There is likely not going to be any dissension if he is described as one of the pillars of the Country. For he along with some leading lights of his generation fought the colonial masters to a standstill to win independence for motherland in 1960. He was also a torch bearer of good governance and did everything in his power to ensure the emancipation of his people and his nation. For Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo, statesman, legal luminary, visionary, activist, politician, teacher, philosopher and family man, service to God meant service to humanity.
His life was a remarkable demonstration of the indomitable spirit and how through dint of hard work and determination a man can become a key player and a force for good in the scheme of things wherever fate places him. Chief Awolowo did not begin life at the top. He rose from grinding poverty to the pinnacle of his career through perseverance, doggedness and tenacity of purpose, attributes which served him well during the twists and turns of his illustrious political career. He was an uncommon leader who personified the immutable dictum of Reverend King that one should not ask for what one’s nation your nation can do for one but what one can do to uplift one’s nation. Awolowo’s main preoccupation was the betterment of his people and his country. He was one of the few leaders of his time who established an unbroken link with the common people. Despite his position, the people saw in him a leader that could be trusted at all times because they knew that he was not going to sell them out for a mess of porridge. He had a strong distaste for ostentatious
living and his civility and moderation were palpable. He showed in words and deeds the huge difference between a ruler and a leader. He led by example and did not preach what he could not practice. He was simply a leader like no other.
No wonder 25 years after his death, Chief Jeremiah Awolowo remains a positive reference point in the political firmament of Yorubaland and of course a personification of patriotism and good governance. That is memory is still alive and his legacy that permeates all areas of human endeavor is also still ever green came to the fore when Nigerians from all walks of life joined his wife Mama HID Awolowo, family members political associates and his admirers to mark the 25th anniversary of his demise on Wednesday May 9th 2012 at his Ikenne country home. They all came to pay homage to a man who during his lifetime worked assiduously for the progress and unity of the country. A man who distinguished himself in all that he did yet remained an epitome of humility and service to humanity.
Described by many as the best President Nigeria never had, a position popularized by the late Ikemba of Nnewi, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, Papa Awolowo owed his large following and veneration to his sterling performance when he held stay as the premier of Western Nigeria and his unquantifiable contributions to the development of his country and humanity
at large. He was one of the early Nationalists who played key roles in the fight for independence and after self rule was granted the regions he quickly moved to ensure that his people in Western Nigeria got a head start. This he did with the introduction of Free Education across the length and breadth of the region. He also mapped out strategies that saw the region took the lead in industrial and agricultural development through the establishment of farm settlement and industrial layouts. He also built the first television station in Nigeria
as well as the cocoa House which became the tallest building in the country at the time. Chief Awolowo was credited with the establishment of a vibrant and efficient civil service and introduction of minimum wage for workers, the formation of the University of Ife which was renamed after him, reformation of the local government system which strengthened governance at the grassroots, free medical program and comprehensive health care targeted at the less privilege and the construction of the first major stadium in the country in Ibadan. The late sage he also pioneered housing estate development, and unprecedented development of critical infrastructure. He believed strongly that a politician’s words in terms of his campaign promises should be his bond.
And all through his political career he simply translated the campaign promises of the Action Group and the Unity Party of Nigeria to Concrete Reality. Awolowo was a man who walked his talk. He was a visionary who mentored many followers and showed them through words and needs, the true meaning of service. Awolowo’s Spartan life, moral rectitude and
uncommon love for his country were very glaring and many people agreed that he was not just a leader but a philosopher who expounded policies and programmes that placed him in a class of his own.
Awolowo was also a principled man and who never bent the rule no matter whose ox was gored. For his principle he was railroaded into detention and eventually tried and convicted for treason when it was glaring that those who held the levers of powers at the time just wanted him out of the way at all costs. He refused to cut any deal with his traducers
even when it was clear that he was facing clear and grave danger. He was simply a victim of high wire politics and backstabbing by trusted aides. The trial which began on November 2, 1962 was brought to a close in November 1963 with the famous pronouncement by the presiding judge that his hands were tied. Chief Awolowo was to spend the next three years in Calabar Prison and was only released after the fall of the Military regime of General Aguniyi Ironsi. General Yakubu Gowon, the then head of State later gave him a state pardon and he was later appointed as the commissioner for finance and Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council at one of the most difficult moments of the country’s history. Like
everything he did, he acquitted himself creditably well. He left after ensuring the enunciation and codification of the National Development Plan.
In 1978 following the lifting of the ban on political activities he formed the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN under whose flag he vied for the presidency of the country in 1979. He lost to Alhaji Sheu Shagari and after the blatant rigging of the 1983 election, Chief Awolowo warned of the looming danger which the country faced. Remarkably all the states under the control of his party performed better than their peers and they actually became benchmark for good governance, a situation attributed to the influence of the late sage. They simply built on the template established by the late sage when he was the premier of the Western Region.
After his exit, the Yoruba race has remained in quandary with war of succession virtually tearing its leaders apart. Since 1987, there has been no figure with the aura, charisma and general appeal of Awolowo to assume the undisputed leadership of the race. It would appear that most of those who are involved in the politics of leadership of the race are more interested in the position than in propagating the ideals of the statesman. Like Reverend Peter Awelewa Adebiyi who gave the sermon at the Silver Jubilee remembrance anniversary said, only when the present crop of leaders angling to lead the Yoruba race rise above Partisanship and personal aggrandizement would the race return to the Awolowo era. The truth of the matter is that the House of Oduduwa is divided against itself and a unifying leader in the mould of Awolowo is urgently needed to repair the leaking roof and broken walls.
Chief Awolowo’s sterling contributions to Nigeria’s social, political and economic development are simply unquantifiable. He was a man of integrity who served his people to the end. Also his record of service remains unsurpassed. He was a leader who worked for the
betterment of the people all through his sojourn on earth. . 25 years after his demise, his footprints are still very clear and the sage remains a benchmark for good governance not just in the southwest but also throughout the country and beyond. The nostalgic feeling about his era by his admirers and those who have read about his life and times is not just because he did so well but also because of the paucity of principled and visionary leaders in our generation.
Selfishness and ethnic irredentism have replaced selfless service and patriotism. There is no doubt that our country is hemorrhaging badly just because of the lack of purposeful and visionary leaders in the mould of Awolowo. It is time to go back to the ideals of this great man in order to change course and avert the looming disaster that is staring all of us in the face.
What is however clear that is the Awolowo legacy cannot be obliterated. Through the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, the ideals of the elder statesman are being propagated and enunciated so that succeeding generations could take their cues from his progressive and pro people principles. But more than that, Awolowo’s imprimatur of good governance which is clearly discernible all through the Southwest will remain imperishable testimonies of his contributions to the development of his people, country and humanity in general.
Adebanjo, a journalist, sent this piece from Abeokuta