ABy Adebayo Williams
Originally published on Saturday, May 22, 2004
A lecture on 3/5/04 at the maiden edition of Afenifere lectures to commemorate Chief Obafemi Awolowo's post-humous birthday
Testing times Mr Chairman, revered leaders of the Yoruba, illustrious assemblage on the high table and distinguished guests, it is a source of infinite joy and pleasure for me to stand before such an august body. I have surmounted great odds and difficulties to be here today. But I told myself that I must be here whatever the costs. I am sure that Chief Obafemi Awolowo himself would have nodded in satisfaction at the acts of aeronautical daring that have carried me here today.
In an inspired and magnificent tribute, General Ibrahim Babangida once described Chief Awolowo as the main issue in our political life. Eighteen years after it was made, and 17 years after Awo's translation to eternal glory, that statement remains as valid as ever. We are talking about a man who pushed himself beyond the threshold of imaginable pain in every sphere of human endeavour; a man who dared and defied all odds; a man who turned adversity and misfortune into weapons against the outrageous slings and arrows of fate.
Let me begin by thanking the organisers of this occasion, particularly the European branch of Afenifere and their energetic chairman, Otunba Kole Omololu. There could not have been a more timely occasion to organise this kind of event, coming as it is at a very critical period: first for Nigeria itself as a nation; second for civil governance and the democratic project; and finally for the Afenifere, the dominant association that Chief Awolowo left behind. This is a time when virtually all the major groups and associations in Nigeria are engaged in intense soul-searching, particularly with regards to their relationship to the national project. Unfortunately, and as some of us have warned, this interrogation appears to have degenerated into a full-blown armed critique of the Nigerian state in the Niger Delta.
In the former Western region, an electoral blitzkrieg appears to have altered the old political equations, leaving in its wake a despondent and despairing populace and a dazed and disoriented progressive leadership. We surely live in very interesting times, and I am sure that if Chief Awolowo were to come back today to see the trail of deserters, the thick pall of perfidy, the surging Gadarene of apostates who shout his name in vain, the estrangement among his true followers and the stark diminution in the power and status of Afenifere, he would probably observe with great sadness and characteristic forthrightness: "Thank God, I am not an Awoist".
But if there is little to cheer about the present, we can look back, to the defining moment represented by Awo in its heroic possibilities and superhuman exertions. We must do this not in anger but in hope, with a view to determining how and when the handshake went beyond the elbow; and with the hope of bringing the magic of the past to bear on the morass of the moment. As the Yoruba proverb has it, when children stumble, they look anxiously forward, but when elders falter, they cast a sober, retrospective glance backwards. It may seem like yesterday but it is already half a century ago that Chief Awolowo embarked on his seminal, trail-blazing tenure as the premier of the old western region. The momentum so generated by this, in combination with other historical factors, carried the Yoruba nation forward through strife and stress, through tragedy and triumph for the next 45 years all culminating in the historic elections of 1999. Yet five years after, the victors appear to have been transformed into the vanquished. There is a new game in town. There are new historical forces to contend with.
Never in history has success brought more profound contradictions. Indeed, we may all say with the Roman general that another victory like the last one, and we may all be brought to ruin.
All of which cannot make the task today any easier. Several times in the past few weeks, I have wished that this cup should pass from me. I must confess that this is one of the hardest intellectual tasks I have found myself saddled with. To examine the legacy of any great man is a hard enough task, but to examine the legacy of a great man among great men, a paradigmatic figure of history, a titan contending with other titanic personages, is a tough nut indeed. Chief Awolowo's greatness was defined by the greatness of the historical circumstances that threw him up, the greatness of the expectations, and, of course, the greatness of the many historical figures he had to contend with, often in open confrontation but sometimes also in paradoxical complicity.
It was an opera of giants, and like a great boxer who can only achieve his true stature in contention with other equally great boxers, Chief Awolowo was a beneficiary of his formidable adversaries.
