Awo as emblem of immortality

At the 45th anniversary celebration of Odu’a Investment Company Limited in Lagos penultimate Friday, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was one of the major talking points as virtually every one that made a speech made reference to the exemplary leadership of the former Premier of the defunct Western Region which gave birth to many of the companies that constitute the conglomerate.

It never ceases to amaze that rather than time and death diminishing his essence, the two have collaborated to strengthen the significance of Awolowo. So, even in death, Awo is alive.

But why is it that over six decades after his adventure in government he is still the reference point? Why have Awolowo’s accomplishments continued to dwarf the achievements of the present generation of leaders? What is it that Chief Awolowo had that the present day political office holders lack? What did Awo know that current leaders need to learn?

I think there are seven factors that helped Awolowo become the kind of person today’s leaders want to emulate. I am of the opinion that any leader who strives to imbibe those values stands a good chance of matching Awo’s feats.

First, Awo was unrepentantly committed to self development. He was so much in love with knowledge acquisition that there were not many topics under the sun that he could not discuss intelligently. This is why he was clearly ahead of his peers. Continuous learning makes a leader see farther than others. This is the reason he was able to see problems before they became manifest. This is why he was able to decipher that the best freedom anyone could have was, and still is, freedom of the mind, hence his commitment to the education of his people. That is why he was able to think of setting up a television station in 1959 when even France, a first world country, had yet to do the same.

For a legacy-minded leader, self development is sine qua non. One of the critical criteria for leadership is being ahead of others intellectually. This enhances the leader’s ability to solve problems. Awo was clearly intellectually ahead of most of the people of his era; this positioned him as a solution provider par excellence.

Then, Awo was reflective, not reflexive. Because he gave himself to intellectual matters, he became reflective rather than reflexive. This is a clear advantage of intellectualism. Developing the intellect delivers an individual from the tragedy of being a pawn in the hands of situations and circumstances. Being intellectually prepared saves a leader from the antics of opportunistic lieutenants or advisers. A leader that wants to make positive impacts must develop the ability of thinking through matters. Awo had this ability in tons. So, rather than being driven by impulses, he was moved by convictions. As exemplified by the thinking behind the establishment of the businesses that formed the fulcrum of Odu’a Investment Company Limited, every project embarked upon by the administration led by Awo was targeted at investment. Every shilling spent was expected to yield a return. They were not throwing money at problems. They were not looking for quick fixes. They never allowed the urgent to drive them; they did only those things that they found very important after subjecting same to serious reflection.

Many of today’s leaders are moved by emotions. They hardly take time to reflect on issues before acting. Hence, their interventions never last the distance.

Third, Awo had the right perspective about leadership. Contrary to what obtains today when leaders want to be served, Awo saw leadership as a platform for service. His position was that the glory of a leader is nothing but his ability to improve on the wellbeing of those he leads. This is why he never spared any effort when it came to serving his people. He never denied the people the best of his ability or intellect in or out of government.

Awo was disciplined. As a consequence of his discipline, he deliberately denied himself of many of the pleasures attached to leadership. As Premier, he lived in his personal house. The same thing he did when he was Federal Commissioner for Finance under General Yakubu Gowon. As a public office holder, he did not give in to the indulgence of savouring anything he could not afford as a private citizen. Because he did this, he was also able to curtail the excesses of those who worked with him. Therefore, accountability became the rule rather than the exception. Because he held himself accountable, all those who worked with him had no choice but to be accountable just like the leader.

Awo went for the best. He picked a first class team. As a leader, Awo had no time for nepotism. He did not allow any other consideration apart from the ability to deliver to determine who he picked for what position. He took his time to select the best hands. He did not populate his government with his friends or his family members; he picked the best man for the job. He also had the tradition of drawing close very brilliant people to himself irrespective of their background. This helped him to raise a very strong and capable team. Since he took his time to go for the best hands, it is then no wonder that success trailed everything his administration did.

Then, he also put his thoughts in writing. Awolowo stands out among Nigerians leaders not just because of his creativity and landmark achievements but also because of his writings. Not only did he do great things worth writing about, he also wrote great books worth reading. The two have ensured the permanence of his influence.

Finally, Awo didn’t live for the moment, he was legacy conscious. What manner of man would think of making education free in the 1950s? What manner of man would think of erecting a 25-storey building when the tallest building around then was a 3-storey? What kind of man would think of setting up a television station when a country like France had none? Only a man that had his eyes on immortality would dare such things. So, if Awo remains the talking point more than 60 years after leaving office as the Premier of Western Region, it is because he saw the future and prepared for it.

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