Awo Symposium:



Theme: Awo, Then and Now: Politics, Economics and Education






Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, D. Phil. (Oxon), NNOM. Independent Scholar.

Ikenne, March 3 rd 2016 .

The Challenge of Achieving Good Governance: Some Lessons from Awo


When there is good governance in a society, the citizens enjoy a good quality of life.

(cf. Proverbs 29:2 – “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice”).


I thank Dr Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, Executive Secretary of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, for inviting me to moderate this Symposium. I was in Bangui, Central African Republic (on an assignment for my World Bank employer), when I learnt of Chief Awolowo's passing on BBC Radio on May 10 th 1987. (He had passed on the previous day). The Tribute that I wrote later that day is being made public for the first time as an Appendix at the end of these remarks.


Awo ignited my brief but intense political activism in the 1960s. That phase of my life included about two years of occasional contributions to the Nigerian Tribune under the pen name, “Omo Awo” (1964-1966). Although I became a political independent in 1969, my admiration for Awo as an exemplary political leader has endured. I am seizing this opportunity provided by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation to share some reflections on what today's and tomorrow's leaders at the different levels of government can learn from Awo regarding the challenge of achieving good governance.




The main thrust of my remarks is that Awo's use of political power to enhance the quality of life of citizens in Western Nigeria during his “eight years of office” (1952-1959) is a very good illustration of good governance. He ensured good governance in Western Nigeria and the citizens enjoyed a good quality of life. “Life More Abundant” was the catch-phrase used by Awo and his political party, the Action Group (AG). The concrete achievements that he recorded in various areas of government business have been extensively documented and analysed by the sage himself and by a significant number of admirers and critics. I will only make references to the achievements, as appropriate, to illustrate three critical dimensions to what I would like to call Awo's good governance example : (i) preparation is an advantage; (ii) planning is a necessity; and (iii) implementation capability is critical to quality service delivery. The lessons that contemporary and future political leaders can learn in respect of each of these dimensions of Awo's good governance example are also highlighted.


1. Preparation is an advantage


There is a real sense in which the activities that Awo carried out between 1928 and 1946 constituted preparation for political leadership. “Years of Preparation” in Awo (1960) covers only the first few years whilst the following three chapters were titled differently as “Fraternity of the Pen”, “My Business Adventures” and “It is a Goal”. The three main dimensions to Awo's preparation that I would like to emphasise are: (i) acquisition of knowledge (history, politics, philosophy, economics and literature) crowned with two degrees (B.SC, Commerce and LLB); (ii) initiation to and growth in business and the legal profession; and (iii) apprenticeship to political practice through active membership of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM).


The publication of Path to Nigerian Freedom in 1947 (the manuscript had been completed by 1946) announced his readiness for political leadership role in Nigeria. This is similar to the practice in some advanced democracies where politicians announce their readiness for national political leadership through the publication of books either of an autobiographical nature or as avenues for exposing their political beliefs and development policies and programmes. (This practice is common, for example, in France and in the United States of America).


2. Planning is a necessity and a pre-condition for achieving results.


Awo's epithet, “Man with a Plan” was used with particular reference to the successful introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1955. The work of the planning committee for UPE that was established in 1951 was a key success factor. Of course, the committee did not anticipate the explosion in enrolment and the huge costs beyond their expectations but these challenges that were largely due to weak data and some others were tackled during implementation. Awo's emphasis on planning was in respect of all the four “freedoms” highlighted in his autobiography: “political freedom”, “freedom from ignorance”, “freedom from disease” and “freedom from want”. And he asserted as follows: “we had evolved elaborate plans which, with such modifications as inside knowledge of governmental facts and figures might dictate, were ready to be launched at a moment's notice” (Awolowo, 1960: 257).


Corroborative evidence on the meticulous attention to planning by the Awo-led government in Western Nigeria is provided in Simeon Adebo's Our Unforgettable Years (1984:155): “Even before they assumed power, the Action Group party in the West had produced policy papers for practically all fields of governmental activity.” This is the authoritative testimony of the Head of the Regional Civil Service that had the primary responsibility for implementing the policies and programmes of the government. The Awo-Adebo partnership in the governance of Western Nigeria during the second half of the 1950s is discussed briefly below.


3. Implementation capability is critical to quality service delivery


As soon as Awo assumed full political authority in Western Nigeria, he turned his attention to how best to ensure that the regional civil service, the main instrument for implementing government policies and programmes, would perform effectively and efficiently. He swiftly moved to talent-hunt some civil servants of Western Nigeria origin who were serving in the colonial civil service at the centre in Lagos. Those selected included Simeon Adebo who was appointed Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance and was made the Head of the Regional Civil Service shortly thereafter. The story of the well-performing civil service that Awo and Adebo built has been widely told at home and abroad. Awo's own verdict in his valedictory address to the Western Nigeria House of Assembly in 1959 is unquestionably the most authoritative.

