Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Revisionists are everywhere. For the most part they are attempting to rework history by allowing their prejudices, illiteracy, and preconceived notions to cloud their reasoning. These critics have become masters at injecting willful fallacies, calculated falsehood and historical nonsense into history; and in so doing, have began to cast aspersions on the memory of the great Obafemi Awolowo.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a political giant with an extraordinary mind and talent. He was graceful, charismatic and purposeful. Most of all he had vision, and was a nice and decent human being! Yes, Chief Awolowo had his shortcomings. He was not a saint. However, his failings and missteps were far fewer and less injurious than those of his contemporaries. Within the context of Nigerian, and indeed within African politics, Awolowo had no equal. None!
He towered above his contemporaries. Not only that -- all the leaders we’ve had since his exit from government and politics have been political dwarfs. One would be hard-pressed to name a political leader in Nigeria -- since the second-half of the twentieth century -- who did more for his people and for his country than Awolowo.
Awolowo was not a President. He was the Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria from October 1, 1959 until October 1, 1960. Nonetheless, his accomplishments dwarf the combined achievements of the last five heads of government Nigeria has had. And so from now until eternity his contribution to Nigeria’s socioeconomic and political life will be remembered and appreciated by discerning minds. As a federal minister under General Yakubu Gowon, he saved Nigeria from self immolation.
From the time he began his political career until his passing to the heavens -- his two great public missions was to make Nigeria better than the way he met it; and also, to secure Nigeria’s economic, social and political future for the next generation. But he was unable to achieve his presidential dream because he refused to compromise his principles; refused to betray his constituent and his conscience; and also refused to bow to the whims of the Colonialist. In addition, he refused to obey orders given by Dodan Barracks.
For these and other reasons, therefore, he was denied the ultimate political price: the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Because he was denied this political price, Nigeria has remained in the doldrums ever since. In Chief Awolowo, we lost the brightest star we’ve ever had and may have to wait another seventy-year for a man like him to take Nigeria to the Promised Land. Frankly, to say he was a statesman is an understatement. If he was an American or a European, the world would have placed him in the same league as Churchill, Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and many others.
We now have a growing school of shortsighted, narrow-minded, and mean-spirited critics who are into Awo-bashing: rewriting history, repeating age-old falsities, spreading lies and innuendoes and casting aspersions on the Great One.
Charles Caleb Colton it was who said that “In life, we shall find many men that are great, and some men that are good, but very few men that are both great and good.” Chief Obafemi Awolowo was such a man. He was good. He was great. He was extraordinary in many ways. And so I remember him today as I have since his passing on May 9, 1987.
Chief Awolowo was born at the right time, and lived his life in the right country. But whether our country was right for him is another question. His impact on the lives of millions of Nigerians is immeasurable. He lived his life for the people. More than two decades after his untimely passing, he remains the yardstick by which greatness is still measured in the most populous and most important country in the Black world.
More than twenty years after his passing, Awolowo lives on. He lives through his friends and family. He lives through his disciples. He lives through the great things he did for Nigeria. He lives through his writings and sermons. He lives through his political accomplishments. He lives through all those who believe in the goodness and kindness of the human spirit; and he lives through all those who genuinely believe in, and invoke his name and ideals.
He truly was a truly great man. Because of his brilliance and strength of character, he was very much misunderstood and envied; and because most couldn’t measure up to his expectation and greatness, they vilified him. If you were not alive when Awolowo lived, or if you were not fortunate to have met him, well, let me tell you this: He was graceful. He was charismatic. He was purposeful. Most of all he had a clear vision of what he wanted for Nigeria and for humanity. Above all else, he was a nice and decent human being! Oh AWOLOWO!!
Within the context of Nigerian, and indeed within African politics, Awolowo had no equal. He towered above his colleagues. To truly appreciate his greatness, all you need do is to take a look at the men and women who now dot, and have dotted our public estate and public space. Do so and you’d be hard-pressed to name a political leader in Nigeria, in the last 50 years, who did more for his people and for his country than Awolowo. In him we lost the brightest star we ever had and may have to wait another seventy years for a man like him
As I think of Awolowo, I wonder what would have become of our country. I think of how far we would have gone in terms of human and economic development. I think of all the possibilities and the dreams and aspirations we had as a nation. I miss him. I miss a good man, I miss a great man. I cannot now remember who it was who said, “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile.” Awolowo was this and much more. He will remain in our lives for eternity.
