Paper presented by Dr Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu at a one-day colloquium on ‘The life and times of Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II’, organised by the Institute of Cultural Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife on Friday, July 29, 2016.
I feel highly honoured to have been invited by the organisers of this colloquium to present a paper on the topic, ‘Oba Ṣijuwade’s Commitment to Awolọwọ’s Legacy’. I am most grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this important topic.
Both Chief Awolọwọ and Oba Ṣijuwade were, undisputedly, icons in their respective generations. They both rose to the zenith of their chosen paths in life through hard work and perseverance. They also happened to be friends.
Theirs was a lifelong friendship whose hallmark was a deep and abiding loyalty. A friendship that saw both great men through good and bad times. And, as they attained prominence and their appreciation of true friendship probably became more profound, their friendship endured. That has to be an eloquent testimony to the genuineness of their relationship.
But I would like to begin this presentation with an assertion that Oba Ṣijuwade’s commitment to the AWO legacy stemmed, not only from loyalty in friendship, but also from a firm conviction that it was the right thing to do.
I would crave your indulgence, however, to start with a brief elucidation of the concepts of ‘commitment’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘legacy’.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s simple definition of commitment is the most apt, in my view, for the purposes of the theme of this paper. It defines commitment as ‘a promise to be loyal to someone or something’.
We live in a world where selfishness seems to be the order of the day, and personal gain, the objective of most relationships and endeavors. Nevertheless, one of the most honourable character traits a person can develop remains the ability to be loyal. Loyalty is the ability to put others before yourself, to stick with them through thick and thin, and to look out for them.
Loyalty is essential to the most basic things that make life livable. Without loyalty there can be no family. Without loyalty there can be no friendship. Without loyalty there can be no commitment to community or country. And without those things, there can be no society.
Chief Awolọwọ’s great mission in life was to build a better society by, amongst other things, offering vital, life-transforming opportunity to those who were incapable of acquiring it for themselves. Kabiyesi’s commitment and loyalty to friendship, and to those noble ideals, contributed immensely to the endurance of that legacy.
Kabiyesi was a thorough-going businessman and, therefore, acquired and maintained friendships across political lines. To the uninformed, his friendship with an equally thoroughgoing politician like Chief Awolọwọ seems a most unlikely proposition.
I have no doubt that they both had ‘advisers’ who held strong reservations about their friendship. I do recall, however, that Papa always responded to such advice with the retort, ‘you cannot choose my friends for me’. He was so right. As it turned out, particularly after Chief Awolọwọ’s transition and until he joined his ancestors last year, Kabiyesi did remain the good friend that, constantly, walked into the Awolọwọ family’s world when the rest of our world was walking out.
The word ‘legacy’ is frequently used to describe the property that people leave their heirs when they die. But every human being also leaves behind a nonmaterial legacy – one that is harder to define but often far more important. This legacy comprises a lifetime of relationships, accomplishments, truths, and values, and it lives on in those whose lives they have touched.
Legacies can be positive or negative. A person who systematically disciplines his life so as to improve the lives of those around him and does his or her best to transform the lives of others in a positive way is bound to leave a positive legacy. These are people who, invariably, have a specific way of life that governs their thinking and their behavior. They systematically attempt to structure their own lives in such a way that they become testimonies to whatever worldview they proclaim.
Chief Awolọwọ was a shining example of people who left a positive legacy.
For the purpose of this presentation, I will address Chief Awolọwọ’s legacy, and Oba Ṣijuwade’s role in its sustenance, under the following sub-headings:
- Unity within the Yoruba Nation;
- The Nigerian Nationhood Project and the Yoruba Agenda;
III. The Obafemi Awolọwọ Foundation; and
- The Awolọwọ Family.
- Unity within the Yoruba Nation
Yoruba unity had historically been severely tested through internecine wars such as the Ibadan-Ijaye war of 1861, over who should be the political head of Yorubaland; the Kiriji war (1877-1893), an epic and historical war between two powerful Yoruba confederates, Yorubas of the West (Ibadan and its allies) and Yorubas of the East (Ijesha and Ekiti); and the trade wars between Ibadan and Ijẹbu, when Ibadan traders were attacked on their way from Port Novo (1877).
