Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Revisiting Awo

By Bola Ige - May 8, 2001

FOURTEEN years ago yesterday, Obafemi Awolowo passed on to higher
service. Two months and three days earlier, at his seventy eighth birthday
anniversary celebration, he had spoken prophetically about the
imminence of his transition, about the fact that he had not been
allowed to achieve his highest ambition of serving the people of
Nigeria, about how he was satisfied that he was going for a greater and
higher service, and of a life after life. Only few of his listeners at
Ikenne on that March 6, 1987 comprehended fully what he was talking
about. That was why all of us, friends and foes alike, were stunned and
devastated when he moved on from this mortal plane. The greatest
Nigerian ideologue so far, and the main issue in Nigerian politics
during the previous fifty years, as General Ibrahim Babangida had
described him earlier, left us.

Since the beginning of this year when, for over three months, my foes
and friends, for good and bad reasons, made me the centre of political
controversy in Nigeria, I have had, in my efforts at self-criticism and
objective self-critical appraisal, to turn to the mental spiritual and
political guidelines which Awo bequeathed to all of us who confess that
we are his disciples. For obvious reasons, I will not write about the
mental and spiritual lessons he taught me. But I drew upon the
guidelines of mental magnitude that he prescribed, and I read, once
again, his seminal writings in which one can find his clear thoughts
and analysis on the problems of Nigeria. I have once again read, marked
and inwardly digested, his main writings: (1) Path to Nigerian Freedom
(ii) Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution; (iii) The People's Republic
and (iv) Strategy and Tactics of the People's Republic.

In the last few weeks, our country has been agog with the news of
political activities of persons and groups who seem to want to be of
relevance or who are groping for ways to bring about some sort of
realignment of forces. The scenario is unfolding and Nigeria's
political temporary contraptions called political parties and the
desire of political theoreticians, who have no real winnable
constituencies, to configure for us Nigeria's political landscape. It
is for these and other reasons that it is desirable, at the end of the
second seven-year cycle and the beginning of the third seven-year
cycle, that we should once again remind ourselves about Awo's thoughts
on a few important issues like (a) the national question; (b)
federalism; (c) the unity of Nigeria and (d) constitution making. I
doubt whether anybody in Nigeria has written cogently on the national
question more than Obafemi Awolowo. He posited and demonstrated lucidly
how the proper resolution of the national question is fundamental to a
viable and prosperous Nigerian polity. Because of the various and
different histories and cultures of our various nationalities, and the
various and different stages of our modern and social and political
development, he recommended a federation of Nigeria of not more than
eighteen states based largely on ethnic affiliation and language.

I am glad I have never deviated from Awo's principled position. And
from what we are seeing of and in the six Yoruba States, in the five
Igbo States and the six Hausa States, and from the nationalism that
imbues organizations like AFENIFERE, OHANAEZE and the militant youth
organizations among the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Izon, objective
observers can see the futility of breaking up of our nationalities into
miniscule states which have been emasculated in power, prosperity and
progress. One thing I know: the day is almost here in Yorubaland when
the Alajobi will be the Garibaldi that will write Yorubaland once
again, and we will flourish once again, like we did under Awo.

Because I have no mandate of the Igbo, Izon and the Hausa, for example,
I cannot speak authoritatively as I can for Yorubaland. But the signs
are Unmistakable. Thirty years after the Biafran civil war, the Igbos
are realizing that creating five states out of Igboland does not
empower them to move forward or even to take needed meaningful steps to
heal the scars of the civil war. As for the Hausa-Fulani,
Sharianisation as a potent political weapon of ethnic nationalism is
being fashioned and sharpened. Which leads me to the postulations of
Awo concerning federalism. For Awo, the Nigerian federation is to be a
federal republic of states (large and small) who have come together on
certain basic agreed terms reached and sealed in a constitution that
would guarantee every state the rights and resources to manage its
affairs in those areas assigned to it, and which would enable the state
to make MAN the centre, the subject and object, and the raison d'etre
of all development, whether at federal, state or local government

