By Anote Ajeluorou
One of Africa’s finest scholars, feminist, critic and literary theorist Prof. Molara Ogundipe recently turned 70. Although resident in Accra, Ghana, where she has devoted all her time to scholarship, Ogundipe returned home to her roots to celebrate her 70th birthday last Saturday in Lagos in the company of relations, friends and former colleagues at Ibadan, where she started her scholarly journey
The list of eminent scholars that gathered was small but impressive; they had come to honour the erudite Ogundipe, who has helped reshape feminist thinking in Africa away from its imported belligerent Western type to a humanising, African cultural context. The event symbolically held at the less known Lagos State Women Development Centre, Agege, Lagos. It seemed such a perfect place to celebrate Ogundipe, whose scholarly endeavour has been devoted entirely to the development, promotion of, and advocacy for women.
There were Prof. Ayo Banjo (an emeritus professor), Prof. Ropo Sekoni, who gave the lecture, and Prof. Oyegoke. Others were Dr. Doyin Abiola, Dr. Dele Balogun, Dr. K. Awosika, Mrs. Babawale, who represented her husband, Prof. Tunde Babawale, director-general, Centre for Black African Arts and Culture (CBAAC), Mrs. Titi Akosa, Ngozi Nwosu-Juba, Mrs. Ogunye, and Mrs. Comfort Ogunye.
In all the submissions, it would seem Ogundipe’s scholarly career seemed to have made the most impact in her ability to domesticating and Africanising seemingly chaotic feminist views from Europe and America. In other words, she caused feminism to wear an African face, especially in the humanist manner she situated her discourse to ease the conflict between men and women.
For Banjo who knew Ogundipe from infancy, it was a moment of nostalgic recollection of childhood spent in privileged homesteads, of educated parentage in the new colonial dispensation at the time. Although both of them had gone ahead to attend the then University College, Ibadan, it was Ogundipe’s era that announced a new equation in the relation between the boys and the girls. Ogundipe, according to Banjo, “beat all the boys in their own game as first student to earn first class honours degree in English!”
Thus marked Ogundipe’s roaring career in sterling academic excellence. “I thank Molara for organising this ceremony,” Banjo said, “I also congratulate her on her 70th birthday and welcome her back home. I’ve known her back several decades; I saw quite a lot of her while growing up. In all her years, she has shown commitment, leadership and intellect. She has had an inheritance she has used very well.
“The remarkable thing about her is that as a student she was not complaining about the dominance of the males. She beat all the boys in their own game as first student to earn first class honours degree in English. That is the sort of determination she had.
“Molara’s distinct contribution to feminism arises from her ability to draw from literary, politics, history and culture to define what feminism should be in Africa. She’s moved from being a theorist to activism, where she has raised certain bars. Her idea of STIWANISM has been very apt in defining feminism for her African cultural situation. That is very important, the old discourse now being properly contextualised; it’s her call for a need for collaboration between the sexes. Indeed, her views can be extended to the whole universe.
“Now, most of the feminism ideas have been borrowed from the U.S. and Europe. It takes a person of Molara to domesticate these ideas to the African situation. So, she has been able to find a niche for herself in feminism, and to make all of Africa proud of her, especially in the making of a wholesome new view of feminism and to make a wholesome debate on feminism. I wish her many laurels in her profession.”
Giving a strident voice to the African woman so she could be heard in global arena since the 1970s, according to Awosika, another feminist colleague of Ogundipe at the Association of African Women for Development and Research (AAWORD) founded in 1977, has been one of Ogundipe’s main contributions to women development issues. Ogundipe co-founded AAWORD. She described Ogundipe as a role model in academia, modesty, and especially in bringing up young ones through mentorship.
She confessed, “At the international level, Ogundipe’s presence makes Nigeria proud just like that of Prof. Joy Ugwu (former director-general, Nigeria Institute for International Affairs- NIIA, now at the UN). Ogundipe made sure that the African voice was heard at international meet. We’re celebrating a scholar, a mentor and a phenomenon”.
A former student of Ogundipe at Ibadan, and later a colleague at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, where Ogundipe was pioneering head of English Department, Prof. Oyegoke, attested to the septuagenarian’s elegance the first time she stepped into class and how she really dazzled them all. He stated, “She is a distinguished national and international scholar. I pray she will continue to impact on lives. Although she is better known today in feminism studies, but she had established herself as a literary theorist and critic long ago. She has made a mark as a poet, too.
“Ogundipe has a way of encouraging young people. She has a way of bringing out the best in anyone she connects with, and a way of bringing out the African essence in people”.
Nwosu-Juba, one of her mentees, also paid tribute to Ogundipe’s untiring efforts at bringing out the best from young people with her unassuming and inspiring nature. She said Ogundipe is a person for whom people should aspire to be like.
Also, director, Female Leadership Forum, Ogunye praised Ogundipe’s cerebral intellect in distilling issues with the ease and finesse that were disarming, saying it was the hallmark of the Septuagenarian’s scholarship. “I find her writing very inspirational and insightful,” Ogunye stated. “Ogundipe’s been a great advocate for women; her inspiring writing has enriched some of the things we are doing working with young women.”
The birthday event that was punctuated by an intellectual discourse had Sekoni speaking on ‘Decolonising the Mind: African Scholarly Struggles since the 1960s’. Sekoni asserted that Ogundipe’s scholarly works, especially in humanising feminism, especially in making it a double-gendered cultural affair, has been at the forefront of decolonising the African mind from the vice-grip of Western thought that sought to continually imprison the African mind in denying him of a culture, religion and independent thought.
He praised Ogundipe as one of the few female thinkers on the continent, who are pre-occupied with such complex issues as decolonisation of the African mind. Sekoni traced the history of decolonising the African mind back to the Harlem Renaissance period at breaking free from white supremacists and their inferiority tag on the African mind after years of slave trade and colonisation. He states three critical areas where Ogundipe’s efforts have most paid off: Scholarship, activism and advocacy not only liberating the female-folk but in creating a harmonious relationship between men and women.
In discussing Sekoni’s paper, Dr. Abiola also commended Ogundipe’s contributions to female empowerment and the advancement of the female cause. She, however, drew attention to the April elections, where she said Nigerian women performed badly and woefully. She wished that Ogundipe had been one of the resource persons in many of their conscientisation campaigns as it was evident that what was lacking was the application of ‘common-sense’ the way Ogundipe has applied it in advancing and domesticating her feminism theories while taking African cultural milieu into context.
She also praised Ogundipe for her humanising approach to feminism in being able to synthesis divergent approaches to feminism and finding a common ground in her ‘double-gendered culture’ that seeks a harmonisation of the sexes rather than needless bickering on who is superior or inferior.
Abiola further stated that women’s emancipation was still far from being realised in Nigeria in spite of the good intentions of the nation’s constitution in giving legal backing to such ideals as the purported equality that should exist between men and women. What existed in reality, she said, has no bearing on the life of the Nigerian woman.
Ogundipe cut her birthday cake with some of the dignitaries present.