Awo Symposium:




Segun Gbadegesin

Introduction: A prophet is not without honour except in his domain

“For I know the plans that I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

That was the Prophet Jeremiah revealing God's plan for His people. Based on the African understanding of naming and destiny, it should not have come to us as a surprise that our own Jeremiah zeroed in on “welfarism” for his people. It was God's destined mission for him. It is still God's destined mission for any public servant.

But then a prophet is not without honor save in his domain as Jesus the Christ knew so well:

“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying….

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘if we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets'

“Therefore, you witness against yourselves that you are the sons (and daughters) of those who murdered the prophets…

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

“See! Your house is left to you desolate…” (Matthew 23: 1, 29-31, 37-38)

That was the prophet of prophets, the Son of God in Christian reckoning, chastising the men of substance of his times for the atrocities that they committed in the name of religion in particular but also in general for their contempt for the truth that hurt their ego. He referred to them as hypocrites for not being true to their conviction and for believing and practicing something in private that they condemned in public. In the end, he left their house to them desolate.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo did not fake being Christ or the Son of God. He claimed no sainthood while on earth. But it is safe to suggest that as a human being, he must have felt the kind of anguish that Christ the Messiah felt when, gifted with such an unusual capacity for zeroing in on the nation's challenges and the responses they required, he was shunned time and time again by his peers.

In his own words:

“…in order to justify the rationale for its evolution and existence, the State has an imperative duty to declare economic, social, and political objectives, and through its programmes, to pursue such objectives most sedulously. The objectives must be such, when implemented, as to bring to every citizen, without exception, maximum welfare, social justice and equity, and happiness.” Path to Nigerian Greatness , 76.

This was the supreme moral imperative which guided his leadership of the Western Region. It was for the same objective that he struggled unsuccessfully to lead Nigeria.

Existential challenges

Upon attaining independence, a former colonial enclave, which had been brought together under inauspicious circumstances, whose conquerors had no visible commitment to its cohesion or unity, is faced with three fundamental existential challenges:

•  How do we carve a national identity out of a motley crowd? This is the question of political structure and constitutional arrangements.

•  How do we equip each individual with the necessary skills to make him or her a useful member of society? This is the question of education and human development.

•  How do we organize the social means of production for the benefit of all? This is the question of the economy and production and equitable distribution of resources.

Had the entity in question come into being in a natural process of evolution and not through the imprimatur of an imperialist robbery, it might still face the three questions but perhaps with different answers to the first of the existential questions. These were the questions and issues that Chief Awolowo, as a responsible citizen, felt morally compelled to address and to offer workable and pragmatic answers. He did with remarkable thoughtfulness and uncommon passion.

Let us dismiss the false assumption that every political leader struggles for political power in order to benefit the people and make progress for the nation. There are quite a number of power seekers whose motive is selfish interest. Therefore, we must not get conned by a pretense to universal altruism on the part of leaders. In our own clime, too often we have been beaten and bruised not to understand this logic of egoistic power-seeking.

By the same token, we should not assume that every political leader seeks power for his or her own selfish motive. If this were the case, we would have no morally upright role models in politics. But we do. And though, we have been captivated by some ugly revelations in recent times about our immediate past as a nation, it is just as unfair to brush every political pot with the paint of corruption as it is to naively paint everyone with the beautiful color of saints.

Let us then make a justifiable assumption that a self-acclaimed progressive party is in quest of power to make progress its watchword and therefore to seek national progress on the issues of existential concern that constitute the core of a nation's being and which must therefore move it forward to greater heights. By the same token, then, it makes sense to assume that such a progressive political party, once it secures power, would, like the proverbial bird, seek to flock with those of its kind, whether present or past, political birds which have ascended greater heights in the matter of progressive governance. After all, provided that we deal with similar entities albeit separated by a time lag that need to be taken into consideration, why would there be a need for reinventing the wheel of governance? If the assumptions turn out to be false, it is not unfair to challenge the claim of that party to the progressive label.

Therefore, my intention in what follows is to bring back to our collective memories, the feat once performed by a progressive political party in this country under conditions that were not too dissimilar from where we find ourselves today. Indeed, back in 1952, Nigeria was in a worse shape because she was under the yoke of an imperialist rule that couldn't relate to the idea of progress for a colonial enclave. It was under such inauspicious condition of suspicion of every move that progressive nationalists made that Chief Awolowo and the Action Group, through sheer determination, made their lasting contributions to the progressive development of the Western Region.

Awo, the thinker

Deep thought has to precede great achievement. Indeed, in the case of Chief Awolowo, it was the payment of adequate homage to thought that facilitated the action required and that clarified the means to adopt. True to his humanity, he put his mind to work for the progressive advancement of the nation that he believed in. It was thus that progressive governance has its thought leader and its foremost agent of praxis. He was an active thinker and a thoughtful actor.

A: Here is a sampling of Awo's logical reasoning on the three existential issues:


•  Human beings are the sole dynamic agents of development

•  Education is fundamentally important for humans as individuals, family, and society to fully develop their skills


•  The state has a duty to provide free education at all levels to citizens.



