KWASU mourns doyen of African Studies, Abiola Irele

Post on 11 July 2017

The Kwara State University (KWASU), Malete, has announced the passing away of its pioneer Provost, College of Humanities, Management and Social Sciences, Professor Francis Abiola Irele. Aged 81, Professor Irele died in the evening of Sunday, July 2, 2017.

Professor Irele, who was also the pioneer Director, KWASU Press, pioneer Editor of The Savanah Review published by the KWASU Press, former Editor of Research in African Literatures, and former member of Directors of the Malete Film Village, won the Nigerian Order of Merit award for Humanities in 2015.

Announcing the literary giant’s demise in an electronic message to the University Community on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor AbdulRasheed Na’Allah, said: “Irele brought honor and glory to Kwara State University when he left Harvard University to join KWASU, believing in what we all could do together to create an enviable public University here in Nigeria for our people. As a pioneer staff, he was exceptional in his support for staff and students and in his total dedication to and love for KWASU.

“Kwara State University, continuing to lay claim to the goodwill and fame that Irele enjoys world over, named its School of Theory and Criticism after him, The Abiola Irele School of Theory and Criticism, with this year's edition taking place from July 17 to 28, 2017.

“His popular Inaugural Lecture, In Praise of Alienation, delivered at The University of Ibadan in the early 1980s, is still among the most discussed piece of African writing till date.

“The University will lower its flag for one week, starting today Tuesday July 4, 2017, in honor of the doyen of African studies and KWASU's own Pioneer Provost of Humanities. May God continue to support the wife and children he left behind and condole us all!”

Professor Francis Abiola Irele was a Nigerian literary giant who stood tall like an Iroko tree among literati in Nigeria, Africa and the world over. Professor Irele was indisputably the number one scholar of African literary studies and of African humanities in the world.

He began his tertiary education at the University of London where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (Honours English) under special relationship with University of Ibadan (UI), Nigeria in June, 1960. He followed it up in June, 1963 with a Certicat de Professeur de Franҫais à 1ˈEtranger, Ecole de Formation et de Perfectionnement des Professeurs de Franҫais à 1ˈEtranger, University of Paris.Reҫu premier, mention honorable.

In November, 1966, Professor Irelebagged aDoctorat de 1ˈUniversité, University of Paris (Sorbonne), mention trés honorable with a Dissertation entitled “Les Origines de la Négritude à 1a Martinique: Sociologie de 1ˈoeuvre poétiquedˈAimé Césaire”. That same year, Professor Irele was employed at the College of Education, University of Lagos, Nigeria as a Lecturer in French; concurrent appointment as Associate Lecturer, Department of English where he took courses on French Language and Literature, African Literature in English until 1967 when he was appointed Research Fellow, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon. While in the University, he organised Weekly Graduate seminar on African Literature and supervised MA Theses. Professor Irele also took courses in Francophone African and Caribbean Literature in the Department of Modern Languages. At the University, he equally served as Hall Tutor, Mensah Sarbah Hall (October, 1968 to December, 1969).

In view of his quest for academic excellence and intellectual development, the literary giant worked with the famous University of Ife, Nigeria (now Obafemi Awolowo University) from 1970 to 1972 as Senior Research Fellow, Institute of African Studies. He took courses on Yoruba Literature at the Institute and Francophone African Literature in the Department of Modern Languages. Professor Irele was appointed Co-director (with Michael Crowder) of The Ife Festival of the Arts, December 1970 and a part of Academic Planning Committee for the Yoruba Degree Programme (1970-71).       

The Nigerian literary colossus’ contribution to knowledge, research and scholarship received a boost in 1978 following his appointment as a Professor of French at the Premier University – the University of Ibadan. Prior to that, he was appointed Head (Chair), Department of Modern Languages; a position he occupied from October, 1976 to September, 1979; and August, 1983 to July, 1987. Professor Irele had equally served as a Senior Lecturer in French between 1972 and 1978 in the same University. He taught courses at Undergraduate and Graduate levels on French literature (in particular Post-Romantic French poetry, from Baudelaire to the Symbolists) and French-speaking African and Caribbean Literature (Mongo Béti, Aimé Césaire, Birago Diop, Cheik Hamidou Kane, Léopold Sedar Senghor etc.)

