The Awolowo rebirth in the Southwest has inspired gongs, songs and rhetoric of sorts. But they have missed one point.
It occurred to me in Abeokuta last week amidst the big crowds and euphoria of the swearing-in of Senator Ibikunle Amosun as governor. In all the states from Lagos to Edo, where Awo has witnessed ideological resurgence, hardly a single family member has played a role.
So we have an Awo family without an Awo. That is an irony. But history overwhelms us with this sort of twist. Obafemi Awolowo toiled for his reputation. His roots were lowly, he toiled to school both home and abroad, launched into careers in law, business, journalism and eventually politics. He carved a niche for himself, and became the first methodical and charismatic leftist in our history. Other leftists abounded but they did not inspire comparable drama and following.
He faced tribulations, went to jail, failed in elections, won a few, but he imprinted his ideas and legacy in the country, and no single mortal has beaten him in the history of this country. His greatest achievement was in the area of ideas, and that was how he fashioned a family. Most families are born of biology but his issued from ideology. That family suffered with him.
In a spoof of Jesus Christ, these were the men who followed him in his teachings, and endured with him in his temptations. So he formed a kingdom for them in the Southwest, in the old Western Region, presiding over his projects, his legacies and people.
In all of these, the family he had was not his flesh and blood. In another spoof of Christ, who were his family anyway? Those who were with him must be counted as his family. So, I combed in the ambience of Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), and I found none. I went to Ogun, I frisked the crowd under Amosun’s bower, hardly any. Around Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in Osun, I could not lay a finger. With Governor Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti, where are the forbears of Awo? Yet, I can hear the chants of Awo. Hardly in any of the inaugural speeches or any of their other public intervention would you miss the philtre and filter of Awo from these gentlemen. To parody Novelist Joseph Conrad, they are the sparks from Awo’s sacred fire, the messengers of the might within the man.
Already all of them are pursuing the legacy ideas of Awo: free education, free health services, infrastructural development, urban renewal and economic engineering.
Lagos has posted itself as the John the Baptist. The others are putting up valiant efforts, and the world of course is watching to see how well they will perform. It will call for great work, resourcefulness and cooperation. They are the real Awoists, and Awo was a man of rigour and vigour.
The Awo son that many expected to take after the father was Olusegun, who unfortunately died in a car crash. We shall never know if he could have pulled it off. But the others have not shown much of the paterfamilias’ brio and depth. In the past decade, under this republic, they have blended with the wrong crowd. Even H.I.D, hobnobbed with Alao-Akala, who brought illiteracy to governance; with Oyinlola who turned the grace of office into a hell-hole of despots; with Daniel who could not arrest his quick fall into megalomania.
I wrote once that this woman whom Awo once described as the jewel of inestimable value has lost value to his cause. If he came back to life, he would have committed the extraordinary act of divorce after death. Even his newspaper, The Tribune, has so stumbled and fallen that it swims in Awo’s vomit.
Groucho Max, one of the funniest satirists in American history, said of a man that he got his looks from his father. Then he quipped, “He was a plastic surgeon.” That means the son is not his real son, or he did not inherit his natural looks. Ideologically, when we talk of Awo’s family, the chief inheritor is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as the leader of all the others. He was the one who stuck his neck out. He could have lost his life or ended his career in politics. The so-called real Awolowos who bear his surname cannot come up for mention. They are Awolowos but not Awoists. They stabbed their father in the back. They have committed ideological parricide.
The only person that made a real try was Awolowo-Dosunmu in the early 1990s and she lost roundly. She was accused of trying to ride her father’s coattail. Political families are good for democracies. They can exemplify the high ideals of diligence, dignity, ideas, character. We have seen these in such families as the Kennedys, the Adamses, the Roosevelts, the Ghandis. They just don’t claim family. They appeal to the high ideals that endeared the families to their societies.
It’s also an irony that these families are falling into twilight. Some of them have vanished. Enoch Powell, a British MP, once gave us the famous line: “All political lives, unless they are cut off midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure because that is the nature of politics and human affairs.”
Columnist Ambassador Dapo Fafowora adverted to this idea in a recent outing, and I debated it with him afterwards. I don’t believe that a political life should be judged by how it ends but what it means. The quote is often missed by many who mistake “careers” for “lives.” A political life should be judged by its legacies. If we judged Awo by how he ended, we would look at him only as the loser to Shagari. That is why I see an intrinsic mischief in Enoch’s quote. But I would agree that political families end also in failure if you judge how they peter out and not the legacy.
Awo’s legacy is alive and well. Members of other families in flesh and blood can carry on. Immediate families tend to suffer from what an author, Noemie Emery, describes as dynastic curse. The children tend to be intimidated by the standards set by the fathers. So they just don’t want to try. They feel they cannot match them or come even close. The problem probably comes from the fathers themselves. The Adams, who produced important presidents, later gave birth to moral vagrants and drunks. The Bush daughters showed themselves as party girls when their father was contesting the political battle of his life.
But Joe Kennedy groomed his sons assiduously, and they excelled in politics. They also had a fair share of tragedies. Ted Kennedy regained his sobriety and voice in America after a season of debauchery. In Nigeria, we are seeing the Sarakis fade. A Saraki – Bukola – is wiping out the Sarakis from politics. It is a classic case of oedipal tragedy, something I predicted earlier this year on this page.
It is not late though for the flesh-and-blood Awolowos to join their father’s fold. But they must be genuine. Awo was the most important Yoruba personage in history after Oduduwa. They had stellar men like Oranmiyan, Balogun Latosa, Lisabi, Sodeke, et al. None of them had the unifying vision and organisational acumen that Awolowo gave the race. The wife, children and grandchildren should not watch others glow in his jewel without them.
Culled from Nation of 2011 by Sam Omatseye.