•  The welfare of citizens is the most fundamental concern of the government

•  The economy is the most fundamental social political arrangement that impacts the welfare of citizens

•  A good economic outcome requires adequate planning


•  A progressive government must have a sound economic plan that prioritizes diversification and integrated rural development.



•  There is a scientific and objective formula that determines the best political and constitutional arrangement for nation-states

•  The best political and constitutional arrangement for a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic state is a true federal system


•  The best political and constitutional arrangement for Nigeria is a true federal system

It has been almost seventy years since Chief Awolowo first published and enunciated some of these ideas in his Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947) with subsequent reformulations and refinements in his other books and monographs. Since then, and especially since his passing, every serious contribution on the matter of Nigerian social and political challenges has been a series of footnotes on his seminal ideas.

An interesting question presents itself: How is it that Chief Awolowo, a politician who never attained the highest political office in the land, continues to be relevant to social and political discourse in the land almost thirty years after his transition?

An answer is not far-fetched: It is not Awo the body that resonates. It is Awo the mind that continues to animate and confound. Awo the mind remains an enigma of immense proportion. This is an interesting thought which again is traceable to him. Didn't the sage himself place premium on the development of the subjective mind? Indeed, Awo himself was not shy about his worth in ideas and thoughtful solutions to national challenges:

“Look at the books which I have written, the lectures which I have given, and the many speeches and statements which I have made. You will find that there is no problem confronting or about to confront Nigeria to which I have not given thought and for which I have not proffered intelligent and reasoned solutions.” “The Framework of National Policies” in Path to Nigerian Greatness , 1981, page 89.


“I have never regarded myself as having a monopoly of wisdom. The trouble is that when most people in life and in the position of leadership and rulership are spending whole days and nights carousing in clubs or in the company of men of shady character and women of easy virtue, I, like a few others, am always at my post working hard at the country's problems, and trying to find solutions for them. With them the slogan always is: Drinking and Dancing Till Day Break; but with those of my breed, it is: Hard Work Till Midnight or the Early Hours of the Morning. Now, when out of the inflated emptiness of their minds they speak, they are naturally superficial. Only the deep can call to the deep. When, on the other hand, others of my ilk speak out of the fullness of their minds, what they say more often than not command attention and sometimes appeals to the majority of the people. This is the difference.”

In a series on the essence of progressivism as a body of ideas, I asked and attempted to answer a few questions: What issues present themselves to the mind of the progressive? What challenges agitate their mind? In the circumstance of a nation to which they express unflinching loyalty and express an unparalleled affection, what keeps them awake at night? And I suggested that at a time such as this, when the morale of the nation is at the lowest it can be before despair gives way to anarchy; when the level of corruption is sky-high and neck-deep, in an environment of thick social dysfunction occasioned by joblessness and hopelessness on the part of the youth; progressive thinking cannot just be reactive, it must be proactive and deep.

The message of progressive governance is simple. It stakes a claim in the arena of the progressive development of every citizen. It does not exist for the 1 per cent. The present reality has shown that where the fortune of the 1 per cent is the objective, there is no guarantee of peace and stability. Besides this instrumental and prudential reasoning, however, the rationale of progressive governance is substantive. The right policy is one that promotes the progressive development of all without bias or discrimination on any ground. It is an obligation which a government must discharge faithfully.

The common good of all as opposed to the special interest of a few must be the battle cry of a progressive government. In the wake of the political tension in the horizon, in the face of economic inequality, in the climate of religious bigotry and educational decline, this is an opportune time for progressive thinking and action. To paraphrase one of my favorite philosophers, action without thought is blind and thought without action is empty. Let us then examine Awolowo's thought and practice in the areas of education, the economy, and political structure or constitutional arrangements.

Awolowo on education

AWO's defense of the right to education (PNG, 164-172) is based on a philosophy of family relations between the paterfamilias and materfamilias and the children. We bring children into the world. That act comes with a heavy dose of responsibility which was not lost on our ancestors even without the benefit of formal education themselves. They knew well that they had to train their children so they can assume their role as grownups.

Consider the following empirical claim by AWO:

“Many rights are enjoyed within the family; these rights are fundamental and inalienable, because the urge for their enjoyment is inherent and instinctive in man….. Because of their inherent and instinctive nature, these rights cannot be permanently suppressed. In the short run, they can be held in abeyance, but even only at great risks to the peace, harmony, and cohesion of the family.” (PNG, 164)

On this basis, he provides a list of 12 rights, which includes the right to life, right to freedom from torture, right to freedom from slavery or servitude, right to freedom from interference with privacy, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly and association, right to freedom of movement, right to freedom from discrimination, right to education, right to work and just reward, right to support in the event of sickness, disability, or old age, right to personal property, and to protection thereof.

Out of curiosity we may raise the question whether the rights identified by Chief Awolowo here were indeed construed as rights in our traditional societies. That won't matter much as he himself didn't rely solely on the reality of these rights for his argument for educating the youth. Rather he anchored his argument on the “instinctive urge” on the part of parents, an urge which makes them “feel compulsively impelled to consider it their bounden and inexorable duty, as much as it is within their competence, to instruct their offspring to the best of the abilities of such offspring.” (165) In other words, one may feel an obligation or duty to someone (a child) without acknowledging a right on the part of the recipient. In the end, however, Chief Awolowo presents ideological, ontological, politico-economic, and moral arguments in support of the obligation of the state to educate its citizens.

