March 5th, 2011
According to the Roman thinker, Plotinus (AD
204-274), “Knowledge has three degrees, opinion, science,
illumination. The means of the instrument of the first is
sense, of the second dialectics, of the third intuition.”
Chief Obafemi Awolowo believed in the power of knowledge,
both its acquisition and strict application. He was both a
thinker and developmental pragmatist.
As soon as the Military Government announced that the ban on
political activities had been lifted, in 1978, Chief Obafemi
Awolowo assembled a galaxy of politicians and within a few
months had built a formidable political party, the Unity
Party of Nigeria.
The party produced a manifesto that exhaustively analyzed
Nigerian societal, constitutional and economic problems and
proffered detailed solutions to our malaise.
AWO’s views and his proffered solutions are still relevant
today. On March 6,, 1997, I delivered a lecture under the
auspices of the Ife Students Union, a vibrant organization
of advanced youth thinkers titled, AWO IS STILL RELEVANT. I
also delivered a similar lecture at the Ikenne Town Hall,
under the Chairmanship of the JEWEL.
Encounter with Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
On a bright morning in July 1978 one Nathie, a printer from
Imo State, who handled the Unity Party printing jobs, came
to my office at the Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation, in
Lagos. He informed me that Chief Obafemi Awolowo had asked
him to invite me to meet with him, at 9am, on 15th July
When I arrived at No, 33A Park Lane, Apapa, I was received
by Chief H.I.D Awolowo, who told me that Chief Awolowo would
be down soon. I was surprised at the modest furnishings in
I braced up and I was re-assured of my preparedness because
I had read some of AWO’s books. Within minutes, the Sage
came down, shook my hand warmly and beamed a captivating
smile. He told me that he had read my article which was
published in the Sunday Times of Nigeria, entitled,”The
I told the Chief that I had re-read his “Path to Nigeria’s
Freedom”, an outspoken and didactic presentation of an acute
case for Nigeria’s march to freedom. We discussed
I asked him why his former political associates like Mazi
Sam Ikoku; Chief Anthony Enahoro broke with him. He smiled
broadly. He explained that in politics divergent views were
bound to formulate and transform into convictions there may
lead to misgivings on the part of one man, which may not be
clear to the other. An aggrieved party may not wish to speak
out and so the gulf widens.”All these are part of the human
problem.” He said.
He stood up, produced a copy of the speech he was yet to
deliver in order to clarify some misconceptions and try to
win back some of his political associates.
We discussed the Action Group crisis, his trial and his
political experiences. He told me that he respected Dr.
Nnamdi Azikiwe a lot and had learnt from him. He said that
he loved people with character and who were not shamed to
suffer humiliation for their beliefs. He respected Gandhi.
Politicians, he said, often sought new advantages and
positions. He recalled the Igbo proverb which says that “one
does not stand in one place to watch a masquerade.”
He lamented the growing influence of multi-national
companies in the economy. He applauded the indigenization of
the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy. He feared
that future governments may weaken the process because some
Nigerian politicians were not ideologically matured enough
to adopt patriotic stances.
I came out with an indelible impression that AWO was an
avatar, a developed soul; a master. His ability to sway the
crowd was mystical. “He was a charismatic leader,” as
Professor Akin Mabogunje posited at a National Conference
which was held at the Obafemi Awolowo University, which took
place from the 4th to 8th of October 1987.The Conference was
held to discussed the political, legal, philosophical,
economic educational thoughts of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Unfortunately, some of AWO’s disciples from the West did not
possess the intellectual capacity to sustain AWOISM. They
took the benefits but could not carry the enormous burden of
propagating his political thoughts.
Professor Akin Mabogunje was an associate of Chief Awolowo.
In his key-note address, at the Ife Conference, he spotted
the difficulty in determining “in which sense the death of
Chief Awolowo could be construed as the end of an era and in
what sense it is not”.
Where did the death of Awolowo leave Nigeria as an emerging
Confederal Republic? Awo favoured national dialogue to
enable Nigerians express themselves, forge alliances and put
forward practical solutions to national problems.
That he became the main issue in Nigerian politics is not
surprising since he ebulliently confronted Nigerian problems
with conviction, learnedness and thoroughness. These
qualities were shaped by a difficult childhood without the
guiding hand of a father.
There was a rise and fall in business and tough opposition
from his rivals. Between the ages of 17-35, Chief Awolowo
was a clerk, a short-hand typist, a teacher, a
reporter-in-training, a money-lender, a transporter and a
Intellectually, he imbibed the theories of Max Weber, Harold
Laski and Karl Marx. He was a democrat socialist. In his
lectures and interviews, he clarified the misconception
about socialism. As a result of misinformation and
disinformation, which the Western press implanted in the
Western educated Oxbridge cadre, who manned the Nigerian
civil service, the legal profession and the educated elite,
at the time, the topic was taboo.
Their ignorance of the subject has so fossilized that it is
futile to debate the inherent advantages and disadvantages
of the socialist system with the apostles of capitalism.
