Wale Adebanwi on Mama HID (13)

AS their children grew up, support for their schooling and well-being will again have to depend almost exclusively on Hannah, who happily took charge of things. Although before his trial and tribulations in politics started, Obafemi Awolowo tried to undertake most of the key expenses in the home, his wife didn’t demand money for things she could pay for without making demands from her husband. As she became very rich in her own rights, she was even able to buy him wonderful gifts. For instance, when her husband celebrated his 50th birthday in 1959, Hannah presented him with a car gift, a Chevrolet, which was a very prestigious car then.

The milestones in the educational trajectory of many of their children coincided with challenging times in the lives of the couple. When Olusegun was to leave for England to study law at Cambridge University, UK, Awolowo was then the Premier. Hannah took care of the expenses for Segun’s travel to the UK. She also ensured that he never lacked resources throughout the time he was at Cambridge. When Omotola and later, Oluwole, followed Segun to also  study in the UK, the crisis in Western Region had started, so Hannah was also largely responsible for their upkeep in the UK.

“What was I doing with money”? asks Hannah in her autobiography to emphasize her eagerness to finance her children’s education. “It was because of these children that I was working”.

By the time Ayodele and Tokunbo were ready to travel to the UK to study, Awolowo was already in jail. Therefore, Hannah was responsible for most of their expenses, while coping with the emotional, social and financial consequences of her husband’s incarceration.

But she didn’t approach taking care of the home and her children as spending “my money”. She explains that “since we have agreed that whatever we have, we have it together,” whether it was herself or her husband spending money on the family, either was only spending mutually-owned resources. Her fierce loyalty to her husband, which became increasingly evident over the years, even after his death, meant that she regarded her life and possessions as all in the service of her soul-mate.

She was a hard-task master for the children though, particularly the girls. She seemed to have been almost puritanical with the girls, and somewhat  indulgent with the boys. She was usually up by four in the morning, rallying everyone to prayer by five in the morning. The children didn’t enjoy the early bird life she lived and forced them to live. The grand-children too would experience this later when they lived with her or visited. She insisted on her children doing chores in the home in the morning, even when they had become an upper middle-class family with maids and assistants.

Her first daughter, Omotola Oyediran says her earliest memories of her mother were that of “a disciplinarian”, adding that “she was very, very hard working”. Yet, Revd. (Mrs.) Oyediran insists that, despite all the regime of discipline, her mother “was what you will refer to as a real mother because she was concerned about what was happening to you virtually every hour”.

The attitude of watching over her brood would continue throughout their lives. Discloses Oyediran, “she is the type of person who believes that throughout your lifetime you need to be assisted by your mother…. To acquire independence from such a person requires tremendous amount of hard work. You have to prove to her, no doubt, that you are able to do things without her help. Considering the fact that she is the only child of her mother you will think that since that she has so many children she will like to spoil us when we were growing up. But not so. Yet, she made sure that everybody was comfortable”.

In spite of her deep commitment to her family and the church and the unqualified support Hannah Idown Dideolu gave her husband in his public career, she was also involved with organizing women groups. She was involved in the process that eventually crystallized into the formation of the National Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS). The formation of the Ibadan branch of the NCWS in 1958 was spearheaded by Humuani Alarape Amoke Alaga – an Ibadan market woman who later became one of the women leaders of the Action Group and a firm supporter of Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo – working with Lady Olarinwa Ademola, Dr. (Mrs.) T. Ogunseye, the founder of Children Home School, Ibadan, Chief (Mrs.) Wuraola Esan, the Iyalode of Ibadan and Chief (Mrs.) Solaru. The formation of the Ibadan branch was based on the need to improve the welfare of market women. Ogunseye had been the secretary of the Women Improvement Society (WIS), which was led by Mrs. Tanimowo Ogunlesi. Hannah Awolowo was a member of WIS established earlier for the welfare of women, in general. Ogunlesi was six years older than Hannah.

WIS didn’t initially gain much traction among market women. Society met in Oke-Ado in Ogunlesi’s house and most of the members were Ijebu (Remo) and Egba. This fact ensured that the group didn’t attract many Ibadan women. There was also a group called Women’s Movement (WM) which was led by Mrs. Adekogbe, which incorporated market women in Dugbe and Old Gbagi Markets. But both WIS and WM had common goals. Eventually, both groups merged into the NCWS, with the Ibadan branch consolidated under the leadership of Humuani Alaga, who was eight years older than Hannah. Like Hannah, Humuani had been brought up by a trader mother. Three years before Hannah got married and moved to Ibadan, that is, in 1934, Humuani Alaga was made the Iya Egba Alaso (leader of textile dealers) in Gbagi market.

The Ibadan branch of NCWS also originated as an offshoot of the Action Group Women’s Wing. It constituted an attempt “to create a platform for women to participate in socio-economic activities and politics”, as Oladejo argues. The association eventually developed from a political to a non-political one which “influenced government on matters affecting women (while introducing)…. Adult education classes for market women”.

As the wife of the Premier – despite the towering image that her husband built for himself with the introduction of the first free Universal Primacy Education programme and free health services, rural development, the establishment of the first television station in Africa, housing estates and industrial estate, among other achievements which made Western Region the model for good governance and egalitarian rule in modern Africa – Hannah, as the premier’s wife, was a model of modesty and decency. She took care of the home and concentrated on her business while doing her part to entertain guests and compliment her husband during official events.

She was conscious of the fact that as a wife of a man in such a strategic position, her conduct must be above board, because people were eager to attribute the failure of her husband to her – while they didn’t attribute his success to the wife. Therefore, she was guided by what she thought a woman in her position should embody.

“A wife of a Chief Executive must be level-headed and must understand the feelings of (the) people around…. Her”, she writes in her autobiography. “She can be of… help to her husband if she opens her eyes and ears to what people are saying or doing, especially when her husband is not there. She has to be a good detective and be brilliantly imaginative. She must be assuming, arrogant or flamboyant as many people may stop liking her husband because of her behavior or attitude to people”.

H.I.D Awolowo passed her own test. She did not impede or embarrass her husband in anyway as a Premier’s wife.

Odia Ofeimum, poet and public intellectual, who was Awolowo’s private secretary in the Second Republic, says “One of the first things I noticed was that if she and her husband were travelling, Mama would be ready at least an hour plus in advance, waiting by the car or in the car, by the foyer. I had to ask her, “you know, Mama, many husbands have to wait for their wives to do such things”?