From the ideological angle, the Nigerian government has a duty to freely educate the citizens who come from various ethnic groups with inherent right to education which they cannot be expected to give up upon their voluntary agreement to become citizens of Nigeria. But in case there is no such inherent right, the state, having taken over as the adoptive parent has a duty to educate her wards.

The ontological argument, on the other hand, is based on the nature of man as a living soul which must be nurtured through sound education so that the man/woman retains that quality of being above other animals. Since many cannot do this by themselves, the duty falls on the state.

On the politico-economic basis of the argument for free education, AWO insists that the rapid political economic development of Nigeria by Nigerians for Nigerians requires the full development and full employment of all Nigerians. To be fully developed is to be fully educated and this is the responsibility of the state.

On the moral argument, the state is construed as an institution with objectives to, among others, protect citizens, promote their welfare, and guarantee the exercise of their rights. It is immoral and unethical for the state to discharge its responsibilities to a small section of “haves” while a vast majority of “have-nots” are neglected.

With regard to practice, Chief Awolowo introduced the first universal free primary education system in the nation. Other regions soon followed. Those who still engage in disparaging and badmouthing that singular achievement cannot truthfully identify what else was responsible for the advancement of the region in the late fifties and up to the early eighties when there began a deliberate policy of reversal supervised by the military. The regional governments of the 1 st Republic, in spite of their known deficiencies, ensured that government was responsible to the people. Members of the various regional Houses had their regular jobs for which they were accountable.

An educated citizenry is a vital bulwark against an uncaring and contemptuous government, the kind that we have been forced to endure in the last fifteen years. Without a good education, a citizen is at the mercy of those who see him or her as expendable and exploitable. Ignorant of their rights and ill-equipped for decent jobs, the uneducated become puns on the chessboard of the powerful and wicked. A human being with a good education doesn't volunteer to become the thug of another. And a caring and compassionate politician with a sense of justice and fairness must feel the pinch of conscience when he or she exploits and takes undue advantage of fellow human beings.


Awo insisted on the responsibility of the state to educate her citizens rather than leave it to private hands. The reverse appears to be our policy orientation now as private institutions literally litter our streets and residential blocks because the state has abandoned its responsibilities. In his response to a respected Catholic Archbishop on the matter of private education, Awo objected to the latter's preference for private schools “the existence of which emphasizes the division of our society into classes.” He might have also added the unfortunate unintended consequence of private religious institutions on unhealthy sectarianism. Surely, these institutions blazed the trail of education in the country. But the prize that the nation had to pay was the division that naturally comes with that approach. Where national unity despite sectarian division is a priority, an independent country cannot afford to outsource the education of citizens.

In spite of his rebuke of the Archbishop's critique of the UPN educational policy, Chief Awolowo did not foreclose a role for private institutions in the education of children. He must have believed that it was an area where freedom of choice should be available. In his term as Premier, private institutions including religious institutions participated in the education of children. What he was against was the divisive and discriminatory role that those institutions are capable of playing.

A more thoroughgoing approach would prefer the public, through its government, to educate its children. There are good reasons for such a radical position which was actually adopted by the UPN when the party took over all schools as government institutions.

First, it appears that at all levels, we are inadvertently managing to entrench a dangerous system of inequality with our educational system in which the public education of our children is fast becoming a relic of the past while we enlist the services of private institutions and agencies and we seem to relish the idea. From pre-school to college, private institutions have become the vogue. The impact of this shift on citizens could be serious, with the poor and middle class being more adversely impacted than the wealthy. We cannot allow this to continue because of its implications for egalitarian development.

Second, it is in the interest of the nation to be in the driver's seat as far as the upbringing of its children is concerned. Where the inculcation of national values matters, this cannot prudentially be outsourced. But that is exactly what we do when we neglect public institutions and expect private institutions to fill the vacuum. I still marvel at the thought by those in position of authority over our system of higher education when they claim that private university is the future of the nation.

There is no better response to the current national and state policies with regard to the imposition of impossible fees and tuition on poor kids than Chief Awolowo's original defense of the duty of the state to provide universal and free education at all levels. But let us acknowledge at least two thoughtful objections, both of which can be answered conclusively.

Contemporary objections to free education

First, there is the matter of budget and the paucity of national resources. In the current state of national fiscal challenges, it would be argued that it is even more unreasonable and impractical to suggest free education at all levels. The response to this is two-fold. First, even when the nation wallowed in stupendous wealth, critics of free education objected on the ground of its impracticality. That is just to say that for them, there is no season when it is practicable simply because they do not support it. Could it be that for them, when the gates of educational institutions are open wide and everyone takes advantage of what it offers, the special advantages and privileges that accrue to the ruling class would disappear? In other words, they are against free education because it comes with creative destruction, a purely selfish motive on the part of the ruling class. The second response to the matter of budgetary concern was made by Chief Awolowo himself with detailed tables of numbers and figures about the sustainability of his proposal. It calls for the removal of waste and the elimination of corruption. That is the real issue.