To do justice to a man who achieves historical distinction in one sphere of human endeavour is no mean task. But to do justice to a man who achieves historical distinction in many spheres of life simultaneously and concurrently is an intellectually impossible assignment. We can imagine Chief Awolowo at dinner. With him is a great philosopher, an outstanding political theorist, an exceptional metaphysician, an economic wizard, an organisational genius, a moral avatar and a distinguished polemical and political warrior.
But Chief Awolowo is in fact dining alone, because all these luminaries, this constellation of emeriti, are himself and the same man. It is an embarrassment of human riches; a genetic scandal that one single individual could be so stupendously endowed.
To do justice to this man's legacy, then, requires an intellectual operation of immense dialectical skills. First, we must isolate the man from the historical circumstances that threw him up and which he tried to mould by sheer granite will even while being molded by their unbending historical logic and imperative. Second, we must define and then refine the legacies themselves, particularly in the face of accretions, cobwebs and diplomatic sheen they have collected as a result of the labours of diligent and dogged detractors and ardent admirers alike. Finally, we must review the legacies with the benefit of historical hindsight and changing historical circumstances, particularly given the heavy erosion among his core supporters, the phenomenon of friendly fire from fifth columnists, and the transformation of the original order of battle.
Henchmen and heretics
It is now generally agreed that colonization constituted a historic disruption of the normal evolutionary process of Africa. The old order was shattered together with most of its binding institutions. In some places, the colonialists tried to reinvent the wheel, while in other places, their intervention constituted a truly revolutionary restructuring of the political process. As decolonization got under way, as independence approached, and as the new nation-state paradigm with its new institutions and new political elite were operationalised, a fresh wave of energy was released in the various emergent countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
There is little doubt that the count down to independence was a period of great ferment in colonial Africa. Of the major nationalities that constituted what became known as Nigeria, none was in greater ferment than the Yoruba nation. The Yoruba could be said to have benefited from two benign historical conjunctures which forced them to look forward with unflinching determination. To look back was to be confronted with the glorious ruins of the old Yoruba empire, institutional chaos, political disorder and a nineteenth century in which they had fought themselves into a state of political coma until the colonialists came and ordered the warring generalissimos to go home and fight no more. Being proximate to the coast, and having produced a sophisticated and westernised elite by the middle of the nineteenth century, the Yoruba were also historically positioned to be at the vanguard of decolonization and anti-colonial exertions.
Of the West African coastal elite thrown up by colonization, the turn of the twentieth century Yoruba elite was probably only second to the Gold Coast middle class in terms of sophistication and distinction. Many of them saw themselves as a unique creation, a crossbreed of Europeans and Africans. But this elite, with its sedate languor and aristocratic diffidence, was about to be challenged and surpassed in terms of raw energy and unburnished determination by a new hinterland faction predominantly made up of products of missionary education and some scions of the old Yoruba feudal aristocracy.
This was when the moment met its man, and in a hitherto obscure journalist and failed business man, too. It is a banal truism that exceptional circumstances produce exceptional people. Of all his Yoruba peers and contemporaries, it would seem that it was Obafemi Awolowo who had a telepathic understanding of the historical forces at play and an elective affinity with their great unstable dynamics. With unusual mental focus and great clarity of mind, Awolowo knew precisely where he wanted to go and how to get there. And when he finally did, he had developed the great force of personality to make himself indispensable. Defying earth-pulling gravity and adversity, Awolowo survived the early loss of his father, a disrupted education and even bankruptcy to become a prosperous lawyer and leader of people. Along the way, he learnt to resist physical brutalisation and to confront unjust authorities. He had led a students' revolt at Wesley College, Ibadan, and in a brief civil service career, he challenged the colonial mandarins.
