Obafemi Awolowo: The Man That Never Died by Odusote Oluwakayode
My literary mentor Prof. Wole Soyinka wrote a book titled “The Man Died”. The book was not titled to be captivating for readers’ attraction, the title was inspired by the nature of oppression Nigerians faced during those periods of military dictatorship.
“The man died in whom, who shrinks in the face of oppression”.
I admire Prof. Wole Soyinka’s ways of communicating with the minds through his creative works and writings. His own ways are not much different from the ways of another mentor of mine, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo.
I have taken some time to commune with Papa Awolowo in my personal study. I have successfully connected with his spirit to learn, share and understand his thoughts on morals, politics, spirituality and discipline. The connection has been through the several books (not all books) written by Awolowo himself.
The name Awolowo till date carries weight in the political choice of the Yoruba people of Nigeria because of the outstanding and yet to be surpassed achievements of the late Chief Awolowo. The feeling is strong and the belief is that so far you are in the Awoist group; you’ll complement the good tidings Awolowo laid.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo (March 6, 1909 – May 9, 1987) was one of Nigeria’s founding fathers. He was a native of Ikenne in Ogun State (south west) of Nigeria, he started his career as a nationalist in the Nigerian Youth Movement like some of his pre-independence contemporaries and was responsible for many of the progressive social legislations that have made Nigeria a modern nation. He was an active journalist and trade unionist as a young man.
After earning a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Nigeria from a London University through correspondence, he went to the UK where he earned a law degree from London School of Economics. While there, he founded the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a pan-Yoruba cultural society, which set the stage for the formation of the Action Group, a liberal and nationalist political party.
As the Leader of the Group, he represented the Western Region in all the constitutional conferences intended to advance Nigeria on the path to independence. He was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1959, and was the official Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament to the Balewa government from 1959 to 1963.
In addition to all these, Awolowo was the first individual in the modern era to be referred to as Leader of the Yoruba (Asiwaju Omo Oodua), a title which has come over time to be conventionally ascribed to his direct successors as the recognized political leader of the elders and young members of the Yoruba clans of Nigeria (Afenifere).
As premier, he was a man of vision and a dynamic administrator. Awolowo was also the country’s leading social democratic politician. He believed that the state should channel Nigeria’s resources into education and state-led infrastructural development.
Awolowo introduced so many first in the history of Nigeria and Africa amongst several developmental programmes:
- Free and mandatory primary education for all in the Western Region,
- Established the WNTV, the first television station in Africa in 1959 ( Now NTA),
- Established the Oduduwa Group, all of which were financed from the highly lucrative cocoa industry which was the mainstay of the regional economy.
- Provision of free health services till the age of 18
- Integrated rural development
- Full employment
- He built the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, the first of its kind in Africa
- Erected the first skyscraper in tropical Africa: the Cocoa House (still the tallest in Ibadan)
From the eve of independence, he led the Action Group as the Leader of the Opposition at the federal parliament, leaving Samuel Ladoke Akintola as the Western Region Premier. Serious disagreements between Awolowo and Akintola on how to run the western region led the latter to an alliance with the Tafawa Balewa-led NPC federal government. A constitutional crisis led to a declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region, eventually resulting in a widespread breakdown of law and order.
Awolowo and his party were subjected to depend on uncertain premises with exclusion from national government. On the other hand, Akintola’s followers, angered at their exclusion from power, formed the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) under Akintola’s leadership. Having previously suspended the elected Western Regional Assembly, the federal government then reconstituted the body after new elections that brought Akintola’s NNDP into power.
Afterwards Awolowo and his several disciples were arrested, charged, convicted and jailed for conspiring to overthrow the federal government. He was later to claim in a letter written to General Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966, how he had been approached in the Calabar Prison by emissaries of the government a number of times and asked to among others dismantle his own Action Group in exchange for his release and a deputy prime minister’s position – an offer he refused.
The remnants of the Action Group fought the National election of 1965 in alliance with the largely Igbo, and south-eastern NCNC . Amid accusations of fraud from the NCNC-AG camp, the NPC-NNDP won the election; the AG supporters reacted with violent riots in some parts of the Western region (Operation weti e).
The fall out of the whole crisis led to the first military coup led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu.
Due to the largely perceived tribal sentiments, a counter coup that followed saw to the emergence of Col. Gowon as military head of state.