Political unity also proved elusive for many years. Yorubas, historically and to this day, imbibe sophisticated concepts of democracy, liberalism and progressivism. They possess a worldview that is devoid of bigotry or prejudice. On principle, they felt completely at liberty to proudly and openly support political parties other than the Action Group whose leaders were, ostensibly, overwhelmingly Yoruba. Indeed, the party had great difficulty winning elections in major Yoruba cities and towns in the early years of its formation.
However, there was a dramatic realignment in the political landscape of the Western Region in the second republic under Chief Awolọwọ’s leadership of the AG’s successor political party, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). In the 1979 elections, the party won well over 90% of the votes in Western Nigeria. This shift signposted the culmination of a series of events surrounding the regional crisis of 1962-1966.
Prior to that, Chief Awolọwọ had been declared, by acclamation, ‘Leader of the Yorubas’ by the Yoruba leaders of thought at a meeting in Ibadan in 1967. It is instructive to note that some of his most ardent political opponents were active participants in that acclamation.
From then on and until the end of his life, Chief Awolọwọ became the undisputed rallying point for the Yoruba nation. Nevertheless, his advocacy, mission and vision for ‘life more abundant’, which encompassed all Nigerians, continued unabated.
That unity, though forged in the crucible of adversity and sacrifice, appears to have, unfortunately, been subjected to severe strains and stresses since the transition of Chief Awolọwọ. The situation, unsatisfactory as we may deem it to be today, could perhaps have been worse, were it not for the spirited efforts of the likes of Oba Ṣijuwade and many other leaders of the Yoruba nation.
Kabiyesi was well-placed to move Chief Awolọwọ’s legacy forward in this regard because he enjoyed the distinct advantage of avoiding disparaging labels such as ‘tribalist’ or ‘Yoruba irredentist’. In any case, such labels could never have stuck, for many reasons. His activities in this regard simply confirmed the Yoruba dictum, ‘ilé l’a ti ίk’ẹṣọ r’òde’.
For example, he was well-known, even before he ascended the throne, for his cosmopolitan outlook and, therefore, his formidable network of friends across all geopolitical zones in Nigeria. He not only maintained and deepened such friendships throughout his reign, he continued to expand his already impressive circle of friends.
Furthermore, the Yoruba Unity Forum, an umbrella body for all socio-cultural organisations within the Yoruba nation, was one of the significant initiatives championed by Mama H. I. D. Awolọwọ, Oba Ṣijuwade, Bishop Bọlanle Gbonigi and other notable leaders.
The objective of the Forum is to harmonise, and work towards the actualisation of the aspirations of the Yoruba nation within the larger context of Nigeria, regardless of partisan political affiliation. This objective remains, I have to say however, work in progress.
May I say, at this juncture, that attainment of the noble objectives of the Yoruba nation which, by the way, redound to the best interests of all other nationalities in Nigeria, will continue to be hampered by our current regrettable lack of internal cohesion.
- The Nigerian Nationhood Project and the Yoruba Agenda
‘Justice is the appetiser, the main course and the dessert on the Yoruba’s political menu. He serves it daily to everyone who comes his way. He expects and demands it from every other person who interacts with him privately and publicly.’ (Nigerian Tribune ‘Monday Lines’ by Lasisi Ọlagunju)
Contrary to seemingly tribalist connotations, the ‘Yoruba Agenda’ is not about a set of self-serving proposals that would benefit only the Yoruba nation, to the detriment of other nationalities in Nigeria.
It is, actually, a set of recommendations that are firmly rooted in the principles of equity, justice and fair play for all Nigerians and would, ultimately, be in the best interests of all. It is a prescription for permanent unity and stability in Nigeria and is a document that is highly recommended for those who have never read it.
For the purpose of the theme of this paper, I will consider just one. I refer to the crucial issue of fiscal federalism and the consequent need to restructure the Nigerian polity. This issue, as much as any other, lies at the very core of the legacy of Chief Obafemi Awolọwọ.
