Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (Yoruba: Ọbáfẹ́mi Awólọ́wọ̀; March 6, 1909 – May 9, 1987) was a Nigerian politician, aristocrat and statesman. A Yoruba and native of Ikenne in Ogun State of Nigeria, he started his career as a regional political leader like most of his pre-independence contemporaries. He founded many organizations, including Egbe Omo Oduduwa, the Trade Unions Congress of Nigeria and the Action Group political party. He was an active journalist and trade unionist as a young man, editing The Nigerian Worker amongst other publications while also organizing the Nigerian Produce Traders Association and serving as secretary of the Nigerian Motor Transport Union. After earning a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Nigeria from a London University through Correspondence, he went to the UK where he earned a law degree from London School of Economics. He was the first indigenous Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1960, and was the official Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament to the Balewa government from 1960 to 1963. In addition to all this, Awolowo was also the first individual in the modern era to be referred to as the Asiwaju of Yorubaland, a title which has come over time to be automatically ascribed to his direct successors as Grand Master of Afenifere.
Obafemi Awolowo was born in 1909 in Ikenne, present day Ogun State Nigeria. His father was a farmer and sawyer who died when Obafemi was only seven years old. He attended various schools, and then became a teacher Abeokuta, after which he qualified as a shorthand typist. After Which he served as a clerk at the famous Wesley college, as well as a correspondent for the Nigerian Times. It was after this that he embarked on various business ventures to help raise funds to travel to the UK for further studies.
Obafemi Awolowo was a leader who believed that the state should channel Nigeria’s resources into education and state-led infrastructure development. Controversially, and at considerable expense, he introduced free primary education for all in the Western Region, established the first television service in Africa in 1959,and the Oduduwa Group of which the highly lucrative cocoa industry which was the mainstream of the regional economy.
Crisis in Western Nigeria
Prior to independence, he was persuaded by prominent members of the Action Group to lead the party as Leader of the Opposition at the Federal Parliament, leaving Samuel Ladoke Akintola as the Western Region Premier. Serious disagreement between him and his erstwhile deputy, Akintola, on how to run the western region led the latter to an alliance with the Tafawa Balewa led NPC federal government. A contrived constitutional crisis led to a declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region, after an election which Awolowo claimed Akintola and his new coalition had lost, but rigged the result of. Revolt began with the Agbekoya attacking all known Akintola sympathisers in what became known in Nigeria political lore as “Operation “wetie” “(wet him with kerosine/petrol so that he can be set ablaze).
Excluded from National government, the position of Awolowo and his party became increasingly precarious. Some politicians, mostly of Akintola’s group, angered at their exclusion from power, formed a break-away party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), under Akintola. Constitutional crisis in the region led the federal parliament to declare a state of emergency in the west, the elected Western Regional Assembly was thus suspended, only to be reconstituted after new elections that brought the NNDP in control. Shortly afterward, in 1962, Awolowo and several others were charged, and in 1963 were jailed for conspiring with some Ghanaian authorities under Kwame Nkrumah to overthrow the federal government. The remnants of the Action Group fought the National election of 1965 in alliance with the largely Igbo, and south-eastern NCNC. Amid accusation of fraud by the opposition, the NPC-NNDP won the election. There were violent riots in some parts of the Western region.
Free Universal Primary Health and Education
Obafemi Awolowo first introduced free health care till the age of 18 in the Western Region and also free and mandatory primary education in Western Nigeria. Although, Awolowo failed to win the 1979 and 1983 presidential election which were questionable, his polices of Free Health and Education were carried out through out all the states controlled by his party UPN.
Awolowo is remembered for building the first stadium, Liberty Statium, Ibadan in West Africa, first television station WNTV in Africa, running the best civil service in Africa at the time (in the Western Region), He would also be credited with coining the name “Naira” for Nigeria’s currency (formerly known as the Nigerian Pound) as the Federal Commissioner of Finance under the Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon. Today, he is remembered by many Nigerians and non-Nigerians as the best Nigerian president that never ruled. And though often ignored, Obafemi Awolowo was the de facto Vice President to General Yakubu Gowon when he was Vice President of the Supreme Federal Executive Council under Gowon.
Awolowo was respected by Kwame Nkrumah, and some politicians in the West continue to invoke his name, his policies, and the popular slogan of his Action Group party—”Life More Abundant”—during campaigns. He was also the author of several publications on the political structure and future prospects of Nigeria. These works include Path to Nigerian Freedom, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution, and Strategies and Tactics of the People Republic of Nigeria.