Chief Obafemi Awolowo was born on March 6, 1909, in Ikenne, Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria.
He had his primary school education at St. Saviour’s school, Ikenne, and at Imo Wesleyan School, Abeokuta. He then went to Wesley College, Ibadan in 1927, and then the University of London. He was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Commerce (Hons.) and the Bachelor of Laws by the University of London. He was called to Bar by the Honourable society of the Inner Temple on November 19, 1946.
Obafemi Awolowo got married to Miss Hannah Idowu Dideolu Adelana on the 26th of December, 1937. They had 5 children together: Olusegun (1939-1963), Omotola, Oluwole, Ayodele and Tokunbo.
After a brief spell as school teacher, stenographer, and Daily Times reporter-in training, Obafemi Awolowo set himself up in Ibadan as a produce buyer and a transporter. It was in Ibadan that his political life took off: he served there as secretary of the Nigerian Youth Movement before he went abroad to study Law in Great Britain.
Whilst in Britain, Awolowo and some of his peers formed the cultural group known as “Egbe Omo Oduduwa” in 1949 that would later evolve to the Action Group (AG) political party, in 1951. His party won the first elections ever conducted in Western Nigeria. As a result of that victory, the AG formed the first elected government in the Western Region and Awolowo, became the Leader of Government Business and Minister for Local Government in 1952. In 1954, Awo (as he had come to be fondly known) became the first Premier of the Western Region. His party won the elections again in May 1956 and Awo retained his position as Premier. He voluntarily gave up that position when, on December 12, 1959, he was elected into the House of Representatives where he became the Leader of Opposition in Nigeria’s central legislature.
He stood up stoutly against mediocrity and drift in government, and began to define alternative channels along which Nigeria’s government should go. His concept of a Nigerian nation was probably too advanced for his opponents, who began to see the Awolowo-led opposition as a major threat. Following a trial for treasonable felony, he was jailed for 10 years in September 1963.
By July 1966, Nigeria’s problems had become so obvious that disintegration of the country seemed inevitable. A new Federal Military Government led by Yakubu Gowon promptly opened the gates of Calabar Prison, released Awo and appointed him as a minister to take charge of the country’s treasury and to provide political support as Vice Chairman in the Federal administration. In those two roles, he was one of the major architects of Nigeria’s victory over secession in the Civil War. When the war ended, Awo waited just long enough to give Nigeria a National Development Plan; as soon as the Plan was completed, he resigned from the government.
When Nigeria’s Armed Forces lifted the ban on civilian participation in politics in September 1978, Nigerians who believed in Awo’s political ideas and principles joined him in forming the Unity Party of Nigeria which presented Nigeria with a dynamic programme of socio economic change along democratic socialist lines. Awo led the party until it was banned, along with Nigeria’s other political parties, during the military take-over at the end of 1983.
Chief Awolowo was a great political thinker who committed many of his thoughts to writing. From 1946, he started a long career in political writing, which flourished regardless of him being free or in detention, being in power or not. It continued to flourish till the very end of his life.
As leader of the Western Region, he oversaw the construction of the Liberty Stadium, WNTV (the first television station in Africa) and the Cocoa House (once the the tallest building in West Africa).
He passed away on May 9, 1987 at the age of 78 at his countryhome in Ikenne, Ogun state.
Awo’s image graces the 100 Naira bill.
The old University of Ife and the Liberty Stadium have been renamed after him (Obafemi Awolowo University).
The late Odumegwu Ojukwu spoke of him as “the best President Nigeria never had”.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Nigerian Nostalgia Project