On July 10, 1999, while students in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife were busy with different activities ranging from the academic, sports and cultural, some, neo-fascists elements, had alternative plans. Finding succour under the cover of darkness, these elements, who were members of the notorious Black Axe Confraternity (also known as “Aye”), invaded the campus, murdering the University’s Students’ Union Secretary General, George Yemi Iwilade (Afrika), and four others, while also injuring several others. Ever since, if one finds himself in Ife on any July 10, one shouldn’t be surprised to notice something akin to a religious affair in the commemoration of the “fallen heroes”.
On the eleventh anniversary in 2010, something remarkable happened. A former president of the Students’ Union, Ola-Diamond (as he is popularly known), who was invited as one of the speakers on the occasion, was at his usual best thrilling the audience with his oratory prowess. The matter became a hoax when he suddenly remarked, “Awo was not a Christian!”. People wondered what suddenly took over the former Union leader, perhaps in his desperate attempt to justify his views against Marxism (Awo himself identifies himself in his several writings as a democratic socialist) or just deliberately to offend some of us, his listeners. After making that better forgotten statement, the silence that took over the Awolowo Hall café (the traditional venue of the event) is something I still recall till date.
Why Ola-Diamond chose a revered occasion to say such, and in the Awolowo Hall of Residence for that matter, remains a mystery to me till this day. I planned replying him in a write-up, but the subsequent days were more evil than anyone would have expected. And the events that happened few days thereafter, particularly June 12-13 were what led to the “nailing of the coffin” of the once-vibrant student union movement.
Since Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Awo, as fondly called by his admirers) passed on about 27 years ago, much has been said about him. I have ordinarily heard some of the late sage’s die-hard opponents say he was not a Christian or, in some cases, that he was anti-Christ. Let’s stay within the confines of Ola-Diamond’s unfortunate statement. Before I go on, I wish to state that I am only going to say those things about the Chief that are public knowledge and not engage in eulogising a saint!
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was born into the family of Shopolu and Efunyela Awolowo in 1909. When both became Christian coverts in 1896, they took new names David and Mary respectively. Awo himself, was later named Jeremiah, which he was rarely known by. All through his young career, he attended Christian schools. Four of those schools are Ibara Anglican, Ogbe Wesleyan, Itesi Wesleyan and Itesi Roman Catholic. Let us still agree that Awo was not a Christian.
Awo was accused of Treasonable Felony in 1962 and subsequently imprisoned. Then, he had requested his wife to bring him three books, as chronicled in his My March Through Prison: The Holy Bible, A House of Prayer, and Unto Thee I Grant… and the Economy of Life by Amenhotep. In the listing of these books, it is evident that the sage placed much emphasis on God’s Word than any other. Also during his sojourn in Calabar Prison, the Methodist Church, Nigeria was on record to have weekly visited Awo in his cell to minister to him. Well this might just be due to his historical relationship with the Church. No one ever recalls it said that church ministers visited Wole Soyinka during the duration of his detention through the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 – 1970.
Chief Awolowo was known to be tolerant to opposing religious views. He was sometimes captured sitting in mosques, though a devout Christian, and even in temples. Anyone’s religion was of least interest to Awo. He appointed Alhaji S. Dauda Adegbenro the Premier and Action Group (AG) leader (a party Awo formed in 1951) in the Western Region in 1962.
Chief Awolowo was equally a mystic, although many people do not know this. The word “Mystic” simply means someone who desires to become united with God, usually through prayers and meditations. Mysticism itself is a part to God. It is a deep search into mysteries of the earth, leading to a unification with the Creator in the process. As contained in the book Unto thee I Grant, the master told his disciple: “The most important work of man is the search into the works of his Creator.” This is exactly the message of the mystics to their disciples.
Unto The I Grant… was written by Amenhotep, Pharaoh of Egypt(1360-50 BC) whose wife Nefratiti(The coming of Beauty) was and the acclaimed father of monotheism. This is the man Rosicrucians claim is father of their brotherhood which the sage belonged. In fact the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC was fully represented at Chief Awolowo’s burial in 1987. He is reputed to have reached the, Honourary Statuti, highest degree in the Order as it was recently confirmed.
On religion, the late sage laid down the following words: “If a man is to live a full life and be the real image of God which he is intended to be, his Body – that is his brain and brawn – must not only be well-developed and healthy but also function in harmony with and under the control of his spirit or Soul. The Soul is ageless and pure and does not need any development. But the body must be trained, developed and disciplined to acknowledge both the existence and the supremacy of the indwelling Soul.” This is religion according to Awo. But would it be believable to learn that this was part of Awo’s speech to a mammoth Christian gathering in 1961? To the doubting, one could find “Politics and Religion”, a speech he delivered at the Adventist College of West Africa, Ilishan.
If anyone says or thinks that Awo was neither religious nor was “a Christian”, then then the meaning of religious must be unclear. And, the last time I checked, Awo died a faithful Anglican, the same faith he was born into. He was buried according to Church rites, with the Holy Bible opened to Psalm 23 on his chest as he journeyed into the world beyond.
My problem is not much with misperception of Awo’s religious views. My problem is with ignorant people like Ola-Diamond, who are only trying to be more Catholic than the Pope.
Olalekan Waheed Adigun, a political analyst, writes from Lagos. He can be reached on twitter @adgorwell, and firstname.lastname@example.org