Thursday, April 1, 2021 5:02 pm
By Siyan Oyeweso
On 1st of April, 1724, Henry Pelham became the English Minister of War. Pelham was a Great War Hero and one of the greatest war strategists of all times. He later rose to become British Prime Minister in 1743. Also, April 1st 1918 witnessed the creation of the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom from the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, apparently, to increase the United Kingdom’s military prowess and guarantee victory in wars in an age replete with wars and aggressions. Could it be a mere happenstance that one the same day in 1961, a distinguished War Historian, who would later become one of the most outstanding scholars and the first African to become a professor at the prestigious University of London’s Kings College, was born?
Prof. Abiodun Alao was born on April 1, 1961, seven months into Nigeria’s independent nationhood. He was named Abiodun because his birth coincided with the period of Easter celebrations. Abiodun was born to a humble family that hailed from Olupona, a town near Iwo, in the present Ayedire Local Government Area of Osun State. His father was a school headmaster while his mother was a teacher. The duo made serious commitment to giving their children the best attainable education until death cut short the life of their mother when Abiodun was just five years old. The enormous responsibility of parenting therefore fell on the father, despite his modest salary as a primary school teacher.
Given the nature of his father’s work characterised by constant transfer from one place to another, and for the fact that after his mother’s death, the responsibility of bringing up the children had fallen entirely on their father. Abiodun Alao and his siblings had to go with their father to his duty posts in various parts of Yorubaland as a result of transfers. This has its consequences on their education as they had to change from one school to another. Thus, Abiodun’s elementary education straddled the Ayipate Baptist Day Primary School, Iwo, where he started in 1966 and Ijeru Baptist School, Ogbomoso where he eventually completed it. For his secondary education, he was first enrolled at the Baptist High School, Iwo, in 1972, but for his unsatisfactory performance, his father re-enrolled him at Fiditi Grammar School, Fiditi, a few miles from Oyo where he later finished in 1977. He later enrolled and completed his Advanced Level Programme at the Federal Government College, Ilorin, between 1979 and 1980, a qualification that guaranteed his direct entry into the Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, in 1980.
At the University of Ibadan, Abiodun Alao was admitted to study History. The Department of History in Ibadan was, undoubtedly, one of the most vibrant departments in not only the University of Ibadan or Nigeria but also in the comity of universities in sub-Saharan Africa during this period. The Department is reputed for pioneering the teaching and writing of African history by dislodging the Eurocentric notion that Africa had no history. In its early days, it had a number of academic iconoclasts and renowned scholars in its folds such as Professor Kenneth O. Dike, the first African Head of the Department, the first African Professor of History and the first indigenous Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and Professors Saburi Biobaku, J.F. Ade-Ajayi, Adiele Afigbo, Emmanuel A Ayandele, Obaro Ikime and Tekena Tamuno, among several other expatriate and indigenous scholars of repute. It was under the tutelage of these historical giants that Abiodun was privileged to learn in this Department and he graduated in 1983. In his words, Alao recalled the role these scholars played in his trajectory as a scholar as follows:
“The University of Ibadan made me who I am today. Studying history at Ibadan changed a lot of things because I was a beneficiary of contemporary geniuses of that era. I was taught by the best brains such as Ade Ajayi, J.A Atanda, Gabriel Akinola, Tom Adam, and Omoniyi Adewoye. These were wonderful teachers who moulded our lives”
After his graduation from the University of Ibadan, Abiodun Alao undertook his compulsory National Youth Service Scheme at the Ahmadu Bello University Advanced Teachers College, Kano, before proceeding to the University of Ife for his Master’s degree programme. He was admitted to study International Relations, a programme he completed in 1985. At Ife, like his experience at Ibadan, he fortunately found himself under the tutelage of erudite scholars and mentors, most especially, the late Professor Olajide Aluko, African first Professor of International Relations, who was his direct Supervisor. He acknowledged the great roles played in his life by Professor Aluko whom he described in an interview he granted with This Day newspaper in 2018 as his “teacher, benefactor and friend”. It is praiseworthy that Abiodun Alao, despite the fact that he read history at the undergraduate level, graduated on the top of his class in 1985.
