Twenty-nine years after the exit of former Premier of the Western Region and founder of the Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Chief Obafemi Awolowo; his works, economic prowess and political achievements remain a point of reference by politicians, academicians and others in different endeavours.
While some describe him as the father and pioneer of free education in Nigeria, former Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon, once referred to him as one of the major actors who played remarkable roles in his government and particularly during the Nigerian Civil War.
Apart from being a figure of reference in the development of education he was also described as one of the finest brains Nigeria, indeed Africa has ever had. He was a great lawyer and politician.
Twice he struggled to rule Nigeria but even though it was generally believed that he was the best Presidential candidate among the lot during the Second Republic, he lost the chances of becoming the president to former President Shehu Shagari of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
But 29 years after he died, his ideals and ideas and what he stood for are still being celebrated by both his admirers and even his political opponents.
Speaking during his posthumous birthday organized by the Awolowo Foundation under the auspices of former Nigerian Ambassador to Netherlands, Dr. Tokunbo Dosunmu-Awolowo, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai reiterated the fact that the late Awolowo played a remarkable role in upholding the unity of the country as well as making a great input in human development through education, which he made free in the South West region.
The governor agreed that Chief Awolowo was not only an indisputable patriotic political leader “but was also a deep thinker who could have moved Nigeria far ahead if he had been given the chance to rule.”
The governor, who was the chairman of the event also described Awolowo as the most prudent Nigerian political leader, recalling how as Finance Minister under Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s regime, he assisted the Federal Government to execute the three-year civil war without borrowing a dime from anywhere.
As stated by El-Rufai “Chief Obefemi Awolowo remains the grand executor of great visions in Nigeria.” He regretted that Nigeria as a nation did not buy into the suggestion of Awolowo in providing free and qualitative education nationwide.
He stated.Awolowo as a leader combined mental magnitude with the ability to implement his policies.
“In Kaduna State, we embraced the Awo formula for education. A year ago, we campaigned against the dismal state of most of our schools with many lacking furniture, doors, windows, roofs and water.”
For the guest speaker, a psychology lecturer at the Howard University, USA, Professor Olusegun Gbadegesin, it was not only worrisome but disturbing that after Awolowo’s demise his faithful (Awoist) are scattered and singing different tunes.
He stated that even their parent body, AFENIFERE has broken into two factions with two leaders.
Professor Gbadegesin who spoke on “Awo, Then, Politics, Economics and Education”, expressed deep concern about the division.
The don was of the opinion that the country at present was in the emergency ward and canvassed that only the progressives of the Awoists stuff could heal it because Awolowo left the healing balm in their hands, in terms of policies and programmes.
To rescue Nigeria form its present plight, Gbadegesin called for unity among politicians of the progressives hew, charging them to bury their political differences in the interest of the region and the country.
“The post-Awo Awoists would not even cooperate to uplift the message of their great master and leader. How are they different then from his adversaries? And considering that they would, one day, want to resume their dinner time chats with Awo, what will he respond? How will he respond?
“I challenge each and every Awoists here today, old, young and young at heart, to rethink and reflect on what has been lost to progressivism in the last 29 years of his passing.
“What have they collectively contributed to the progressive maturation and practicalisation of his philosophy? How will the present chaos and concussion in the camp of Awolowo shape the future of his ideas in Yoruba land, in Nigeria and in Africa?
“Are they, by their inability to get together as Awoists, inadvertently contributing to the strength of his known political enemies who had predicted his political death more than 50 years ago?” He asked rhetorically.
Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education in her speech stated: “Chief Awolowo was outstanding in fiscal projects, his record of fiscal projects is such that surpass every imagination, I give you the numbers, in the budget year of 1950 to 1953 the revenue was 4.79 million pounds by the budget year of 1959, 1960 it has multiplied by four, that is 400 percent increase in revenue generation. You have to be a fantastic leader to be able to generate that kind of increment of revenue growth.
“Awolowo was not given to frivolity and so his sense of government was that you must not spend what you have not earned. Good Fiscal planning was the bedrock of Awolowo’s management of the financial activities of the regime.”
She queried, “Do you know that it was as a result of lack of good fiscal planning that made the European Union to kick out Greece from the European Union. When nations spend what they have not earned they wreck everybody and ruin everybody. Imprudence is the worse thing that can ever happen in economic management, imprudence is what sets a nation back.
“When Awolowo ran the affairs of the then Western Region government, he was so interested in prudency that every budgetary function matters more than the size of the budget to him.
“Awolowo knew that economic growth is a prerequisite condition for tackling poverty. If you are not economically growing, you spend fortunes in tacking poverty.”
In a communiqué issued by Dr Awolowo-Dosunmu, the Executive Director of the foundation after the event, the discussants observed that whereas the country was currently undergoing a myriad of challenges including the political, economic, educational and social spheres, Chief Awolọwọ was, and still remained the benchmark for good governance even 29 years after he had died, stressing that the late politician’s legacies cut across education, politics, economy, labour, welfare, among others.
The communiqué noted that there was now a reversal of the good legacies that were put in place in the times of Chief Awolọwọ with a general tendency by some progressive politicians to imitate his legacies but this has not been all-encompassing in terms of human development.
As stated by the discussants, “The most stellar legacy of Awolowo was education, which his government vigorously pursued and implemented at the regional level, even though this was not allowed to be replicated at the national level,” adding that there were grave existential challenges facing the country, especially in the areas of national security, human development and economic productivity
The discussants however recommended there should be fiscal prudence, geared towards economic growth and development in order to achieve national economic rebirth and prosperity as it also added that the National Economic Conference being proposed by the Federal Government should involve not only experts and practitioners, but also representatives of all critical stakeholders.
They also agreed that the malaise in the educational sector must be urgently tackled and uprooted while privatization of education must go hand in hand with adequate state budgetary allocation to the public educational sector, so that the children of the poor would not be undeservedly disadvantaged.
It further recommended the proper examination of the contents and contexts of the national educational policy and reforms, urging that citizens should engage in self-education and personal development to enrich their minds, as Chief Awolowo did.
The communiqué urged contemporary political elite to emulate progressive politics in order to achieve true and sustainable development.
It reads: “Progressive politics and governance must be focused on development. This should be done in a proactive and not reactive manner. There is a need for an all-encompassing, citizen-oriented national orientation programme in order to give the citizenry a sense of belonging and participation in national affairs.
“There is a need to unite Awoists and all progressives of all generations, irrespective of class, ethnic or religious leanings, for ideological, political and cultural re-birth.
It continued: “Political parties should be ideologically driven and should have clear programmes and policies to which they can be held accountable whenever they are entrusted with power. There is a need for political leaders, particularly those in public office, to adopt a modest and exemplary lifestyle so as to cut waste and reduce corruption. There is a need for continuous inter-generational discourse on pressing national political and social issues.”
Some dignitaries at the occasion were Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Chief Bisi Akande, Gen. Oladipo Diya, renowned Pastor Tunde Bakare, Chief Olaniwun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Senator Femi Okunronmu and Chief Ahmed Joda.
Others included Mr. Adewale Raji, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, Prof. Bankolke Okuwa, Prelate of the Methodist Church, His Eminence, Uche Kalu and Prof. Ope Adekunle.