Saburi Biobaku

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Saburi Oladeni Biobaku (1918-2001) was a Nigerian scholar and historian who was among a set of Yoruba historians who followed the pioneering effort of Samuel Johnson in setting the foundations of Yoruba historiography and creating reference notes of indigenous African historical literature. [1]

He was a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos and served as a pro-chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University.


Education and early career

Biobaku was born in Igbore, Abeokuta to the family of a prominent Muslim chief and wealthy transporter who bore the initials S.O, same as Saburi. He was educated at Ogbe Methodist Primary School, Abeokuta, the Government College, Ibadan and Yaba Higher College. He also attended Cambridge University for his masters degree and the University of London's, Institute of Historical Research for his Ph.D. He returned to Nigeria thereafter and started his career teaching, he worked as a school master in his former school at Government College, Ibadan. He later became the secretary to the premier of the Western Region, Nigeria. Prior to becoming the Premier's secretary, he was taught by him early on in his primary school days at Abeokuta. Biobaku also served as a registrar of the University of Ibadan. [2]

Later career

In 1957, he wrote a book on his ethnic group, the Egba's, the book was titled: 'The Egba's and their Neighbours', It was originally written as a dissertation but later turned into a 99 page text. He focused on the position of Egba's within historical contexts and factors that effected change in Yorubaland. The book also contained information on Egbaland during the coming of the Christian missionaries in the nineteenth century. At the time, the book was the second Nigerian authored historical study published by the Oxford University Press, after Kenneth Dike's, Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta. He later wrote 'Sources of Yoruba History', published in 1973, and a few other books.

In the early years of Nigeria's independence, while serving in the administration of Awolowo, he advocated an optimistic but cautious approach to Pan-Africanism, believing that the freedom the country fought for and gained with independence should be used early on by the government and many others to nurture the individual African personalities that resides within country especially in matters affecting health, literacy and eliminating poverty. However, he supported the promotion of regional organizations for economic and social aims and the view of Pan Africanism as described by Anthony Enahoro, that it is a consummation devoutly to be wished. [3]

In 1965, he was appointed as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos amidst allegations of ethnic favoritism in the choice of vice chancellors across the country. He was later stabbed by a student radical who believed his appointment was unfair.[4]

In his later years, he was involved in moves to promote Yoruba unity, especially after the demise of General Sani Abacha, he also sought a re-appraisal of the country's political structure, favoring a four tier system of governance, made up of federal, regional, state and local administrations.[5] He also served as the chairman of the Nigerian National Antiques Commission, Nigerian Textile Mills and the editorial board of Encyclopedia Africana.


  • Sources of Yoruba History, Oxford University Press (November 1, 1973). ISBN 0198216696
  • The Egba and their neighbours, 1842-1872. ISBN 9782490954
  • The Living Culture of Nigeria. Biobaku, with Mr Peccinotti. Nelson Publishers (January 1, 1976). ISBN 9781261897


  • 1. ^ F. Abiola Irele. The African Imagination: Literature in Africa & the Black Diaspora, Oxford University Press, 2001. p 254.
  • 2. ^ Rosalynde Ainslie, Catherine Hoskyns, Ronald Segal. Political Africa: A Who's Who of Personalities and Parties, Frederick A. Praeger, 1961. p 38.
  • 3. ^ American Society of African Culture. 'Pan-Africanism Reconsidered', University of California Press, 1962. p 129.
  • 4. ^ Akinniyi Sowunmi. Book Review: Rebels and Crusaders, Newswatch (Lagos), June 6, 2000.
  • 5. ^ Jide Ajani, John Ighodaro and Joannie Ezelioha. The Yoruba agenda in a Federal Nigeria, Vanguard Daily (Lagos), June 23, 2000.