Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo (Yoruba: Ọbáfẹ́mi Awólọ́wọ̀; March 6, 1909 – May 9, 1987) popularly known as "Awo" was one of Africa's most influential nationalists, political writer and a pre-eminent Nigerian statesman whose vision and tireless work defined a modernist Yoruba political project in an emergent Nigerian post-colonial nation state after the decolonization process in the 1940s. He is often neglected among African political intellectuals because he did not become a head of state. Awo is often criticized heavily by the Ndi Igbos for committing massive genocide against the Igbos in the Biafran War, a charge he seriously denied throughout his life. His admirers refers to him as "the best president Nigeria never had."
A Yoruba and native of Ikenne in Ogun State of Nigeria, he started his career,like some of his notable contemporaries, as a nationalist in the Nigerian Youth Movement of which he became Western provincial secretary, and was responsible for much of the progressive social legislation that has made Nigeria a modern nation. He was an active journalist and trade unionist as a young man, editing The Nigerian Worker amongst other publications while also organizing the Nigerian Produce Traders Association and serving as secretary of the Nigerian Motor Transport Union. After earning a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Nigeria from a London University through correspondence, he went to the UK where he earned a law degree as an external student. While there, he founded the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a pan-Yoruba cultural society, which set the stage for the formation of the Action Group, a liberal nationalist political party.
Awolowo, Obafemi (b. March 6, 1909, Ikene, Nigeria - d. May 9, 1987, Ikene), Nigerian statesman. Awolowo was involved in the Nigerian youth movement in the early 1950s; he founded the Action Group and took part in constitutional conferences in London and Lagos that preceded independence. He served as premier of the Western Region (1954-59), but ancient rivalries prevented him from attaining higher office after independence in 1960. He was leader of the opposition in the federal Parliament until a tribal quarrel led to his arrest in November 1962. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for plotting to overthrow the government. He was formally elected leader in 1966 of the Yoruba, one of the major tribal groups of Nigeria. Released and pardoned (August 1966) after Lieut. Col. Yakubu Gowon had established a military government, Chief Awolowo became vice-chairman of the federal executive council and was placed in charge of the Ministry of Finance (1967-71). He ran unsuccessfully as Unity Party of Nigeria candidate in the presidential elections of 1979 and 1983. This photograph was taken when Eliot Elisofon was on assignment for Life magazine and traveled to Africa from August 18, 1959 to December 20, 1959.
As Leader of the Group, he represented the Western Region in all the constitutional conferences intended to advance Nigeria on the path to independence. He was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria's parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1959, and was the official Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament to the Balewa government from 1959 to 1963. In addition to all these, Awolowo was the first individual in the modern era to be named Leader of the Yorubas (Yoruba: Asiwaju Omo Oodua), a title which has come over time to be conventionally ascribed to his successors as the recognized political leader of the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria.
Gunther started out in his book by comparing Chief Obafemi Awolowo to his chief political rival Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) at page 773 of the book:"... the leader of the Action Group, and Zik’s chief political rival, Obafemi Awolowo (pronounced A-wa-luwa), has an altogether different quality. He is not a demagogue, but and intellectual. There has never been a breath of scandal about him. He is a man with a good deal of reserve, conscientious, precise, and somewhat stiff-backed. I heard an Englishman say, with genuine regret, “if only Awolowo would relax, and have a glass of sherry with us sometimes!” His intellectual arrogance is marked, although he seemed reasonable enough when we talked to him.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Chief Obafemi Awolowo`s helicopter campaign
Awolowo`s father was a farmer and sawyer. He had his primary school education at St. Saviour's School, Ikenne and at Imo Wesleyan School, Abeokuta. His education at this early stage was interrupted for several years by the sudden death of his father in April 1920 when he was about seven years, an event that left him without financial support and compelled him to fetch firewood for sale, and do similar jobs, to support his schooling.
He attended various schools, and then became a teacher in Abeokuta, after which he qualified as a shorthand typist. Subsequently, he served as a clerk at the famous Wesley college, as well as a correspondent for the Nigerian Times. It was after this that he embarked on various business ventures to help raise funds to travel to the UK for further studies.
Following his education at Wesley College, Ibadan (a teachers' college) in 1927, he enrolled at the University of London as an External Student. He was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Commerce (Hons.) and the Bachelor of Laws by the University of London. He was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple on November 19, 1946.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his famous wife Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo (née Adelana)
On 26th December, 1937 Obafemi Awolowo got married to Miss Hannah Idowu Dideolu Adelana. They remained each other's best friend to the end; together they fought for the cause of justice and for the release of their fellow man’s mind from ignorance and the freedom on his body from disease. They had 5 children: Olusegun (1939-1963), Omotola, Oluwole, Ayodele and Tokunbo.
Wedding of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Miss Hannah Idowu Dideolu Adelana. Circa 1937
In 1949 Awolowo founded the Nigerian Tribune, the oldest surviving private Nigerian newspaper, which he used to spread nationalist consciousness among his fellow Nigerians.
Obafemi Awolowo also set himself up in Ibadan as a produce buyer and a transporter. It was in Ibadan that his political life began to unfold: he served there as secretary of the Nigerian Youth Movement before he went abroad to study Law in Great Britain.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of Western Region of Nigeria, just landing from his helicopter to start campaigning in Sokoto for his party, the Action group, for the federal elections. He is in the green robe at the right-hand microphone, speaking in English; an interpreter at Awo's right translates his speech into Hausa for the crowd of about 2,500." circa 1959. courtesy Eliot Elisofon
Back home from Britain, Awolowo formed the cultural group known as “Egbe Omo Oduduwa” in 1949 and a political party, the Action Group, (AG), in 1951 also known as Egbe Afenifere in Western part of Nigeria as part of the Social Programme for the emancipation of Yoruba race. Awolowo became Nigeria's foremost federalist. In his Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947) — the first systematic federalist manifesto by a Nigerian politician — he advocated federalism as the only basis for equitable national integration and, as head of the Action Group, he led demands for a federal constitution, which was introduced in the 1954 Lyttleton Constitution, following primarily the model proposed by the Western Region delegation led by him. His party won the first elections ever conducted in Western Nigeria. As a result of that victory, the AG formed the first elected government in the Western Region and Obafemi Awolowo, now a Chief, became the Leader of Government Business and Minister for Local Government in 1952.
December 19, 1958: Premiers Of Nigeria – These are the faces of the Men of Destiny of Nigeria and the Southern Cameroons. From left to right, they are those of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Dr E.M.L. Endeley and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. The five men are heads of Governments which make the Nigerian federation. The happiness and fortunes of 35 million people will soon depend on their wisdom and courage. They are not only regarded as very important cogs in the wheel of Nigeria’s destiny. They are in fact so. (Photograph by Drum Photographer ©BAHA).
In 1954, Awo (as he had come to be fondly known within his party) became the first Premier of the Western Region. His party won the elections again in May 1956 and Awo retained his position as Premier. As premier, he proved to be and was viewed as a man of vision and a dynamic administrator. Awolowo was also the country's leading social democratic politician. He supported limited public ownership and limited central planning in government. He believed that the state should channel Nigeria's resources into education and state-led infrastructural development. Controversially, and at considerable expense, he introduced free primary education for all and free health care for children in the Western Region, established the first television service in Africa in 1959, and the Oduduwa Group, all of which were financed from the highly lucrative cocoa industry which was the mainstay of the regional economy.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of Western Region of Nigeria, campaigning in Sokoto for his party, the Action group, for the federal elections. He is in the green robe at the right-hand microphone, speaking in English; an interpreter at Awo's right translates his speech into Hausa for the crowd of about 2,500." circa 1959. courtesy Eliot Elisofon
He voluntarily gave up that position when, on December 12, 1959, he was elected into the House of Representatives where he became the Leader of Opposition in Nigeria's central legislature.
He stood up stoutly against mediocrity and drift in government, and began to define alternative channels along which Nigeria's government should go. His own concept of a Nigerian nation was probably too advanced for his opponents, who began to see the Awolowo-led opposition as a major threat. Following a trial for treasonable felony, he was jailed for 10 years in September 1963.
Nigeria`s 1960 elections with the famous Nigeria [political heavy-weights of their time: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Abubakar Tafewa Balewa, Ahmed Bello and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Conflict in Western Nigeria
From the eve of independence, he led the Action Group as the Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament, leaving Samuel Ladoke Akintola as the Western Region Premier. Serious disagreements between Awolowo and Akintola on how to run the Western region led the latter to an alliance with the Tafawa Balewa-led NPC federal government. A constitutional crisis led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region, eventually resulting in a widespread breakdown of law and order.
Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Administrator and politician, Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria and an early victim of the January 1966 military coup. This photograph was taken when Eliot Elisofon was on assignment for Life magazine and traveled to Africa from August 18, 1959 to December 20, 1959.
Excluded from national government, Awolowo and his party faced an increasingly precarious position. Akintola's followers, angered at their exclusion from power, formed the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) under Akintola's leadership. Having previously suspended the elected Western Regional Assembly, the federal government then reconstituted the body after manoeuvres that brought Akintola's NNDP into power without an election. Shortly afterwards Awolowo and several disciples were arrested, charged, convicted and jailed for conspiring with the Ghanaian authorities under Kwame Nkrumah to overthrow the federal government. The remnants of the Action Group fought the national election of 1965 in alliance with the largely Igbo, and south-eastern NCNC. Amid accusations of fraud from the NCNC-AG camp, the NPC-NNDP won the election; the AG supporters reacted with violent riots in some parts of the Western region. Awolowo was later freed by the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon who subsequently appointed him Federal Commissioner for Finance and Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council. This took place in the unsettled circumstances immediately preceding the Civil War.
Oba Akenzua welcoming Queen Elizabeth to his Kingdom whilst Chief Obafemi Awolowo looks on.
By July 1966, Nigeria's problems had become so intractable that disintegration of the country seemed inevitable. A new Federal Military Government promptly opened the gates of Calabar Prison, brought Awolowo out and appointed him as a minister to take charge of the country's treasury and to provide political support as Vice Chairman in the Federal administration. In those two roles, he was one of the major architects of Nigeria's victory over secession in the 3D-month Civil War. When the war ended, Awo waited just long enough to give Nigeria a National Development Plan; as soon as the Plan was completed, he resigned from the government, although, to his last day, he remained grateful to the man who gave him an opportunity to serve his country.
When Nigeria's Armed Forces lifted the ban on civilian participation in politics in September 1978, Nigerians who believed in Awo’s political ideas and principles joined him in forming the Unity Party of Nigeria which presented Nigeria with a dynamic programme of socio economic change along democratic socialist lines. Awo led the party until it was banned, along with Nigeria's other political parties, during the military take-over at the end of 1983.
Sir Ahmedu Bello and Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Awolowo is best remembered for his remarkable integrity, ardent nationalism, principled and virile opposition and dogged federalistic convictions. His party was the first to move the motion for Nigeria's independence in the federal parliament and he obtained internal self-government for the Western Region in 1957. He is credited with coining the name 'naira' for the Nigerian standard monetary unit and helped to finance the Civil War and preserve the federation without borrowing. He built the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, the first of its kind in Africa; established the WNTV, the first television station in Africa; erected the first skyscraper in tropical Africa: the Cocoa House (still the tallest in Ibadan) and ran a widely-respected civil service in the Western Region.
R-L Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Mrs. Hannah Dideolu Awolowo, H.O. Davies, Chief Adetokunbo Ademola at a Church service. This is a rare photograph and it was taken in 1977
Awolowo was reputedly admired by Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, and some of his disciples in the South-West have continued to invoke his name and the policies of his party, the Action Group, during campaigns, while his welfarist policies have influenced politicians in most of the other geopolitical zones of the nation.He was a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Chancellor of the University of Ife (his brainchild) and Ahmadu Bello University. He held many chieftaincy titles, including those of the Losi of Ikenne, Lisa of Ijeun, Asiwaju of Remo, Odofin of Owo, Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti, Apesin of Osogbo, Odole of Ife and, amongst the Ibibios, Obong Ikpa Isong of Ibibioland. He was also conferred with the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a rank and title that have ordinarily been bestowed upon the country's presidents. Many institutions in Nigeria have honoured him and some regional and national institutions are named after him, including Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Osun State (formerly University of Ife) Obafemi Awolowo Stadium (formerly the Liberty Stadium)and the Obafemi Awolowo Institute of Government and Public Policy in Lekki,Lagos State. His portrait is on the ₦100 naira note. He was also the author of several publications on the political structure and future prospects of Nigeria, the most prominent of which are Path to Nigerian Freedom, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution, and Strategies and Tactics of the People's Republic of Nigeria.
However, his most important bequests (styled Awoism) are his exemplary integrity, his welfarism, his contributions to hastening the process of decolonization and his consistent and reasoned advocacy of federalism-based on ethno-linguistic self-determination and uniting politically strong states-as the best basis for Nigerian unity. Awolowo died peacefully at his Ikenne home, the Efunyela Hall (so named after his mother), on May 9, 1987, at 78, amid tributes across political and ethno-religious divides.
Chief Awolowo was a great political thinker who committed many of his thoughts to writing. From 1946, he had started a long career in political writing, which flourished whether he was in freedom or in detention, whether he was in power or out of it. It continued to flourish till the very end of his life.
In recognition of his intellectual contributions, Awolowo was honoured by the following institutions of learning:
University of Nigeria, Nsukka: LL.D. (1962)
University of Ife, Ile-Ife: D.Sc. (1967)
University of Lagos: D.Litt. (1968)
University of Ibadan: LL.D. (1972)
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria: LL.D. (1975)
University of Cape Coast, Ghana: LL.D. (1976)
He was Chancellor of the University of Ife (1967 -1975) and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1975-1978).
In recognition of his professional contributions at the Bar, he was made a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1978.
In recognition of his invaluable service to Nigeria, he was given the highest honour in the land, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR)in 1982.
He was honoured with many chieftaincy titles, including the following:
Asiwaju of Yoruba
Asiwaju of Remo
Losi of Ikenne
Lisa of Ijeun
Apesin of Osogbo
Odole of Ife
Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti
Odofin of Owo and
Obong Ikpan Isong of Ibibio Land.
In recognition of his esteemed contributions, he was awarded the Grand Band of the Order of the Star of Africa by the Republic of Liberia in 1968, and made Grand-Officer de l’Ordre National du Lion, Republique du Senegal, in 1972.
Chief Awolowo was a great political thinker who committed many of his thoughts to writing. From 1946, he had started a long career in political writing, which flourished whether he was in freedom or in detention, whether he was in power or out of it. It continued to flourish till the very end of his life.
Republished many books and still had some in the press at the time of his transition. Among his best-known works are: Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947), Awo - an autobiography (1960), Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution (1966), The People’s Republic (1968), The Strategy and Tactics of the People's Republic (1970), The Problems of Africa: The need for ideological reappraisal (1977), Adventures in PowerBook 1: My March Through Prison (1985). Re had planned to launch Book 2 entitled The Travails of Democracy and the Rule of Lawon 6th June 1987.
The oldest privately owned newspaper in Nigeria, the Nigerian Tribune, and two other newspapers (the weekly Sunday Tribuneand Irohin Yoruba) were founded and owned by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his famous wife Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo (née Adelana) and their family
"Violence never settles anything right: apart from injuring your own soul, it injures the best cause. It lingers on long after the object of hate has disappeared from the scene to plague the lives of those who have employed it against their foes."~Obafemi Awolowo
During the 1983 elections, Chief Awolowo was hosted to a town hall interview in Abeokuta, where in addition to other pertinent topics of the day, he spoke on his role in the civil war, the 20-pound policy, starvation as a weapon, change of currency, abandoned property etc. Collectors item.
CHIEF OBAFEMI AWOLOWO IN HIS OWN WORDS
At the age of 11, he struggled through primary school here at Wesleyan School Imo, Abeokuta. He then became a teacher, he was a trader, he was a school clerk, he was a stenographer, he was a transporter, he was a produce buyer, a unionist, name it, he has experienced it all. He even knows the problems of the police, the warders and the prisoners, because he was there.
When he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1963, and he predicted a glorious dawn many did not believe that he will live to see the glorious morn which we are having today in Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Bendel and Lagos states.
That at 74, he’s here today is a testimony to the fact that the great good Lord and Allah needs him to save Nigeria.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is a self made man, who battled all the institutes of life to rise to the highest peak of his calling as Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He was first leader of government business, and first premier of the old western region. The first leader of opposition in the federal republic of Nigeria, the first chancellor of the University of Ife, first civilian deputy chairman in any military government in Africa, the first man ever to win the highest honor from an opponent as the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the greatest moment of my life as I present to you the next president of the federal republic of Nigeria.
At this point I’ll hand you over to the moderator.
Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Governor of the state- Chief Bisi Onabanjo, the deputy governor- Chief Sesan Soluade, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the interview panel, I’m welcoming our distinguished guest - Chief Obafemi Awolowo to this program. Its going to be a 90 minutes program during which one hour of the period will be spent by the interview panel to ask various questions on various issues from Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The following 30 minutes will be devoted to the audience to ask questions either English language or in Yoruba. And I want to appeal to the audience to keep very quiet throughout the program because this is an important program which we are having today, we want to use the program to get as much information as possible from Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo and to enable us determine who to vote for in the presidential election.
