The late Professor (Mrs.) Josephine Olufunlayo Abiodun was born in Ijebu-Imushin on May 1, 1936 to Late Pa Stephen Adenaike and Late Omo Oba Mary Adenaike (nee Taiwo). Her mother was the daughter of the Late Isaac Taiwo, the Obalufe of Ijebu-Ife and his wife Seraphina Bodunrin Taiwo. After completing her primary and secondary education, she attended St. Agnes College, Maryland Ikeja, Lagos and graduated in 1956 with a Teachers’ Grade II certificate. She was the senior prefect of the school from 1955 to 1956.
After a spell as a tutor at St. Agnes College, Maryland from 1957 – 1958, and with the encouragement of her soon to be spouse, she proceeded to pursue a B.A (honors) degree in Geography from Girton College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England (1961-1964) with specialization in Urban Geography. Her quest to advance her knowledge took her to Columbia University, New York, USA, where she obtained the M.Phil and Ph.D Degrees with specialization in Regional Development Planning.
In 1968, Prof. Abiodun and her husband late Professor Rufus Adetunji Abiodun, moved back to Nigeria to join the employment of the then University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria (now Obafemi Awolowo University). She taught Urban Geography and Regional Development Planning at both undergraduate and post graduate levels. Several generations of students who passed through her academic tutelage can attest to her depth of knowledge in the field of Geography.
She had an astounding career at the institution and was renowned for academic excellence, having numerous articles in Urban Geography and Regional Development Planning published in many reputable national and international conferences journals, to her credit. In addition, she participated at many national conferences, where she delivered quality papers that contributed greatly to boost the image and ranking of the university, both at the national and international level. She also supervised many M.Sc and Ph.D students, and was also a visiting assistant Professor, Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. USA, 1975 – 1976. In 1984, she became the Head of the Department of Geography, as well as the first indigenous female Professor at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the first female Professor of Geography in Nigeria.
She was elected Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences of the same University 1989- 1991, making her the first female Dean of the University. She was later appointed as Chairman Committee of Deans by her fellow Deans in 1989. This also made her the first female Chairman, committee of Deans at Obafemi Awolowo University. As Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Prof. Abiodun was responsible to the Senate of the University for the overall day-to-day academic and administrative activities of the faculty, which had six departments.
As Chairman, committee of Deans, she was responsible for monitoring the academic program of departments in the university, as well as overseeing the implementation of the University’s policy. She also chaired the processing of Examination results of all Departments and Faculties for senate approval. Also, between 1989-1991, she was the Chairman, University Finance Sub-Committee.
This committee was responsible to the committee of Deans, and thence to senate for allocating financial support for Learned Conferences and for University Scholarships. From January, 1992 to July, 1994, Prof. J.O. Abiodun was elevated to the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, thus becoming the first female to attain such enviable position both at Obafemi Awolowo University and in any of the Nigerian Universities. As Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), she was in charge of monitoring the academic programs approved by the University Senate for Departments and Faculties. At that time, they were eighty-five (85) departments, thirteen (13) Faculties and six (6) Colleges within the University, and the overall Coordination of these units rested solely on Prof. Abiodun – the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) from August 1, 1992 to July 31, 1994. During this period, she also functioned as the acting ViceChancellor on several occasions when the substantive Vice-Chancellor was away.
She was at some point the Chairman, University Research Committee. This committee was saddled with the responsibility of deliberating on research proposals from members of the University Academic Staff, for funding and proposals, as approved by the University Senate, under the National University Commission’s Grant Scheme. She later became the Director, Centre for Industrial Research and Development, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in February, 1997.
Records are there to show that under her leadership, the fortunes of the center changed from a state of near collapse, to a vibrant Unit. Beyond her great exploits at the citadel of learning, Prof. Abiodun also contributed tremendously to the advancement of Geography in Nigeria and across the world. She was chairperson, Regional Planning Committee of the Nigerian Geographical Association from 1982 – 1993. She organized the inaugural Seminar of the Committee on Regional Development in Nigeria in February 1980. She subsequently organized several other seminars and conferences in her fields of specialization. She participated in the multi-Regional project on Urban Development and the environment organized by the United States Department of Education and Cultural Affairs, and the Center for Metropolitan Planning and Research, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA from March 10 to April 10, 1974.
She also took part at the Third Advanced Studies Institute in Regional Science, Karisruhe, Germany, in August 1974, to mention but a few. Among the distinctions and awards she received were the following: Cambridge University, David Richards Award, Cambridge University, England, 1962 Griton College, Cambridge University Travel Scholarship, 1963 Federal Government Scholarship for Postgraduate Study 1964 -1966 Commonwealth Scholar, 1964 Federal Government Scholarship for Postgraduate study 1964 -1966 Invited to become an Honorary Fellow of the American Geographical Society, “Because of the geographical significance of your studies”, October 1968 President’s Fellow, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. USA, 1976 – 1977 Awarded the honorary citizenship of the Great state of Nebraska, USA at a civic reception at the City Hall, Omaha, Nebraska, USA March 25, 1974 Member, Governing Council, National Universities Commission, 1993 – 1994 First Vice-President, Social Sciences Council of Nigeria, 1994 – 1996 President, Social Sciences Council of Nigeria, 1996 – 1997 Cited in Newswatch Who’s Who in Nigeria 1st Edition, 1990 Cited in Science, Woman and the developing world, Third World Organization for women in Science (TWOWS) Trieste, Italy, 1999 Prof. J. O. Abiodun retired after a meritorious career as an outstanding academic, particularly at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
She was a doting mother who cared for and nurtured her immediate and extended children, as well as everyone around her, to become successful members of the society. She was also a devout Christian who served God committedly. She also played active roles in community service. She passed-on on Friday, 23 October, 2020 at the age of 84. She is survived by children and grandchildren. Funeral Mass was held on Friday, November 6, 2020 at 10.00AM at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Catholic Church, Victoria Island, Lagos. The Mass was officiated by Very Rev. Fr. Julius Olaitan, Parish Priest, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Catholic Church, Victoria Island and Very Rev. Fr. Michael Okonkwo.