Awo and Alli: Bona Fide and Masses-Certified Heroic Leaders

Obafemi Awolowo was a Nigerian freedom fighter, political leader, lawyer, moral beacon, elder statesman, sage, successful businessman, publisher, disciplined family man and an authentic lover of the masses. For much of his life, Obafemi Awolowo was massively larger than life. In the minds of many Nigerians who very deeply love and believe in him, Obafemi Awolowo, was a sage. Yes, the great sage was very much revered by his followers.

How did Obafemi Awolowo the man from Ikenne town, Ogun state, Nigeria; a Yoruba of Ijebu extraction, rocketed to such great height?  Awo as Awolowo is affectionately called by the millions who love him so affectionately, was an authentic, masses certified, legitimate and bona fide lover of the Nigerian downtrodden, the suffering, the oppressed and the vulnerable.

Obafemi Awolowo as Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria introduced free and mandatory primary education in the region. He also introduced free health care till age 18 in the Western Region of Nigeria. These programs gave the Western Region of Nigeria a major lift over and above, even many countries in Sub Saharan Africa.

Obafemi Awolowo was Premier of the Western Region, when the mainstay of the Western Region economy was just cocoa. With the very limited proceeds from cocoa as a cash crop, Obafemi Awolowo “miraculously released water from stone”. The achievements of the Western Region government under the leadership of the legendary Obafemi Awolowo are comparable only to the achievements of Germany, Japan and Israel; all countries with no natural resource, but manifestly successful with very strong economies and social institutions.

 Obafemi Awolowo’s political party during Nigeria’s Second Republic, the Unity Party of Nigeria stormed Nigeria with the very popular four cardinal programs of:

  1. Free Education 
  2. Free Health Care
  3. Integrated Rural Development
  4. Gainful Employment for all.

Though Obafemi Awolowo did not eventually ascend the throne of the Nigerian Presidency despite his popularity and indefatigable campaign for the office; Awo made sure that he guided the Governors elected on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria to actualize the Party’s electoral promises i.e free education, free health care, integrated rural development and gainful employment for all.

In all the states governed by the UPN Governors, education was not just free; schools were built and located within walkable distance from the homes of the students. The free education program led to the massive increase in the number of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the states that hitherto constituted the old Western Region. Among the schools built during that era are the Bendel State University now known as Professor Ambrose Alli University and the Lagos State University among many others.

Obafemi Awolowo was known for spartan self-discipline, deep spirituality, perfect organization and rigid financial discipline. The masses oriented programs of the Unity Party of Nigeria were the noble off-springs of Papa Awo’s fertile mind. Under Awo’s leadership and direct personal guidance, all the UPN Governors effectively delivered the electoral promises of the Unity Party of Nigeria. Awo had zero tolerance for failure and or half success.

It would appear that Papa Awolowo’s approach to politics was predicated on deep love for the masses. Awolowo was a firm believer in a government that is tailored strictly to help elevate the masses out of poverty. Awo did not merely believe in tending to the welfare of the masses, Awolowo also understood that Africans face special socio-economic challenges that have earned the continent the unflattering title “third world” like other equally seriously socio-economically challenged parts of the world. Obafemi Awolowo understood very clearly that the quickest way to move the African people out of backwardness is through education. Awolowo realized that all available resources must be mobilized toward catapulting the masses out of the bondage of poverty. The above premise would appear to be the cornerstone of Awo’s iron cast commitment to the four cardinal programs; that constituted his passionate political gifts to the masses. The masses understood and acknowledged Awo’s love for them. Thus, there was a special bond between the masses and Awo.

Two other comparable masses and leader love bond are:

  1. The love affair between Africans and the great Nnamdi Azikiwe who fought for the emancipation of Africa from colonial rule. That love affair earned the great Zik, the affectionate epithet Zik of Africa
  1.  Another instance of Masses – Leader love affair, was the relationship between the Kano Talakawas and the late Aminu Kano

One of the protégés that was mentored by the great Obafemi Awolowo during the UPN days was the great Professor Ambrose Alli. The success of Ambrose Alli as Governor of Bendel State was phenomenal. The beloved Governor won the love and respect of all Bendelites due to his courageous, pro-masses and conscientious approach to the business of governance.

