Chief Awolowo – Another Perspective

Last night I was unable to sleep, and I decided to engage in a bit of rabble-rousing. I stirred the hornet’s nest – and asked the sacrilegious question “What exactly has Awolowo done to merit the being deified”?  Did I get stung! Sifting through the answers, and the emotions, I was able to draw some conclusions, which I will share below.
 
 
The background to this is the slew of comments I have encountered on Facebook over the past couple of weeks, stemming from Chinua Achebe’s opinion of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s actions – principally during the civil war.  It seemed any attempt to question the value of Chief Awolowo’s actions sits smack in the zone of religious heresy. Given such high regard – I stood back from the noise to ask myself – “What has Awolowo done, really done, do deserve such unquestioning fealty?”
 
 
I evaluated the responses using a rubric applied by a man who has influenced me more than any other except my father – Nsa Harrison (a bit of name-dropping won’t be bad, eh?) This pretty much asks “What has he done?”, “What is the value?” and “Why was it done?”
 
The replies are grouped below:
1.         Free education
2.         Action Group / Political machinery
3.         Infrastructure – Cocoa House, Liberty Stadium, WNTV
4.         Tribune Newspapers
5.         Cocoa boom
6.         Ikenne rubber plantation
7.         Industrial estates
8.    Farm settlements for promoting rural economy and ensuring improved agricultural productivity
9.         University of Ife
10.       Honesty, i.e. he was honest.
Without trying to besmirch his character with hearsay or stories that are not in public domain, I will put in perspective all of these achievements listed above. I will however start by agreeing – Chief Awolowo was an intelligent man. This admission, I plead, should be the backdrop of every other thing I will say hereinafter. I will tackle the free education bit last – largely because it is the most contentious. Here is a quick dismissal of most of the others in no particular order.
 
 
Infrastructure – I opine that a number of what Chief Awolowo engaged in was tokenism  He inherited an effective civil service that was put in place by the British colonialists and if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Establishing icons of regional supremacy – at a time when each region was trying to outdo the others was the order of the day.  For each of the items listed under infrastructure carried out by Awolowo, there are more enduring “infrastructural legacies” put in place by IBB, yes, read Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Yet, no one rushes to proclaim IBB lord and saviour – quite rightly so I must quickly add. What distinguishes Cocoa House (a skyscraper built with public funds from proceeds of cocoa) from the CBN HQ in Abuja (another skyscraper built with public funds from the proceeds of crude oil); or Liberty Stadium from National Stadium Abuja? For good measure IBB completed the 3rd Mainland Bridge in Lagos. I will re-visit this issue further down.
 
 
Tribune newspapers – Lord help me! A propaganda newspaper owned by a politician is now considered an earth-shaking achievement! For all its merits, the Nigerian Tribune was and still remains a privately owned company, run for the benefits of its shareholders – who I ought to point out are the descendants of Chief Awolowo. It was neither unique – all the major political ideologies had their respective publications – nor was it a forerunner by any means. I do not want to waste further time on this. Next?
 
 
Action Group / UPN – my response, AG was a socialist version of PDP. A bit of history – that can be independently verified here; Olabisi Onabanjo was jailed by the Buhari regime for diverting Ogun State funds to UPN. With the benefit of seeing things through an adult’s prisms now – I have often wondered what could the hapless Olabisi Onabanjo really do? He was the governor in Ogun State where Chief Awolowo (SAN) was the capo dei capi. Questions have been asked over the unduly lengthy prison sentence handed down to Gov. Onabanjo, few questions have ever been raised regarding the veracity of the accusation. And by the way, there goes your “Honesty” achievement. If anyone has time, read the Coker reports, not so much for their attempts to vilify Chief Awolowo but for the details of the financial shenanigans that went on under his watch or with his active connivance. Oh, I forget, it’s bad to speak ill of the dead.
 
 
Cocoa boom! May I point out – like I did last night, attributing cocoa boom to Awolowo is akin to attributing the current petroleum price boom to Goodluck Jonathan. Both are equally ludicrous, trust me on this one. These are internationally traded commodities, over which no single seller or buyer has appreciable impact on prices.
 
