Chalse Caleb Colton it was who said that “In life, we shall find many men that are great, and some men that are good, but very few men that are both great and good.” Chief Obafemi Awolowo was such a man. He was good. He was great. He was extraordinary in every way. I remember him today as I have since his passing twenty years ago. And more so in the last couple of days, I have been thinking about him. His memory will forever be etched in my memory.
Chief Awolowo was born at the right time, and lived his life in the right country. But whether our country was right for him is another question. His impact on the life of the Nigerian state, and of Africa, is immeasurable. He lived his life for the people. And so from now until eternity his contribution to Nigeria’s socioeconomic and political life will always be remembered and appreciated by discerning minds.
Twenty years after his passing, Awolowo lives on. He lives through his friends and family. He lives through his disciples. He lives through the great things he did for Nigeria. He lives through his writings and sermons. He lives through his political accomplishments. He lives through all those who believe in the goodness and kindness of the human spirit; and he lives through all those who genuinely believe in, and invoke his name and ideals.
To say he was a great man is an understatement.Well, he truly was a truly great man. Because of his brilliance and strength of character, he was very much misunderstood and envied; and because most couldn’t measure up to his expectation and greatness, they vilified him.
If you were not alive when Awolowo lived, or if you were not fortunate to have met him, well, let me tell you a little about him: He was a giant. He was graceful, charismatic, and purposeful. Most of all he had a clear vision of what he wanted for the country; and was a nice and decent human being! Oh, let me tell you something else: he had his faults. He was not a saint. However, his failings and missteps were far fewer and less injurious than those of his contemporaries.
Within the context of Nigerian, and indeed within African politics, Awolowo had no equal. He towered above his colleagues. To truly appreciate the kind of man he was, all you need do is take a look at the men and women who now dot our public estate and public space. Furthermore, one would be hard-pressed to name a political leader in Nigeria in his and our life time who did more for his people and for his country than Awolowo.
His accomplishments as the Premier of the Western Region are still evident and remain unmatched by any leader in modern Nigeria. As a federal minister under General Yakubu Gowon, he saved Nigeria from self immolation. From the time he began his political career until his passing to the heavens — his two great public missions were to make Nigeria better than the way he met it; and to also secure the future for the next generation. And although he never became the president of Nigeria, he did more and achieved more than any military or civilian head of government.
He never became the president of Nigeria because he refused to compromise his principles. He refused to betray his constituent and his conscience. He refused to bow to the wishes of the colonialist. He refused to obey the barking orders given by Dodan Barracks. For these and other reasons therefore, he was denied the ultimate political price; and because he was denied his political aspiration, Nigeria has remained in the doldrums ever since.
In Chief Awolowo, we lost the brightest star we ever had and may have to wait another seventy years for a man like him (to free us from bondage and take us to the summit of prosperity).
To say he was a statesman is an understatement. If he was an American or a European, the world would have placed him in the same league as Churchill, Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and many others. But because Nigeria is what it is, we have no regards for our heroes. Any wonder then that no one wants to lay their lives for a country that does not appreciate her citizens?
As I think about Awolowo, I wonder what would have become of our country. I think of how far we would have gone in terms of human and economic development. I think of all the possibilities and the dreams and aspirations we had as a nation. I miss him. I miss a good man, and I miss great man.
I cannot now remember who it was who said, “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile.” Awolowo was this and much more. He will stay in our lives for eternity. I miss Awo! I miss a truly great man.