According to the Roman thinker, Plotinus (AD 204-274), “Knowledge has three degrees, opinion, science, illumination. The means of the instrument of the first is sense, of the second dialectics, of the third intuition.”
Chief Obafemi Awolowo believed in the power of knowledge, both its acquisition and strict application. He was both a thinker and developmental pragmatist.
As soon as the Military Government announced that the ban on political activities had been lifted, in 1978, Chief Obafemi Awolowo assembled a galaxy of politicians and within a few months had built a formidable political party, the Unity Party of Nigeria.
The party produced a manifesto that exhaustively analyzed Nigerian societal, constitutional and economic problems and proffered detailed solutions to our malaise.
AWO’s views and his proffered solutions are still relevant today. On March 6,, 1997, I delivered a lecture under the auspices of the Ife Students Union, a vibrant organization of advanced youth thinkers titled, AWO IS STILL RELEVANT. I also delivered a similar lecture at the Ikenne Town Hall, under the Chairmanship of the JEWEL.
Encounter with Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
On a bright morning in July 1978 one Nathie, a printer from Imo State, who handled the Unity Party printing jobs, came to my office at the Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation, in Lagos. He informed me that Chief Obafemi Awolowo had asked him to invite me to meet with him, at 9am, on 15th July 1978.
When I arrived at No, 33A Park Lane, Apapa, I was received by Chief H.I.D Awolowo, who told me that Chief Awolowo would be down soon. I was surprised at the modest furnishings in the sitting-room.
I braced up and I was re-assured of my preparedness because I had read some of AWO’s books. Within minutes, the Sage came down, shook my hand warmly and beamed a captivating smile. He told me that he had read my article which was published in the Sunday Times of Nigeria, entitled,”The Voters Resolution”.
I told the Chief that I had re-read his “Path to Nigeria’s Freedom”, an outspoken and didactic presentation of an acute case for Nigeria’s march to freedom. We discussed extensively.
I asked him why his former political associates like Mazi Sam Ikoku; Chief Anthony Enahoro broke with him. He smiled broadly. He explained that in politics divergent views were bound to formulate and transform into convictions there may lead to misgivings on the part of one man, which may not be clear to the other. An aggrieved party may not wish to speak out and so the gulf widens.”All these are part of the human problem.” He said.
He stood up, produced a copy of the speech he was yet to deliver in order to clarify some misconceptions and try to win back some of his political associates.
We discussed the Action Group crisis, his trial and his political experiences. He told me that he respected Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe a lot and had learnt from him. He said that he loved people with character and who were not shamed to suffer humiliation for their beliefs. He respected Gandhi.
Politicians, he said, often sought new advantages and positions. He recalled the Igbo proverb which says that “one does not stand in one place to watch a masquerade.”
He lamented the growing influence of multi-national companies in the economy. He applauded the indigenization of the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy. He feared that future governments may weaken the process because some Nigerian politicians were not ideologically matured enough to adopt patriotic stances.
I came out with an indelible impression that AWO was an avatar, a developed soul; a master. His ability to sway the crowd was mystical. “He was a charismatic leader,” as Professor Akin Mabogunje posited at a National Conference which was held at the Obafemi Awolowo University, which took place from the 4th to 8th of October 1987.The Conference was held to discussed the political, legal, philosophical, economic educational thoughts of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Unfortunately, some of AWO’s disciples from the West did not possess the intellectual capacity to sustain AWOISM. They took the benefits but could not carry the enormous burden of propagating his political thoughts.
Professor Akin Mabogunje was an associate of Chief Awolowo. In his key-note address, at the Ife Conference, he spotted the difficulty in determining “in which sense the death of Chief Awolowo could be construed as the end of an era and in what sense it is not”.
Where did the death of Awolowo leave Nigeria as an emerging Confederal Republic? Awo favoured national dialogue to enable Nigerians express themselves, forge alliances and put forward practical solutions to national problems.
That he became the main issue in Nigerian politics is not surprising since he ebulliently confronted Nigerian problems with conviction, learnedness and thoroughness. These qualities were shaped by a difficult childhood without the guiding hand of a father.
There was a rise and fall in business and tough opposition from his rivals. Between the ages of 17-35, Chief Awolowo was a clerk, a short-hand typist, a teacher, a reporter-in-training, a money-lender, a transporter and a produce buyer.
Intellectually, he imbibed the theories of Max Weber, Harold Laski and Karl Marx. He was a democrat socialist. In his lectures and interviews, he clarified the misconception about socialism. As a result of misinformation and disinformation, which the Western press implanted in the Western educated Oxbridge cadre, who manned the Nigerian civil service, the legal profession and the educated elite, at the time, the topic was taboo.
Their ignorance of the subject has so fossilized that it is futile to debate the inherent advantages and disadvantages of the socialist system with the apostles of capitalism. Even the Chinese success has not influenced their recalcitrance.
