Obafemi Awolowo was a Nigerian nationalist and a statesman who served as the Premier of the Nigerian Western Region from 1954 to 1959. And also a Nigerian Commissioner for Finance from 1967 to 1971.
Politically, Obafemi Awolowo was initially a member of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) under whose platform he emerged as a young nationalist. Gradually, became one of the top Nigerian nationalists who struggled for the independence of Nigeria in the 1950s. After the attainment of independence, Awolowo served as the national opposition leader until 1963 when he was convicted for treasonable felony and sentenced to prison. After the collapsed of the Nigerian First Republic in 1966 and the taking over of the military, Awolowo was released from the prison in 1966 and was appointed as the Federal Commissioner For Finance in the Gowon Military Regime from 1967 to 1971. Later, after 12 years of military rule in Nigeria, democracy returned in 1978. Obafemi Awolowo founded the Unity Party of Nigeria and contested as its presidential candidate in the 1979 and 1983 elections, but lost.
In short, Obafemi Awolowo was respected and regarded as one of the Nigerian founding fathers. Thus, his name and picture became the national symbol. For example, his picture was used in the Nigerian one hundred Naira note.
Early Life of Obafemi Awolowo
Obafemi Awolowo was born in 1909 in the town of Ikenne, Ogun State, Nigeria. He attended Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta and Wesley College in Ibadan. In 1927, left Nigeria and enrolled into the London University. He finished the University where he earned a bachelor degree in commerce.
Early Career and further Education
Before Obafemi Awolowo left Nigeria to England, he worked as a clark in the Wesley College, and later did some business. Agsin, in 1944, he enrolled into the London University where he studied law and called to the Bar in 1946.
In 1947, Awolowo returned to Nigeria and began practicing law with casual political participation in the city of Ibadan. Later, he went into journalism profession in which founded a newspaper called the ‘Nigerian Tribune‘
Political Career of Obafemi Awolowo
Obafemi Awolowo started participating in the politics since at the young age. Initially, he joined the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) and rose to prominence in the organization, to the extent that he served as its Western Provincial Secretary. Since then, Awolowo was in politics more especially in the nationalist struggle.
While in London, in 1945, he became one of founders of the Yoruba cultural group called “Egbe Omo Oduduwa” ( which in English means Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa). The organization was purposely established to safeguard the Yoruba people and their culture.
In 1951, Obafemi Awolowo turned the Egbe Omo Oduduwa into a new political party called the Action Group (AG), and became its president. He designed and shaped the outlook of the AG into tribalistic as well as regional party aimed at promoting Yoruba. However, due to the ideology of the AG, it was a nationalist party that promote Nigerian nationalism and collaborated with other parties in the struggle. In 1951, Awolowo led the AG into the Western regional election, where they won the majority.
In 1954, a new constitution called the Lyttleton Constitution was granted and came into effect. As one of the Constitution’s provisions, an office of a Premier as the executive head was created in every of the 3 Regions. Fortunately, Obafemi Awolowo was chosen and appointed as the Premier of the Western Region.
In 1954, Awolowo assumed the executive responsibility of the Western Region. He also retained his position as the leader of AG Party. As a Premier, he chose education and health as the top priorities of his government. He implemented free primary health care in whole of the Region. He also implemented free education policy in which every person in the Western Region was given the free education from primary to tertiary education. He was even recorded to have emphasized in his speech as I quote :
“The children of the poor you failed to train, will never let your children have peace“
Politically, he continued his nationalist struggle along with other nationalists. Towards the end of the 1950s, when Nigeria was about to attained its independence, Awolowo aspired to form the temporary government that would take over from the Britain. As part of fulfilling his dream, Awolowo resigned his position of Premier succeeded by his deputy Samuel Akintola in 1959. He stand as an AG candidate for the House of Representatives, hoping that if the his party acquired majority, as the leader of he would be able to form the federal government. But, unfortunately, when the 1959 general election was contested, the AG Party lost the majority to the NPC/NCNC Coalition. Therefore, automatically, Awolowo became the opposition leader.
Opposition Leader and Imprisonment
After the election of 1959, Obafemi Awolowo became the national opposition leader. He proved to be a great opposition who never compromise. After Nigeria became independent 1960, he continued pressed the government through criticizing some of its policies.
In the AG Party, Awolowo continued to be its leader and shaped its outlook into a real opposition party. However, gradually, the members of the Party began to have the different ideology especially about how to govern the Western Region. Also, Awolowo’s deputy the Premier of the Western Region Samuel Akintola tend to be friendly with the NPC members, which he Awolowo disapproved. Eventually, the disagreement put the AG into chaos which led to disturbances in the Western Regional Assembly between the Pro-Awolowo and Pro-Akintola members. The Federal government of Nigeria took measure by declaring state of emergency and the suspension of the Region’s government.
In September 1962, Obafemi Awolowo and other 29 politicians were arrested and charged with a treasonable felony by trying to overthrew the government. After about one year of trial in September 1963, Awolowo and others were convicted and sentenced to different terms of imprisonment, in which he Awolowo received 10 years term.
Obafemi Awolowo as Federal Commissioner of Finance
While Obafemi Awolowo was serving his ten years term of imprisonment, on 15 January, 1966, some young army officers staged a military coup d’etat that brought an end to the Nigerian First Republic. In July 1966, another coup d’etat was carried out that led to emergence of General Yakubu as the Nigerian Military Head of State. In the year, Gowon released Awolowo from prison.
Later, in 1967, General Yakubu Gowon invited Obafemi Awolowo to his government. After considering the offer, Awolowo was appointed the Federal Commissioner For Finance and the Vice Chairman Federal Executive Council. H remained in the position until in 1971 when he resigned willingly.
Second Republic 1979-1983
In 1978, ater twelve years of military rule in Nigeria, the military government lifted the ban on politics and allowed the return of democracy. Politicians were allowed to form political parties and an election was scheduled to be conducted in 1979. On his part, Obafemi Awolowo founded the new party called the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He became its national leader as well as its presidential candidate for the 1979 Presidential election.
On the eve of the election, Awolowo campaigned throughout Nigeria, and he proved to be efficient to won the election. Because, he was rated among the top possible winners of upcoming election by political analyst. The election took place on 11 August, 1979, but , unfortunately Awolowo came in the second position where he lost to the Shehu Shagari of the Nigerian People Party (NPN) by narrow margin of 752,206. Because, Awolowo scored 4,916,651. While Shehu Shagari scored 5,668,857. However, Awolowo refused to accept the result and headed to court. He argued that Shagari did not received 25% votes in 12 states. But, the Supreme court ruled out against Awolowo and asserted the Shagari as the winner.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Awolowo unwillingly accepted the defeat. But, he stand and became a critical opposition leader to the Shagari administration. He also prepared for the 1983 Presidential election.
After 4 years, Obafemi Awolowo contested as the UPN presidential candidate in the 1983 Presidential election. But again, lost to the incumbent Shehu Shagari this time around with wide margin. Because, Awolowo scored 7,907,209 votes. While Shagari received 12,081,471.
In December 1983, the Nigerian army overthrown the Shagari administration. The automatically led to the collapsed of the Second Republic. The new Military Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari ban politics. On the other hand, Awolowo to left politics, and went to his personal life in his hometown in Ikenne.
After four years, while living in his personal home in Ikenne town, Obafemi Awolowo died at the age of 78, on 9 May, 1987.