Former military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, yesterday, paid glowing tribute to late Obafemi Awolowo for working hard to save Nigeria from breaking up during the civil war (1967-1970).
Gowon spoke at this year’s edition of the Obafemi Awolowo Memorial Lecture and post humous birthday organised by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation in Lagos.
He said he worked with the late political sage at a very difficult period of war in the country and, together, they successfully turned the situation around.
“Awolowo teamed up with us and helped keep Nigeria together without borrowing a kobo during the war. He and the team of elders, who were in my government at the time, advised us, and we took a decision that was in the best interest of Nigeria,” he said.
Gowon also denied saying the country had so much money, but didn’t know what to do with it, a statement that had been attributed to him for many years.
Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Emeka Anyaoku said the founding fathers of Nigeria would have been disappointed by what he described as the disrespect to the judiciary by the Federal Government.
Anyaoku, who is also the chairman, Selection Committee, Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership, said the country is heading towards the wrong direction because of the actions of the government.
“I wonder how Nigeria’s founding fathers, like Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello, would feel with the present situation in the country. They would be disappointed that instead of having viable federating units, we have weaker and non viable units with an all powerful government at the centre, which stifles competition and growth. They would also be disappointed that the Federal Government disrespects the judiciary and disobeys court orders; our fathers would be disappointed with the direction the country is headed. I, therefore, urge those who are involved in government to emulate the likes of Awolowo and Azikiwe,” he said.
He also said the selection committee considered several names submitted to it for the award of “Price for Leadership”, but regretted that none of them met the criteria which would have been universally acclaimed to approximate what Awolowo represented in his lifetime.
“The last two recipients, Wole Soyinka and Thabo Mbeki qualified for the award because they possess the qualities which are great integrity, impressive capacity, consistency in convictions, impeccable patriotism, love of country without considering personal sacrifice involved,” Anyaoku said.
The Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, who was a guest of honor, said despite having died over 30 years ago, Awolowo’s spirit was still living with us.
“He was a leader and was not temperamental. A leader is someone who can take criticisms and not one who is temperamental. We should not live our lives based on riches, but should be more interested in how we touch the lives of those around us,” the monarch said.
Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, who gave his goodwill message, said: “We cannot pretend that our nation is not in a dilemma. It is very important to restructure, but we have to talk about productivity. A nation that does not care how its income is distributed from the highest to the lowest cannot be taken seriously.”
The guest lecturer and former senator, Prof. Banji Akintoye said Awolowo was an unrelenting searcher of wisdom. He said the free education he (Awolowo) introduced in the western region turned the region around. He also reiterated the need for restructuring of the country and called on youths not to leave the future of the country in the hands of politicians.
“Those who rejected Awolowo’s support of regional government have led Nigeria into dark times, and, unless we attend to these issues urgently, Nigeria would soon disintegrate. The over centralisation of power is the main evil chasing Nigeria into its dissolution. I urge the youths not to leave the struggle for the federation of Nigeria to politicians, otherwise, the country would disintegrate.
“Youths suffer most from the rot in our country, yet they are the real leaders who should be moving the country forward. Awolowo always talked about how to make Nigeria great and that is what youths should be concerned about. Any youth who choses to learn from Awolowo’s purpose driven life should use his legacy to beautify lives,” Akintoye said.
He urged Nigerian youths to stop following politicians around, but, rather spend time improving their personal capacities.
“Youths should learn to read widely and develop more constructive ideas for the future of Nigeria, instead of depending on the crumbs that fall from politicians’ tables,” he said.
The executive director of the foundation, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu said despite the fact that it has been over 30 years since Awolowo died, it appears devotees of his leadership style is getting younger.
“The excitement that any event that celebrates the life of Awolowo generates is still a source of inspiration and the foundation has maintained his legacy,” she said.