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Awo, Nigeria, before and now

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Obafemi Awolowo

Any a-partisan student of history, politics, religion and culture, especially as they also pertain to Nigeria, would know that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was politically a definite phenomenon in virtually all these issues in this country! He was, during his lifetime and long after it; and will surely be so for a long, long time yet! His phenomenon was so great that he created, knowingly or unknowingly, a whole cloud of names, followerships, politics and culture that can fairly be identified even away from and very independent of himself. This is what is often, rightly or wrongly, referred to as Awoism! Had people like Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, as the Nigerian master of political neologism, lived long after the demise of Awolowo, he may have succeeded in perfecting that term of Awoism and gotten it properly into the very English lexicon as properly as could ever be! Therefore, it is to be expected that whenever and wherever the name of Chief Awolowo, Awoism or anything howsoever related to those is mentioned or written, all eyes and ears, every local attention, will at once be all turned in that direction. This is what happens with all phenomenal issues; names, persons and all.

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Thus, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had built up a dynasty around himself – biological/familial, political, cultural, tribal and otherwise. But like many dynasties, their powers, devotees, physical presence and many other aspects thereof, begin to shrink soon after the primary phenomenon ceases to live, personally. In the case of the great Awo himself, however, and surely not unlike some such dynasties in the world’s history, this dynasty started to suffer some visible diminution even before the man himself had died. The most remarkable of these was in the long and yet unresolved stories about him and one of his longest and most devoted and co-suffering protégé, in the person of the now also late Chief Lateef Jakande during the Babangida dribbling military-political era. These said stories need neither to prove to be true or false, but it will be foolish for anybody who understands these political issues to dismiss them by any unwise wave of the hand; as if they mean or had done nothing to this said dynasty; whether in substance or only in the minds and hearts of many in the polity that matter!

The other two events that diminished this phenomenon and dynasty were: 1. The clever maneuver of the Obasanjo era to harvest as many of the elements of the Yoruba race that he could into his “government’ in the apparently very sad effort to prove himself more successful, politically, than Awo himself. In that effort, they managed to harvest what would look to many of us, as the meanest of the Yoruba race, except for people like Chief Bola Ige; whose ability to be hired into the Obasanjo politics is still unexplainable to any reasonable and politically a-partisan person in this country up to date. Then came the second event, which was really two-fold in nature: 2a. The politically motivated gruesome daylight murder of the quintessential Chief Bola Ige by obviously hired assassins who up to date, have been unable to “find out”; 2b. The mass deception of the Western Nigerian Alliance for Democracy (AD) political party, that was governing all the western states (except for Lagos, if anybody would like to include Lagos as one of these western states!), to “partner” with his PDP in the 2004 elections. This last phenomenon, not only threw the last wedge on the Awo phenomenon and dynasty but, as one might as well say, virtually destroyed it altogether! Anybody whosoever likes will be free to dispute this last statement; but we will only leave the person to time and truth Itself, to prove him wrong or right; no more, no less.

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All the a-partisan scholars who have studied a reasonable number of the written and/or vocally recorded documents of the great Chief Awolowo, especially those said or written in regard to his life from 1961 till January 1966, will realise that the most significant part of Awo’s political life in that interval may be simply described as a deliberate and very open and vocal resistance against what he himself often referred to as the Hausa-Fulani Feudalism and oligarchy. For this, he had self-observed, he had suffered all sorts of persecutions and imprisonments, many of these, including the likes of Lateef Jakande and Anthony Enahoro. In order to persuade him away from these acts of refusal of local, internal, Nigerian neo-colonialism, he himself had observed that they had promised him deputy governance positions and even some future short term loaned rulership of the country – as Obasanjo eventually apparently enjoyed for 8 years until he wanted to extend it against their will! (For this last observation, anybody who likes should ask Atiku Abubakar and similar people for the full list on the matter).

However, this story of resistance to the Usman Danfodio Northern oligarchy and all its extensions seemed to suddenly change later in that same 1966, under the Gowon military administration. Supposedly and apparently, the great Awo did not and could not associate or identify the Gowon administration with the so-called Hausa-Fulani Oligarchy or local neo-colonialism against which he had dedicated his life up till then! It will be left to everyone’s reasoning capacity now to find out factually whether the July 1966 “counter-coup” and the continuing re-colonization of Nigeria by the same “Sokoto Caliphate Islamic Oligarchy” is not what we have had up to date since then!

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However, all these would seem to be all past now; and should be left as such. The only reason that this fact keeps coming back to my mind and why I feel like presenting it for people obviously more learned or informed than myself to help us to answer are these: Are all the above observations and personal utterances of the great Awo about the so-called Hausa-Fulani local oligarchic imperialism true or false; or are they distortions of his speeches, writings or other people’s records of history? Do the present Muhammadu Buhari Federal Government and governance look like or even in the remotest ways have any things or look-alikes with the old so-called Hausa-Fulani oligarchy that Awo said to devote his political life resisting; for the emancipation, freedom and progress of every Nigerian, beginning with his own home people of the Yorubas?

Do the people, the Yorubas especially, but also the others as Igbos, minority ethnic nationalities, non-evil-minded jihadist Muslims and Christians collaborating most closely with the present Buhari government know the history or study it? Do they or did they personally share any things – familial, social or ethnic, with the great Awo himself? If the answers to any or all of the above questions are positive, how does it feel like – in and to these Awo’s relatives or even others, who realize these links – if so? Do all these facts not look like fooling ourselves by ourselves, now and again? What should we do about these? We will now look forward to discussing these issues again at another time, God alone helping us! God bless Nigeria!

Asuzu is a retired professor of public health and community medicine, University of Ibadan.

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