By ‘Gbade Ojo (Ph.D)
Being text of a paper presented to Leadcity Voices (Students’ body) in Commemoration of the 29th Remembrance of the Transition of the late icon’s Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the Lead City University Ibadan, On Thursday, 12th May, 2016.
I am pleased to be invited as a guest lecturer at your public lecture organized by Leadcity Voices to commemorate the 29th remembrance of the transition of the immortal sage – Chief Obafemi Awolowo – a legend of all times in this country and beyond. In your invitation, I was not given the latitude to select any title for this lecture. My duty here today is to ruminate on ‘The Change Mantra: Learning from Awo’s Legacies’ as forwarded to me.
This lecture no doubt is indeed auspicious in the sense that most pupils at both primary and secondary school levels along with those of you at the tertiary level may not appreciate the life and times of Awo as fondly called by his admirers. You may not be at fault after all. The snag is that in contemporary Nigeria’s educational system, the study of History as a subject and course has been relegated to the background. Public perception of History as a subject and discipline is indeed warped. This may not be unconnected with the ongoing economic down turn which even rendered core professionals either unemployed or under-employed. One can easily recall a Governor in the South-West State of Osun who disengaged all teachers of History and other Liberal Arts from the employ of the state’s teaching service. What a negative trend! If our contemporary society seems to have lost touch of the past, it cannot comprehend the present talk less of being able to fathom into the future. It is expedient that we teach the young ones how we got to where we are today. I want to surmise that this lecture must have being intended to achieve that purpose.
For proper comprehension of this lecture, it has been divided into a number of sections with the above introductory remarks, we shall proceed to explicate the idea of CHANGE which was and still the mantra of All Progressives Congress (APC). The third section dwells on Awo’s philosophy which translated to his legacies. This shall follow closely with a dispassionate appraisal of President Buhari’s one year in office vis-à-vis the change mantra. The lecture concludes with the kind of real change Nigerians desire if eventually they (Nigerians) may not be disillusioned.
Nigerians like every other human being craved for CHANGE. The change surmised to be a movement from one state to another and this had been the desire of Nigerians for long. According to Professor Gbadegesin in his regular column, change is the movement from one state to another. As such, every living thing undergoes changes. The only unchangeable is God (for those that are not atheistic), who is acknowledged as remaining the same through the ages.
Perhaps the first noticeable change was the liberation from colonialism to political independence in 1960. Nationalist leaders such as the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo that we are celebrating today along with Sir Tafawa Balewa among others were in the frontline. The change Nigerians desired was achieved on 1st October, 1960 with ‘flag’ independence.
Unfortunately, this change was short lived as the First Republic was truncated by the military in a violent coup and counter-coup in 1966. The military interregnum was a serious burden on Nigerians with its attendant absolutism which resulted into palpable human rights abuses. This led to crave for another change. The desire was potent more so that Nigerians tasted civil rule for a short stint between 1979 and 1983.
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished academics, great Nigerian students, another noticeable effort by Nigerians in their innate crave for change was the June 12, 1993 election when most Nigerians came out en masse to vote for Aare Ona Kakanfo, Chief M.K.O Abiola (of blessed memory). That election was a watershed, more so, that it was expected to be a transition from the military oligarchy to civilian government and also a transition from the North to the South in terms of ‘locale’ of power. But the wave of change was truncated again for reasons best known to perhaps virtually all of us. Alas that change never materialized.
Meanwhile, the second change which is the concern of this lecture got actualized with the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its Presidential candidate – President Muhammadu Buhari on 28th March, 2015 presidential election. The uniqueness of that election is not unconnected with the collapse of the then ruling party – People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – at the polls. That was the first time ever in the political annals of Nigeria that an opposition party would deploy its entire political arsenal to displace the ruling party.
With that, the much desired change by Nigerians came into being. Ordinarily, the pre-occupation of all well meaning Nigerians now is how best to sustain the new wave of change and learn enormously from the legacies of the late sage.
The legacies of the late sage were so profound that the record is yet to be matched in virtually all areas. A few number of you may be wondering why the statesman is still celebrated after his transition perhaps more than his contemporaries. Relying on a recent work published by Inside Watch Africa (IWA), (see, www.insidewatchafrica.org), I shall itemize some of the legacies briefly thus:
1. Education Sector
Chief Obafemi Awolowo carried out a profound and enduring revolution in the education sector. In July 1952, when Awolowo came up with his blueprint for free Universal Primary School Education (UPE), as at the time, only 35% of children of school age attended school in Western Region. By the time Awolowo’s government launched the Scheme in January 1955, nearly 400,000 children (as against the estimated 175,000 children projected by the Government Department by Statistics) showed up for enrolment. This led to shortage of trained teachers. To solve this problem, between 1955 and 1959, 11,000 teachers had been trained as new teachers.
To cater for the products of primary school who may not be able to proceed to secondary school, Chief Awolowo’s government established ‘Modern Three’ secondary schools and a total of 363 of such schools were created all over the region. Similarly, the statistics showed that the total number of secondary school pupils rose from 6,775 in 1952 to a staggering 841,371 in January 1959 when he was rounding off his premiership tenure. This number was greater than those in the Northern and Eastern regions combined and this represented the core of his revolution in education.
Furthermore, his government ensured that gifted students in strategic field like Engineering, Technology, Medicine, and Accountancy and even in some courses like the Liberal Arts and the Social Sciences were awarded government scholarships to study abroad during his tenure. He started with 200 overseas scholarships in 1955 and within four years, he had seen to it that this number was expanded to 2,000! Surprisingly his government’s scholarships had no strings attached to them. He did not approve of students’ loans because he felt education ought to be a birthright.
