Awolowo, A victim of His  Ambition to Make a Difference


The man in whose memory we gather here today serves as a compass for each of us and a guiding light for several generations of leaders. His principles have withstood the tests of time and geography. He stands as a testament to the resilience of his convictions. Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s life also provides a compelling narrative for every student of leadership—an inspiration that continues to resonate across our community, our nation, and the global stage. Therefore, I am honoured to be invited to yet another avenue to reassure ourselves of his essence.

To comprehend Chief Awolowo’s teachings, we must confront the obscured reality of leadership. The initial trial for every leader lies in overcoming the conspiracies of mischief-makers, sceptics, and saboteurs. For the great sage from Ikenne, his enduring impact persists despite revisionist efforts. Time sifts through biases and lies, and through hidden agendas and propaganda. Time delivers to us the naked truth that defines the tough decisions and sacrifices every sincere leader must make to create a difference

But, in all we do, we must always find strength in the belief of those who trust the process, those who give us the benefit of the doubt. There is no greater honour than the privilege to lead one’s people, and assuming a position of leadership during times of turbulence is the ultimate test of our mettle as leaders. It is in these moments of uncertainty that true character and capability come to the forefront. While the immediate judgment may be rendered by the people we either impress or displease, the long-term verdict is carved by time, the passage of time.

 In his time, Chief Awolowo was fought both within and outside his political party. He faced a hostile opposition and was pushed hard to the extent of finding himself behind bars, a victim of his ambition to make a difference. With time, even his harshest critics came to realize the futility of undermining him. He stood out even in death because of his refusal to compromise his convictions. He fought until his very last days in defence of democracy in Nigeria, and these are the examples that make him a hero of the nation.

There is no doubt that time has been Chief Awolowo’s ally. Time has revealed the enduring impact of his ideas and actions. As we pay homage to his memory today, let us recognize that the same power of time to judge fairly connects with the lives and accomplishments of the honourees of this prize instituted in his immortal memory.

Today, we are here to celebrate a maverick change-maker who has not only flown our flag all over the world but has dazzled the world with the novelty of his thoughts, indispensability of his ideas, and dynamism of his actions. Today, we gather to honour a man who has carved his path in one of the most challenging offices to lead—Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.

Like Chief Awolowo, our honouree today has exemplified the values that have shaped the course of history at all the institutions he has headed, all the offices he occupied. I am, therefore, thrilled that the Obafemi Awolowo Leadership Prize is set out to honour a prophet in his home today. This is the power of standing for one’s convictions and serving humanity fairly. But it is not just time that would pierce through the fleeting shadows of scepticism and propaganda endured in the service of the people; rather, it is the resolve of the people to stand for honesty and justice, even when they do so alone and even when they are outnumbered.

In celebrating Dr. Adesina’s achievements, we are not merely acknowledging a leader; we are recognizing a role model and mentor who paves the way for current and future generations. His journey, from the esteemed institution now named after Chief Awolowo, attests to the transformative power of looking ahead in preparing to hit the runway of history. His ability to navigate the complexities of his role at the African Development Bank showcases not only his competence but also his resilience in the face of challenges.

Once again, and on behalf of the good people of Nigeria, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to our dear brother. This prize is a reminder that we can’t afford not to celebrate our prophets at home. We must always give them their flowers while they can still smell them. Dr. Adesina, a prophet of progress and development with too few of his kind, deserves our collective recognition and admiration.

Above are excerpts from a speech by President Bola Tinubu  at the 2023 Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership in Lagos on March 6, 2024

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