Obafemi Awolowo was a pioneer in Nigerian politics and helped shape the country into what it is today. As one of the founding fathers of Nigeria, Awolowo dedicated his life to fighting for democracy, federalism, and economic development in his country.
Born in 1909, Awolowo was a visionary leader who believed Nigeria could become a prosperous nation. He helped draft the country’s constitution, founded the Action Group political party, and served as Premier of Nigeria’s Western Region. Awolowo introduced free primary education, built roads and hospitals, and boosted the economy through farming incentives and industrialization. Read on to learn more about Chief Obafemi Awolowo GCFR.
Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian Statesman and Political Leader
Obafemi Awolowo was a prominent Nigerian politician, lawyer, and statesman who played a key role in Nigeria’s independence and development. Known as the father of Yoruba nationalism, Awolowo helped found the Action Group political party and served as Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria from 1954 to 1959.
From 1952 to 1959, Awolowo was the first Leader of Government Business, Minister of Local Government and Finance, and Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s legislative system. From 1959 until 1963, he served as the formal opposition leader in the federal parliament, opposing the Balewa government. After Nigeria gained independence in 1960, Awolowo continued to push for greater regional autonomy and a more federal system of government.
Today, Awolowo is revered as one of Nigeria’s founding fathers. His political philosophy of democratic socialism and federalism shaped modern Nigeria, and his progressive policies established a model of governance that still inspires. Awolowo proved that home rule and self-governance could benefit both Nigeria’s economy and its people. His life’s work helped pave the path to a more just, equitable, and prosperous society.
Obafemi Awolowo’s Early Life and Education
Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo was born on March 6, 1909, in Remo town of Ikenne, located in present-day Ogun State, Nigeria. He was the only son of his father, David Shopolu Awolowo, and his mother, Mary Efunyela Awolowo. He had two sisters and one half-sister from his mother. Awolowo was the son of a high chief and a member of the Iwarefa, the ruling faction of the old Osugbo clan in Ikenne.
Awolowo’s father was one of the first Ikenne residents to convert to Christianity in 1896. Adefule Awolowo, Awolowo’s paternal grandmother, whom Awolowo adored, was an ardent worshiper of the Ifá. Awolowo’s grandmother, Adefule, felt Obafemi was a reincarnation of her father (his great-grandfather). Awolowo’s father’s conversion to Christianity frequently clashed with the views of his family. He frequently challenged Obaluaye, the god of smallpox. Obafemi’s father died of smallpox on April 8, 1920, when he was about eleven years old.
He attended several schools, including Baptist Boys’ High School (BBHS) in Abeokuta, and then became a teacher there before qualifying as a shorthand typist. He later worked as a clerk at Wesley College Ibadan and as a correspondent for the Nigerian Times. Following his studies at Wesley College, Ibadan, he entered as an External Student at the University of London in 1927 and graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Commerce (Hons.). During his time in London, Awolowo was exposed to socialist ideals that shaped his political views.
In 1944, he moved to the United Kingdom to study law at the University of London, and on November 19, 1946, he was called to the Bar by the Honorable Society of the Inner Temple. Chief Obafemi returned to Nigeria on November 19 1946, and became a practising lawyer. In 1949, Awolowo established the Nigerian Tribune, a private Nigerian newspaper that he utilized to disseminate information. In 1951, he founded the action group.
Obafemi Awolowo’s Political Career
Obafemi Awolowo began his career as a nationalist in the Nigerian Youth Movement, where he climbed to the position of Western Provincial Secretary, like other of his well-known contemporaries. Awolowo was responsible for much of the progressive social legislation that has helped Nigeria become a modern nation. He was imprisoned in 1963 on charges of sedition and was not pardoned by the government until 1966 when he became Minister of Finance. In appreciation of all of this, Awolowo was the first person in the modern age to be named the Yorubas’ leader (Asíwájú Àwọn Yorùbá or Asíwájú Ọmọ Oòduà).
