After a brief spell as school teacher, stenographer, and Daily Times reporter-in training, Obafemi Awolowo set himself up in Ibadan as a produce buyer and a transporter. It was in Ibadan that his political life began to unfold: he served there as secretary of the Nigerian Youth Movement before he went abroad to study Law in Great Britain.
He stood up stoutly against mediocrity and drift in government, and began to define alternative channels along which Nigeria’s government should go. His own concept of a Nigerian nation was probably too advanced for his opponents, who began to see the Awolowo-led opposition as a major threat. Following a trial for treasonable felony, he was jailed for 10 years in September 1963.
By July 1966, Nigeria’s problems had become so interactable that disintegration of the country seemed inevitable. A new Federal Military Government promptly opened the gates of Calabar Prison, brought Awolowo out and appointed him as a minister to take charge of the country’s treasury and to provide political support as Vice Chairman in the Federal administration. In those two roles, he was one of the major architects of Nigeria’s victory over s~cession in the 3D-month Civil War. When the war ended, Awo waited just long enough to give Nigeria a National Development Plan; as soon as the Plan was completed, he resigned from the government, although, to his last day, he remained grateful to the man who gave him an opportunity to serve his country.
When Nigeria’s Armed Forces lifted the ban on civilian participation in politics in September 1978, Nigerians who believed in Awo’s political ideas and principles joined him in forming the Unity Party of Nigeria which presented Nigeria with a dynamic programme of socio economic change along democratic socialist lines. Awo led the party until it was banned, along with Nigeria’s other political parties, during the military take-over at the end of 1983.
Chief Awolowo was a great political thinker who committed many of his thoughts to writing. From 1946, he had started a long career in political writing, which flourished whether he was in freedom or in detention, whether he was in power or out of it. It continued to flourish till the very end of his life.
Chief Awolowo’s greatest achievements resulted from the foresight, clear sense of direction and sheer competence that he brought into government.
At the beginning of his career in government, Chief Awolowo quickly reformed the Local Government system of the Western Region and took revolutionary steps to Nigerianise and improve the Western Nigeria Civil Service. An extremely good judge of men’s qualities, he had also put together a very efficient team of ministers. Having taken those steps, he was set to achieve within 5 years a string of “Firsts” in the history of Africa. Between 1954 and 1959, his government
- evolved, and was served by, the most efficient Civil Service in Black Africa;
- introduced and successfully implemented the first Free Primary Education programme in Africa;
- introduced and successfully managed the first Free Medical Service programme in Nigeria – for children up to the age of 18;
- established the first Television Station in Africa;
- built the Liberty Stadium, the first such modem sports facility in Nigeria;
- introduced and successfully implemented the first minimum wage policy in Nigeria and actually paid to Western Nigerians from October 1954 a minimum wage that was double the amount paid to workers of the same level in some other parts of Nigeria;
- set up Nigeria’s first industrial complex at Ikeja;
- set up Nigeria’s first commercial Housing Estates at Ikeja and Bodija, Ibadan.
- laid the foundation for development in commerce and industry by creating an efficient
- Western Nigeria Development Corporation, the ancestor of the present-day O’dua Investment Company;
- taken successful bold steps to revolutionise the production and marketing of cocoa by farmers in Western Nigeria; and .
- created the infrastructure for rural development by promoting 900 cooperative societies in about 3 years and by providing within 5 years almost 10 times as many miles of road as he inherited from the British administration.
In the Federal government, Awo managed the finances of Nigeria so shrewdly and so competently that the Federal Government successfully waged an expensive 30-month war against secession without resorting to foreign loans and without compromising its sovereignty.
University of Nigeria, Nsukka: LL.D. (1962)
University of Ife, Ile-Ife: D.Sc. (1967)
University of Lagos: D.Litt. (1968)
University of Ibadan: LL.D. (1972)
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria: LL.D. (1975)
University of Cape Coast, Ghana: LL.D. (1976)
In recognition of his professional contributions at the Bar, he was made a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1978.
In recognition of his invaluable service to Nigeria, he was given the highest honour in the land, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR)in 1982.
He was honoured with many chieftaincy titles, including the following:
Asiwaju of Remo
Losi of Ikenne
Lisa of Ijeun
Apesin of Osogbo
Odole of Ife
Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti
Odofin of Owo and
Obong Ikpan Isong of Ibibio Land.
Republished many books and still had some in the press at the time of his transition. Among his best-known works are: Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947), Awo – an autobiography (1960), Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution (1966), The People’s Republic (1968), The Strategy and Tactics of the People’s Republic (1970), The Problems of Africa: The need for ideological reappraisal (1977), Adventures in PowerBook 1: My March Through Prison (1985). Re had planned to launch Book 2 entitled The Travails of Democracy and the Rule of Law on 6th June 1987.
The oldest privately owned newspaper in Nigeria, the Nigerian Tribune, and two other newspapers (the weekly Sunday Tribune and Irohin Yoruba) were founded and owned by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo is survived by his wife, four children and their spouses, and many grand-children. He’s also left behind millions of friends and supporters, and a country stunned by his sudden departure.