Awo more relevant 35 years after death

Obafemi Awolowo, the best president Nigeria never had was Yoruba’s gift to a nation hijacked by brigands. He was a philosopher king, an African pride and a man with a large heart who gave back to society what society denied him by accident of birth. Thirty-five years after physical death, Awo, the African sun continues to shine in spite of evil conspiracy of his people and the owners of Nigeria.

He was committed to finding solution to problems associated with multi-cultural nation like Nigeria. ‘The Path to Nigeria Freedom’ which he believed would liberate Nigerians from the tyranny of the state is one of the products of such search. That he led by example explained why he, along with like minds, also inaugurated the Action Group party as a modernisation agent. The basic principles of the party as stated in his inaugural address in Owo on April 28, 1951 were: the immediate termination of British rule in every phase of our political life, commitment of the party to the education of all children of school-going age, the provision of health and general welfare for all our people and finally the total abolition of want in our society”.

The party’s free primary education scheme inaugurated on January 17, 1955 with about 400,000 children had by 1960, risen to an enrolment of 1,124,788 children. The major principle of the party’s health scheme was ‘provision of adequate pure water, progressive build-up of environmental hygiene; and the expansion of hospital, maternity and child welfare, and dispensary services, coupled with a campaign of preventive medicine’. Within a period of five years, the number of hospitals increased by over 60 per cent with six new 32-bed hospitals sited at Afenmai Etsako , Ekiti, Epe, Egbado, Aboh and Okitipupa divisions.

His agriculture policy was informed by his belief that the causes of poverty are: “the abject state of the peasant class of this country… their antediluvian methods of cultivating the land”. Consequently, his party’s agricultural reforms were tailored towards allowing farmers to enjoy the benefits of organized marketing. In this regard, the government assisted plantation development, with focus on rubber, cocoa, oil palm, citrus, cashew and coffee, through the Western Nigerian Development Corporation (later Industrial Investment and Credit Corporation (IICC).

His government also set up a finance corporation agency, to provide loans to Nigerian entrepreneurs. To increase electricity supply for domestic and industrial purposes as well as make electricity available in all Yoruba major cities by 1962, the Western Region government granted to the former Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, (ECN) a loan of 1,300,000 pounds free of interest for a number of years.

To address shortage of houses, Western Region Housing Corporation was established which had by 1959 built 173 houses in Bodija, Ibadan and 44 at the Ikeja Estate and granted loans totalling 110,000 pounds on mortgage to 44 borrowers. The government also built a 40,000 capacity Liberty Stadium through direct labour at a cost 520,000 pounds and went on to build the first television in Africa in 1959.

Awolowo who had preferred Anthony Enahoro or Rotini Williams as successor premier was at the end vindicated. With the typical Yoruba false sense of self-worth, Akintola wanted to upstage Awo and become premier and party leader. The fall out of the party’s adoption of democratic socialism during its 1962 Jos convention, was the defeat of Ayo Rosiji by Sam Ikoku as secretary-general and the consolidation of power by the radical group.

Akintola who later pleaded guilty to the charges of maladministration and antiparty activities was indicted by 81 to 29 votes and replaced as premier by Alhaji Adegbenro. Both Ahmadu Bello and Okpara refused to recognize Adegbenro while Balewa directed the Commissioner of Police who had earlier pledged his loyalty the new premier to withdraw his service.

Following an attempt by Western Region House to have a vote of confidence on the new premier as advised by Balewa, E. A. Oke from Ogbomosho started throwing chairs and ‘shouting fire on the mountain’ while F. Ebubedike an NCNC member from Badagry broke the mace. The house was dispersed with tear gas. Later, Akintola went with thugs to attack the premier’s office.

Akintola challenged his removal in court. But Balewa was not taking chances. He convened the meeting of the parliament to declare state of emergence over what he described as “uproar in the western house”.

Then the usual Yoruba predilection set in. “If I cannot have it, no other person must have it” The minority held the majority to ransom. Ayo Rosiji, (Egba East) , Chief E A Okunowo (Ijebu) and Chief Abiodun Akerele (Oyo Central) for a pot of porridge decided to sell their leader to his political foes.

The charges of Ayo Rosiji who was aided into office by Awo in 1954 were: “The motivating factor all Awolowo’s activities is himself;. Awolowo has no abiding principle. Rather than look on whilst another person occupies the position of Prime Minister in this country, Chief Awolowo is prepared to destroy this country; Awolowo is arrogant, conceited and self-opinionated”.

Okunowo begged Balewa to remove Awolowo because it would mean “removing nepotism, and financial irresponsibility from the region; wanted Balewa to investigate NIPC; He is an Ijebu man like myself. Why should I support Akintola if Awo was doing the right thing? How can we work when one man is saying he is the enemy of the Sardauna, the enemy of Azikiwe the enemy of Okpara consistently? We appeal to the prime minster to find an asylum for Awolowo and send him to asylum to have him mentally examined; here in this house today we are singing the political death song of Awolowo”.

As for Akerele whose adoption was also aided by Awo in 1951, because he had never been to Oyo let alone knowing his quarters, he wanted Balewa to probe NIPC for giving loans to members of AG including Tarka, Ibrahim Iman and Bisi Onabanjo to build houses”.

Anthony Enahoro who probably remembered the lyrics of Hubert Ogunde’s evergreen song “Yoruba Ronu” about how Yoruba “inflicted rain on themselves for the sake of wealth, undermined one another in pursuit of position and declared innocent guilty and guilty innocent” opened his speech by saying “I wonder what is going to happen to the Yorubas”.

He reminded members that “Ayo Rosiji had no complaints whatsoever against this party until he was removed as federal secretary at the Jos Congress. Ever since then, nothing his party or his leader did has been right”. On Okunowo, he revealed: “Our parliamentary council has met once and the executive once on the question of his contract disputes with the Ministry of Works at Ibadan” (Awolowo had stopped him from using his position to secure a contract for importation of asbestos pipes for water project). On Chief Akerele, Enahoro had this to say: “there had been a firm of Awolowo and Akerele Solicitors and since they broke up, nothing Awolowo stands for or has ever done can receive favour with Akerele.”

His warning that “It is only those who cannot look far who will think this the end of everything. It may well be the beginning of chain of events, nobody knows and nobody can tell when it will end” was ignored by Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Azikiwe and Dr Okpara who had only one thing in mind: bury Awo.

With Ayes 232, Noes 44, they disabled the tripod holding Nigeria together. The struggle ever since has been how to return to Awo’s ‘path to Nigerian freedom’ never taken.

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