More than 25 years after he passed on, not only has the late sage been irreplaceable, he has also remained a point of reference in the politics of the South West of Nigeria. Though everyone remembers him as a true leader of the Yorubas, not many people know that he was unanimously elected as the leader of the Yorubas on August 12, 1966.
Though Chief Awolowo was not without opponents, his style of politics had become well known by the time he became the first Premier of Western Nigeria. As a leader, he was original in thought, full of initiative and very practical. Apart from the free education he introduced for all in the Western Region, he did a lot in infrastructural development, establishing the first television station in Africa as well as other enviable feats. He resigned his Premiership in 1959 to contest in the federal elections. Though he lost, he became the leader of the opposition in the Federal Parliament.
Among his contemporaries, he has remained the strongest point of reference; his political footsteps are still being followed till date. His ideology too has remained relevant till the present day as successive administrations in the South West have continually tilted towards education and infrastructural development.
The respect Chief Awolowo commands in the South West remains unrivalled, especially for the feats he achieved as Premier. Through his people oriented programmes, targeted mainly at the attainment of a well-developed society, life was made more meaningful for the average Yoruba man.
Back in the days of the late sage, political activities were undertaken based mainly on ideologies backed up by theories that have been subjected to intellectual and practical analysis. Then, as a politician, you were either a Progressive or a Conservative, no one sat on the fence.
Sadly however, ideologies and political beliefs have become a bread and butter issue. Ideals have been completely jettisoned with many members of the political class seeking personal gains over the satisfaction of the masses they govern. Things seem to have evolved on the political scene, albeit negatively. Loyalty, which used to be a major factor in politics has been pushed aside, people now cross from party to party just for the satisfaction of personal lusts while people that have different philosophies and orientations are now found in the same political parties. “There is no permanent foe in politics”, many quickly say in order to justify weird associations.
Those who have adopted “Awoism”, Awolowo’s style of politics have been branded as “Awoists”, up till the Second Republic; they remained under the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) umbrella. His close followers knew he abhorred political prostitution and his camp were made of men who were not just firm believers in his ideology but men who were fiercely loyal; the likes of Pa Adekunle Ajasin, Chief Olabisi Onabanjo and Pa Abraham Adesanya among others.
Though the UPN produced Governors of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Bendel States back then, Awolowo was criticized by the opposition for pitching Yorubas against the power bloc at the centre.
After the demise of sage in 1987, Awoists began to scatter in all directions. In the dispensations that followed, some went as far as joining camps that the late sage would never have approved of if he were to be alive. Many were surprised when a known Awoist like Chief Ebenezer Babatope took up an appointment under the General Sani Abacha led government. Many more were even shocked when Chief Bola Ige agreed to serve as a Minister in the Obasanjo administration which was a PDP controlled government. Interestingly, the PDP is seen as being “conservative” in terms of ideology.
As it seems, the quest for national relevance and a piece of the action at the centre are factors that have made many politicians abandon the progressive ideals they once held dear. Sadly too, many politicians and self-professed Awoists in whom the electorate has expressed disappointment were beneficiaries of the good programmes instituted by the late sage.
Today, members of the Action Congress of Nigeria have laid claim to being “progressives” and have classified themselves as such, a claim some PDP elements have often challenged. Incidentally, while the ACN which controls Edo State as well as all the South West States except Ondo claims to be a truly democratic party, many have agreed that the only South West Governor that was not elected on the party’s platform has shown that his leadership style clearly follows the example of the late sage, Chief Awolowo. The ideals of his Labour Party also fall in line with what many students of the “Progressive school of politics” have learnt to practice.
The ACN has been at the receiving end of criticisms from several quarters, especially from those who believe that being an Awoist goes beyond being the member of a particular political party. To those who hold such belief, what matters is how ell the leader touches and affects the lives of the people as well as how much positive development one is able to achieve, which they believe can be done on the platform of any political party.
Since Nigerian politicians, progressive or not, are always quick to point to the projects they initiated, many people have been pushed to ask what the fuss about being progressive or conservative is all about if what matters is development.
The current turn of events in Yoruba politics has also continued to generate questions like “when will the Yorubas have a true leader that will be like the late sage?” Some have even wondered what Awo’s opinion would have been about the merger of the different groups into the All Progressives Congress.
While the debates continue on who the real “progressives” are, the Yorubas continue to search for a worthy leader that will fill the void created by the death of the late sage.