Wale Adebanwi on Mama HID (12)

Mama HID Awolowo

TRIBUNE was a newspaper in perpetual war-footing from 1949 up to the early 1990s. Yet, the paper had its critics who saw it as an ethno-regional champion and unerring defender of Awolowo and the Yoruba. Hotline, the defunct pro-north, news magazine once published a sub-cover story in which it proclaimed: “Nigerian Tribune vs. Nigeria”. Indeed, there was a definite fierceness to the paper’s tone matched only by its undeniable conviction that it was on the right side in the historical battle to build a country based on democratic freedom, justice, equity and fairness. Few newspapers fully embody the spirit of what Odia Ofeimun once described as “the Ngbati press” than the Nigerian Tribune. This Ngbati press, argues Ofeimun, is “a press that is voluble if not cantankerous, a press that is buoyed by a no-holds-barred approach to matters of national interest, and with a capacity for advocacy and adversarial haggling against those it considers guilty of malfeasance objective.”

From its modest Adeoyo one-story building, the paper grew to open a much bigger office in Imalefalafia. Oke-Ado, Ibadan. In later years, the newspaper company would grow more robust with additional titles such as Sunday Tribune, Tribune on Saturday, Iroyin Yoruba, Sporting Tribune, and Aura (magazine), the last three of which have since been rested. In the early 1980s, Tribune rebranded while the company was re-energized to meet the demands of the democratic era. While there was only one university graduate in Tribune in the paper by the end of the 1970s – as was the case in most newsrooms in Nigeria at that point – more than twenty graduates were recruited in the early 1980s, with more than half of them having or later acquiring second degrees. Thus, the horizon of the newspaper was expanded while the language improved tremendously. There were tensions in the company and even the Board of Directors at different times which led to vigorous debates, but the newspaper remained strong under the chairmanship of H.I.D. She was the first and only Chairman of the Board of any major newspaper company in Nigeria.

Undeniably, the survival of Tribune over the years is a tribute to Obafemi Awolowo’s vision and ideological convictions and Hannah’s doggedness as the Chairman of the company. No newspaper established before Tribune in Nigeria is still on the stands today. And every newspaper that constituted a political rival to the paper has collapsed. In the first category are highly successful newspapers such as Daily Times, West African Pilot, Nigerian Citizen and Daily Service, which all preceded Tribune. They all disappeared many years ago. The second category included newspapers such as Western Region-owned Daily Sketch, the Northern Region-owned New Nigerian and Moshood Abiola’s National Concord. Sketch was started on March 31, 1964, particularly to neutralize Tribune attacks on the embattled Premier Samuel Ladoke Akintola-led NNDP administration. New Nigerian was started in 1966 by the Sir Ahmadu Bello-led NPC administration to defend the interests of the Northern Region and respond to south-based newspapers. Millionaire businessman, M.K.O Abiola started Concord in 1980 in the Second Republic on behalf of the leadership of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to challenge Tribune’s (and therefore Awolowo’s) hegemony in the states that hitherto constituted the Western Region. At that point, Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) constituted a formidable opposition to Abiola’s NPN. Sketch, which was inherited by the five successor states of the old Western Region – Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo states – collapsed in the first few years of the Fourth Republic due to a combination of crude mismanagement, corruption, lack of clear editorial focus and neglect by the owner-states. New Nigerian, even though it was taken over by the Federal Government in 1975, appealed to a section of Nigeria (the north) with a very low newspaper patronage. It collapsed and was revived, but collapsed again. Concord could not survive the ordeal and death of its founder.

Unlike Sketch, New Nigerian and Concord, Tribune weathered all the storms, including proscription and the political crisis in which its founder was engulfed in the 1960s and the Second Republic. Even after the death of its founder, H.I.D, who co-founded the company with her husband, has continued to keep the business not merely afloat, but stronger and more vibrant. It is a measure of Awolowo’s recognition of his wife’s contribution to the founding and sustenance of the company that he ensured that she chaired the board of company until he died. She continues to do so, even in her twilight years. Hannah too recognizes how much the newspaper and the company meant to her husband such that she has done everything to keep the African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc strong. She is always telling people that she will be happy to report the vibrancy of the company to her husband whenever they meet in the hereafter….

Barely a decade after Tribune was founded, it became an important voice in the negotiations for Nigeria’s Independence, fiercely supporting independence in 1956, as proposed by the Action Group. When that was unrealized, the paper continued to agitate for 1960 as the terminal date of colonial rule. As Nigeria moved toward independence, Nigerian leaders engaged in debates and discussions on the terms of independence. Awolowo, as Premier of Western Region, led the region in the Constitutional Conference held in London in 1957 to finalize the process and date of Independence for Nigeria. On that trip, he took his wife along. It was also an opportunity to see their son, Segun, who was by then studying at Cambridge. She really enjoyed the trip and cherished the opportunity to see her husband first son in the U.K.

THE EXPANSION OF HANNAH’S BUSINESS into a formidable enterprise should not have surprised her husband given his knowledge of her heritage and her industry. Yet, he couldn’t have imagined that her business would become that big. While he made money as a lawyer, he also watched her become a woman of considerable means. Her success in business became more evident as Obafemi Awolowo was elected into office as Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and later Premier. He could no longer earn money directly from his legal practice, even though the chambers remained in business. His income as Premier was so meager that he decided to be paid quarterly, so he could earn the salary when it was a bit substantial. The family was relying more and more on Hannah’s significant income.

To complement the wholesale textile business, the sale of ladies’ items such as hats, bags and shoes, before Awolowo entered government, Hannah had added the distributorship of Coca-Cola to her continually diversifying business. This tremendously increased her profit. Then, she decided to expand further by taking up the distributorship of the products of the Nigerian Tobacco Company (NTC). Here, Obafemi Awolowo thought a line had to be drawn. He had abandoned smoking many years earlier because he was convinced that it was not good for his health. How could his wife now be engaged in encouraging people to smoke? Hannah’s response was that it was a legitimate business sanctioned by law. If he thought smoking was not good for him, as a democrat, he should not stop others who were persuaded that it was good for them. The argument about human freedom did it. He relented.

Thus, Hannah became the first distributor for the NTC. She was initially in charge of the Remo Zone. She hit gold with this distributorship. Yet, she decided that she could expand her business further still. So, she moved into beer distributorship. Again, her teetotaler husband opposed this. She used the same argument she had used regarding the distributorship of cigarettes. Again, she won.

With all these, Dideolu Stores Limited was no longer sufficient. She had to start Ligu Distribution Services Limited to handle other emerging areas of her business. However, the attempt to broaden her business into the distributorship of cement through the West African Portland Cement was where Hannah experienced her husband’s complete disapproval. For him, it was a matter of fundamental principle. The company was established by the government in which he was serving and he was the one who commissioned it. It would be seen as conflict of interest and nepotism if his wife became a distributor for the company. As long as he remained in government, his wife would not distribute cement. Hannah conceded. Until Awolowo resigned as the Federal Minister of Finance and Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council in the General Yakubu Gowon regime in 1971, she never distributed the products of West African Portland Cement.


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