‘A jewel of inestimable value’: Remembering Chief Mrs Hannah Dideolu Awolowo

Chief Mrs. Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo (nee Adelana) was arguably one of the most impactful women and wives of Nigerian politicians of all times. Born in 1915, a year after the amalgamation of the Southern and the Northern protectorates, Mrs. Awolowo was raised under a colonial philosophy that dominated their political and economic landscape during the period. Getting married to Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1937 was one of her life’s major decisions, which brought her to social and media limelight; as it was, and still is, impossible for anyone associated with politicians of Chief Awolowo’s caliber to escape the intrusion of media firms and organisations.

Living a purposeful life, Hannah Awolowo decided not to become a mere cannon fodder to the political activities and involvement of her husband, whom she had lost to the cold hands of death. So, decades before she passed on too, she got herself ready to meet up with the challenges and cluster of responsibilities that came with ascending political offices. In this spirit, she equipped herself with the necessary education and information to support her family in the course of their political engagements. With determination, she engaged in different business activities, made maximum results from them, and because of her high-level gift of discernment, she had great financial breakthrough.

AwolowoHannah Awolowo was that spectacular woman with a stellar performance in whatever she engaged in. Even when there was a mixed definition of an African woman in the wake of the colonial adventure, which changed many of the people’s social and cultural traditions and facilitated the redefinition of gender and the associated roles, she was not immersed in the complicated attempts to radicalise women. She was an African woman in the real sense of its traditional definition—supportive of her husband, armed with intelligence to manage a family structure, financially sensible to make maximum use of available socio-economic opportunities, and confident enough to make independent decisions. Having married a figure who was irredeemably married to politics as his first commitment, Hannah Awolowo was diplomatic and very strategic on the best ways to make her marriage functional and productive. Anyone married to a political stalwart, either male or female, understands critically the inherent sacrifices needed for their marriage to succeed. She saw opportunities where many people saw challenges. This was the guiding philosophy she embraced, and which became the compass of her marriage.

Within the first ten years of her marriage to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, he had to go study abroad, which meant that there would be some emotional distance between them for a specific period. However, the burning desire to make essential marks in her life and the society where she was inspired to engage in business so that there would be an opportunity to contribute to her environment’s social and political affairs, prevailed over how unbearable and psychologically torturing the separation from her husband was going to be. Barely two years after her husband left the country to pursue further education and qualifications abroad, Hannah Awolowo established two major firms, both of which became the source of constant financial assistance to their family, periods after the return of her husband.

Hannah Awolowo’s representation of a true African woman was expressed in her lifestyle, espoused by her choices and decisions. For instance, when she dabbled into business, the post-colonial African woman would have depended mainly on the proceeds of politics and relied on public resources for her personal use. At least the political history of the country is enough to validate this assumption. But Hannah Awolowo planted in the rainy days, and it yielded immensely in the sunny years that came after.

Awolowo

It is essential to highlight this economic breakthrough, as that was the basis for the enhancement of Chief Awolowo’s political stardom. In no other way is the exactitude of the saying that “Behind every successful man, there is a woman” clearer than the situation of Chief Awolowo and his lovely wife. Theirs was a marital union that showcased various social philosophies that could be explored for contemporary significance. The partnership was one between two mature minds who knew the direction they wanted to take in life, the sacrifice needed to get to their desired destination, and the discipline required to achieve their objectives. At a point in time, Chief Awolowo did not agree with the idea of his wife sticking out her neck to assist the family financially by investing in a business. However, Hannah Awolowo saw it differently, but would only use diplomacy in objecting to the position of her concerned husband.

When she began the establishment that brought her financial income, she used the opportunity presented by her husband’s absence and diligently schemed the ways, strategies, and methods to get gains to the family through investment in businesses. She sent a strong message to her husband when she extended financial help to him while he was away in England, destitute and insolvent. The message was that morally supporting her business dream was necessary, as proceeds from the business could rescue their family in time of emergencies. And as if she was a seer, the financial oxygen needed for the creation and sustenance of The Nigerian Tribune, a newspaper industry founded by Chief Awolowo, was raised exclusively by his wife, whom he had initially declined the opportunity to do business. She became the underground figure who advanced her husband’s corporate business. Without her steadfastness, building her husband’s political empire or his economic powerhouse would have been affected or near impossible.

As a committed nationalist, Chief Awolowo needed a befitting media industry for the widespread of his name; otherwise, no one would have known about his intelligence, especially where there were no platforms to showcase his ingenuity and brilliance. Hannah Awolowo must have been a competent reputation manager, for she provided all the needed weaponry to advance her husband’s social and political image. The Nigerian Tribune, which she financially anchored, was one of the necessary materials to actualize this plan. The financial surplus she garnered from various business engagements propelled Chief Awolowo to be one of the prominent figures that history has recorded in the politics of Nigeria.

Every human has challenging experiences that are mostly unknown by other people. For Hannah Awolowo, different socio-political backgrounds strained her composure and overstretched her resolve. She suffered a series of emotional trauma as a result of her marriage to Chief Awolowo,who was made the country’s enemy because of political vendetta. The trying times of a political figure, especially in a developing country fragmented by ethnic and religious sentiment, is usually unending. But despite the consuming challenges, Hannah Awolowo became very strong and equally formidable in the political evolution of Nigerian politics. As much as she was successful in her business engagements, she supported her husband’s dream with her time, money, and intellect. She was fond of her husband, and there are sufficient reasons to believe that Chief Awolowo also rated his wife very highly. He was very attached to her, and he made known his affection to her when he called her“a jewel of inestimable value.” The commitment of the two lovebirds was noticed not only by friends and associates but also by the nation, as proven during Chief Awolowo’s trying times.

Apart from Hannah Awolowo’s political prowess, she was also known as an incurable philanthropist whose urge to extend her hands of help knew no bounds. She dedicated herself to the cause of the community by offering financial assistance to people in need. Immediately after her husband’s demise, she did not succumb to the pressure of the society that forced her late husband to undergo a series of unbearable pressure that contributed to his death; it was rather seen as necessary motivation to continue in her excellent work. She became the encouragement her children needed, and she supported them in all their endeavors. Hannah Awolowo made donations to schools and churches and to the maintenance of the Awolowo Memorial Museum, and they all appreciated and celebrated her before and after her death.

Without her intense emotional and psychological support that trademarked the husband’s political career, Chief Obafemi Awolowo probably would not have survived as much turmoil as he did. Hannah Awolowo was known for her contributions to the growth of the Western region during the period her husband piloted the affairs of the people. Popularly called “Yeye Oodua,” after the chieftaincy title conferred on her, this prodigious woman is the grandmother-in-law of the current Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The legend surely continues!

  • Falola is a historian and Professor of African Studies

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