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Revisiting Awolowo’s Progressive Legacies Of Committed Leadership

Posted: Mar 10, 2016 at 7:08 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Ejikeme Omenazu, Lagos

It was a cool Thursday March 3, 2016 morning. The atmosphere around the expansive Efunyela Hall, Awolowo Residence, Ikenne, Ogun State, was vivacious as many top Nigerians arrived, many throwing banters and others hugging themselves. It was the 2016 Chief Obafemi Awolowo Birthday Commemorative Symposium.
The Foundation had earlier pushed out a brief that the one-day symposium, themed, “Awo: Then and Now: Politics, Economics and Education”, would attract such notable stakeholders like Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Professor Williams Alade Fawole, Professor Ayo Olukotun, Dr. Femi Okurounmu and Professor Ladipo Adamolekun
Welcoming the gathering, Dr. Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, the Executive Director of The Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, and daughter of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, reminded the audience about the outstanding performance of his late father, who was the Premier of Western Region. She said the reminder was necessary to constantly challenge contemporary leaders to emulate Awo’s extraordinary record in office, thereby, propel Nigeria’s development pace in the right direction and secure a befitting place for her in an increasingly knowledge-driven world.
She recalled that the late Chief Awol?w?, through his party, the defunct Action Group, introduced issues-based politics to Nigeria when it was launched in 1951. The party promised four freedoms in its manifesto, three of which were ‘Freedom from Ignorance, Freedom from Diseases and Freedom from Want’. In other words, he articulated a development agenda that put people firmly at the centre of the process.
According to her, on January 17, 1955, the epochal free primary education scheme was launched in the Western Region of Nigeria. She recalled that in his budget speech in March that year, Chief Awol?w? said: “Of our total expenditure of £12.45 million, not less than 82.6 per cent is devoted to services and projects which directly cater for the health, education, prosperity and general welfare of our people. Of this high percentage, 27.8 per cent goes to education, 10.7 per cent to medical services, 5.4 per cent to agriculture…’
Setting the tone for the day’s discussion, she asked some pertinent questions: “Would Chief Awol?w?, a passionate federalist, have endorsed our current militarized and over-centralized federalism in which the states and federating units have become helplessly dependent on the centre?
“What lessons can we draw from the innovative fiscal strategies embarked upon by Chief Awol?w? in the course of his seminal advent into politics at regional and national levels?
“One of Chief Awol?w?’s better-known legacies centres around human development, in particular free and qualitative education. How can the nation draw upon his visionary example to revive a comatose educational sector?
“Are there any lessons to be drawn from the outstanding sacrificial example of the late sage in values, public morality, prudence, and the fight against corruption?”
After the initial applause, it was a pin-drop silence when the chairman of the occasion, and the diminutive Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Kaduna State governor, commended the three leaders of the Progressive Movement, particularly President Muhammadu Buhari, former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and Chief Bisi Akande, whose sacrifices and understanding, he stressed, led to the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a redefinition of the nation’s politics.
El-Rufai maintained that the initial decision of the three leaders from Northern and Western parts of the country to work together selflessly gave birth to a new Nigeria and finally cemented the political unification that achieved the feat of 2015 general elections. The tough talking Kaduna State governor stressed that the political unification, if carefully managed and nurtured by all sides, would achieve more for Nigeria for the benefit of all the regions.
El-Rufai added: “The outcome of the 2015 elections is both our present and our future, as it is our collective burden and opportunity. As the inheritors of the Progressive legacies of Awo, we, the leaders and members of the APC, must strive as he did, to meet the expectations of our people for a peaceful, secured and corrupt-free nation that delivers social services to all, and rewards ingenuity and hard work.”
The governor, who spoke on “The Awolowo Legacy Lives On”, stressed that the late sage was a man whose politics were governed by Progressive ideas, and a leader who combined what he called mental magnitude with an ability to implement his policies. He maintained that the late Chief Awolowo was rightly regarded as a giant in his lifetime, and was eulogised at death as one tree that made a forest.
On Awo’s indelible marks, El-Rufai stated: “His achievements were legendary. As a political colossus, he galvanized the West with a disciplined and thoughtful political organization that supplanted the hegemony of the NPC (Northern Peoples Congress).
“The Action Group had a programme that was one of the clearest expressions of pragmatism and vision. And in power, he had the discipline and governance orientation to toughen out the obstacles to his party’s policies.”
