By Alfred Ilenre
|Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Paper delivered by Chief Anthony Enahoro, CFR at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, July 22, 2009, to mark Chief Awolowo’s post humous centenary anniversary.
It is a great honour and a considerable challenge for me to speak to this august occasion on the centenary anniversary of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The title of my contribution will be, “remembering a great compatriot, leader, statesman; and a prophet”. History, they say remembers only three persons, the statesman the philosopher and the poet and Chief Awolowo is all three put together.
At the outset, I would like to extend my earnest congratulation to the leadership of the Chief Obafemi Awolowo foundation and the University of Life, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife for organising this special event in memory of Chief Awolowo.
The story of how I came to know Chief Obafemi Awolowo has been told many times on so many occasions, that there is no need to delve into further repetition. For the purpose of clarity, however, it is important to say that I came in contact with Chief Awolowo early in my political life as a journalist with nationalist motivations. Of all the nationalists who fought for independence it could be said without fear of any challenge that Chief Awolowo stood out firmly as one political leader with ideas of what a future Nigeria should be and you can always know where stood on any issue.
Chief Awolowo is better remembered today for the efficient manner he administered the affairs of the Western Region of Nigeria as Premier. The Welfare schemes of free education; free medical services for children under 18 years; the co-operative system, the Domestic Science training for women; the Agriculture extension programme for local farmers; the Information/Radio-vision network; the first Television Station in Africa, South of the sahara, the construction of the Liberty Stadium and efficient maintenance of a network of roads in Western Nigeria were all activities and events that made western Nigeria a model to other regions.
There is a disconnect between the history of the nationalist struggle and the post independence era hence Nigerians do not give enough regard to the nationalist struggle. Of late, particularly during the Pro-national Conference Organization (PRONACO) Conference I came across waves of youths, particularly university students who asked me series of questions of what I was thinking about when I moved the motion for Nigerian independence in 1953, when I was barely a youth of 30 years of age.
Did I ever conceive a situation where Nigeria education will decline to the state things are today? Did I for see a situation where Nigeria will not be able to the provide electricity services; where road networks will collapse? Did I ever consider that we will get to the extent of corruption the country finds itself today? Above all. What were the kind of super structure on which a future Nigeria was to be built upon?”
These are genuine question to expect from normal and resourceful youths of any nation in the face of an unworkable society we find ourselves today. The nationalists adopted a federal system of government at independence. The declaration was adopted after many years of careful study and planning. It was not a decision taken in haste nor was it an imposition. There were visits to so many countries like Britain, the United States of America. The defunct Soviet Union, Egypt, France and India, etc.
I, on my side as a member of the Action Group in the Western Nigeria house of Assembly was among a team of three Regional legislators, including Lawyer Egbuna from the Eastern House of assembly and Ahmadu Kano, not related to Aminu Kano from the North who visited the United States of America to study the America model.
Others leaders visited other countries, the three regional Premiers, Chief Awolowo, West, Dr. Nnamdi azikiwe, East, and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello North visited India and some other countries in the Far East, including Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia at different times to compare how their system of government were performing.
It is unfortunate that the Generals who did not participate in the nitty-gritty of the planning in the fight for independence intervened to meddle into the Nigerian political administration soon after independence. At the time the military took over the reins of government in 1966, the country operated a true federal system. The major issue of political conflict were all centred on the attempt by the federal government to dominate the regional governments. There were protests against internal domination in the regions as at 1966.
One would have expected the military corps to look the cause of grievances of the protesters. Rather, the military government banned all regional, ethnic and cultural associations. In the quagmire of a Unitarian system we found our solve today, there is no body to be held responsible for the harm done. As a result of the tragedy of the western Nigeria misadventure of the mid 1960s, by the central government, many people were killed and the country has never been the same over since.
When the amalgamation of two different administrative units of North and Southern Nigeria was unilaterally effected by the British in 1914, it was condemned by the elites of the time as a sham. The colonial administration were convened that they had put together a great number of ethnic groups, with different cultures, languages, world out-look and histories that might not survive. In the words of Sir Hugh Clifford, a former British Governor General, “Nigeria is a mere collection of self contained and mutually independent natural states, separated from one another by great distances by differences of history and tradition and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers”.