As an emerging leader, Awolowo's political activism was predicated on the intellectual conviction that Nigeria being an artificial creation and project-in-progress, it was best for the constituting units to mobilise separately before arriving at the centre to achieve a linkage of dynamic equals. But this being against the grain of the moment and the dominant perspective of the era, Awolowo encountered stiff opposition both within the Yoruba nationality and outside. There are those who charge him with being a Burkean federalist luxuriating in a hierarchy of ethnic loyalties and primordial allegiances. Many others accuse him of introducing parochialism and ethnicity into Nigerian politics by forcibly supplanting the hitherto dominant NCNC.
And yet for others, the means and method by which Chief Awolowo's party achieved its ascendancy could not bear the test of scruples or close ethical scrutiny.
This is not the place for ethnic sabre-rattling, or the forum to rake up old wounds. Suffice it to say that Chief Awolowo was a product of his time and his politics, an acute reflection of the forces at play. He was a Yoruba patriot and a Nigerian nationalist at the same time. If there is any contradiction here, it is the contradiction at the core of an insincere amalgamation and of a multi-national nation-state summoned to existence by colonial fiat. The bogey of ethnic domination was inadvertently compounded by the decision of the colonial authorities to keep the amalgamated halves of Nigeria socially and politically apart out of the fear of not injuring the sensibility of the Muslim North even as they smashed up the institutions in the South. When the leaders of the two separate halves were finally brought together in the forties, they could well have been aliens from different planets despite the pre-colonial commerce and cultural contact among the various people. By working on the historic fears of his people and rousing their famed ancestral pride, Awolowo was responding to a political imperative.
Not to have done so, would have amounted to political suicide, given the level of ethno-nationalism among the rival elite-formations despite the pan-Nigerian pretensions of some of them.
By successfully mobilising the people, Awolowo and his able lieutenants gave them a new lease of life and a sense of purpose within the context of the new nation. The political party by which he achieved this was a revelation on the African scene, and it casts an unflattering reflection on the current peculiar mess. The Action Group was highly organised, efficient, cohesive and deadly on the prowl. Indeed, it was more like a fighting machine, relentlessly advancing with panache and precision, quickly regrouping when surprised into a retreat and then resuming its remorseless advance. Its dress code hinted of an aptitude for immediate political hostilities; and its rallying slogan –E Stand by –suggested permanent political emergency.
As we shall see shortly, this is both a source of strength and also a source of weakness, for no people – or nation for that matter – can be placed on a permanent war footing. As soon as Chief Awolowo arrived at the centre, the bolts began to come off the armoured car. The spectacular success he had achieved in mobilising his people also combined to demobilise him at the federal level. By the time he became the leader of opposition, several negative connotations had already been foisted on him: an ethnic irredentist, a Yoruba hegemonist, a parochial opportunist. Even the glittering successes of the Action Group in the West became a liability and source of political anxiety. Left to the ordinary Nigerian masses, they would probably never have minded Awolowo re-enacting his magic at the centre stage, but this is not a game in which masses have a say, and as far as the rival elite formations were concerned, Awolowo's parsimonious efficiency was a barrier to political pirates in the age of primitive accumulation.
As the armoured car spluttered and stalled in its federal offensive, and with sparks flying from its grinding wheels, the Action Group also began to unravel. Always a coalition of the politically disparate and ideologically incoherent up till that point, the Action Group was precariously held together by the need for Yoruba solidarity and Chief Awolowo's formidable charisma. But as the threat receded and the Action Group consolidated its glorious governance, its rallying slogan of political emergency also disappeared. As it has always happened to them in history after they had inaugurated an empire, the Yoruba also began subverting it in earnest from within. There were many among Chief Awolowo's distinguished followers who reasoned that the war against ethnic domination having been won, what the next stage of the struggle required was not an abrasive political warrior like the great chief but a conciliator and skilled negotiator who would come to terms with the reality of Northern political supremacy and tease out the best deal for the Yoruba people. To their surprise, rather than coming to terms with this right wing reconciliation, Chief Awolowo sharply veered leftwards, and into the embrace of socialism.
