THREE DECADES AFTER THE EXIT OF THE BEST PRESIDENT WE NEVER HAD: OBAFEMI AWOLOWO
By Dapo Rotifa
Unarguably the best compliment ever paid to the late sage came from the iconic Biafra war hero Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu: “He is the best president Nigeria never had”. Some would say Dim wasn’t the ‘author’ of that line. That’s actually true. That line was authored by a celebrated journalist, one of the quartets of Newswatch of old, Dan Agbese. He wrote of the sage before his glorious transition “Awolowo is the best ruler Nigeria never had”. But Dim gave that line prominence when he went on condolence pilgrimage to Ikenne. He added: “a political giant has left our shores”.
And the truism of those words remains with us 30 years after Obafemi Awolowo transitioned few months after he foretold an unsuspecting nation at his last birthday: “What I am actually celebrating is the imminence of my transition….” Papa spoke of his belief in ‘life after life’ and the possibility of his serving even after transition. If relevance and still being our benchmark for visionary leadership after 30 years of his demise is what he meant by service after his transition, I think largely that ‘prophesy’ is still being fulfilled.
Just peruse the kind of leadership we have had since Awolowo’s death and tell me which of them in your own estimation or judgment you will say has demonstrated any vision or commitment to an egalitarian society that Awolowo labored so hard to see our nation become in his lifetime. Not even an inch close. He worked so hard to identify the problems. He understood Nigeria. He wrote extensively on the troubles with us as a nation. He proffered solutions with unassailable statistics. He said this of himself: “While many men in power and public office are busy carousing in the midst of women of easy virtue and men of low morals, I, as a few others like me, am busy at my desk thinking about the problems of Nigeria and proffering solutions to them. Only the deep can call to the deep.”
But he was denied the opportunity to execute those well thought-out solutions with which Nigeria would have become a strong economic player in the comity of nations. By now, had Awolowo being given the opportunity then, Nigeria would be ranking pari passu with the Asian Tigers in industrialization and market dominance in Africa not a consumer nation that we have become in this 21st century. “I want to see Nigeria play in Africa, the role American is playing in the West”, Papa once said in hope during the build up to Second Republic elections of 1979.
Coming close to the above testimony about the late sage was the one Papa heard himself from the evil genius Ibrahim Babangida before his derailment as president. IBB effusively described Papa as “the main issue of Nigerian politics since independence” (hope I get that right). But Papa was. The ruling class hated to love him. They were just nowhere near his class. And his follower-ship was cult-like. If he had lived in the medieval time, I think Awolowo would have transformed to another Ogun or Sango.
1979 at Ilesa during a stop-over for his campaign, it took hours for him to get off his car and walk to the stage. Shout of Awooo, Awooo….continued unabated. He would practically beg the crowd to let him address them. That was the days of politicians with messages. And when the military returned, the ‘worship’ of the sage did not wane. There was a traffic jam due to an accident on Ibadan-Ife road and as soon as the people sighted Papa in the traffic, the situation was turned into a carnival. After hours of shouting Awooo, Papa would even come down and ask the people “haaa, se ko su yin ni?” Papa in one of his numerous visits to the palace Ooni, I made my way thru the surging crowd, defying the security, to get close to Papa and I touched him. The urge was like that of the biblical woman with the issue of blood who touched the hem of Christ’s garment.
I have so much to write about this ‘idol’ called Obafemi Awolowo. Indeed Awo was Ajagunmale. Sleep on Papa Awolowo. Your footprints on the sands of time remain forever.