 
At this point, we start scraping the bottom of the barrel. Farm settlements, rubber plantations “etc, etc, utc”. These were essentially activities carried out by the WNDC, whose precursor, the Western Regional Production Development Board pre-date Chief Awolowo; but we are not taught this in school. We are taught about WNDC / Oodua Group of Companies which handled these development projects. It was a mixed bag – there were embarrassing failures as well as some resounding successes. Interestingly, the financial success of the WNDC was engineered by a young Alfred Rewane; but I guess it took the divine vision of Chief Awolowo to enter into partnership with Alfred Rewane. Situating a rubber plantation in Ikenne is a matter that will always be subject to debate – was it an ego trip to satisfy the lord and master himself in the face of contrary advice by meteorological services? What is indisputable was that the Sapele plantations have fared better.  Honesty… I’ll leave the reader to conclude.
 
 
University of Ife… Jo now! Established in 1962, alongside ABU and Unilag, behind University of Nigeria, Nsukka; this was the result of another regional race for educational supremacy and more importantly, the Ashby Commission Report – carried out before independence. I guess, like everything else, we were taught in primary school – Awolowo established the University of Ife. And we believed it. Without question, he was involved in his capacity as the premier of Western Nigeria pre-independence, but so were other regional premiers.  I really do not know what to make of this point though, universities were established before and after my Alma Mater, the University of Ife. Is it an earth-shaking, heaven-rending event worthy of apotheosis? I do not know.
 
 
Finally free education! My people love awoof! A clear mind is required here. So I’ll crave the indulgence of the reader. I asked, and I still ask, what was the value of free education? The response then ranged from biased to the vague.  I’ll quote someone a response here “Free education created an enlightened society, tolerance and mutual respect within the Yoruba. That sums up all his achievements!”  My retort to this vague remark – were Yorubas an unenlightened, barbaric and rambunctious lot before Awolowo’s free education policy? If the answer to this is “yes”; then I will agree that indeed the free education policy “created an enlightened society, tolerance and mutual respect within the Yoruba”. Then I got this one, “Free education that has placed the southwest on a pedestal”. Again, the same regurgitated dogma we have been handed down by the ethnicists of the AG/UPN machinery. What pedestal? The first Nigerian vice-chancellors of the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos were Igbo men!
 
 
The argument then goes on in circle about how Yorubas have been exposed to Western education long before other ethnic groups, blah, blah, blah. If indeed this were the case – a wide exposure to Western education, as opposed to an elitist exposure – the free education policy would effectively be a redundant policy, because Chief Awolowo would have been offering for free, what was already widely available and which everyone was willing to pay for. So, it was either Western education was not widely available, and Chief Awolowo made it available – which falls flat in the face of the missionary schools established as far back as the 1860s in Abeokuta, Ibadan and other parts of what would become Western Nigeria; or Western education was widely available and the free education policy was just another cheap populist policy.
 
 
Huff and puff aside, let’s examine the free education policy. The free education policy was “mandatory and free primary school education”; it did not extend beyond this. Bear in mind that before this was implemented, the colonial government had been subsidising the mission schools whilst monitoring their performance. In 1955, when the policy was implemented, there were 6,407 primary schools; this figure reached its peak of 6,670 by 1958, after which there was a steady decline in the number of primary schools to 6,311. The enrolment in schools increased from 456,000 before the policy was implemented to a peak of 1.13 million in 1961, the rate of increase over time however decreased until 1962 when there was a reduction in the absolute number of enrolments. Quite apart from mass enrolment – there is a feature of the period that is not often discussed – mass and automatic promotion, regardless of academic standards. This factor has been held by some to be responsible for the initial decline in educational standards from that which was set by the mission and colonial schools. What is equally questionable is the sustainability of this welfare policy – by 1964, this constituted about 40% of the total government recurrent expenditure (compare this to 14% for the UK government).  Like many policies of the AG era, I can safely say again – this was a mixed bag, it granted literacy to many families who perhaps were otherwise indifferent, but lowered the overall standards in a bid to do so. It certainly was one policy which would have required significant overhaul had it been allowed to run its course.
 
