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Oluwatosin Fatoyinbo: Awo is born again

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Oluwatosin Fatoyinbo: Awo is born again

by Oluwatosin Fatoyinbo

I might not be able to remember the details of my growing up days vividly, but there is a memory that I might never ever forget. And it is the ringing of a particular slogan and the hyping of a particular personality. I could recite the slogan in my dreams and draw the personality from memory. I heard it so often and loudly that it is perhaps difficult to ‘control delete’ from my memory.

My father was an Ondo State chieftain of the Pro-Yoruba group Afenifere which was founded by Pa. Abraham Adesanya and comprised of almost all Yoruba political leaders at that time such as Chief Bola Ige, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Olu Falae and others. It was Afenifere that transformed into the Alliance for Democracy (AD). The Alliance for Democracy cleared the whole of the south west in the 1999 elections although it’s presidential candidate Chief Olu Falae lost to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Therefore, the prevalent consciousness throughout the south west for the next four years was that of Afenifere. The slogan of the group was “Afenifere: ire owo, ire omo, ire Alafia” and the slogan for AD was “AD: progress!” I grew up with these two slogans constantly ringing in my ears.

Meetings of the group was usually held in my dad’s compound and you could not avoid hearing their talks of the ideals of democracy, the role of the Yoruba nation in it and they often prided themselves in addition to being Egbe Omo Oduduwa as the Egbe Awolowo (Associates of Awolowo).

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was lifted to the pedestal of an immortal; he was practically worshipped and revered as the father of the modern Yoruba people. It is difficult to disagree with this assertion but I have a problem with that: Chief Awolowo could never do wrong or at least that was the idea injected into my young and tender heart. However, as I matured and read books on the history of the country called Nigeria, I realised that the picture of the perfect Awo in my mind was wrong; I saw the Awo who just like every average human being had flaws. That perfect image is the memory I still find difficult to ‘control delete’

“Nigeria is not a nation but a mere geographical expression.” Awolowo had made that statement as far back as 1947 after the naming of the Niger area by Miss Flora Shaw.  It is important to note that Baba Awo had never really been a supporter of the state called Nigeria. He was thus not impressed by the ‘go slow’ nature of the North which exercising it right of self-determination chose to remain under British Government until 1959. He in fact would have preferred that the three regions split and when that couldn’t be achieved, he desired the Yoruba nation be in charge of the affairs of the country; with his brilliance and wide knowledge of business and law, he created the best platform for the Yoruba nation to grow at such astronomical rate that the other tribal groupings could only be regarded as ‘noisy neighbours’.

The Yorubas were the most educated as Baba had initiated a free education system that encouraged parents to send their children to school. Baba also facilitated the training of brilliant Yoruba students for further studies beyond the shores of Nigeria. By this act, the Yoruba nation was well placed to lead the country in every ramification. The closest in terms of education was the Eastern region led by the quintessential Nnamdi Azikwe. The North was a region seemingly doomed for suffering because education was as rare as electricity is in Nigeria today. The North had few well educated citizens who were practically worshipped and whose feet were metaphorically licked.

It was an open secret that the great Awo loathed the Northern region which had received much favour from the British government. The British government had designed Nigeria in such a manner that the North had the largest number in parliament and was two times the size of the Western and easthern region combined. After the first parliamentary election, Awolowo deliberately chose to serve as the opposition leader rather than form an alliance with the North. Awolowo’s hatred for the North was also recompensed by the North; if not overtly then covertly when the Northern leaders cut down Awolowo’s power by creating the Mid-western Region. It was argued that the creation of the new region was to cater for the minorities but this argument is faulty because one will expect that another region be carved out of the extremely large Northern region to cater also for the right of minority groups in the North.

The NPC made its disrespect for Awo clearer by further pitching their tent with Awolowo’s ‘boy’ Chief Samuel Akintola in 1963. Awo was found guilty of treason, earning him a jail term of 10 years. His disgust for the North was heightened by this act. It was obvious that Awolowo was planning to overthrow the Northern Oligarchy. If this allegation was true, it showed that Awo was ready to take laws into his hand to publicly display his disgust and on the other hand, if he was roped in (which historically seem unlikely), while in prison, Baba would have wished it true.

