The full text of a remark given by Dr Ọlatokunbo Awolowo dosumu, co-chairman, African Newspaper of Nigeria (ANN) PLC, at the Yoruba Summit/Grand Rally held at Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan on Thursday, September 7, 2017.
I consider it a great privilege to have been asked to address this historic gathering in Ibadan, the capital city of the ‘Pacesetter State’. I feel proud to be part, as indeed we all are, of the illustrious heritage that gave this city and this state the undisputable title of ‘pacesetter’ among states in Nigeria.
We are here today to declare to the entire nation our desire to, peacefully, reclaim the constitutional provisions that made it possible for our father, the sage, Chief Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ, to set the pace-setting record in public office that is, for us, a source of enduring pride, and which remains unparalleled in Nigeria to this day. A record that we all still yearn for and would love to see replicated, and even surpassed, by our current and future leaders.
Let us pause for a moment, to remind ourselves of some of the elements that were pivotal to Chief Awolọwọ’s outstanding premiership from 1952 to 1959. These include a vision for development that was clear, unequivocal and sagacious; a legendary diligence and commitment to service and the good of all; a fantastic team which, in his own words, was ‘unexcelled’ and, ‘of which any head of government anywhere in the world would be proud’ and, crucially, for the purpose of this gathering, the constitutional provisions that guaranteed the powers that were required to actualise his vision, as well as access to the resources without which it would have been impossible to prosecute the ground-breaking projects that set the Western Region apart from the rest.
Of course, he also possessed an extraordinary capacity to harness and appropriately deploy the resources at his disposal, but we need to remind ourselves that the constitution under which he operated at the time has proved to be the most faithful, yet, to Nigeria’s professed federal status.
We are here, therefore, to declare our resolve to regain our giant development strides, which were the envy of our compatriots in other regions of Nigeria and which were admired and, indeed, emulated by other developing nations who today have, embarrassingly, streaked past us into the modern age.
Chief Awolọwọ had been an avowed federalist from 1933 (when he was just 24 years old), and until he drew his last breath in 1987, he never recanted.
In his book, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution (1966), Chief Awolọwọ had this to say, ‘… a unitary constitution will not work in circumstances which warrant a federal constitution… Suitability is, therefore, the essence of a constitution. This is so for all countries of the world. It is so for Nigeria where the search for a suitable constitution has gone on for more than 20 years, and still goes on today with renewed vigour and reanimated fervour. We predict that the search will go on … unless we are realistic and objective enough to give ourselves now a constitution which is suited to the circumstances of our country and which will, therefore, endure.’
He continued, ‘…in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality …a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility … On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced … any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangements as such disappear.’ Remember, the book was written in 1966.
And to those who always invoke the bogey of disintegration in response to legitimate calls for a truly federal constitution for Nigeria, Chief Awolọwọ said, ‘…if federalism had not disrupted the unity of those other countries which have operated this type of constitution for decades it cannot by itself impair or ruin the unity of our own country.’
In fact, ‘Unity through Federation’ was one of the slogans proclaimed by the Action Group in 1951. So, Chief Awolọwọ was an unrepentant federalist, but he was never a separatist. Neither are we.
‘Justice is the appetiser, the main course and the dessert on the Yoruba’s political menu. He serves it daily to everyone who comes his way. He expects and demands it from every other person who interacts with him privately and publicly.’ (Lasisi Ọlagunju, 2016).
Our traditions of, and commitment to, the concept of ‘ọmọluabi’ as well as the principles of justice and equity are an eternal source of pride to every Yoruba man, woman and child. Chief Awolọwọ exemplified these traditions and principles throughout his illustrious life. Indeed, at the very core of his spirited struggle and today’s renewed, fervent agitation to restructure Nigeria along truly federal lines, is our innate desire for a more just and equitable structure of governance for all Nigerians.
Chief Awolọwọ also exemplified other qualities that deserve emulation – courage, steadfastness and determination. We certainly need these qualities in ample measure at this crucial time in our nation’s history.
Chief Awolọwọ never took a stand on any issue, particularly weighty matters like the Nigerian constitution, blithely, frivolously, or based on mere sentiment. He was always painstaking and rigorous in arriving at his chosen position. He always put such decisions to tests such as – is my position feasible? Is it right? Is it good? Is it in the best interest of all?
Once he was convinced that the answers to these questions were in the affirmative, he remained fearless and resolute, no matter the size or weight of the opposition. Although he appeared to suffer defeat and frustration, repeatedly, in the course of his political career, he is today totally vindicated on all counts. His prescriptions for development have received endorsement in recent times even on the global stage. As a matter of fact, it is we, for whose future he sacrificed so much, who would be the ultimate losers if we fail to take up the baton he has passed to us and run with it.
One of Chief Awolọwọ’s favourite quotes was this, ‘establish thy heart, O man, in that which is right and then know that the greatest of human praise is to be immutable’. Surely, there is a lesson in there, somewhere, for all of us as we attempt to move the campaign forward for a more stable and prosperous Nigeria.
There is absolutely nothing in the campaign for ‘restructuring’ or ‘federalism’, or ‘devolution of powers’ that portends any form of negative outcomes for our other compatriots or, indeed, for Nigeria.
On the contrary, to quote Chief Awolọwọ again, ‘…in the peculiar circumstances of Nigeria, only a federal constitution can foster unity with concord among the diverse national groups in the country, as well as promote economy and efficiency in administration…’
Therefore, these times, and, particularly, this campaign for political restructuring, call for unprecedented determination and steadfastness on the part of those of us who believe in the need for a truly Federal Republic of Nigeria. And, on the part of the apprehensive, the times call for a willingness to dialogue, with a view to charting the way forward together, towards a mutually rewarding future as well as a more enduring and stable polity.
Let me conclude these brief remarks with a few words of encouragement, taken from the poem, ‘Never Say Fail’ by Charles Swain (1901), again one of Chief Awolọwọ’s favourite pieces. I believe this poem speaks to everyone who believes, not only in Nigeria, but also that Nigeria and Nigerians deserve a better chance for a more glorious future than is currently the case.
‘Keep pushing – ’tis wiser than sitting aside,
And sighing and wishing and waiting the tide,
In life’s earnest battle, they only prevail,
Who daily march onward and never say fail!
In life’s rosy morning, in manhood’s fair pride,
Let this be your motto your footsteps to guide:
In storm and in sunshine, whatever assail,
We’ll onward and conquer and never say fail!’
May God bless Nigeria.
I thank you all for your attention.