For him rather than the war being over, it was merely the end of the beginning and he needed his fighting machine and a fighting ideology to confront the northern feudal behemoth.
The stage was set for a collision of two world views and contrasting visions; between nascent capitalism and a resurgent mutation of classical feudalism. The irresistible had arrived at the bulwark of the immovable. The fighting machine of an emergent Yoruba modernising elite has met the finishing machine of the last empire. This is the historic hunting ground of third forces. Only the professional managers of violence could break the deadlock.
This is the background to military intervention in our democratic process, and of the current enervation of the democratic project, with each stalemate producing strange and unworthy beneficiaries. When Chief Awolowo opined that our generation may never know real democracy, it was not a question of profound prescience or prophetic wizardry.
It is the law of the self-fulfiIling prophecy, depending on which side of the political divide one is. Chief Awolowo may point at his trial and tribulation and the subsequent ordeal of his people as irrefutable proof that contrary to the opportunism of his more pliable colleagues, he was historicaIly right and correct in thinking that the war was far from over.
On the other hand, there are those who might argue that it was the great chief who by his dogged persistence in imposing his vision panicked and frightened his adversaries into a series of pre-emptive measures which boomeranged and eventuaIly resulted in the mutual ruination of the contending classes such as we are probably witnessing. The answer probably lies in between the two positions, and only future historians can pronounce with a measure of certainty. But it will be useful to remember that the same incendiary equations, this time with Chief Awolowo facing the heirs of his old adversaries, produced exactly the same result and exactly the same type of tragedy in the Second Republic. In 1993, when Awo had already passed to higher glories, a variatiion of the same equations was to produce the aborted MKO Abiola presidency and an even greater tragedy.
If we are to infer from this that as a nation we have been going round in circles, repeating the same exercise and unlearning the same lesson, it would have been a pleasant development indeed. But we have not. We have actually been deteriorating politically, intellectually and economically. As a result, we have suffered a profound loss of mental and spiritual magnitude and the capacity for productive politics. In the process, we acquired a military with an unhealthy appetite for power without corresponding political responsibility. And they have foisted on us a militarised political culture of civil despotism moderated by political assassinations. Whatever we may say of them, the military are not aliens from Mars. They are the negative sum total of our negative political values. This is where the legacy of an Awolowo may serve as a great resource for a journey of political redemption and hope.
But before coming to the legacy, it is important to ask the surviving lieutenants and illustrious partisans of the Awolowo heritage a twin-question, the one bordering on politics and the other on strategy. Why is it that after each successful mobilisation of the Yoruba people behind their cause, the struggle for the next stage, which often masks a struggle for preferment and the spoils of office, usually leads to disaster and desertion? In 1959, the consolidation of Action Group's hold on the Western Region also marked the gradual estrangement of Chief (Ladoke) Akintola and his supporters from the fold. In 1983, with the entire western Nigeria in tow for the first time, the same drama in UPN saw to the exit of the Omoboriowos, the Adelakuns and the Afolabis. In 1993 after successfully rallying their people behind Abiola's cause, a similar dispute gradually deteriorated and led to the estrangement of Chief Jakande and co. In 1999, the very same dynamics led to the loss of Chief Bola Ige and his eventual tragic demise.(May his soul rest in peace).
By 2003, virtually all the AD elected officials, and in particular the governors, were on their own, and the falcons no longer hearkened to the falconer. Defending the ancient Maginot line of ethnic solidarity irrespective of ideological consanguinity, they were outflanked and wiped out to the last man by General (Olusegun) Obasanjo's wermacht. Could it be that no matter the ethnic coloration, members of the Nigerian political class are all the same? Could it be that corruption is a pan-Nigerian pandemic which does not recognise the differences of tribe and tongue? If this is a glimpse into the hypothetical Oduduwa Republic, what then is the basis for any Yoruba supremacist politics?
