Awo is still Relevant

by Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai


Post-Independence Nigeria
Post-independence Nigeria has benefited immensely from the commitment of some Nigerian leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Sardaunna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello.

Of all of them, the inputs of Chief Obafemi Awolowo continue to resonate, decades after his death. He is the most talked about and written about by academic scholars and publicists. This is because Chief Obafemi Awolowo successfully raised political, economic and legal discourss to intellectual levels in Nigeria.

Through international conferences, both in Nigeria and abroad, Awo’s political thoughts are subjects of academic debates. Also, commentaries on his works, about his ideas and deeds keep increasing in volumes through the decades.

The Obafemi Awolowo Foundation has been a veritable source of intellectual activities since it was established. The Foundation has principal agencies made up of a General Assembly, Board of Trustees and The Governing Council. There are also Honorary Grand Patron and Patrons.

Under the editorial prowess of four notable commentators on Nigerian affairs; Olasope O. Oyelaran, Toyin Falola, Mukwugo Okoye and Adewale Thompson, the book “Obafemi Awolowo: The End of an Era?” was published from selected papers from the National Conference, which was held at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Iie-Ife from 4th – 8th October, 1987.

I was a participant at that memorable conference. The book was first published in 1988, by the Obafemi Awolowo University Press Ltd, Ile-Ife. I obtained a copy and read the 975 paged book, carefully and meticulously. It all sank in well and I have ever since admired the subject of the book with deeper respect. In 1997, at the request of the Obafemi Awolowo Awoist Group, I delivered a lecture at the Student Union Hall, entitled, “AWO IS STILL RELEVANT.”

The work forms the first part of this contribution to the bigger effort to be made by some scholars to immortalize “AWO” on March 6, 2013, as commissioned by His Excellency, Ogbemi Rauf Aregbesola, when he visited the University of Bradford to participate in the International seminar on the Future of Africa and the New World Economic Order in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England on 4th November, 2012.

In history, we have observed that great men often come from comparatively insignificant towns like Soweto, Ikenne and Nazareth, to show the light so that the people may find the way.

It has not been with effort and enterprise that Chief Obafemi Awolowo attained great heights in Nigerian Statecraft. In his endeavours, happy times were few and far between but he soldiered on with integrity and strong resolve.

He adroitly turned his viccitudes into flaming passions to develop the material resources that has benefited most Nigerians immensely, especially in the field of education. Western Nigeria in particular and Nigeria in general benefited from his ingenuity than at any previous stages of history.

An important aspect of Awo’s social activism was the creation of employment for the people of the then Western region. He used the regions natural resources for the advancement of the economic progress of the people. He developed facilities for the carriage of goods and merchandise by land and water. There was progress in agriculture, Awo gave the stimulus to seed preservation and farmer education.

The indigenous cloth manufacturing got a shot in the waist when “adire” and other dyed fabrics were promoted through encouraging the local population to wear them. This fashion now has a most intimate connection with Nigerians nationwide. The looms in Abeokuta, Oshogbo and Ibadan have been churning out bales of coloured prints for festive occasions.

Awo’s achievements need not hide their heads in consequence. His fame is met with fierce disputations and which are rife. Even some learned ones have gone so far to say that Awoism is only a myth of imagination fanned by his supporters. I am on safer ground when I decry such pronouncements as ignorant assertions borne out of dislike of the towering image of Awo.

If I need to go further afield, I would refer to Awo’s books on a variety of subjects – economic, law and politics. In writing about Awo, we must confine our statements to reality and leave those alone, who pen their comments based on base spirits. Awo’s memorial succession has been in the able hands of his “jewel”, while the youngest daughter, Dr. Tokunbo-Dosunmu has been blasting the horn to keep his memory alive for many years. Awo’s due recompense lies with the Yoruba elite, who would have remain semi-literate, had Awo not had the foresight to launch the free education scheme.

Characterization of Awolowo
As Akin L. Mabogunje wrote in the Introduction of Awo to the Conference on Chief Obafemi Awolowo: “The End of an Era”, Mabogunje described Awo as a Charismatic Leader. Awo was a bold man, full of convictions about how Nigerians could have organized a national life which could have ensured abundant life for its citizens. Mabogunje heighted “the enormity of his contributions to our emergent nation.”

In his keynote address to the National Conference on Awo at the University of Ife, Professor Akin Mabogunje narrated how Awo’s convocation speech at Ife in which he rejected the November 1973 Census result which erroneously and ingenuously claimed that 52 million Nigerians lived in the northern states while 28 million Nigerians lived in the southern states, dealt a blow to the Gowon Government and caused a cataclysm in Nigerian politics as evidence of his charisma – “a leader to whom exceptional qualities” were attributed. He was “imbued with extraordinary personal talents”, self-discipline and devotion.

His charismatic nature made it easy to sway the crowd at political rallies “His charm; his prestige, his influence, his personal magnetism” led people to express confidence in him. Akin Mabogunje concluded that “the real basis of his legitimate authority in Nigeria was his charisma.”1

Drawing on his early life, Akin Mabogunje, informs us that “the difficulties of having the requisite financial support to get a good education were important factors in the obsessive pre-occupation of Chief Awolowo with free education.” This paucity of means forced him at such an early age to learn to rely almost solely on his instincts and abilities.