Action Group Chieftains in 1953. (L-R) Chief Bode Thomas, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola.
Programs of UPN And Qualification to be President
Well, Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo, our first question, which we are allowing you 30 minutes to answer this question, is to tell the audience and the viewers at home the programs of the Unity Party of Nigeria, and also especially what qualifies Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo to be the next president of this country, taking into consideration our national economy, the nation’s social services, and also the nation’s foreign policy.
What I was saying was that we are giving Papa Chief Obafem Awolowo 10 minutes within which to tell the audience and the viewers at home the programs of the Unity Party of Nigeria, and also especially what qualifies Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo to be the next president of this great country, taking into consideration the nation’s economy, the nation’s social services, possibly too the nation’s foreign policy, thank you sir.
Programs of UPN
I thank the moderator for the questions. The programs of the Unity Party of Nigeria are well known, and I have no doubt that all of you are now familiar with them.
There are four cardinal programs on which the UPN embarked in 1979. They are free education at all levels, free medical services- services to include curative and preventive services, integrated rural development which is a very wide program, and also full and gainful employment.
The beauty of our program is that they are programs which embrace every aspect of our desires. All of us want education, we want health services, we want food, we want our rural roads to be developed and we want our rural areas to be developed in the same way as the cities and towns. Under the integrated rural development all these things are included. Of course all of us want to be employed, and gainfully so.
Other important aspect or feature of our program is that it is the first time in all political history as far as I know, that a political party enunciate program which are all embracing, in other words all public problems are summarized and epitomized in our four cardinal programs. Think of anything at all, electricity supply, water supply, anything you can think of - they are all included in our four cardinal programs.
Now most of the programs are things which can only be handled by the states, and the question now is in what way does the federal government help in executing these programs, especially those aspects of them that belong to the states. It is the duty of the federal government which holds the resources of the nation to see that the states are sufficiently supplied in executing these programs.
The outgoing NPN government did not pay enough attention to this aspect of their responsibility, instead they have tried to embark on projects which rarely (...inaudible..) when we get control, we will see to it that enough funds are available for the states. Right now, our 4 cardinal programs are being implemented in only 5 states out of 19, reason, of course is that we are not in control of the remaining 14 states. We hope that at the next elections we will be control of the majority of the 19 states in the country. But whether we are in control of the majority or not, it is the duty of the federal government controlled by the UPN to see to it that every state embarks on the four cardinal programs and implement them for the good of the people.
Qualification to be President
A second question has been asked what qualifies me for the job of president of the federation of Nigeria. Well, I believe that I am qualified, if I don’t believe so, I wouldn’t have applied for the job in the first instance. I always like to tackle any problem that is difficult and challenging.
I was talking to a friend the other day……. power is the greatest motivation of any human being, I said that if it were not so why would anyone want to be at the head of Nigerian government after Shagari shall have relinquished office. He’s leaving behind a huge foreign debt, not to talk of local debt of something like 14 to 16 billion naira. They have failed in every respect, there’s no food, not enough food for our people, not enough of the things that we require in our various houses, the country is depressed, there’s poverty everywhere and there’s hunger and why should anyone want to be the head of that kind of country. But the more difficult situations become, the more I feel like tackling that kind of situation. Because anyone who is able to handle a difficult and intricate complex situation and is able to make a success of it …..write in letters of gold, so to say, in the history of that country.
So I believe that I can handle the situation of Nigeria, I have an ambition, and that is within 4 years and 8 years, to lay a foundation of progress which no rascal, which no other President however rascally he may be, can destroy.
I am determined, for instance, to see that water flows in every part of the country. The states are in charge of water supply, but I will see to it that the states have enough money to supply water in every part of the country. Electricity will be supplied uninterrupted to all our people whether they’re in cities, towns or villages, and so on and so forth. And telephone communications will be available, even in the villages. It will be possible for a person living at Igan Alade, to cite and example or at Odeda, to telephone to Abeokuta to Ibadan to Oyo to any part of the country to Kano and also beyond to Tokyo and London, if not why not.
So I believe I can get these things done and that is why I want you to vote solidly for me my esteemed supporters.
Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ex Oba Ile Ife , Obafemi Awolowo and a British diplomat
Moderator: I now call on Mr Oparadike to ask the first question. Mr. Oparadike.
Question: Many people believe that after so many tries, in the past, you now have a good chance of being the next president of Nigeria. Should that be the outcome in October this year, to what will you attribute such a victory. To the Mitterrand principle under which the people will say you have tried long enough let’s give you a chance to see what you can do or will it be attributed to a better…the people’s better appreciation of what you stand for.
Well, I do appeal to the audience to be quiet so I can hear the questions, otherwise I can’t give the correct reply. Well, when by the grace of God I succeed on the 6th of August, I shall attribute that success to the providence of God first of all, and then to perseverance on my part. Many people fall by the wayside, they try the first time they don’t succeed, then they give up or second time or third time. Well one of the things that has sustained me in this world is that I keep on trying. When I know that a goal is good and beneficial to other people I strive to attain that goal come what may.
So I’ll attribute my success to the providence of God, the grace of God, and to perseverance, and also to the fact that after some time however falsehood may prevail in a community, sooner or later truth also shall prevail over falsehood.
When we enunciated our 4 cardinal program in 1979, our opponents did say these things are not possible. One NPN leader said “they’ll be performing magic if they are able to introduce free education and free medical services on first of October 1979”. Most people believed them because they’re unusual….they were never done anywhere before, all we did in the old western region was to free primary education in 1955, but this business of free education at all level is something novel, it’s something strange, and they were not sure whether anyone, any government, could implement them.
Now over the 4 years we have succeeded in implementing them to the satisfaction of all those who have benefitted from them. And the news have spread all over the country, even in the north where people use to say they didn’t want free education, they didn’t want education at all, people now want free education everywhere and that is why they cry in the north “changi changi” all over the place. And they have no doubt in their mind that if that change is to take place I, by the Grace of God, should lead the team that will effect that change. That is the position.
Expanding the Base Beyond the West
Question (Sina Bamgbose): I have a follow up question - Chief Obafemi Awolowo, there is no doubt that you are full of talents, and that you are one of the idols in the realm of politics in this continent, but it seems that …..today needs leaders with national outlooks and it seems your problem and political party is acceptability by the other ethnic groups in this country, what do you say to that?
Moderator: Can you repeat the question please.
Question: There is no doubt as I said earlier, that you are a man of talents, but the problem you seem to face is that other, although among the Yorubas your very person and your party are very popular, among the Yorubas. But it seems that the problem you have is breaking the frontiers, that is reaching into other ethnic groups in Nigeria. That seems to be your problem. What do you say to that?
Well, that’s a very good and fair question. He’s been pointing out to me, if I heard him properly, that whilst am accepted in the old western region, among the Yorubas mainly, my problem is acceptability among the other ethnic groups in the country.
Well, in the old days of the Action Group, I was well accepted among the so-called middle belt people, that is, among the people of Plateau, Benue, Gongola, and Kwara. Then, in the eastern side of the country, I was well accepted by the people of what is now known as Cross River, Calabar province at that time and also by the people of Rivers state which we then know as Rivers province. And also I was accepted in Borno I’m being reminded.
But then something happened, and I don’t like to go into that long history. Some leaders in the north thought I was too much of a threat to them and they went all out to fight back, first of all, by imprisoning me, and wherever they thought they could get away with it.. even killing some of my followers. And then of course they turned their attention to me and then got me out of circulation for some time in the hope that once I was out of circulation, it will be possible in the meantime to pass a preventive detention act which will then keep me in prison for the rest of my life. But man proposes, God disposes.
That went on, until 1979 or 78 when ban on political activities was lifted. Then I went all out to campaign among the people of non-Yoruba areas. It has been suggested that I didn’t make efforts enough to widen my base. Since 1952 I made strenuous, strenuous and relentless effort to widen the base of the Action Group, and I succeeded to the extent that the Action Group at that time was the only party that control the regional government and have opposition members in all the other regions, in the other two regions, the only party that did, no any other party did.
Anyway, now the position is that, as a result of perseverance and preaching the same doctrines, doctrine which when implemented will benefit all the people without exemption. I’ve persisted in preaching free education since 1942. The first memorial that we submitted to the secretary of state on the subject was written in 1942. And since then I’ve openly advocated free education at all levels, and mass education for the adults so that they too can become literates, and I still advocate these things up till now.