Governor Ambrose Alli was confronted with the problem of providing tertiary education for the thousands of High School graduates that Bendel state was producing annually. Many Bendel youths could not gain admission into any of the then existing Universities, because they were all federal schools and were mainly admitting students based on federal quota system. Merit was sacrified on the altar of federal character and mediocrity. Thus Governor Alli had no other choice but to initiate the process of establishing the Bendel State University.

 Even now, many Nigerian youths cannot afford to attend any of Nigeria’s many private Universities because private Universities and private secondary institutions are primarily set up with profit making as the main motive thereof. An overwhelming fraction of Nigeria’s 175 million people are families struggling with how to make ends meet. A lot of school age Nigerians are forced to drop out of school, because their parents are unable to confront the financial challenges that are inherent in going to school. One of the best helps a caring leader can render to his people is to lift the burden of financing education off the shoulders of the already over burden citizens.

When Professor Ambrose Alli was experimenting with the Bendel State University idea, he met with very stiff resistance. There were folks who argued that there were already too many Universities in Nigeria. Others argued that a State cannot afford the financial burden of building a University. However, based on his deep understanding of the struggles the average Bendel family was coping with, Governor Ambrose Alli was concretely determined to do the very best for his people. Ambrose Alli did not only establish the Bendel State University, he made it a free institution of tertiary learning for all Bendelites.

Now, this is the thing, it would appear that none of the Universities or any of the schools that were built by Unity Party of Nigeria Governors to provide free education is free any more. This brings to mind the curious case of Lagos State University, LASU. How can anyone explain how the Lagos State University that was established by the Unity Party of Nigeria predicated administration of Lateef Jakande, an institution whose conception and development were not only inspired by the thoughts, ideas and philosophy of the great Obafemi Awolowo, but the conception and construction of which was executed while Awolowo was alive and directly leading the Unity Party of Nigeria as National Chairman; in which capacity, he directly ensured that the party’s programs were fully implemented in all the UPN controlled States; is now Nigeria’s most expensive State University? A University that was built to make University education available to all Lagosians, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds, has now been priced out of the reach of the struggling, most vulnerable and most financially challenged, but mentally gifted and intellectually agile Lagosians, for whom LASU was built ab initio.

The achievements of Governor Ambrose Alli, as comprehensively listed in a blog by Gabriel Okoruwa Omonhinmin, and reproduced below is overwhelming, awe inspiring, massive and breath taking: “Now a cursory look at the monumental jobs done by Professor Ali, with very minimal budget, compared to what States and Local Government Councils today received from the Federation’s Account. In the area of education, which was his government priority, Professor Ali within a period of two years established 116 Primary Schools with 1,247 classrooms, with a total enrolment of 138,340 pupils and 7,743 teachers, on assumption of office on October 1, 1979. He therefore, achieved an incredible increase in all facets of the state primary school educational system in two years from 1979 to 1981 in the following range of 7.2%, 7.1%, 17.4% and 34.8% respectively.

In the area of post-primary institutions, Ali established 493 Post-primary institutions, with 4,779 classrooms, 166,989 students and 5,981 Teachers. Percentage increase in the period in question stood at 258%, 159.3%, 136.2% and 128% respectively. He established five new Colleges of Education at Benin City, Warri, Agbor, Igueben and Afuze, and upgraded the College of Education, Abraka to a University College of Education, with effect from October 1, 1979. The combined Student in-take in the six Colleges of Education within the period under review rose to over 12,000.

The former Bendel State University now Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma took off on January 4, 1982 with 300 students. The Ali government within the period of 1979 to 1981 disbursed a total sum of 26,616,784.50 million naira as bursaries to 15,261 students in Nigerian institutions of higher learning. The sum of 12,024,810 million naira was paid out as bursaries to Bendel State students in institutions of higher learning abroad.

