By Bola Ige – May 8, 2001
FOURTEEN years ago yesterday, Obafemi Awolowo passed on to higher service. Two months and three days earlier, at his seventy eighth birthday anniversary celebration, he had spoken prophetically about the imminence of his transition, about the fact that he had not been allowed to achieve his highest ambition of serving the people of Nigeria, about how he was satisfied that he was going for a greater and higher service, and of a life after life. Only few of his listeners at Ikenne on that March 6, 1987 comprehended fully what he was talking about. That was why all of us, friends and foes alike, were stunned and devastated when he moved on from this mortal plane. The greatest Nigerian ideologue so far, and the main issue in Nigerian politics during the previous fifty years, as General Ibrahim Babangida had described him earlier, left us.
Since the beginning of this year when, for over three months, my foes and friends, for good and bad reasons, made me the centre of political controversy in Nigeria, I have had, in my efforts at self-criticism and objective self-critical appraisal, to turn to the mental spiritual and political guidelines which Awo bequeathed to all of us who confess that we are his disciples. For obvious reasons, I will not write about the mental and spiritual lessons he taught me. But I drew upon the guidelines of mental magnitude that he prescribed, and I read, once again, his seminal writings in which one can find his clear thoughts and analysis on the problems of Nigeria. I have once again read, marked and inwardly digested, his main writings: (1) Path to Nigerian Freedom (ii) Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution; (iii) The People’s Republic and (iv) Strategy and Tactics of the People’s Republic.
In the last few weeks, our country has been agog with the news of political activities of persons and groups who seem to want to be of relevance or who are groping for ways to bring about some sort of realignment of forces. The scenario is unfolding and Nigeria’s political temporary contraptions called political parties and the desire of political theoreticians, who have no real winnable constituencies, to configure for us Nigeria’s political landscape. It is for these and other reasons that it is desirable, at the end of the second seven-year cycle and the beginning of the third seven-year cycle, that we should once again remind ourselves about Awo’s thoughts on a few important issues like (a) the national question; (b) federalism; (c) the unity of Nigeria and (d) constitution making. I doubt whether anybody in Nigeria has written cogently on the national question more than Obafemi Awolowo. He posited and demonstrated lucidly how the proper resolution of the national question is fundamental to a viable and prosperous Nigerian polity. Because of the various and different histories and cultures of our various nationalities, and the various and different stages of our modern and social and political development, he recommended a federation of Nigeria of not more than eighteen states based largely on ethnic affiliation and language.
I am glad I have never deviated from Awo’s principled position. And from what we are seeing of and in the six Yoruba States, in the five Igbo States and the six Hausa States, and from the nationalism that imbues organizations like AFENIFERE, OHANAEZE and the militant youth organizations among the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Izon, objective observers can see the futility of breaking up of our nationalities into miniscule states which have been emasculated in power, prosperity and progress. One thing I know: the day is almost here in Yorubaland when the Alajobi will be the Garibaldi that will write Yorubaland once again, and we will flourish once again, like we did under Awo.
Because I have no mandate of the Igbo, Izon and the Hausa, for example, I cannot speak authoritatively as I can for Yorubaland. But the signs are Unmistakable. Thirty years after the Biafran civil war, the Igbos are realizing that creating five states out of Igboland does not empower them to move forward or even to take needed meaningful steps to heal the scars of the civil war. As for the Hausa-Fulani, Sharianisation as a potent political weapon of ethnic nationalism is being fashioned and sharpened. This leads me to the postulations of Awo concerning federalism. For Awo, the Nigerian federation is to be a federal republic of states (large and small) who have come together on certain basic agreed terms reached and sealed in a constitution that would guarantee every state the rights and resources to manage its affairs in those areas assigned to it, and which would enable the state to make MAN the centre, the subject and object, and the raison d’etre of all development, whether at federal, state or local government level.
I have read almost everything Awo wrote, and for more than 25 years, I was directly under his tutelage. Not once and nowhere did Awo advocate the break-up of Nigeria, or that Yorubaland should break away from Nigeria. His first book designed the path of the freedom of Nigeria, not Yorubaland only; his People’s Republic was about the Federal Republic of Nigeria; his thoughts on the constitution was for the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and when he called us of the Committee of Friends to sit with him in Park Lane, Apapa, to work out strategy and tactics, they were to be how to capture power not in Yorubaland alone, but throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria, so that the best welfare of the people could be more easily and more comprehensively catered for.
Awo, of course, wanted Yorubaland to be strong and prosperous, but not for any selfish end. The prosperity and well-being of the Yoruba nation was to be a benchmark for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As Awo used to say, he could not be a good Nigerian, if he was not a good Yorubaman! One can recall Awo’s rebuke of my friend, brother and colleague, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, when in 1983, following the NPN rigging of elections, he called for a confederation. He gave him political spanking and that publicity. I am aware of course, that not only has Awo been vilified by Zik and other unitarists as a tribalist and apostle of balkanisation of Nigeria, quite a few Yoruba concerned nationalists have also queried why Awo did not lead Yorubaland out of Nigeria during the Civil War. Chief Emeka Ojukwu’s grouse, and that of some of his misguided cronies, was that they were encouraged in their secessionist bid by the motion which was passed by Yoruba leaders in the Western Hall, Ibadan, about April 1967.
I know much about that motion because I was part of the group that crafted it, and I actually moved it. It was this:
“If by any act of omission or commission the Eastern Region secedes, Western Region will opt out” (of the Federation of Nigeria) Only a daft person can read an invitation or encouragement to secede in that resolution. Yoruba want to be part of Nigeria, unless pushed out or not wanted.
And when secession was being prepared in Eastern Region, Awo led a delegation which included Chief Jereton Mariere, that charismatic leader of the Urhobos and erstwhile governor of Midwestern Nigeria, to persuade Emeka Ojukwu not to secede, but join in working out a truly federal constitution for Nigeria.
I was an unofficial adviser to the delegation from Western Nigeria to the ad-hoc Constitutional Conference convened by General Gowon in September and October 1966. Nowhere in our presentation did the West advocate secession or even confederation. These things need to be recalled so that our people must know the strategy to adopt in the present circumstance.
Which leads me to the last point. What was Awo’s reaction to discussions about constitution-making. Awo was never passive, and he never advocated non-participation in any discussions, however much he knew that they would not yield the results he wanted.
Fortunately, there are quite a few Nigerian leaders who are alive and can bear testimony to Awo’s robust and all-embracing nationalism for Yorubaland, and unalloyed patriotism for Nigeria, all his life: Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Rotimi Williams, SAN, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, Hon. Effiong Ononopkono, Chief Felix Ibru, Chief J.A.O. Odebiyi, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, and Alhaji Maitama Sule for example, not to talk of Senator Abraham Adesanya, and three people who have known him longer than most of us. Mr. Justice Adewole Thompson, Ven. E.O. Alayande and Awo’s jewel of inestimable value, our beloved Mama, Chief (Mrs) H.I.D Awolowo. I wish great leaders like Chief Wenike Briggs, Senator J. S. Tarka, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, to mention a few, were alive to add their voices.
And so, on this fourteenth anniversary of Awo’s transition, we who are his devotees must learn and study him anew, in order not to lose focus and chase shadows and false doctrines which cannot stand the test of political rigours and constitutional engineering. I thank my creator for this genius of a man whose political principles cannot fail and by which I immovably stand.
Long live Obafemi Awolowo.
By Bola Ige – May 8, 2001