With Awo behind bars, the opposition became non-existent as the NCNC  led by Dr. Azikwe was no threat to the powers of the North. The north thus consolidated and became even more powerful by forming an alliance with Akintola’s NNDP government in the western region. With the West now silenced by Awolowo’s incarceration, the North turned on the Eastern region. There was mass killing of Ibos in the North. The north felt that the Ibos were overly ambitious and could not bear with a challenge to its powers and domination.

Soon, the country headed towards disintegration and Awo’s prophecy of 1947 was becoming a reality. Ojukwu who was the Military Governor of the Eastern region could no longer bear with the massacre of his people especially in the North. He saw wisdom in Awo’s suggestions and saw him as the way out of the entity called Nigeria. He worked at getting him out of jail. He was however, heartbroken when baba returned from jail; he refused to form an alliance with Ojukwu in seceding from Nigeria. He rather did the unthinkable, an act that nobody could have pre-empted and associate with a personality of the great Awo. He chose to form an alliance with Nigeria against the Biafra Army. It was highly hypocritical to say the least. This was the same man who called Nigeria ‘a mere geographical expression’ as far back as 1947; this was a man who had always advocated that the regions need to sit and discuss if they should still remain as one; a man who loathed the North and their domination of the polity; a man who understood his people’s vexation with the North. This same man chose to go to bed with his former enemies. He chose the same North that conspired to send him to prison.

Having agreed with Ojukwu, he got released and then turned against him. There’s perhaps no forgiving Awolowo for that. The question is “did he at this stage suddenly believe in the entity called Nigeria?” or “was it his opinion that the best way to break away was not through war?” If these questions are yes, another question arises “why did he then give his word of support to Ojukwu?”

My understanding is that at this stage, he was more concerned about his presidential ambition. He was no longer interested in solving the Nigerian problem by regional secession. His focus was on the 1979 elections. His permutations was perhaps that if he supports the North in the anti-secession crusade, he will receive political support from the North in 1979. Unfortunately, the North would never accept Chief Obafemi Awolowo and he is today referred to as the ‘President Nigeria had.’

Baba Awolowo sacrificed the future different nations that would have emerged: his own original dream. There will be no need for Boko Haram if he had helped his people by helping Odimegwu Ojukwu. With his help, Ojukwu was defeated and Nigeria remained.

The recent love affair and show of affections between Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the Northern oligarch represented by Major General Muhammadu Buhari only remind me of Baba Awolowo. In Tinubu, Awo is born again and back with full force.

Like him or hate him, the truth is Chief Bola Tinubu is the political leader of the Yoruba people. He almost single handedly brought the Yoruba states save Ondo state under one political platform thereby succeding in re-creating a Yoruba party similar to Awolowo’s Action Group. However, I think Tinubu is on the verge of repeating Baba Awo’s grave error.

 The APC is a child of an unholy marriage as far as I can tell. Its also obvious that Tinubu is not really concerned about Nigeria as much as he is bothered about his constant and living obsession of disloging the PDP at the national level. If he is concerned about Nigeria, he will not team up with a man who has over the years shown by his utterances that he’s more northern than he’s Nigerian. He would not close his eyes to the allegation hanging on Ali Modu Sheriff’s head.

Yes, it is true that the PDP has not justified their 14 years control of Nigeria but it is not enough justification at merging with the CPC (a party that seems more concerned about the North than Nigeria, history shows that the Boko Haram menace began to show its tribalistic nature after the CPC lost the 2011 elections). Till date, General Buhari, a man who prides himself on being a disciplinarian is yet to openly denounce or at least condemn the group. Going to bed with such men I believe sincerely is not in the interest of Nigeria. To show that he is more concerned about Nigerian’s welfare, Tinubu should insist that Buhari condemns at the least the terrorist acts of Boko Haram if not the group itself. Further, a man whose support of Boko Haram is still a contention should never be Chairman. If the APC will be better than the PDP, then this Tinubu-Buhari love affair must be corrected from its foundation.

Unless this is done, Tinubu will only repeat the mistake of a great Nigerian leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the result will leave a bitter taste.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @tosinfat

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