There is a second thoughtful critique which makes reference to the fact that not a few parents in the upper echelon of society are more than able to pay for the education of their children. If so, why should the state pay for those children? Why can't the state identify indigent students, make funds available for them through scholarships or fellowships? This is a reasonable observation. However, Chief Awolowo would respond that all children must be seen as children of the state and the state has the obligation to educate her children. But it is also necessary for every parent as citizens to make contributions through tax payment to the social responsibilities, including education and health, that the state assumes on their behalf. And since there will have to be progressive taxation, every citizen, including the filthy rich, will pay toward the education of all children and every child will therefore see him or herself as a citizen of a country that takes seriously her responsibility to her children. That is the beginning of national consciousness.

Examination and examination malpractice

As Chief Awolowo saw it, education is not only good as a leveler, it is important as the means of nourishing the subjective mind, the cultivation of which makes the human being closest to the image of God. To educate, therefore, is to move a child towards his or her ultimate destiny as a Godlike being. But what if that process is adulterated and polluted? What if despite the nobility of the intention and the sacrifice of the public purse for its achievement, those charged with the responsibility to educate prove incapable of that trust. That unfortunately appears to be where we are at this juncture of our development and commitment. Chief Awolowo would be justifiably alarmed at the state of our education in terms of the quality and the attitude of those in charge to this very crucial aspect of national journey.

A WAEC report was published by Punch and a columnist, Azuka Onwuka made observations on the percentage of students who earned a minimum of five (5) credits with English and Mathematics inclusive and the ranking of the states. According to Onwuka,

“the surprise in the report was that almost like in 2014, no South-West state except Lagos was on the top 10 of the chart. The top 10 states were the five South-East states, four South-South states and Lagos: 1st – Abia (63.94 per cent), 2nd – Anambra (61.18 per cent), 3rd – Edo, 4th – Rivers, 5th – Imo, 6th – Lagos, 7th – Bayelsa, 8th – Delta, 9th – Enugu, and 10th – Ebonyi. Ekiti was 11th; Ondo was 13th; Ogun was 19th; Oyo was 26th; while Osun was 29th. In 2014, the top 10 states were similar: Anambra (65.92 per cent), Abia (58.52 per cent), Edo (57.82 per cent), Bayelsa (52.83 per cent), Rivers (52.78 per cent), Enugu (51.91 per cent), Lagos (45.66 per cent), Imo (40.64 per cent), Delta (40.12 per cent), Kaduna (36.12 per cent). Ebonyi was 11th with 36.05 per cent.”

Now while this should be a wake-up call for the Southwest, there is a broader concern for the nation. Here we are not talking about record-breaking results in which students made 9 A1's as we would with excitement 20 years ago. Rather we are talking about the barest minimum for university admissions. So, nationally, we are moving backwards, and yes, the Southwest has shamefully and embarrassingly receded to the back of the line of achievement. This was the zone led by the most politically versatile mind who made enormous sacrifice of intellect and material resources that made the region the foremost pace-setter in the country.

There is, however, another side to the matter: the tragic pervasiveness of parental and teacher collusion in the cutting of corners in the matter of the education of our children. It is no longer a breaking news item that our schools and higher institutions are afflicted with the satanic forces of cultism. Where this is the case, every concern about quality of education is going to be compromised. Thus examination malpractice and cheating have become unfortunate features of our educational environment. A few months ago, the nation was treated to a nauseating expose of how a Punch reporter along with others, was able sit for the WAEC examination at a “miracle center” paying his way through, and he and others getting illicit help in return, such that despite the bragging of WAEC about blacklisting schools with malpractice records, he received his result with a credit in every subject! Yet he and those in that center copied their way through the examinations with the help of the paid invigilators and teachers.

This is an undeniable aspect of our educational system that we cannot wish away. We have to commit to serious effort to rid the system of such unwelcome development which permeates the system from secondary to the university levels. It is why businesses and industries do not have a good pool of potential workers to draw from. It is why the rate of unemployment is in the double digit. It accounts for the sea of heads that confront us at every nook and cranny of the nation urban space. It accounts for the frustration that leads to criminal and terrorist activities.

Awolowo on the economy

In Path to Nigerian Greatness , Chief Awolowo identified the characteristics of an underdeveloped economy deriving from three kinds of underdevelopment:

•  Underdevelopment of the mind, arising from ignorance, illiteracy, deficiency in technology and in technical and managerial know-how;

•  Underdevelopment of the body, arising from disease, bad and inadequate food, bad water, bad housing, meagre clothing, and filthy environment;

•  Underdevelopment of agriculture, and excessive and widespread underdevelopment of the rural population arising from underdevelopment of the mind and body, and from lack of savings and capital formation. (PNG, p.154)

He then made three further propositions from which he drew an inference:

•  All men have innate talents or talent ability” and must be given equal opportunity to develop.

•  When all talents have been developed fully, each must be given equal opportunity to contribute to socio-economic development.

•  The society as a whole (not just individuals) suffers when all talents in society are not fully developed.

