The Immortal Awo By Wale Fatade

No, I’m not a blasphemer and so neither my wife nor pastor should be worried about the sincerity of my faith, as only God is truly immortal. But the word ‘immortal’ is used here in the sense of performance, competence, and finesse with which Obafemi Oyeniyi Awolowo brought to bear on his life as a politician and leader of his people.

Since his death on Saturday, May 9, 1987, we could boldly declare that no politician in this part of the world come near him in terms of foresight and dedication. And that’s the saddest part of his exit, not only have we not had another Awo, a greater tragedy might be that we do not encounter another like him again. While folks can adorn his cap and even copy his trademark glasses, they do not match his zeal, rigour and the love he had for his followers. Now we are talking of a man here so he was not perfect, but Awolowo with imperfections and warts was far better than the mercenaries we call politicians today.

The period between 1952 and 1959 when he was the first premier of the Western Region under a parliamentary system of government remains the golden period in the area that covers present-day Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Delta and parts of Lagos States. When you remember that Ikeja industrial estate spanning several companies was conceptualised and delivered under his watch with diverse companies in hospitality, agriculture, timber, and manufacturing to boot, you need to wonder what sort of a person was Awolowo. That could be part of the problems confronting us today: most likely even his closest followers did not understand what he stood for and so they were perhaps unable to continue with his vision. It could also be argued that maybe he was sui generis, in a class of his own, which makes cloning difficult.

While I could not readily recall the name of the book – one of the many he authored, I remember reading how he and his colleagues were afraid when they saw the books of the Western Region immediately after they were sworn in as the coffers did not have enough money for them to go ahead with their campaign promise of free education. But being men of honour, they decided to forge ahead determined to source for the money at all cost so as not to disappoint the citizens. Contrast that with these days when politicians and their rabid supporters seek to rubbish campaign promises, as something uttered glibly which should not be taken serious after elections. There was no ostentatious life style too for those of them in the cabinet. The man who served the longest period in Awolowo’s cabinet and the succeeding LadokeAkintola one, under whose watch Ikeja GRA and Bodija Estate in Ibadan were marked out, did not allocate even a plot to himself. Again, contrast that with today’s leaders.

While it is arguable that the economy under Awolowo was commodity-based, which was the in-thing globally then just as there was no population explosion like we have presently, the government he led still was prudent with the available resources and was able to provide decent services for citizens under their care. The robust debate culture he encouraged with exhaustive discussions of memos as record show and confirmation by those who were part of it then is patently lacking among politicians these days. One who mouth Awolowo often as though he cares to follow his ideals, just nominated commissioners two or three weeks ago about 16 months to the end of his administration as state governor.

His lifestyle is also a study in moderation devoid of the vacuity and avarice common among our leaders. Last week, Nigerians woke to the news that a serving governor used $3 million, part of his state’s share of the Paris Club refund, to build a hotel, Awolowo would be turning in his grave. His devotion to his marriage that despite investigation while he was alive and after death, no other woman has been traced to him except for his wife, HID, speaks volume to the debauchery common among public officers these days. Women are no longer respected as those who have access to the public till have turned them to sex objects. I’ve always believed that there is a link between libido and political performance and that men who can’t keep their libido in check cannot be trusted with peoples’ fate politically.

No doubt his disagreement with Akintola could have been handled with greater tact and perhaps the Yoruba political odyssey could have been different but it is not trite saying that Awolowo’ emergence gave the Yoruba a head start in this country. A pertinent question from his life, however, is: how come people like Awolowo don’t get to lead us in Nigeria? Let’s reflect on that, 30 years after his exit.

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