It is probably best, therefore, to hear directly from him on this matter. Permit me to reproduce a few of his thoughts, as follows:
On his preference for federalism, he says:
- ‘In 1951 when the controversy on the form of Nigeria’s constitution began, I had already been for more than eighteen years a convinced federalist.’ (AWO 1960)
And to prove that this was not a position he arrived at without rigorous consideration, he says:
- ‘Our own stand in this matter is well known. We belong to the federalist school. Nevertheless, we have elected to adopt a completely objective and scientific approach to our present search and are prepared to abandon our stand if we see sound reason for doing so. Accordingly, we have made a much more careful study of the constitutional evolution of all nations of the world with a view to discovering whether any, and if so what, principles and laws govern such evolution. We have found that some countries have satisfactorily solved their constitutional problems, whilst others have so far not. In consequence of our analysis of the two sets of countries, we are able to deduce principles or laws which we venture to regard as sound and of universal application… there are altogether six continents in the world… we will take the continents one by one…’ (Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution 1966);
- ‘…in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality – particularly of language – a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistic or national minority groups. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognized and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangements as such disappear.’ (Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution 1966).
On the need for objectivity:
- ‘It is incumbent upon us…to endeavour to discover, from the empirical facts which political history supplies, and from the conclusions which political scientists and analysts have reached, whether there are any patent well-established political principles by which our action can be guided. And if we discover them, to follow them with objective fidelity, whatever our predilections, personal feelings, or secret aspirations.’ (Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution 1966)
On the need for a suitable constitution he says:
- ‘In our view, three factors combine to produce political stability: the type of constitution, the form of government, and the calibre and character of political leaders in and outside government…
As regards the type of constitution, political scientists and analysts have reached two firm conclusions, namely, that a unitary constitution will not work in circumstances which warrant a federal constitution… Suitability is, therefore, of the essence of a constitution. This is so for all countries of the world. It is so for Nigeria where the search for a suitable constitution has gone on for more than 20 years, and still goes on today with renewed vigour and reanimated fervour. We predict that the search will go on after this generation of Nigerians has passed away, unless we are realistic and objective enough to give ourselves now a constitution which is suited to the circumstances of our country and which will, therefore, endure.’ (Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution 1966)
On the alleged threat to national unity by a truly federal constitution, he had this to say:
- ‘…in the peculiar circumstances of Nigeria, only a federal constitution can foster unity with concord among the diverse national groups in the country, as well as promote economy and efficiency in administration…
…if federalism had not disrupted the unity of those other countries which have operated this type of constitution for decades it cannot by itself impair or ruin the unity of our own country.’ (Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution 1966).
Chief Awolọwọ was, clearly, an unrepentant federalist. He was also unrepentantly committed to a strategy for development that puts people firmly at the centre of the process.
For him, therefore, rather than remain in denial about our ethnic divergence, geographical separateness and diversity, different economic visions, divergent resources, religious differences and, above all, linguistic differences, we would do much better to acknowledge and embrace them through a truly federal constitution.
Chief Awolọwọ’s position on this matter remains valid and, indeed, assumes even greater relevance and, I dare say, urgency today, in my humble opinion.
Since Chief Awolọwọ’s transition, a number of National Conferences have been convoked to address the constitution and various other issues. Senator Femi Okurounmu has been given the task of speaking on this topic at this colloquium so I will not go into details here.
I will say, however, that Oba Ṣijuwade always organised pre-Conference meetings aimed at harmonising the Yoruba position at those Conferences in order to ensure that their interests are adequately safeguarded. On every occasion, he, in the best tradition of Yoruba monarchs through history, provided dedicated leadership and supported the positions that were arrived at by the majority.
The ‘Yoruba Agenda’, which essentially upholds Chief Awolọwọ’s position on the matter of federalism, among other issues, emerged from, and was reaffirmed over the years at these and similar gatherings and it enjoyed Oba Ṣijuwade’s full support throughout.
On this critical aspect of Chief Awolọwọ’s legacy, Kabiyesi’s commitment remained steadfast till the end of his life.
Iii. The Obafemi Awolowo Foundation
One important development after Chief Awolọwọ’s departure was the establishment, in 1992, of the Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ Foundation, the institutional custodian of his intellectual legacy, which was set up as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit research institute, dedicated to immortalizing the ideals of Chief Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ. It is committed to the promotion of a socially-edifying interaction between policy and scholarship.