Even the Chinese success has not influenced their
Awo defended the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, putting Yoruba first and
Nigeria second, in the scheme of things. He reminded me that
“Charity begins at home.”I added that otherwise. Miss
Charity will not find a suitable husband to pound” Iya” for.
The Chief laughed loud and for a long time.
In the field of education, AWO surpassed other Nigerian
political leaders, although, the products of the free
education policy were often so deficient that the effect is
still being felt in Nigeria. His educational policy produced
two types of graduates.
There is the world class, highly intelligent, well
cultivated group and the “rascally” semi-lucid, tribalistic,
Refinement of the intellect is very important for the
advancement of society. Many Nigerians are not cultured. Go
to Ghana and see culture in human conduct! The Nigerian
elite are not sophisticated which is why their wives divorce
them, in spite of the stolen wealth they brandish.
Awo was a first class family man.
Since Awo’s demise, his lieutenants have not been able to
advance his legacy. His daughter, Dr. Mrs Tokunbo Dosumu has
tried to maintain his intellectual image through the Obafemi
Awolowo Foundation lectures. The Nigerian Tribune has
regularly appeared on news-stands since 1949, propagating in
journalistic fashion, Awo’s visions.
Awo was a journalist, whose articles were seldom accepted
because of his candid views. Those sent abroad,” came back
with the solemn regularity as I had dispatched them “Awo
Even today, some newspapers and some editors on the take,
refuse to use some articles that might offend government or
their overseas sponsors. Regular associations with embassy
officials and government operatives are the cardinal reason
for this restriction on the freedom of information.
Contributors to the Tribune newspaper have addressed the
multiple problems of under-development, lack of national
direction, susceptibility to imperialist exploitation and
control, etc.This has now intensified in Nigeria.
Szetes had remarked in his “Political Economy of
Underdevelopment”, 1973 at page 19 that the attempt in
Nigeria at nationalisation did not provide the solution,
because the Nigerian state was neo-colonial, the government
and its civil service pursued neo-colonial policies, on
behalf of the comprador colonial elites, who themselves were
controlled by monopolies.
The main thrust of the disaster we have faced is that any
intervention by the Nigerian State to intervene in the
national economy has been to protect foreign monopoly
capital and their allies. It has been observed that each
time a Nigerian government tried to steer the national
economy away from neo-colonial manipulation and control,
external forces were unleashed with the assistance of
well-entrenched and well-known compatriots to discredit such
It happened during the regime of Murtala Mohammed and Buhari/Idiagbon
If Awo had his way and was allowed to rule Nigeria, he would
have put his education, commitment and vision to good use.
Awo stressed that the value of education was inestimable.”
The value of education cannot be quantified. Yet, for many
years now ,the colleges and universities in Nigeria have
been left to manage in unfavourable circumstances. Aided by
the human base factors, and lacking in systemic provisions,
the degeneracy became accelerated.
Confused and confusing remedial policies proved unhelpful.
So, the crisis deepened. Divergent interests, the activities
of tribal henchmen and hatchet technocrats, including favour
and fortune-seeking academics, amassed disruptive factors
that damaged the universities.
The rudimentary functions of universities have been replaced
by capricious and mundane pursuits. Painfully, any rational
suggestions as to how to move the system forward is thwarted
by birds of passage, who perch on undigested policies and
they often have their say and their way with their untested,
subjective views on education. Wanton subversion on dialogue
creates problems for consensus-building.
Suspicion of each others motives increase rather than
extinguish the cauldron in universities. Thus, the yawning
academic problems that are prevalent in the universities
This leads to wastage of precious time and deaths do occur
when the students are forced to travel after closures of the
Ethnicity, group dynamics. Contractorism, intolerance,”eba
wa she”, which one would ordinarily not expect from
institutions of higher learning are rampant.
“The university tradition, one of the richest and finest
products of man’s inventive genius has been desecrated by
the prevailing ethos of conditioning.
A strange alliance between mediocre and scholars tolled the
bell of the last days in the ivory towers. No university can
boast of a race of great educational thinkers, if the
culture of ethnic back-scratching explains everything.
The besetting weakness in a system that thrives on cronyism,
ethnic considerations, and group dynamics is that
paper-tigers terrorize loftier performers.” (See, THE VALUE
OF EDUCATION in AWO IS STILL RELEVANT, 1997)
Education, AWO believed is everybody’s right. Assessments of
nations are based on the seriousness with which their
governments pursue education. Everyone, ideally, should get
enlightenment at a university, if his intellectual abilities
Professor Akin Mabogunje in appraising the life of the late
Chief Awolowo, at the Conference on AWO, sought “to evaluate
the nature and durability of his influence on and
contribution to our national life.”
I still wear “the exhilarating excitement” of being the
founder of the Critical Legal School at the University of
Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University.
The present political campaigns fall short of the standards
evinced at this crucial period, when Nigeria needs a
I cherish the memory of my cognominal association with a
Nigerian leader, whose political, economic and legal
thoughts are still relevant to our Confederal Republic that
is groping for direction and is “in a state of inertia.”
Professor Dr. Emmanuel Omoh Esiemokhai, a Writer and
Academic, is the President of the proposed Afemai
University, Fugar, Edo State, Nigeria