As one of the founders of modern Nigeria, Awolowo campaigned for self-governance and helped his country gain independence from Britain in 1960. He then became the first premier of the Western Region, introducing free primary education and improving agriculture.
In 1979 and 1983, Awolowo contested under the Unity Party’s platform as a presidential candidate, but lost to the northern-based National Party of Shehu Shagari. However, he left a lasting legacy in Nigerian politics. His progressive policies and vision for a united, democratic Nigeria shaped the political landscape. Though controversial at times, Awolowo is still revered today as a champion for education, economic empowerment, and federalism. His life’s work helped move Nigeria toward becoming a modern democratic nation.
Obafemi Awolowo Legacy
Obafemi Awolowo accomplished many great things during his lifetime that have left a lasting legacy.
The Obafemi Awolowo Foundation was established in 1992 as an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing the symbiotic interaction of public policy and relevant scholarship in order to promote Nigeria’s overall development. General Ibrahim Babangida, President of Nigeria at the time, launched the Foundation at Ibadan’s Liberty Stadium. His most important legacies (dubbed Awoism) are his exemplary integrity, welfarism, contributions to hastening the process of decolonization, and consistent and reasoned advocacy of federalism based on ethno-linguistic self-determination and uniting politically strong states as the best basis for Nigerian unity. Awolowo died peacefully on May 9, 1987, at the age of 78. He was laid to rest at his Ikenne residence, the Efunyela Hall (named after his mother), amid political and ethno-religious tributes.
Obafemi Awolowo’s Honours
Obafemi Awolowo was honored in many ways for his contributions to Nigeria.
In 1982, Awolowo was awarded Nigeria’s highest honor, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR). This award recognized Awolowo for his role in Nigeria’s independence and development.
In 1987, the University of Ife was renamed Obafemi Awolowo University in honour of Chief Obafemi Awolowo; he is one of the university’s founding fathers, eminent lawyer, nationalist, and politician.
Since 1999, he has appeared on the 100 Naira bill. Chief Awolowo held the title of Odole Oodua of Ile-Ife, in addition to a number of other chieftaincy titles.
The Enduring Influence of Obafemi Awolowo on Nigeria
Obafemi Awolowo’s influence on Nigeria’s political and economic landscape cannot be overstated. As one of the founding fathers of Nigeria, Awolowo shaped many of the institutions and policies that still endure today.
During his time as Premier of the Western Region (1954-1960), Awolowo implemented revolutionary policies focused on education, healthcare, and economic development that set the region apart. He made primary education free and universal, rapidly increasing literacy rates. He also established the first television station in Africa as a tool for education and political communication.
Awolowo promoted agricultural development and rural economic growth in the Western Region. He introduced price guarantees for cash crops like cocoa, provided subsidized fertilizer to farmers, and established farm settlements with amenities like electricity and pipe-borne water. These policies fostered economic prosperity and food security in the region.
Although Awolowo never became President, his political party, the Action Group, shaped debates around federalism, constitutional democracy and economic policy across Nigeria. Awolowo was an influential advocate for greater regional autonomy and fiscal federalism. He promoted the ideals of democratic socialism, arguing natural resources and the economy should benefit all citizens.
Decades after his passing, Awolowo’s vision lives on. His policies on education, rural development, and democratic socialism continue to influence political debates and shape Nigeria’s path towards progress. Awolowo’s enduring legacy as one of Nigeria’s founding fathers solidified his status as a titan of Nigerian politics and a champion for the common man.
So there you have it, a quick glimpse into the life of one of Nigeria’s founding fathers and most influential leaders. Awolowo was truly a visionary ahead of his time. His progressive policies and reforms set the foundation for a new Nigeria and inspired future generations. Even today, his impact on education, healthcare, and economic development in Western Nigeria is still felt. Though he never achieved his ultimate goal of becoming President, Obafemi Awolowo’s enduring legacy lives on. His story serves as an inspiration and reminder that one person really can change the course of history through determination, hard work, and a vision for a better future.