Johannesburg – Adetunji Omotola‘s remarkable journey and dedication to Africa have set the stage for an extraordinary event: an online celebration of Pan-Africanism and literature. This event, scheduled for September 21, 2023, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. South African time, promises to be a unique and significant occasion.
The event will feature a co-presentation of two remarkable books authored by Adetunji Omotola: “Jelili Omotola: Memories of My Father” and “Life in the Abrodi” by Olivia Joseph Aluko. The focus of the celebration is not only on the literary prowess of the authors but also on the convergence of literature, history, and the ideals of Pan-Africanism that resonate throughout these works.
Adetunji Omotola’s profound insights and passion for Africa will be showcased through a series of questions and answers, providing a deeper understanding of the connections between his work, the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah, and the broader themes of Pan-Africanism and literature. These discussions will delve into the inspiration behind his books, the resonance of his father’s life with Nkrumah’s ideals, key insights from his work, and the intersection of literature, history, and Pan-Africanism in his writing. Omotola shared some insights and inspiration behind the books in an interview with Adekunle Owolabi, Diplomatic Watch’s Digital Editor.
Question: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind writing “Jelili Omotola: Memories of My Father” and how it relates to Kwame Nkrumah’s legacy?
In the latter part of Professor Jelili Adebisi Omotola (SAN), my late father’s life, I began to get very close to him, especially as he was in exile in South Africa. The period 2000–2003 marked a watershed moment in my late Dad’s life as he was, for the first time in six decades, forced to live away from his family in another country. His exile years in South Africa coincided with my own entry into South Africa, barely more than two years after I had returned to Nigeria after a ten-year sojourn in the United Kingdom. When Dad was in South Africa, he lived a very simple life but continued working very hard each day. I marveled at his work ethic despite his advancing age. I also had a chance to study him at close quarters and learn more about the rigors of his early years and the sacrifices he made to achieve great success. It was the totality of all these matters that made me write a book about him.
My sense is that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, and Prof. Jelili Omotola, the University of Lagos’ seventh vice chancellor and only lawyer to so be, had lots in common. Kwame Nkrumah was a visionary leader, and so was Jelili Omotola. Nkrumah was a trailblazer, a high achiever, and a great Pan Africanist who authored many books. Jelili Omotola won prizes in academics in England in 1966, the same year Nkrumah was toppled from power. While Nkrumah was a teacher in his early years, Jelili Omotola taught for a period of twenty-four years at the University of Lagos. While Nkrumah authored books on Africa, Jelili Omotola authored books on Land Law. Omotola, like Nkrumah, was also a Pan-Africanist, as he lectured in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Kenya, Gambia, and South Africa.
Question: What aspects of Jelili Omotola’s life and work do you believe resonate most with Nkrumah’s ideals and contributions to Pan-Africanism?
Aspects of Jelili Omotola’s work and life mirror Nkrumah’s ideals and contributions to Pan Africanism. Nkrumah’s focus was on a new Africa, independent and absolutely free from imperialism, organized on a continental scale. Nkrumah believed in self-reliance, that Africa was capable of managing its own affairs. Jelili Omotola showed very early promise in being independent as a brilliant scholar. Jelili secured prizes, scholarships, a raft of degrees, and a law license in the space of nine years. His university career as a lecturer, professor, and vice chancellor witnessed unparalleled growth.
Question: In your book, what are some key insights or lessons that readers can draw from Jelili Omotola’s experiences and achievements?
Key insights that readers can learn from Jelili Omotola’s experiences are many, but the one that stands out very clearly is the work-to-study program that he launched for students at the University of Lagos. In the area of achievements, it has been said generally that his IGR (Internal Generated Revenue) programs were second to none. By creating UNILAG soap, UNILAG bread, and UNILAG water, his achievements in Law as a doctrinal researcher, his critique of land use also gained wide recognition. He gave his all in his teaching and, above all, was a welfarist. In the book “Jelili Omotola: Memories of My Father,” readers will also gain a deeper understanding of Jelili Omotola’s legal contribution, particularly in the field of Land Law. Jelili Omotola had trained in London for a period of nine years, during which he attended the University of London and bagged his LLB, LLM, BL, and Ph.D. The reader will also glean information regarding his life beyond law and university administration. The reader will also realize the depth and volume of legal research undertaken by Jelili Omotola, which began in 1973 and continued until 2001. For example, there is a book on the New UNILAG, an official documentation of the tenure of Professor Jelili Omotola as the Vice-Chancellor, University of Lagos, 1998.
Question: How do you see the intersection of literature, history, and Pan-Africanism in your book, and why is this connection significant in today’s world?
The intersection between literature, history, and Pan-Africanism is brought to life in the book. Omotola was obviously a student of literature, which forms a foundation for law and society. In the book, the history of Jelili Omotola is documented, from his Ijebu ancestry to his early years as a student and his development as a lecturer and a professor, and finally as a vice chancellor and post-exit as a vice chancellor. Jelili Omotola’s contributions across Africa exemplify his Pan-Africanist credentials. By making laws relating to land in Gambia and other African countries, he provides remarkable evidence of his achievements on a continental scale. In this regard, Omotola also mirrors Nkrumah, who himself gave some powerful speeches on African unity in countries such as Ethiopia and Morocco in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Question: Could you share a memorable moment or anecdote from your research or writing process that deepened your appreciation for your father’s legacy and its relevance today?
The research done on my book “Jelili Omotola: Memories of My Father” enabled me to glean many anecdotes that helped deepen my appreciation of my late father’s legacy. For example, my late father spoke profoundly about the need to publish or perish. He had a strong constitution, and oftentimes he would speak about using one qualification to exempt oneself from another. He also believed in the acquisition of many laurels and prizes. I recall when I returned from England to Nigeria, and he told me to get prizes on my way out because my colleagues were toddlers. He always spoke about the fact that he would be happy if all his children, all twelve of us could read the law. I also remember vividly his shouts of “Harare, Harare, Harare” when he returned from Zimbabwe in 1990. Another favorite anecdote which he used often was, ‘I will not give you the feeling that all is well because all may not be well.’
The online co-presentation of “Jelili Omotola: Memories of My Father” and “Life in the Abrodi” promises to be a compelling tribute to Kwame Nkrumah’s enduring legacy and a celebration of Pan-Africanism, literature, and the rich tapestry of African history. This event is set to inspire a new generation of thinkers and writers committed to the ideals of unity, self-reliance, and academic excellence across the African continent.