El-Rufai maintained that 60 years after Chief Awolowo introduced the free education in the Western Region, the consequences still echo in the dynamism of the professional classes and the political consciousness in the West, despite strong challenges he received because of it.
He maintained that Chief Awolowo’s resilience by ensuring that the free education policy survived for the common good is a lesson for political office holders, and an admonition for them to do what is necessary, important and consequential, rather than the merely popular.
The governor informed that the Kaduna State government embraced what he termed “The Awo Formula for Education”, as he campaigned against the dismal state of most schools in the state, which, he stressed, lacked furniture, doors, windows, roofs and water.
El-Rufai stated: “Between September 2015 and January 2016, we have spent more than N6 billion on school rehabilitation and the provision of water and toilets to our schools. In our 2016 budget, the education sector has by far the highest allocation, accounting for more than a third of the budget.
“We have therefore started the journey, but we have a long way and lots of hard work ahead of us to complete our programme of school repairs, provision of furniture and tools, students’ feeding and teacher training in an era of declining revenues. What no one can doubt is our commitment to expand access to education, and to deliver nine years of free, compulsory basic education with well-trained and incentivised teachers.
“Chief Awolowo rightly deserves his reputation as a master executor of grand visions. Although he was thwarted in his attempts to federalise the impact of his progressive programmes, it must be noted that Chief Awolowo strove to build alliances and networks countrywide.
“The most famous of this is the 1983 understanding with prominent politicians of northern extraction who had tired of the NPN’s profligacy and incompetence. But, it was by no means the first attempt to forge an alliance between the North and the West to firmly anchor national unity.”
While paying tributes to “Our departed leaders, fathers and mothers”, El-Rufai thanked the daughter of the late sage, Dr Awolowo Dosunmu, Pastor Tunde Bakare and all the trustees of the Obafemi Foundation for inviting him to chair this commemorative event and to once more bring to the fore the legacies of the late sage for the benefit of the current political leaders.
Then it was time for the keynote address, which was delivered by Professor Segun Gbadegesin, erstwhile Professor at Howard University, Washington. It was titled, “Envisioning National Progress: Building On The Legacy Of Obafemi Awolowo”.
In his introduction, the don went Biblical and drew a relationship between the late Yoruba icon and Jesus Christ when he said; “a prophet is not without honour, except in his domain.”
Going historical, Professor Gbadegesin stated that upon attaining political independence, Nigeria, a former colonial enclave, had been brought together under inauspicious circumstances, as the conquerors had no visible commitment to its cohesion or unity, but were faced with three fundamental existential challenges.
These, according to him, are: “How do we carve a national identity out of a motley crowd? This is the question of political structure and constitutional arrangements. How do we equip each individual with the necessary skills to make him or her useful member of society? This is the question of education and human development, and how do we organize the social means of production for the benefit of all? This is the question of the economy and production and equitable distribution of resources. “
He reasoned that had Nigeria come into being in a natural process of evolution and not through the imprimatur of an imperialist robbery, it might still face the three questions, but perhaps with different answers to the first of the existential questions. These, he said, were the questions and issues that Chief Awolowo, as a responsible citizen, felt morally compelled to address and to offer workable and pragmatic answers. He did with remarkable thoughtfulness and uncommon passion.
The don, in his detailed summary of his over 20-page paper, maintained that Awolowo and his Progressive party were confronted with the issues of education, particularly the issue of access and quality economy, especially the issue of growth and development politics, including the matter of structure, constitution and leadership.
He maintained that the issues that faced Awo then were not different from those of the present time. Rather, as he put it, “They are similar if not identical.” But, he stressed that Awolowo and his team intervened, with solutions to the problems and responded to the challenges by tapping into Progressive and liberal solutions.
These, according to him, included, free education, economic diversification, including rural integration and development; true federalism, by means of a national constitution that they were fortunate to struggle for and achieve, and strong and committed leadership, which they furnished.
Professor Gbadegesin maintained that the advantage, which Awolowo and his team had, was that the facts were on their side, the moral was on their side, and the masses were on their side.
He listed the challenges faced by Awolowo as including dealing with peers and adversaries unperturbed by facts, masses, or morals and control of economic and political institutions by those whose objective was to advance political and economic interests with little or no attention to the end of the common good.
