AWOLOWO LEGACIES IN EDUCATION AND POLITICS: ENDURING LESSONS FOR CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA
By Chief Bisi Akande, the Guest Speaker at The 2021 Edition of Obafemi Awolowo Free Education Lecture Series of the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife on Thursday, 21st October, 2021.
It always gives me delight to be associated with citadels of learning and therefore I feel most honored to be invited to this momentous event of the 2021 Edition of Obafemi Awolowo Free Education Lecture Series at the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. As much excited as I felt being asked to be the guest speaker on this given topic so much humbling I find it being expected to assess the legacies of Obafemi Awolowo on Politics and on Education. And how would an ordinary layman like me handle a talk about ‘Education’ to a galaxy of audience consisting of leaders and students of the prestigious Faculty of Education at this great University? The immediate first cover from bafflement is for me to recall that the totality of the founding of this very Obafemi Awolowo University, a brainchild of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, has become one of his very important educational legacies.
What is Education?
To a lay man, like me, the nature of the concept of what we call ‘Education’ is very complex. Studies about education never finish: they endure without the beginning or the end. There must have been ‘Education’ when there were no schools. At least, from the pre-literate societies, there has always been native informal or home traditional education which always involves listening, observing and imitating as we grow from birth. That form of education comes with apprenticeship for skills and craftsmanship for jobs to earn a living and, also, with learning of the native morals on how to be a good and useful member of the society. With the discovery of writings, however, knowledge became codified and has been better preserved from one generation to another. The riddle that remains, in that situation, however, is whether literacy alone is education? For a moment, let us set our minds to the beginning of what we now know as formal education. The Greece intellectual cradles remind us of Plato’s Academy in the Athens. While we must not forget the growth of the Alexandria’s library of the Egyptian civilizations, the Confucius’s ancient philosophies from the state of Lu in China is also apposite. Historians would also enlighten us further about the fall of the Roman Empire which was followed by the revolution of the Islamic sciences and mathematics under the caliphates across the Middle East up to the Empire of Mali and the establishment of Cathedral schools by the Catholic Church which boosted the idea of learning in the schools all over Europe.
We also must emphasise the new age of intellectual and scientific Enquiry known as The Renaissance which quickened the growth and spread of literature and education in the philosophy of the Religions, the Arts and the Sciences across the globe!
Awo, The Patron Saint
It is a common knowledge that Obafemi Awolowo was an exceptional role model to Nigeria in politics. Like Oduduwa, however, Obafemi Awolowo is another legendary patron-saint of the Yoruba race who, in modern times, was the pathfinder that founded a political party – the Action Group, to negotiate alliances with other leaders in persuading the British to grant Independence to Nigeria through peaceful and carefully planned constitutional and constructive processes. It seems very arduous therefore tasking me to assess any political legacy of such an historical avatar..
Reminiscing on the complexity of the enigmatic nature of ‘the leader’ called Obafemi Awolowo, I am going to endeavour to relate what I seemed to know about the legacies of the legend. After his childhood ‘native home informal education’ as an infant, Obafemi Awolowo began his formal educational career in Christian missionary primary schools and, after a brief attendance at a Methodist missionary teacher training college, he became a school clerk. He later resigned and went into self-employment where he tried his hands at public letter writing, journalism, motor transport business, trade unionism and agricultural produce merchandising. He also participated actively in political youth activism in his formative years. All along, as a part time exploit, he involved himself in rigorous self-education at home here in Nigeria until he acquired a University of London degree in Commerce as a private student. He eventually proceeded to England to study Law in London University.
Awo’s Crucial Political Involvements
As a student in the UK, Awolowo wrote a book – Path to Nigerian Freedom – a blueprint of what needed to be done for Nigeria to be free from British colonialism and to prepare Nigerians for the task of self governance, the most important among which was to provide widely spread access to good education among Nigerian citizens. He returned to Nigeria to practice Laws and to found the Egbe Omo Oduduwa as a cultural platform to mobilize indigenous traditional rulers and leaders with a view to recreating Yoruba as a modern nation. He had the opportunity to head a government that ruled western Nigeria for eight years.
