By Ayo Akinyemi

On Saturday, 9 May 1987, Nigerians went about their individual commitments and concerns. My poor self was not left out. I was billed for a journey to London for the Harry Britain Fellowship Award by the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) which included a three-month stay in the Queen’s land.

All my activities throughout the day revolved around putting finishing touches to my readiness for the trip. I arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport about 8pm. By 9pm, I had completed all required formalities.

Just as the announcement for boarding came through the public address system, I noticed an unusual movement in the Departure Hall. I saw a number of notable known figures in an unsettled mood and hurried movement.

Although agitated, I could not respond to the instinctive strokes of the journalist in me. My mind and head were already London-bound.

Hardly had I settled down in the hostel provided by the CPU, located opposite the Nigerian High Commission that I picked the telephone and got across to Chief Ebenezer Babatope, then a Law Student at Buckingham University. He was, who broke the shocking news to me.

“Ayo, have you heard Papa is dead?” Papa Awo?, I asked. – The scene at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport seven hours earlier flashed through my mind – “Yes. He died yesterday morning. Someone phoned from Nigeria to tell me. It is sad”.

Yes. It was sad. It was indeed a sad day for Nigeria. The end of an era. That was exactly 33years ago. And, 33years after the transition of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN, GCFR, to another life (as he believed in Life After Life) things have not been the same with Nigeria as a nation and in the firmament of politics.

The glamour in politics died with him. The voice of wisdom, the voice of reason, the voice of courage, all went to the grave with him.

In a congratulatory message to Papa on his 77th Birthday in March 1986, then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, GCFR, described him as “the issue in the politics of Nigeria in the past 35years. You are either with him or you are against him”.

Incontestably, 33years after his death, Papa Awo remains an issue in the politics of Nigeria. Thus, necessitating the reconstruction of the words of William Shakespeare in JULIUS CAESAR centuries ago: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is often interred with their bones”.

With the Awo experience, both the bad and the good deeds of men become history after them and cannot be obliterated.

Today, the years of Awo in the politics of Nigeria, his conduct, performance, programmes and landmark achievements have remained veritable reference points.

Nigerians were caught unawares when, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojuwku – a central figure in the cesession bid and subsequent Declaration of The Republic of Biafra and the resultant Civil War – in a tribute encapsulated Papa in the memorable words ” … The Best President Nigeria Never Had’.

The controversy surrounding the role of Chief Awolowo in the prosecution of the civil war is still as vibrant as ever. So also is the veracity of the description of him “as the best president Nigeria never had”.

Today, many are still of the opinion that if there had not been a sleight of hand of military leadership in the outcome of the 1979 Presidential Election, and the process allowed to run a full cycle – to the Electoral College Second Ballot – with Papa Awo, candidate of the defunct UPN possibly as Elected President, the lot of Nigeria and Nigerians would have been different and better than what obtains today.

Whenever this comes to mind, the statement by then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, on the eve of the election that “…the best candidate may not necessarily win an election”, reverberates.

Before his death Papa Awo had made known his intention to chronicle his ADVENTURES IN POWER in three books. He was able to write two of the books: Book 1: My March Through Prison (1985), Book 2: The Travails of Democracy And The Rule Of Law (1987). He was on Book Three of ADVENTURES IN POWER: For The Good Of The People – when death came like a thief in the night.

In all honesty, the two books that Providence gave Papa the grace to publish, chronicled succinctly, the cataracts and falls that characterised the pre-independence, post-indepence political voyage of Nigeria, that prevented the ship of state in the First and Second Republics from navigating the water to the cape of good hope and good governance.

The books contained shocking revelations leaving big question marks on the Nationhood of Nigeria.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo has gone to rest, with us, as a people, as a country, still battling with unrest in so many fronts.

In an interview he granted The Guardian, published in the Thursday 7 March 1985 issue of the newspaper, Papa Awo reiterated his pride to be a  Nigerian and  his unalloyed love for Nigeria and the people of Nigeria.

“…I had no choice about my parents, who they’ll be. I had no choice about my place of birth or my state of origin and so on. The result is that I regret nothing. I have no regrets.

“Treasonable felony, no regrets. I do good to people, they do evil in return; no regrets. I continue to do good as I know it. So, I regret nothing.

“If I live my life all over again, I wouldn’t try to change anything, except that I would start where I end now.

“So, if I come back again, I wouldn’t try to change anything, except that I would start where I end now. So if I come back again, as I hope to, I will start probably as a genius and not as an obscure boy from Ikenne. I’ll probably start as a genius.

“I don’t know where, but I would love to return to Nigeria. This same Nigeria!

“Maybe I’ll be one of those who’ll be revolutionising  the country in, say fifty or hundred years time.

“So, if I had my life all over again, I would like to start where I am and be as inflexible as ever! I would set my goal very early in life and pursue it, no matter what happens. I would be more inflexible.”

Immortal Awo, continue to rest in peace.

Will Nigeria ever have another Awo?

Ayo Akinyemi

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Pls… note that this piece was published 4 years ago. It was part titled “33 years after.” That part was edited to reflect currency.