To further your understanding/appreciation of Chief Obafemi Awolowo please visit:
Thank you Sabella. You described these miscreants appropriately when you wrote "We now have a growing school of shortsighted, narrow-minded, and mean-spirited critics who are into Awo-bashing: rewriting history, repeating age-old falsities, spreading lies and innuendoes and casting aspersions on the Great One."
Which reminds me of the saying that "only the deep can call the deep" You just have to be successful to understand and appreciate success. However if an entire family cannot produce a decent successful man or woman for a century, such men/women will naturally see the world from the perspective that they know - failure and rewrite and restructure everything to fit their worldview.
They deserve pity. I pity them
Sabella, your opinion on Awolowo does seem like you are trying to patronise some people here, but it shouldnt be done at the expense of historical truths. Awo sure was a great man, more so for his own people but to claim that there is no leader greater than Awolowo in Africa is the height of deceit. When you also say Awo did so much for Nigeria that is also deceitful. Awo in the first place never believed in one Nigeria, he was tribally inclined to his ethnic group. It is a historical fact that he repeatedly said Nigeria was a mere geographical expression which was bound to collapse. In the context of pan-Africanism or African brotherhood and unity, being leaders who truly believed that all Africans irrespective of tribe or religion share a brotherhood, Awo does not feature at all. Awo is never on record as having campaigned or worked for African unity. Even within Nigeria, it was only Azikiwe that believed so much and tirelessly campaigned for one Nigeria. Great African leaders who feature prominently in Pan-africanism are Kwame Nkrumah, Azikiwe and Patrice Lumumba. Awo did help his people by implementing social policies of free education etc but that is where it ends. The policy of social welfare as those of you like Sabella who reside in America should know does not appeal to everyone. While the Republicans for example reject any idea of social welfare, the democrats love it, so that practically boils down to party policy and doctrine and should not really be a basis for judging the greatness of a leader. History records that Awolowo introduced tribalism into Nigeria when he conspired with some Yoruba candidates who had won a majority of the seats in the Western region under the platform of Ziks NCNC to cross carpet and deny Zik that victory. That cancer of tribalism remains nigerias greatest undoing and nemesis todate. It is also a historical record that "wetie" the Awolowo- Akintola crisis (rigging of elections, thousands killed etc) in the Western region when other regions were calm led to the Jan 1966 coup and subsequently the civil war. In other words, Awos wahala led to the truncation of the 1st republic. Wether true or false, he was also accused of plotting what would have been the 1st coup in nigerias history, he was subsequently tried,convicted and jailed. Finally when the storms of war came, even though he is largely responsible for the crisis that led to the imminent war, he chose to be an opportunist. He had repeatedly said Nigeria would never survive as a nation, but chickened out when the opportunity came for him to actualise his own republic. Awolowo never made any effort as a statesman to prevent the war, neither did he insist on dialogue to prevent the war. He was like every opportunist more interested in catching in and making some gains at the expense of the East. His policies during and after the war bear this out. Because of Awolowo's earlier tribal politics, the South has never united, and might sadly never be able to unite to confront the onslaught from the north. For anyone to describe a man who never believed in one Nigeria, who never believed in pan-Africanism or the brotherhood of the African and who introduced tribalism into Nigeria, the greatest African in the last 50 years is a great disservice to great pan-African leaders like Kwame Nkruma, Patrice Lumumba, Azikiwe, Nelson Mandela and the millions of Africans who have died from conflicts that originated from ethnic-religious hatred. The hatred and lack of unity among Africans remains to date the greatest cause of genocide-ethnic cleansing, lack of cohesion and the failure of most African states. For me, for most Africans and even for icons like Bob marley, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, any African leader that tried to foster brotherhood, unity and love among Africans was a greater leader any day, anytime. Awo cannot in all honesty claim to belong to that club. Sabella, next time please be more objective and stop patronising anyone.
Thanks for your response. I was not patronizing anybody, at all. What for? This essay was first published 2-3 years ago. This may not have a direct relevance to your criticism, but you want to know that both of my parents are Ijaw, not Yoruba. I was born and grew up in Lagos and also spent considerable amount of time in Ibadan, Ilorin, Jos, Oshogbo and Port Harcourt. I know what I know and most of what I know about Chief Awolowo was not a third-hand account. Both Awo and Dr. Tai Solarin were influential in my life. By the way: You may want to go read what I have written about Ojukwu, Buhari and the Igbo as a people. And oh, I have in-laws from the North and the East. I know what I know and only write about the things I know. Sorry for the digression Thanks my brother do have a wonderful week.
Sabella, your opinion on Awolowo does seem like you are trying to patronise some people here, but it shouldnt be done at the expense of historical truths. Awo sure was a great man, more so for his own people but to claim that there is no leader greater than Awolowo in Africa is the height of deceit. When you also say Awo did so much for Nigeria that is also deceitful. Awo in the first place never believed in one Nigeria, he was tribally inclined to his ethnic group. It is a historical fact that he repeatedly said Nigeria was a mere geographical expression which was bound to collapse.
Tony, the basis for your conclusions against Sabella's opinion of Awolowo are weak at best. I am not debating your conclusions (nor debating your "historical truths") but wish to point out that the basis for your conclusions is flawed. Greatness, unlike beauty is not really so subjective.
Awolowo's non belief in one Nigeria and "he was tribally inclined to his ethnic group" can never be a minus to Awolowo's greatness. Neither can your conclusion that Awolowo did much for his ethnic constituency and not for Nigeria and Africa be true.
First you cannot be a great Nigerian or African without first being a great Iboman, Yorubaman, Fulaniman e.t.c. Awolowo himself made the argument at some point. When it comes to greatness, charity must necessarily begin at home. Most of the examples you cited MalcolmX, Martin Luther, Marcus Garvey e.t.c made huge positive impact in their immediate "ethnic constituency" before reaching out to impact a much larger constituency. In fact it is the influence of the positive impact they had in their immediate "ethnic constituency" that flowed outwards and influenced the larger constituency.
Even before you can be great within your immediate ethnic constituency you have to work on yourself first -develop strength of character, discipline, integrity e.t.c some of the hall marks of great people. Any attempt to venture out to the larger community without first developing yourself, positively impacting your immediate "ethnic constituency" is just self conceit, narcism and noise making (empty drums). Numerous examples abound in Africa and in Nigeria, Obasanjo is a classic example and so are some of "the great pan-African leaders" you cited. We have so many of empty drums (past and present) who love to wear traditional dress and strut around the national and international stage as statesmen spewing out a lot of fluff.
If other leaders had developed their immediate constituencies with the same zeal and focus like Awo did back then, Nigeria today would be a better nation. Nigeria would have been a strong prosperous nation made up of strong prosperous constituents. The prosperity of a nation is a product of the prosperity of it's constituent parts. The civil war would not have happened because the events that led up to it would not exist. You cannot have a great Nigeria without a great Ibo nation, Hausa nation e.t.c. Numerous examples abound but free education is a great start to imagine what Nigeria would have been like. It is proof positive of Awolowo's greatness that he first laid a strong positive foundation in his immediate ethnic constituency before venturing out to the larger constituency.
If other post-independent leaders had seen (or admit and accept) that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression that would lead to disaster that we have had (and still have) they may have renegotiated among themselves and change the contraption that UK left behind. The case of one constituent part dragging/slowing down the progress of others will not exist.
Your story is incomplete! When Zik lost out in western Nigeria, where did he go and what did he do afterwards? He gave the same treatment he received from the western parliament to the person (the efik man) he met on ground and then claimed the premiership of the eastern region. I will advise you to read more. For example, i recommend you read the unfortunate book Chinua Achebe wrote in 1983. Chinua expressed his biased and pedestrian view of Nigeria in "The Trouble with Nigeria". Good luck....
Truly there are more revisionist than we know even on this square. It is on record that Ahmadu Bello is being celebrated in the whole of Northern Nigeria for his exploits in the whole of the North and not Nigerian political space. Same goes for Ojukwu, the "greatness" ascribed to him today is due to his exploits in Eastern Nigeria. Personally, I admire Azikiwe for his pan-Nigeria vision, but seriously speaking, what was he able to achieve through that. The tragedy on our hand now is that we have leaders who instead of protecting the interests of their people are using the name of their people to collect "allocations and contracts" which they end up squandering on themselves and their acolytes. Whatever may be the shortcomings of Awo, he is a hero and my hero too.
..wetin concern me whether Awo be great or not...for me Awo na just Gold-Digger...why Awo no extract Odua's people before-during-after the civil war ifrom Nigeria..me till today dey search for anwser---the bloke na oppportunist...lol!