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History of Chief Obafemi Awolowo - The Yoruba Legend who deserve more Credit

Awolowo was born on 6 March 1909, in the Remo town of Ikenne, in present-day Ogun State of Nigeria. He was the only son of David Shopolu Awolowo, a farmer and sawyer, and Mary Efunyela Awolowo he was a Yoruba nationalist and Nigerian statesman who played a key role in Nigeria's independence movement (1957-1960). Awolowo founded the Yoruba nationalist group Egbe Omo Oduduwa, with Adeyemo Alakija as President, Yekini Ojikutu as Vice President, Obafemi Awolowo as General Secretary and was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance, and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria's parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1959. He was the official Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament to the Balewa government from 1959 to 1963

The Egbé Ọmọ Odùduwà grew in importance in 1948 when it was launched in Lagos with great fanfare by prominent Yoruba politicians associated with the Nigerian Youth Movement. These politicians included Chief Bode Thomas, Chief H. O. Davies, Sir Kofo Abayomi, Chief Akintola Williams, Dr. Akinola Maja and others. Other organisations within Egbe Omo Oduduwa are the Oduduwa Economic Agency (OEA), the Oduduwa Education Foundation (OEF), and the Oduduwa Development Agency (ODA).

He had two sisters and one maternal half-sister. Awolowo's father was born to a high chief and member of the Iwarefa, the leading faction of the traditional Osugbo group that ruled Ikenne. In 1896, Awolowo's father became one of the first Ikenne natives to convert to Christianity. Awolowo's paternal grandmother, Adefule Awolowo, whom Awolowo adored, was a devout worshipper of the Ifá. Adefule, Awolowo's grandmother, believed that Obafemi was a reincarnation of her father (his great-grandfather). Awolowo's father's conversion to Christianity often went at odds with his family's beliefs. He often challenged worshippers of the god of smallpox, Obaluaye. His father ultimately died on April 8, 1920, of smallpox when Obafemi was about eleven years old.

He attended various schools, including Baptist Boys' High School (BBHS), Abeokuta; and then became a teacher in Abeokuta, after which he qualified as a shorthand typist. Subsequently, he served as a clerk at the Wesley College Ibadan, as well as a correspondent for the Nigerian Times. It was after this that he embarked on various business ventures to help raise funds to travel to the UK for further studies, he approached Chief Adeola Odutola, one of the richest business moguls of his day, with a letter, requesting a loan of £1,400. Unfortunately, Odutola turned Awolowo down cold, Awolowo explained how the loan will be returned: "I shall require TWO years within which to establish a solid practice and build a good reputation. After these two years, I should commence to pay at least £200 per annum either in monthly, quarterly or annual payments. So that in seven years after the first two years, I should pay back the whole sum of £1,400. That will be TWELVE YEARS from the time you help me to pay this in April or so this year, then I should be due to pay the whole of £1400 by April 1955".

Odutola later in an interview said: "I did not know him (Awolowo) then. I knew him only as a letter writer. He said he was going to study abroad, I should give him money. He did not tell me how much he wanted and how long it would take him to pay it back. If he had told me these, I would have probably acted differently. Besides, that time, myself and my brother were running the business together. He needed to seek the consent of my brother before I could release the money to him"

He worked odd jobs to raise money for tuition fees and his entrepreneurial spirit continued to express itself in the various careers which he subsequently sampled, including working as a clerk, moneylender, taxi driver and produce broker. In 1927, he enrolled at the University of London as an External Student and graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Commerce (Hons.). He went to the UK in 1944 to study law at the University of London and was called to the Bar by the Honorable Society of the Inner Temple on 19 November 1946. 

Returning to Nigeria in 1947, he developed a thriving practice as a barrister in Ibadan.
He married Hannah Idowu Dideolu in 1937. They had two sons and three daughters.
In 1949, Awolowo founded the Nigerian Tribune, a private Nigerian newspaper, which he used to spread nationalist consciousness among Nigerians.

His involvement in various unions, including the Nigerian Motor Transport Union, the Nigerian Produce Traders' Association and the Trades Union Congress of Nigeria. He organised most of these trade unions in his spare time while continuing to run his law firm. He was appointed secretary of the Nigerian Motor Transport Union and Western Provincial Secretary of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). By the early 1940s, he was active in the NYM, becoming the organisation’s Ibadan branch’s secretary in 1940. In 1942, he led a bout of civil disobedience that resulted in the reform of the Ibadan Native Authority Advisory Board. In 1944, he organised a mass protest against the ban on exporting palm kernel. It was this grassroots-level activism that did much to convince ordinary people that they could take on the British and win. Awolowo believed that the colonial system could be challenged in Africa as it had been in India, whose independence struggle inspired his civil disobedience tactics. 
During his stay in London, Awolowo moved to a position of prominence in the struggle for Nigerian independence. He founded the Action Group political party political party in 1951 and became its first president. The Action Group's platform called for the immediate termination of British rule in Nigeria and for the development of various public welfare programs including universal primary education, an increase of health services in rural areas, the diversification of the Western Regional economy and the democratization of local governments. He won the first Western Region elections in 1951 and was chosen to be Minister for Local Government Structure, a role in which he established elective councils. In 1954 he became the first premier of the Western Region, an achievement for which he was awarded an honorary chieftaincy.