 
Honesty and infrastructure revisited.
Take this to the bank – Gowon did more for the infrastructure of Nigeria than Awolowo did for the Western Region when he held sway there. The last significant investments in pylons for the electricity network, roads and bridges were carried out by Gowon; without a whiff of financial impropriety attached to his name. No one is yet to deify Gowon.  So I ask, why am I barred from subjecting Awolowo’s performance to further scrutiny.
 
Postscript
I realised after a lot of thought that many of us – Nigerians – have not been encouraged to challenge what we are taught in school. Consequently, it is easy for a state funded school to impart propaganda of any sort at an early age and this remains unchallenged for decades afterwards. Heck, Nigerian schools still teach that Mungo Park discovered the River Niger!
 
 
Education is meant to empower us to probe – and revisit long-held dogmas. Sadly, it seems many of us just go to school to acquire the credentials to enable us earn a living and pass the dogma to the next generation.  This reluctance to challenge the status quo, invariably seeps through to other facets of our lives; so – using an underhand example – Fashola is seen as performing in Lagos State in the face of the laughable state of affairs, woe betide anyone who disagrees. A scoundrel is asiwaju of somewhere and everyone kowtows to him without questioning his competence. Some mini-bandit somewhere calls himself eze gburugburu ndi igbo and we all genuflect before him. Another bestows on himself the Seriki of Arewa and we shout “rankadede”! All without asking – “why?”.
 
 
I owe Nsa Harrison a debt of gratitude for shattering this attitude – for I once was like this as well – when he asked us in 2001, name your Nigerian hero, tell us why he is your hero, and tell us what he or she has done. I left that class with Nsa knowing we had no heroes in Nigeria. And in the lacuna created by the paucity of genuine heroes, bold charlatans and Machiavellian politicians strut their stuff.
 
I’m out!
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MoshoodiLag, Akoka

Whilst I might find the possible abbreviations of the new name quite amusing, I have nothing against a name change in itself.
Many institutions and buildings have their names changed all over the world and all through history; one of the things I find tragically comic about this type of spontaneous (dare I say macabre) re-christening is the potential cost of implementing this across a whole lot of the university’s dealings. A simple instance, did Dr(?) GEJ think about the cost of stationery change alone? Overnight, the official letterheads of the University of Lagos were rendered effectively useless for all intents and purposes. Domain name issues could also pop up, the question is still the same – have the cost implications of this “re-birth” been assessed?
Comparisons have been made with the change of name from The University of Ife to the much longer Obafemi Awolowo University, I do not know if this is apt. The University of Ife was pretty much the brain-child of the late Chief Awolowo, with close and continuous involvement / interaction with the university for most of his life. The name change was effected within 3 days of his death in 1987 – albeit arbitrarily like the MAUL name-change. As a matter of fact, a riot ensued when the authorities of the University of Ife then tried to change the name of Awo Hall (based on the premise that the university had been renamed after Chief Awolowo). Ahmadu Bello University was so named from day 0, for the later Sardauna was that much revered and influential in the northern part of Nigeria in his lifetime. Without denying the validty of claims that the Abiola name be immortalised in some tangible, national form, questions could indeed be asked about the relationship he had with the university above others in the country. And how does the university name change reflect his fatal involvement in the democratic process of 1993? If NIPSS had been renamed the MKO Abiola Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, there could indeed be a stronger argument to be made for such a change.
I sympathise with the students of the MAUL, whose vain sensibilities have been hurt, but then they should get a grip on life. In four years, it would hardly matter if you graduated from UNILAG or MoshoodiLag, the vicissitudes of life would have bludgeoned such ego-fuelled follies to submission – that is until PDP’s President David Mark decides to change the name of the university again to Moshood And Kudirat University [MAKU] (of Education). I fear for third mainland bridge when that happens!

