Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a man many would describe as a leader like no
other. Even though he was the Premier of the Western Region between 1954
and 1960, when Nigeria was operating regional government, he was a
nationalist and statesman whose contribution to national development
remains a model that subsequent leaders try to emulate till date.
he was the Premier of the Western Region, late Chief Awolowo executed
several developmental projects that were lauded openly by many,
including people from other regions, and those programmes included free
health care for children, free primary education for all, etc.
Nigeria to gain independence from Britain, and together with members of
the political party he founded in 1951, the Action Group, and other
notable personalities, Nigeria’s independence became a reality on
October 1, 1960.
is being celebrated as Nigeria marks its 56 years as an independent
nation. In this interview with The Punch’s Tunde Ajaja, one of Chief
Awolowo’s children, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, talks about her late
father’s beliefs, his experience in prison, the troubles he faced and
why he never gave up on Nigeria.
Read a brief excerpt below:
Awolowo led several others to make case for Nigeria’s independence and
he was one of those who initiated the move. Would you know what prompted
that idea?He started since he was young, almost from the moment he
got involved in political activism in the Nigeria Youth Movement. So,
the independence of Nigeria was always top on his agenda and of course
when he went to the United Kingdom to study Law, that was when he and a
few like minds started the Egbe Omo Oduduwa and the Egbe had noble
objectives, one of which was the independence of Nigeria.
He was in prison for about three years. Did you visit him throughout?
he was in prison, we used to wake up by 3am to visit him in Calabar. We
would spend a few days and come back. It was a long journey because the
Niger Bridge had not been constructed at that time. Then we were at
Ibadan. We would travel to Asaba and cross by ferry to Onitsha and then
travel through the East to Oron and from Oron to Calabar. It was a long
journey and we used to get there around 6pm. We used to follow mama. And
whenever we visited, he was always talking about our future, and never
about what he was going through. He didn’t look like someone who wanted
to be pitied and then when we went back to school; it was that courage
that he exhibited that kept us going. He always said we should never
forget that we had a future and that none of what was happening then
should affect our aspirations. That was when I wanted to take the exam
for direct entry into University of Ibadan and a few days to the date, I
was notified that I shouldn’t bother presenting myself for the exam
because I was too young. At that point, papa decided that my sister and
I, who were still pursuing our education at that time, should rather go
abroad to study, and mercifully, mama could afford it because she was
working. So, he was in detention when we travelled.
He gave the name ‘Naira’ to the Nigerian currency. How did he arrive at that name?
He just took the name of Nigeria and collapsed it to Naira. That’s what
he told us and that was how he arrived at the name ‘naira’ and that was
when he was the Federal Commissioner for Finance.
He did a
lot like free health care, education even when the beneficiaries of
those programmes never expected or canvassed for them. Would you know
how he came about his ideas?
Largely, I think it was divine. And
he read a lot, right from his youthful days. He knew a lot about the
world in which he lived and he expected us to follow the footsteps of
developed countries. He looked at what other countries did, how they
arrived at where they were and he came to the conclusion that that was
the way we should go. In an interview, he was asked the question, why he
was so passionate, especially about free education. He said it was
probably because he went through a lot to acquire education. He then
said that other people went through similar experiences or perhaps worse
and they don’t feel that anyone should get education easily. So, he
concluded that perhaps it was divine. It was just divine. So, looking
back, I believe that his mission was divinely ordained and his choice of
life partner was divinely ordained also to achieve all he did.
Everything that he needed; the intelligence, the wisdom, the people, the
skills and all that was needed to achieve what he needed to achieve was
given to him by God. Also, if he didn’t have mama, it probably would
have been a different story. I think it all went almost perfectly for
them because God was in it.
Given the kind of developmental projects he executed, did he have mentor(s)?
had heroes, and the two outstanding ones are Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit
Nehru. He had pictures of both of them in each of his homes, in Lagos,
Ikenne and Ibadan. They were his heroes, and that was because of their
struggles for independence, the way they carried on with that and the
way they ran their countries. Those are the kind of selfless leaders
that he really looked up to.