In the same vein, a total sum of 12,045,513.41 million naira was spent on the purchase of books and writing materials for distribution free of charge to 1,220,872 pupils in primary and post-primary schools. While the sum of N5.671 million was spent on the renovation, rehabilitation and repairs of existing primary schools. N23.52 million was also spent on the construction of new classrooms for existing secondary schools. The sum of N1.311 million was utilized for the provision of classroom furniture made up of 8,071 three-seaters, 5,407 single-seaters, 363 tables and chairs.

His government made sure that 24,021 teachers were sent on training from 501 classrooms across the state, while another 786 teachers were trained in 13 teacher training colleges as at October 1, 1981. Corresponding percentage increase are 99.8% and 52.03% respectively. Ambrose Ali’s government disbursed the sum of N1.617 million on the construction of 231 new classrooms for teacher training colleges across the old Bendel State. His government also made sure that the sum of N.445 million was spent on the purchase of furniture for teacher training colleges. The sum of N7.574 million was approved by his government for the construction of seven new teachers’ colleges located at Ibillo, Isiokolo, Abavo, Obiaruku, Sapele and Usugbenu-Irrua.

The Ali government made sure that 37 new workshops valued at N11.464 million were constructed in five technical colleges in the old Bendel State. His government spent N2.8 million then on the provision of science equipment for post primary institutions. Late Professor Ambrose Ali established 2 new Polytechnics at Ozoro and Ogwashi-Uku and 3 new institutes of Industrial Technology at Igarra, Kwale and Patani. From the above picture, it was no surprise to anybody that the old Bendel State years after Professor Ali left office became exporter of manpower to other states of the Federation.

In the area of rural development, Professor Ali’s government made sure that the sum of N36 million debts incurred by the military regime that handed over power to him, on road development projects were settled by February, 1981. He now went on to build 30 Kilometres of roads inherited from the preceding government, and completed 2,060 Kilometres of roads constructed at a cost of N761 million naira. A total of 352 Kilometres of roads were built in Benin City, the State Capital and 18 other Local Government Headquarters at a cost of N83.8 million naira. A breakdown of these roads were as follows, 150 Kilometres in Benin City, 40 Kilometres in Warri, 6 Kilometres in each of the other 17 Local government Headquarters in the old Bendel State.

His government completed the Phase One of Benin Drainage Scheme, 60% of Phase Two of Benin Drainage Scheme also completed as at the time he was removed from office. The Auchi and Agbor drainage schemes were also nearing completion as at that time. In the same vein, the designs for Effurun, Warri and Asaba drainage schemes were already completed. The Ali government left nothing to chance as it ensured that sewage scheme design for Benin City was completed, while the sum of N.4 million dredging and cutting of Odube Creek – Forcados River Canal was completed.

In the area of health, his government ensured that 41 General Hospitals in the old Bendel State were functional. 11 more hospitals were nearing completion, while 300 Health Centres were in operational. The then Bendel State government under Ali provided 17 Mobile Hospitals for the rural areas in the state. While 4 Mobile Boat Clinics were constructed in Western Germany for the Riverine Local Government Areas of Warri, Bomadi, Burutu, Isoko and Ughelli. Within the same period, N2.1 million naira was spent on the construction of two new 500-bed Specialist Hospitals at Warri and Benin City. The sum of N1 million was also spent on expansion of existing Specialist Hospital in Benin City, while the sum of N1.1 million was also spent on the expansion of the Specialist Hospital in Warri. “

Professor Alli was not your everyday Governor. In fact all the Governors of the states controlled by the Unity Party of Nigeria during Nigeria’s Second Republic experiment seem to have been specially picked by the party under the guidance of the sage Obafemi Awolowo. These men were true leaders and they delivered the dividends of democracy abundantly. These great Governors were Adekunle Ajasin, Bisi Onabanjo, Lateef Jakande, Bola Ige and Ambrose Alli.

