Awo’s Legacy is his calculated struggles for true federalism, entrepreneurial govt & NOT his achievements – Mábògùnjẹ́ at Atáyeṣe’s Awo Lecture

October 10, 2015


The notes in blue are blogger’s opinions, et cetera.


Being address delivered to Atáyeṣe, the Yoruba Socio-Economic & Cultural Group to mark the 58th Anniversary of self-government in Western Nigeria in 1957.

Lecturer: Professor Akin Ladipọ Mabògùnjẹ́ is a Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), an awardee of Nigeria’s highest academic achievement, the Nigeria National Order of Merit (NNOM) as well as holder of many academic awards. He has authored many books and papers in his area of specialization, Geography, as well as contributed his knowledge to many pioneering areas such as urban development, development economics, et cetera in Nigeria and, indeed, Africa. He is married to a retired High Court judge, Mrs. (Justice) Titi Mabògùnjẹ́.


Professor Mabogunje started and ended his lecture by stressing that free education, rural development and other great achievements of Chief Obafẹ́mi Awolọ̀wọ̀ in Nigeria’s Western Region – great as they were and will always be – are NOT Awo’s legacy. Awo’s calculated struggles to enthrone a true federal system of government as well as entrepreneurial government at lower levels that can feel the need of the people and respond to them quickly through ruling party representatives at local levels will forever remain the sage’s legacy.

Awo believed that “Nigeria’s return to pre-military Constitution federalism is imperative to development and greatness.


much has changed in the country and the world at large since Chief Awolowo’s time but that there are still concrete lessons to be learnt from his legacy not only in the area of political leadership but also of effective governance.

It was the understanding, up to the 1963 Constitution, that 50 per cent of royalties from such mineral exploitation belongs to the Region whilst 30 per cent goes to the distributable pool to even out development in the country and 20 per cent goes direct to the Federal Government.

Chief Awolowo described the federal system proposed under the McPherson Constitution of 1951 as a very light one because it was unbearably restrictive and obstructive in operation with some of its provisions patently contradictory to the principles and norms of federalism. As such, it generated a constitutional crisis which led to a series of constitutional conferences in London and Lagos …

Awo’s vision of an effective federalism “was not one to be held just by the political leadership of the party alone but also to be shared with the Civil Service as well as by the supporter of the partyat all levels of government. Ensuring that this vision is held also by the Civil Service was crucial for any government interested in making serious impact on the socio-economic conditions of the populace …

[Emphasis blogger’s to point out a major disconnect between governors and the people they govern which has led to a de facto disenfranchisement of the electorates in virtually all Nigerian states where state governors neither take into consideration those they govern nor work hand in hand with states civil services.]

On special bills, the defeat of government sends signal of a failure enforce needed discipline on members of the parliamentary party or to correctly assess the feelings of the public on the particular issue, hence the importance of the feedback element in the continuous mobilization and sensitization of party members especially those in parliament.

Consequently, although there was nothing like a constituency budgetary vote for projects, parliamentarians were expected to spend time in their constituencies discussing forthcoming legislations with local party leaders and getting the feed-back from them as to the public acceptability or otherwise of various acts of government. In this way, the mobilization of all the communities in the region was assured. This, of course, did not mean that there was no opposition to the government at the local level but their members too were briefed about the basis of opposition to particular legislations of government. The type of indiscipline that was witnessed at the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly earlier this year would have been impossible in the parliamentary federal system operated in Chief Awolowo’s time.  [THE Bukola Saraki mess and continuing saga]

the Federal Constitution gave the regional government powers especially over their resources. The ever-green legacy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo has been based on how he harnessed this residual power to dramatically enhance the welfare and well-being of the people of the region in such areas as education and healthcare and to systematically transform the socio-economic conditions under which they have to live.

[The Organization of the Cocoa Marketing Boards – through the Western Nigeria Marketing Board (Westmark) – through which farmers in rural areas were taught to construct concrete slabs on which to dry their produce and how to sort through dried harvest to remove impurities resulted in higher grade cocoa which attracted higher prices was a clear evidence of a government that cared. This blogger, daughter of a cocoa farmer from present-day Ondo State, perhaps the heart of the West’s cocoa belt, is a living witness to how seriously farmers in her native Iju in present-day Akure North Local Government where her father was leader of the Cooperative Movement, took the guidance. It was how her father and those who took their cocoa farming seriously were often able to pay whole year’s school fees in January/February when cocoa was always sold. [Today, that state is one of the leaders in NNOM awardees.]

Awo’s leadership was mindful of the welfare and well-being of the people.]

