Obafemi Awolowo was a Nigerian nationalist and statesman who played a key role in Nigeria’s independence movement, the first and second Republic and Civil War. He is most notable as the outstanding first premier of the Western Region but was also a successful federal commissioner for finance and vice President of the Federal Executive Council in the Ikenne in Ogun State of South Western Region of the then Nigeria, he started his career, like some of his recognized contemporaries, as a nationalist in the Nigeria Youth Movement in which he rose to be become Western Provincial Secretary.
Obafemi Awo was answerable for much of the progressive social legislation that has made Nigeria a modern nation. He was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance, and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s parliamentary system, from 1950 to 1959. He was the official Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament to the Tafawa Balewa’s government from 1959 to 1963. In recognition of all these, Obafemi Awo was the first individual in the modern period to be named Leader of the Yoruba’s.
Obafemi Awolowo was born on 6 March 1909 in Ikenne, in present-day Ogun State of Nigeria. His father was a farmer and sawyer who died when Obafemi was about seven years old. He attended various schools, including Baptist Boys’ High School (BBHS), Abeokuta; and then became a teacher in Abeokuta, after which he qualified as a shorthand typist. Subsequently, he served as a clerk at the famous Wesley College Ibadan, as well as a correspondent for the Nigerian Times. It was after this that he embarked on various business ventures to help raise funds to travel to the UK for further studies.
Following his education at Wesley College, Ibadan, in 1927, he enrolled at the University of London as an External Student and graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Commerce (Hons.). He went to the UK in 1944 to study law at the University of London and was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple on 19 November 1946. In 1949 Awolowo founded the Nigerian Tribune, the oldest surviving private Nigerian newspaper, which he used to spread nationalist consciousness among his fellow Nigerians.
During his residence in London, Awolowo moved to a position of prominence in the struggle for Nigerian independence. In 1945 he wrote his first book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, in which he was highly critical of British policies of indirect administration and called for rapid moves toward self-government and Africanization of administrative posts in Nigeria. He also expressed his belief that federalism was the form of government best suited to the diverse populations of Nigeria, a position to which he consistently adhered. Also in 1945 in London, he helped found the Egbe Omo Oduduwa (Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa, the mythical ancestor of the Yoruba-speaking peoples), an organization devoted to the study and preservation of Yoruba culture.
In 1950 Awolowo founded and organized the Action Group political party in Western Nigeria to participate in the Western Regional elections of 1951. The Action Group’s platform called for immediate termination of British rule in Nigeria and for development of various public welfare programs, including universal primary education, increase of health services in rural areas, diversification of the Western Regional economy, and democratization of local governments. The Action Group won a majority, and in 1952 Awolowo as president of the Action Group became leader of the party in power in Western Nigeria. In 1954 he became the first premier of the Western Region, on which occasion he was awarded an honorary chieftaincy. During his tenure as leader and premier, he held the regional ministerial portfolios of local government, finance, and economic planning. He was also chairman of the Regional Economic Planning Commission.
In 1959, confident of an Action Group victory in the federal elections, Awolowo resigned the premiership to stand for election to the federal House of Representatives. About that time he published his second book, Awo: An Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in which he once more endorsed federalism as the most appropriate form of government for Nigeria. He also outlined the successful history of the Action Group and was optimistic of Nigerian independence.
However, the 1959 elections were to become an important turning point in Awolowo’s career, for the Action Group was decisively defeated, and Awolowo found himself leader of the opposition in the Federal House of Representatives, while the deputy leader of the Action Group, Chief S. L. Akintola, remained premier of the Western Region. This situation led to a power struggle within the party which ultimately erupted in 1962 in disturbances in the Western Region House of Assembly. The federal government intervened and suspended the regional constitution. When normal government was restored, the Akintola faction had won; Akintola and his followers withdrew from the Action Group to form the Nigerian National Democratic party, which governed Western Nigeria until 1966.
In 1963 Awolowo was found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the government of Nigeria and was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment. In 1966, however, an attempted coup d’etat led to the suspension of the Nigerian federal constitution and the empowerment of a military government which promised a new constitution. That year, while in prison, Awolowo wrote Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution, in which he argued for the retention of a federal form of government composed of 18 states. Later, in 1966, he was released from prison and the following year was invited to join the Federal Military Government as federal commissioner of finance and as vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council.
In 1968 Awolowo published his fourth book, The People’s Republic, calling for federalism, democracy, and socialism as the necessary elements in a new constitution which would lead to the development of a stable and prosperous Nigeria. Although he praised the Federal Military Government for creating a 12-state federal system in 1967, he predicted further political difficulties because these states had not been based on ethnic and linguistic affinities.
