Wale Adebanwi on Mama HID (14)

I supported him wholeheartedly”, she says with a sense of fulfillment twenty-eight years after his demise.

She stood unflinchingly by his side for almost fifty years. Hannah’s attentiveness to, or attentive courtesy concerning, the demands and needs of her husband are almost mythical. Hannah Dideolu constantly replenished Obafemi Jeremiah. At the same time, she was a powerful influence on him in many ways. She managed the gulf between Obafemi Awolowo’s public ambitions and his private obligations and stabilized things when the one threatened to challenge the other. Therefore, he could not have succeeded in his public ambitions if she didn’t help to manage and maintain his private obligations. This was what he attested to in his autobiography where he credits her with making their home “a true haven: a place of happiness, and of imperturbable seclusion from the buffetings of life”.

“Mama played a very significant role in Papa’s life”, is how Abimbola Awofeso, Obafemi Awolowo’s nephew, describes their relationship. “She was more than a pillar. She was very loyal; she gave Papa peace of mind”.

Indeed, while Obafemi Awolowo may have instilled in himself an uncompromising conviction regarding his own potential greatness – which he describes in his memoir as his “great and immortal role” – undoubtedly, it was Hannah, with her abiding fortitude, exceptional devotion, constant encouragement, industry and above all, transcendental love, that pressed Awolowo, without any hesitation, towards, and sustained him in his, greatness. She was the first to identify and nurture Awolowo’s potentials with enthralling care, shrewd awareness and helpful goading. Therefore, when he called her an “ideal wife” and “a jewel of inestimable value” in his autobiography, it was only to capture what he later explained as her “outpouring of her love and devotion” which were, and remain, “beyond words”. The “Grace of God” and his “Spartan self-discipline” added to “a good wife”, confesses the man who is popularly called “the Sage”, were the three factors responsible for his remarkable life.

However, while most people who have written and spoken about the love between Hannah and Obafemi Awolowo which led the latter to describe his wife as “a jewel of inestimable value” often repeat that golden phrase, what they fail to account for is the fundamental challenge to his psychological and mental – and, by that implication, physical – health which Hannah helped Obafemi overcome. Even Hannah herself has never articulated this publicly. It is perhaps one of the reasons why people, including even some members of their immediate family, fail to understand the deep and abiding love between the two and their unbroken bond, a space on mutual love and enduring trust into which not even their children and grand-children could intrude.

All the surviving children and the grandchildren all attest to this, affirming what Ofeimum articulates. “You don’t get between Papa and Mama”. Ofeimum says, “because between them there was something nobody could enter into”. Their last child, the medical doctor, Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, corroborates this. “They complemented one another”, she says. “You could not find solace with one against the other. If they took a stand on something, they both subscribed to whatever it was. Mama wouldn’t allow you to come behind Papa’s back or vice versa”.

One of the grandchildren, Ayotola Ayodeji, Oyediran’s youngest daughter, also confirms that the grandchildren understood the symbolic love between their grandparents. Even if you loved “grandma” Hannah on her own terms, she explains, you still had “to love Mama if you loved Papa”.

Such was the depth of the love her grandparents shared, Ayotola writes, that even in his old age, Awolowo was ready to arrange chairs in preparation for a service in commemoration of HID’s birthday.

“I recall Mama’s 70th birthday, we (grandchildren or “Janmon’ as Papa affectionately called us) along with all out close family and friends were all in Ikenne getting ready for the occasion. On the eve of Mama’s birthday, we were all struck by Papa’s enthusiasm; when he felt we were not taking things seriously enough, he began to arrange chairs for the Communion Service (held in the family chapel) by himself! We often remarked that, contrary to the erroneous talk of Papa being unforgiving, he was in fact very forgiving; the only crime we thought he would find unforgiving was one committed against his wife!”

For one of Awolowo’s staunchest disciples, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Hannah could be seen as the “alter ego” of Obafemi Awolowo in the sense in which Cicero first coined the term in the 1st century Rome to describe “a second self, a trusted friend”. Adebanjo explains that whatever personal problem bothered allies and supporters which Awolowo was too busy to attend to as premier, “Mama, after consulting Papa” took care of such problems.

Without doubt, Obafemi Awolowo’s colossal intellectual and political ambitions for regional, national and continental transformations could not have blossomed without Hannah Idowu Dideolu’s astute capacity to nurture the home as he embarked on his personal, intellectual and political ventures – which culminated in his description as “the best president Nigeria never had,” by the leader of the secessionist Republic of Biafra, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

Yet, many who have paid close attention to Awolowo’s eventful life often miss the fact that the earliest years of his marriage to Hannah were the most traumatic, financially, socially, psychologically and also psychically – in his entire life. Lay commentators often concentrate on the years of his trial and tribulations which eventuated in his incarceration as the most traumatic. Certainly, those years were very distressing to Awolowo – and Hannah. But he had achieved a level of moral, psychological, intellectual and spiritual development by the time of the Coker Inquiry, treason trial and imprisonment (and the death of his first son, Olusegun) such that he was able to cope well with these challenges much more easily than he was able to cope with the morally and psychologically destabilizing afflictions of the six-year period after he got married.

Awolowo the years between 1938 and 1944 – when he left for the UK – that is, the first six years after marriage in December 1937, were years of “severe condemnation of self and deep regrets” of his past. As he recorded in the personal notebook that he kept which he referred to as “Flashes of Inspiration” (which was later shamelessly and absurdly tendered by the prosecution as evidence of his “ambition” to “overthrow” the federal government during the treason trial), even when he  overcame the financial dimension of his trauma by the end of 1942 – which more or less ended the social materializations of that trauma – unknown to everyone else, except Hannah, he still experienced deep psychological and psychic trauma.

In those first six years of marriage, starting from the age of twenty-two, Hannah had to nurture a man who was entertaining the fear that his life of “unbroken difficulty” since his father died, had been transformed into “a life of permanent difficulty and failures”- as expressive in his school days “which were full of hazards, the failure of the P.E.C (Progressive Economic Corporation) and my business, my heavy indebtedness, etc. etc.,….” Between the ages of 22 and 28, Hannah, while suffering the derision caused by her not getting pregnant soon after marriage, and then bearing and nursing three infants (Olusegun, Omotola and Oluwole), also had to encourage and support a man who constantly recalled his past “deep regrets…. (and) with severe self-condemnation.” In the early years of marriage, these frightening tasks were pressed on a young lady who had been warned not to marry the intransigent man. Awolowo himself was wondering at his stage “why I was born into this world at all….”