He also participated in nation building at the center, first as the Leader of Opposition and, later, was invited from imprisonments, during the political tremours that precipitated the Biafran civil wars, to assist in the management of the finances of the Federal Government at the most crucial moments for Nigeria’s survival. In all of these arduous public national assignments, he distinguished himself and left behind imperishable legacies.
Trying To Know The Avatar
From these brief descriptions, it might not be difficult to see the enigma in Awolowo’s personality as an avatar. I served with Obafemi Awolowo as a member of the Committee of Friends that metamorphosed into the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1977 and 1978 and, later, as a member of the National Executive Committee of the UPN, for when it lasted, until the Military rudely interrupted democratic governance again in December 1983. Also, I served in the UPN government of the old Oyo state between 1979 and 1983 and, in the process, I interacted constantly with Chief Awolowo in his home, many times, and, sometimes, at his dining table. I am conversant with most of his lectures, speeches and newspaper articles and interviews. I have read most of his major works and all his published books. The romantic and orderly setting and management of his family life were most admirable and enviable. His personal self-discipline and carriage were legendary. Despite my assiduous study and thinking about his life, Awolowo’s personality still remains a puzzle to me.
Awo’s Supreme Objective
The easiest language that dominates Awolowo’s worlds and political outlooks, had always been his desire and supreme objective of ensuring that every citizen, no matter his place of birth or religion, must be given equal access and opportunities to free education at all levels. Apart from food and shelter, however, Awolowo believed that the next greatest ‘Man’s need’ was education. The complexity in that his belief also was that, next to life, education was ‘Man’s’ inalienable right and that, among other rights, it must be provided by the State. With that kind of mindset, Awolowo’s educational legacy becomes intricately entangled with his politics. Awolowo also recognized the positive and negative afflictions of human talents by environment and heredity. It becomes more complex, therefore, when Awoliowo had strong predilection that the poorer or less fortunate the citizen, the more the resources and the greater the attention he deserves from the state for the development of his or her talents. And the state, our Nigeria, since his time, has always been in disorder!
The Nigeria Of Awo’s Time
What Awolowo inherited, in his days, however, was the western education systems of Nigeria as a British Colony. In that British Colony, Nigerians were not permitted in governance beyond mere deliberative participation at Native Authority levels. In the Native Authorities in the then Southern and Northern Protectorates, the operative customary laws and usages were fluid and arbitrary depending on the whims of those interpreting them. And there were varying dissimilar Native Authorities depending on the nature and the design of the establishment of the native potentates according to the British Colonial Authority. Therefore, in these deliberative participations, there were inhibiting restrictions of illiteracy and autocratic restraint of criticisms against the Colonial masters. There was also a great deal of what can be described as ‘confusion of thoughts’ mostly encapsulated in uncoordinated agitations against the British rules among local tribal and clan unions and literary societies through petitions or by street protests, except in Lagos and Calabar where the citizens felt more enlightened and are more audacious enough to form themselves into groups of people assuming presumptive political parties. These agitations are mostly to request for and accelerate the Africanisation of the civil service and the abolition of discriminations in the commercial life of Nigeria. In 1936, however, the Lagos Youth Movement became the Nigerian Youth Movement. Chief Obafemi Awolowo therefore became attracted to the membership of this movement as a respectable platform for informed political activities and expression of coordinated thoughts.
Awo’s Opportunities In Service
As a member of the Nigerian Youths Movements, Obafemi Awolowo could have been better enlightened about problems of Nigeria. That exposure must have prompted him to write, as a law student later in the UK, a Blue Print for Nigerian Independence in a book titled Path to Nigerian Freedom. In the book, Awolowo vigorously adumbrated that mass universal education was a necessary panacea for enduring human and national freedoms, prosperous economic opportunities and social progress. When the opportunity became open for him to participate actively in the governance of western Nigeria, his immediate major concern, following the founding of the Action Group as a political party, were: first, to set Nigeria’s feet on the path to freedom through peaceful and carefully planned constitutional and constructive processes; and secondly, to mobilise the citizens of the then Western Region to ensure that the peasant population, who mostly were illiterates, should derive maximum benefits from the land.
