June 15, 2024
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Awo’s Legacy Still Lives On

By Eric Teniola

I attended a play recently at Glover Memorial Hall at Broad Street, Lagos. Yes, the old Glover Hall was 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) and the outgoing Executive Director of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Mr. Olusegun Awolowo (Jnr), 58 a lawyer. The Group Managing Director of Odua Investment Company, Mr. Wale Raji, and his pretty wife, Lamide also attended along with Chief Segun Ojo, the Asiwaju of Emure in Owo Local Government Area of Ondo state,  former Commissioner of Finance in Ondo State and presently a Director in Odua Investment Company.  Aremo Olusegun Osoba, the Akinrogun of Egbaland and twice elected Governor of Ogun state came with his wife Aderinsola Osoba, who is from the Onimole royal family in Isale Eko, Lagos. Chief Justus Oluwagbemiga  Daniel, (65)the fourteenth Governor of Ogun state, Professor Bayo Williams, who turned seventy recently and Abagun Kole Omololu of the social media platform, YORUBA CONSCIOUSNESS, and his wife were also there. Abagun omololu from Ikale in Ondo state, wore his high cap, his trademark.

Mr. Seni Adio, SAN, a director in Odua Investment Company, and another director Mr. Segun Olujobi were also in attendance with their wives.

The crew members of the play were Yemi Shodimu, Olaide Agboola, Edgar Joseph, Ladi Soyode, Olisa Adibua, Makinde Adeniran, Ifeanyi Eziukwu, Oluwatoyin Olokodana-James(Ph.D.), Kehinde Oretimeyi, Adedayo Liadi, Adenike Ayodele, Minna Davies, Adebunmi Adewale, Paul Abbah, Abiodun Abe, Wale Adeleke, Abe Busayo, Sulaimon Abimbola, Habeeb Balogun, Saheed Balogun Rahmon Balogun, Taiwo Adesoji and Musbau Afolabi.

The major actors of the play were Shallom Matthew, Mojisola Kadiri, Adeyemi Adeshina, Ikponmwosa Gold, Stanley Okeke, Austin Onuoha, and Segun Moses.

Other actors were Moshood Fattah, Seyi Fasuyi, Nelson Orah, Toyin Osinaike, Stanley Okeke, Rasheed Aluko, Adeyemi Adeshina, Mawuyon Ogun, Nelson Orah, Yinka Davies, Jennifer Osammor, Omowunmi Segun, Aisha Onitiri, Eferoghene Awusa, Tosin Adeyemi, Oladotun Olagbadebo, Austin Onuoha, Ikponmwosa Gold, Omololu Sodiya and Seyi Fasuyi.

The play featured the major roles played by Chief Awolowo, his wife, Chief Mrs. Hannah Dideolu Idowu Awolowo(1915-2015), Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola(1910-1966), former Premier of Western Nigeria, the former deputy premier of Western Nigeria, Chief Victor Babaremilekun Adetokunbo Fani-Kayode (1921-1995), the former Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello(12 June 1910-15 January 1966), the late Sardauna of Sokoto, the late Premier of Eastern Nigeria, sir Michael Iheonukara Okpara (25 December 1920 – 17 December 1984) the former Governor of Lagos, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande(23 July 1929- 11 February 2021), Segun Awolowo(Snr.) (January 1939-July 9, 1963) a lawyer and others.

I noticed the presence of the youths in the hall that day. I was curious about their huge presence and this set me thinking. These days, hardly do people go to cinema halls to watch films not to talk of plays. The younger elements will prefer to be on Google or the internet to watch anything at all. But for them to come and watch a play at Glover Hall at that time of the night looked risky to me. They must have been motivated by what they have read or seen about Chief Awolowo. Streets, stadiums, and many other projects have been named after Chief Obafemi Awolowo. But the youths that came to the hall that day did not experience the golden era of Chief Awolowo’s tenure as Premier of Western Nigeria. Right now they are witnessing a shattered country. Sadly they are now witnessing a collapsing nation.