1959,1979, 1983, 1993, 1999,2003, these dates have a mystic resonance in what is a horoscope of political disasters. We must leave the elders to tease out the symbolic auguries. The second question is this: Why is it that the successful mobilisation of the Yoruba people behind a cause often provokes an extreme reaction among other elite ethnic-formations which then scuttles the very possibility of a linkage and collaboration at the centre? This happened to Awolowo twice or thrice. The same fate befell the AD in 1999, despite the fact that the Yoruba were at the vanguard of the anti-military struggle.
The only exception was Abiola who found himself at the head of a pan-Nigerian revulsion with military tyranny. But Abiola's hereditary expansiveness and unusual determination gave the game away, very early, and the military-feudal complex together with their hired southern hangmen rose to terminate the mandate and the man.
Does it then mean that the mobilisation of the Yoruba is incompatible with federal cohesion and even continued survival? Or is this a game of elite manipulation of fears and grievances which has prevented Nigeria from benefiting from a truly visionary and forward-looking leadership? Those who have been manipulating these fears and grievances in order to foist a leadership of arrant mediocrity on Nigeria at every turn know what is in it for themselves. But the question is what is in this historic mess for the generality of the Yoruba nation and other captive people of Nigeria? The answers to these posers can be found in the legacy of Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo, and it is to this we must now turn.
The Awolowo legacy and its relevance
Towards the end of his life, a seemingly frustrated Awo opted out of electoral politics in Nigeria. In a famous Parthian, he had told his compatriots that he would never run for office again, and that if Nigerians needed his service, they knew where to find him. A man of boundless almost mystical optimism and measureless faith in the ballot box, the paradox finally struck the great man that his very gifts and managerial ability have rendered him technically unelectable in post-colonial Nigeria. The most outstanding mobilizer of people and manager of human and natural resources that Nigeria has thrown up was also an electoral pariah. But despite disappointments, Awolowo never gave up on Nigeria, contrary to the insinuations of his detractors. This faith in the destiny of his beloved country is perhaps Awolowo's most enduring legacy to us.
However, we must note, contrary to the ersatz patriotism of emergency nationalists, that while Awolowo believed in Nigeria, he also thought that the nation is fatally misaligned and would require substantial structural realignment. That observation remains as true today as at any other time. In fact the structural damage is much worse, thanks to homespun malignant engineers of structural chaos and systemic dysfunction.
Contrary to those who believe that they must perjure their ethnic origins in order to be accepted as Nigerians, Chief Awolowo stuck to his guns till the bitter end as far as the mobilization of his people was concerned. If he could not succeed as a Yoruba leader, he argued, there was no rational basis for him to succeed as a Nigerian leader.
Perhaps, then, the most profound legacy of Chief Awolowo is the courage to face political odds and the character to confront political and social injustice. Such was the premium Awolowo placed on this twin-virtue that they occupied the core of his turbulent ruminations in what is the equivalent of his own passion at the garden of Gethsemane. In his darkest moment at lkoyi Prison, while rumours were rife about a plot to poison him by the powers that be, Awolowo harboured three main worries. The first two were of an intensely personal and domestic nature. Civility and respect compel us to leave these out.
Awolowo's final worry was whether his surviving lieutenants would have the courage and character to face the formidable odds after his exit.
When that test finally came, in the bare-knuckle struggle against military despotism, his surviving lieutenants acquitted themselves with honour and distinction. Despite their foibles and human frailties, we must salute these old men for their courage and indomitable spirit, and for doing historic justice to the memory of their departed leader.
Their Spartan discipline and integrity are often mistaken for intransigence and intolerance by those accustomed to easy life and shabby compromises. They often forget that this intransigence serves as a historic counterfoil to a more pernicious intransigence; and that their intolerance is simply an intolerance of intolerance. In any case, without these attributes, the political space which their detractors now abuse and even shamelessly threaten to contract would never have opened up. While Nigerian patriots where dying in the trenches, our current democratic avatars were up to their usual game of dubiety and duplicity. Set against their own record, their sanctimonious preachments about patriotism and integrity ring hollow and utterly hypocritical.
