THE OBAFEMI AWOLOWO FOUNDATION: A BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE
Chief Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ was, first and foremost, a thinker. He, of all his contemporaries, is generally acknowledged to have brought outstanding erudition and critical analysis to bear on the art of governance. Consequently, he was not only able to devise appropriately focussed strategies for the resolution of most of the great issues of his day, but also laid solid Foundation for the future. His success then, as well as his undeniable posthumous vindication has led him to be described as, ‘arguably the greatest Nigerian of all time’.
Chief Awolọwọ was also a visionary of the most splendid genre. It can, therefore, be argued that partisan politics was, for him, but an avenue to acquire the necessary leverage to assist Nigeria to reach the immense heights that he was convinced was her manifest destiny. Sadly, however, he was unable to achieve the required leverage to put his prodigious talents to use at the national level.
Nevertheless, as the custodian of his intellectual legacy, the Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ Foundation, in accordance with its founding philosophy seeks to inaugurate a new chapter in the work of Chief Awolọwọ. The Foundation, therefore, owes a duty to Nigeria and to its patron’s memory to keep alive ‘the ideals that inspired the public and patriotic activities of the man ...’AWO’.
In this regard, we consider it our responsibility to encourage contemporary leaders, as well as the citizenry, to make the considerable body of ideas that he left to posterity a constant reference point in our quest for national development. The Foundation needs to remain faithful to its mission and constantly engage with the policy making process in a constructive manner, as Chief Awolọwọ did, in or out of office, throughout his life.
In order to perform its mission effectively, it is imperative that the democratic and development-oriented ideals of Chief Awolọwọ remain the Foundation’s definitive guide. The Foundation must, therefore, avoid the partisanship which almost certainly led to the rejection, by his political rivals, of Chief Awolọwọ’s prescriptions and, instead, adopt a more inclusive strategy in order to help to advance Nigeria’s development agenda. Time, of course, appears to have promoted an emerging consensus that these prescriptions are, in fact, unassailable strategies for development.
In its short history since 1992, the Foundation has, in the best tradition of Chief Awolọwọ, dared all odds by organising Dialogues on themes such as ‘Nigeria: In Search of Leadership’ and ‘Nigeria: Democracy and the Rule of Law’, at a time when it seemed almost reckless to do so. We have, over the years, established our credentials as foremost advocates on many other issues, including education, health, the economy and poverty alleviation. We have endowed professorial chairs in four Nigerian Universities, occupants of which we intend to name as part of the celebration of 55 years of free education in Nigeria in January 2010.
In all our programmes, we have endeavoured to provide a forum where all shades of opinion on issues are given ample opportunity to be heard. We have facilitated frequent and fruitful interaction between policy makers, reputable academics and the general public, so that each party is enriched and public policy is upgraded. In 1996, we highlighted the pivotal role of the youth to nation-building at our Fifth Dialogue titled, ‘Nigeria: Toward a Youth Agenda for the 21st Century’. This Special Dialogue in celebration of Chief Awolọwọ’s centennial is, again, dedicated to the youth, who are after all ‘the trustees of posterity’ (Benjamin Disraeli).
A famous quote goes thus, ‘to conquer a nation you just have to block the transfer of values, morals and beliefs between generations’. Having squandered the gains of the legacy we now celebrate, the least its direct beneficiaries and inheritors can do is to enlighten Nigerian youths that greatness is not beyond their grasp and encourage them to salvage their future and that of generations yet unborn by passing on valuable lessons from their illustrious forebears, of whom Chief Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ is a shining example. This is the raison d’être for this Dialogue and, indeed, the entire year-long programme in celebration of the centennial of Chief Awolọwọ.
Permit me to reproduce part of the preface of the published proceedings of the 5th Dialogue, which was written by the editors/organising committee members who were deliberately selected for the task because they were youths themselves: ‘..In a somewhat paradoxical sense youths have been both victims and villains in the deepening crises of state and society in Nigeria. As victims, they could claim to have been at the receiving end of years of neglect of their interests and sensibilities by the wielders of power who invariably belong to the older cohort. As villains, significant sections of the Nigerian youth have been enthusiastic fellow-travellers in the perpetration and perpetuation of those social, economic and political ills they often self-righteously decry’.
One of the recommendations at the end of that Dialogue was that the Foundation should ‘...organise periodic reviews of the conditions of the youth in Nigeria’. A cursory look at the current political landscape is probably an inescapable pointer to the unprecedented urgency of the task in this regard.
We, therefore, feel privileged to, once again, beam the searchlight on an issue of critical national importance by organising this Dialogue, particularly as we do so in collaboration with and within the ambience of the Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ University, an institution which is arguably the crowning glory of Chief Awolọwọ’s legacy in education.
It is unfortunate that this event is being held under the cloud of yet another dispute within the Nigerian universities system. In the light of recent events, the organisers had good reason to doubt the feasibility of hosting this Dialogue. We vacillated between postponement and outright cancellation. In the end, buoyed by the decision of the National Strike Coordinating Committee of ASUU to rise above the situation and permit their members to honour Chief Awolọwọ at this forum, we decided to take the risk and forge ahead, confident that some good would be achieved by so doing.
Words are inadequate to express my gratitude for the tireless efforts of the Vice Chancellor, Professor M. O. Fabọrọde, Professor David Ọkẹ, Professor Yisa Yusuf and the entire Organising Committee and support team, many of whose names I do not know but all of whom are known by He who alone is able to, and will, bless and reward them all.
The generous sponsorship of the MTN Foundation towards the hosting of this Dialogue is corporate social responsibility at its best. We are truly grateful.
Finally, the Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ Foundation is privileged to bear a truly illustrious name. Therefore, we will continue to strive to approximate Chief Awolọwọ’s legacy of commitment, integrity and excellence in service and to ensure that his legacies continue to endure. In all of this, the best interests of Nigeria will remain our only guide.
This is our pledge.
Dr Ọlatokunbọ Awolọwọ Dosumu