Lessons from the First Awolowo Legacy Lecture

October 31, 2018 Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

 

By

Kingsley Alumona

 

 

It was a moment of reflection during the activities that marked the First Awolowo Legacy Lecture at the University of Ibadan organised on Tuesday, May 15, by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation for the Obafemi Awolowo Hall of residence of the university. The Awolowo Legacy Lecture is the newest initiative of the foundation since its inception in April 11, 1992. According to the executive director of the foundation and former ambassador of Nigeria to the Netherlands, Dr Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, it would be an annual event that would be used to inculcate in youths the values Awolowo lived by. “Dissemination of the legacies of Awo to the youths has always been of paramount importance to us,” she said.

 

The occasion was graced by prominent personalities from all walks of life. They included Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, Professor Niyi Osundare, Professor Ayandiji Aina, Dr Segun Olatunji, Dr Kunle Olajide, Mr Bashorun Israel; managing director of African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc, Mr Edward Dickson; former managing director of ANN Plc, Reverend Sam Adesua; Editor, Nigerian Tribune, Mr Debo Abdulai; Editor, Sunday Tribune, Mr Sina Oladeinde; and Editor, Saturday Tribune, Dr Lasisi Olagunju. Others from the university were the deputy vice chancellor (academic), the registrar, the librarian, many deans of faculties and heads of departments, and top staff of the Obafemi Awolowo Hall.

 

Due to the premium late Chief Obafemi Awolowo placed on education, virtually all the first generation universities in the country have a hall of residence or other buildings named after him. In University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo Hall is one of the about eleven halls of residence. Built some 32 year ago, it is the biggest student hall of residence in West Africa, according to the hall mistress. The hall, which is located in the university, but belongs to the Awolowo’s family, according to the deputy vice chancellor (academic) of the university, houses both undergraduate and postgraduate female students.

 

While delivering her speech as the guest of honour of the occasion, Awolowo Desumu stated that “we at the foundation believe that the Awo message is needed in these times even more than ever. It stands better chance of acceptance and revival with the youths, not only because they are likely to be tainted with the prejudices that caused its previous rejection, but also because they are today’s victims of the consequences of that rejection.” She went on to explain how the Awolowo Legacy Lecture series would inspire the youths to leadership. “This first event attempts to beam our searchlight on his (Awo) legendary leadership qualities and we look forward to exploring other aspects of his legacy in subsequent outings,” she said.

 

The chairperson of the occasion, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, who was among the first beneficiaries of Awolowo’s Universal Primary Education in 1955, regarded Awolowo as a role model, who had great concern for common man’s education and wellbeing. He admitted that he first encountered Awolowo in 1962 through his autobiography, and that two key findings in the book immediately led him to adopted Awolowo as his hero. “First, I was attracted to his assertion that he was simultaneously a champion of the Yoruba and a pan-Nigerian nationalist; and second, I was full of admiration for his concern for the common man as espoused in the governance agenda of his political party, Action Group, that was summed up to the party’s problem: freedom for all and life more abundant,” he said.

 

The first speaker of the occasion, who is the vice chancellor of Caleb University, Professor Ayandiji Aina, while delivering his thought-provoking lecture titled Repositioning the Youth for Leadership in Nigeria questioned the current perception and position of Nigerian youths in the political and leadership architecture of the country. “The Nigerian youths exist within a peculiar political economy, one characterised by greed, anger, despondency and dissatisfaction,” he lamented.

 

The second speaker, who is the country director of GLEEHD Foundation, Bashorum Israel, in his captivating lecture titled The Nigerian Youth and Leadership Challenge, enjoined the youths to aspire for leadership roles and positions. He lamented that the youths of today do not demonstrate any drive to make a difference in politics and leadership, “and this was why Awolowo was different in his generation. He was bold, fear less. He stood for something,” Israel added.

 

Awolowo’s achievements in politics and leadership are unequivocal. Among the Nigerian forefathers that led the different regions of the country and even among those that gave Nigeria her independence, he was the most selfless, dedicated and reverenced. His tremendous success stories still resound in contemporary Nigerian society. Dr Awolowo Dosumu clearly itemised some of these success stories: “While Awolowo administration in the defunct Western Nigeria committed 27 per cent of its budget expenditure to education in 1955 (above UNESCO’s recommendation of 26 per cent), Nigeria allocated 6.01 per cent to the sector in 2016. Awo committed 10.7 per cent to healthcare in 1955; in 2016, Nigeria committed 4.3 per cent to healthcare. It does not require a genius to work out what the outcomes of both scenarios would be.” She also added, with nostalgia evident in her voice, “The truth is that today, we appear to be far away from the ideals and visions of Nigeria’s founding fathers of whom Awo remains shining example as we have never been.”

 

With all these motivational addresses and lectures, it is imperative to ask this fundamental question: what lessons could Nigerians draw from this epic-making occasion?

