Hitherto, I have looked on you as one whose work was cut and dried; you have a legacy to protect and conserve, nothing more arduous. Today, I must now go further and say to you, you have a legacy to project”
Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka’s challenge to Dr. Awolowo-Dosunmu on her 70th birthday, February 20, 2018.
As political families go in our part of the world, the Awolowos must be judged as one of the most resilient and enduring. The surging crowd of distinguished Nigerian citizens, cutting across political divides that dutifully attended last Tuesday’s celebration of Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu’s 70th birthday at Ikenne, suggests that, far from going under, the Awo dynasty is alive and well.
The Yoruba are renowned for their love of festivities, so, getting a crowd to attend a birthday party should not be that demanding. However, when you inspect the roll of those in attendance, led by former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the slew of politicians in or out of office, traditional rulers and technocrats, the awareness begins to dawn, that this was as much a celebration of a legacy, as much as of a frontline celebrator of that legacy, namely Dosunmu, who has devoted her life to sustaining her father and mother’s identities on the front burner of national discourse.
Soyinka’s call to arms, quoted in the opening paragraph, suggests that there is work to be done in the direction of rescuing the Awolowo legacy from those who opportunistically view it as little more than another lever in their tool box of stratagems for capturing and sustaining power.
Obviously, the struggles between true believers and apostates or those who sloganise Awo but deny his essence are not about to abate. But then is it not a backhanded tribute to the Awo legacy that it can be invoked by non-believers, opponents and opportunists to create a political leeway three decades after the sage passed on? In other words, the cloning or bastardisation of a legacy is part of the history of that legacy, even if an unsavoury aspect. We do not know enough about how political genes are transferred from father to son, or daughter as the case may be. How do famous political parents transfer values, ethos and seeds of greatness to their children? To rummage outside Nigeria, what did Justin Trudeau, current Prime Minister of Canada, take away from his father, Pierre Trudeau, a former Prime Minister of Canada, apart from a thriving family business? In his memoirs, the younger Trudeau provides some insights. On one occasion at the parliamentary restaurant, as Trudeau recalled it: “I was becoming politically aware (at eight years) and I recognised one whom I knew to be one of my father’s chief rivals. Thinking of pleasing my father, I told a joke about him, a generic silly little grade school thing. My father looked at me sternly and said, ‘Justin, never attack the individual. We can be in total disagreement with someone without denigrating them as a consequence’”
There is evidence that Justin as Prime Minister has, on the whole, adhered to that early lesson, by attacking the record of his opponents when the need arises, without putting them down or making them look stupid. Back to the Awolowos, we will never know how much Dosunmu took away from her illustrious father until we read her memoirs, but a few things can be inferred. There is, for example, the audacity of a woman holding her own politically in a patriarchal society where women are supposed to be meek and mute, consigned to the other room. She was not only a member of the Constituent Assembly in the late 1980s but went on to run for the governorship of Lagos State in unlikely circumstances, and to become her country’s ambassador.
Worthy of mention is the way in which she turned the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation which she founded into the people’s parliament under the despotic rule of the late General Sani Abacha. There is a reason to believe that she was fully conscious of the hazardous implications of the anti-military tenor of the “dialogues” for which the foundation had become famous, but these did not deter her. In this role, she came very close to her father’s undying and stubborn pursuit of social justice, whatever the cost.
Of course, there, also, is the organisational forte, painstaking attention to details which she took away from her father. Above all however, it was the father’s intellect, ability to assemble and hold court with the best and the brightest that best defines her foray into public discourse on the platforms of both the Obafami Awolowo Foundation and the emergent HID Awolowo Foundation.
How different Nigerian history would have been if we had a political class which can sustain a think-tank and the decency of responsible intellectual dissent. In my opinion, politicians who depend on speech writers for ideas or who lack the gravitas to hold their own in the battle of governance prescriptions cannot and should not be allowed to lead Nigeria out of its current wilderness of wasted opportunities. Dosunmu, even if she were not an Awolowo, would still have been qualified by training and hard work for influential leadership positions. By thrusting her ancestral assets aside and going ahead to compete and stand against the odds, she extended the Awo legacy in interesting ways. That is another way of saying that she bore the political DNA of the legacy without relying on it for distinction.
In terms of leadership dynamics, there is a hint of irony in Soyinka’s admonition and challenge to a 70-year-old to take on new political tasks so late in life. That can be understood however, in the context of Soyinka’s own career as a formidable civil society and human rights activist, in what may well be his twilight years. Is it not time to begin to visualise the legacy a decade or two decades down the line? If we accept the premise that the tenacity and endurance of a vision or a political project is partly a function of its youthful adherents who represent the wave of the future, then, the assignment of projecting the ideals of Awolowo must receive fresh subscription and vigour from the younger members of the clan. Members of the political family such as Wemimo Anifowose, Segun Awolowo Jnr among others must begin to take more than a passing interest in the preservation and projection of the legacy, under Dosunmu’s nurture.
On a broader note, the South-West which Obafemi Awolowo led with excellent imprints is perhaps today a shadow of its once glorious self. True, it boasts a few visionary leaders but they appear overwhelmed with the level of industrial, educational, ecological disrepair. Matters are not helped by the persistence of an over centralised structure of government parading itself as federalism. The Awo principle of regional excellence within a genuinely federal structure is in deep peril.
There is perhaps no better tribute that can be paid to the legacy than for all who genuinely believe in it to rally round the agenda of a restructured Nigeria where the energies of the constituent parts can be unleashed. Punch