The Odua Investment Company contributed a lot to the production of the play. Mr. Wale Raji told me later that the play will be staged in Ibadan soon, and he too was impressed about the attendance on that day. 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 an article, a 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 cooperative societies and farm settlements.

Even then, students preferred the scholarship of western Nigeria to that of the 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.

I remember Chief Tola Adeniyi, Odia Ofeimun, Reuben Abati, Ayo Opadokun, Dare Babarinsa, Chief Ayo Ojewunmi, Lade Bonuola ,Sola Odunfa, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, Femi Ogunsanwo, Banji Ogundele, Bayo Osiyemi, Peter Ajayi, Dayo Sobowale, Felix Adedapo Adenaike, Martins Oloja, Adegbamigbe Akinlaya, Wunmi Adegbonmire (alia Omo Ekun), Agboola Sanni, Nduka Onum, Peter Apesin, Fola Oredoyin, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Alfred Ilenre, Toye Akiyode, Muyiwa Adetiba, Rotimi Abe, Wunmi Akintunde,Labanji Bolaji, Segun Osoba, Lawrence Mofoluwashoun Olamiti, Areoye Oyebola, Lam Adesina, Biodun Oduwole, Banji Kuroloja, Ebenezer  Oluwole  Babatope and many others.

It may be the writings of these outstanding men and women that brought these youths to Glover Hall that night. They must have been motivated also by what they heard about Chief Awolowo.

A few years ago I was in the Abuja house in London at 2, Campden Hill, Kessington and I discovered that the house 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 what is now known as the southwest zone. Anytime I visit London and I passed through that house, I am reminded that there was a time we had a regional government in Nigeria.

As published in THE NIGERIAN TRIBUNE on 9th May 2018, 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.

But while remembering Chief Awolowo, I must not forget that he led a formidable team. A very outstanding set of people served under him or were around him. I remember Chief Akinola Maja, Chief S.O. Gbadamosi, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Chief Alfred Rewane, Chief S.O. Lanleyin, Chief Dosunmu, Chief Michael Ajasin, Chief Fadairo, Chief adegbite tinubu, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Adeleke Adedoyin, Chief S.T. Oredehin, Chief S.O. Sonibare, Chief J.S. Olawoyin, Chief Longe, Professor Sam Aluko, Professor Akin Mabogunje, Chief Babatola, Chief Taiwo Oredeyin, Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, Dr. Sanya Onabamiro, Chief S.O. Adigun, Chief Michael Omisade, Chief Hon. C.D. Akran, Chief J.S. Olawoyin, Oba Alayeluwa Sir Adesoji Aderemi, the Hon. A.O. Adeyi, late Sir Adeyemo Alakija, Alhaji Hon. D.S. Adegbenro, Chief Hon. A.O. Ogedengbe, Chief M.E.R. Okorodudu, Chief Hon. Gabriel Akin-Deko, Oba Alayeluwa Akenzua II, the Hon, Ayodele Okusaga, Chief Hon. Anthony Enahoro, Chief J.F. Odunjo, Chief Hon. J.O. Oshuntokun, Chief  A.M.A. Akinloye, Oba Alayeluwa Samuel Ademola, Chief (Dr.) J. Akanni Doherty, Chief F.O. Awosika, E.A. Babalola., S.O. Awokoya, S. O. Ighodaro Esq., Chief Hon. Jonathan Akinremi Olawale Odebiyi, Chief F.R.A. Williams, Chief Bode Thomas, Sir Olateru Olagbegi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Canon Emmanuel Alayande, Hon. S.O. Ikoku, Dr. Hon. E.O. Awoluche, Alhaji The Hon. Sule Maito and others. In later years, Professor Ambrose Alli, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Chief Aderibigbe Adesanya, Chief Reuben Fasonranti, Chief Olaniwun Ajayi, and others came close to him.