In his lifetime, Chief Awolowo did not suffer such people gladly, and rightly so. He went down fighting their cant and corrosive crudities. Such was his passion for social and political justice that in his very last interview, he had offered that were he to come back in thirty years and Nigeria was still a den of inequities, he would be found at the head of a stone-throwing mob. This has a very profound implication for post-Awolowo politics.
One of Awolowo's signal achievements is that by his principled opposition, he prevented a homogenization of the Nigerian ruling class. By refusing and resisting the incorporation of his own elite faction into the ruling class, Awolowo held forth the possibility of redemption for the Nigerian political class.
For his detractors, this refusal is often given out as a rejection of the incorporation of the Yoruba into the mainstream of Nigerian politics. This is both a logical scandal and an act of semantic vandalism, for their so called mainstream is not the mainstream of the Nigerian people, but the narrow mainstream of a corrupt and dissolute political class, a pan-Nigerian bazaar of buccaneers, a human bestiary where political hyenas call out to each other to come and chop. In their warped vision of politics, the mainstream is synonymous with giving choice appointments to cronies and scions of political and economic notables while the rest wallow in penury and biblical starvation. Isn't it a sobering irony that when the Yoruba were out of their mainstream and in the so called opposition they had the best amenities and boasted of the highest standard of living in sub-Saharan Africa?
They deceive no one but themselves. To the extent that the nation cannot move forward without them, the Yoruba have always been in the mainstream of Nigerian politics. But now that the area boys from the gutters of seamy scams have arrived on the political scene proclaiming a new Yoruba hegemony and polluting the atmosphere like the sewage rats that they are, it is important for Chief Awolowo's followers and other Yoruba patriots to disown the false heritage being foisted on them. For the surviving Awoists, this can only be done by reinventing themselves through a return to the true legacy of the founding father.
Refining the Awo legacy; towards a new vision
Chief Awolowo leaves a legacy as a great planner and economic wizard. If he were to come back, he would have been greatly saddened by the pandemic of corruption and the economic disaster facing the nation today. And not that he did not forewarn. But the great man would have been even more distressed by the precipitate flight of intellectual and cultural capital from Nigeria and the decimation of the middle class. As the first premier of the old West, Awolowo made it a priority to create a solid middle-class and to invest in education at all levels. The resulting middle class and formidable intelligentsia pushed the Yoruba nation forward for the next fifty years and made it impossible to ignore the people in the political equations of Nigeria. At the moment, this intelligentsia and middle class have virtually disappeared, thanks to military predators and their various collaborators. The joke these days is that the Yoruba, and Nigerian middle class has relocated abroad.
The first task before a renewed and reinvigorated Yoruba leadership is to commission a paper about how to repatriate or make use of the intellectual capital that has relocated abroad. Some of our best brains could be found in the hallowed sanctuaries of intellectual power in the developed world. They will not be hectored or threatened with juju or native charms because some of them no longer owe any allegiance to a decadent and cannibalistic society. They will require diplomatic persuasion. After this, the best and brightest both at home and abroad should be brought together to come up with an economic charter, an alternative developmental blueprint which will be a sharp contrast to the ad hoc and rightwing economic lunacies of the current dispensation and which will indeed provide the basis for a revolutionary sublation of the current Nigerian state.
It will be recalled that Chief Awolowo had a remarkable rapport with intellectuals. He spotted and identified talents from far and wide and effectively deployed them in the service of the people. He did not use them for Machiavellian purposes or as expendable pawns in a game of self-glorification and personal aggrandizement. Himself gifted with a sharp mind and a formidable intellect, he did not exhibit any inferiority complex or crude aggression towards intellectuals. He truly and genuinely enjoyed the cut and rapier-like thrusts of intellectual debates. It must be remembered that many of the intellectuals who gathered around him were not even members of the Action Group. Since only the deep can call to the deep, anybody who is afraid of, or ill at ease, with intellectuals cannot aspire to be the leader of the Yoruba, or contemporary Nigeria for that matter.
