SOUTHWEST INTEGRATION (2): Revisionism? Awo’s legacy is imperishable – Tola Adenle

It is unbelievable that I would ever be in a position to be defending Chief Awolowo because there were always Awoists by the tons – suddenly, conveniently gone mute – always out there to write flowery words about the man and his vision.  It is now apparent that it was only political expediency and sycophancy for gains.  By the time Chief Awolowo introduced the far-sighted free education, I had been in school for a couple of years paying fees as was the practice then in elementary schools.  My parents, like most people in Ondo Province of old, were Ope (Action Group) but that did not stop a couple of siblings from choosing different political paths (not for office) which, as one of them confessed, had nothing to do with the late sage’s character.  In fact, this relation had nothing but admiration for Awo’s legendary discipline, vision, sagacity and organizational ability.

I believed we – all Nigerians that is – were all agreed that Awo, in Ojukwu’s immortal words, “was the best President Nigeria never had” but these are strange times with all the confusion now going on in Yorubaland.   Here are some disturbing items that should worry most people, including those (in spite of themselves) who think Awo’s legacies can be obliterated simply by willing it.

 The matter of the felled statue of Awo a la Saddam Hussein is now well known. The fact that it was erected by Alhaji Adesina in the dying days of his administration is not relevant but the reasons adduced by “chieftains” of PDP in Oyo, especially the governor, Alhaji Ladoja, are bizarre at worst and unconvincing at best.  When Alhaji Ladoja promised to look into the matter and bring the culprits to book despite claims in a newspaper that the people who felled the statue called a number for the police who challenged them to verify, I believed him.  After all, he claimed he was a beneficiary of Awo’s free education and that another statue would soon be erected.   Since that initial soothing call to calm, however, utterances ascribed to the governor in newspapers have been more like calls to arms.

According to The Comet quoting an unnamed “PDP sympathetic” on June 25 [2003], : “AD members thought that they would reign forever, this gave them the inkling to force their hero on us.  Must I be a fan of Awolowo? … if I were the governor, I could even choose the incumbent President Obasanjo to erect a statue for him.    Seemingly putting a stamp of approval to this outburst, the governor reportedly said at Abuja  “ … it was not unlikely that the demolition was done by unknown soldiers.  Number One, it was the unknown  soldier that was there before it was pulled down.  We now erected a known civilian.  Who says that it was not the unknown soldiers … why can’t we remove you also?”

While I have not come across a denial by the Alhaji, I’d very much like to believe he did not say this because the language and implication are beneath the office he holds.

If all the above excuses read from newspapers are true, then the Oyo State governor has not played the role  that he’s supposed to play.  Once elected, he is not and should not play PDP governor but Oyo State governor which implies he is custodian, among other duties, to whatever the Yorubas cherish because Ibadan, his capital, is at least physically (if not in essence) central to all Yorubas.  I want to take that argument further.

Awo was not a Yoruba leader but a Nigerian leader and it is my belief that even Yorubas who were neither AG/UPN/AD nor Awoist must appreciate that the respect, nay call it fear of the ‘race’ by other nationalities in Nigeria, is the respect AND fear of the leadership of the ‘race’ which started with Awo – even after he passed to glory.

Let’s turn to Awo’s My March Through Prison to get the late sage’s own belief of his place in history.  In his now famous allocutus delivered on September 11, 1963, he said, “… I have no doubt, and I say this without any spirit of immodesty, that in the course of my political career, I have rendered services to this country which historians and the coming generations will certainly regard as imperishable. …”

Okay, let’s turn to another person, the judge who passed the judgement to get a dispassionate view of Awo:  While confessing that “my hands are tied”, Justice Sowemimo followed Awo’s allocutus with an acknowledgement that Awo had set a pace which would be difficult for others to follow and added “whatever others may say, this is my personal view.  I am not speaking as a judge but as a Nigerian.”

From the cradle of the Yorubas and from no less a personality than the Oni Oba Sijuwade came the incredible salvo according to newspapers towards that fifty years of the Yorubas not being in “mainstream politics” has prevented the southwest from being developed!  Of course, about fifty years ago (1952) was when Awo’s political career really started although he had been in politics since the late 30s.  Haba, Kabiyesi, here are some questions for you to ponder this holy day:

Was being in the “mainstream” during Balewa and Shagari a developmental boon for the southeast? Even today, is the southeast as developed as the southwest?  Now that we are in the “mainstream”, will President Obasanjo take what belongs to the northeast and give it to the southwest?  My own answer to the last question before I move on: it would not be right for him to do so; he will not do so and neither are Yorubas expecting that type of “help”.  Do you believe, Kabiyesi, that the leadership of Awo, since he refused to join Balewa or Shagari, produced for the southwest stagnation?  Even with the massive pumping of the collective wealth into the Northern part of Nigeria by the Federal Government, do you believe that the North is as developed as the southwest?  Are all the trailblazing projects started by Awo: education, housing estates, produce boards (in spite of my being a cocoa farmer’s daughter and knowing the shortcomings of the Marketing Board), Farm Settlements, etcetera, “setbacks” for the southwest?

Still more questions, Kabiyesi.  As one of the principal Obas in Yorubaland, won’t it be better to pay more attention to political situation  with a view to offering behind-the-scene counsel to produce calm in troubled times like these rather than venture into an area better left to political scientists?  Do you believe it is in the interest of the President or even the southwest to say things as those ascribed to you during the courtesy visit by Osun obas to the President?  Finally, Kabiyesi, have you heard –

Make new friends but keep the old,

One is silver the other is gold? 

Strengthening the crop of leadership that the Yorubas have should be the goal of everybody.  While President Obasanjo has won the admiration of most fair-minded Nigerians these last four years, we need not attempt to rewrite history to show our appreciation of the work he has started not only to get the country out of the woods but also to continue the strong tradition of Yoruba leaders who have always believed in a united Nigeria, perhaps far more than any other ethnic group.  I am no ethnic jingoist but the facts are there and here are just a few from our recent past:  Awo; Col. Banjo who went along with Biafra and was killed by those he thought were his friends in the misadventure; legal minds like retired Justice Adewale Thompson who went to defend NEPU people in the North for free; the irrepressible Wole Soyinka who suffered great privation in and out of jail for his Biafra links, etcetera.

The sky is endless and can therefore be home to as many stars as possible.  Each of our leaders, nay, each and everyone of us, can become a star up there,  depending on the legacies we decide to build while here.  Awo’s star is up there, shining bright; so is MKO’s and of course Fela’s;  yeah, composer of Egbekegbe, (the U.N. as a “useless” gathering ) Suffering and Smiling, Army Arrangement and other classics.

No, Alhaji Ladoja, you cannot decide to build a statue of President Obasanjo just as it was wrong for [retired army] Officer Marwa to name a massive housing complex in Lagos after himself.  It would be a sweeter honor if people have left the scene and then have roads, etcetera named after them; a tip, so to say, rather than a bribe.  And as far as the Yorubas are concerned, I think you are raising an army for a non-existent war.  Awo lived and left his legacy.  President Obasanjo is up and running trying to carve a name for himself in history. You should work to leave Oyo a better place than you met it.  Alhaji Adesina needs no vilifier as we were all witnesses to the last four years.  Why don’t you work towards your own place in history?


The Comet on Sunday, June 2003

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