Feature- Contrasting the Musical Tribute to Chief Obafemi Awolowo by King Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey


by Olutayo Irantiola

The history of Western Nigeria and the country at large cannot be complete without the mention of Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo. It would be recalled that he was the person who introduced free education and this fast-tracked the learnings and development of the region that made a lot of people.


As a culture that thrived very well on orality. The Yorubas are adept at using words in various ways either as music or poetry. When a musician wants to celebrate people, it can be in form of praise-singing for the living while eulogy is usually done in celebration of the bravery of a dead person. As it has been agreed in many quarters, music is a form of time-capsule as it keeps record of happening at a particular time.

At the demise of the renowned Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo, the two prominent Yoruba singers amongst many others that did eulogies to celebrate the life of the political leader. Prominent Nigerian singers, King Sunny Ade and Chief Commander, Ebenezer Obey waxed different albums titled, “Jealousy” and “Immortality” respectively.
King Sunny Ade opened his album by describing his encounter with a strange bird that sang thrice while he was overseas. He sensed that it was a bad omen. He got in touch with Nigeria and he was told that the sage had passed on. As typical with any Yoruba musician, he mentioned his mother, wife and children’s names one after the other and he did not leave out his origin, Ikenne.

Equally, he mentioned that a truthful person is never appreciated while he was around unto his demise. He spoke of the various feats achieved by the renowned writer. He noted that those still alive are the ones to do their best while living. He urged the Yoruba to be united after this death.

Awolowo was described as the fighter of the poor and the godfather of the needy. He noted that Awolowo played phenomenal roles in South-western Nigeria, some of these are- free healthcare; free education; salary incremental; the first television station in Africa; mass housing projects; Liberty Stadium and Cocoa House, Ibadan. In the over verbose nature of conversing in Yoruba, the artiste with all sense of confidence was sure that he had made it to paradise from the earth.

In his own tribute, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey started his song with a dirge sort of opening. “Ha! O ma se, ile n jeniyan, iku pa Obafemi Awolowo” loosely meaning, “Ha, the land consumes humans, Obafemi Awolowo died”.

He likened the demise of Awolowo to the departure of a big fish from the waters! He noted that Awolowo gave specific instructions before his demise which are- do not mourn my departure, love one another and be united. It is such a wonder that it was to many people to know that Awolowo had announced that nobody should mourn him. The artiste spoke about how life is fleeting.

Awo, was described as a truthful person who remained on the truth. The memories of Awolowo will forever be itched on the heart of many persons. Some of the phenomenal feats recorded include free education, free healthcare and the first television station in Africa. As customary, he also mentioned all the family members of the departed and mentioned his hometown, Ikenne.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that both musicians creatively recounted the life and times of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, both King Sunny Ade and Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey gave glowing eulogy to the departed sage. I will end this tribute with the short biography of Awolowo-

Obafemi Awolowo, also known as Chief Obafemi Awolowo or Awo, (born March 6, 1909, Ikenne, Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria—died May 9, 1987, Ikenne, Nigeria), Nigerian statesman who was a strong and influential advocate of independence, nationalism, and federalism. He was also known for his progressive views concerning social welfare.

Awolowo was born in Ikenne, then part of the British Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The son of a peasant, Awolowo first studied to be a teacher and later worked as a clerk, trader, and newspaper reporter while organizing trade unions and participating in nationalist politics in his spare time. In the 1930s he became an active member of the Lagos Youth Movement—later the Nigerian Youth Movement—and rose to become its secretary for the Western Province. During that time he came to bemoan the ethnic divisions within the nationalist movement and the growing political inequalities between some of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities and regions.

Awolowo went to London in 1944 to study law, and while there he founded the Egbe Omo Oduduwa (Yoruba: “Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa”) to promote the culture and unity of the Yoruba people, one of the three largest ethnic groups in colonial Nigeria, and to ensure a secure future for them. During that period Awolowo also wrote the influential Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947), in which he made his case for the need of a federal form of government in an independent Nigeria to safeguard the interests of each ethnic nationality and region and to create a sustainable basis for Nigerian unity. He also called for rapid progress toward self-government.

In 1947 Awolowo returned to Ibadan to practice law, and the following year he established the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in Nigeria. In 1950–51 he founded a political party, the Action Group, with some of the Egbe’s members as its nucleus, and in the process became the party’s first president. The party called for an immediate end to British rule and for the development of several social welfare programs. In 1951 the party won the first elections held in the Western Region, one of the colony’s three administrative divisions, and Awolowo later served as leader of government business and minister for local government structure, the latter for which he established elective councils. From 1954 to 1959, as premier of the Western Region, Awolowo worked to improve education, social services, and agricultural practices, implementing many progressive policies. Notably, his administration introduced programs that provided free health care for children and free universal primary education. The first television station in Africa was established in the Western Region by his administration as well.

Meanwhile, he tried to build the Action Group into an effective nationwide party by making alliances with ethnic groups in other regions. Awolowo supported his party’s efforts to accelerate Nigeria’s progress toward self-government by pushing the British to commit to an early date for independence. After a disappointing showing in the hard-fought 1959 elections and after the two other major parties had formed a coalition, he became leader of the opposition in the federal House of Representatives. After Nigeria achieved independence in 1960, Awolowo began to modify his earlier position, leaning toward socialism and advocating a neutral foreign policy rather than his earlier pro-Western position.

With dissension growing in his own party over both ideology and administration, Awolowo fought to maintain ascendancy. Although he managed to prevail at the annual party conference in 1962, one year later he was tried and convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released after a military coup took place in July 1966—the second coup to occur that year.

Later that year Awolowo was a member of the National Conciliation Committee, which attempted to mediate a rift between the federal government and the Eastern Region, which was inhabited predominantly by the Igbo people. Mediation attempts failed, and he eventually threw his support behind the federal government when the region seceded as the Republic of Biafra, sparking civil war (1967–70). During the conflict, Awolowo was federal commissioner for finance and vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council. In the mid-1970s he was chancellor of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and Ahmadu Bello University.

When the 12-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. He ran for president in the elections of 1979 and 1983 but was defeated both times by Shehu Shagari. Following a military coup at the end of 1983, parties were once again banned, and Awolowo retired from politics.

An important figure in Nigerian history, Awolowo’s ideals and accomplishments continue to influence Nigerian politics. He wrote several books, including Awo: The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1960) and Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution (1966).

Awo was once the Chancellor of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University; 1967 – 1975) and Ahmadu Bello University (1975 – 1978), was also recognized for his intellectual contributions to Nigeria and Africa at large. Below are some of his academic honors at various institutions in Nigeria and Africa: University of Nigeria, Nsukka: LL.D. (1962); University of Ife, Ile-Ife: D.Sc. (1967); University of Lagos: D.Litt. (1968); University of Ibadan: LL.D. (1972); Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria: LL.D. (1975); University of Cape Coast, Ghana: LL.D. (1976); Chancellor of the University of Ife (1967 -1975) and Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1975-1978).

He was conferred with various titles across Nigeria, these included Asiwaju (means Champion) of Yorubaland; Asiwaju of Remo; Losi of Ikenne; Lisa of Ijeun; Apesin of Osogbo; Odole of Ife; Ajagunla of Ado-Ekiti; Odofin of Owo and Obong Ikpan Isong of Ibibioland.

Awolowo impact was recognized when he was awarded the Grand Band of the Order of the Star of Africa by the Republic of Liberia in 1968, and made the Grand-Officer de l’Ordre National du Lion, Republique du Senegal, in 1972.

Culled from www.peodavies.com


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