He maintained that now, “the country is fortunate that the facts are still there, the moral is still there and the masses are still there. In the circumstance, the solutions and responses of Awolowo and his team are still unassailable, especially for a self-acclaimed Progressive party, which has as a pillar of its manifesto, political restructuring and devolution of power to the states.
“If it will live up to its identifier, therefore, the new Progressive party must focus its laser beam on the development of human beings as the most important resource. It must educate the nation’s children. It must revive and strengthen the system of public education. It must revisit the challenge of school drop outs who end up in the slaughter slab of political thuggery and terrorist camps. The country is long overdue for two-year community colleges as bridge institutions. Teacher education and retraining are important aspects of what must be a new philosophy of education in the Progressive era.”
He stated that security matters must be taken seriously as the first duty of government for which it has a monopoly. He expressed happiness that everyone now appears to be open to the idea of state police, adding that there is no reason a Progressive government cannot initiate a pilot programme in this direction. He maintained that there are a number of ways in which state policing can be set up to take care of the fear of politicization, adding that every state may be made to establish an independent Police Board or Council with an independent budget.
Professor Gbadegesin stated the obvious when he asserted that corruption is a substantive subject. He noted that corruption is one area where the whole world will be watching and evaluating the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.  According to him, “the matter of emoluments and compensation for political office holders from the Presidency to National Assembly, State Assemblies and even Local Governments is the 100 billion gorilla.  There is no doubt that many Nigerians are resentful of the exorbitant take-home of political office-holders.”
On the economy, Professor Gbadegesin maintained that with a mono product (oil), which is daily losing its value and relevance in the world economy with competition from everywhere, the nation has the immediate task of diversification. This, he added, will take time given the nation’s current situation. But, he stressed that “the journey of 1,000 years must start with the first step, which should have been taken long ago.”
He maintained that today, there are still the usual conservative adversaries who still support political and economic institutions that are hostile to economic growth and equitable development, noting that decades of military rule and extractive political institutions benefit the few, rentier and extractive economic institutions.
Professor Gbadegesin stated that rather that allowing the status quo to be maintained because of the fear of creative destruction, there should be a breakthrough in economic growth which will usher in egalitarianism which will be in the disadvantage and for the displacement of erstwhile political elite.
In his conclusion, the don maintained that those who claim to be Chief Awolowo’s followers in the Progressive camp have the challenge of a general fear of loss of elite advantages enjoyed on the back of the poor, including house helps, chefs, security men, drivers, etc. He suggested an inclusive educational system, which guarantees independent lives for many and blocks servitude.
He advocated a system with “No cook, no driver, no domestic security for most middle and upper class in US; an adulterated commitment to Progressivism; too much ego-centeredness; and crippling disunity among core Progressives that stood tall with Chief Awolowo.“ At the end of the lecture, the don took his seat amidst ovation as the audience felt that he spoke nothing, but the truth.
The symposium was the first of two events being hosted by the Foundation to commemorate the birthday of Chief Awol?w? this year. The other event was the Boys’ Under-10 Obafemi Awol?w? Memorial and Girls’ Under-15, now renamed HID Awol?w? Memorial Football Competitions, the finals of which were played at Aj?l? Stadium on Tuesday, March 8. This year, teams from Ogun State participated for the first time.
According to an entry at its website, the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation is not affiliated to any political party, movement, religious organization or interest group, but a think-tank devoted to the analysis of important policy problems and dedicated to the principles of public welfare, responsible, free enterprise, social democracy, a federal and republican Nigeria, an economically self-reliant Africa- and a stable and equitable global system.
Its objectives include to undertake and sponsor research on a broad range of public policy issues aimed at ameliorating poverty and unemployment and at promoting social justice, individual and press freedom, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary.
It also provides a forum for frequent and fruitful interaction between policy makers, reputable academics and the general public, so that each party will be enriched and public policy upgraded, and make available to the general public and relevant authorities the findings and conclusions of its research.
It also advances public awareness and discussion of the great issues of the day, thereby enhance the participatory capacities of civil organisations in the formulation of public policy and promotes learning and research in diverse academic disciplines through the award of scholarships and grants, and the endowment of professorial chairs.
The Foundation also seeks to advance the cause of North-South cooperation and the evolution of a more equitable global system; and to critique, elucidate and disseminate the teachings and ideals of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.