And, at the same time, to lead the government of the Action Group in enhancing the economic and social status of every citizen with a view to fostering the political advancements of Nigeria.
The Political and Educational Momentum during Awo’s Rule
Awolowo assumed office as the Leader of Government Business under the British control and supervision in 1952 to begin a parliamentary debating battles that would radically curtail and reduce the control and supervision of the British Colonial masters in preparation for Nigeria’s demands for Independence.
His administration immediately, in the same 1952, awarded two hundred scholarships tenable for students seeking admission for University education anywhere in the western world with a view to making it easier for Africans to replace the expensive foreign staff in the civil service and other key services in commerce and industry and in all posts needed for a country getting ready for Independence.
His administration democratised the Native Authorities by replacing the British Indirect Rules through the Traditional Rulers with popularly elected District and Divisional Councils in the management of the local governments under the supervision and control of the regional government in 1953.
In the same 1953, his administration began the processes that led to the introduction of the Universal Free Primary Education by registering all children of primary school age while,at the same time, founding Teacher Training Colleges in each of the twenty five Divisions of the then western region, extending from Lagos to Asaba. School classrooms were built in all towns and villages of the region, the Free Primary Education, as the foundation for learning for all children of the then western region, began in January 1955. I was, that day, one of the pioneer primary school teachers at Ijama in Idanre District of the present Ondo state.
His administration, in the same year, to reduce the generation of vagabonds in the streets, began to mope-up all the primary school leavers into a newly founded lower secondary school institutions called Modern schools in every local district throughout western region.
The brighter products of the free primary schools were to become the entrants to the expanding private and public secondary grammar schools before higher school certificate colleges that later filled the University of Ibadan and the new Universities of Ife and Lagos and also, to some extents, the University of Nigeria Nsuka and the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.
Graduates from the newly founded Modern Schools would later populate:
the Primary education Divisional and Provincial Teachers Training Colleges;
the newly founded Provincial Schools of Agriculture to train managers for the numerous farm settlements all over the region. And for the extension agricultural workers for the numerous other peasant farmers;
the newly founded technical colleges in each of the twenty five Divisions for the training of artisans for the anticipated Agro-allied industrial take-off; and,
the schools of nurses for the training of staff for the newly expanded hospitals and health services founded in each of the twenty five Divisions and in every District council in the region.
Side by side with these concerted educational and coordinated infrastructural innovations were the well planned demands and arrangements for the replacements of the British officials and controls with trained African native functionaries at the peripheries of governance in the political districts and geographical divisions. The momentum of all these educational and political activities together with the public campaigns and the constructive pressure at the parliamentary levels in the region and at the center stampeded Nigeria into the series of London constitutional conferences that began in 1953 for the shredding of the inherited Macpherson constitution and for its replacement with the indigenous Nigerian Independence constitution in 1960.
The major legacy of Awolowo’s educational and political innovations
For the peaceful and orderly co-existence of the diverse national and religious communities in Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo, more than any other Nigerian, passionately advocated True Federalism as the best form of government for Nigeria. That idea was most repulsive to the Military that ignorantly ruled Nigeria with impunity for thirty nine years since Independence. The idea was also too complex for the comprehension of the new breed politicians that succeeded the military yet being deceived by meaningless slogan of ‘unity in diversity.
Today, Nigeria is in security crises. Despite all that were done to denigrate Awolowo’s educational ideology and to obliterate his people oriented performances in office by the military administration and by his political adversaries, the impact of his policies remains indelible wherever he and his political disciples operated. While the people of the North and the East of Nigeria whose leaders then conspired against all these Awolowo’s innovative tendencies in governance are now at wars against one another and smarting under the constant siege of the unknown gunmen, bandits, and terrorists, the then Awolowo’s western region from Lagos to Asaba is now, with the multiplier effects over time, so relatively more peaceful to serve as the refuge and to become the safe haven into which the insurgency ravaged other Nigerians are now streaming to hide and to hibernate and, also, to flood for security protection and business prosperity.
Distinguished Audience, these are the kernels of my address and I thank you most sincerely for listening.
Chief Bisi Akande,
The Asiwaju of Ila Orangun,
The Governor of Osun State – 1999 to 2003,
The Founding National Chairman of APC.