Because of this persistence in advocating what is good for the people, the people now realize that they have no other friend or they have no better friend than UPN under my, by the grace of God, my leadership.
The result is that today, and it use to be the case that wherever I walk the masses use to hail me but when it came to voting they will vote differently, because they were under very great stress and duress to vote differently. But today, the position is completely different, whether we go to Sokoto, or to Borno, or to Bauchi, or to Kano, or to Kaduna or Benue or Plateau, wherever you go, the school master is already abroad. Everyone wants to be educated, everyone wants his children to be educated, and for these reasons, the masses throughout the country are prepared to vote for the UPN. I shall not be surprised if at the conclusion of the election, the UPN gets more votes, so you should beware, the UPN gets more votes, in percentage terms, in the northern region- the old northern region, than in the southern part.
Lt-Col Yakubu Gowon (left), Nigeria's new military Ruler, walks with Chief Obafemi Awolowo following Baba Awo's release from jail, 1966 . Source: Historic Images
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to appeal to you again for restraints and quietness so that we could ask as many questions as possible, we are still going over to the audience, and we have only taken two questions from the panel of interviewers. Please, exercise restraint and keep quiet. Mr. Sonala Olumhense.
I just got a note from one of my colleagues at Thisday that a gentleman by the name of professor Mamoud Tukur, I think he is the younger or elder brother of Bamanga Tukur, the NPN governorship candidate for Gongola, and he says that, he has spoken today on Radio Kaduna defending my leadership. This never happened before.
I’ve been told by one of the leaders in the North that when they grew up into politics, they found a parcel and on that parcel it was written don’t touch, you know, like having something in the corner of the room covered up and you tell some children “don’t touch that o, it will bite you”. It really doesn’t bite. It may even be that you put inside there cakes and biscuits, and you tell the children “it will bite you if you touch” so the parcel bears the inscription “don’t touch” but after some time they were watching closely the parcel, and they discover the content appear to be good, now they open the parcel and found that all the contents are good. So the position today now is that whilst in 79 it was difficult for me to get a running mate from among the northern brothers and sisters, and whilst it was difficult for us to get the educated elite to work with us, today we have the vast majority of the educated elites and we have succeeded in getting Alhaji Mohammed Kura, the Makanam of Bisau, who has been described in one of the opposition papers as a political giant, he’s now my running mate. So things have changed throughout the country, and let’s wait until August 6th and 7th and we shall…………………….
How Policies Will be Executed
Moderator: Mr. Sonala Olumhense.
Question ( Sonala Olumhense): Mr. Awolowo, it is true that the widespread cry in Nigeria now is for change, it is true that many people in Nigeria are now crying for change, and the events, elections of August will tell whether you are that change. But if you come to power in October this year, you be inheriting, as you yourself noted this afternoon, a foreign debt of something like 14 to 16 billion naira as well as local ones, and you’ll be inheriting an economy that’s in a very bad shape.
In spite of these problems, in spite of these obvious problems many of the promises that you are making to the electorates are being timed for October or a few months after October. How do you think you can overcome the problems as I have enumerated so as to be able to execute your promises in the short run?
Well, that’s a good question, and a fair one. When we take over on October 1, as I’ve said before, we’ll be taking over a debt of about 14 billion to 16 billion. I say 14 to 16 billion because they are now about to succeed to get 2 billion loan from the bank, that will take us to 14 billion roughly, they expect 2.5 billion from the IMF, that will take us to 16.5 billion. We’re going to be faced with the payment of the principal as well as the interest.
Now we don’t want to be, declared a bankrupt nation. A bankrupt nation is a nation that’s unable to pay its debts and that hasn’t got enough resources to pay the debt. Fortunately, we have the resources, but how long it will take us to pay 16 billion and at the same time carry out and implement our promises is another matter.
It is not easy sitting down here to give an accurate answer to the question because one need a number of facts which are not available now. One thing that many Nigerians don’t appreciate is that the Nigerian government doesn’t give us accurate figures about its affairs and activities. For instance the Nigerian government itself doesn’t know how much it owes, and one of the difficulties in raising the 2 billion naira loan from the banks is that they say they are owing 2 billion trade debts whereas the banks say they are owing up to 3 to 4 billion.
I’ve said this before that most of the corporations, especially the big ones don’t know how much they owe and they don’t know all their creditors, they can’t identify them all. And on one occasion they pay monies ( I hope they paid, if the money didn’t go to their pockets) to people who they did not owe anything at all, and fail to pay those whom they owe. So its not possible for me sitting down here not having all the figures to know exactly how to go about it, but during the war, during the civil war, I did something to get the debts of Nigeria, how do I put it, to renegotiate the debts Nigeria owe at the time. I knew how I did it at that time, and this is not the forum for telling people how it was done because Shagari might try to(... general laughter.. ) so, all I know is we are taking over with our eyes open, we know that our interest rate will be something like 1 point something billion a year, and we have to pay, that is if they come from favourable sources and not from LIBOR market.
Question: Chief Awolowo sir, my own guestion is about political violence , with the election approaching fast the mass of Nigerians are beginning to panic and some of your political opponents have insinuated that some of your utterances’ are likely to incite your supporters into violence.
For example the quickly refer to this paper publication at one time that you said any news media or mass media which publishes false election result will be destroyed, but I think in another vein, you try to take back that speech when you went to Cross River state , but some of your followers have made their position rather to blunt like Chief Bola Ige, for instance has said consistently anybody who rigs the election will not live to hear the result. In another vein, Honorable Tadish Ismail when i asked him concerning political violence he insinuated that rigging is a violence act therefore it must attract violence retribution.
Chief, sir would you like to seize this opportunity to sound to this audience whether represented individual views or views of your party whichever way it is, would you want to clarify your position on political violence?
Awolowo: I don’t believe, and I say it emphatically, in political violence or any form of violence at all because violence breeds violence, greater violence. Greater violence breeds still greater violence and so forth, and no one who wants democracy to prevail in the society will favour violence.
Democracy thrives under an atmosphere, in an atmosphere of peace, concord and tolerance. You cannot promote democracy unless the people of the area in which they want democracy to thrive are tolerant to one another.
But at the same time democracy does not favour any act of blatant criminality. All that I've said and I want to repeat here is this - policemen are law enforcement agents, they are agents of the people. The people are the keepers of the law, they are the makers of the law, the keepers of the law and the executants of the law. What we are practicing here is representative governance, representative democracy. The whole of people of Ogun are selecting 36 people only to make laws on their behalf, but they are their agents for the purpose of making laws, they are selecting only one person as Governor to execute the laws, but there are millions of them selecting just one man. And the whole of Nigeria are selecting only one person to be their executive head. So it’s all about representing the people for the purposes they elect us.
What I say is simple, and it’s part of the philosophy of law, that if you have an agent who is to carry on certain things on your behalf and he refuses to do those things on your behalf and you want and those things are requisite and must be done, then it is your duty to go there and do them yourself. If you put an agent in your shop to sell things on your behalf and he’s refusing to sell, you want to sell and you want to make profit, then you go into the shop, dismiss the agent and carry on yourself.
So all I say is this, if there’s any trouble anywhere get the police informed about it, and say here’s this man wanting to burgle my house, he’s already equipped with weapons to enter my house and take my things away, and the police refuses to do his duty, then you go there it’s within your powers to do those things yourself.
And in connection with the elections I say when NPN thugs come to town, lock your doors. I’ve said repeatedly, and the audience here can bear me witness, those who have listen to me, lock your doors, lock your shops so that they don’t come and loot your properties, your goods, your wares. Lock up, and stay in your houses. Don’t provoke anyone, don’t throw stones at anyone and don’t involve in vulgar abuse against anyone, but whilst you are in your house, if some thugs comes there or a thug comes to your house to try and molest you. If there’s a policeman around, call his attention to it, if there’s no policeman around you just have to do something to help yourself. You can’t wait, you can’t leave him in your house and go out to the policeman to report. It may be too late.
I gave the instance of Awotesu, who on one occasion in 79 came to Ikenne to campaign. I’d already preached this sermon to people, and all the people of Ikenne locked their doors. They haven’t got, well, they had 4 members in Ikenne or about 6 members in Ikenne at that time, but they did not want the people of the town to know they were members of the NPN, so he came to the place, brought his audience, as the NPN leaders do now, wherever they go they carry their audience with them like a snail. Now he brought his audience with him, in one or two vans, brought the chairs on which they were going to sit and brought the table on which he was going to mount and address. So he came to a place they call Ajino market- it’s a junction, come from Lagos and turn right and get to my house. It’s about 200 yards from my house or so, he mounted the table, abused me for about 20 minutes and went his way. It doesn’t matter to him, but that’s all he could do. But if they were to go out of their way and enter the house of the people, I’ll say react.