In remembering Chief Awolowo and his legacy, we must also remember that the essence of Awoism is of a living body of ideas by which a people, or a nation, can lift themselves by the bootstraps in their quest for economic development and political emancipation. An ideology is not a religion or faith which is fixed and frozen in time.
Any ideology, if it is not to die or lapse into historic irrelevance, must undergo periodic blood transfusion and a dynamic reinvigoration of its cardinal tenets. The north as we know it is gradually changing. So is the east. Rather than looking inward and foreclosing external possibilities, we must be willing to achieve linkage with like-minded groups and associations thrown up by the social convulsions in these societies. In Chief Awolowo's era, this linkage was impossible and unachievable because of ideological incompatibility and differences of political agenda. But we must not be prevented by ancestral feuds from recognizing the rays of radical possibilities emanating from many sections of a traumatized nation. Awolowo himself would have recognized the window of opportunity despite the thick cloud of despondency that has enveloped the country. Let us imbibe his fundamental optimism that after darkness comes the glorious dawn.
Conclusion; the longest goodbye
Why then, we may ask, was Chief Awolowo filled with optimism despite the dark horrors of post-colonial Nigeria and its appalling record of constant flirtation with suicide? We now come to the single most defining personal quality of the late leader, and which is perhaps his greatest legacy to Nigerians and the human race. This is his capacity for self-renewal and ceaseless self-surpassing. Through a combination of Spartan self-discipline and a superior creative imagination, Awolowo developed a prodigious ability to reinvent himself as the need and situation arose. When it was time to look the fundamental problems of Nigeria squarely in the face, Awolowo weaned himself from his admiration for our early nationalists and re-invented himself as an ardent federalist.
At the point where it became imperative to choose an ideology, he chose his own unique brand of socialism which is often dismissed as elitist, incoherent and defective by his academic critics. What they forgot was that Awolowo, rather than being interested in classical theorizing, was responding to political pressures from a particular society at a particular conjuncture and from a particular historical conditioning. And when it came to expanding his political vision for Nigeria, he wrote books which set forth his ideas with remarkable clarity and rigour and which were often subjects of intense controversy. To the professoriate of Political Science, his thoughts were "non-thoughts" and prescriptive absurdities. Yet today, it is Awolowo's thoughts and deep reflections that appear to have more relevance for creative nation-building, while the theories of his adversaries are mainly of interests to research students and the academic chaplaincy.
At the end of his life, Awolowo, through constant self-improvement, appeared to have conquered the grosser instincts of humankind. He was a man of superior spiritual refinement. Emerging from a serious spiritual crisis in the thirties in which he had briefly advocated the superiority of juju, he went on to reinvent himself as a man of muscular Christianity. And he never looked back. Despite his profound belief, he wore his faith lightly, neither flaunting it, nor indulging in a vain and hypocritical religious one-upmanship. Yet, he radiated such a profound mystical aura that to meet him is to sense that you are in the presence of the truly extraordinary.
This is the man we thought we bade a final goodbye 17 years ago. If it is so, it must be the longest goodbye in history. For at every tragic turn, at every miscue, be it at the level of structural deformities of this unfortunate nation, its suffocating and stifling unitarism, its economic malaise, its educational collapse, its spiritual bankruptcy, its corrupt and thieving political class, and its gradual descent into the anomie of ungovernability, we are confronted by the figure of the man with the horn-rimmed glasses. And until we come to terms with many of his ideas, either by transcending them through superior political engineering or working through them through a more rigorous intellectual engagement, the piercing eyes behind the lens will continue to haunt us, reminding us of our inadequacies as intellectuals, as philosophers, as politicians and as a nation. For a man who started with nothing to continue to hold the largest conglomeration of black souls on earth this spellbound and awestruck decades after his physical departure is no mean achievement and certainly not a minor legacy. My task is done, and I thank you all.