Awolowo was Nigeria's foremost federalist. In his Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947) – the first systematic federalist manifesto by a Nigerian politician – he advocated federalism as the only basis for equitable national integration and, as head of the Action Group, he led demands for a federal constitution, which was introduced in the 1954 Lyttleton Constitution, following primarily the model proposed by the Western Region delegation led by him

During his tenure as leader and premier, he held the regional ministerial portfolios of local government, finance and economic planning. He was also the chairman of the Regional Economic Planning Commission.
From 1954 to 1959 as Premier of the Western Region, Awolowo worked to improve education, social services and agricultural practices. He also tried to build the Action Group into an effective nationwide party by making alliances with ethnic groups in other regions.

Obafemi Awolowo introduced free healthcare for children up to the age of 18 in the Western Region as well as free and mandatory primary education in Western Nigeria which includes Abeokuta, Benin, Most part of Lagos, Delta, Ibadan, Ijebu, Ondo, and Oyo. These were collectively known as the Western Provinces

In 1956, Obafemi Awolowo through the Ikeja Area Planning Authority (IAPA) carefully laid the foundation of most places in Lagos State. Major focused was on Ikeja, Mushin, Isolo, Agege and many other places in Lagos State

He built the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan (the first of its kind in Africa with a seating capacity of 35,000) 

He established Western Nigerian Television (WNTV), the first television station in Africa

He was the brain behind the Cocoa House, the first skyscraper in tropical Africa (which is still the tallest building in Ibadan although the building was completed by Akintola 

He named Nigeria’s national currency as ‘Naira’ when he was the Federal Commissioner for Finance. The late sage took the name of Nigeria and collapsed it as ‘Naira’

In 1952, Awolowo awarded two hundred scholarships tenable for students seeking admission for University education anywhere in the western world

The party he founded, Action Group was the first to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence in the federal parliament and he obtained internal self-government for the Western Region in 1957.

He was the first individual in the modern era to be named Leader of the Yorubas (Yoruba: Asiwaju Omo Oodua), a title which has come over time to be conventionally ascribed to his successors as the recognized political leader of the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria.

Obafemi Awolowo played a critical role in establishing Obafemi Awolowo University 

The decision to establish the University of ife by the ruling Action Group party of Western Nigeria was in protest to the Ashby Report which stated that Regional University should be established in Nigeria, but none in the West because of the policy of the free education scheme then in the region.
The 13,000 acre of land was donated by the people of ile-ife and a grant of 250,000 pounds was provided to kick off the building of the University.

the Ashby commission recommended additional regional universities in the northern and eastern regions of Nigeria, and another federal university in the Lagos protectorate, but none in the more-educationally advanced Western Region, which had a "free and universal primary education" program. A minority report that was accepted by the government recommended a new university within the Western Region and facilities of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Ibadan, was provided to the region. In 1961, a vote establishing the Provisional Council of the university was passed by the Western Regional Assembly. The final site chosen, a 13,000 acres (5,300 ha) of land, was donated by the people of Ile-Ife for the proposed university.

The first financial grant provided fo the university was £250,000 from the Western regional government.

However, the 1959 elections were to be an important turning point in Awolowo's career: after his resignation from the post of premier to run for a seat in the Federal House of Representatives, the Action Group was decisively defeated and Awolowo found himself the leader of the opposition in the Federal House of Representatives while the deputy leader of the Action Group, Chief SL Akintola, remained premier of the Western Region. This situation led to a power struggle within the party which ultimately erupted in 1962 in disturbances in the Western Region House of Assembly. The federal government intervened and suspended the regional constitution.

In 1963 Awolowo was found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the government of Nigeria and was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment. However in 1966, a coup d'etat led to the suspension of Nigeria’s federal constitution and the empowerment of a military government. The coup led to Awolowo’s release in July 1966 and as a result of the confused events of the next year and after some indecision, he eventually threw his support behind the federal government against the south-eastern secessionist state of Biafra.
He was appointed the Federal Commissioner of Finance and Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council by Yakubu Gowon's military administration during the Civil War. In the mid-1970s he was the chancellor of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), which was the brainchild of the Action Group. He was also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
When the twelve-year ban on political activity was lifted in 1978 in preparation for a return to civilian rule, Awolowo emerged as the leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He ran for president in the elections of 1979 and 1983 but was defeated both times by Shehu Shagari. As a result of another military coup at the end of 1983, political parties were once again banned and Chief Awolowo retired from politics.

He held many chieftaincy titles including the Losi of Ikenne, Lisa of Ijeun, Asiwaju of Remo, Odofin of Owo, Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti, Apesin of Osogbo, Odole of Ife and Obong Ikpa Isong of Ibibioland. He was also awarded the highest Nigerian national honour: Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR). Many institutions in Nigeria have honoured him and some regional and national institutions and roads are named after him. His portrait is also on the Nigerian 100 note.

Awolowo died at his Ikenne home, the Efunyela Hall (named after his mother) on May 9, 1987 at the age of 78.

The University of Ife was renamed Obafemi Awolowo University on 12 May 1987 in honour of Chief Obafemi Awolowo first premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, whose brainchild the university was.

Excerpts of Chief Adeola Odutola’s interview, published in TheNEWS, 12 December 1994 edition. Credit: The News
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