•  Therefore, the solution to the problem of our country's economic underdevelopment lie in the “full development and full employment of every Nigerian-man or woman, child or adolescent.” (emphasis in original): “no economic revolution has ever succeeded or will ever succeed, whether green or otherwise, which does not give the prime of place to the full development of man.” p.155

It is to be expected that when a man of thought deliberates and arrives at a conclusion, the next reasonable step is action on the basis of the thought process unless there is akrasia or weakness of the will. No one has ever accused Chief Awolowo of having a weak will at the point of putting words to action no matter what the sacrifice on his part might be. Therefore, it is not a surprise that in 1979, for him and his colleagues in the UPN, the reasoning leads to the four cardinal programs of the party, namely:

•  Free education at all levels

•  Integrated rural development

•  Free health care

•  Full employment (155-158)

From the foregoing, it follows that the “full development and full employment of every Nigerian citizen” should be the primary national objective of the nation because A GOOD NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY AND PROGRAM IS INDISPENSABLE TO A GOOD NATIONAL ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT.

What needs to be added is that a good national policy without an equally good action plan for its implementation cannot lead to national economic advancement. There is no better illustration of this observation than our experience in the last thirty years or so. The man who shepherded the economic policy of the country through a major national crisis during the civil war without the nation borrowing from external sources, cannot but be appalled at our peace time heavy borrowing that eventually led to the collapse of the economy in 1982.

While Chief Awolowo was not silent in the days of the military, he knew that those were abnormal situations and passing phases. He was forceful in condemning those policies of the military which militated against the welfare of the common run of men and he intervened strategically in a number of economic issues especially during the Agbekoya crisis in the West. But he expected politicians who presented themselves for positions of leadership to do their homework well with adequate plans in place for the welfare and advancement of the people. When this was not so, he did not hold back even when his criticism and suggestions were mischievously construed as sour-grapism. His 1982 paper on the economy and the NPN London Press Conference on same is a good illustration. The whole point about that debate was on the management of the economy in light of what was clearly a glut in the oil market.

Fast forward 33 years later, we have not moved an inch from where he warned the nation against complacency and laziness of mind and therefore we have not prevented the kind of crisis that he had responded to with thoughtful proposals which included the restructuring of the economy from our focus on oil. Now we have another oil glut. Yet, we are yet to restructure the economy away from mindless dependence on oil even when it was clear that our major export market was developing internal sources of supply including alternative sources of energy.

Is there a policy alternative canvassed by politicians and/or economists as a counter to Awolowo's prescription? None. So if there is a consensus of expert opinion on what needs done, what prevents those in authority from putting his prescription to work for the country? But that approach would have them include the masses in their reckoning as he did. And for those of them that still consider the masses as expendable, it was a bitter pill they would rather not swallow even if it meant that the county cannot make it developmentally.

A few weeks after the expiration of the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan, Premium Times published the result of its investigation into the management of Excess Crude Fund by the Ministry of Finance and came up with a startling revelation that N11.56 trillion of the fund had not been accounted for in 8 years from 2007 to 2014. This was at a time when all the major infrastructures were left wasting away with no visible effort to develop them for economic advancement. To the question “where did the funds go?” we are now being treated to some tragic drama with revelations about defense and security funds that ended up in private bank accounts. This has been the fate of this nation from the beginning except that the extractive agents have become bolder and more creative. It will continue unless the masses decide to take their destinies in their hands. The Arab Spring and its aftermath clearly reminds us that poverty is at the root of citizen discontent. The authors of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty discovered this much in their research across the globe. In the particular case of the Arab Spring they interviewed the Tahir Square protesters one of who reportedly declared in palpable anger: “We are suffering from corruption, oppression and bad education. We are living amid a corrupt system which has to change.” (WNF, 2) If you didn't know her identity and country of origin, you could justifiably deduce that she was a Nigerian.

Awo on politics and political arrangements

Chief Awolowo was clear from the beginning about the globally acknowledged characteristic features of representative democracy even if his peers pretended that Nigeria was a different entity.

He knew that a representative democracy must have competitive elections, separation of powers, rule of law, and ideological direction. (PNG p.123, Path to Nigerian Greatness.) He also knew that to be morally justified, the state must embrace an ultimate purpose, which is the welfare of the entire people without discrimination. If each family ensures this for its members, it stands to reason that they will expect the state to take up the responsibility once families are absorbed into the state. This was the logic that informed the ideology of “freedom for all, life more abundant” that the Western Region adopted in 1952. Since then, until his passing, Awolowo did not look back; neither did he abandon the ideology nor renege on the promise of social welfare policies and practices that it meant to the people. It was not difficult then for the Action Group to record its pace-setting achievements in the First Republic. Including the establishment of agricultural settlements, introduction and payment of minimum wage; establishment of first industrial estate and housing estate, first television service in Africa, Olympic size stadium, award of 200 scholarships to Nigerian students; and introduction of free universal primary education and free health services for children up to the age of 18. (PNG page 137)

When we put our minds to the philosophical rationale that Chief Awolowo presented for the four cardinal programs of the UPN, it cannot but amaze first, how much thinking went into it, and second, how clear and simple the principles were, and then third, how anyone could object to the policies emanating from such well-grounded principles to the extent of doing everything possible to scuttle their implementation.