Awo defended the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, putting Yoruba first and Nigeria second, in the scheme of things. He reminded me that “Charity begins at home.”I added that otherwise. Miss Charity will not find a suitable husband to pound” Iya” for. The Chief laughed loud and for a long time.
In the field of education, AWO surpassed other Nigerian political leaders, although, the products of the free education policy were often so deficient that the effect is still being felt in Nigeria. His educational policy produced two types of graduates.
There is the world class, highly intelligent, well cultivated group and the “rascally” semi-lucid, tribalistic, egoistical type.
Refinement of the intellect is very important for the advancement of society. Many Nigerians are not cultured. Go to Ghana and see culture in human conduct! The Nigerian elite are not sophisticated which is why their wives divorce them, in spite of the stolen wealth they brandish.
Awo was a first class family man.
Since Awo’s demise, his lieutenants have not been able to advance his legacy. His daughter, Dr. Mrs Tokunbo Dosumu has tried to maintain his intellectual image through the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation lectures. The Nigerian Tribune has regularly appeared on news-stands since 1949, propagating in journalistic fashion, Awo’s visions.
Awo was a journalist, whose articles were seldom accepted because of his candid views. Those sent abroad,” came back with the solemn regularity as I had dispatched them “Awo wrote.
Even today, some newspapers and some editors on the take, refuse to use some articles that might offend government or their overseas sponsors. Regular associations with embassy officials and government operatives are the cardinal reason for this restriction on the freedom of information.
Contributors to the Tribune newspaper have addressed the multiple problems of under-development, lack of national direction, susceptibility to imperialist exploitation and control, etc.This has now intensified in Nigeria.
Szetes had remarked in his “Political Economy of Underdevelopme
nt”, 1973 at page 19 that the attempt in Nigeria at nationalisation did not provide the solution, because the Nigerian state was neo-colonial, the government and its civil service pursued neo-colonial policies, on behalf of the comprador colonial elites, who themselves were controlled by monopolies.
The main thrust of the disaster we have faced is that any intervention by the Nigerian State to intervene in the national economy has been to protect foreign monopoly capital and their allies. It has been observed that each time a Nigerian government tried to steer the national economy away from neo-colonial manipulation and control, external forces were unleashed with the assistance of well-entrenched and well-known compatriots to discredit such a regime.
It happened during the regime of Murtala Mohammed and Buhari/Idiagbon regime.
If Awo had his way and was allowed to rule Nigeria, he would have put his education, commitment and vision to good use.
Awo stressed that the value of education was inestimable.” The value of education cannot be quantified. Yet, for many years now ,the colleges and universities in Nigeria have been left to manage in unfavourable circumstances. Aided by the human base factors, and lacking in systemic provisions, the degeneracy became accelerated.
Confused and confusing remedial policies proved unhelpful. So, the crisis deepened. Divergent interests, the activities of tribal henchmen and hatchet technocrats, including favour and fortune-seeking academics, amassed disruptive factors that damaged the universities.
The rudimentary functions of universities have been replaced by capricious and mundane pursuits. Painfully, any rational suggestions as to how to move the system forward is thwarted by birds of passage, who perch on undigested policies and they often have their say and their way with their untested, subjective views on education. Wanton subversion on dialogue creates problems for consensus-building.
Suspicion of each others motives increase rather than extinguish the cauldron in universities. Thus, the yawning academic problems that are prevalent in the universities remain unresolved.
This leads to wastage of precious time and deaths do occur when the students are forced to travel after closures of the universities.
Ethnicity, group dynamics. Contractorism, intolerance,”eba wa she”, which one would ordinarily not expect from institutions of higher learning are rampant.
“The university tradition, one of the richest and finest products of man’s inventive genius has been desecrated by the prevailing ethos of conditioning.
A strange alliance between mediocre and scholars tolled the bell of the last days in the ivory towers. No university can boast of a race of great educational thinkers, if the culture of ethnic back-scratching explains everything.
The besetting weakness in a system that thrives on cronyism, ethnic considerations, and group dynamics is that paper-tigers terrorize loftier performers.” (See, THE VALUE OF EDUCATION in AWO IS STILL RELEVANT, 1997)
Education, AWO believed is everybody’s right. Assessments of nations are based on the seriousness with which their governments pursue education. Everyone, ideally, should get enlightenment at a university, if his intellectual abilities permit.
Professor Akin Mabogunje in appraising the life of the late Chief Awolowo, at the Conference on AWO, sought “to evaluate the nature and durability of his influence on and contribution to our national life.”
I still wear “the exhilarating excitement” of being the founder of the Critical Legal School at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University.
The present political campaigns fall short of the standards evinced at this crucial period, when Nigeria needs a surgical turn-around.
I cherish the memory of my cognominal association with a Nigerian leader, whose political, economic and legal thoughts are still relevant to our Confederal Republic that is groping for direction and is “in a state of inertia.”