Obafemi Awolowo and Nigeria’s latter-day progressives

by Abiodun Komolafe
awolowo obafemi

There’s an awe of a legend; and this awe is fed or fuelled by the happenings in the life of that legend. When Obafemi Awolowo said certain things during his lifetime, subsequent events could only be explained and substantiated, at times, by the metaphysical analysis of those events. Take, for instance, when the late sage was being taken to prison, he told the Abubarkar Tafawa Balewa-led government that he was going “from this twilight into the darkness, with a brave heart, with confident hope, and … unshaken in” his “trust in the Providence of God that a glorious dawn will come on the morrow.” Well, though that sounded like a dreadful statement, it came to pass! As fate would have it, the government that put Awolowo in prison was repudiated, and he got out and continued his life as destined!

That said, we have always had this prevalent, seemingly pervasive problem which is the major growth challenge for the developing world. Due to the fact that our people can read – and have always read – about London, they will always make a demand on the leadership for the London experience to miraculously show up in Nigeria. When this fails to materialize – more so as things don’t work like that – the government is blackmailed for incompetence. Awolowo was never judged based on incompetence or otherwise by his local colleagues but by what Winston Churchill or other American presidents could or could not do; and that’s a problem because social formation and leadership give birth to social reality.

Leadership is also about how a system can be rejuvenated, not the noise of the people. But then, leadership with focused vision is very rare. And where it exists, the kind of weight that’s always exerted on it affects what it does. In other words, if the expectation of voters is magic, then leadership will tend towards magic. For instance, Awolowo picked education because he thought society would be better for it. He was not alone in this belief! Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore did believe in education, too! But, while Singapore is a country, Awolowo’s Western Region was a sectional part of Nigeria. All the same, the ingredients were the same while the implementation was different. Unfortunately, while Nigeria also had the vision of education and what it could do, she is, as we speak, far from Singapore. And that’s the major problem!

Here in Nigeria, aware of Awolowo’s patriotic and pragmatic advancement strategies in the education sector in the West, Ahamadu Bello thought – and, rightly so – that the only way Bello’s North could catch up with Awo’s West was to take some drastic steps. Needless to repeat that it was what led to the establishment of the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria! Till date, the institution of higher learning ranks among the best globally.

During his time, Awolowo tended towards the progressive bent. He belonged to a class totally different from the class of people in today’s world. His ilk belonged to a different class, both in physique and spiritual combo. In their time, once they were determined to do something, they would never renege. Once they said something, they’d think about it, unlike this generation that speaks without thinking, or thinks without uttering a word! For example, had Liberty Stadium exerted pressure on the government and public administration to build stadia that would not only dust the 1960 edifice but also measure up to world standard, Nigeria would by now be among the countries favoured to successfully host the World Cup. But, unfortunately, nobody has ever thought of that, or invented a stadium that would rival what Awolowo did in Ibadan. None yet! Not even the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos! Not even in Abuja!

The fear now is: should Awolowo and Bola Ige wake up from their eternal sleep, the duo would certainly have things to share that would not be totally destructive of today’s world order! And, the truth is: a lot has changed from the time Awo was here, even before the ‘Cicero of Esa-Oke’ joined him in the afterlife. Yes, something was central; and it’s binding these two great men together! That’s education. For example, Awolowo would never suffer fools gladly nor would Ige hobnob with silly hypocrites and false brethren who ‘value titles without realizing that mantles are more honourable than titles.’ His spirit would have sent them off at first contact.

According to biographers, the word, ‘progressive’, is a controversial term. Since the Shakespearean tragedies and all that, there has been no known human character formation or classification that fits into it by any man born of a woman. It’s either he is progressive in the morning, a reactionary in the afternoon or a pragmatist in the evening. Impliedly, even if one is a classical progressive, one’s entire life will never fit into that prescription. So, what these ancient philosophers have said in centuries past should be a leading light to those who are just coming up. Repeating the errors of the 13th century will be a heinous crime too difficult to be forgiven.

The best way to describe Nigeria’s progressives in this day and age is to refer to them as brilliant, focused streetwise and opportunist par excellence. Nothing misses their attention; and they don’t misfire. Instead, they fire with the ancient Egyptian archetypal precision. To those people, take a strand of your mother’s hair and hang it above your head. Their arrow will not miss it! They are renowned for it! All these teach mentorship! For instance, it is difficult to become an expert without having gone through specific tutelage; and tutelage brings out the best in respect, honour and loyalty.

Daniel Olukoya of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM) once remarked that ‘wherever anybody got to in life, somebody helped him. That person might even be an ass.’ That mentorship is beneath the feet of most of today’s progressives is no longer news. Since they were never mentored, they lack the ability to mentor anyone, outside splitting money and initiating atrocious cells for, and wherever their services are considered needful. And, remember: ‘the more the merrier!’ Sometimes, that’s the albatross of democracy because each of the cells will fight for recognition and self-sustenance, using the same principles of democracy to justify its allegations and expectations; and it’s true!

Without doubt, Nigeria has a very rich history. However, how it is deployed depends on the intention and the mindset of the users. Going by the Marxian perspective, to belong to a class is to be born and bred on the ethos, expectations and permutations of that very particular class. But then, man is always eternally egregious; and that’s who he is! So, it is not his fault. Good to note that, during Awolowo’s time, progressives built people and their future. Nigeria’s contemporary progressives prefer to acquisitively build their individual pockets. They are pathetically parsimonious yet impenitently pretentious!

These accidental progressives don’t quit; and they don’t retire. Instead, they see the wealth of the nation as belonging only to them, their families and cronies. Sad that they failed to ‘pick up the cloak that had fallen’ from Awolowo! No! They are not true students of the late politician’s school of progressive ideology like Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s president! However, their greatest mistake is that they think that we are all blind, and that we all have ‘collective amnesia’, to quote the inimitable Wole Soyinka.

May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Nigeria!

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