Abiodun Alao’s excellent performance, a product of his exceptional intellectual prowess, not only court him the admiration of his teachers, but also secured a place for him among the academic staff members on the Department of International Relations of Ife, as he was immediately offered an appointment as Assistant Lecturer. In his less than two years sojourn with the University as a lecturer, he made redoubtable impacts. He was able to teach and mentor some students, some of whom have also attained the zenith of their respective careers. Noteworthy among his students in Ife is Segun Adeniyi, former Spokesperson for the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and currently the Chairman Editorial Board of This Day newspaper. He was still at Ife when he secured admission for his Doctorate Degree in War Studies at the prestigious Kings College, University of London, United Kingdom, on a scholarship grant of the Ford Foundation, in 1987. He completed his Ph.D. programme in 1991, having successfully defended his thesis titled “The Defence and Security Implications of the War of Liberation in Zimbabwe”. He is also a recipient of the SSRC- Mac Arthur Post-doctoral Fellowship in 1994.
Again, Abiodun Alao’s extraordinary academic performance also secured a place for him to lecture at the Kings College in the same Department were he bagged his Ph.D. Unknowingly to the young Abiodun, he had been keenly observed by his Head of Department during his course of study. Therefore, after his study, having made all necessary preparation to relocate to Nigeria in continuation of his career at Ife, his Head of Department one day asked if he would like to stay back at the school to lecture. This was a defining moment for Alao as the University later became his fountain of success. At Kings College, Abiodun Alao was a lecturer at the Department of War Studies between 1994 and 1996; Research Fellow at the Centre for Defence Studies, September 1996 and August 1999; Senior Research Fellow between 1999 and 2013; Senior Lecturer at the International Development Institute in September 2013 and he eventually became a full professor of African Studies at the London’s School of Global Affairs of the College in September 2014. On 26th April, 2016, he made history at the Kings College when he delivered his Inaugural Lecture, as the first Black African to have delivered an Inaugural Lecture at the College, since its establishment in 1829. The epochal event, which recorded attendance from several categories of people across the world took place at the Edward Safra Lecture Theatre of the College. The Lecture, titled “Africa: A Voice to be Heard, Not a Problem to be Solved” was a figment of his long years of research on the myriads of challenges confronting Africa, which have set the continent on the path of developmental retrogression.
Beyond his illustrious career at the Kings College, Prof. Abiodun Alao has also made profound academic and research impacts on many other parts of Africa. In 1990, he had a stint at the University of Zimbabwe as a Visiting Research Associate, where he had the opportunity to share his thoughts and research findings with many Zimbabwean scholars. He has also, over the years, delivered lectures at different fora, especially military and policy-oriented institutions across the globe. Some of these include the Royal College of Defence Studies, London; Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DECAF), Geneva; Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP); Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna; Rwandan Military Academy; the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre, Chicksands, U.K; Nigerian National Defence College, Abuja; Nigeria Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State, amongst others.
Prof. Abiodun Alao has earned for himself a reputation as one of the leading experts on war and developmental studies across the world, thanks to his numerous academic publications, policy papers and collaborative expert services with a number of sub-regional, regional and global organisations. He has worked with the apex global orgnisations, the United Nations, and some of its specialised agencies especially the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP). He has also worked with the African Union, European Union, and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) among others.
On the African continent, Prof. Alao has made impressive academic marks. He was one of the Four-Man Team that conducted a Comprehensive Threat Assessment immediately after the end of the Rwandan Genocide, an assignment that afforded him the opportunity of first-hand information on the situation in Rwanda at the end of the Genocide. He was equally on the team of Academic Experts that advised the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, on the Sierra Leone Civil War. He also co-authored the first post-civil war National Security Strategy Framework for Liberia, as well as the Concept Note for the Common Defence and Security Policy of the African Union. Within the ECOWAS Structure, he has, in collaboration with other experts, consulted for and facilitated several projects such as the establishment of the Child Protection Unit (CPU).
Prof. Abiodun Alao is also a regular guest analyst for many reputable international radio and television stations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cable Network News (CNN), Sky Television and Bloomberg Television. He is the author of more than 100 books, chapters in books, journal articles, policy papers and monographs. Beyond the classroom, Prof Abiodun Alao is a serving member of the Governing Council of Osun State University, under the able leadership of Mallam Yusuf O. Ali SAN as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council. He is also a member of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Efurun, Delta State.
In his six decades in life and over three decades as an academic, Prof. Abiodun Alao has carved a niche for himself as an embodiment of good upbringing, humility, excellence, determination and commitment to service to humanity. One can only wish this illustrious Nigerian academic guru steadfastness in continuing to do what he knows best and renewed vigour in his selfless service to the academic world in particular and humanity in general. Happy 60th Birthday Prof. Abiodun Alao of the Kings College, University of London.
-Professor Siyan Oyeweso writes from the College of Humanities and Culture, Osun State University, Nigeria.