Awo Symposium: Welcome Address














It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this 2016 Obafemi Awolowo Birthday Commemorative Symposium which, rather unusually, is being hosted at the home of the sage and his iconic wife, Yeye Oodua H. I. D. Awolowo.

This is, however, not the first time the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation has hosted an important event in this hall. In July 2011 we hosted a Special Dialogue with the theme, ‘Transformational Leadership & Good Governance: Lessons from the Awolowo Example', at this venue. On that occasion, thanks to technology, Mama was able to follow the proceedings from the comfort of her sitting-room in the main house.

That Dialogue was the precursor of the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership , an award which, by all accounts, has gained international acceptance for all the right reasons, not least of which is the stature and reputation of the personage after whom it is named, plus an impressive line-up of patriots on the Selection Committee.

In the words of Maxwell Anderson, ‘there are some men who lift the age they inhabit, till all men walk on higher ground in that lifetime'. Chief Oobafeomi Awolowo was, without a doubt, one of such men.

We cannot but continue to remind ourselves about his outstanding performance in, and remarkable attitude to governance. We do this to constantly challenge contemporary leaders to emulate his extraordinary record in office and, thereby, propel Nigeria's development pace in the right direction in an increasingly knowledge-driven world. A few reminders will suffice:

Chief Awolowo, through his party, the Action Group, introduced issues-based politics to Nigeria when the party was launched in 1951. The party promised four freedoms in its manifesto, three of which were ‘freedom from ignorance, freedom from disease and freedom from want'. In other words, he articulated a development agenda that put people firmly at the centre of the process.

On January 17, 1955, the epochal free primary education scheme was launched in the Western Region of Nigeria. In his budget speech in March that year, Chief Awolowo said, ‘Of our total expenditure of £12.45 million not less than 82.6% is devoted to services and projects which directly cater for the health, education, prosperity and general welfare of our people. Of this high percentage, 27.8% goes to education, 10.7% to medical services, 5.4% to agriculture…'

Indeed, on assumption of office in 1952, he enunciated three principles by which the drafting of the Region's budget would be guided. Essentially, these principles were about spending more money on services which would enhance the welfare, health and education of the people at the expense of any expenditure that did not ‘answer to the same test'.

He went on to say in his 1955 budget speech,' From the figures I have just quoted, Honourable Members will see quite plainly that thrift is one of the keynotes of this government, and the general well-being of our people the supreme law'.

Let me invite you to fast-forward to the present, however. In order to focus our discussions I will here introduce a few posers:

•  Would Chief Awolowo, a passionate federalist, have endorsed our current militarized and over-centralized federalism in which the states and federating units have become helplessly dependent on the centreo

•  What lessons can we draw from the innovative fiscal strategies embarked upon by Chief Awolowo in the course of his seminal advent into politics at regional and national levelso

•  One of Chief Awolowo's better known legacies centres around human development, in particular free and qualitative education. How can the nation draw upon his visionary example to revive a comatose educational sectoro

•  Are there any lessons to be drawn from the outstanding sacrificial example of the late sage in values, public morality, prudence, and the fight against corruptiono

•  In an increasingly knowledge-driven world, what are the chances for Nigeria's development, given our current poor showing on the human development indexo

I ask you, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, to focus on these and other issues. We seek for your vibrant participation because this symposium is intended, in keeping with the tradition of the foundation, as a public event with a notable element of public input. As much as possible, the event will be interactive so that public opinion on the important issues to be discussed can be gauged and factored. As previously, a communique outlining the main suggestions and resolutions will be issued at the end.

This symposium is the first of two events being hosted by the Foundation to commemorate the birthday of Chief Awolowo this year. The other event is the boys' under-10 Obafemi Awolowo Memorial and girls' under-15, now renamed HID Awolowo Memorial, football competitions, the finals of which will be played at Ajolo Stadium on Tuesday, March 8, starting at 2pm. This year, teams from Ogun State are participating for the first time. It gives me immense joy to inform you that two girls and two boys who participated in the competition in previous years are reported to have made it into the relevant national teams.

I wish you all an exciting and fruitful time at this symposium and I thank you for your attention.

Dr O. Awolowo Dosumu

March 3, 2016


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