While at the Premier University, he supervised Ph.D. students to include Femi Osofisan, “The Origins and Development of Modern West African Drama” (1974); Olalere Oladitan, “The Theme of Violence in African Literature” (1976); Tokunbo Gbadebo, “The Novels of René Maran” (1978); Aduke Adebayo, “A Comparative Study of the Novels of Rechard Wright and Sembéne Ousmane” (1980); Grace Arowolo, “A Structural Analysis of Amadou Hampaté Ba’s L’Etrangedestin de Wangrin” (1982); and Moradeun Adejunmobi, “Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo: A Critical Introduction” (1985).

At UI also, he was part of various committees including Board of Studies, Faculty of Arts (1972-73); Curriculum Committee, Faculty of Arts (1973-75); Faculty Publications Committee (1976-84) and Chairman, (1980-84); Faculty of Arts, Appointments and Promotions Committee (1978-79); Faculty of Arts Postgraduate Studies Committee, 1980-82 (Departmental representative); Director, Audio-Visual Centre, Faculty of Arts (1981-83) and Chairman, University Publications Committee, (Ibadan University Press), 1984/85.

Also, between October, 1989 and June, 2003, the doyen of Africanist literary scholars globally, served as a Professor of African, French and Comparative Literature at the Ohio State University – Joint appointment, Department of African American and African Studies and Division of Comparative Studies in the Humanities. He equally served as Research Associate, Center for African Studies and had an adjunct appointment in the Department of French and Italian at the University. During this period, he was among the Search Committee, Woody Hayes Chair in History (1997); Chair, Graduate Studies Committee, Department of Black Studies (1989-1991); Research Grants Committee, College of Humanities (1989-1991); Chair, Ad-Hoc Library Committee, African and Afro-American Studies (1990); Chair, Search Committee for Professor of African History (1990-1991); Promotions and Tenure Committee, College of Humanities (1991, 1992, 1996-1999); Editor, Research in African Literatures (July, 1992-September 2003); Chair, Departmental Promotions Committee, Division of Comparative Studies (to consider cases of promotion to grade of Full Professor), 1995; Convener, Annual Conference, African Literature Association, March 15-19, 1995, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. Theme: “The Postcolonial Condition.”  

He also taught several courses, organised Graduate Seminars, developed courses and supervised PhD and Master’s students at the University. He was equally part of various PhD and MA examining committees from 1991 to 2000.   

In recognition of his remarkable achievements at the Ohio State University, the prestigious Harvard University appointed the literary heavyweight a Visiting Professor, Department of African and African American Studies, and Department of Romance Languages and Literatures on July 1, 2003. He was also made the Interim Chair, Committee on African Studies at the same University.  

It is worthy of note that Professor Irele has authored many books, including the Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature and The African Experience in Literature and Ideology, and reviewed, peer reviewed and edited numerous academic journals locally and internationally. He has also convened and participated in quite a number of conferences, seminars and workshops globally.

A recipient of many awards, including but not limited to the prestigious Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) Award for 2013 (in Humanities) conferred on him by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

Professor Irelesleft the prestigious Harvard University and joined forces with the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of KWASU, Professor AbdulRasheed Na’Allah, to lay a solid foundation for the Institution and make it a centre of excellence where strong scholarship, superior advancement in Science, Engineering and Technology, Humanities and Social Sciences are in high standards.

He donated his library collection sponsored by Harvard University's Du Bois Centre to KWASU, for enhanced research, teaching and learning.

Professor Irele was married to Bassey Efiom Irele (née Etim) and blessed with children.