History in 1976 from the University of Ife (later renamed Obafemi Awolowo University). His PhD in history was awarded by the same university in 1981. Falola wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Political Economy of Ibadan, c.1830-1900.” Always on a quest to learn and chart new grounds, Falola received his D. Litt. in African Studies from the University of Ibadan in 2020 (i.e. 42 years after his first doctorate). This is the stuff of extraordinariness.
Professor Falola has received 16 honorary doctorates from universities across the globe. The roll call includes the University of Jos; Lincoln University; Olabisi Onabanjo University; Monmouth University; Federal University, Lokoja; and Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, among others.
A Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), Falola has held fellowships, professorships and distinguished scholar status at various universities and other institutions globally. For example, he was visiting professor at the Olusegun Obasanjo Centre for African Studies, National Open University, Abuja (2019-2021) and honorary professor, Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa, from 2018 to 2022. Professor Falola was also Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South, Library of Congress in 2016; visiting professor, Pontifícia Universidade Católica De São Paulo, Brazil in 2007; and fellow at the Humanities Research Council, Australian National University in 1995. He is a life member at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge.
Traditional institutions have also bestowed high honours on Professor Falola. He is Nii Kpani Ashaabla 1, Adabraka Otukpai Palace, Accra, Ghana; the Agbakin of Kusela-Ibadan; the Bobagbimo of Ugboland; and the Mayegun of Auga,Akoko.
Being a globally recognised scholar and an excellent human being are not necessarily mutually inclusive. Falola is an iconic scholar, a mentor to generations of scholars and a humane person. His devotion to the success of others is astonishing and uncommon. Falola is intentional about creating opportunities for others. He derives great satisfaction in seeing others thrive. Falola’s accomplishments require a truly exceptional intellect, fine analytical mind, perspicacity and a strong work ethic. His long list of accomplishments speaks to a lifetime of devotion to investing in others and expecting nothing in return: World class brilliance meets humaneness.