Obafemi Awolowo

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Obafemi Awolowo
Premier of Western Nigeria
In office
October 1, 1954 – October 1, 1960
Succeeded bySamuel Akintola
Personal details
Born(1909-03-06)March 6, 1909
Ikenne, Ogun State
DiedMay 9, 1987(1987-05-09) (aged 78)
Ikenne
Political partyUnity Party of Nigeria (1978-1987)
Action Group (1950-1966)
ProfessionLawyer
ReligionChristian
 
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Obafemi Awolowo
Premier of Western Nigeria
In office
October 1, 1954 – October 1, 1960
Succeeded bySamuel Akintola
Personal details
Born(1909-03-06)March 6, 1909
Ikenne, Ogun State
DiedMay 9, 1987(1987-05-09) (aged 78)
Ikenne
Political partyUnity Party of Nigeria (1978-1987)
Action Group (1950-1966)
ProfessionLawyer
ReligionChristian

Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (Yoruba: Ọbáfẹ́mi Awólọ́wọ̀; March 6, 1909 – May 9, 1987), commonly known as Awo and often referred to as the sage, was one of Nigeria's founding fathers.[1] His first name, Obafemi, means 'The king loves me' and the surname Awolowo means 'The mystic, or mysticism, commands honour or respect'. A Yoruba and native of Ikenne in Ogun State of Nigeria, he started his career as a nationalist in the Nigerian Youth Movement like some of his pre-independence contemporaries and was responsible for many of the progressive social legislations that have made Nigeria a modern nation.[2] 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 from London School of Economics. 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 and nationalist political party. 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 referred to as Leader of the Yorubas (Yoruba:Asiwaju Omo Oodua), a title which has come over time to be conventionally ascribed to his direct successors as the recognised political leader of the elders and young members of the Yoruba clans of Nigeria.

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Early life

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was born on March 6, 1909 in Ikenne, present day Ogun State Nigeria.[3] His father was a farmer and sawyer who died when Obafemi was only seven years old. 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.[4] It was after this that he embarked on various business ventures to help raise funds to travel to the UK for further studies.[citation needed] In 1949 Awolowo founded the Nigerian Tribune, the oldest surviving private Nigerian newspaper, which he used to spread nationalist consciousness among his fellow Nigerians.[5]

Politics

Awolowo was 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. 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.[6] He supported limited public ownership and limited central planning in government.[7] He believed that the state should channel Nigeria's resources into education and state-led infrastructural development.[8] Controversially, and at considerable expense, he introduced free primary education for all 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.[9]

Crisis in Western Nigeria

From the eve of independence, he led the Action Group as the Leader of the Opposition at 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 a declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region, eventually resulting in a widespread breakdown of law and order.

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 new elections that brought Akintola's NNDP into power. Shortly afterwards Awolowo and several disciples were arrested, charged, convicted and jailed for conspiring with some Ghanaian authorities under Kwame Nkrumah to overthrow the federal government. He was later to claim in a letter written to General Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966, how he had been approached in the Calabar Prison by emissaries of the government a number of times and asked to among others dismantle his own Action Group in exchange for his release and a deputy prime minister's position - an offer he refused [10] 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 and pardoned by the military administration. He was much later appointed the Federal Commissioner of Finance and Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council, by Yakubu Gowon's military administration. This took place in the unsettled circumstances immediately preceding the Civil War.

Free Universal Primary Health and Education

Awolowo pioneered free health care till the age of 18 in Nigeria in the Western Region and also free and mandatory primary education. Although, Awolowo failed to win the 1979 and 1983 presidential elections of the Second Republic, he polled the second highest number of votes and his polices of free education and health were carried out throughout all the states controlled by his party, the Unity Party of Nigeria.

Legacy

Awolowo is 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.

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 the Losi of Ikenne, Lisa of Ijeun, Asiwaju of Remo, Odofin of Owo, Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti, Apesin of Osogbo, Odole of Ife and Obong Ikpa Isong of Ibibioland and was also conferred with the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic. Many institutions in Nigeria 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) and Obafemi Awolowo Stadium (formerly the Liberty Stadium). 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. The Obafemi Awolowo Institute of Government and Public Policy located in Lekki LCDA. is also named after him.

References

  1. ^ James Booth. Writers and politics in Nigeria. Africana Pub. Co., 1981. Pp. 52.
  2. ^ Historical dictionary of the British empire, Volume 1
  3. ^ Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation, R L. Sklar(2004), Africa World Press, ISBN 1-59221-209-3
  4. ^ "then British owned"
  5. ^ "About Us". Nigerian Tribune. http://tribune.com.ng/index.php/about-us. Retrieved 2011-05-11. 
  6. ^ James Booth. Writers and politics in Nigeria. Africana Pub. Co., 1981. Pp. 52.
  7. ^ James Booth. Writers and politics in Nigeria. Africana Pub. Co., 1981. Pp. 52.
  8. ^ Case For Ideological Orientation, O. Awolowo
  9. ^ "Obafemi Awolowo: The Man With a Plan"
  10. ^ Adventures in Power Book One: My March through Prison, O. Awolowo Macmillan Nigeria Publishers, 1985