Jacob Festus Adeniyi Abiose Ajayi (JFA) was born on May 26, 1929 and died on August 9, 2014 after a rich, accomplished and evidently fulfilling eighty five years on earth. “Abiose” was indicative of his birth on a Sunday and Christian parentage, and he took baptismal and confirmation names of Jacob and Festus reportedly by his family opening the Bible and picking the first male name they encountered! His father Ezekiel Adeniyi Ajayi was “Akowe Oba”-private secretary to the Elekole of Ikole-Ekiti; pioneer of Christianity, education and development in his community; later the Odofin and “Baba Postmaster” while JFA’s mother Bolajoko was later baptized Comfort Florence.
I encountered his name as I did many illustrious Nigerians of his generation, in the early 1970s as a child fascinated with newspapers, particularly the staple of their era, Daily Times. My proper introduction to his reputation and accomplishments was however at Igbobi College. The history professor and then Vice Chancellor of the nearby University of Lagos was notable on a list of former Igbobi College alumni that our principal, Mr. T. A. Ojo motivated us with-Justice Teslim Elias, Professor Adeboye Babalola, Professor Kweku Adadevoh, Chief Michael Ibru, Justice Adefarasin were some others on that list. Apart from the exhortations of Mr. Ojo, I also had a history teacher, Mr. Alayande, I think, who constantly celebrated the “fathers” of Nigerian history, in particular, Professors Ade Ajayi, Kenneth Onwuka Dike, Akinjogbin and Ayandele. It is testament to the quality of education at the time that I left secondary school fascinated with history even though I was distinctly unimpressed with the subject earlier on.
Professor Ade Ajayi had started secondary school at the popular Christ School Ado Ekiti before what he described as the “miracle” that saw him apply to Igbobi College and secure a scholarship from the IkoleEkiti Native Authority to attend from 1941-1946. His teachers included Messrs. J. S Ogunlesi, S. O Ighodaro, T. Esubiyi, D. O Fagunwa and C. O. D Ekwensi all of whom later went on to higher positions in society; and some schoolmates were Justices S. A. Ajuyah, Uche Omo, E. B Craig, Ganiyu Agbaje and S. O Okuribido; Professor S. A Babalola and Drs A Bailey, O. Olumide and Oladipo Maja. He attended the Yaba Higher College in 1947 before proceeding to the then University College Ibadan from 1948 to 1951 having chosen to study history from options that included Latin and English. He undertook postgraduate studies in History at the University of Leicester in 1952; and University of London where in 1958 he became the first recipient of a PhD from the Ikole Kingdom, received on his return by amongst other, the Elekole! In 1956, he had married his fiancée, Miss Christie Martins.
It is fortuitous and gratifying that the book “J. F Ade Ajayi: His Life and Career” edited by Professors Michael Omolewa OON and Akinjide Osuntokun OON, both Emeritus Professors at Ibadan and Lagos, with a foreword by General Gowon (who appointed him Vice Chancellor in 1972) was launched “just in time” before Baba Ajayi’s demise. I picked up a copy from my bookshop literarily days before his death was announced! The essays were contributed by his former students, colleagues, friends and family members who noticed that the eminent historian had devoted his energies to the biographies of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther and Justice Kayode Eso and had not bothered to write his own autobiography. We thank God that these grateful associates wrote the book in Baba’s lifetime and I acknowledge it as the substantive source of this tribute. The book contributors included Professors Ayo Banjo, Ayo Bamgbose, Adetowun Ogunseye, Michael Filani, Adeyemo Elebute, T. G. O Gbadamosi, A.Asiwaju, Toyin Falola, Peter Adeniyi, Kyari Mohammed, Akin Mabogunje, Bolanle Awe, Olufunke Adeboye, Olutayo Adesina, Hassan Ibrahim and Olakunle Lawal; and expatriates such as William Rea, James H Morrison, Lalage Brown, J. D. Y Peel and Louis Munoz.
Professor Ade Ajayi was a distinguished historian and academic; a proud Ekiti and Yoruba; a noble Igbobian; an accomplished Nigerian and African; a product of a strong Christian missionary heritage and Anglican; and a man who provided exceptional service to his students, nation and mankind. His academic works focused on Yoruba history and warfare, the impact of early Christianity and the history of West Africa and Africa. He wrote “Yoruba Warfare in the Nineteenth Century” (Cambridge University Press, 1964); “Christian Missions in Nigeria 1841-1891: The Making of a New Elite”; and edited or co-edited “General History of Africa Vol.1” (UNESCO 1981); “A Thousand Years of West African History”; and “History of West Africa” (Longman, 1971). The military regime of General Obasanjo removed him as University of Lagos Vice Chancellor in 1978 in the aftermath of the “Ali Must Go” crisis due to his “principled stand against military dictatorship and the unwarranted intervention in students’ affairs by the military”-his assertion to the tribunal investigating the crisis that “protest is almost an inherent part of youth culture” ; participation of the university authorities in the burial of Akintunde Ojo killed by Police during the crisis; and his defense of university autonomy against centralization and micro-management by the NUC; all positions for which any person of integrity should be happy to be fired for!
He built the famous “Ibadan School of History”, contributed to the development of history educationand the Historical Society of Nigeria and was both a cultured “Omoluabi” in the Yoruba tradition as well as a cosmopolitan citizen of the world. He was “Baba Itan” (the historian) of Ikole Ekiti.