 

First, Nigerians, especially the youths, should embrace the culture of hard work, selflessness, sacrifice and humility that Awolowo espoused and lived by. At his youthful age, Awolowo achieved a lot for the country with his outstanding virtues. The hall mistress of Obafemi Awolowo hall, Professor Olapeju Aiyelaagbe, summarised these virtues when delivering her address: “The late Chief Awolowo left his indelible marks deep in the sands of history of Nigeria, especially in the areas of education and leadership.” The deputy vice chancellor academic of the university, Professor A. A. Aderinto, while delivering the vice-chancellor’s address properly captured the indispensability of Awolowo’s virtues when he said, “There are over one thousand residents of the Obafemi Awolowo Hall, and to start with, if we can inculcate all those values, even in the residents of the Obafemi Awolowo Hall, our country Nigeria will be a better place for us all.”

 

The second lesson the youths should learn from the occasion is that nothing comes easily, especially in politics and leadership. You have to fight for what is right and just with selflessness and transparency, even at great risk and discomfort to yourself. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, said, “What is to give light must endear burning.” And, no doubt, Awolowo endeared a lot of things, even betrayal and prison, for the good of the common man and for the country. Today many Nigerian youths are complaining of marginalisation in the hands of politicians who have refused to give them the opportunity to participate in politics and leadership, who have refuse to create jobs for them. But the truth is, the more they sit in their comfort zones and complain, the more jobless and marginalised they would become.

 

The two speakers opined that the only way the youths could have full participation and recognition in politics and leadership is to break free from indolence and inaction. The first speaker, Professor Aina, stressed that resolution of youths’ identity crisis and investments in youth education and development are some of the solutions. The second speaker, Israel, took a rather drastic approach. He challenged the youths to take risks and aspire to lead, because no one would give them leadership, they have to take it by force.

 

The third lesson has to be learnt by parents and guardians. They both have a lot to learn from the wisdom the occasion generated. Like the Scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Parent should strive and ensure their children have quality home and formal education that would make them critical thinkers and problem solvers. They should by all means drill into their children the virtues of self-independence and discipline, and encourage them to challenge the norms, especially when those norms are not for their own benefit and development. Parents should also teach and hearten their children to be bold, to question authorities, to make their voices heard and respected. Israel has this to say about the way many parents raise their children today: “When we raise our children in the wrong way, we are preparing ourselves for failed leadership because we did not give them the capacity to stand up for what they believe.”

 

Finally, there are also lessons for those currently in Nigerian political and leadership positions to learn from the occasion. There is no doubt that massive corruption and overt celebration of failure in government started after Nigeria’s founding fathers relinquished power to their successors. It is almost impossible to see an ounce of the qualities and virtues Awolowo lived by in any Nigerian leader today. Selfishness and greed, and disrespect for rule of law and accountability are now the order of the day. Embarrassing and frustrating leadership and development indictors, especially when compared to countries Nigeria was in par with before independence show that Nigerian leaders have learnt nothing from the qualities and life of their forefathers.

 

It seems Nigeria is retrogressing instead of progressing. The politicians are always busy thinking about the next elections, instead of thinking about the next generations and mapping out sustainable polices that would better their lives and future. It saddening that leaders of these days have no vision and mission, no sense of continuum and accountability. And more frustrating, they have nothing good to offer to the people. Professor Adamolekun said this about the outstanding and exemplary leadership style of Awolowo: “I am very impressed that the Western Nigeria government that Awo led successfully implemented AGs governance agenda and recorded considerable accomplishments.” Hardly anybody would shower such an accolade on any Nigerian politician today. Awolowo, in his 1966 book, Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, expressed his unflinching stand on true leadership and unquestionable love for the development of the country when he declared: “Our objectives are now clear and unmistakeable, federalism; democracy; good leadership; socialism; these four, but the most important of them is—federalism.” If politicians and leaders of today would swallow their egos and greed, and judiciously adopt and implement these wise counsel and recommendations of Awolowo, Nigeria would truly be the giant of Africa it claims.

 

No doubt every Nigerian youth aspires to be like Awolowo, or even greater than him. The truth is: Rome was not built in a day. But there is hope, especially for the few who really want to take risks, who really want to challenge the status quo and who really want to leave indelible marks in the sands of history, like Awolowo did. For these few daring and dedicated ones, this Awolowo’s quote would suffice in keeping the fire and passion burning in them: “I have never regarded myself as having a monopoly of wisdom. The trouble is that when most people in public life and in the position of leadership and rulership are spending whole days and nights carousing in clubs or in the company of men of shady character and women of easy virtue, I, like a few others, I am always at my post working hard at the country’s problem and trying to find solutions for them… Only the deep can call to the deep.”

 

In all your strivings, make sure you are a deep who would call on the deep to make history for the betterment of the country and humanity at large, just like the late legendary sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, did.

 

 

 

 

Kingsley Alumona

Kingsley Alumona hails from Delta State. He read Geology at the University of Nigeria and is currently doing a master’s degree in Applied Geophysics at the University of Ibadan. His works have appeared in Kalahari Review, Daily Trust, The Tribune and The Sun newspapers.

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