Ayo Opadokun, in this piece, goes down memory lane of 25 years close relationship with the late sage, Chief ObafemiAwolowo, and reveals why his legacy will linger many years more
Nigeria’s political landscape was shaken to its roots on May 9, 1987 when the most unexpected happened. The earth-shaking occurrence was the transition to glory of Chief Jeremiah OyeniyiObafemiAwolowo (OA). With such a massive blow, Nigeria’s Progressives on the political divide lost Awolowo, the most priced and valued possession, and the man for whom the late Chief EmekaOjukwu spun the most enduring epithet, “The Best President Nigeria Never Had”. Indeed, OA was the best President Nigeria never had, thanks to the deliberate and conscious conspiracy of ultra-reactionary elements and agents of Right-Wing foreign socio-economic and political leeches.
With the benefit of hindsight, we cannot but marvel at the last 100 days of OA. He displayed some signs, which we took no notice of at the time. There was also the most significant opportunity for OA to meet face to face with Yoruba leaders of the Conservative political divide. On February 18, 1987, Awo had his last encounter with Retired Justice AdetokunboAdemola, Chief H.O. Davies and late Dr. KoyeMajekodunmi, the administrator of Western Region during the state of emergency imposed on the region by the NPC/NCNC led Federal Government. This meeting came as part of the implementation of the resolution of a peace and reconciliation meeting of Yoruba leaders of various shades of opinion.
Thus on February 8, 1987, Justice Ademola, Chief Davies, Dr. Majekodunmi and Prince BabsOyekanmi were on one side, and Awolowo, Senator Abraham Adesanya, Chief C.O. Adebayo and I, on the other side. Senator Adesanya was asked to moderate the dialogue.
Two Metropolitan Club leaders spoke at the occasion. First, Sir Ademola spoke, followed by Chief Davies who simply said they were totally committed and willing to work for the unity of the Yoruba nation and that they will be willing to make reasonable sacrifices for the achievement of peace, mutual trust and unity among the Yoruba people.
Chief Davies said they had always known and accepted that OA was in control of over 90 per cent of the Yoruba nation, but that they were in control of the traditional rulers, along with the remaining 10 per cent of the people. He, therefore, recommended that it will be in the greatest interest of the Yoruba nation for the two groups to unite and begin to build enduring legacies for posterity. The Sage initially hesitated to speak. Eventually, in his gifted oratory, Awolowo took on each of the trio. First, he addressed Justice Ademola. Let me paraphrase.
“Justice Ademola, you will remember that you made frantic efforts to literarily eliminate me physically and politically. You will also recall that you came to talk to me in Calabar Prison where you suggested to me to renounce EgbeOmoOduduwa and the Action Group, promising that you will thereafter ensure my immediate release from prison? Of course, you will remember that I totally rejected your offer. And I said that EgbeOmoOduduwa, unlike your EgbeOmoOlofin, was not a private club owned by Awolowo.
“You will recall also that after I was released by the government of General Yakubu Gowon, Yoruba elders organized a reconciliation meeting to reunite us. I accepted that the political difference between us was over. Furthermore, I would also like to remind you that on your retirement from office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I organized a reception to celebrate you. In spite of my practical demonstration of love to you since then, I will like you to tell this gathering what further offence I have committed to warrant your renewed and total opposition to me in the 1979 general election.”
Chief Awolowo again went on to remind his Yoruba kinsmen at the meeting that other nationalities were not tired of blackmailing him with suppositions that if Awo were to be elected President or Prime Minister, he would concentrate more developmental programmes in Yorubaland.
When such suspicions remained a stumbling block to his life-long aspiration for national leadership; why should he again suffer “multiple jeopardy” with the high level opposition marshaled against him within the Yoruba leadership?
He then took on Chief Davies. He reminded him that after the reconciliation meeting, which he also attended, there had not been any issue between them that could have warranted the renewed enmity that Chief Davies harboured against him. Awolowo then threw a bombshell: “You, Chief Davies, were the Originator and Author of 122/3 to be interpreted as 12 states and 2/3 of a state.
Chief Richard Akinjinde was just the mouthpiece as the official advocate of the NPN and later became the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the NPN Government. Chief Davies neither admitted nor denied Awolowo’s accusation. Instead, he reiterated his position that the meeting was conveyed to settle out dispute and wrongs causing disharmony between the elder statesmen. He promised that in the twilight of his life, he would be committed to giving everything within his power for total realignment of forces among Yoruba leaders.
Finally, Awolowo turned to Dr. Majekodunmi. He wanted him to reveal if he had again offended the Medical Doctor after the major Pan-Yoruba reconciliation meeting. Reminiscing, Awolowo asked the former administrator of the Western Region to remember that as a political detainee, he (Awolowo) had requested that the administrator should not yield to the proposition of the NPC top hierarchy to detain him at Lekki, Epe area, reputed to be teeming with various killer insects and dangerous reptiles.
In spite of the Administrator’s promise never to send Awo to such a place, a few days later, Awolowo was restricted to the most dangerous quarters of the Lekki Island waterside. He also revealed that in spite of his underserved travails as orchestrated by the conspiracy of the NPC and NCNC, he readily forgave the apologetic Yoruba leaders at the major reconciliation meeting.
Dr. Majekodunmi also simply responded that bygones be bygone, as the current meeting had been called to broach a reconciliation among them as identified Yoruba greats.
A very significant resolution of that meeting was that the two broad political divides in Yoruba nation should collaborate on any major matter, which affects them as a people.
With all the dirty linens put away, the atmosphere took a friendly and lively turn, with free-dealing of jokes and banters amongst these doyens of the Yoruba race. They reached a resolution to regroup for a follow-up meeting on April 18, 1987. Unfortunately, the follow-up meeting for April 18, 1987 never happened. There came the paralysing death of OA. Efforts geared towards re-uniting the Yoruba nation thereafter hung in limbo until Papa MichealAdekunleAjasin naturally took over as the Leader.
Awolowo’s excellence in planning and executing policy decisions remain unequalled. That was why he blazed the trail or scored first in the formulation and execution of spectacular matters; first to introduce free universal primary education in Nigeria; first Television in sub-sahara Africa; first standard stadium (now ObafemiAwolowo), first tallest storey building in Nigeria (Cocoa House, Ibadan), biggest firm settlements in Nigeria etc.
The reality was that once Awolowo spoke on a subject matter on Nigeria, public opinion writers and leaders, as well as University academics, would usually break into two broad divisions – for and against Awolowo’s particular viewpoints. But he never did deliberately stir up the hornets’ nest of controversy. Awolowoutilised the value of silence to the maximum effect. Except his commentary would improve or advance positively the topical issue of the day, Awolowo would not speak. That was why whenever he chose to address the media, they would severally declare that “Awolowo has finally broken his silence” upon such-and-such a matter.
After any speech, the development had always been that his contribution quickly turned into the subject of analyses, debates, criticisms or commendations for long. There is no doubt that Awolowo, for all he was, generated passionate love and hatred in equal measures. For example, a significant segment of the Igbo community will, till tomorrow, continue to accuse him of instigating cross-carpeting just so that he could prevent Dr. Azikwe from leading an NCNC Government in the Western Region in 1951.
AlhajiGaniyuDawodu’s book has reasonably provided evidence to discredit their ridiculous claim. The Ibadan Peoples Party and or the Mabolaje Grand Alliance were never in any written and or official alliance with NCNC. When the then Electoral umpire officially asked all political parties contesting in Ibadan election to submit the names of their candidates, the NCNC never submitted the names of the IPP or the Mabolaje Grand Alliance as contesting on their platform.
One wonders, therefore, where is the sense of fairness, justice and equity of the anti-Awolowo rabble, when Dr. Azikiwe’s party had already formed an NCNC Government in the Eastern Region? What the NCNC party attempted to do was to rubbish the Yoruba Nation by trying to make it look as if the Yoruba nation could not find one of her own best materials to lead a government for the Western Region. You can appreciate what would have been the implications of such reality on the psyche of the Yoruba folks.
During the 1979 campaigns, the windscreen of Awolowo’s helicopter was stoned, forcing him to hurriedly leave Igboland because of the hostility. Part of this hostility sprouts from some elements from the Igbo platform, who apart from other private reasons, have claimed that Awolowo pauperized their people during the Civil War by directing the Central Bank of Nigeria to give natives of defeated Biafra enclave, just one or two pounds in compensation for all their deposits in banks.
Serious-minded people know that if there was government policy to that effect, Awolowo was just implementing such policy and should not be held guilty for such because he was then Deputy Leader of the Federal Executive Council and the Federal Commissioner of Finance. Finally, on these allegations, they claimed that Awolowo said starvation was a weapon of war. They equally took that out of context.
The Yoruba people have proven time and again that they can be accommodating to other Nigerian nationalities that have come to ply their trades and businesses in Yorubaland. It is only in the Yorubaland that some state governments appoint Igbo and Hausa people into their prominent cabinet positions or make them heads of various departments.
It is equally typical of an average Yoruba offspring that one of the greatest Yoruba military leaders, Col. AdekunleFajuyi, offered to be assassinated along with his Commander-in-Chief, General AguiyiIronsi when the mutineer came to Ibadan Government House to take away Ironsi. Is there anything more than the supreme sacrifice a Yoruba leader can pay in defence of his Igbo boss?
Awolowo is the only former Nigeria leader whose name has repeatedly open and close doors in the Nigerian political firmament, even after a quarter of century of his transition to the great beyond. And for all intent and purposes, the Awolowo’s phenomenon will continue to shape the political divisions among the Yoruba people and their cousins in Delta and Edo States as well as among the Yoruba people of Kwara and Kogi States because of the unprecedented life of discipline, courage, enterprise and development that were vintage Awolowo.