The Most Vilified Nigerianalt

Arguably, Chief Obafemi Awolowo is the most vilified Nigerian in our recent history. I am yet to meet anybody from the northerner section of Nigeria that speaks well of Awo, or anybody from the east geo-political zone that does not disparage his person. Even among Awolowo’s kin, close to about 40% does not speak well of him. Why is it that Awolowo’s contemporaries are not ill spoken of like that across Nigeria? Is Chief Obafemi Awolowo not a good person? Seems Chief Obafemi Awolowo is hated by more than 80% of Nigerians. Even in death, Awo, as he is popularly known, continues to pay the price for his perceived evil deeds. In his latest book, Chinua Achebe lays the blame for the failure of the breakup of Nigeria on Awo’s lap. The evil Awo, he writes, kept Nigeria together by allowing 2 million easterners to starve to death because of his inordinate ambition. Why did he wait 45 years to say this? Well, the breakup of Nigeria seems imminent this time around than ever before; the evil Awo is the reason Nigeria is what Nigeria is today – One Nigeria.

For our failure to build a virile society, Awo, the villain, is the rope to hold on to as we continue to sink in the waters of nationhood. He is the villain, just like Lord Lugard is for bringing Nigeria together in 1914. We do not want to accept that we have failed; we keep blaming those that want a big and strong society. For that, Luggard and Awo are evil. Had Awo not been there in 1952, there would have been nothing like tribalism in the Nigerian society, so we hear. Ten years later, it was Awo’s factor in 1962, when he was jailed, that brought about the first military coup in Nigerian history; that eventually led to the birth of Biafra. This same evil Awo was adjudged to have stabbed Biafra in the back, in his bid to keep Nigeria one. There is another great supposition; had Awo been killed in 1962, instead of being incarcerated, Nigeria could have been better off – a society without corruption and ravishing at the top of the hill. Funny, Awo never blamed other people for his failures.

In 1983, Awo lost the election for the last time. This led to the military yet again to interrupt our democracy. Friends and foe alike have learnt to keep Awo at bay, even in death, if they are not to incur the wrath of the rest of us. In Abuja, our great capital, where we name streets after those that have honorably served our country, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s name is not in the Central Area – even in death, it is still us versus him. Awo seemed to make enemies just like the rest of us tries to make friends; he is kept away from his contemporaries before he starts to quarrel with other past heroes. A colleague once told me that he cannot wait to see the face of Awolowo obliterated from the 100 naira note; my friend does not keep 100 naira notes - his grouse is that during the war, Awo made them eat food without the spice of salt. Awo had banned salt from going to the East - Awo was certainly not a good person.

How bad or evil was Awo? We doubted his sincerity, even his cap as well as his round-rimmed spectacles. Between 1952 and 1958, Awo did marvellous things in the Western Region, but it was Zik that should have been the Head of Business of the Western Region and not Awo. Awo was too rigid; he prevented the people of Western Region, in 1960, which he led, to join the government of national unity; that eventually polarized the polity of Nigeria at that time. He went ahead to backstab Biafra by teaming up with the North to keep Nigeria one. In 1979, he did the same; the people he led could not join the government of national unity. It never bothers us that apart from the period of the civil war, the eastern part of Nigeria as always been part of those that govern Nigeria – the anti-Awo. Even when Obasanjo ruled, it was the votes of the anti-Awo in the eastern parts that installed him as president – his people did not vote for him.

So, in 1959, 1979 and 1999 the North and the East formed governments that ruled Nigeria. Are these glorious periods, only time will tell? The distrust between the North and the East was pivoted on Awo – the bad guy of Nigerian politics. When Awo was incarcerated, there was nobody to point fingers to as the bad guy, so they quarreled with each other. The whipping boy –Awo – will continue to pay for his intransigence as reiterated in the latest Achebe’s book. Achebe is a well respected literary sage, and if he says Awo is evil, so be it. I do not think that Awo in all his life ever garnered up to 100,000 votes in the eastern part of Nigeria at any given time that he contested; maybe slightly more in the North. This is where the arithmetic does not add up. If Nigeria of today is not the country of Achebe’s dream, why blame a man that was prevented from changing it, in real life and not in dreams, by the votes of the likes of Achebe. Now Awo is gone, and the two strange bedfellows now have a faceoff again. Awo is the bad guy, yet again.

I think we need to grow out of this tribal madness. I keep hearing about marginalization in our society. Maybe it is time to take censors, at every grade in the service, in the federal establishments to see where they are heavily tilted. No need! Sectional marginalization is elitist; it is a creation by those who want to continue to suppress the ordinary people. The tribe that is marginalized in Nigeria is the tribe of the masses. Abuja typifies the cosmetics of tribal issue in Nigeria. There, they dine together; play together; squander our money together; steal our money together without any reference to tribe or section of Nigeria. Besides, each local government in Nigeria is populated by the indigenes of that local government, yet we still blame other people from other areas for the shortcomings of those local governments. Instead of asking for the dissolution of Nigeria, let us firstly make proper use of the resources of our local councils, and prove that it is because we are together that a particular local government cannot function. It is all a farce; created to deceive people.

Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick

Lagos.