Slash their wages, not the subsidy

The following is a short “analysis”, done on the back of the challenge issued here(Link: Cut The Waste: Squeezing Water From The Rock) by Aguntasolo, a man for whom I have utmost respect.
Here is an instant fix to the fuel subsidy brouhaha; each senator in the country should have the total remuneration pegged at N1,296,000 per annum. This would mean a total of about N142 million would be the bill on senator’s remuneration (including allowances). Each member of the House of Representatives should have their annual remuneration fixed at 80% of that of a senator; bringing the total House of Representatives remuneration burden to about N373million. In all, the nation should be spending N515 million per annum on the salaries and allowances of ALL the members of the National Assembly (NASS).
I am joking right? No, I’m not. Here is a quick analysis to validate my request. In the UK, the minimum wage is £5.95/hour, which translates to £11,603 per annum (assuming the standard 37.5hr work week). A member of the UK Parliament earns a little under six times this amount; which is fair, since public service means just that – SERVICE. The Nigerian legislator, from Senator David Mark to the newest back-bencher MUST be prepared to view his involvement in the National Assembly as a sacrifice and not as an avenue to plunder the nation away from the glare of the scrutinising public. And if in their collective bi-cameral wisdom, the two houses of legislature have declared that the minimum wage of the Nigerian worker should be N18,000 per annum, let the legislators, in line with the UK counterparts earn 6 times this amount for their devotion to the Nigerian cause.
Apart from the instant savings to the purse of the Federal Government, this would have the effect of winnowing out the fortune-hunters who might have mistakenly found their way into NASS and leaving room for genuine patriots to go about the business of creating an appropriate legislative framework for the development of the country. Alternatively, if the seemingly insatiable appetite of the National Assembly to devour a quarter of the annual national budget must be met, then it must devote itself to improving the lot of the poorest paid Nigerian worker, so the least paid employee in Nigeria could be paid, say… N300,000 per month.
Geeky analysis aside, I believe the remuneration of elected officials should be indexed against the general wage levels of the country. In addition to the advantages highlighted above, I think this would make a certain politician less of a liar when next he says “I am in your shoes”.

When you find her, you will know

To the world, she may be a sow
But to you, she’s the princess from a fairy tale
To other men, she may be a nag
But to you, she’s your prop
Everyone else may think nothing of her
But to you, she is everything
The world may rush by and ignore her
But your heart stops in its tracks each time you see her
She may be the worst stammerer on earth
Yet to you ears, her stutter is divine music.
Her calves may bulge like malformed potatoes
Yet to you eyes, no legs are more shapely than hers.
Her breasts may sag like rain-drenched socks
Yet your eyes will adjure them to be Himalaya’s cleavage.

Others may trample on your dreams
But she’ll follow you to the world’s end and beyond,
to make a success of your dreams
You may have a beer tankard for a gut,
Yet to her, no six-pack abdomen could be sexier than yours.
Your breath may put a garlic farm to shame,
Yet, she’ll kiss you with glee in her eyes.
You may live on a park bench all winter,
Yet she’ll make her home right by you.
No matter how high you fly
You’ll find she’s the wind, urging you to fly higher
No matter the depths to which you may plunge
She’ll be the brace to hold you from buckling over.

…you may not know her, yet when you find her,
You will know.

….
PS: Something to write other than a political commentary.

Nigeria – heart-less leaders, hapless people

Guess what folks, I have started my own re-branding! This piece was prompted by a lot of things going on in my dearly beloved country of origin – Nigeria.

About a year ago, we had a “new” Information Minister foisted on the nation in the person of Prof. Dora Akunyili. I remember distinctly that she was a “Dr.” when appointed to NAFDAC, but I guess NAFDAC is an educational institution and she was subsequently awarded a Professorial seat there! But that is a discussion for another day. So, pronto, she set to work and came up with our new mantra – Nigeria, Good People, Great Nation.

Events have however started unravelling the import of the mantra ever before it could even gain acceptance, so I am taking up the initiative and providing us with a new mantra – Nigeria, Heart-less Leaders, A Hapless People. Lest some take umbrage at my proposed slogan, I would expatiate on the obvious – that we indeed have a heart-less leader at the moment and that we are abjectly hapless (till we take matters into our heads, heart and hand to turn things around).