No man can lord beyond his house. A man’s house is his castle. As a matter of fact, the law is- that if a man invades your house and wants to kill you, you can kill him. You don’t want to wait until he kills you or kills your wife or kills your child. That is the position in the law, and all I want to achieve is to warn people not to invdulge in thugery.
Then rigging is the worst form of violent robbery, and robbery is a crime. When a man goes to the police station and rigs an election, he’s rigging the will of millions of people, and that is dangerous. And I’d already added in one or two places, and Ebino Topsy had written an articles on it, on what happens to riggers in history. And I’d always had in mind when I say that those who rig will not live to tell the story, I don’t say they’ll die, but not be around to tell the story, and I’d always have in mind the case of Syngman Rhee.
Syngman Rhee of Southern Korea was a great fellow, some. He led his people to freedom and independence. And they revered him a lot, respected him very much. Then he used to win elections and on this occasion he got it into his head that his son-in-law should be his Vice-president. People said you’re alright by yourself, you’re president, we are returning you unopposed but your son-in-law we don’t want him to be our Vice-president. Here’s this other man in the party who’s going to be our Vice-president. Syngman Rhee objected, so the other man who the masses wanted stood as independent Vice-president, and his son stood on the platform of the party.
The election was held, and the people voted solidly for the other man. Then Syngman Rhee saw to it that there was a false announcement. He then announced that his son-in-law had won the election, and the people ask “did you vote for him?” “I didn’t vote for him, I didn’t vote for him” where did he get his votes from?
You know I told this story the first time in 1962 on May 28, at the press conference to warn Balewa and co that they should desist from what they are doing. I told them the story of Syngman Rhee, I told them the story of Menderes of Turkey and one or two other stories and I ended up by saying let those who think they stand beware lest they fall, let those who think they stand beware lest they fall. That was what I said at the time, and of course they used that as evidence against me in the treasonable felony trial, that I wanted them to fall.
Anyway, the people reacted and said your son-in-law hadn’t got a single vote in this country, how could he be Vice-President? So first of all, as ….the women match forward with the children, they said No it can’t happen, so Syngman Rhee then ordered that his police men should disperse them. The police men too did vote at the election and they knew they didn’t vote for his son-in-law so they refused to disperse the crowd. Then he called in the soldiers, the soldiers too voted, and they knew they didn’t vote for his son-in-law, and they refused to disperse the crowd.
So he found himself alone and the people matched on the palace, and he then begged that they leave him alone, they said well we’ll allow you to go out of this country forever. And so he left in a car, boarded a plane and left the country on that day. He died about 4 or 5 years ago in Honolulu, if I remember rightly, at the age of ninety-something. And the son-in-law, in the meantime, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
So this is what we want to avoid, it’s a warning to all intending riggers, because this time, it’s not going to be trouble in the western region alone, there’s going to be throughout the country right up to Sokoto and Shagari’s village. My warning is to them, not to do robbery. Don’t you warn high-way robbers “if you go and commit High-way robbery you’ll be shot”? don’t we say so to them, but that doesn’t mean that you’re inciting anybody against anybody, you are only saying high-way robbers should desist from high-way robbery and live a peaceful life. All we say now is that riggers should stop and violent men should stop being violent.
See what the NPN has done so far- they killed three of our people in Ado-Ekiti in cold blood, they also killed six of our people, I hear nine altogether now, in Modakeke. Well, I don’t know what the people will do, I won’t know what they will do, and I don’t want to know what they may do if this sort of thing continue. You can’t sit down and people kill your men and just watch them idly. Let killing stop, let violence stop, and there’ll be no violence from us. We want to win, and under peaceful condition, and we therefore want free and fair elections, free from violence, free from rigging and free from any act of fraud.
Moderator: Yes Mr…….Mr. Oparadike.
Question: Chief Awolowo, your stand on the civil war, however unpopular it may have been to the Biafran people…Your stand on the civil war, however unpopular it may have been to the Biafrans or Ibo people, helped to shorten the war. Today, you’re being cast as the sole enemy of the Ibo people because of that stand, by among others, some of the people who as members of the federal military government at that time, were party to that decision and are today, in some cases, inheritors of power in one Nigeria which that decision of yours helped to save. How do you feel being cast in this role, and what steps are you taking to endear yourself once again to that large chunk of Nigerians who feels embittered.
Awolowo: As far as I know, the Ibo masses are friendly to me, towards me. In fact, whenever I visit Iboland, either Anambra or Imo, and there’s no campaigning for elections on, the Ibo people receive me warmly and affectionately. But there are some elements in Iboland who believe that they can maintain their popularity only by denigrating me, and so they keep on telling lies against me. Ojukwu is one of them. I don’t want to mention the names of the others because they are still redeemable, but ….Ojukwu is irredeemable so I mention his name, and my attitude to these lies is one of indifference, I must confess to you.
I’ve learnt to rely completely on the providence and vindication of Almighty God in some of these things. I’ve tried to explain myself in the past, but these liars persist. Ojukwu had only recently told the same lie against me. What’s the point in correcting lies when people are determined to persist in telling lies against you, what’s the point. I know that someday the Ibos, the masses of the Ibo people will realize who their friends are, and who their real enemies are. And the day that happens woe betide those enemies. The Ibos will deal with them very roughly, very roughly.
That has happened in my life. I have a nickname now, if you see my letterhead you’ll find something on top, you’ll find a fish done on the letterhead. Some people put Lion on theirs, some people put Tiger, but mine is Fish. And Fish represents my zodiac sign, those of you who read the stars and so on in the newspapers; you’ll find out that there’s a zodiac sign known as pieces, in Latin pieces mean Fish.
So I put pieces on top, that’s my zodiac sign being born on the 6th of March,….er well, the year doesn’t matter, it’s the day that matter. And then on top of it I write Eebudola. All of you know the meaning of that. You know I don’t want to tell a long story but………………Awolowo school, omo Awolowo, the…… started in Urobo land, in mid-west in those days. They were ridiculing my schools, I was building schools –brick and cement, to dpc level, block to dpc level and mud thereafter. And so the big shots in the place..”ah what kind of school is this? is this Awolowo school? Useless school” and when they saw the children..”ah this Awolowo children, they can’t read and write, Awolowo children” that’s how it started, with ridicule, and it became blessing, and now they say “Awolowo children, they are good people” no more ridicule about it, that’s how it started, so the Eebu becomes honor, the abuse became honor.
And so when I look back to all my life, treasonable felony, jail, all the abuses that were heaped on me, to Coker Inquiry, all sorts, and I see what has happened to the people who led, who led all these denigration campaign, where are they today? Those that are alive are what I call Homo Mortuus- dead living, oku eniyan, that’s what they are, those that their lives have gone.
So when I look back, I come to the conclusion that all these abuses which have been heaped on me all my life for doing nothing, for doing good, they have become honor, and so Eebudola is one of my nicknames. So I’ve cultivated an attitude of indifference, I’ve done no evil to the Ibos.
During the war I saw to it that the revenue which was due to the Iboland- South Eastern states they call it, at that time..east central state, I kept it, I saved the money for them. And when they ….was librated I handed over the money to them- millions. If I’d decided to do so, I could have kept the money away from them and then when they took over I saw to it that subvention was given to them at the rate of 990,000 pounds every month. I didn’t go to the executive council to ask for support, or for approval because I knew if I went to the executive council at that time the subvention would not be approved because there were more enemies in the executive council for the Ibos than friends. And since I wasn’t going to take a percentage from what I was going to give them, and I knew I was doing what was right, I wanted the state to survive, I kept on giving the subvention - 990,000 almost a million, every month, and I did that for other states of course- South eastern state, North central state, Kwara and so on.
But I did that for the Ibos, and when the war was over, I saw to it that the ACB got three and a half million pounds to start with. This was distributed immediately and I gave another sum of money. The attitude of the experts, officials at the time of the ACB was that ACB should be closed down, and I held the view you couldn’t close the ACB down because that is the bank that gives finance to the Ibo traders, and if you close it down they’ll find it difficult to revive or to survive. So it was given. I did the same thing for the Cooperative Bank of Eastern Nigeria, to rehabilitate all these places, and I saw to it as commissioner for finance that no obstacle was placed in the way of the ministry of economic planning in planning for rehabilitation of the war affected areas.