Political structure: between federalism and unitarism

The issue of political structure was Awo's struggle of a lifetime. His advocacy of a federal structure based on linguistic affinity was clear-headed and patriotically motivated. He reasoned that since language and culture attract, and since we had been gobbled together by an imperialist interest that paid no attention to language and culture, we could do ourselves a lot of good if we accepted the federal principle as the basis of our association. But he advocated for a federal principle based on scientific reasoning, not sentiments. He prescribed a medicine that had worked in other climes, arguing for a federation of eighteen states based on linguistic formula with great attention to the interests of minorities. If we had followed his prescription, we would now have strong and viable states that do not depend on federal allocations to survive.

No one can reasonably deny that what we have now is a sick federal system. But while there are still a few pockets of resistance to the imperative of federalism for the Nigerian state, it is no longer a dominant force. What still persists and endures is the determined effort of unitarists to circumscribe and constrain federal structure leading to the continued struggle for a true federal system.

For the unitarist, the nation is an indivisible and united entity and no room must be given to any divisive tendencies. On this view, federalism, which respects the component units in a multi-national or multi-ethnic union, is a contradiction in terms. It errs for allowing the sentiment of primordial attachments to prevail.

Elsewhere I had attempted to address the unitarist weak challenge to the advocacy of true federalism by identifying two ways of understanding the ultimate goal of unitarism as a system of building a new nation out of pre-existing motley nationalities. First, the unitarist goal is to break and grind all the pots of ethnic nationalities into one heap of clay where even the tiniest grains of the former pots would have completely disappeared. The clay is then to be used to make a new pot which bears no resemblance to any of the old. It is an illusion but reasonable people have entertained the prospect of its reality.

Second, as in variants of the melting pot analogy, a more violent exercise can be invoked. Collect all the artifices, including symbols, emblems, languages, even dialects integral to the being and identity of the component units and put them in a pot. Place the pot on fire and melt its contents until there are no traces of them to behold or identify. Thereafter, use the concocted outcome as the foundation of a new nation from which there can be no residue of the previous component cultures and their emblems. In both of these analogies, the success of the exercise is the complete disappearance of the old nations and the appearance of newly minted ideal—the unitary nation state.

The analogy is false for familiar reasons. An ethnic nationality is not a pot and cannot be melted like a wax. Nor is a language a bar of butter that can be melted by heat. The failure of melting pot ideas and practices is a reflection of the absurdity of their assumptions.

With a bit of propaganda and manipulation, the melting pot idea would work if the people are thoroughly mis-educated into thinking that indeed all of the pots were broken and melted or all of the contents were heated and melted. But the reality in the original cases of melting pot ideology was that, in fact, it was all ideology. All the pots, except the preferred one, were expected to be melted. All languages, all symbols, and all emblems were to be discarded except the preferred one into which others were to be assimilated. It was a ruse and upon its discovery as such, the scales were lifted off the eyes of folks. Now diversity is the rule and each ethnic group is proud of its symbols and linguistic heritage. A thousand flowers are blooming and beautifying the nation-space that proudly engages its differences. Of course, there are still ideologues of who the saying is true that patriotism is the refuge of the scoundrel.

There is more to the absurdity and the malady it spurns, especially in climes such as ours. In the case of the experience that we just narrated, at least there is one dominant culture into which others might be theoretically forced to assimilate. You could think of a dominant English or French or Spanish culture and you could argue, with some justification, that where immigrants are accepted and voluntarily agree to become citizens or residents, they ought to forget their past and reconcile themselves to their new life and locale. It worked in some cases, but not on a grand scale. But even where it worked, you could see it as a different setting and a different structure than ours.

From the beginning of this republic, it was clear that no one cultural or linguistic entity can lord it over others. No language was going to be superior, and no religion was going to be state religion. But apart from these negatives, it was also very clear that the ethnic nationalities that came together were going to have to retain a sensible amount of their heritage in culture, language, and customs. The regions that constituted the governing structure of these nationalities were to symbolize their distinctness and uniqueness. We thus had reason to brag about our “unity in diversity.” This means, for all intents and purposes, that we were not discarding our diversity and we were not melting the pot of our differences into a heap of uniformitarian clay. That was our understanding of the union we were entering into.

Now what do we have? Our different languages are dying a slow death. If the National Assembly cannot reasonably avoid English as its official language because there is no wazobia yet, there is no justification for the preferences of our state assemblies for “speaking in tongues”.

And in the maddening craze to build uniformity rather than unity in diversity, we seem prepared to deny the diversities of our heritage. We seem to be so unsure of the value of our various traditions and symbols, those subtle but real markers of identity that make us who we are, that we can just pretend that they don't exist and we will be created a new being and a new people. We are being urged to believe that this land, out of the ashes of discarded memories, will rise as a completely new entity. We deceive ourselves.

Some have irrationally questioned the audacity of a state assembly choosing its anthem and symbols of identity. But granted there is a National Flag that stands for the entire nation, why is the idea of a State having a State flag so dangerous to the theory and practice of nationhood? Where states have identity markers including flags, anthems, even trees and animals identified with them, these are means of promoting the psychological well-being of citizens and promoting healthy competition among states. We should stop pretending that we can forget our heritage and still remain ourselves. We should each embrace them and bring out their virtues to bear on the future that we covet.

Putting thought to action

More than the conceptualization of the idea of progress, the practical implementation of the idea and the fulfilment of its promise in the lives of citizens is the distinguishing mark of a progressive government. While it is true that practice without a thoughtful conceptualization is blind; it is also true that thoughtful conceptualization without practice is empty.

