One of Nigeria’s several children in the Diaspora recently advertised the country’s credentials to the whole wide world. What the advertorial innocuously said was that, despite her many challenges, in spite of nature’s bestowment of a national leadership disaster on the country, Nigeria was still a country to be reckoned with. Placed by Professor Ebenezer Obadare, erstwhile Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, United States of America, millions of dollars investment in an advertisement by Nigeria could not have burnished her name as the appointment of Obadare by the American Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) into the David Rockefeller Studies Program as its Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow for Africa studies. At CFR, “he will research and write on U.S. relations with Africa and issues related to political, economic, social, religious, and cultural developments in Africa.”
For those who may be wondering what the purport of the appointment was, Obadare just stepped into the shoes of a position recently vacated by John Campbell, former United States Ambassador to Nigeria. Appointed by President George W, Bush in 2004, Campbell served in that position till 2007 and later as think tank in the CFR. In 2010, he wrote his first book which he entitled Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink and co authored Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know with Matthew Page in July 2018. It was that office that Obadare had just been appointed to.
Before now, Obadare was a Ralf Dahrendorf Scholar and a Ford Foundation International Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science and had hitherto lectured in the Department of International Relations at the Obafemi Awolowo University from 1995 to 2001. He graduated from Ife with a BA in History and an MSc. in International Relations, before proceeding to bag a PhD in Social Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Before pitching his tent with the academia, Obadare was a political reporter for The News and TEMPO magazines from 1993 to 1995, and his primary areas of interest are civil society and the state, and religion and politics in Africa.
The life of Obadare is a testament to that biblical saying which says that a diligent man will not dine with mean men. It is also an affirmation that inside the black pot emerges a white corn meal. I knew Obadare who we nicknamed Ebeno in the mid-eighties in a place called Odo Iro, a slummy part of Ilesa, his hometown, in the present Osun State. Then a student of the prestigious Ilesa Grammar School, his renown as a very brilliant boy reverberated round and became a legend purveyed by boys and girls in our neighbourhood.
Odo Iro was notorious for being a beehive of gangsters and never-do-wells of Ilesa. Bordered by a road transport union workers motor-park, many of the children who grew up in that neighbourhood ended up taking a large chunk of the notoriety of Odo Iro. It was a lush ground for Indian hemp smokers, pool betters, gangsters and was also located in a neighbouhood that was smelly and dirty. Yesterday, I intentionally drove through Odo Iro and saw its palpable transformation. The rusty roofs and depressing aesthetics had received a touch and passably commendable uplift. The story of the uplift of Odo Iro is also the story of Obadare, who rose beyond the rusty and limiting facts of his environment. With his intellectual side kick, another scholar from the rustic town of Iresi in Osun State, Professor Wale Adebanwi, the duo has been doing our generation real proud. Until now when he moved to the University of Pennsylvania, Adebanwi was of the University of Oxford.
This is to congratulate Professor Obadare on this historic appointment.