There are strong indications that the renowned doyen of Geography and allied studies and First African Professor of the discipline, Akin Ladipo Mabogunje has passed on.
Below is a profile of the renowned scholar as published by The Nation on his 90th Birthday in October 2021.
“Undimmed by age, he remains relevant as a man of knowledge and ideas. Eminent geographer Prof. Akin Mabogunje, who turned 90 on October 18, has distinguished himself not only in academia but also in public service.
Regarded as the “Father of African Geography,” he was the first African president of the International Geographical Union (1980-1984) and the first African to be elected as a Foreign Associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences (1999). He became Nigeria’s first Professor of Geography at the University of Ibadan, in present-day Oyo State, in 1965.
Among the several awards he has received for academic, professional and administrative excellence, the Vautrin-Lud Prize he won in 2017 stands out as a symbol of his distinction. It is the highest honour in the field of geography and is known as the “Nobel Prize for Geography.” He is the first African recipient of the prize, which was instituted in 1991.
It was not for nothing that President Muhammadu Buhari extolled him for “the historic roles he played in the structuring, growth and demography of the country.” Mabogunje in the 1970s notably led the team picked by the Federal Government to provide necessary environmental information on the new territory that became the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
The country has benefitted in no small measure from his geographic expertise, notably in the creation of the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) in 1986; and the establishment of the National Board for Community Banks in 1990. His involvement in these projects reflected his passion for community development, especially at the grassroots.
Another important national assignment he got based on his professionalism was the chairmanship of the Presidential Technical Committee on Land in Nigeria. As a result of the demand for his services at governmental levels, he has chaired various commissions, committees and panels to carry out work related to urban and regional planning.”
Remarkably, even when he turned 80, he was still involved in development duties and was forced to ask then President Goodluck Jonathan for disengagement. He said in an interview: “I was still in charge of the National Land Reform, which the late President Yar’Adua saddled me with. I was still in charge of the Lagos Mega City Development Authority which ex-President Obasanjo had saddled me with. And I was still in charge of Technical Committee on Housing and Urban Development.”
Not surprisingly, his age was not an issue when the founders of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy sought a chairman for the institution. “It was not easy for me to say no. They recognised that at my age I couldn’t run around but I could advise them. It was that appeal to the situation of governance in my country that made me accept,” he explained.
Mabogunje is a patriot who is concerned about government and public policies, and he advises that the presidency “should strengthen local governments to engender development.” Another piece of advice from him: “States that can’t perform should merge.”
His trajectory makes him richly experienced to suggest solutions to the country’s underdevelopment. He was a member of the Western Nigerian Economic Advisory Council in 1967; member of the Federal Public Service Review Commission, 1972; Chairman of Nigerian Council for Management Development, 1976 and Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Ogun State University, now Olabisi Onabanjo University.
After his secondary education at Ibadan Grammar School (1943-1948), he earned a first degree in Geography at the then University College Ibadan in 1953. He got a doctorate in the same discipline from the University of London in 1961. He is known for his contributions to “the academic literature of contemporary geography, development, rural-urban migration, urbanization, and environmental challenges in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.” He was one of the earliest recipients of the Nigerian National Order of Merit.
In June 2020, he demonstrated a sense of legacy by donating his library to Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, saying “The younger generations will rise from building on the knowledge of the past.”
This is a developing story.