TWENTY POUNDS POLICY
That’s what I did, and the case of the money they said was not given back to them, you know during the war all the pounds were looted, they printed Biafran currency notes, which they circulated, at the close of the war some people wanted their Biafran notes to be exchanged for them. Of course I couldn’t do that, if I did that the whole country would be bankrupt. We didn’t know about Biafran notes and we didn’t know on what basis they have printed them, so we refused the Biafran note, but I laid down the principle that all those who had savings in the banks on the eve of the declaration of the Biafran war or Biafra, will get their money back if they could satisfy us that they had the savings there, or the money there. Unfortunately, all the banks’s books had been burnt, and many of the people who had savings there didn’t have their saving books or their last statement of account, so a panel had to be set up.
I didn’t take part in setting up the panel, it was done by the Central bank and the pertinent officials of the ministry of finance, to look into the matter, and they went carefully into the matter, they took some months to do so, and then make some recommendation which I approved. Go to the archives, all I did was approve, I didn’t write anything more than that, I don’t even remember the name of any of them who took part. So I did everything in this world to assist our Ibo brothers and sisters during and after the war.
And anyone who goes back to look at my broadcast in August 1967, which dealt with post-war reconstruction would see what I said there.
Then, but above all, the ending of the war itself that I’m accused of, accused of starving the Ibos, I did nothing of the sort. You know, shortly after the liberation of these places, Calabar, Enugu and Port Harcort, I decided to pay a visit. There are certain things which I knew which you don’t know, which I don’t want to say here now, when I write my reminisces in the future I will do so. Some of the soldiers were not truthful with us, they didn’t tell us correct stories and so on.
I wanted to be there and see things for myself, bear in mind that Gowon himself did not go there at that time, it was after the war was over that he dorn himself up in various military dresses- Air force dress, Army dress and so on, and went to the war torn areas. But I went and some people tried to frighten me out of my goal by saying that Adekunle was my enemy and he was going to see to it that I never return from the place, so I went.
But when I went what did I see? I saw the kwashiorkor victims. If you see a kwashiorkor victim you’ll never like war to be waged. Terrible sight, in Enugu, in Port Harcourt, not many in Calabar, but mainly in Enugu and Port Harcourt. Then I enquired what happened to the food we are sending to the civilians. We were sending food through the Red cross, and CARITAS to them, but what happen was that the vehicles carrying the food were always ambushed by the soldiers. That’s what I discovered, and the food would then be taken to the soldiers to feed them, and so they were able to continue to fight. And I said that was a very dangerous policy, we didn’t intend the food for soldiers. But who will go behind the line to stop the soldiers from ambushing the vehicles that were carrying the food? And as long as soldiers were fed, the war will continue, and who’ll continue to suffer? and those who didn’t go to the place to see things as I did, you remember that all the big guns, all the soldiers in the Biafran army looked all well fed after the war, its only the mass of the people that suffered kwashiorkor.
You wont hear of a single lawyer, a single doctor, a single architect, who suffered from kwashiorkor? None of their children either, so they waylaid the foods, they ambush the vehicles and took the foods to their friends and to their collaborators and to their children and the masses were suffering. So I decided to stop sending the food there. In the process the civilians would suffer, but the soldiers will suffer most.
CHANGE OF CURRENCY
And it is on record that Ojukwu admitted that two things defeated him in this war, that’s as at the day he left Biafra. He said one, the change of currency, he said that was the first thing that defeated him, and we did that to prevent Ojukwu taking the money which his soldiers has stolen from our Central bank for sale abroad to buy arms. We discovered he looted our Central bank in Benin, he looted the one in Port Harcourt, looted the one in Calabar and he was taking the currency notes abroad to sell to earn foreign exchange to buy arms.
So I decided to change the currency, and for your benefit, it can now be told the whole world, only Gowon knew the day before, the day before the change took place. I decided, only three of us knew before then- Isong now governor of Cross River, Attah and myself. It was a closely guarded secret, if any commissioner at the time say that he knew about it, he’s only boosting his own ego. Because once you tell someone, he’ll tell another person. So we refused to tell them and we changed the currency notes. So Ojukwu said the change in currency defeated him, and starvation of his soldiers also defeated him.
These were the two things that defeated Ojukwu. And, he reminds me, when you saw Ojukwu’s picture after the war, did he look like someone who’s not well fed? But he has been taking the food which we send to civilians, and so we stopped the food.
And then finally, I saw to it that the houses owned by the Ibos in Lagos and on this side, were kept for them. I had an estate agent friend who told me that one of them collected half a million pounds rent which has been kept for him. All his rent were collected, but since we didn’t seize their houses, he came back and collected half a million pounds.
So that is the position. I’m a friend of the Ibos and the mass of the Ibos are my friends, but there are certain elements who want to continue to deceive the Ibos by telling lies against me, and one day, they’ll discover and then that day will be terrible for those who have been telling the lies.
Moderator: After the question, this particular question from the interview panel we’ll move to the floor, and later we’ll go back to the interview panel for the final two questions. But before we move to the floor I call on Mr. Sonala Olumhense to ask the question.
Question (Sonala Olumhense): Chief Awolowo, I think it is fairly clear that the two major problems responsible for the failing of government in this country are inability or incompetence of officials to manage the economy and corruption. You have been reported on the campaign ground to have said that when you come to power on October, that you will not probe anybody. I haven’t heard or read of any denial of that statement. If it is actually true that you did make that statement, how is it that you plan to deal with the problem of corruption in this country? Or don’t you have any such plans?
Awolowo: The statement referred to is not new, I first made a statement like that, I believe, in 1969 during my convocation address at Ife University. I then demanded to know why the probe was confined to only the western region and parts of the eastern region. The other part of the country, there was no probe in the other part of the country. And then, they were probing civilians, but then soldiers have boldly begun to enter, to enter the area of those who should be probed. And I said, well, some trees have fallen on other trees, and they should start with ones on the top. Which means to probe soldiers, and who will dare to probe soldiers at that time? So I said they should call off the whole business.
And then a decision was taken that those who had stolen money and had died should not be probed, so it is easy for someone who wants to enrich his children to steal as much as possible, then commit suicide so that his children can live in affluence forever. It’s a far fetch illustration, but it can happen. So I said the best thing is to call off the probe. And how much have we earned in the process? How much have we got back? You remember that all the thing that Adebayo got in his own time he returned them on the eve of the 10th anniversary of independent. So there’s no point in continuing the probe, I said it at the time, and I repeated it at Ahmadu Bello University when I was delivering my second convo… address there.
So it’s nothing new, but people don’t border to read some of the things I say, but they go on criticizing me for saying this things. Anyway, I don’t want the UPN to embark on probes, first of all I believe that those who have deliberately stolen public money…we keep on saying government’s money, it’s our money, it’s your money, it’s my money. Those who have deliberately done that would dislodge them sooner or later, that’s the law of nature, it has to happen.
In the bible we are told God says “Vengeance is mine, and I will revenge” and I believe it. Then secondly, when you start probing, where do you begin now? The corruption has gone to a very high scale since the Army took over. They were to be corrective, then they became corruptive, and so on, where do you begin? And with whom? And with which part of the country? Throughout the country? You’ll need a large staff of people to do the probe, and then the probers themselves might be bribed and corrupted in the process, and so we won’t get any genuine report. And then would you also probe members of your own party in addition, because we are not perfect. There must be people who are probable even within UPN, but party pressure will make it absolutely impossible for you to probe anyone within your party.
So why start at all? And what is more, if you probe the past, it’s like going to a grave yard and exhuming the bodies and tried to see what was the cause of the death of each of the copses that you have exhumed. And when you have discovered that so and so who died 10 years ago was killed by …… what do you do then? Do you revive the body? You cannot revive the dead, but in the process you pollute the air, you pollute the air of the place.
Whereas, you can help the living. I’m interested in the living, and don’t forget that I’m 74 years plus now, and I don’t want to waste my years trying to see what happened in the past instead of attending to the problems of all these people in front of me, and millions who are listening to what I say. If they steal they’ll suffer, if they don’t steal, and you never can know all the truth, sometimes they say somebody take a bribe, then find out and see no bribe has been taken, and so on and so forth. As far as I am concerned, the past- that’s from 30th of September 1983 backwards sealed. But from 1st October 1983 onward, open.
There’s a saying, the past is a story told, the future will be rich in gold. And I’ve always said it that the future is like a wet clay. In the hands of a good potter it can produce very fine potteries. But the past is dead you can’t produce anything from it except acrimonies, exacerbation, hatred, and so on and so forth. So I’m not interested in the past, I’m interested in the future.
