On Tuesday, March 6, 2018, a socio-political organisation in Ekiti State, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) celebrated the numerous landmarks and milestones recorded by the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, across the South West Region on the occasion of his 109th posthumous birthday. SAM NWAOKO reports the event.
The people had come from all walks of life to join the dignitaries from all the states in the South West region, to Ekiti, described by some of the guests as “the State of a people after the heart of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.” They had converged on Ado Ekiti to celebrate the 109th posthumous birthday of the first Premier of the defunct Western Region, and also chart a course for the region, which rose to the zenith during the administration of Chief Awolowo.
Indeed, Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital really came alive on the occasion of Chief Awolowo’s 109th posthumous birthday when his ideals and physical landmarks, found across the South West region of the country, were celebrated on a day midwifed by the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Ekiti State. ARG had rolled out the drums on a day they they tagged “Ká má baa gbàgbé” (Lest we forget) at the Eagle Event Centre in Ado Ekiti.
The group said: “Every society revers its forbears. Some commune with the dead; others invoke memories of the past to shore up current social forms and to build the future. Either way, the Yorubas are won’t to say “ojó a bá kú làá d’ère, ènìyàn o sun ‘òn l’áàyè. No one misses their water until their well has run dry. The ex-post celebration of Awo can be seen in this light.”
Welcoming the guests, which included the governor of Ondo State, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), who was the chairman of the occasion; the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; National Chairman of ARG, Wale Osun, represented by Basorun Ayo Afolabi; Professor W. Alade Fawole of the Department of International Relations, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, who was the guest lecturer; Chief Yemi Adaramodu; Chairman Afenifere, Ekiti State, Yemi Alade; coordinator of ARG, Ekiti State, Elder Bunmi Awotiku, described Awo as “sage, avatar and true Asiwaju of Yorubaland” and said it was “lest we forget.”
Awotiku noted that “Awo and his ideas are part of the Nigeria bequest,” and added that “to plot our ways out of the current imbroglio, we must re-engage with the bequest, not shun it. We do need to remember Awo now and always.”
The Ekiti ARG coordinator in recalling some of the bequest of Awo said: “The first television station in Africa… Ká ma baa gbàgbé. The unparalleled healthcare delivery that gave birth to University College Hospital, Ibadan… Ká ma baa gbàgbé. Free and qualitative education… Ká ma baa gbàgbé. Establishment of farm settlements, Odeda, Orin, Fashola, Oko Awo, etc… Ká ma baa gbàgbé.” He said “the political class has not just refused to let go of Awo, a fine political art has been made of how to venerate Awothe more as the years had gone by.”
Before Awotiku welcomed the guests, the Chairman of the day, Governor Akeredolu had said in his opening remarks that “it is not possible to forget Awolowo.” He noted that attempts had been made in some quarters to whittle down the impact of the sage in the South West region to no avail. “Some people have done several things for us to forget, but can we? Several years after his transition, we still remember him”, Governor Akeredolu stated.
Akeredolu, who spoke in Yoruba language, thanked the ARG for remembering the legend. “This is apt because the impact of Awo in Yorubaland and in Nigeria cannot be erased,” the governor explained. He however advised that the Yoruba must think and bring themselves “to reckoning of the many things Awo did that are still being talked about like the first television station in Africa, the first Olympic size stadium in Africa and the first skyscraper in West Africa.”
The guest lecturer, Professor Alade Fawole, in a paper entitled “Obafemi Awolowo and Transformative Politics: Sustaining the Worthy Legacy” stressed the need for politicians to play by the tenets of Chief Awolowo. Fawole said Awo himself, in his writings noted that “he was seized with the politics of ideas, issues and programmes, not that of acrimony that encourages resort to guttersnipe.”
Fawole said: “No wonder, the Action Group which he led was the first political party in Nigeria to publish a manifesto in which its philosophy, beliefs, aspirations and programmes were clearly articulated for all to see, a development that other politicians and parties reluctantly embraced latter because Awolowo had set the pace for them to follow.
“His writings reflect his deep convictions on the desirability or imperativeness of engaging in critical interrogation of issues of public concern to enable effective policy making. In this regard, he was actually more of a scholar and public intellectual than a mere politician for whom intrigue, acrimony, and dirty tricks are tactics to be deployed for selfish advantage. No wonder he himself asserted boldly that “only the deep can call to the deep”!”
He advised that this should guide public administrators for the people to be able to enjoy the the kind of quality of governance the Western Region witnessed in the days of Awo. The OAU, Ile Ife don noted that Awo’s quality led to the kind of epitaph the world saw from Nigeria’s former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, who described Chief Awolowo as having been “a central issue in Nigerian politics since independence” and the Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who said Awo was “the best president Nigeria never had.”
Fawole observed that “these descriptions are by no means exaggerated or frivolous, for they were made appropriately and in appreciation of the role that Chief Awolowo had played and the indelible marks that he left in Nigerian politics and governance.”
Fawole submitted that “Until we have leaders and politicians who will give themselves to deep intellectual exertions and rigorous philosophizing, who can engage in rigorous analysis of issues and come up with authentic developmental ideas, I am afraid that politics and governance in this country would remain merely pedestrian and underdeveloped, and Awolowo would remain the indisputable exemplar.”
The event was not just lectures and speeches. Acolytes and supporters of the dignitaries, especially those of the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is the erstwhile governor of Ekiti State, were on hand with other politicians to add colour to the celebration.
In his goodwill message, Dr Fayemi said his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was poised to restore Awo’s legacies to Ekiti State by reclaiming power through the governorship election. Fayemi identified the legacies of Chief Awolowo as the four cardinal points of social development that had been adopted by APC as its manifesto, saying free education, free healthcare for children, pregnant women, the aged and the disabled; job creation and rural development were the four points.
He said the people of Ekiti State recalled his government in Ekiti had delivered on the four cardinal points, and lamented that the legacies he left behind were now being left to rot in the state. He said his party would do all it could to bring back Awo’s legacies.
Fayemi said: “We know Awolowo for what we call four cardinal points, from the days of the Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). These are free education, free healthcare for children, pregnant women, old and disabled; job creation and rural development. If you remember, all these points were what we ensured when we were in power in Ekiti, sadly they are no more in the state.”
The blend of intellect, colour and politics on the occasion of the ARG’s celebration of Chief Awolowo some of the participants claimed, were the pointers to the fact that “true followers of Awolowo’s ideals are still with us.” Basorun Ayo Afolabi, who represented ARG chairman, Wale Osun, said the Yoruba of the South West need to ensure that “we don’t recede.” His charge is that “we must remain in the steady path of progress.” This, the gathering said, is the dream of Awo that must not be left to die.
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