No doubt Chief Awolowo had the necessary qualities of leadership. These are vision, courage, integrity, humility, focus, cooperation, and strategic planning. He had the courage and was willing to take risks 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 could 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.

Between April 28 and 29, 1951, the Action Group held its inaugural conference in Owo, Ondo State, Hon, Gaius Obaseki, Chief N.F. Mowarin, Chief Michael Ajasin, and Chief Arthur Prest were elected Vice President; Bode Thomas became the General Secretary; Anthony Enahoro and S.O. Sonibare were elected Assistant Secretaries while S.O. Ighodaro became Treasurer; S.T. Oredeinde Administrative and S.L. Akintola and M.E.R. Okorodudu became Legal Advisers. However, it was not all that smooth within the Action Group. The party became factionalized. On July 7, 1962, the following were expelled from the party. They are Chief S.L. Durosaro, Chief O. Tobun, Chief E.O. Okunowo, Chief F.O. Awosika, A.F. Odulana, Oba C.D. Akran, Chief Abiodun Akerele, J.O. Adigun, A.O. Adedeji, S.O. Ogundipe, Chief A.O. Adeyi, Chief A.M.A. Akinloye, S.O. Fajimi, Duro Ogundiran, E.A. Ogundiran, E.A. Lagunju, S. Hunponu Wusu, S.A. Sanni, Lasisi Ajimobi, L.O. Aniyi, D.O. Arowolo, N.A. Adibi, E.O. Oke, R.A. Lana, S.A. Adeniya, J.L. Tifase, and Chief Samuel Adegbite Tinubu(June 26 1923-May 15 2014) alias Baba Deinbo.

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 Nigerian politics even 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 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 based on 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 saber-rattling in some parts of the country. Those who advocate the use of 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 to recover 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 through the 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 to further strengthen and entrench 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 the 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.

Some knowledgeable persons have likened an attack on the East to Lincoln’s war against the southern states in America. Two vital factors distinguish Lincoln’s campaign from the one now being contemplated in Nigeria. The first is that the American civil war was aimed at the abolition of slavery – that is the liberation of millions of Negroes who were then still being used as chattels and worse than domestic animals. The second factor is that Lincoln and others in the northern states were English-speaking people waging a war of good conscience and humanity against their fellow nationals who were also English speaking. A war against the East in which Northern soldiers are predominant, will only unite the Easterners or the Ibos against their attackers, strengthen them in their belief that they are not wanted by the majority of their fellow Nigerians, and finally push them out of the Federation.

We have been told that an act of secession on the part of the East would be a signal, in the first instance, for the creation of the COR state by decree, which would be backed, if need be, by the use of force. With great respect, I have some dissenting observations to make on this declaration. There are 11 national or linguistic groups in the COR areas with a total population of 5.3 million. These national groups are as distinct from one another as the Ibos are distinct from them or the Yorubas or Hausas. Of the 11, the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group is 3.2 million strong as against the Ijaws who are only about 700,000 strong. Ostensibly, the remaining nine national groups number 1.4 million. But when you have subtracted the Ibo inhabitants from among them, what is left ranges from the Ngennis who number only 8,000 to the Ogonis who are 220,000 strong. A decree creating a COR state without a plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of the peoples in the area would only amount to subordinating the minority national groups in the state to the dominance of the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group. It would be perfect to create a Calabar state or a Rivers state by decree and without a plebiscite. Each is a homogeneous national unit. But before you lump distinct and diverse national units together in one state, the consent of each of them is indispensable. Otherwise, the seed of social disequilibrium in the new state would have been sown.

On the other hand, if the COR State is created by decree after the Eastern Region shall have made its severance from Nigeria effective, we should then be waging an unjust war against a foreign state. It would be an unjust war because the purpose of it would be to remove 10 minorities in the East from the dominance of the Ibos only to subordinate them to the dominance of the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group. I think I have said enough to demonstrate that any war against the East, or vice versa, on any count whatsoever, would be an unholy crusade, for which it would be most unjustifiable to shed a drop of Nigerian blood. Therefore, only a peaceful solution must be found, and quickly too to arrest the present rapidly deteriorating stalemate and restore normalcy.