A Chronicle of Heartless Leadership
I think it is something of a poetic justice that the political leadership of the country finds itself at the moment with a leader who, at face value and matter-of-factly speaking, is heart-less. From the time preceding our independence, we have been saddled with Nigerian leaders who figuratively were (and still are) heartless.

Whilst our Anglophone neighbour to the West, Ghana, pretty much elected the best man to rule them at independence, we just had to pick the least qualified of the lot – an Arabic teacher – to lead us. I will be quick to point out, I have absolutely nothing against the “Northerner”, however, I have everything against a situation where Sir. Ahmadu Bello would “appoint” Sir Tafawa Balewa to lead the country after leading his party to victory at the polls. (So, you see, God-fatherism did not start with the Sarakis of Kwara). Regardless of other virtues that the Sardauna of Sokoto may have exhibited in his life-time, I think this was a pretty callous thing to do to a nation in its infancy. I would ask anyone who object, would you hand your baby over to the house help, right after delivery, whilst the mother goes catering to other “important issues”?

From that point on, the trajectory has been that of a stone sculpture trying to swim. “Operation wet i e” was followed by a bloody coup and an even bloodier counter-coup, capped by a civil war. If we had an opportunity to rectify things, it was under the bachelor Head of State – Gen (Dr) Yakubu Gowon. However, youthful exuberance (he was 29 when he became head of state and was sacked at 38) made him embark on all sorts of projects – white elephants, black elephants, useful elephants and elephant carcasses.

That chance was frittered prodigally and a palace coup and a bloody attempted coup later, our heartless leaders saddled us with the first Baba Go Slow – Alh. Shehu from Shagari village in Sokoto. It is difficult to accuse Alh. Shagari of corruption, in light of the scale of larceny that goes on in the country today, but his capacity for ineptitude was unmatched until perhaps the present regime. With heartless lieutenants like Alh. Umaru Dikko (who once proclaimed that Nigerians were not poor because they were not feeding from dust bins), you didn’t have to be personally corrupt to ruin the country.

I may make excuses for Buhari / Idiagbon, but zeal without applied emotional intelligence brought about their government before any appreciable impact could be made. However, they did not leave before bringing heart-aches to a few lives and making some really expensive mistakes. A good case in point is the cancellation of the Lagos Metro project by their government, which eventually cost the country so much money (by way of damages awarded by the Hague) that the actual project cost was being rivalled by the damages awarded. Many laud these pair as the epitome of honest leadership, but forget that when they were ousted, Idiagbon was on Hajj with his 14-year old son (despite having passed a law that barred minors from pilgrimage).

Just when we thought things could not get worse, like an avalanche of latrine waste, the nation was heaped with the worst of the Kakistocrats, the gap-toothed evil genius and his eventual successor, the kleptomaniac Mallam Sani. Their exploits do not need to be re-told here.

In many ways, I have a soft spot for the Otta farmer. In my own opinion, in terms of infrastructural developments and fiscal discipline, the first 6 years of his tenure were the best the country has seen (in my life time; Gen. Gowon having been in power long before I was born). My opinion is hinged largely on 3 things – fuel availability for much of his tenure, the telecoms industry deregulation and the national fiscal discipline that obtained for much of his tenure (with the resultant repayment of Nigeria’s foreign debts).

This does not say much in Baba Aremu’s favour, but it speaks volumes about the quality of Neanderthals who have ruled the nation before him. But it seems, from the moment he negotiated and paid off the nations debt, something woke up in him. I have yet to find the words to describe it, but how a man would appoint Ribadu, El-Rufai, Okonjo-Iweala and others of similar mould to work with him for the first six years and then turn around and select Baba Go-Slow to succeed him beats me.

So, for much of our history we have been saddled with pretty much heartless individuals in one capacity or another, it is rather befitting in an ironic way that it is being culminated now with a man with some exotic heart malady.

I do not gloat at the physiological sufferings of a fellow man, in so far as he is just that, a fellow man. However, I am forced to take a different path when that said man embodies all the executive powers of state in a country where just about everything that could go wrong has been “Maurice-Iwued” to go wrong. (If you wonder what Maurice-Iwu means, ask me later).

Hapless People
Any nation that is burdened with the number and quality of leaders as chronicled above is definitely an unfortunate nation. It hurts me to call my country unfortunate, but the lot of the nation is misery and would continue to be if no redeeming qualities can be found in the leadership.

It is however very easy to blame “the leaders”, but I am of the opinion that a nation is deserving of the rulers it gets. When American got complacent with prosperity, they found themselves with a moron in the White House for 8 years. When the got tired, against all conventions, they voted in the son of a black immigrant. So I do not lay the blame solely on leadership, for the leaders today were but followers yesterday. So I question, who are we?

I question the people who would leave the worst to govern – whether in uniform or not, I do not care. If the military must rule, why did it have to be a Bacchanalian, illiterate hedonist like Mallam Sani? If the NPN had to come to power in 1979, for crying out loud, why did it have to be the Alhaji from Shagari village? If PDP (terrible as they are) had to rule in 2007 and power had to shift to the North, why the monumentally inept UMYA? If Zik or Awo could not be trusted by the British at independence, why some bumbling teacher from Bauchi?

For an Okotie-Eboh who was made finance minister, there was an Akintola Williams who was qualified as a chartered accountant! This is a trait that continues to the present. In AD (later AC), I was aghast when Lanre Towry-Coker (former Lagos commissioner for works and a renowned architect) was passed over by Tinubu for the Lagos Island chief area boy, Musiliu Obanikoro (ex-Lagos Island Chairman, under whose watch the City Hall was burnt). The parallels go on and on. And by the way, Obanikoro later defected to the PDP.

When would we, as a collective make up our minds to give responsibility to only the most qualified and the most deserving? Until we learn to do that and make it a way of life, we would simply morph from hapless followers to heartless leaders.

Way Forward
I do not claim the monopoly of wisdom. In fact, I am rather hesitant to ascribe any wisdom to myself. I can only point out what I feel are the steps we ought to take to get out of this hazy quagmire.

 

    • We must appreciate the power in our choices.

 

  • We must learn to pick the best in every situation, even in bad situations. Like I said earlier, if there had to be a coup in 1993 to oust Shonekan, why did it have to be Mallam Sani? The good results we get (or do not get) are simply the culmination of the choices – good or bad – that we have made.

 

 

  • We must hold leadership accountable. The barons of England forced King John (Lackland) to sign the Magna Carta which invariably forms the bedrock of the rights we enjoy today in the United Kingdom. Whilst UMYA may not be accessible to many people, the councillor and traffic wardens appointed by various councils in Lagos for instance are readily accessible. Where there are grievances with their leadership, we should learn to confront them.

 

 

  • We must not be apathetic to governance and politics. The bad decisions taken by the successive governments mentioned above have brought the country and its citizens to the point where we are now. If all that we can do, is talk and write, then let us all do it. Eventually, the whispers become rumbles and the rumbles would cause some to tumble out of their lofty offices.

 

 

  • We must cease to celebrate the wrong things and people. I do not want to go into another sparring session with Chief Dele Momodu, but his magazine (as it is today) is truly representative of the Nigerian definition of celebrity. Christmas is around the corner and guess what, “Nigerians from all walks of life” would be tumbling over themselves wishing every manner of government officials merry Christmas. It is even worse on Independence day Celebrations – and it’s going to be 50 next year. Why would I want to place an advert in the papers to congratulate David Mark for instance? What has he done for the country? Or in the case of the celebrated photo album published by Bob Dee, why would I want to celebrate Terry Waya?

 


Underlying all of these is a need for a good system of education – both formal and informal. Whilst the government cannot be trusted at the moment to sort out the mess that is our formal education system, each parent can take the responsibility to bring up their wards with a set of values and value defining system what would uphold the lessons stated above.

Maybe after all is said and done, we may truly become Nigeria, Good People, Great Nation.