Today’s Nigeria and Awo’s Counsel (1), By Dele Agekameh
In his speech, Chief Obafemi Awolowo posited that the basis for any union among communities, especially amongst diverse national groups such as we have in Nigeria, is utmost mutual trust and understanding. That trust was lost at the infancy of the nation….
On Thursday, July 27, 2017, “Whispering Cannon”, an online platform for intellectual discourse run by an accomplished Lagos businessman, Goke Omisore, a man I gladly refer to as Egbon, featured an archival material. It was the excerpt of an address delivered by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on Monday, May 15, 1967, on the occasion of his installation as the first chancellor of the University of Ife at Ile-Ife, now in Osun State, South-West, Nigeria.
In the treasured speech, the vintage Awo, as he was fondly and widely known, exhibited his prophetic intuition and intellectual prowess which stood him out among his peers in the political firmament of Nigeria, Africa and indeed, the world. The late Awo took time to reflect on the roiling political situation in the country at the time and specifically based his argument on six factors which must be clearly looked into if Nigeria was to make any meaningful progress at all.
According to him: “…for exactly 16 months now we have been making a strenuous and earnest search for peace, and a new Constitution… there is an urgent and crying need to recognise certain factors which, in my view, have not hitherto been given the due recognition, emphasis, and weight that they deserve. I consider six of such factors to be very important…”
“Because of the nature of its political evolution since 1900, Nigeria had only had, all told, a lease of two years, for discovering and forging new cohesive material, in place of the British ones, to keep it going as a united and harmonious entity.
“Neither the discovering, nor the forging had been well underway before the prolonged crisis, which now threatens to engulf us, began in 1962. To be sure, since 1962, the fifty-one odd national groups in Nigeria have been moving farther and farther apart from one another, not closer and closer together. Indeed…mutual suspicion and hostility have been deepening and ossifying with alarming speed.
“In this connection, it must be borne in mind that the basis for any union among any communities, especially amongst diverse national groups such as we have in Nigeria, is utmost mutual trust and understanding. The greater the trust and understanding, the stronger and more harmonious the union. The converse, of course, is also true.
“Because of its youth as an independent sovereign State—Nigeria was only a little over five years of age when the coup of January 1966 took place; because of its youth, and because of the strains and stresses inherent in it as a multi-national State, Nigeria cannot afford an unduly protracted political and economic illness. The pressing danger involved in the present illness of our country is that it might kill more by its sheer protraction than by its severity.
“One of the stark and naked facts which stare us in the face is that…we have inflicted deep and grievous wounds on one another so much so that emotions, bitterness and deep-seated suspicion, far more than reason, charity, and trustfulness, now rule our hearts.”
“Our military Administration must be recognised for what it was originally intended and proclaimed to be: an essentially corrective regime, and not a reconstructing Administration with ready and lasting answers to all our political and economic ills.
“In my view, the main task of the military regime is to perform a quick and successful surgical operation for the purpose of removing, from our body politic, a malignant and debilitating morbid growth. It was never expected, and it would be too much of a risk for it to attempt to undertake the massive and never-ending task of rebuilding or reconstructing our body politic. It would be too much of a risk, because the Army would then be embarking on a venture for which it is not by tradition and training equipped, and which, by its very nature, is an ever-recurring phenomenon in any healthy progressive State.
“As there are good soldiers, so there are good politicians. Not all soldiers are saints, and not all politicians are devils or social lepers. I have no doubt in my mind that if the corrective measures, which our Military leaders have in mind, are prosecuted with fearlessness, impartiality, and despatch, a new breed of politicians would emerge which would make the welfare of the people the sole object of their public career and pursuit.
“One of the stark and naked facts which stare us in the face is that…we have inflicted deep and grievous wounds on one another so much so that emotions, bitterness and deep-seated suspicion, far more than reason, charity, and trustfulness, now rule our hearts.
“It is my candid and honest opinion that what we need very badly, in the present circumstances, is a palliative that will tide us over the present critical stage. Thereafter, a curative must be sought and applied. I must warn, however, that an inflexible insistence on a curative, when there is so much sharp disagreement among all the doctors in attendance, may prove fatal to the patient.
“All the great religions and ideologies of the world teach one and only one supreme and imperishable lesson, namely: that LOVE is the touchstone of all human activities. Any human activity that does not stand the test of LOVE is evil. As a practical guide to the practice of LOVE Jesus Christ gave us the Golden Rule in the following words:
In trying to fathom the reasons for the immortality of our disputes in this country, the wisdom of old is a good starting point as it has proven to hold insight into many seemingly contemporary issues.
“’Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the prophets.’”
The words quoted above were spoken by the late sage on May 15, 1967, that was more than fifty years ago. Unfortunately, barely fifteen days after, on May 30, 1967, Biafra declared independence and that declaration led to a gruesome 30-month civil war in the country. Since then, things have never been the same again.
Suffice to say that in our almost recurring national tragedy of disappointment, many conflicts and disagreements have come to life and to the fore-front of national consciousness. However, unlike the human journey and the journey of most of the world’s creatures, where we live and die, our conflicts have been largely resistant to that natural order. Instead, they are born and they grow continuously, changing form and description over many years, but they retain their essential natures and haunt us. Indeed, Nigeria has grown with many of the issues at its birth still intact.
In trying to fathom the reasons for the immortality of our disputes in this country, the wisdom of old is a good starting point as it has proven to hold insight into many seemingly contemporary issues. That is why the afore-quoted 50-year-old words of Awo, an eminent Nigerian thought leader and statesman, at the grounds of a university now named after him, are particularly vital in these times.
He remarkably pointed out the little time the country had to evolve and develop indigenous systems before discord broke out in 1962. The dispute led to an unpopular state of emergency imposed on the Western Region by the federal government which was seen as a lopsided decision, considering the unrest that equally existed in other places such as in Okrika and amongst the Tivs in the Eastern and Northern regions respectively, at the time. The Biafra war began not too long afterwards, and added to the collection of unresolved issues even after the war ended. It now appears that the infant Nigerian nation has been plagued by problems that have never had any final solution ever since.
In his speech, Chief Obafemi Awolowo posited that the basis for any union among communities, especially amongst diverse national groups such as we have in Nigeria, is utmost mutual trust and understanding. That trust was lost at the infancy of the nation and no programme or initiative by the government or any group since then, has been able to mend that trust gap within our system. That is why, for example, the Biafran struggle has continually re-incarnated into MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra), IPOB (Indigenous People Of Biafra) and other little known factions based on the same original issues that came to a head in 1966.
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