THE AWOLOWO LEGACY LIVES ON: Remarks by Malam Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, as the chairman of the 2016 Obafemi Awolowo Commemorative Birthday Symposium; Efunyela Hall, Ikenne, 03 March 2016
May I begin by thanking my sister Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo Dosunmu, egbon mi atata, Pastor Tunde Bakare and indeed all the trustees of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation for inviting me to chair this commemorative event. The topic chosen for the symposium features aspects of the legacy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as 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.
Chief Awolowo was rightly regarded as a giant in his lifetime. At his death, a Nobel Laureate eulogized him as one tree that made a forest. That tribute is more than poetic license. 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. The Action Group had a programme that is one of the clearest expressions of pragmatism and vision. And in power, he had the discipline and governance orientation to tough out the obstacles to his party's policies.
It is conventional these days to salute the thinking and the comprehensive execution of the free education policy. Sixty years after that signal policy, the consequences still echo in the dynamism of the professional classes and the political consciousness in the West. Less well known are the battles he waged to overcome the impediments to that policy, including resistance to higher taxes to fund that service. Chief Awolowo stood his ground for the common good. It is a lesson for political office holders, an admonition to do what is necessary, important and consequential, rather than the merely popular.
When in 1979, some of his political opponents sought to propose a wooly notion of qualitative education in opposition to free education, the people of the West gave them short shrift, and rejected them at the ballot box. After his ministry as Premier of the West, Chief Awolowo gave the nation a taste of his acumen and capabilities as civil-war era finance minister. He managed the resources so well that the country emerged without debt from the war.
Flush with the headiness of victory and newly buoyant financially, the immediate post civil war era demanded leadership vision. Unfortunately, the Gowon government did not endorse Chief Awolowo's suggestion to deploy the new wealth to building human capital through the implementation of a nationwide free education programme. Nigeria as a whole is still paying the price for that error.
In Kaduna State, we embrace the Awo formula for education. A year ago, we campaigned against the dismal state of most of our schools, with many lacking furniture, doors, windows, roofs and water. After the election, the things we railed against became our problems to solve. We have 4,254 public primary schools in Kaduna, and many are in very poor shape. Between September 2015 and January 2016, we have spent more than N6billion 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, deliver nine years of free, compulsory basic education with well-trained and incentivized teachers.
Chief Awolowo rightly deserves his reputation as a master executor of grand visions. Although he was thwarted in his attempts to federalize 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.
Efforts made before and shortly after independence were stillborn; further proof that mutual desire is just a first step in consummating an alliance. I seize this opportunity to congratulate the three progressive leaders from the North (President Muhammadu Buhari) and West (Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande) for finally cementing the political unification that achieved the feat of 2015, and that will achieve more for Nigeria if carefully managed and nurtured by all sides.
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, secure and corrupt-free nation that delivers social services to all, and rewards ingenuity and hard work.
I must now yield the floor to the keynote speakers. Thank you for listening. May the souls of our departed leaders, fathers and mothers rest in peace. May the Almighty God Bless you all, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai
Governor of Kaduna State
March 3, 2016