Awo had uncanny ability for political mobilization. He was a dogged fighter having learned from struggles with deprivation. His shrewdness is a product of his viccitudes in life. He wrote in his biography that he was one time or another “a teacher, a shorthand typist, a clerk, a reporter-in-training, a money lender, a transporter and a produce-buyer. By the time he undertook the last two of these occupations, his leadership qualities and organisational abilities were starting to manifest themselves”2. He was noted as having been the founder of the Ibadan branch of both the Nigerian Motor Transport Union and the Nigerian Produce Traders’ Association serving as National Assistant Secretary-General of the former and the Secretary of the Ibadan branch of the later. In 1936, he was elected Secretary of the Ibadan branch of the Nigerian Youth Movement4. The nation-wide political quest for freedom from colonial rule gained acceleration towards independence. By October 3, 1946, he had passed his law examinations and on November 18, 1946, he was called to the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple3. Within a year of that event, he had published the first of the books which were to set down

for prosperity, his vision for the political future of Nigeria and of the ways and means of securing such a future4. Standing on his political platform, he inaugurated and pushed forward the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, which galvanized the Yoruba race to be active participants in Nigerian national life. However, a careful observation of the impact of that movement yields both positive and negative emotions.

To the rest of Nigerians, the Yorubas have the strong conviction that “temi temi ni, tewa tewa ni.” Some people have frowned at this Yoruba trait but every ethnic group have their own faults. Under Awo’s charismatic influence, he used the Egbe Omo Oduduwa to raise funds and launch scholarship programmes that assisted in educating the Yoruba elite that have featured prominently in Nigeria’s political and social life.

Chief Awolowo, as a legal luminary participated very dutifully and actively in the constitutional development of Nigeria. He critically examined the Richard’s Constitution and the Macpherson Constitution. He used the ensuing debates on Nigeria’s political direction to launch and nurture the Action Group, which came to power in Western Nigeria. His government initiated the free primary education. The sheer magnitude of the project was such that some of its products were not as well-groomed as one would have expected. He lost the opportunity to lead the country but served meritoriously as the Leader of the Federal opposition. He got into trouble with the Government and was jailed.

He was later released by General Yakubu Gowon and was appointed the Vice Chairman of the National Executive Council and Federal Minister of Finance. He served the nation well and also managed our national resources creditably.

The Potency of Awo’s Political Beliefs
The political thoughts of Chief Obafemi Awolowo were recorded in his ten books. The influence of Max Weber can be felt in his democratic socialist ideas, which in colonial and neo-colonial Nigeria were rebuffed by British intelligence and their cultural imperialism. Part of his political problems stemmed from the adroit use of intelligence at the time to sabotage ideas and ideologies that were deemed revolutionary or anti-colonialism.

A Commentary on Awo’s Literary Endeavours
One would be embarking upon an audacious academic enterprise were on to attempt a full review of Chief Awolowo’s books and recorded speeches in a work of this type. The works were both didactic and eclectic. I find his three-volume selected speeches more robust, pungent and they directly posited and adumbrated events in emerging Nigeria that swayed a lot of politicians and academics as they debated post-independence issues relevant to nation-building.

A close look at the ever-present problems of Nigeria at every level of statecraft, shows that AWO IS STILL RELEVANT –


Purpose in Life
Unlike many military politicians, who dabbled into politics for the gains they envisaged that political office would yield, Chief Obafemi Awolowo searched for an found his purpose in life. He identified his purpose in life in politics.

Chief Awolowo was a very busy man. As David Thorean said, “It is not enough to be busy, Ants are busy. The question we should ask is what are we busy about?” Awo was pre-occupied with statecraft. He worked out strategies and detailed tactics to fulfill his purpose. He knew he was alive for a purpose and so never waivered. I entirely agree with Myles Munroe when he wrote that “his tours show that the value of life decreases and the quality of existence diminishes when a generation loses its sense of destiny and purpose. He worked for both personal and spiritual advancement.

The difference between failed politicians and those who excelled is that the latter were predestined to succeed in front of all odds. There was a yawning gap between his travails and his accomplishments, satisfaction and unimaginable feeling of actually finishing what he started. The fact that he did not become Nigeria’s President is trite. Awo understood Habakkuk when Habakkuk said, “The vision is for an appointed time, though it may seem slow wait patiently, for it will surely not be delayed” Habakkuk 2:3.

Awo’s destiny and purpose rhymed with what the Bible said in Romans 8:29 which underline the significance of God’s purpose in the lives of successful people, who have contributed meaningfully to the progress of the race. Awo’s level of thinking was, from prevailing evidence far beyond the Nigeria he lived in and his views, opinions and convictions continue to be relevant to Nigeria’s political economy. As Nigel Maclennan said, “Vision has an end point of eight to twenty years in the future (1999).

Awo was glued as it were, to his destiny. His destiny was defined by his purpose. He seemed to have been designed to rule. God must have had a strong hand placed on him. He had known him before Okenne and received the baby boy, with piercing eyes. As we read from the Holy Bible, “For whom he foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, who He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”

Although glory is the Lord’s preserve, He often benevolently bestows blessing to whom He calls for a purpose, especially if that calling is for the leadership of God’s people. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo invited me to his 33A Apapa residence in 1978, he told me about his political strategies to win the presidency but frankly lamented the subtle intervention in Nigerian politics by Britain. He said that they have never wanted him to govern Nigeria because of his social democratic convictions.

When in 1987, he came to unveil his statue at the Obafemi Awolowo University, he spoke briefly about his struggles in the language of St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight of faith, I have finished the race.”

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