Being An Excerpt Of A Lecture Titled “Awolowo’s Development Strategy’ Delivered By Professor Sam Aluko, A Foremost Economist, During The Centenary Celebration Of The Birth Of The Late Chief Awolowo, Held At Trade Fair Complex, Adetiloye Hall, Ad0-Ekiti, Ekiti State On Friday March 13, 2009. The Programme Was Organised By Afenifere Renewal Group In Ekiti State.
It is not easy to assess a leader without knowing his beacon, his shield and his buckler. Chief Obafemi Awolowo read, wrote, and spoke a lot, and, a lot has been read, written and spoken about him, particularly, since his transition on 9th May 1987. Awo was born on 6lh March, 1909, a hundred years ago, this month, at Ikenne, Remo, in today’s Ogun State. He was born and named Obafemi Oyeniyi and later Christened as Jeremiah, after the Biblical Prophet Jeremiah. Prophet Jeremiah was a diffident and sensitive lad who was called from the obscurity of his native village. Anathoth, some three miles (about five kilometres) from Jerusalem, to assume at a critical time in his nation’s life the overwhelming responsibilities of a prophet-leader of his people. Who says that there is nothing in a name?
2. Chief Awolowo was a man of humble beginning who by dint of hard work, self denial and singleness of purpose, rose to become a legal and an economic luminary; a political organizer; a social engineer and reformer; a premier of his people, a political leader in Nigeria, a religious faithful who promoted religious development, irrespective of sect; an educational revolutionary whose singular educational purpose was to provide free and compulsory education at all levels; free health, full and gainful employment to all Nigerians.
He was a founder, promoter and supporter of higher educational institutions, including Teacher Training Colleges, Colleges of Technology and Universities. He was in the process of completing the establishment of a Research Medical Centre when the cold hands of death snatched him away from us on the morning of 9th May, 1987. He is best remembered in Nigeria and in the world, today, as the one Nigerian who, besides his political exploits, strove to provide for his native people that he led as Premier, and his nation that he sought to lead as President, free education at all levels; free preventive and curative health; full and gainful employment; and, integrated rural development a strong, industrial national alchemy.
3. It is these strivings that many of us, his political aides, associates and disciples have preached, are preaching and or have exploited to attain or retain political relevance and power during and since after his he death. Chief Awolowo was an embodiment of discipline, sagacity, nobility, integrity, forthrightness and hope for the future of a great people and a great nation like ours. In his own words, he always attended studiously to the affairs of Nigeria and to the other important matters of its destiny while others were busy “carousing with women of easy virtue”.
In the language in the book of my good friend and colleague, Professor Moses Akin Makinde, of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, “Awo as a Philosopher”, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a politician, political scientist, states man, economist, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), a strategist of the highest order, a great intellectual, a man of wisdom, courage, reason and vision, a prolific reader and writer, and, above all, a great philosopher of twentieth century Africa, who was quite at home in science, technology, religion, and even in traditional medicine.
Professor (Senator) Jibril Aminu, a favourite friend of mine, and the erstwhile Nigerian Ambassador to the USA, in his write-up on Awo describes him as a serious student of nexology which holds that whatever one wants in this world, one has only firmly to set one’s mind on it and some force would lead one, steadily and inexorably to it. More so, he describes Awo as a great family patriarch.
In Apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy, in First Timothy, Chapter 3, Paul says, “A leader must be husband of one wife, for if a man knows not how to rule his own house, how can he lead the Church? Substitute the nation for the Church of God, and see why Awo was such a successful nation builder. It is no wonder then why Awo described his surviving wife, the indomitable Mrs H.1.D Awolowo, as a “jewel of inestimable value”. Compare Awo with other leaders of our nation, today, whose homes are in tatters and so our nation IS, consequently, in tatters.
4. Many admirers, adulators and biographers of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, however, often forget to recount that he was always the leader that operated in and with a team and in a group._ He was the leader of a political party, called the ‘Action Group’. He was the leader, President, and Presidential Candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He operated as the Premier of Western Nigeria, from 1952 to 1959, under a Parliamentary System of Government, where, as Premier, he was only first among equals, unlike as in the present and nebulous Presidential System that we operate, where the President is a virtual dictator, noble or ignoble?
Awo himself used to tell us that whatever modest achievements and attainments were ascribed to him should be largely ascribed to and shared by all those with whom he worked, the silent majority of Nigerians who adored him and whom he served and adored. Therefore, in discussing Awo’s Development Strategy, it is the discussion of Awo and of the groups that he led and who followed and supported him.
AWO’S DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
5. The leader of any successful group must not be a pedestrian leader. Awo was not pedestrian. He imbued in his team certain tenets that made his development strategy uniquely successful. Let me mention and discuss, briefly, a few of them.
a. He was fiestly democratic.
b. He believed in the development and in the ability of people as the engine of development.
c. He believed in a developmental state.
d. He relied on and trusted the Public Service and the Public Servants.
e. He believed in and worked for the corporate existence of a united and strong Nigeria.
f. He believed in the integrity of the family: and,
g. He trusted man and he trusted God.