The purpose of governance, its raison d'etre, is first and foremost the security of the lives and property of citizens. Next in order of importance is the enhancement of their freedom and liberty; and finally, there is the welfare function of promoting equal opportunities and happiness for all.

In these areas to which a purposive government is required to pay attention and work effectively, Nigerians have been shortchanged in the last sixteen years. Surely, some very important personalities have fared a lot better than the majority of ordinary citizens. Some others have taken advantage of and exploited the atmosphere of lawlessness and gross indiscipline to make way for their interests. Those at the short end of the stick of insecurity and unfreedom are the hoi polloi of society; the helpless and hapless masses that a progressive government cannot ignore.

The starting point is the understanding that if an enabling environment is provided for them, our people are resourceful and ingenious. This is why the present syndrome of dependency is distressing because it misrepresents who we are as a people. It's doubly sad that the syndrome is encouraged, indeed canvassed, by politicians who should know better. The syndrome is at the institutional and individual levels, with states dependent on the federal government, while individuals are dependent on both state and federal governments.

Where does a progressive government begin? What practical actions must it take to procure for the people the goods of security, freedom, equal opportunity and happiness? If security is a foremost item in the contract between the governed and the government, how does the latter deliver on its side of the contract?

No citizen, including those that find themselves in the highest echelon of leadership, can sincerely negate the verdict that Nigeria has been playing an unfair game with the lives of its citizens for many decades. We tend to blame colonialism for everything even more than half a century after independence. But I am not sure that we saw our current level of insecurity in our colonial past. At least I have not come across a documented record of the loss of more than two hundred innocent school girls to terrorists between 1900 and 1960. That is not to diminish the evil that colonialism represented. It's simply to observe that while we have it in our power to make progress in the matter of the security of the lives and properties of citizens, we chose to retrogress.

Progress requires that we move with the times. In the matter of crime prevention and detection, to move with the time is to dismantle the anachronistic system of policing that has proved embarrassingly ineffectual. Before 1966, the crime bursting function of the police was adversely impacted by the politicization of the force. Party leaders, government officials, and traditional rulers abused their positions of authority and used the police against their political enemies.

The military took this aberration as the norm and, since it is unacceptable in a civilized society, the reaction of the armed forces was to centralize the police ostensibly to avoid the evils of politicization and abuse. This would be a valid argument and a logically sound approach if the new system was an effective and better alternative. But it wasn't and it still isn't. Politicization is still the bane of the Nigeria Police.

A progressive government in a federal system will seek the benefit of community and municipal policing as practiced in the United States. It is baffling to common sense that we consider the American constitution ideal for our situation but judge ourselves immature relative to its approach to law and order. Assume, however, that immaturity truly describes our condition. A progressive government will lead the inquiry into why this malaise is our lot and design a plan of action to confront it. We came out of colonial rule as a dehumanized lot. It required the foresight of one of the visionaries of our time to proffer a solution with his insistence that human capital development was the indispensable key to the development of a nation.

The ever-present obstacle to national advancement that a progressive government must confront head-on is the hydra-headed monster of corruption. A serious progressive government will confront corruption at its root. It will make the center less attractive and make government accountable to the people. In doing so, it will create the possibility of its own weakness. But, indeed, that is the virtue and strength of progressivism. As a progressive party, the APC must enter into a binding contract with Nigeria to eradicate corruption, invest in the education of the young, create an enabling environment that fosters job creation and entrepreneurship, and restore the confidence of citizens in the nation without abetting religious fanaticism and ethnic jingoism.

Summing up: Awo then and now

From the foregoing it is clear that Chief Awolowo and his progressive party were confronted with the issues of:

education: particularly the issue of access and quality

economy: especially the issue of growth and development

politics: including the matter of structure, constitution and leadership

The issues now are not different. They are similar if not identical.

Awolowo and his team intervened with solutions to the problem and responses to the challenges by tapping into progressive and liberal solutions including:

Free education

Economic diversification, including rural integration and development

True federalism, by means of a national constitution that they were fortunate to struggle for and achieve, and

Strong and committed leadership which they furnished.

The advantage that Awolowo and his team had was that

the facts were on their side

the moral was on their side, and

the masses were on their side

The challenge that they faced included

•  dealing with peers and adversaries unperturbed by facts, masses, or morals. 

•  control of economic and political institutions by those whose objective was to advance political and economic interests with little or no attention to the end of the common good

NOW: The country is fortunate that

the facts are still there.

the moral is still there and

the masses are still there.

In the circumstance, the solutions and responses of Awolowo and his team are still unassailable, especially for a self-acclaimed progressive party, which has as a pillar of its manifesto, political restructuring and devolution of power to the states.

If it will leave up to its identifier, therefore, the new progressive party must focus its laser beam on the development of human beings as the most important resource. It must educate the nation's children. It must revive and strengthen the system of public education. It must revisit the challenge of school drop outs who end up in the slaughter slab of political thuggery and terrorist camps. The country is long overdue for 2-year community colleges as bridge institutions. Teacher education and retraining are important aspects of what must be a new philosophy of education in the progressive era.

