Remembering S.B. Awoniyi, Sardauna Karami
The cordial relationship between the late Sardaunan of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello as premier of Northern Nigeria and that of his one-time private secretary, Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi was once described as “Superfluous Master and Servant.” It was not to be so after the Premier met his untimely death on January 15, 1966 in the first Nigeria’s military coup when Chief Awoniyi kept the flag of Northern Unity flying. He became a misunderstood Nigerian and was branded: Little Sardauna (Sardauna Karami) because of his ethno- religious and political solidarity by casting his lot with the Northern hegemony as a man from minority Okun Yoruba speaking of the North, now in the west senatorial district of Kogi State. The high Chief Aro of Mopa died in 2007 – a proud Yoruba Christian in the Islamic dominated Hausa – Fulani enclave of Northern Nigeria.
He was renowned as the ace speech writer of the Premier who later became a Permanent Secretary before he transferred to the federal service to join others like Alhaji Ahmed Joda and Chief Micheal Abodunde of the Northern information ministry who retired as the federal director of information after Alhaji Dungus from Borno. He served under President Muhammadu Buhari when he was the Federal Commissioner for Petroleum Resources during the military regime of former Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. One of the earlier graduates from Northern region, Chief Awoniyi got his degree from University of Ibadan (UI) – the premier university after completing his advanced level G.C.E at the Northern College of Arts and Sciences which later turned to Ahmadu Bello University. He was among the few at UI with the late Alfred Ola Omoniwa, Chief Albert Obatoyinbo both retired Kwara State Permanent Secretaries; Dr. Ahmad Datti – President of Shariah in Nigeria and the late Adamu Ciroma, one-time managing director of New Nigerian Newspaper and Federal Minister of Finance – all sponsored by Northern Regional Government.
The enigma called Chief Sunday Bolorundo Awoniyi until his death remained the most misunderstood Nigerian from Kogi State because he meant different things to different people. While many described him as a nationalist, some called him a controversial politician that was more Sardauna than the Sardauna hence the appellation “ Sardauna Karami.”
The prophet of northern unity and progress stood faulted by his opponents on why he, a Yoruba man should be more Catholic than the Pope in northern Nigerian affairs.He neither denied his Christian faith nor being of the Yoruba ethnic stock. “I am a Yoruba northerner and I did not born my great fathers who gave birth to me in a geographical area called the north,” he was once quoted as saying when replying his critics on the dual roles played on issues.
In fact, his opponents used his Yorubaness against him when he wanted to be the chairman of Peoples Democratic Party PDP, on the platform of north central zone. He left PDP in anger for refusing him the position on the ground that the then president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, was a Yoruba man and the party would not make another Yoruba man its chairman. Chief Awoniyi abandoned the ship to capsize after describing the party as “nest of killers.” He never returned to his vomit despite pleas. To cap it all, he dumped anything political by his total withdrawal and concentrated on the affairs of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). To him, the forum was a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) meant to champion advocacy for northern unity. His unquestionable loyalty to the north and abiding faith in Nigeria were unequalled.
An incorruptible, fearless and principled advocate of justice and adherence to due process, Uncle Chief Awoniyi (my way of calling him) would not give a hoot in speaking the truth no matter whose ox is gored. His deportment affected not only him but Yoruba people from Kogi and Kwara States otherwise called Yoruba northerners. Some say they were northern slaves or Eru Hausa. He was a celebrated civil servant, trusted friend of Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, a quintessential community leader whose greatest virtues were integrity, forthrightness, faithfulness, civility and intellect. He combined all with simplicity, humility and excellent spirit. Uncle Chief Awoniyi hated acts of vanity with passion. He refrained from engaging in the mad rush and propensity for the acquisition of wealth in the exalted positions he held. After too much accusation against him in Mopa, the Aro of Mopa established a plastic factory with the main objective of providing employment as Chairman of Boja Industries for the youths.
The factory nearly closed down when the youth started stealing and engaged in fraudulent practices. Chief Awoniyi fired them all and got them replaced with non Okun workers. He thereby exhibited quality of dedicated patriotic and selfless leader.
A humanist with a difference, he was a sincere person who remained very free from destructive biases in the face of open accusation of neglecting Okun people sacked from the services of northern states’ government. In fact, Okun and middle belt people formed the nucleus of civil service of northern Nigeria who after creation of states were deployed round the whole north only to be sacked and retired without “belly full”. Little wonder back home, people described him as an over patriotic Nigerian with a weak immediate constituency. He would not tolerate indolence and sectionalism.
A true son and disciple of the Late Sir Ahmadu Bello, Uncle Chief Awoniyi truly followed in those honourable footsteps to the end and remained one of the few remaining symbols of northern hegemony. Religious wise, Sardauna respected him and bought him latest editions of bibles for his use, as his private secretary. “Sunday have you read the latest edition of the bible, I bought one for you,” anytime on his return from overseas trip.
Painful as his death may be to many, Uncle Chief Awoniyi was among the first I met when I fled to the north from the Western crisis on Nigerian Tribune newspaper by late 1965. He made me to join New Nigerian after the late Chief Michael Bolorunduro Asaju – a former president of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and later Oba Eleta of Iyara secured me “Northern Status.” In fact, Awoniyi was of the opinion that those of us born and bred in the former western region were the people agitating for new state to be carved out from Kogi and Kwara states as a way of linking up with our kith and kin in Yorubaland.
Workaholic of no rival, his doctor while in the northern service, Dr. Michael Shona said he would work for hours without food until he developed stomach ulcer after defying medical advice. “I, at times told him that work would continue after his exit”, Shona once confided in me. No doubt he suffered identity crisis but no man was more Yoruba than Bolorunduro while no other Christian than Sunday. He may have been the symbols of the contradiction of his times. He took care of the north while the north took care of him by his principled stand especially on matters of ethno-religious and political solidarity. Chief Awoniyi lived and died a proud Yoruba Christian.
Nigeria conferred him with a national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger CON in 1997. He was described as a “Man of integrity with deep sense of public service, a candid and fearless adviser, a brilliant innovative, yet selfless officer. “He deserved the honour as a former Federal Super Permanent Secretary.
A thorough orator, Uncle Chief Awoniyi would talk himself out of any problem. As a colossus, the north and his admirers missed him. His greatest rival and brother how late too, Chief Silas Daniyan, the generous first former Managing Director of former Nigerian Industrial Bank missed him with other Okun brothers and sisters particularly Iwalaye family of Mopa now in Mopa/Muro Local Government.
His acceptance of ACF job was a mute evidence of his commitment to the realisation of one north despite multi ethnic groups and religious diversity. As a bridge builder, he was brought up to make the north not inferior to any other region of Nigeria and that singular move made him a statesman.
Uncle Chief Awoniyi left his mark on the sand of time particularly during the third term agenda of OBJ when Nigerians over came the dictatorship of “Agbada over Khaki” that nearly descended on the nation. He was all out and was against it. He fought corruption until he took his dramatic exit after an accident on Nigerian hell-run roads on which billions of Naira was alleged to have been expended at the time of Chief Anthony Aninih under President OBJ.
Now that every Nigerian whether in the north or south missed him through the wicked hand of death that fears no king or slave, his image still looms large and difficult to duplicate. The Northern Region elephant fell in the midst of fragile human life. There is no superiority of the man over the beast having fallen by accident into the hands of death. He bagged several chieftaincy titles including Afiwajoye of Iyara, Ijumu LG headquarters; Jigunmolu of Igbagun both in Kogi State west. Uncle Awoniyi will long live in our hearts.