By Kayode Ketefe
Tomorrow, March 6, 2015, is the 106th posthumous birthday anniversary of one of Africa’s greatest politicians and arguably Nigeria’s best known political avatar, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, who died on May 9, 1987. He lived a lifetime packed with tremendous accomplishments and left exemplary legacies.
It just occurred to me that at the very point in time in our political journey towards an enduring democratic civilisation, the present politicians, most importantly, the two major contestants for presidential office, the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) will do well to reflect on the life and times of Awo.
The few summary of Awolowo I am giving here underscored invaluable virtues which made the late icon such a political legend and from which our present leaders can learn.
Imaginative ideas, quality thinking, uncanny vision, political sagacity and lateral strategising underlined Awo’s political life. He had no equal among his contemporaries.
Unlike many of the present day politicians who regard power as self-serving, the first premier of Western Region and first post-independence Federal Opposition Leader had the correct perspective of the concept of power. He understood it as a means to an end. His welfarist policy was unexcelled.
What made this remarkable was that the level of literacy then was far below what obtains today and it was easier to be selfish and corrupt without detection then than now. But ‘the sage’ believed that the purpose of governance was for the promotion of the welfare and happiness of the people.
He believed that power flowed from the people and that a social contract existed between the leaders and people which must be fulfilled. Awo was a man possessed of intense passion for the betterment of his people and he energetically pursued this with unwavering conviction, translating the ideas into concrete indelible achievements we can all see even today.
As Premier of Western Region between 1954 and 1959, he launched free health care for all till the age of 18, while his famous mandatory free primary education was so hugely successful that the Western Region became the most literate of the regions in the Nigerian federation.
The ascendancy of the Yoruba people today in the areas of education, commerce, arts and the attendant sociocultural advancement, emanated from Awo’s visionary leadership in the region.
Convinced of the powers of information as a veritable tool for education, entertainment and social advancement, Awo established the first African television station, the Western Nigerian Television in 1959.
So novel was that feat that it was reported that some political leaders of newly independent African countries made “curiosity pilgrimage” to Ibadan, the capital of Western Nigeria, just to see the television!
It was Awolowo’s blueprints that led to the emergence of Africa’s first conglomerate, the Oodua Group of Companies in 1962; founding of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) also in 1962, Liberty Stadium (1960) and Cocoa House – then the tallest building in tropical Africa – in 1965. Through progressive social engineering and strategic policies, Awolowo government changed the profile of Western Region forever.
It was in recognition of his superlative accomplishments that the people of the region formally installed him as ‘Asiwaju’ (forerunner), thus becoming the second person after the great Oduduwa, progenitor of the Yoruba race, to be so acknowledged!
A visionary with penetrative insight and remarkable sagacity, the deceased Yoruba leader would look at issue beyond the apparent and make pronouncements that invariably turned out to be prophetic. A case in point was the warning he gave to Alhaji Shehu Shagari government in 1981 about the way the Nigerian economy was being run.
He had then warned that the ship of the Nigerian state was heading for the rock. The potentates in that government tagged him a ‘prophet of doom’! Two years after the prophetic statement the Nigerian economy nosedived; the ship of the state tottered precariously, leading ultimately to a military putsch that swept Shagari out of power on December 31, 1983.
Today, it is very sad that a nation that has produced the likes of Awo is brimming mostly with selfish politicians who are only interested in self-enrichment, evincing egoism, deceit and callousness.
The leaders are regaling themselves with state-of-the-art luxuries while the national minimum wage for famished workers remained a paltry N18, 000 and all human development indices sliding.
No wonder a bill which would empower the Federal Government to make some “survival allowance” available for the teeming unemployed Nigerians as a welfarist gesture was shot down without much ado by the lawmakers.
In Yorubaland today, most of the region’s politicians are fond of using Awo’s goodwill as a launching pad for political relevance only for a good number of them ending up betraying the tenets of ‘Awoism’, as Awolowo’s ideology is known.
Let any President that emerges in the March 28 presidential poll imbibe welfarist policies, developmental politicking and people-focused political economy of late Papa Awo and it would be well with Nigeria.
Ketefe may followed on twitter @Kestesco
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