Chief Supo Shonibare is the acting National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and a legal practitioner. He comments on the state of politics in Nigeria, 33 years after the passage of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
IT is 33 years since the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, passed on. What are the few things you can recollect about the relationship between your father and the foremost visionary leader?
Well, apart from Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s photograph being hung in the most prominent part of the wall in the main sitting room of our home and the fact that, even at primary school (Oke- Ira Primary and Preparatory School- which was the preparatory school of St Saviour’s School, Railway Compound, Ebute- Metta), where we divided into the Action Group (AG) and the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) groups, those of us whose families had affinity for the AG would often chanted Awo and the NCNC kids would chant Zik (the late Dr Nnamdi Azikwe). That declaration tended to define us in the opposite camps. At that time, Dr Ikechukwu Ikejiani was the chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) in the First Republic; so the children of the NCNC stalwarts were the majority. We spent our lunch breaks extolling the virtues of our contending two leaders.
I was 10 years of age when our dad passed away in 1964. So, apart from knowing from my mum that my dad held Chief Awolowo in high esteem and regard, as well as referred to him as Leader, most of the particulars of their relationship have been from narrations from my mum and Chief Awolowo himself. I often visited Chief Awolowo whenever he was in London at the Churchill Hotel, where he often stayed. He had apparently met our dad in Ibadan, while he was working as a manager with UAC and Chief Awolowo was then a practising lawyer. They were both members of the Nigerian Youth Moment (NYM). He said he was initially drawn to our dad because of his diction and an amazing aptitude in reducing discussions into the most grammatically concise expressions in flowing English Grammar. Our dad was apparently a wordsmith- by the account of Chief Awolowo.
Many of our dad’s associates: the late Alhaji S. O. Gbadamosi; the late Pa Alfred Rewane and the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, all whom I had a relationship with, confirmed this trait in our dad. Chief Awolowo displayed exceptional fondness and concern for my wellbeing. He was responsible for inviting me to forgo a planned ambition of apprenticeship in a firm of solicitors in London, to coming back to Lagos to serve in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and subsequently, to work with the late Chief GOK Ajayi (SAN), who was his lawyer. It was the bond he had with my dad, which I believe he endeavoured to extend to me. My dad was a loyal ally of Chief Awolowo. Apart from being one of the seven founding fathers of the AG with Chief Awolowo in Ibadan in 1951 and subsequent inauguration of the party at Ówó, until his demise, our dad was a loyal and reliable associate.
What was so instructive about their experience and relationship?
There are some ‘pepper soup’ joint narratives of a rift between them; it is nothing further from the truth. Our dad was a loyal Awo supporter. There was an issue involving a third party claim and our family after our dad’s demise. Chief Awolowo was convinced that the third party’s claim must be genuine; although it wasn’t documented, because of the perceived integrity of that third party. It is this incident that was twisted initially by younger associates and then by adversaries to suggest that there was some discord between them. It is just not true. I recall that Kabiyesi, Oba Sikiru Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebuland, once narrated his own efforts to secure the release of our dad, which made him to approach the Sarduana of Sokoto and then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, to intervene. Concerted efforts had been made by the prosecuting and investigators during the treasonable felony contrived debacle to get our dad to testify against Chief Awolowo. He refused to testify against his Leader. The Western Regional Government offered him a reprieve if he joined the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) and also threatened to compulsorily acquire the buildings and land he had developed as Maryland Estate, but is now known as Shonibare Estate, if he continued to support and associate with Chief Awolowo. My dad bluntly refused this overtures and damned the consequences. This was when many others leaders were defecting from the Action Group to the NNDP. The federal prosecutors in the treasonable felony contrived debacle offered him the prospect of his being released from detention and the release of his compulsorily acquired property. But, in spite of his deteriorating health condition, which ended up claiming his life, he declined to accept this condition. He, instead, sought solace in commencing a court action in S.I.P.C v Government of Western Region, which action resulted in the court restoring ownership to him and was a landmark case in setting out the conditions precedent for a government to compulsorily acquire property legally.
Chief Awolowo also said our dad was quite astute in booking keeping and accounting. He said our dad was the first auditor of the African Newspapers of Nigeria (ANN) Plc when Chief Awolowo set up the Tribune Group. Our dad rendered these services pro bono. He believed in Chief Awolowo’s prowess as a great leader and an administrator with a conscientious determination to evolve upward mobility in the emerging new nation. The confidence our dad had in Chief Awolowo was truly justified by Chief Awolowo’s performance in government in nine years as the Premier of the Western Region, as well as the Federal Minister of Finance. Though he is gone, he remains a great man.
What do you consider as significant changes that have taken place in politics in Nigeria since the passage of Awo?
Politics of issues and ideology has become retrograde since the demise of Chief Awolowo. He was the precursor of the political school of thought capable of looking at the polity and prescribing economic and structurally functional structures able to address our economic and political challenges. We had nationalists like Mr Herbert Macaulay; Mr Ernest Ikoli and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who were more advocates of the process of building a nation-state and not the political and economic imperatives of the development of that nation-state or components thereof. Chief Awolowo was the trailblazer in that regard. We are yet to see any other political leader emerging with the same commitment to policies for the developmental well-being of the majority of the people and selfless service in executing those policies. Predatory politics has become the norm.
What should be done for the country to reenact the great days of Awo?
Like an Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi, Eisenhower, Churchill, or a Nelson Mandela, political leaders like Chief Awolowo only appear once in a lifetime of their respective polity. It is always a very difficult act for anyone to emulate. For years to come, our leaders will be measured by Chief Awolowo’s indelible gold standard.
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