Feature- Awolowo’s Legacy: A Blueprint for Nigeria’s Future After Abidjan Loss

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Obafemi Awolowo once said nothing bothers him for more than a few minutes. Let us get over this national tragedy of Abidjan by initiating an Awolowo futuristic action plan tomorrow

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Ayo Akinfe

[1] OK, we lost the Nations Cup final. I think what hurt the most was the way we lost it. A lack of spirit among our boys was obvious with the way the Ivorians won every 50:50 ball throughout the 90 minutes

[2] Clearly there was a lack of motivation in the team. Poor tactical decisions did not help either. Just as well the head coach Jose Peseiro is leaving as he clearly lacks the capacity to take this team to higher heights

[3] Anyway, let us try and put this defeat behind us as get over it by initiating a new project as Awolowo would have done were he still around. Do you know that Awolowo was only premier of the Western Region between 1954 and 1960? He was in office for just six years, which is about the same amount of time as President Goodluck Jonathan but alas, look at how much he achieved within such a short space of time

[4] At a time when literacy rates were no higher than 5%, Awolowo had the foresight to built futuristic projects. He could easily have settled for the immediate needs of his constituents but no, he made the construction of income-generating projects one of the central principles of his government. The only person who appears to have thought like this in the current dispensation was Donald Duke, who made the construction of income-generating Tinapa and the refurbishing of the Obudu Cattle Ranch major priorities

[5] Cocoa House in Ibadan for instance was a 26-storey skyscraper built from the proceeds of agricultural produce grown and exported from the old Western Region. Obviously cocoa was the main cash cow but other income generators included timber, rubber and palm oil. Awolowo’s plan was to move away from the over-dependence on agriculture and diversify the economy so it had multiple revenue sources

[6] Awolowo’s futuristic plans included building the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, which was hired out to generate income. Up until 1973 when we opened the National Stadium Surulere, our national team then known as the Red Devils, played all their international matches at Liberty Stadium. Without Awolowo, can you just imagine the embarrassment Nigeria would have gone through not having a decent stadium in which to play international matches. It might have meant us playing our 1974 World Cup qualifiers in Accra, Ghana

[7] Apart from Cocoa House and the Liberty Stadium, Awolowo gave us the Western Nigeria Television Station at a time when many European nations did not have any, he introduced free primary education and proceeded with building the then University of Ife despite the fact that the region already had UI in place. None of these projects were going to yield dividends during Awolowo’s tenure but it was as if he had a crystal ball in front of him and could envisage the future. For instance, Cocoa House did not open until 1965 and the University of Ife did not open until 1962. By this time, Awolowo had long left office as premier but the benefits of his legacy remain with us until this very day

[8] If Awolowo had distributed consumer goods to his constituents he would probably have been more popular and had he just focused on eye-catching flyovers and dual carriageways, it might have got more traction but alas, he targeted his investments very carefully. For instance, the idea behind Airport Hotel in Ikeja was to provide a top class hotel for investors and tourists not far from the airport. I remember staying there once in 1996 on a trip to Nigeria and was disappointed that the management had not continually invested in its upkeep

[9] Personally, I do not like the fact that most of Awolowo’s projects were all concentrated in Lagos and Ibadan. I do not think he did enough to spread development across the Western Region, which is why the state structure we have today is 100 times better than the old regional structure. Cities like Abeokuta, Akure, Ado-Ekiti and Oshogbo would not be as developed as they are today had they not been made state capitals. If only our governors can have his foresight though

[10] If I want to be fair to all the other premiers in Nigeria’s First Republic, none of them were parasitic like today’s governors. They may not have had Awolowo’s foresight but they would all have found the principle of living off federal handouts totally insulting and beneath them. Our challenge now I guess is finding people with Awolowo’s foresight. Leadership comes from followership and until we alter our outlook as a people, producing another Awolowo is but a mirage

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