Ayo Akinwale (1946-2020)

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He made some of us; we are what we became due to his training. He brought out skills we never knew we possessed and made us do things we never thought we could do”. These words by one of his former students and protégés, Mr. Abiodun Abe, a director with Nigeria’s National Theatre, graphically capture the hugely impactful life of Professor Ayo Akinwale, who passed on on September 13, at the age of 74. An k and versatile stage and film actor, producer, writer, director, broadcaster and academic, Professor Akinwale made indelible imprints both as a thespian and a scholar who had considerable influence on the country’s cultural life.

The prominent and much beloved Nollywood actor was not content to live a secluded life in the cloistered ivory tower of academia but combined theory and practice in his specialisation of theatre with equal aplomb and competence. Indeed, he began to make a name as an actor early in life after obtaining his early education at St Luke’s Demonstration School and Molete Methodist High School, respectively, in Ibadan, before he proceeded to the University of Ibadan to study Theatre Arts, a field in which he earned his PhD at the institution. Professor Akinwale commenced his academic career at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, and later moved to the University of Ilorin where he rose to the rank of professor.

A former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Culture at the University of Ilorin, Professor Akinwale was widely respected in the institution as an inspirational father figure and mentor to the hundreds of students that passed through his tutelage. Some of his insightful and socially relevant scholarly articles in reputable journals include ‘From Compound Space to the Living Stage’, ‘Theatre and Democracy in Nigeria’, ‘The Nigerian Theatre and Economic Viability’, ‘Arts Administration in Contemporary Nigeria’ and ‘The Theatre and Nigeria’s new Democratic Environment: A Sociological Overview’.

His dexterity as an actor was demonstrated by his winning the Best Indigenous Actor Award at the 4th Africa Movie Academy Awards. Some of the highly acclaimed films which he either produced or acted in include Sango, Ladepo Omo Adanwo, Clash of the Gods, Iranse Aje and Eti Eketa. The dramatic works in which he was involved were noted for their rich artistic, literary, thematic and production quality. Contrary to many Nollywood films which are criticised for the mediocrity of their themes and story lines, as well as the perverse values they project, Professor Akinwale was committed to the highest professional standards as well as the ethically wholesome influence of his work. His admirers were fascinated by his mastery, both of Yoruba and the English language, his rich repository of Yoruba proverbs, riddles and wise cracks, and the sheer presence of his personality on stage.

A man who adroitly combined his commitment to the academia with active involvement in the life of the community, Professor Akinwale was an embodiment of a productive relationship between the town and the gown. Featuring actively in television and stage dramas since the mid-1970s, the indigene of Oyo State was in the early stages of his career a broadcaster with the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS).

The themes of the dramas that he produced and starred indicate that Professor Akinwale was an avid believer in the transformational power of culture as an instrument for all round development. He was not just a cultural theorist but also contributed practically to the development of the country’s arts and culture. Apart from serving as Chairman of Oyo State Council for Arts and Culture, he was an active participant in several cultural festivals across Nigeria. He has bequeathed to posterity a rich and enduring legacy.

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