Renowned historian and a former Vice-Chancellor of UNILAG, dies at 85

Renowned historian and a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof. Ade Ajayi, has passed on.

Although his family had not released an official statement as of 8 pm press time on Sunday, a reliable source said he died at the University College Hospital, Ibadan on Saturday.

Among scholars of his age and beyond, Ajayi was particularly respected for the thoroughness of his researches and the fact that he gave character to the study of African history.

A profile of him read “As an early writer of Nigerian and African history, Ajayi brought considerable respect to the ‘Ibadan School’ and African research. He was known for the arduous research and rigorous effort he put into his work.

“By extensive use of oral sources in some of his works, such as pre-twentieth century Yoruba history, he was able to weigh, balance and reconcile each and all of his sources, uncovering a pathway towards facts in the period which was scarce in written and non prejudiced forms.”

Meanwhile, scholars and other dignitaries have started paying tributes to Ajayi.

US-based legal practitioners, Emmanuel Fashakin, described him as a trail blazer in many respects.

He said in an online tribute, “He was extremely humble. Indeed, we lost a gem, another worthy son of Africa.”

Also, Prof. Olutayo Asesina of the University of Ibadan said Ajayi was extremely profound and energetic.

Adesina added, “He was a phenomenon and one of the foremost African historians. He put African history and historiography on the world map.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Caleb University, Imota, Lagos State, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, told our correspondent that Ajayi was a legend of African history.

According to him, he was not only a writer, he was also a specialist who could pontificate on the world and African history.

“Alongside the late Prof. Kenneth Dike, Prof. Ajayi defined the essence of African history. He was not just a wordsmith, he was also a genius who understood the essence of the subject and gave respect to the continent,” Olukoju said.

Born in Ikole-Ekiti State on May 26, 1929, Ajayi started education at St. Paul’s School, Ikole, at the age of five.

He then proceeded to Ekiti Central School for preparation as a pupil teacher, after which he attended Igbobi College in Lagos.

He eventually gained admission to the University of Ibadan, where he studied History.

In 1952, Ajayi travelled abroad and studied at the Leicester University under the tutelage of Prof. Jack Simmons, a brilliant Oxford-trained historian.

After graduation, he was a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, London from 1957-1958. He later returned to Nigeria and joined the history department of the University of Ibadan.

In 1964, he was made Dean of Arts at the University and later promoted a deputy Vice Chancellor. After his stint as deputy Vice Chancellor, he was made the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos in 1972.

The twilight of Ajayi’s career as VC was a controversial one, especially as issues surrounding the historical Ali Must Go student riot led to his early exit.

But many years after his tenure he continued to work for the advancement of knowledge, society and humanity in general.

In 1993, Ajayi was awarded the “Distinguished Africanist Award” by the African Studies Association.

His works include Yoruba Warfare in the Nineteenth Century; Christian Missions in Nigeria, 1841-1891: The Making of a New Elite; and General History of Africa.

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