His administration freed and pardoned Awolowo. He was much later appointed the Federal Commissioner of Finance and Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council.
Odia Ofeimun stated in his detailed article titled “The Forgotten Documents of the Nigerian Civil War where he shed light on the principled financial and moral discipline of the late sage “…as it turned out, and as Obasanjo has told the story, Chukwuma Nzeogwu was the intelligence officer who was attached to the efforts to unravel the veracity of the charges in the Coker Commission and Treasonable Felony trial.
He was obviously privy to the discovery made by the Coker Commission that Awolowo kept a good account: that he had more money before he became a Premier of western Region than he had in his account after eight years of living in his own house, not in the state house, and spending his own money on entertainment”.
Although, Awolowo failed to win the 1979 and 1983 presidential elections of the Second Republic, he polled the second highest number of votes and his policies of free education and health were carried out throughout all the states controlled by his party, the Unity Party of Nigeria.
“Awoism” entered Nigeria’s political lexicon to complement the populist political philosophy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which encompasses welfare programs among which are free education, free medical services, integrated rural development and full employment with which he painstakingly administered the old Western Region from 1952-1959.
One of his lieutenants, Chief Ayo Opadokun, who worked closely with Awolowo as the Deputy Director of Organisation of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), had this to say “for eight years, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo presided over an administration that has remained a model and benchmark in Africa as the Premier of the defunct Western Region. Although his dream of becoming federal Chief Executive was abortive, he has remained a legend of ideas, vision, courage and integrity.”
Part of his agitation was the advocacy for federalism under a parliamentary system of government and a political ideology of democratic socialism. He led the Action Group with clear vision, discipline and organized colleagues.
Twenty six years after Awolowo’s demise, he is still being remembered for his remarkable integrity, principled & virile opposition and dogged federalistic convictions. He allowed his service to be above self. He is credited with coining the name ‘naira’ for the Nigerian standard monetary unit and helped to finance the Civil War and preserve the federation without borrowing.
Awolowo had large followership nationwide. Odia ofeimun in explaining the rationale for Awolowo’s followership by young hopefuls said “…this is the point in the narrative where questions are usually raised about the Awolowo factor: whether he was privy to what the coup makers planned to do with him. Easily dismissed but not scorched is that the soldiers had good reasons for wanting Awolowo above all other living politicians in the country at that time.
There was a FREE AWO movement into which even political opponents had plugged for relevance. Since Awolowo began to suffer the series of house arrests and detentions, before the eventual jail term was confirmed by the Supreme Court, his voice, which consistently defended the poor and the underprivileged had been missing in national affairs. Younger radicals remembered Awolowo’s opposition to the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact, his consistent defence of the rule of law, his unflagging pursuit of social welfare policies against the economics of waste which characterized the capitalist road that Nigeria was taking, and the general slowness in responding to the struggle in the rest of Africa to eliminate colonialism and set Africa free.
The Hansards of the Federal House of representatives in Lagos reveal the valiant efforts that Awolowo had made to change the street-beggar economy that Nigeria ran, his opposition to undiluted private enterprise, and his general resistance to the various attempts, to sell a newspaper gag law, a preventive detention act, and the general de-federalization of the country. Anyone knowing these would not be surprised that the younger radicals in the country were on Awolowo’s side. Awolowo himself had brought in many young radical elements like SG Ikoku, Bola Ige, Samuel Aluko, Oluwasanmi, Bankole Akpata and others to his side who were generally viewed as socialists involved in creating a better future for the country.
This is what Ojukwu means when he says that Awolowo was a hero. The circle of young radicals were enthused by the presence of Segun Awolowo, just returned from law studies in Britain, who was fresh air in the circles in which Awolowo was seen as a brand to be emulated. Segun’s death in a motor accident during his trials won his father the sympathy of this younger generation. The most well known poets in Nigeria, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo and JP Clark wrote poems at that time that have served as witnesses to travails of the man and his times…”
Awolowo was a man of the people-masses.
So many disciples especially in the South-West have continued to invoke his name and the policies of his party, the Action Group, during campaigns to gain electoral advantage. His welfarist policies have influenced politicians in most of the other geopolitical zones of the nation to performing.
Awolowo was not just a politician, he was also an author of several publications on the political structure and future prospects of Nigeria. He communicated his vision, ideas, and philosophy through the pen. Therefore, the philosophy “Awoism” is not just limited to the political circle but robustly greased by intellectual prowess as a resource for social, economic, political growth and development.