Security matters, and it must be taken seriously as the first duty of government for which it has a monopoly. Everyone now appears to be open to the idea of state police. There is no reason a progressive government cannot initiate a pilot program. There are a number of ways in which state policing can be set up to take care of the fear of politicization. Every state may be made to establish an independent Police Board or Council with an independent budget.

Corruption is a substantive subject. I remain convinced, however, that this is one area where the whole world will be watching and evaluating the new administration. The matter of emoluments and compensation for political office holders from the Presidency to National Assembly, State Assemblies and even Local Governments is the 100 Ib. gorilla. There is no doubt that many Nigerians are resentful of the exorbitant take-home of political office-holders.

Finally, of course, is the economy. With a mono product which is daily losing its value and relevance in the world economy with competition from everywhere, we have the immediate task of diversification. This will take time given where we are. However, as the Chinese teach us, the journey of a thousand years starts with the first step. We needed that first step long ago.

In spite of his thoughtful solutions, there are, as in his time, significant challenges to Awolowo. Today, there are still the usual conservative adversaries who still support

•  political and economic institutions that are hostile to economic growth and equitable development: decades of military rule and extractive political institutions benefitting the few,

•  rentier and extractive economic institutions,

•  the status quo because of the fear of creative destruction: a condition in which breakthrough in economic growth ushers in egalitarianism that disadvantages and displaces erstwhile political elite.

•  Strangely, however, there are even more challenges from some of his followers and other progressives deriving from

•  a general fear of loss of elite advantages enjoyed on the back of the poor: house help, chefs, security, drivers, etc. Illustrate: inclusive educational system guarantees independent lives for many and block servitude. No cook, no driver, no domestic security for most middle and upper class in US;

•  an adulterated commitment to progressivism;

•  too much ego-centeredness; and

•  crippling DISUNITY among core progressives that stood tall with Chief Awolowo.  


What is to be done?


•  – Unity across ethnic and class divides ensured independence on a platter of gold

•  –Unity across ethnic and class divides ensured defeat of impunity in First Republic

•  –Unity across ethnic and class divides ensured victory of SDP in 1993

•  –Unity across ethnic and class divides ensured defeat of dictatorship in 1998

•  –Division ensured defeat of progressives in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011

•  –Unity across ethnic and class divides ensured merger and registration of APC

•  –Unity across ethnic and class divides ensured victory of APC with renewed hope for a new era of progressivism again in 2015

Today, there are original disciples of Awo. There are also second and third generation followers. They all take seriously the man we all know as the Sage, the Avatar, Baba, Philosopher, and Politician-benefactor, one of his kind. The irony is that while they all accept him as their political leader, study his words and try to emulate his deeds, and look forward to a reunion with him some day, while here on earth, they would rather not get together to push the agenda he bequeathed to them. They would rather be like the proverbial snakes who wander around alone until they become victims of their loneliness.

The post-Awo Awoists would not even cooperate to uplift the message of their great master and leader. How are they different then from his adversaries? And considering that they would want one day to resume their dinner time chats with Awo Mimo, what will be their report? How will he respond? I challenge each and every Awoist here today, old, young, and young at heart, to rethink and reflect on what has been lost to progressivism in the last 29 years of his passing. What have they collectively contributed to the progressive maturation and practicalization of his philosophy? How will the present chaos and confusion in the camp of Awo shape the future of his ideas in Yorubaland, in Nigeria, and in Africa? Are they, by their inability to get together as Awoists, inadvertently contributing to the strength of his known political enemies who had predicted his political death more than fifty years ago? Oro sunnukun, oju sunnukun laa fii woo.

In Odu Ifa, the story is told of how Orunmila in his prime years was so proud of what his eight children had turned out to be as kings of notable kingdoms over the land, that he invited them to his annual ceremony. With filial respect, they all responded to their father's invitation. However, not all was there with respectful demeanor. The last born was prepared to assert himself as an equal of his father in every respect. When others pay obeisance to their father, he stood erect. To their father's challenge, he responded that he couldn't care less. After all, Orunmila wore a beaded crown and he too wore a beaded crown. Orunmila had a beaded walking stick and he also did. Just as his father had beaded shoes and necklace, he, the son, also had his own. So why should he pay a stupid obeisance? Orunmila was hurt and he decided that it was time to go back to where he belonged. He retired to the land of the spirits. But the aftermath wasn't pleasant for the land of humans. Rain withdrew from the land. Crops refused to germinate. Hunger and disease appeared. The children, with the disrespectful one, repented and went in search of their father. They found him but he refused to go back with them. Instead, he gave them the tools they needed to reach him anytime they were in trouble. These included opele, opon, irokin and the paraphernalia of Ifa divination.

Chief Awolowo did what was humanly possible to make Nigeria great. But like the last son of Orunmila, Nigeria shunned and disrespected him. He left for the land of ancestors. But for the faithful who believe in him and his strategies for making Nigeria great, he left them the tools, the outcome of his sleepless nights, the result of his deep thoughts, to consult and reflect upon as we continue to struggle for the progress and development of dear country. In this address, we have made reference to some of them. It is in our interest as a nation to go back to him from time to time to make our nation as great as it is destined to be.



© Obafemi Awolowo Foundation. All rights reserved. 2012.
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