And you can correct corruption by examples more than by precepts. Many of us can say corruption is bad. Even the most corrupt person will say “corruption is not good”, but then to see what he can do by examples rather than by precepts and I intend, that’s what UPN has been doing, we intend to lead the people out of corruption into honesty and probity by example. That’s what we intend to do. But you must bear in mind; you can never stamp out corruption, you can minimize it considerably. In those days of the western region, in 8 years people will say no corruption, there might be, I didn’t know, but the important thing is that people ought to realize that there’s someone somewhere who must never hear that an act of corruption has taken place.
But when the boss himself is the chairman of the corrupt club, then there’s nothing you can do, like what happened, a simple matter, one member of the ministry of housing asked one of the officials to go and get 200 bundles of roofing sheets. Yes sir! And then he went and collected 2,200 roofing sheets. That’s a fair business, the boss wants 200 and he needs 2000. And the boss can’t pressure on him, on what ground? “You went to go and steal that….”, he’ll say “er master but you asked me to bring you 200…” that’s the trouble. So you get a lot done by example rather than by precepts, and that’s what we intend to do. The future may be rich in gold, like a wet clay in the hands of the good potter.
Moderator: Thank you sir. We now go to the floor for some questions, and please when you’re called to come and ask question, please announce your name before you ask the question.
Question: Your party, you were voted in mostly in the Yoruba states in 1979, on the premise of your 4 cardinal programs, in particular because of your idea of free this free that, free in all these things. But since then, the people of the Yoruba states, particularly in Ogun state where I happen to be resident, I’ve come to realize that most of these 4 cardinal things, plans of your party, mainly free education, free medical services, full employment and rural integration are a colossal failure, for example free education- in all the schools, most of the children will have automatic promotion, the children are not good, most of them cannot even write letters, for example about…. ago, I had a boy in my house, he’s in class one secondary, and asked to spell rice he couldn’t spell rice. That is the sought of free education that we have in the country. Secondly, you talk of a few things...that your party UPN got voted in on your four cardinal programs. People have now realized that the program is a colossal failure.....
Program ends abruptly
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Dr Olu Ogunremi who made the audio cassette tape available to NVS
The Many Myths and Mystics of Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo
“If only Awolowo would relax, and have a glass of sherry with us sometimes!”
-Anonymous Englishman quoted in 1955 book by John Gunther titled “Inside Africa”
My good friend Fred Igbeare recently wrote an article published by the Times of Nigeria online on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo titled “Awo: What Legacy?” He asked “What would Nigeria be like today if the whole country had come under Awo’s free education policy?” He concluded that Chief Obafemi Awolowo is so controversial that he drew fervent reactions from foes and friends alike.
In this piece, we shall attempt to dissect Chief Awolowo’s life from the lens of an American who visited with him sometimes in the 1950s and wrote his encounter with the legend in his book titled “Inside Africa.” That American is John Gunther, and the book, now out of print was published by Harper & Brothers in 1955. We will endeavor to critically examine how his life, politics and courage impacted Nigeria then and now.
Gunther started out in his book by comparing Chief Obafemi Awolowo to his chief political rival Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) at page 773 of the book:
... the leader of the Action Group, and Zik’s chief political rival, Obafemi Awolowo (pronounced A-wa-luwa), has an altogether different quality. He is not a demagogue, but and intellectual. There has never been a breath of scandal about him. He is a man with a good deal of reserve, conscientious, precise, and somewhat stiff-backed. I heard an Englishman say, with genuine regret, “if only Awolowo would relax, and have a glass of sherry with us sometimes!” His intellectual arrogance is marked, although he seemed reasonable enough when we talked to him.
In today’s Nigeria, corruption is not only endemic but it has become the directive principles of state policy. An erstwhile Nigeria military ruler-General Abacha was reported to have stolen $4 billion USD all of which were traced to foreign assets. When Gunther wrote about Chief Awolowo, he was then the premier of Western Region of Nigeria. Since that time Chief Awolowo rose to the position of the vice head of government and minister of finance during the regime of General Yakubu Gowon. He was also the chairman of the Unity Party of Nigeria. At the end of each of his tenure, in all the above listed position, his administration was probed, investigated and re-probed by countless commission of enquiries, military tribunals and investigating journalist. Some of his lieutenants and associates went to jail for corruption at the end of such probe but the commission of enquiry or military tribunals usually come back with a clean bill of health for him, his policies and administration. So we can repeat with certainty what Gunther wrote about him in the 1950s that “there has never been a breath of scandal about him.”
We cannot say that about many of his associates however, some of whom wined and dined with the military, stole billions out of the treasury. Some were caught with their hands in the jar. Some served deserved prison jail sentence and come out of prison to continue looting the country. I believe Awolowo’s penchant for probity and uprightness contributed in no small measure to the many myths and mystics about him. Every time Nigerians look at the present crop of charlatans ruling our dear country, we long for Papa Awo. We imagined what could have been.
We however need to point out that Papa Awo was definitely not like Caesar’s wife, “above board”, many rumors of his alleged “conflict of interest” with Western Nigerian land allocations and business abound. But they remained what they were, legends and rumors and when we look at the unabashed stealing going on in our country by current crop of Nigeria politicians it is easy to see why many Nigerians will overlook alleged conflict of interest by Papa Awo. Many Nigerians long for a politician who would not relax until his people are freed of oppression. We all long for a politician who would refuse to have a glass of sherry with oil company executives polluting our shores and farmlands. If that is intellectual arrogance we need to breed more of it. Now that we have seen what “intellectual prostitution” brings on our polity, I believe we would opt for the former.
GENESIS OF ETHNIC POLITICS IN NIGERIA?
Gunther wrote the following about Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the birth of his political party- the Action Group:
The Action Group, which has its principal strength in the Yoruba West, is a newer party than Zik’s, and grew out of a semi-religious group, the Egbe Omo Odudua, founded by Awolowo to give voice to Yoruba nationalist and tribal aspirations. In theory at least it would like to remain on friendly relations with the British, when and if they go. But many of its members are extremist, and Awolowo himself was a prime mover for fixing 1956 as the target date for independence. Recently an Action Group member, commenting on the troubles in Kenya, went so far as to say that Mau Mau in spite of its horrors might “still be the way out of Nigeria’s bondage.”
Why did Awolowo started out on an ethnic platform? The mystery will always remains with us. Why a so called intellectual giant should reduce himself to a Yoruba irredentist by giving voice to “Yoruba nationalist and tribal aspirations” will forever remain a puzzle for us. Each time I read about the very beginnings of Awolowo’s politics I shudder. Is Nigeria not worth fighting for.
Gunther gave us a tepid explanation for this when he quoted Chief Awolowo in his book at page 747 as saying the followings:
““West and East Nigeria are as different as Ireland from Germany. The North is as different from either as China.”
Thanks to the likes of Awolowo, Nigeria remain divided in 2007 as it was in the 1950s even though Germany and Ireland are now part of a united European Union with a commonwealth economic and political behemoth that has brought Ireland out of economic doldrums to one of the most industrialized nation on earth. The allusion to China is in itself laughable. The geographical nexus of the three regions at that time render Awolowo’s metaphor incongruent. This is atypical of Nigeria’s ethnically jaundiced politician from all the regions. They sowed the seeds of discord that has held Nigeria in bondage to date.
Yes. Nigeria is complex, full of bewildering variety of peoples and languages within a limited area. But, thanks to Nigerian politicians, the lack of homogeneity noticed by Gunther in the 1950s remain with us today. And this lack of homogeneity remains the overriding political and national problem. It is now a curse, an albatross hanging over the neck of this great country. Many have wrongly called it “tribalism’ or ethnic prejudice, but I believe the proper word for it is sectionalism. I called it sectionalism because many of the so-called tribes and tongue tugging at different parts of Nigeria, trying desperately to pull it apart have little or nothing in common until the Europeans arrived on the continent. In fact, there were no homogenous group called the Yorubas until the Europeans asked their neighbors to the north what they called the people to the south of them. The same thing with the East, where every village is as fiercely independent of each other and jealously guard it’s border from the next neighboring village. The closest thing to a united northern Nigeria is the Sokoto caliphate, which contained within it’s borders over 120 different “tribes and tongue” with nothing in common other than it’s oppressive and repressive subjugation by the Fulanis.
Most of these ethnic groups like the Jukuns, the Tivs, the Hausas, the Kanuris were fighting each other with passion before the colonialist came. Same thing applies in the West where they were having internecine civil wars raiding and pillaging villages for slaves for the trans Atlantic slave trade. The East was even more amorphous. Majority of the inhabitants could barely understand each other. The colonialist and Christian missionaries forced Hausa language on the North and encouraged the West to develop the language of metropolitan old Oyo on the West. The word Yoruba itself is etymologically derived from Hausa language. So where did Awolowo got the idea that the West is homogenous from.
