The current simmering dispute about the legacy of the sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo should be put into clear perspective. A lot has been said about the sage. So superlative were his achievements that they have stood the test of time. The pivotal achievements of the great pioneering government he led, mentored and tutored in the erstwhile Western Region is still referred to on all sides of the political divide as a positive and decisive reference point.
Nevertheless, in spite of his enduring legacy there is a great danger of Chief Awolowo’s legacy becoming ossified. This is a point to ponder about. A sage for a start does not become past tense. It is a contradiction in terms to refer to a ‘late sage’. No such concept exists neither is it tenable. We may care to use another sage who passed away centuries ago as a point of illustration. Plato the Greek philosopher passed away before the birth of Jesus Christ. However, the central thrust of his philosophical position continued to be of great importance and relevance. Centuries after his death, in the 1930’s the late British politician, scholar, man-at-large who went on to serve in various ministerial cabinets in the 1960’s, Richard Crossman brought Plato back to life.
Crossman’s ‘Plato Today’ was a seminal updating of the thoughts, ideas and actions of the great man. It’s effect on its publication was startling; it brought Plato back to the top of the discourse. There is an urgent need to do the same for ‘Awo Today’. A clear distinguishing factor about Awo is that he cerebrally matched theory with action. This is a gift given to just a few. The position he represented is now been replicated today in a few quarters. We may care to note the fusion of theory, practice and action in the governance of let us say, Ogbeni Governor Rauf Aregbesola in Osun State, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti State and on a slightly different variant the managerial politics of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola in Lagos State.
The present current which these five men of valour represent is actually taking Awo today to the next level. For this reason there is a lot to be thankful about. A great air of optimism, of great expectations is therefore in the air. From this positive reactivation of the positions of Chief Awolowo we are seeing the activation of ‘Awo Today’. And just about time. ‘Awo’ cannot be allowed to degenerate into just an electioneering slogan. This will do great injustice to the memory, to the life, work and thoughts of a great man. For Awo represented an outstanding embodiment of the endless possibilities which lies within the human soul.
Today we must prod on the Aregbesola’s, the Fayemi’s and company to rev up a gear and extend the frontiers even further. And for a clear decisive reason. Society today is more complex, in a greater state of flux than in the nineteen-fifties when Awo ruled the roost in the Western Region. To compound matters Awo’s giant strides took place within the operating framework of a proper fiscal federalism. Those who lay claim to his mantle today must within the context of the current reality swim against the tide. Awo was uncompromising in his belief that a multi-ethnic configuration is best operated on a federalist basis. Alas, Nigeria today can at best be described as ‘quasi-federalist.’
Therefore Awo’s heirs must re-define the territory of debate and of action. The national leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was at the forefront of this when he defended the federalist ethos against the rampaging forces of the presidential unitarism of the Obasanjo era. He was absolutely correct to have done so, for Awo would have been compelled to do the same. Serious, irreversible gains were made as a result of his actions with the effect still reverberating and resonating till today.
Following on from the Asiwaju’s valiant action we must continue to extend the frontiers today. Urgent answers are required to today’s questions: What is the position of today’s Awoism/progressive on education, widening of the access to healthcare, modernization of agriculture, the provision of social housing and so forth? To provide sensible answers to these questions, today’s progressive must think outside of the box. New schemes and initiatives must be brought forward as we once again put the people first.
The examples of the worthwhile initiatives of the workers party in Brazil and a host of bodies of work elsewhere are worth looking at and adapting. We have to remember that Chief Awolowo was influenced greatly by the reinvigoration of social democracy which took place while he was a student in the United Kingdom. The outstanding performance of the Labour Party government 1945-51 great influenced Awo’s thoughts and action. That great Labour government in Britain extended the progressive impetus in every area of human endeavour and influenced not just Awo, but progressives such as Paudit Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela amongst many others.
From this wonderful precedent as we extend the progressive frontiers and profer have grown solutions we must also look at the extension of the progressive frontiers abroad. Awo incontrovertibly understood this. For example the free education programme was greatly influenced by the British education Minister R.A Buther’s ‘Education Act of 1944.’ Overall we must continue to support and encourage those like Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who are irreversibly committed to the concept of ‘Awo Today.’ Therein lies a great progressive future.