We are immensely proud and privileged to have had, since inception, Oba Ṣijuwade as our Grand Patron. In that capacity, Kabiyesi’s support could always be counted upon, regardless of situation or circumstance. His encouragement kept us going when our spirits flagged. And his majestic presence lent tremendous dignity to many of the Foundation’s outings.
Permit me to recount one event to which Kabiyesi’s critical intervention made a world of difference.
We were in the midst of preparing for a Special Dialogue, themed, ‘AWO Legacy and the Youth’, incidentally in collaboration with Obafemi Awolọwọ University, as part of the events to celebrate Chief Awolọwọ’s centennial in 2009. I was living abroad at the time but, thanks to technology, was able to organise the event, effectively and successfully, in close concert with a highly dedicated team of OAU-based academics led by the then Vice Chancellor, Professor Fabọrọde.
Unfortunately, we ran into the heavy storm of yet another dispute within the Nigerian university system. In the light of the developments, we had good reason to doubt the feasibility of hosting the Dialogue. We vacillated between postponement and outright cancellation. In the end, buoyed by Kabiyesi’s massive support and mobilisation, as well as the decision of the National Strike Coordinating Committee of ASUU to rise above the situation and permit their members to honour Chief Awolọwọ at the forum, we decided to take a risk and forge ahead.
The event recorded unprecedented, ‘standing-room-only’ attendance at the Oduduwa Hall.
Iv. The Awolọwọ Family
I started this presentation with a brief thesis on the concept of loyalty in friendship. ‘Kabiyesi’, as he is fondly referred to by members of the Awolọwọ family, exemplified this, not only in his relationship with Papa, but also, subsequently, in his relationship with Mama and the rest of our family.
Unfortunately, contrary to Mama’s dogmatic belief, Kabiyesi was no longer with us when she passed on. Nevertheless, we thank God for their lives and for precious memories.
Time will not permit me to recount Kabiyesi’s many extraordinary acts of kindness towards the Awolọwọ family during and, more importantly, after Papa’s lifetime. It is my prayer that they have been counted to him for good in the hereafter.
Let me end with the following quotes on loyalty, friendship and legacy.
The first quote highlights modern day challenges to building true friendships:
- ‘Our modern, rootless times do seem to be a particularly inhospitable environment for loyalty. We come and go so relentlessly that our friendships can’t but come and go too…’ (Eric Felten, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue)
The second affirms the imperative of loyalty in friendship, nevertheless:
- ‘I may be stupid, as you say, to believe in honour and friendship and loyalty without price. But these are virtues to be cherished, for without them we are no more than beasts roaming the land.’ (David Gemmell, Shield of Thunder)
The others are self-evident:
- ‘Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave, and impossible to forget.’ (Anon)
- ‘True leaders don’t invest in buildings. Jesus never built a building. They invest in people. Why? Because success without a successor is failure. So your legacy should not be in buildings, programs, or projects; your legacy must be in people.’ (Myles Munroe)
Kabiyesi’s commitment to the sustenance of the noble legacies of Chief Awolọwọ was, without a doubt, total. It is reassuring to note that he was not alone in that commitment and that countless Nigerians appear determined to follow in his footsteps.
Nevertheless, as I conclude this presentation, permit me to encourage, particularly the younger generations of Nigerians, about the virtues of commitment to high ideals. It is often said that ‘if you do not stand for something, you fall for anything’.
A famous quote also goes thus, ‘to conquer a nation you just have to block the transfer of values, morals and beliefs between generations’. In these times, it appears that the adversary that threatens to conquer us is not some external aggressor, necessarily, but our own internal demons of unbridled selfishness and insatiable greed. We all need to keep in perpetual focus the words of Plato, ‘self-conquest is the greatest of victories’.
It is my prayer that we will all, again particularly younger generations of Nigerians, continue to remember, discover, and acknowledge, these trailblazers and heralds, Chief Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ, HIM Oba Okunade Ṣijuwade and, may I add, Yeye Oodua HID Awolọwọ, until nobility becomes, not only totally acceptable, but also the undisputed way of life for both the leader and the led in our land.
I thank you all for your attention.
Dr O. Awolọwọ Dosumu
July 29, 2016