OSOBA: No One Can Fit Into Awolowo’s Shoes For Now
Chief Olusegun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State, is one of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s closest allies. On the heels of burial of Awolowo’s wife, Mrs. Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo, the veteran journalist told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that Awolowo’s legacies in the Southwest remain intact.
Do you agree that most of the successive governments in Southwest have been struggling to match the legacies left behind by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, especially the in the education sector?
YES and no. Yes in the sense that we have witnessed considerable population explosion in the Southwest. You will recall that in the days of the Western Region government, the number of secondary schools in existence, for example, in Lagos, could be counted on the fingers of one’s hand. Suddenly we have this explosion. However, this is just by the way. I must have to correct the notion that education, as important as it is, is not the only item that made Awolowo famous; education is just one of the legacies he left behind.
Take the health sector as another example. Most of the hospitals Awolowo established are still standing. Recently, I was in Edo State on the invitation of Governor Adams Oshiomole and it was delighting to notice a hospital built by Awolowo. Go to everywhere in the zone, you will find his footprints in the health sector even as we speak. So, it is not correct to say that his major achievement is in education. The housing sector is another landmark he recorded. Ikeja was designed to be like Ikoyi. There are many GRAs (government Reserve Areas) that bear testimony to his far-reaching foresight. The industrial layouts are also part of these legacies. His foray into the agricultural sector, as well as, rural development remains unmatched. To reduce Awolowo’s legacy just to the education sector is incomplete narrative of his contribution.
Awolowo was also a core nationalist who selflessly supported the creation of the Midwest. He was also the first person to recognise the rights of the minorities in the South south when he came up with the idea of the COR (Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers) states. He was a democrat, who was always in the forefront of promotion of democratic values.
But the question is why has successive governments come short of perpetuating and improving on these legacies?
I will not agree with you that successive governments have come short. We must realise that for long period the military held sway over the land. The military should be held responsible for the state of what was left behind by Awolowo; not the civilian governments that came after. In fact, when the civilians came back to government in 1979, after a straight 13 years of military rule, there was already a lot of rot and decay crying for clean up. In Lagos for example, Governor Lateef Jakande met a school system that left much to be desired. Secondary school pupils were attending two or three shifts in classes. One shift waiting at home for the other to finish. Jakande built several schools to accommodate these pupils under a one-shift regime. I’m sure we are not forgetting the monumental development that administration also undertook; including the massive housing projects. Jakande was not alone in these efforts in bringing back Awolowo legacies. Bisi Onabanjo was doing the same in Ogun State, Michael Ajasin doing the same thing in Ondo State, Bola Ige doing the same thing in Oyo, and Ambrose Alli was also doing monumental things in Bendel State. So, it is not correct to say those who came after Awolowo did not do much to perpetuate the Awolowo legacies. Within the resources available to them and fresh challenges confronting them (resulting from military neglects) these governors did a lot. Their footprints are still all over their states of domain for any sincere chronicler of history to avail him or herself.
Will you then agree that the problem could then be located with people like you that serve under this present dispensation?
Of course not. I will confidently say we tried our best, under the circumstances we inherited. Don’t also forget that we came after another 19 years of military rule, with its attendant crisis. Prior to 1999, there have been a number of governmental disfunctionalities that needed straightening up.
Some of us, who had always been with Awolowo, eat, drink and generally live by the ideals Awolowo left behind. Even when we found ourselves under challenging circumstances, for example when I was civilian state governor under the military national government of General Ibrahim Babangida. We maintained, as much as possible, our progressive inclinations. Sir Michael Otedola was permanent secretary, just like many other governors during that period. They are people of known achievements in their public life. And under the General Olusegun Obasanjo-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), we asserted our progressive thoughts. Obasanjo was constitutionally challenged, even up to the Supreme Court level.
What then went wrong? Not much of the Awolowo’s legacies are in place.
Much of Awolowo’s legacies are still very much in place for anyone to see. The major challenge Awolowo followers run into is infiltration of people of doubtful progressive credentials; fake awoists and people of no known pedigree in public service.
Under this present disposition, will you say the APC-led government will fare better in delivering some of Awolowo’s legacies?
I will still want to refrain from passing judgment on this government. I believe the government has a lifespan of four years. Judging the government barely six months into office, as far as I’m concerned, is still rather too soon. I will choose to still remain patient and watch as things unfold.
But considering the caliber of people, like the former Lagos State governor Babatunde Fashola, who is now the Minister of Power, Housing and Works, as well as, former Ekiti State governor Kayode Fayemi, who is now the Minister of Solid Minerals, alongside a few others, I will want to believe there is cause to be very hopeful and optimistic.
As it is presently, who in the Southwest zone can fit into Awolowo’s shoes?
No one can step into Awolowo’s shoes; no one. Awolowo is a special breed that comes in the life of a nation not too often. It may take another century to have someone comparable to him. Someone who may even surpass his love for the ordinary people. But for now, we perish the thought of anyone emerging as Yoruba leader in the mould of Awolowo.
Awolowo never controlled politics in the urban centers until in the Second Republic. In the First Republic the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) was in charge n Lagos, Abeokuta, Ilesha, Ibadan and other metropolis in the Western Region. But the people in the rural areas gave him their support in appreciation of his pro-people policies that gave voice to the voiceless. They trusted him for his selflessness and love for the downtrodden.
Leadership in Yoruba land is earned. It is not about what office you hold, by your wealth, or any other thing, rather than conventional rules and laws of the people. Those conventional rules are all embracing. For you to lead Yoruba people, you show exceptional traits in all aspects of life.
Are there any plans towards to reconciling estranged members of the Awolowo political though?
Well, I can confidently tell you there are plans ongoing. We have been meeting formally and informally. And the process of healing old wounds are not as far as you may imagine. Efforts at reconciliation are ongoing. You must understand that the true progressives don’t differ in great details, we share common goals and ideals, and only disagreed on certain individual principles.
Will the exit of Mrs. Awolowo accelerate the reconciliation?
As I have said elsewhere, we should use the opportunity of mama’s death to come together in reengineering the Yoruba nation. Now that the symbol of the Awolowo political family is gone, we could use the opportunity for a sober reflection on the part of those of us who are leaders of Yoruba and I am part of that leadership. At 76, I believe I am a top elder statesman. Again, after Papa Olaniwun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, and Alhaji Jakande, who was also my professional leader, there is no other person living that would claim to be close to chief Obafemi Awolowo than me politically. Bear in mind that I am not talking of longer relationship with Awolowo, but personal closeness of one who drank directly from the wisdom that came directly from Awolowo.