Awolowo continued to serve the government as commisioner of finance and vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council throughout the years of Nigeria’s civil war with Biafra (1967-1970). In his 1970 book, The Strategy and Tactics of the People”s Republic of Nigeria, he implied a position which he would state more firmly in subsequent years: that the government’s post-war spending should be devoted to development rather than to the military. He resigned in 1971 to protest the government’s continuation of military rule, and in 1975, following the overthrow of the Gowon government, issued a press release questioning the country’s military spending. In 1979 and 1983 he ran for president as the candidate for the Unity Party of Nigeria, losing to Shehu Shagari. Awolowo returned to private life upon the overthrow of the Shagari government in December 1983. He died in Ikenné on May 9, 1987.
In 1992, the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation was founded as an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organisation committed to furthering the symbiotic interaction of public policy and relevant scholarship with a view to promoting the overall development of the Nigerian nation. The Foundation was launched by the President of Nigeria at that time, General Ibrahim Babangida, at the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan. However, his most important bequests (styled Awoism) are his exemplary integrity, his welfarism, his contributions to hastening the process of decolonisation and his consistent and reasoned advocacy of federalism-based on ethno-linguistic self-determination and uniting politically strong states-as the best basis for Nigerian unity. Awolowo died peacefully at his Ikenne home, the Efunyela Hall (so named after his mother), on 9 May 1987, at the age of 78 and was laid to rest in Ikenne, amid tributes across political and ethno-religious divides.
Family Left Behind:
Chief Awolowo is survived by his wife, four children and their spouses, and many grand-children. Re also left behind millions of friends and supporters, and a country stunned by his sudden departure.
His Notable Works
- He named Nigeria’s national currency as ‘Naira’ when he was the Federal Commissioner for Finance. The late sage took the name of Nigeria and collapsed it as ‘Naira’
- Awo introduced free primary education for all and free health care for children in the Western Region
- He established the first television station in Africa in 1959.
- He also erected the first skyscraper in tropical Africa:the Cocoa House (still the tallest in Ibadan).
- Awo as fondly called was conferred by President Shehu Shagari with the title of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), the first and only non-president to be so honoured in recognition of his sterling qualities and contributions to the service of the country.
- He was the first individual in the modern era to be named Leader of the Yorubas (Yoruba: Asiwaju Omo Oodua), a title which has come over time to be conventionally ascribed to his successors as the recognized political leader of the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria.
- The man widely believed by admirers to be the best President Nigeria never had was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1959.
- In 1949 he founded the Nigerian Tribune, the oldest surviving private Nigerian newspaper, which he used to spread nationalist consciousness among his fellow Nigerians.
- The party he founded, Action Group was the first to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence in the federal parliament and he obtained internal self-government for the Western Region in 1957.
- The University of Ife was renamed Obafemi Awolowo University on 12 May 1987 in honour of Chief Obafemi Awolowo first premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, whose brainchild the university was.
Obafemi Awolowo was honoured both in the national, Native and Institutions are as follows;
University of Ife, Ile-Ife: D.Sc. (1967)
University of Lagos: D.Litt. (1968)
University of Ibadan: LL.D. (1972)
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria: LL.D. (1975)
University of Cape Coast, Ghana: LL.D. (1976)
In recognition of his professional contributions at the Bar, he was made a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1978.
In recognition of his invaluable service to Nigeria, he was given the highest honour in the land, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR)in 1982.
He was honoured with many chieftaincy titles, including the following:
Asiwaju of Remo
Losi of Ikenne
Lisa of Ijeun
Apesin of Osogbo
Odole of Ife
Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti
Odofin of Owo and
Obong Ikpan Isong of Ibibio Land.
Life Lesson from Obafemi Awolowo
- BE SELF CONFIDENCE TO FACE YOUR PREDICAMENTS
Chief Awolowo was one of the prominent and notable leaders in the history of Nigeria. To my point of view Awo was brave to control and overcome his various political unfortunate conditions.
- REAL LEADERS POSSESS QUALITY CHARISMATISM
The man widely believed by admirers to be the best President Nigeria never had was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1959. More also He was the first individual in the modern era to be named Leader of the Yorubas (Yoruba: Asiwaju Omo Oodua), a title which has come over time to be conventionally ascribed to his successors as the recognized political leader of the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria.
- BE A LEADER BY EXAMPLE
Awolowo past history will not stop to amaze me. He was the first Premier to introduce and successfully implemented the first free primary Education programme in Africa, he established the first Television station in Africa. He named Nigeria’s national currency as ‘Naira’ when he was the Federal Commissioner for Finance. The late sage took the name of Nigeria and collapsed it as ‘Naira’
- VIOLENCE NEVER SETTLE ANYTHING RIGHT
Chief Obafemi Awolowo political believe is violence never make things right, than to obstruct it.
- STARVATION IS ONE OF THE WEAPON OF WAR.
The Intelligent Political enigma, calculate and solved the puzzle of wining the Civil War between Nigeria Soldier and the Biafran’s Soldier, he abolished the exportation of Foods and other things going to the eastern part overcome the battle. Chief Awolowo was commended by the Nigeria government for the victory against the Biafran army.