By Gboyega Amoboye
“AWO”, as the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo is fondly called, lives and shall live forever. “.. whosoever believeth in me though he were dead yet shall live…he whosoever liveth but believeth in me shall never die. Believeth thou this?” asked Jesus (John 11:25-26). Awo believed; his adherents too, believe. Awo saw death as a transition from one life, to another. This may explain why he was called “Immortal Awo.” Thirty years after his transition, Awo, as had been acknowledged, remains “the main issue in the Nigeria’s politics” and “the best President Nigeria never had.” Perhaps he shall remain so until his impeccable record of superlative statesmanship and good governance is broken.
As the presidential candidate on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria in 1979, Awo cautioned against rushing to the new Capital City, Abuja without first providing basic infrastructure that would make the city habitable. He, therefore, advised that the new Federal capital city should be developed in phases. As an educationist, Awo said his priority would be its development into a university town. In the interim, the sage reiterated his earlier advice that Lagos should be developed into a megacity pending when full relocation to Abuja could be effectively done. Clandestinely, the opposition National Party of Nigeria turned Awo’s patriotic advice to a negative campaign issue that “Awo said he would not go to Abuja if elected president.”
Today, Awo has been proven right. While Abuja “blooms a garden” for the rich, it “blooms a grave” for the poor. Abuja is neither a university town nor an ideal capital city yet. Apart from the haven where the “ogas at the top” work and live, the rest are largely shanties – no water, no roads no light, no hospitals, no schools. Sounding like Paul Kruger of the old apartheid South Africa, a former minister of Abuja, El-Rufai had said, “Abuja was designed for only three million people and therefore the excess must quit ‘his land’ ” “Where shall poverty reside,” asks Oliver Goldsmith; definitely, not in the capital city. Until recently, the University of Abuja was operating from shanties in Gwagwalada.
Way back in 1970, Awo cautioned against the neglect of roads leading to the Nigerian seaports. For the avoidance of misunderstanding, he said at a conference of Commissioners of Finance in Kano, “I would like to stress that whilst the Northern and riverine areas of the country, for economic and social reasons which we do not need to go into here, lag very much behind in transportation development and should, therefore, be given special attention henceforth, the crucial point must not be overlooked that the area of convergence for most of our transportation activities in the country are those adjacent to the ports of Port Harcourt, Calabar, Sapele, Warri, Excavous, Lagos, and Apapa. It follows from this fact that the development of those roads within the area of Midwestern, Eastern Western and Lagos region which gave access to the ports is of common concern to all the states in the Federation for any transportation deficiency in these areas is bound to constitute time wasting, labour-wasting and capital-wasting bottlenecks of the worst order.”
The total collapse today, of the roads leading to Apapa, Tincan Island Ports in Lagos and also that of Port Harcourt gives a sad memory of the Paradise the country has lost in Awo.
While Awo talked of full employment, others talked of unemployment. Whenever we talk of merely reducing and not stamping out unemployment, said Awo, ‘‘the questions which I always ask myself are: who are the unfortunate victims we are planning to keep on perforce on the unemployment market…?” While Awo created money, others shared money. While Awo entered politics with ideology, to others, ideology is Greek. “His kind of socialism (Democratic Socialism) is reformative for it admits the existence of private and public ownership of properties side by side. It takes individual’s welfare as its focus of attention and guarantees fundamental rights of individuals including the right to religion and worship,” (EK Ogundowole, 2002:139).
While Awo used religion to unite his people, some used it to divide them, while he used state resources to enhance the welfare of his people, some indulged in self-aggrandizement. Awo believed in economic self-reliance. While he created industrial estates to generate employment and capitalists production that would guarantee economic prosperity, others argued: “government has no business in business.” They reaped unemployment. While Awo left a legacy of the profitable Odua Investment to shame neo-colonial political economists, some are either promoting commercial capitalism or praying for “Oyibo” wonder.
But the earlier our leaders realized that the remote cause of the First World War is Trade and struggle for a place under the sun (GW Southgate), the better for our national growth because developed countries would not surrender their market to former colonies in the name of independence. They should recall the Berlin Conference; the Partition of Africa, and even the World Trade Organization (WTO) where “mumu” countries merely go to sign economic death warrants in the name of globalization. This is why rather than allow Ajaokuta Steel Project to be productive; neo-colonialism would rather kill it for “Commercial Triangle” to thrive. That is why irrespective of how much we spend on power and energy, the country may remain in darkness and refineries, in shambles for a long time.
Some analysts have argued that perhaps electricity workers would have been supported against “compradors” in their agitation against privatization of the power sector. Citing authorities like Terisa Turner (Keith Panter-Brick), “technocrats are hired to make functional ventures in state capitalism. But these are under the ultimate control of traditional comprador administrators who have an opportunity with the new policy, to form bilateral relationships with foreign firms. In so doing, they threaten to divert the policy of economic nationalities from increasing local capabilities to intensifying links with foreign capital. Such a diversion leaves technocrats with little role to play and this, in turn, leads to frustration and opposition.
In addition said Terisa, “since the government is responsible for a great deal of expenditure in poor countries, the full pressure of oligopolistic market is brought to bear on state officials. Local intermediaries and foreign businessmen who are unable to gain access to the decision makers of the moment look forward to their replacement, state officials who are not in positions which allow them to influence decision making similarly seek to unseat those in power. In this conflict-ridden context, the power of guns and money plays an everyday role”. This may explain as well why Awo or, “the best candidate never won Presidential election in the country”
But Awo was able to withstand these negative forces of neo-colonialism until the Action Group was penetrated in 1962 and the rest is history. While the Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo succumbed to neo-colonialism pressure and sold national assets cheaply because “government has no business in business,” an attempt to sell Odua Investments by his imposed PDP administrations in the South West was foiled by vigilant Awoists led by “the last man standing,” Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Apparently, for demonstrating that Nigeria and indeed Africa could be economically independent, Awo was sent to jail by imperialists agents on the trump-up charge of treasonable felony. The fate of Awo might have been compounded when he was said to have in a failed motion “proposed in 1961 as Leader of Opposition in the Federal House of Representatives approving the principles of nationalization of basic industries and commercial undertakings of vital importance to the economy of Nigeria.”
With the destabilization of the progressive government of the Western Region, economic decline set in and by implication, on the economy of the other regions too because the West used to dictate the pace of healthy socio-economic rivalry among all the regions of the federation. The Government Trade Centre-technical institutions established by Awo that were providing manpower for the Industrial Estates in Ikeja, Apapa, Ilupeiu and Ibadan went into recession. Sadly, today Federal Governments officials and Legislators visit China to inspect the same caliber of technical colleges that Awo had established in the 50s.
The Western Nigeria Marketing Board was taken over by the Federal Military Government to pave way for “equitable distribution of resources” Most of the industries have since collapsed, assets including the Cocoa Ware Houses at Ikeja went into private hands and thousands of workers sent into the unemployment market, many of whose children and grandchildren ironically today go to their parents’ previous places of employment, now churches to pray for employment.
But Awo rose from his predicted “twilight” when going to jail in 1964 to the “glorious dawn” of becoming “the main issue in the Nigeria politics” and “the best President Nigeria never had.” That Governor Ambode has honored Papa’s memory 30 years after his exit, with a befitting statue has confirmed God’s pronouncement that “the memory of the just is blessed but the memory of the wicked shall not.” (Proverbs 10:7). As the nation expects more of such honor in his memory, the controversy need not arise about what the statue looks like or not because no one or statue can truly represent Awo to whom it shall remain a song of “an endless hallelujah.”
Amoboye is a media consultant and political analyst.