No other Nigerian politician living or dead has matched up to the literary and Intellectual prowess of the late sage.
The philosophy termed “AWOISM” is embedded in the spirit of exemplary integrity, self discipline, welfarism and astute leadership.
His welfarist ideas were based on the premise that programmes, policies, decisions and/or rules should be evaluated on the basis of their consequences on the governed with the masses occupying the majority and that the morally significant consequences are impacts on human thus he propounded ideas that had human face.
Awolowo personified every structure of government. He treated such government structures (Socio-Economy) with dignity and care because failure on any part will have dire consequences on others and fatal effect on the governed.
Awolowo’s leadership qualities and style were outstanding. He influenced others through inspiration, generated by a passion and ignited by a genuine and sincere purpose of service.
He was never a lord over the governed. He demonstrated the passion and willingness to serve and he served responsibly.
Awolowo never became super rich over night. He labored and lived with respect for other people’s moral and financial happiness.
All of Awolowo’s achievements were basically refined by the principles of good governance.
Government is not a personal institution hence, the need to guide it well to meet the expectations of trust as entrusted by the governed.
The principle of Good governance is acknowledged to be essential for the success of any Nation; therefore, leaders at the helm of affair play a vital role in serving their causes and communities through committed passion as well as skills and experience to the instruments of governance and the governed.
The principle of good governance enhances the provision of long term vision and protects the reputation and values of a Nation. To make a difference just like Awolowo did, a politician needs to have proper procedures and policies in place.
The Principle of good governance ensures the delivery of welfarist promises made through a team that is accountable, sincere and astute.
A believer in Awolowo’s philosophy is not known by word of mouth or long time relationship with the late sage or his family, he is known by the delivery of necessary basic amenities that make a country grow as exemplified by the sage himself.
We are no longer a young nation, therefore, the need to set aside childish belief and sentiments. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift like Awo laid – that noble idea of a welfarist philosophy where the governed are respected through the “endowed God-given promise that all are equal” and therefore deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness from the governing leader.
Power is never a gift but a responsibility.
Sadly, the decay we battle with today is that of corruption (not only financial) at all levels. We remain naturally endowed, blessed with active youth of over 50million, yet our workers are not as productive as the era of our founding fathers’ exploit in productive industry and agriculture (cocoa and the groundnut pyramid), our morals of character are questionable due to the chronic effect of poverty.
The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift- to create new jobs, to lay a strong foundation for growth and development. To build the roads and bridges, to increase our electricity capacity for manufacturing, to encourage science for inventions and technology development, to raise health care’s quality and lower cost if not made free, to harness the beauty agriculture provides for a nation and to transform our schools – polytechnics, universities and colleges of Education to meet the demands of intellectual acquisition.
All this were the mainstream of Awolowo’s commitment to the governed.
For as much as we expect government to positively perform, it is ultimately the faith and determination of we Nigerians upon which this nation relies. It is the will to participate in our political development, the selflessness of workers whose commitment to service is key to growth and the Elite’s reasoning that the country belongs to all and not to some wealthy few.
Our politicians, political parties and proclaimed Awoist must realize that the challenges of democracy may be new to us but the instruments with which we meet them are not.
Our successes depend on the values of honesty, courage, fair play, tolerance, loyalty, sincerity, dedication and patriotism. These things are true within our minds. They have been the quiet force of progress for a developed Nation. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.
There is need for Nigerian electorates to elect qualified candidates based on quality of programmes proposed. Our politics should be based on reality of issues than the slogan of vaguest.
Our purpose is to elect people that will boost development in our country and not to elect someone whose selfish wealth drive is the purpose of governance.
It is pertinent we take a cue from the words of the late Ikemba Nnewi Odumegwu Ojuwkwu that “A nation is as great as her leaders, so in choosing our leaders, we must exercise great care that the right person is chosen to lead. We must not confuse silence for wisdom, prominence for pre-eminence, good looks for efficiency, bravado for courage.
As the world celebrates his posthumous birthday on the 6th of March, I am happy to state that the man Obafemi Awolowo is still alive.
For us therefore, I hope we’ll accept that ‘The Man Died” in whom who shrinks in the face of corrupt practices!
I am @Actionkay on twitter
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