2. Universal Free Health Programme
It is on record that Awolowo’s government was the first to introduce free medical services in government’s hospitals for all children under the age of 18, this was in 1953 and the first in the Federation. Before he assumed office in 1952, there were only 38 hospitals with 939 beds in the region and of these numbers, only 15 were run directly by the government by 1959, the Premier saw to it that 10 new General Hospitals were established in all the divisions to improve healthcare delivery to his people. To compliment this, over 165 dispensaries were built all over the region. He was concerned about the high rate of infant-maternal mortality and he ensured that new maternity centres were constructed such that the number rose from 122 in 1952 to 239 within a few years.
3. Agriculture for Sustainability and Revenue
His legacy was not restricted to education and health care alone. He equally devoted his attention to Agriculture. Cocoa was the main stay of the region’s economy then being an agrarian society. What Awo did was to strengthen the production of Cocoa. With an efficient Marketing Board, cocoa production output improved. The cocoa house building in Dugbe in Ibadan, is a living testimony. A Department in the Ministry of Agriculture which oversaw the development of various agricultural plantations which covered some 20,517 acres of farmlands these included the Apoje Oil Palm Plantation, the Shagamu Rubber Estates, the Rubber-Processing Factory in Benin, the Citrus Fruit-Canning Factory in Ibadan and the cattle ranch in the upper Ogun River covering an additional 8,468 acres. Smaller scale Oil Palm Plantations were established in strategic locations of the entire region which made Nigeria the largest exporter of palm produce in the world within a very short period. Agricultural scientists from far away Malaysia, today’s largest exporter of palm produce, came to literally borrow a leaf from the Western Region. Today where is Nigeria in terms of agricultural revolution.
4. Labour and Employment
One of the philosophies of Awo in government happened to be full employment and fair remuneration to workers. He was the first head of government to tackle the issue of minimum pay for daily paid workers. His government decided that it was going to double the ‘living wage’ of daily paid labourers from 2 shillings and 3 pence to 5 shillings, a figure unheard of at that time in any part of the federation.
5. Civil/Public Service
Awo’s government was a worker friendly one. First, he abolished stratification in the service. Expatriates pay were higher than that of the citizens as at the time he came in. This was repugnant to Awo why a foreigner with same qualification should earn more than an indigene. Not only that Awo established Western Nigeria Housing Corporation which was mandated to increase housing for the working class in every part of the region. The Housing Estates in Ikeja and Bodija are examples of his foresight. Civil servants were encouraged to take loans from the corporation to buy the houses and pay back in regular installments from their salaries. In the same vein, Awo did not believe in gender discrimination. He abolished sections of civil service General Order (G.O) that discriminated against women. No wonder, the first female Permanent Secretary – Mrs. Fola Igbodalo – emerged during his tenure, while Princess Teju Alakija too rose to become the first female Head of Service of Western Nigeria during his time.
6. Unmatched Legacies
One may go on and on in highlighting the legacies of Awo. But let me pick few other ones and conclude this segment. Awo’s government organized the first Pilgrims Welfare Board for both Christians and Moslems in the history of the country. Early in 1955, he authorized his Information Minister – Anthony Enahoro – to sign a contract with the Rediffusion Company of London for the supply of radio ‘rediffusion boxes’ for the listening pleasure of the people of Western Region. Awolowo’s fascination with radio was also extended to television when he also floated the first television service ever, not only in Nigeria but the whole of Africa. It is on record that Western Region had television service even before countries like Italy and France!
Learning from Awo’s Legacies
A year after the unique transition from civilian to another civilian government when the ruling party at the federal level caved-in for the opposition party to form government; Nigerians are eagerly awaiting the change APC promised! For now nothing seems to have really changed. The pressure for change is not unconnected with the fact that Nigerians – most especially – those from the South Western Nigeria had tasted good governance in the past. It is easier for them to compare and contrast while able to read between the lines.
It is important to note that perhaps the only thing Federal Government is doing is war against corruption which at best is just a cosmetic exercise for now which in a dispassionate view is intended to discredit the PDP-led government and boost the legitimacy rating of APC-led government. Whereas, a meaningful war against corruption must be total rather than mere recovery of loot that is on-going. My expectation is that the current struggle against corruption would be all-encompassing starting from a general re-orientation of Nigerians. For now nothing has changed in that realm. This week, the British Prime Minister was reported to have said that Nigeria and Afghanistan are the most corrupt countries in the world. This may not however be surprising because till date police officers and men are seeing daily collecting illegal money from motorists with illegal roadblocks all over the country. It is sad to note that going by Transparency International’s latest corruption perception’s index, Nigeria is at 136 with Afghanistan at 166. Federal Government needs to confront corruption headlong by perhaps enforcing the teaching of integrity in our schools at all levels.
Be that as it is, contemporary public office holders should not be mere managers of the system. But rather come up with robust public policies that could enhance the welfare of Nigerians. For now, no one can tell the policy direction of the Federal Government on Education, Health, Sports, Social Infrastructure and foreign policy. All these could have been taken care of during the gap between election and the inauguration of a new government.
Undoubtedly, Awolowo’s legacies cut across virtually all areas of governance. He left behind a large shoe difficult by his successors to wear. Nigerians are very much eager for a more inward looking and futuristic government. In the next one year if real change does not occur, Nigerians may be disillusioned.
I thank you all for your rapt attention.
*Gbade Ojo is an Associate Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria