By Davidson Iriekpen
While he was alive, he seriously revered by both the young and old, learned and unlearned. Everywhere he went the chants of “Awo! Awo!” rent the air. Even two and a half decades after his demise, the reverence has not ceased. In the part of Nigeria where Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo hailed from, he was seen as a demigod.
It was therefore not out of place for the young Adedara S. Oduguwa, being from the South-west, to join in the reverence of the man popularly called Awo.
Though Oduguwa barely knew Awo, having been born just two years before he died, he heard of the name and reverence he evokes and decided to research to know what made the name tick. He came to the conclusion that Awo was the Moses of the not only the South-west but of Nigeria. Hence the book: Chief Obafemi Awolowo: The Political Moses.
Like Moses is being remembered today for liberating the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, Awo is always being talked about for his developmental strides in the South-west, which till date are reference points.
Just as Moses saw the Promised Land but never entered, Awo despite his leadership qualities and the development he brought to the Western Region, never had the opportunity to rule Nigeria. Little wonder the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, once described him as “The best president Nigeria never had.”
The book Chief Obafemi Awolowo-The Political Moses is a profound historical treatise on the early beginnings, education, marriage, business, politics and general struggles of the political Moses. In the book, the author demonstrated his flair for poetry, history, storytelling, research and analysis. He handled every chapter professionally in a flowing, readable and enjoyable language.
It brilliantly and succinctly presents an expository of a foremost Nigerian statesman who passionately spent the greater part of his lifetime struggling to bring order and meaning into the political terrain of Nigeria. It is a bold and laudable narration of the many struggles of a highly disciplined Nigerian who not only introduced free education and free medical services but also stimulated socio-economic development across the Nigerian nation.
Undoubtedly, the Chief Awolowo, like the biblical Moses, had a high calling. He came, he saw the sufferings of the people and was determined to lead them to the Promised Land but the same people denied him the opportunity by not casting their votes for him through the ballot box. The account of this political Moses as presented in the book appears simple but the challenges faced by the late Awo were complex and daunting.
The author is frank in stating the fact that Awolowo’s leadership virtues have even been more popularised long after his death, than was the case while alive. To the readers the book has one important lesson to impart: those who aspire to become great leaders must not only have great vision; they should aim to shoot at a star. If they miss the targeted star, they would at least land on the moon.
The 173-page book deeply unravels the vision of Awolowo not only for the Yoruba race but for Nigeria. In fact, from the time of founding the Action Group, he (Awolowo) opted for socialism as the right ideology to move Nigeria to greater heights. His welfarist stance for the Nigerian people could be seen from his management of Western region as the first premier. And of course, it is on record that the sage proved his visionary ability by his popular programmes, such as free education which has distinguished people from that part of Nigeria to cherish education. Awo left an educational legacy that empowered a cross-section of people of Western Nigeria and still firmly remembered as the pillar for their development till today. From primary schools to the first regional University of Ife now named after him, Baba’s vision of knowledge-driven future for his people was astounding. His philosophy was clear: “Education is a better safeguard to liberty than a standing army.”
Reading through the book, one finds the major achievements of the Action Group as a political instrument which Awo founded with seven men of like minds; he stepped into the Nigerian political arena in 1952 with a programme which made him a pace-setter in every arena of governance.
Most of the achievements of the party were also identified as the first either in Nigeria or in Africa. They included: free primary education in the Western region which in fact, was the first of its kind in Africa. There was also the first television station to be established in Africa; the first free medical service programme to be introduced in Nigeria; the liberty stadium in Ibadan being the first of such modern sports facility in Nigeria; the first to introduce and implement minimum wage policy in Nigeria and effectively paid to western Nigeria workers from October 1954, a minimum wage that doubled the amount paid to workers of the same level in some parts of Nigeria among others.
Perusing the book, one will also appreciate the contributions of the party in setting up industries and business to expand the industrial base of the nation. They include: rubber processing factory at Benin; food canning factory at Ibadan to mention a few.
The book also brings to memory the celebrated treasonable felony charges against the sage and his colleagues, the election results in the country as it matures to a democratic nation.
What do Nigerians think of this great patriot? Their views will be discovered in the book as well as the utterances of the sage concerning various issues of life and the nation. And like the biblical Moses who could not lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was indeed the political Moses of Nigeria who despite his ability and courage could not become the President of the country.
For those who have read the book, it could not have come at better time than now when the country is again desperately yarning for a visionary and courageous leader. Currently, a lot of those vying for political offices either afresh or those seeking re-elections are already touting and equating themselves with late sage, using it to deceive the people.
The book: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, The Political Moses is foremost for students of politics, researchers in political, social sciences generally, humanities and the law. It is will also satisfy the curiosity of those who have heard so much about the great man Awo but would want to really discover him to the roots. These include leaders either serving in the wings or retired. In fact, every Nigerian or anybody for that matter that desires to study the making of leader or hero will find this book booking interesting, fulfilling and rewarding.