Preparation for January 1955 Free Primary Education: Awo left nothing to chance – Blogger’s caption

The 1952-53 Census had just been completed but it was not too clear what it says about how many children would have attained the age of 6 years by January 1955 when the scheme was expected to be launched. This was a job for a demographer. No such person was available in the country at the time. But through various enquiries, it was discovered that a Western Nigeria demographer was working for the United Nations at the time. Successful effort was thus undertaken to attract him back to the country to help resolve this challenge of providing the requisite data on the number of expected pupils and their distribution within the region. On the basis of these preliminary demographic estimates, the number of classrooms to be built and of teachers to be trained as well as the number of books, writing materials, uniforms and other paraphernalia of schooling had to be made available for the parents to purchase on the open market.

The issue of funding became the litmus test of the determination of government to achieve this major element of its electoral promise. It must be remembered that there was no petroleum or gas at this point in the nation’s history. All the government had to depend on was taxation and its ability to persuade the majority of the populace of the critical importance of this programme for the development of the region and their children. Capitation tax was raised from sixpence to ten shillings and six pence for all adult males and in some local government areas adult females. Part of the sensitization and mobilization was to explain to the citizens that the scheme was to be funded by all tax-paying adults, whether they had children of school going age or not. Sales tax on salt and entertainment tax on any consumption in public places were introduced. It became necessary to press for the regionalization of Commodity Marketing Boards so that export tax could also be levied on cocoa and other agricultural exports from the Western Region. These and other creative fiscal strategies had to be employed to finance this revolutionary programme of the government.

In spite of this, when the time came in August 1954 to register the children, Chief Awolowo noted in his Speech on the Supplementary Appropriation Bill at the House of Assembly on March 2, 1955 that, instead of the 170,000 originally anticipated on the basis of the 1952 Census figure, they now had to provide for over 400,000 children (Voice of Reason: Selected Speeches of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Fagbamigbe Publishers, Akure, Nigeria 1981, p.99). Undaunted, they had to call on the communities to assist with building additional classrooms with government providing corrugated iron sheets as roofing materials, appeal to all citizens who had had any teaching experience to come to the aid of government to make up the shortfall in the number of teachers and, as noted above, seek for a supplementary budget to cover the additional expenses. For the region, the success of the scheme became a patriotic challenge to unprecedented dimension. It raised the primary school population from 430,000 in 1953 to over 1 million in 1959 and introduced a new culture of education as the birth-right of every child in the region.

Thus, in 1957, whilst the Federal Government developed a cement industry at Nkalagu in Eastern Nigeria and had plans for another for the Northern Region, it had no plans to develop same in the Western Region because the Nigerian Geological Survey indicated that there was no limestone deposits in that part of the country. The Western Regional Government, however, did not believe or accept this statement. It hired its own consultants to investigate the situation. Through consultations with colleagues in Benin Republic, it was discovered that a limestone bed located in that country was getting wider and thicker as it proceeded eastward into Nigeria. On the basis of this, the Western Regional Government initiated the development of its own cement industry at Ewekoro, which was commissioned in 1960, well ahead of the federally sponsored Northern Nigerian Cement industry. From this limestone belt were to follow two other cement industries at Shagamu and the more recent development by Dangote at Ibeshe.

This situation was in sharp contrast to what happened when later the Western State under the governorship of Chief Bola Ige was to try to develop the Igbetti marbles. The Federal Government had become more assertive of minerals and mining being on the Exclusive List as a result of the boom in petroleum exploitation that it insist that all licences to prospect for minerals now reside only at the federal level even though land matters remained under the control of state governments. The confusion that arose as prospective developers try to negotiate between these two contending authorities has been partly responsible for the slow pace of solid mineral development in the country. Even today, the Igbetti marble is still awaiting development in spite of all the talk about efforts to promote solid mineral development. The same can be said for the bitumen deposits in Ondo State and phosphate deposits in Ogun State, among many others whose development could dramatically transform the socio-economic circumstances of these states.

… irrespective of the effluxion of time, the legacy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo still resonates in our present circumstance. His struggle to see that a truly federal State is established in Nigeria was derailed by thirty years of military rule. The hope, therefore, is that our present crop of political leaders will show the same commitment and determination to the continuing struggle to lead us to a golden future through their vision, their determined effort to actualize this vision, their prudent concern with costs of governance, and their strenuous effort to truly mobilize the citizens behind this vision, and, more importantly, their personal discipline and accountability to serve as icon to motivate us their followers. [Emphasis, blogger’s]

[What a stark difference in style, substance and vision from what zillions of fake “Awoists” that parade the land today are!

Now that you’ve checked out the highlights, I hope you will make the time to read Professor Mabogunje’s eye-opening paper – link below – on what things were like, what great promise we had in the West and the whole of Nigeria, what and how things went awry and how Nigeria can still face and meet the challenges of a truncated “federal” system that would have catapulted this country to great heights, and triump as a prosperous and great nation. Right now, Nigeria is yet to become a nation after 55 years of independence.]:


Nigeria’s return to pre-military Constitution’s federalism is imperative to development and greatness


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