Governor Ambrose Alli exhibited the silky coolness and velvety gentility of a dove and demonstrated the bravery, boldness and courage, determination, energy and indefatigable gusto of a lion. The resistance Ambrose Alli had to fight and overcome to establish the Bendel State University is a story that will be told and retold for ages to come. Back in the day it was no longer news to read in the newspapers that the “Bendel State Government has dragged the Nigerian Federal Government to Court”, over failure of the federal government to remit to the Bendel State government, her share of allocation from the federation account. Despite the deliberate efforts, dubious design, anti- people cum anti progress efforts of the National Party of Nigeria controlled Federal Government to frustrate the Governor Alli led Bendel State government from honoring the promises made to the good people of Bendel State i.e. free education at all levels for all, free health care, integrated rural development and gainful employment; the Ambrose Alli administration bulldozed its way along and fulfilled every one of its electioneering promises.

Till date, roads built by the Ambrose Alli administration are still motor-able. Schools built by the Ambrose Alli administration are still being enjoyed by the good people of Edo and Delta States. Health institutions built by the Ambrose Alli administration are still delivering health care services to the good people of Edo and Delta States.

It would appear that the reason for the monumental successes achieved by Obafemi Awolowo, Ambrose Alli and the other Unity Party of Nigeria Governors are attributable to the innate love that these men had for the people. These great men happily put their people’s welfare ahead of their personal interests. These great men were advanced in wisdom. They had far reaching vision. These great men saw far into the future. Obafemi Awolowo and the Unity Party of Nigeria Governors during Nigeria’s Second Republic were messengers of the cosmic. The great Awo and the UPN Governors were far ahead of their time.

 The very fearless Ikemba Nnewi who was an embodiment of courage, fortitude and energy declared after having had sufficient time to cool off, contemplate and meditate on Nigerian issues; that Obafemi Awolowo was the greatest President Nigeria never had. Indeed Dim Emeka Ojukwu was abundantly correct. Ikemba’s statement on Awo should be carved on a Nigerian Mount Rushmore, for present and future Nigerians to read, ponder upon, grow and be determined to make the Nigerian project work. Greetings Dim, Bravo Ikemba Nnewi.

The young Yakubu Gowon sought and relied on the wisdom, fiscal and moral discipline of the great Obafemi Awolowo to stabilize, dignify and evolve his administration. Constructively speaking, Obafemi Awolowo was Nigeria’s Prime Minister during the era of the Yakubu Gowon administration. The Awolowo inspired achievements of that administration are legendary. Due to Awo’s financial wizardry and organizational genius, Nigeria fought a war and came out financially balanced, not even a penny was owed to any nation, or institution on earth.

Every Awoist, Awocrat and or Awonomic wannabe of today, must take time off to study the philosophies, ideologies and writings of the great Awo. Multiple visits to Ikenne for photo-ops with Mama HID Awo are not enough to make one an Awoist. Wearing an Awo type, moon rimmed eye glasses and a pretzel designed, Awo type cap, are not enough to make an under-achieving Governor or politician an Awoist. A Governor could be a Progressive and or a Welfarist minded Governor and yet fail to pass muster, for not satisfying the sine qua non to be regarded as an Awoist, Awocrat or Awonomic.The threshold for attaining the exalted status of an Awoist is higher than the requirement for assuming the title of Progressive or Welfarist.

To be accepted as a legitimate, bona fide, authentic, hoi polloi certified Awoist; a Politician must study, accept, imbibe, promise, canvass and implement the core ideas of Awoism as summarized in the four cardinal programs of the Unity Party of Nigeria, founded and led by the great Awo himself. These cardinal points of political action are:

  1. Free Education at all Levels for all Nigerians
  2. Free Health Care for all Nigerians
  3. Integrated Rural Development
  4. Gainful Employment

If you are the Governor of a State, where a University established by an administration elected on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria, based on the Awoist ideology of Free Education at every level, has now been completely priced out of the reach of the long suffering masses, i.e demanding the highest tuition by any State University in Nigeria; dude, would you honestly call yourself an Awoist? If you are a Governor of a state where neither Education nor Health Care is free at any level, would you honestly call yourself an Awoist?  If you are a Legislator and you have never ever introduced, supported and or voted for any Bill for Free Education or Free Health Care; dude, would you call yourself an Awoist? If you are a Politician and you regularly argue that Free Education and Free Health Care are not sustainable; dude, would you honestly call yourself an Awoist?

Written by Anthony Okosun (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)