One can see the crass opportunism in Nigerian politician use of “tribalism” to divide and rule Nigeria, as the colonialist did. Incase anyone thinks Awo’s inglorious contribution to the demise of Nigeria unity is underserved, read the following at page 773 of Gunther’s book:
Awolowo has a tidier mind and more planning capacity than Zik. Awolowo, people say, seized the Nigerian nationalist movement away from Zik, by organizing his own party in the West. Before this, Zik had a claim to be leader everywhere. Overnight, there were two parties, which is a healthy enough sign of democratic evolution if they are not too rigidly regional. The Action Group uses scabrous language in attacking Zik’s East. One of its newspapers recently characterized the Eastern Assembly as a home “of terrorism, gangsterism, blackmail, shameless lying, and mob politics.” At one juncture, when they were quarrelling ferociously, Awolowo and Zik sued each other for libel for considerable sums; the two awards more or less canceled each other out. Then, after the crisis in 1953, the two began to work together again, each keeping his own sphere of influence, with Awolowo stronger in the West, Zik in the East. But in 1954 and later came other bitter quarrels, and split venomously once more.
Welcome primordial ethnic prejudice. I hope folks who think that ethnic’s politics in Nigeria is only a recent creation will now see where it started from. So when in 2002, Chief Bola Ige, one of the ardent followers of Awo, exclaim that the Yoruba race is far more superior than any other ethnic group in Nigeria, we can understand where that is coming from. It has been a miracle that the kind of ethnic holocaust witnessed in Rwanda has not happened in Nigeria, given all these very inflammatory words by Nigerian politicians.
CHIEF OBAFEMI AWOLOWO CONTRIBUTIONS TO NIGERIA INDEPENDENCE
Having said that, we need to acknowledge and perhaps acclaim the contributions of many Nigerian nationalist politicians like Chief Awolowo, to the struggle for independence in Nigeria despite their effete ethnic chauvinism. John Gunther wrote the followings about Awolowo and his party member reaction to his attendance at a dinner party hosted by the colonial Governor General:
..at this particular time, a severe constitutional crisis was at its peak. The African ministers representing one important political party, the Action Group, had adopted a non-fraternization policy, and would not accept hospitality from the Governor, although their Northern colleagues did. They were perfectly willing to talk business with Sir John McPherson in Government House, but they would not accept “hospitality” from him, not even a glass of water. There was nothing particularly personal in this. Macpherson was widely liked as an individual. But Government House symbolizes the Crown, and both West and East were at that time boycotting the Crown as a matter of principle. (Page 750).
We can only wish that Chief Awolowo and his co-nationalist like Dr. Azikiwe, Sir Tafawa Balewa and the Sardauna of Sokoto- Ahmadu Bello had come together and reasoned together. What makes Abraham Lincoln a legend in America today, is due largely to his desire to fight for freedom not only for Chicagoans or the North but for all of America. Our politician in Nigeria knows nothing about consensus and consequently they lost the big picture and lost Nigeria in the labyrinth of their short sighted parochial mind. One of my friends had tried to explain Awo’s appeal to ethnicity to advanced his political agenda on the grounds that Awo never imagined that all the regions will be granted independence at the same time. “In short,” my friend concluded “Awo never thought the North will ever be ready for independence, he therefore opted to rule a part of the whole and thus mortgaged the whole for a part.” My instant retort, is what happened subsequently after October 1, 1960? Why did he not changed? Why did he allowed himself to be anointed the Leader of Yoruba at the height of Nigerian civil war? Why did he promised to lead a breakaway Nigerian if East succeeded in it’s secession? How can you run for the presidency of a nation, when your world view is that some of it’s people are more inferior to another within the same polity! What was going on in his mind in the 1940s when he came back from Great Britain to join Nigeria politics?
I found something else startling about Awolowo, reading Gunther’s book. Let me quote the first paragraph of page 774 of the book:
Awolowo was born in a small Yoruba village in 1909; he was poorest of the poor, and is entirely self-made. This is unusual in Nigeria; an intelligent youngster, if destitute, will in the normal course of events be taken in by some family. Awolowo, on his own, managed to get a British education at a mission school in Ibadan, and then made his way to London, where he studied law. He is a barrister of the Inner Temple. Returning to Nigeria he became an advisor to the trade unions. He did not take a strong political line against the British until about 1948. Awolowo is an extremely cultivated and intelligent man. He speaks, of course perfect English. His book Path to Nigerian Freedom was well received by intellectuals in London. He has a world sense somewhat unusual among Africans (if only because few Africans ever have opportunity to acquire it) and recently visited India and Egypt; Jawaharlal Nehru made a great impression on him-and vice versa. In 1954 he became Premier of the Western Region, which means that he is in effect prime minister. [italics mine]
Setting aside Gunther’s racial prejudice for the time being, it is interesting to learn here for the first time that Awolowo did not take a strong political line against the British until about 1948. Does this explain his distaste for the NCNC politics? Did he form his world views after he came back from India and Egypt? What impact did his membership of West African Student Union (WASU) in Britain whilst studying for law had on him? Most importantly why did he start out in politics by establishing a quasi ethnic outfit by the name: “Egbe Omo Odudua?” These are question I have tried to understand from many books on contemporary Nigerian politics without avail. If indeed Awolowo is as intellectual as widely claimed why did he not have a more Pan-Nigeria outlook when he started politics. Why the acerbic attack on Zik and other Eastern Nigerian born politicians in the West Assembly?
THE BEAUTIFUL MIND OF CHIEF OBAFEMI AWOLOWO
We can write volumes and tomes about Awolowo sectionalist mind, but one thing we cannot begrudge him is his monumental contribution to discipline, vision and forthright administration:
We met Awolowo in odd circumstances, on a lonely road out in the bush, driving back to Lagos from Ibadan. We had missed him in Ibadan, and were pursuing him to his home village, by name Ikenne. To catch Awolowo at Ikenne, we had to be there by 5P.M., since he was proceeding elsewhere. The British said, “He will not wait for you-get there on time.” But we were delayed, and when we finally reached the outskirts of Ikenne at about seven we had given up hope of seeing Awolowo. It was becoming dark, and soft, steamy rain came down. Then a shiningly bright new American car appeared suddenly over the crest of the red road, like a metallic apparition charging out of tropical dusk. In it was Awolowo. Our chauffeur recognized him as we slithered past. We stopped. He had been waiting for us but could wait no longer. So we stood out there in the rainy twilight talking. We became conscious of a strange buzz and stir-the sound of myriads of insects. It became darker, and the shafts of light from the two cars made furrows into the green mask of jungle. Rain fell harder, and Awolowo stepped into our car, saying “I can give you a quarter of an hour.” We could still hear the solid, strident call of insects. It was a strange place to have a conference.
Herein lies much of mysticism about Awolowo, he is as diverse an African as you could find in any African university campus, full of ideas and serenity, and yet with an ethnically prejudiced bent. But at least there is no ounce of inferiority complex in his bone! Let’s continue the excerpts from Gunther’s book:
“Awolowo is of medium height, with a studious look; he wore Nigerian robes, and a dark red and gold turban. His manner is suave, considered, and aware. I asked him if Nigeria would, after independence, become a republic. He thought not. The Nigerian chiefs would not like the word “republic.” He went on, “We have to consider our princes. They do not resemble princes elsewhere. They fight for independence with us.” He discussed briefly constitutional anomalies within the Commonwealth. I asked him what his principal grievances against the Britain were, considering the British record of accomplishment in Nigeria. He replied, first, that it was morally wrong for one nation to govern another; second, that British administration was carried out by incompetent, inferior officials, third that the British did not have the true interests of the country at heart. “In fourteen months, under the present government, we have done more for Nigeria than the British did in 120 years.”
The question is can the present corps of Nigerian politician say the same thing, 40 years after independence from Britain? Chief Awolowo was right on all counts against the British rule in Nigeria but the same thing cannot be said about the ethnically jaundiced Nigerian politicians and military rulers who took over from the British. We can all agree that it was morally wrong for military to rule Nigerian for over 40 years out of almost 47 years of independence. Governments, which like the colonial rulers is without any accountability. A government of subjugation, with little or no voice for the people of Nigeria. We can also safely conclude that Nigerian government since the colonialist left in October 1960 has been carried out by incompetent nincompoops, inferior civil servants, and politicians who have little or no interest of the country at heart. Can we in all seriousness argue against this judgment given the massive corruption by Nigerian “militricians” who have stolen the country blind. It is quite an irony that in late 2004 and 2005 we have to sought the help of the same British to recover stolen corrupt funds stashed away by the military ruler, General Abacha and Governor Alamiesigha of Bayelsa in of all places-British banks!