In his confidential report, Lord Lugard said “The case of the Fulani alien conquerors in north is wholly different from that of the ancient chiefs of Lagos who are of the same race as their subjects and have held their position for centuries with established system of communal land tenure”.
Henry Willink in his report 1958, said, “In nearly all the matters which concern the ordinary Nigerian citizen, it is the regional government that he is thinking when he thinks of government at all levels. The most important of the functions for the federal government for the future are just defence and external affairs. Lord Malcolm Hailey said, “Nigeria State is the most artificial of the many administrative units created in the course of European occupation of Africa”.
The only thing that has kept the different tribes together is force. There was no any justifiable way one can rationalize why the Edo people for instance should be concerned about how the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Fulani, the Hausa, the Ogoni, Tiv and other nations in Nigeria should run their own affairs. It is right to say that the British interest in Nigeria was mainly economic. The peace, stability and wellbeing of the different tribes to them counted for nothing.
CHIEF AWOLOWO LEGACY
Chief Awolowo was quite clear right from his first book, path to Nigerian freedom which he wrote at the onset of his political career, that the only way to ensure a sustainable nation state was true federalism. His subsequent views in books, newspaper articles, and public speeches, throughout his days on earth did not deviate from his earlier position that the survival of Nigeria lies in the construction of true federalism. Many of the threats to Nigeria survival stems from the military imposition of arbitrary laws and regulations.
They include: the 1999 dishonest Constitution contrived by the Abdusalami Abubakar administration, the land use decree; the local government review of 1976 by the Obasanjo regime that imposed the supervisory councillorship system southern Nigeria tribes against the highly successful part-time council management committee system; the structural adjustment programme; the abandonment of the federal/parliamentary system of government for the Unitary/presidential system; the reversal of the revenue sharing formula based on the principle of derivation.
What is the hope of the new age?
We are aware, including the youths, that something is wrong with our society. Then what is to be done, what is the way out? The way we are going, our culture and languages will disappear. Will Nigeria continue to be in existence in 50 years time?
How do we handle the question of self determination was included in the founding documents of the United Nations at inception in 1945.
Nigeria is today a member of UN. Why can we not accept the principle of self determination for the various ethnic nations? The UN General Assembly further reinforced the principle of self determination to nationalities by it adoption of the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous People in September 2007.
What is it that recommends the continued existence of Nigeria to us, is it because the white colonialists created the country called Nigeria to favour themselves? Why must it be the business of the Edo on how the Yoruba people run their affairs, why must it be the business of the Igbo man on how the Hausa person is governed, why must the Tiv tribe be concerned how the Ijaw people administer the affairs, You can continue.
During the nationalist struggle there were contradictory views between the youths and the elders at the early stage. The elder became comfortable, so long; they had enough to prepare themselves for the future and sufficient funds to pay the fees for their children at school. To them to criticize the white district officers was seen as a sacrilege or going too far.
The youth felt all the children should be at school at state expense irrespective of their family background. Chief Awolowo remained the only one among the older generation at the time, who share the views of the period of the nationalist struggle, it was the view of Chief Awolowo that the different tribes, who signed different treaties with the European colonialists, had lost their independence and ethnic sovereignty, and he felt they must be helped to regain their freedom.
He was called several unprintable names and all that by men without foresight. Today, with the collapse of old Soviet Union, the granting of self determination to all the small ethnic nations within the European Union member states, Our former masters, Britain now has four sovereign nations in one state, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the United State of America granted autonomy to 48 America indigenous tribes, Awolowo’s views on federalism and ethnic nationalism stand vindicated.
It is clear that Chief Awolowo was right while most of his opponents were wrong. Through the military regimes prevented Nigerians from their right to self-determination, with the new democratic dispensation, the time is ripe for addressing the issues of self determination in a more straight forward manner in Nigeria. It is when the different nations in Nigeria can determine their political structures, socially, politically and spiritually that they can develop themselves and fights corruption.
Alfred Ilenre is Secretary General, Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organisation of Africa (EMIROAF).