Concerning the second categorical imperative, it is my considered view that whilst some of the demands of the East are excessive within the context of a Nigerian union, most of such demands are not only well-founded but are designed for smooth and steady association amongst the various national units of Nigeria.

The dependence of the Federal Government on financial contributions from the regions? These and other such like demands I do not support. Demands such as these, if accepted, will lead surely to the complete disintegration of the Federation which is not in the interest of our people. But I wholeheartedly support the following demands among others, which we consider reasonable and most of which are already embodied in our memoranda to the Ad Hoc Committee.

That revenue should be allocated strictly based on derivation; that is to say after the Federal Government has deducted its share for its services the rest should be allocated to the regions to which they are attributable.

That the existing public debt of the Federation should become the responsibility of the regions based on the location of the projects in respect of each debt whether internal or external.

That each region should have and control its militia and police force.

That, with immediate effect, all military personnel should be posted to their regions of origin…

If we are to live in harmony one with another as Nigerians these demands and others which are not related must be met without further delay by those who have hitherto resisted them. To those who may argue that the acceptance of these demands will amount to transforming Nigeria into a federation with a weak central government, my comment is that any link however tenuous, which keeps the East in the Nigerian union, is better in my view than no link at all.

Before the Western delegates went to Lagos to attend the meetings of the ad hoc committee, they were given a clear mandate that if any region should opt-out of the Federation of Nigeria, then the Federation should be considered to be at an end and that the Western Region and Lagos should also opt-out of it. It would then be up to Western Nigeria and Lagos as an independent sovereign state to enter into association with any of the Nigerian units of its choosing, and on terms mutually acceptable to them. I see no reason for departing from this mandate. If any region in Nigeria considers itself strong enough to compel us to enter into association with it on its terms, I would only wish such region luck. But such luck, I must warn, will, in the long run, be no better than that which has attended the doings of all colonial powers down the ages. This much I must say in addition, on this point. We have neither military might nor the overwhelming advantage of numbers here in Western Nigeria and Lagos. But we have justice of a noble and imperishable cause on our side, namely: the right of a people to unfettered self-determination. If this is so, then God is on our side, and if God is with us then we have nothing whatsoever in this world to fear.

The fourth imperative and the second conditional one has been fully dealt with in my recent letter to the Military Governor of Western Nigeria, Col. Robert Adebayo, and in the representation which your deputation made last year to the head of the Federal Military Government, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon. As far back as November last year a smaller meeting of leaders of thought in this Region decided that unless certain things were done, we would no longer participate in the meeting of the ad hoc committee. But since then, not even one of our legitimate requests has been granted. I will, therefore, take no more of your time in making further comments on a point with which you are well familiar. As soon as our humble and earnest requests are met, I shall be ready to take my place on the ad hoc committee. But certainly, not before.

In closing, I have this piece of advice to give. To resolve amicably and in the best interests of all Nigerians, certain attributes are required on the part of Nigerian leaders, military as well as non-military leaders alike, namely: vision, realism, and unselfishness. But above all, what will keep Nigerian leaders in the North and East unwaveringly in the path of wisdom, realism, and moderation is courage and steadfastness on the part of Yoruba people in the course of what they sincerely believe to be right, equitable, and just. In the past five years, we in the West and Lagos have shown that we possess these qualities in a large measure. If we demonstrate them again as we did in the past, calmly and heroically, we will save Nigeria from further bloodshed and imminent wreck and, at the same time, preserve our freedom and self-respect into the bargain.

May God rule and guide our deliberations here, and endow all the Nigerian leaders with the vision, realism, and unselfishness as well as courage and steadfastness in the course of truth, which the present circumstances demand.


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