I have read almost everything Awo wrote, and for more than 25 years, I
was directly under his tutelage. Not once and nowhere did Awo advocate
the break-up of Nigeria, or that Yorubaland should break away from
Nigeria. His first book designed the path of the freedom of Nigeria,
not Yorubaland only; his People's Republic was about the Federal
Republic of Nigeria; his thoughts on the constitution was for the
Federal Republic of Nigeria; and when he called us of the Committee of
Friends to sit with him in Park Lane, Apapa, to work out strategy and
tactics, they were to be how to capture power not in Yorubaland alone,
but throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria, so that the best
welfare of the people could be more easily and more comprehensively
catered for.

Awo, of course, wanted Yorubaland to be strong and prosperous, but not
for any selfish end. The prosperity and well-being of the Yoruba nation
was to be a benchmark for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As Awo used
to say, he could not be a good Nigerian, if he was not a good
Yorubaman! One can recall Awo's rebuke of my friend, brother and
colleague, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, when in 1983, following the NPN rigging
of elections, he called for a confederation. He gave him political
spanking and that publicity . I am aware of course, that not only has
Awo been vilified by Zik and other unitarists as a tribalist and
apostle of balkanisation of Nigeria, quite a few Yoruba concerned
nationalists have also queried why Awo did not lead Yorubaland out of
Nigeria during the Civil War. Chief Emeka Ojukwu's grouse, and that of
some of his misguided cronies, was that they were encouraged in their
secessionist bid by the motion which was passed by Yoruba leaders in
the Western Hall, Ibadan, about April 1967.

I know much about that motion because I was part of the group that
crafted it, and I actually moved it. It was this:

"If by any act of omission or commission the Eastern Region secedes,
Western Region will opt out" (of the Federation of Nigeria)
Only a daft person can read an invitation or encouragement to secede in
that resolution. Yoruba want to be part of Nigeria, unless pushed out
or not wanted.

And when secession was being prepared in Eastern Region, Awo led a
delegation which included Chief Jereton Mariere, that charismatic
leader of the Urhobos and erstwhile governor of Midwestern Nigeria, to
persuade Emeka Ojukwu not to secede, but join in working out a truly
federal constitution for Nigeria.

I was an unofficial adviser to the delegation from Western Nigeria to
the ad-hoc Constitutional Conference convened by General Gowon in
September and October 1966. Nowhere in our presentation did the West
advocate secession or even confederation. These things need to be
recalled so that our people must know the strategy to adopt in the
present circumstance.

Which leads me to the last point. What was Awo's reaction to
discussions about constitution-making. Awo was never passive, and he
never advocated non-participation in any discussions, however much he
knew that they would not yield the results he wanted.

Fortunately, there are quite a few Nigerian leaders who are alive and
can bear testimony to Awo's robust and all-embracing nationalism for
Yorubaland, and unalloyed patriotism for Nigeria, all his life: Chief
Anthony Enahoro, Chief Rotimi Williams, SAN, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo,
Hon. Effiong Ononopkono, Chief Felix Ibru, Chief J.A.O. Odebiyi, Gen.
Yakubu Gowon, and Alhaji Maitama Sule for example, not to talk of
Senator Abraham Adesanya, and three people who have known him longer
than most of us. Mr. Justice Adewole Thompson, Ven. E.O. Alayande and
Awo's jewel of inestimable value, our beloved Mama, Chief (Mrs) H.I.D
Awolowo. I wish great leaders like Chief Wenike Briggs, Senator J. S.
Tarka, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, to mention a few, were alive to add their

And so, on this fourteenth anniversary of Awo's transition, we who are
his devotees must learn and study him anew, in order not to lose focus
and chase shadows and false doctrines which cannot stand the test of
political rigours and constitutional engineering. I thank my creator
for this genius of a man whose political principles cannot fail and by
which I immovably stand.

Long live Obafemi Awolowo.


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