Remembering the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo 35 years after death
Foremost Nigerian Nationalist, Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo GCFR (Yoruba: Ọbafẹ́mi died 35 years ago on this day in 1987 and his enduring legacies continue to make him relevant in the political landscape.
Born on March 6th, 1909 Awolowo was a nationalist and statesman who played a key role in Nigeria’s independence movement,the First and Second Republics and the Civil War.
He was the son of a Yoruba farmer and one of the truly self-made men among his contemporaries in Nigeria.
A native of Ikenne in Ogun State of south-western Nigeria he started his career, like some of his well-known contemporaries, as a nationalist in the Nigerian Youth Movement in which he rose to become Western Provincial Secretary.Awolowo was responsible for much of the progressive social legislation that has made Nigeria a modern nation. Awolowo also founded the Yoruba nationalist group Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Awolowo was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance, and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1959.He was the official Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament to the Balewa government from 1959 to 1963. In 1963 he was imprisoned under the accusations of sedition and was not pardoned by the government until 1966, after which he assumed the role as Minister of Finance. In recognition of all of this, Awolowo was the first individual in the modern era to be named as the leader of the Yorubas (Yoruba: Asiwaju Awon Yoruba or Asiwaju Omo Oodua)
He introduced free primary education for all and free health care for children in the Western Region, established the first television service in Africa in 1959, and the Oduduwa Group, all of which were financed from the highly lucrative cocoa industry which was the mainstay of the regional economy.
Awolowo’s exemplary integrity, welfarism and contributions to hastening the process of decolonisation and his consistent and reasoned advocacy of federalism-based on ethno-linguistic self-determination and uniting politically strong states-as the best basis for Nigerian unity clearly stand him out as a Nationalist that won’t be forgotten in Nigeria’s political history.