Dr. Olabanji Akinola

Updated: Jan 22

Sorely Missed, but fervently remembered

Rafael Valentini

“We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”

- Chuck Palahniuk


When I first started writing this, I looked at a blank page for quite some time. My mind was as blank as the page. How can one rightfully abridge the astounding effect that the living presence of an individual has had in our lives? However, I have vowed to do my best to pay homage to our venerable professor, and he deserves nothing less.


Frankly, the loss of Olabanji Akinola is a large one. A respected man, father, and professor, Banji was an accomplished and key intellectual figure in our community. He was also a key role model to boost. Even though his achievements are impressive, it was the man himself that was most impressive and endearing. Professor Banji was the type of person that could bring the best out in you in multiple facets. Banji made you feel comfortable and at ease, he was funny, strong-willed, smart, and kind.


There was this warmth that he would elicit in you with every interaction, it just gave you strength. Banji was a positive force in this world. Speaking from personal experience, he contributed to my growth by challenging me intellectually, as well as helping me with issues I had faced at a personal level.


Furthermore, he also enlightened many of us regarding the importance of positive interactions with others. Seeing him remember the small things about all of his students, working so hard to make class engaging, and witnessing the consensus amongst his students that he really cares about every single one of them. He set an example that we should all follow; to be the positive force in as many lives as possible. Professor Banji, we are going to greatly miss you, however we are extremely grateful that you graced our lives, regardless of how short it may seem.


 

Although it is limited, below are just a few samples of the impact he had on some of the people and students he knew:


Yahaya Alphonse – Algoma University Alumni [Biology and political science], Currently attending University of Windsor M.a Political science.

“Dr. Banji and I met for the first time between classes near the speakeasy. After a few more times seeing each other around school, I expressed my interest in studying politics and he encouraged me to try out the political science classes. Dr. Banji eventually helped me in my transition into a poli honors degree. I told him about my educational challenges and life navigation. He shared a bit of his history; his childhood; the challenges he faced going from Nigeria to Switzerland then Canada; and his educational journey. It was him encouraging me to persevere. I think the greatest gift he gave me was giving me the strength to act on my interests in studying political science. Without him, chances are, I may not have acted (or acted too late). He believed in me to succeed in what I was doing. His best quality was his humanity and ability to forge genuine connections with others. We can learn from the virtues that he exhibited; such as love for the community, compassion, patience, and perseverance. To keep his memory alive, (personally) I believe that I must strive to do what he believed I could succeed in and to remember the trust he instilled in me. In general, we must appreciate his tremendous impact; at the moment, it is crucial we especially support his family members.”


Dr. Trevor Tchir - Associate Professor of Political Science; Chair, Department of Law and Politics; Deputy Chair of Senate.

“I first met Dr. Akinola when he applied for the position as professor of International Relations and Comparative Politics at Algoma University. After the first two minutes of his teaching demo, I knew that he was the guy for the job. He made me want to be a student in his class, with his engaging presence and energy! We have had many good professional moments, working together to build the Political Science program, but my fondest memory of Banji was in his first year here when he subbed on my curling team, as a very last-minute favour. We really needed someone to help our team out! It was his first, and I think only, time curling and the fact that he would try it with no apprehension, a difficult sport for beginners, shows a lot about his fun-loving and open spirit. We had a great time getting to know one another better. He also once joined a group of students who surprised me at one of my concerts – another fun moment! And getting the news that he and Abiola had become new parents was a joyful time, too. When I hear stories from students that Banji would ask each one individually, before each seminar, how they were doing, personally, I think I’ll take that with me for a long time. That goes the extra step in making a human connection in the classroom and is exemplary of genuine concern for others. On a different note, he was a student of international conflict and security, and I’ll never forget when he said, “sometimes you can’t solve a conflict, but you can try to manage it.” I think about this idea in many life situations. It’s difficult to name one best quality in Banji. He was very intelligent, hard-working, a family man, a man of faith, worldly, and committed to his students to an unbelievable degree. After all, he once drove through a winter storm, from Sault Ste Marie to Timmins, just to personally meet the class that he was already teaching online. He would personally accompany the LPSS delegation to Model UN, Toronto. And, he finished evaluating all student work in all of his Fall courses, even as his health was failing. That shows tremendous courage, commitment, and dignity. But, above all, it was Banji’s calm and disarming warmth and openness to everyone that was my favourite of his qualities. He simply made people happy to be there. We can live by his excellent example and treat others with respect and care. His students of Political Science, or Law and Justice, or Community and Economic Development, can keep his work alive by living what they learned from him, in graduate studies, on the job, or in their private lives. His students continuing in his line of work can do so with courage and determination, despite this huge loss, as Banji would want them to do. We are also working to establish a scholarship in his honour, to support students and to serve as a memorial to his life and work. Algoma University and Sault Ste Marie were so lucky to have had Banji and his huge contributions for almost four years. He arrived at a critical moment for Political Science, and really was instrumental in helping it grow, and become more worldly. He left an enduring legacy that I will work to help preserve. He left a huge, positive mark on his students and many of his colleagues. We made a great team. I hoped to work with him for decades, and his loss, on a professional and personal level, is immeasurable, really. It was a joy and honour to work with him and to know him as a friend.”


The Law and Politics Student Society & Elizabeth Neish [President].

“Banji was so passionate about his work, and this translated into all that he did, including his help with the LPSS. He was always so willing to help us with whatever we needed. Banji wanted to be involved with our club because he wanted students to have amazing opportunities within their university experience. That is, I think why he was so happy and so willing to help when we told him we were trying to organize our own Model United Nation. Banji made sure that all students were comfortable and pushed us to be our very best, supporting us every step of the way. The greatest gift or lesson he gave us was to be passionate and stay curious. Life is full of things to discover and ideas to explore and discuss so if we have something that we love, go for it. I think that is the best way to keep his memory alive. Further your knowledge and go after those goals that may seem crazy. He believed in us, sometimes more than we believed in ourselves. We are so lucky to have had the experience of knowing him and working alongside him. Every student that he has taught knows how much of an honour it was to be taught by him. He was a truly incredible person who will be greatly missed. “


 

Confidently, I can say that the effect of Olabanji Akinola is present not only in life but also in his passing. Banji has created a ripple in every one of us which will live forever. None of us shall forget this impact we feel in our minds, in our heart of hearts, and right down to our bones. His presence is finely etched in every one of us that was lucky enough to have met him. We owe it to him and to ourselves to keep his memory alive, to follow his example, and to pay it forward. Professor Banji will always live and be remembered through us. I believe that I speak for all of us when I say that he will be sorely missed, but fervently remembered.