Our civil service is exceedingly efficient, absolutely incorruptible in its upper stratum, and utterly devoted and unstinting in the discharge of its many onerous duties. For our civil servants, government workers and labourers to bear, uncomplainingly and without breaking down, the heavy and multifarious burdens with which we have in the interest of the public saddled them, is an epic of loyalty and devotion, of physical and mental endurance, and of a sense of mission, on their part. From the bottom of my heart I salute all of them .


In 2005, I highlighted the four lessons that developing countries can learn from the seminal politics-administration relationship “success story” that Awo and Adebo used to ensure effective and efficient implementation of the policies and programmes of government in Western Nigeria during the second half of the 1950s.

•  A political leader with a clear vision and a well-articulated development strategy would tend to manage the politics-administration interface in a manner that enhances the chance of successful implementation of his development programmes and projects, including such an ambitious one as a universal primary education programme at a time the idea was virtually unknown in any developing country.

•  Mutual respect and trust between the top political leader and the head of the civil service helps to ensure provision of adequate resources for nurturing the civil service, including assurance of decent pay, security of tenure, staff development and training and skills upgrading – all contributing to produce a competent administration with a public service ethos and an esprit de corps .

•  The phenomenon of a visionary and development-oriented head of government and a strong and competent head of the civil service is not a chance event; it is the former who selects the latter and has the powers to fire him/her if he so desires…

•  The reversal that happened in Western Nigeria is a reminder that whatever the heights attained in the context of building a strong public administration system, it cannot survive political decay for too long. The experience underscores the strong link between governance environment and the quality of a public administration system…


I am convinced that these lessons are relevant for political leaders in Nigeria and elsewhere who are genuinely committed to achieving good governance.



The results that Western Nigeria citizens enjoyed because of Awo's preparation, meticulous planning, and attention to ensuring implementation capability were focused on the four “freedoms” that he and his associates had articulated: “political freedom” (self-government in 1957); “freedom from ignorance” (UPE); “freedom from disease” (free health for all children up to age 18 and one hospital for every division in the region); and “freedom from want” (agricultural development and provision of water, roads etc.). The lead speakers at this Symposium will elaborate on these remarkable achievements and share their thoughts on how such results can be achieved and sustained in Nigeria.



Adamolekun, L. (2005). Re-orienting public management in Africa: selected issues and some country experiences . Economic Research Working Paper No. 81. Tunis: African Development Bank.


Adebo, S. (1984). Our Unforgettable Years . Ibadan: Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Ltd.


Awolowo, O. (1947). Path to Nigerian Freedom . London: Faber and Faber Ltd.


---------- (1960). Awo. The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.







Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the “Man with a Plan”, is no more. As one of the beneficiaries of the first year of free primary education in 1955, Awo's epithet has had a profound meaning for me. The free primary education programme was also widely regarded as a good example of what Awo's political party, the Action Group (AG), called “Life more abundant”. During his tenure as leader of Government in Western Nigeria between 1952 and 1959, he genuinely tried to make life more abundant for the citizens of the region by promoting social and economic development in all spheres: water, electricity, roads, industries, agriculture, banks and other financial institutions, housing, health, and, of course, education. The Western Nigeria civil service was widely acclaimed as the best in Anglophone Africa at the time and the “First in Africa” Television was established by his Government.


After a few years of imprisonment following conviction for a treasonable felony charge, Awo was released by Gowon in 1966 as part of the process of legitimizing the Federal Administration in the midst of the national crisis that eventually culminated in a 30-month civil war (1967-1970). Gowon's good sense of appointing Awo as Deputy Head of Government and War Finance Commissioner [Minister] was vindicated by his superb managerial performance. While the credit for the humaneness shown during and after the war goes to Gowon, the nation's ability to finance the war effort in spite of the duplicity and hostility of Britain, France and the USA was due, to a great extent, to Awo's competent and masterly management of the economy.

At the personal level, I found Awo's courage, forthrightness and devotion to service sufficiently attractive that, as an undergraduate in the 1960s, I ran a column in his Ibadan-based newspaper, the Nigerian Tribune , under the pen name, “Omo Awo”. This brief hero-worship period ended in 1968. Observing Awo from a distance in the 1970s through the 1980s, I was able to see how his political style increasingly failed to take full account of the emerging Nigerian political culture. He failed to win power at the federal level because he lacked the means and inclination to lead a “root and branch” revolutionary movement and yet he was unwilling to fully embrace the politics of compromise. So, the truth is that nobody stole the presidency from him: he just could not make it in the prevailing circumstances.

In retrospect, the title, “Leader of the Yoruba”, conferred on him in 1966, appears like a consolation prize for his failure to win federal leadership. But the title was never accurate: the Yoruba were and remain too fractious and sophisticated to acknowledge and follow one leader (significantly, they worship the Christian God, Allah, and several of their own deities) and Awo made huge contributions to the Nigerian nation-in-the-making, not just to the Yoruba. So, as we mourn his death, we should remember him as a great nationalist, a far-sighted educationist, and a superb manager of government business. He is also destined to be remembered for his thoughtful reflections on contemporary Nigerian political history, preserved for posterity in his books. He richly deserves all the encomiums heaped on him from all corners of the country as well as the honours of the Governments.

•  Bangui, Central Africa Republic, May 10 th 1987.


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