Awo’s legacy still lives on
I attended a play recently at Glover Memorial Hall at Broad Street, Lagos. Yes, the old Glover Hall built and named in 1887 in honour of Sir John Hawley Glover who was Governor of Lagos Colony between 1864 and 1872. The hall has undergone a lot of repairs, thanks to the Lagos State Government. The title of the play was “Awo-The Man, His Jewel And…..In attendance were the Vice President, Professor Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo (64),SAN, GCON and his wife, Oludolapo Osinbajo nee Soyode (54), a lawyer, who is a granddaughter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, GCFR, (6 March 1909- 9 May 1987), the Lagos state Governor, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu (56), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila(59) among many other dignitaries.
I noticed the presence of the youths in the hall that day. But the youths did not experience the golden era of Chief Awolowo’s tenure as Premier of Western Nigeria. Sadly they are now witnessing a collapsing nation. The emotional aspect of the play was when Chief Awolowo, while in prison, was told about the tragic death of his first son, Segun, a lawyer, who died in a car crash along Lagos Ibadan road on July 9, 1963. Professor Osibajo did not make a speech before or after the play. He only went on stage to shake hands with the actors along with his wife Dolapo after the play. The play was a reincarnation of Chief Awolowo as the Premier of Western Nigeria and how he formed the Action Group and the crisis that came within the Action Group. It is impossible to capture Chief Awolowo’s achievements and legacy in a play, or in an article, journal or a book. If today there is relative peace and stability in the Southwest, it could be traced to the foundation laid by Chief Awolowo in the region coupled with the Omoluwabi, Bibire And Alajobi culture among the people of that region. It is not by accident that today, Awo’s disciples, are scattered all over the world preaching his legacy and reminding us constantly that there was a time when there was good governance in the Western Region. For those who lived in that era, it was a romantic experience never to be forgotten. Apart from free education at that time, there was the emergence of co-operative societies and farm settlements. Even then, students preferred the scholarship of western Nigeria to that of federal government
The applause at the end of the play was fantastic. Chief Awolowo died thirty four years ago but his legacy still lives on. Great writers have written so much about Chief Awolowo before and after his demise. The Abuja house in London at 2, Campden Hill, Kessington was part of the property of the Western Region of Nigeria bought during the tenure of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Premier. The property was seized by the central government through a decree promulgated by General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR. Today, I do not know if any compensation was paid to the six states of the south west zone.
Chief Awolowo served as Premier of the Region from 1952-1959. He had remarkable success during his tenure. The visionary and economically sagacious Awo-led government had numerous achievements including: the implementation of free Universal Primary Education, the establishment of Africa’s first TV Station, the construction of West Africa’s first Skyscraper (Cocoa House) and first International Stadium (Liberty) the establishment of a first rate Civil Service, the construction of Nigeria’s first Housing and Industrial Estates (Bodija & Ikeja) etc.
The most significant of his achievements is the Free Universal Primary Education. In 1952 when the scheme was proposed, 381,000 children (about 30%) were enrolled in school. By 1955 when the scheme took off 811,432 children were enrolled. And the numbers continued to grow. The Government devoted as much as 41.2% of its 1958/59 recurrent budget to Education, one of the highest in the world at the time. “The Western region of Nigeria, at that time, was educating more children than anywhere in Africa.
No doubt Chief Awolowo had the necessary qualities of leadership. These are vision, courage, integrity, humility, focus, co-operation and strategic planning. He had the courage and was willing to take risk in the achievements of his goals and successes. He had truthfulness in him which is the core of integrity. Integrity requires that you always tell the truth, to all people, in every situation. Truthfulness is the foundation quality of the trust that is necessary for the success of any business. Chief Awolowo also had the ability to involve in strategic planning. Above all, he had focus and he relied mostly on the advice of his friends. He was future oriented which is lacking in most of our leaders today. He took personal responsibility in all that he did neither did he apportion blame on his subordinates. He tried new inventions and it worked. He tried new experiments and he succeeded. He formed the Action Group along with Chief Adeyiga Akinsanya, Chief Olatunji Dosunmu, Chief Samuel Olatunbosun Shonibare, Chief Ayo Akinsanya, Chief Abiodun Akerele among others.
Chief Awolowo later served as Minister of Finance between 1967 and 1971 and was succeeded by Alhaji Usman Shehu Aliyu Shagari (25 February 1925- 28 December 2018) GCFR. Chief Obafemi Awolowo changed Nigeria’s currency to naira during his tenure as Minister of Finance. He is still the issue in the Nigeria politics even till today.
The most memorable speech Chief Awolowo ever made was the speech he delivered on May 1, 1967 after he was made the leader of the Yorubas at Ibadan. For the benefit of all, I wish to reproduce the full statement of that speech because the issues he raised 54 years ago, in that speech are still relevant today. On that day he declared:
“The aim of a leader should be the welfare of the people whom he leads. I have used ‘welfare’ to denote the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the people. With this aim fixed unflinchingly and unchangeably before my eyes I consider it my duty to Yoruba people in particular and to Nigerians in general, to place four imperatives before you this morning. Two of them are categorical and two are conditional. Only a peaceful solution must be found to arrest the present worsening stalemate and restore normalcy. The Eastern Region must be encouraged to remain part of the Federation. If the Eastern Region is allowed by acts of omission or commission to secede from or opt out of Nigeria, then the Western Region and Lagos must also stay out of the Federation. The people of Western Nigeria and Lagos should participate in the ad hoc committee or any similar body only on the basis of absolute equality with the other regions of the Federation.
“I would like to comment briefly on these four imperatives. There has, of late, been a good deal of sabre rattling in some parts of the country. Those who advocate the use force for the settlement of our present problems should stop a little and reflect. I can see no vital and abiding principle involved in any war between the North and the East. If the East attacked the North, it would be for purpose of revenge pure and simple. Any claim to the contrary would be untenable. If it is claimed that such a war is being waged for the purpose of recovering the real and personal properties left behind in the North by Easterners two insuperable points are obvious. Firstly, the personal effects left behind by Easterners have been wholly looted or destroyed, and can no longer be physically recovered. Secondly, since the real properties are immovable in case of recovery of them can only be by means of forcible military occupation of those parts of the North in which these properties are situated. On the other hand, if the North attacked the East, it could only be for the purpose of further strengthening and entrenching its position of dominance in the country.
“If it is claimed that an attack on the East is going to be launched by the Federal Government and not by the North as such and that it is designed to ensure the unity and integrity of the Federation, two other insuperable points also become obvious. First, if a war against the East becomes a necessity it must be agreed to unanimously by the remaining units of the Federation. In this connection, the West, Mid- West and Lagos have declared their implacable opposition to the use of force in solving the present problem. In the face of such declarations by three out of remaining four territories of Nigeria, a war against the East could only be a war favoured by the North alone. Second, if the true purpose of such a war is to preserve the unity and integrity of the Federation, then these ends can be achieved by the very simple devices of implementing the recommendation of the committee which met on August 9, 1966 as reaffirmed by a decision of the military leaders at Aburi on January 5, 1967 as well as by accepting such of the demands of the East, West, Mid-West and Lagos as are manifestly reasonable, and essential for assuring harmonious relationships and peaceful co-existence between them and their brothers and sisters in the North.
To be continued tomorrow