HIS DEMOCRATIC TENETS
6. The popular but wrong impression of Awo by his political adversaries was that he was a dictator, a man who imposed his views and his will on the parties and on the people that he led. Nothing was further from the truth. It would take on insider-member of the parties that he led to discover the interminable debates, the thesis and the antithesis, the argumentations and the compromises that went on at the caucuses of the Action Group and particularly of the Unity Party of Nigeria, and at the latter’s Federal Executive Council Meetings, of which I was a member, for one to appreciate the democratic credentials of Awo.
I myself used to be amazed at the ease with which Awo accommodated opposing and critical views, suggestions and modifications in order for him to carry along the overwhelming majority of his associates. The fact was that after decisions had been democratically reached at the caucuses, Awo stood by them religiously and executed them with tectonic rigidity.
That strategy made him unique among his comperes. You could not go to Awo in secret to gossip or to try to change the template that all had agreed to in public. He did not suffer swappers gladly. That uniqueness made many of us eager, willing and ready to work with and for him for as long as he lasted. It made consistency called, unity of actions and programmes, possible for as long as he was with LIS. He was not a fair-weather leader, swayed by the tittles and tattles of the moment.
PEOPLE AS THE ENGINE OF DEVELOPMENT
7. The main Awo’s development strategy hinged on the mental magnitude of people. He believed that a person must be educated, first for the development of his mind and secondly for the development of his body. That everybody must possess a sound mind in a sound body, which was why he led his party to make the first two of its cardinal principles, free education and free health. He knew that it was through education in science and technology that Britain developed itself to become an “Empire on which the sun never set”. It was this belief and devotion that made his government invest heavily in education at the highest level. It was this that made him invest in the recruitment of the brightest and best minds into the Public Service of the then Western Nigeria over which he was first the Leader of Government Business and later the Premier of the Region. It was this that made him train and retrain serving public servants of Western Nigeria in various Diplomas in Public Administration, at home and abroad; provide facilities for many of them to obtain Higher Degrees in Public Administration, ill Economics, in Economic Planning, and Statistics, in Engineering and even for serving Lawyers in the Ministry of Justice to obtain overseas trainings and attachments for Legal Draftsmanship and Litigations. Every sector of the Public Service of Western Nigeria under his premiership enjoyed personnel development and upliftment. Above all, his government was the first to introduce a minimum daily wage of five shillings from the then existing minimum wage of two shillings and three pence per day. It was his government that began the massive expansion of housing for serving public officers and housing loans at little or no interest rate to the other citizens of the Region. Consequently, Awo’s government ran the most efficient and most productive public service in Nigeria during his time. He believed that educationally developed people are easy to lead but difficult to cheat. This is why, up till today, that legacy, that strategy has made the Western part of Nigeria much easier to develop but much more difficult to override and over-awe. It will become increasingly so.
DEVELOPMENTAL STATE STRATEGY
8. Unlike today, when our political leaders at all levels, supported by their minions and palace jesters, daily adumbrate that Government has no business in business, and that the market, deregulation, privatization, down-sizing or the public sector, and, the private sector, are the engines of national economic development, Awo and his teams believed and acted with the greatest efforts at their command that the state should harness the resources or the nation and promote national prosperity, and an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy: control the nation’s economy in such a manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity manage and operate the major sectors of the nation’s economy, while protecting the right of every Nigerian t engage in any economic activity outside the major sectors or the economy, to these ends, and in order to actualise the developmental strategy, he ensured the promotion of a planned and balanced econo1l1ic development, so that the material resources of the nation were harnessed and distributed to serve the common good, and, that the economic system was not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means or production, distribution and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group, to the disadvantage or the rest. It was these development paradigms that led to tile adoption of Democratic Socialism as the philosophical underpinning of the parties that Awo led.
9. In order to operationalise the strategy, Awo’s government established and ran efficient and productive Industrial Estates in Ikeja, Yaba, Ibadan, Benin, Warri, and Asaba, as the main industrial hubs of the then Western Nigeria, The government set up the Western Nigeria Development Corporation (WNDC) to establish various industries, agricultural plantations, in cocoa, rubber, commercial trees, cashew, palm tress and fruit trees. It established Farm settlements for the training of young and ageing farmers and for the production and distribution of farm products at affordable outside the I-lousing Corporation Estates in Lagos, Ibadan, Akure, Benin, Warri Asaba and at such other locations as the I-lousing Corporation might determine. It se up an Agricultural Credit Corporation to lend money to modern small and medium scale farmers at interest rate of not more than 2 per cent per annum. It set up at Industrial Loans Board to give loans to private industrialists who ‘could not afford the suffocating loans from the banks. It acquired the commanding shares in Wema Bank and in National Bank, as a means of government’s active participation in the financial and monetary sinews of the nation. Finally, it embarked upon long-term development plans of 1951-55; 1955-60 and 1960-65, until the military terminated the democratic process on January 15, 1966.