CHIEF Obafemi Awolowo (AWO) was revered while he was in this cosmos with us as a man of deep thinking and great accomplishments. The free education programme, which he introduced in the old Western Region, was undoubtedly, one of his monumental achievements.
As one of the beneficiaries of the free education programme of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the second republic, under the leadership of the late sage, I appreciate the importance of education for the advancement of any society. The reality, however, is that AWO dwells in the realm of the incredibly deep, whose eminence and greatness need to be perceived and appreciated beyond the mundane. It is in this regard that we ought to examine the central theme of his political thought in order to truly appreciate him as an uncommon visionary, whose ideology of governance revolves around what I regard as the beautification of man.
In his Kwameh Nkrumah Memorial Lectures delivered at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, in 1976 entitled ‘The Problems of Africa – the Need for Ideological Reappraisal’, the late sage was unequivocal that the first proposition in any meaningful development was the development of man. He, therefore, differentiated between real development and ephemeral development, and drew our attention to the essence of making a choice between these options.
To the late sage: ‘Africa is number one on the list of the under-developed areas of the world. But whenever we think of the development of Africa, our minds turn at once to the building of factories and hotels, the construction of roads, the establishment of mercantile marines and airlines, and so and so forth. All of these, which are eminently desirable things in themselves, are development symbols, but not the real development itself.
The first question one may ask is that is this not instructive? What has been underpinning our development drive over the years as a nation? Is it towards the pathway shown to us by the late sage or to a different path crafted by us? Isn’t it remarkable that before the United Nations System conceived the Human Development Index as a true indicator for measuring human progress, Awo was far ahead and had spoken to us about its essence in Nigeria without us heeding his call?
To further underscore the centrality of man in the development nexus, at his Press Conference on March 28, 1979 entitled ‘Fundamental Issues in Nigeria’s Economic Development’, the late sage elaborated further on the centrality of man in socio-economic transformation by stating that: ‘Man is, therefore, the prime mover in every economy. Without him nothing at all can be produced.
In other words, the resources or of all impulses of nature are negative and inert: man on the other hand, is positive and dynamic. He is the determinant for all economic and social change, and the generator of all impulses of progress. Above all, he is at the same time, the initiator, innovator, innovator, accelerator, prime mover, producer, distributor, exchanger and consumer, in every economy. It should be crystal clear now to you and me that when we speak of the underdevelopment of an economy, we are in effect speaking of the underdevelopment of man.’
And who is this man that Awo spoke about so eloquently? The late sage saw him in the memorial lecture as ‘dual in nature: part animal, part God; part conscious, part subconscious; part body, part mind. Superior to all other living things in the animal kingdom…looked at in this edifying way, without exception, he is a potential genius’. In summary, Awo saw man as the real wonder of the world with infinite possibilities when his/her creative and subjective minds are fully developed and harnessed. In this regard, he saw the idyllic man fully maximizing his/her potentialities in the image of God that is divinely his/her birthright at creation when every society is conscious of his/her role in engineering human development.
This, the late sage postulated, would however, entail the following: (i) the development of his subjective and creative minds, by liberating him from ignorance, illiteracy, deficiency in technology, as well as technical and managerial inadequacy; (ii) the development of his/her body, through liberation from disease, calorie deficiency, bad water, bad housing and filthy environment; and (iii) the development of his farming/productive capacity, arising from ignorance, illiteracy, lack of savings and capital formation.’
In summary, therefore, development to the late sage is centred on man as its purpose and object, and aimed at the maximation of the human potential for the advancement of the good of humanity. He advocated that real development must be anchored on the development of the human talent to the fullest extent; and that every person should be availed the opportunity to contribute his /her quota to the socio-economic development of his/her society in a just and equitable manner. He recognised that when the talents of all within a society are not fully developed and harnessed, it is the society that suffers and not the individual, bearing in mind that the development of any society depends on the aggregate efforts of all within it to advance its cause.
In his keynote lecture delivered by Pius Adesanmi, at the Obafemi Awolowo Birthday Anniversary Symposium on March 4, 2014, entitled ‘Igbo Re, Ona Re’; The Nigerian Constitution and the Awo Road not Taken’, he expressed regret that we did not take the road to ‘ona’-light which the late sage showed us by opting to take the road to ‘igbo-darkness’.
The tragedy is that rather than embrace the deep governance philosophy ingrained in Awo’s political thought, the pretenders to intellectualism may want to dismiss it today as too simplistic, as to be given any worthy consideration. But are the simple things of life not the edifying things which we often neglect to our peril? Is it because the philosophy is not coming from Harvard, or Oxford or Cambridge, since we now seem to believe that any idea worth testing at all must be imported from abroad?
So, when shall we choose the road to the full development of man espoused by Chief Obafemi Awolowo as his political philosophy of beautifying man? In Awo’s thinking, because Nigerians are gods, we insult the Almighty God when we subject any Nigerian to deprivation, oppression or any form of inhuman treatment. So, how does this resonate with us as a religious people? Don’t we worship and reverence God? Don’t we honour God? Do we reverence and honour one another as Nigerians? Have we advanced the cause of putting man at the centre of development in our country over the past 56 years? How are we developing and harnessing the potential of man-God’s greatest gift to the world and his wonder of wonders.
Indeed, if our national aspiration over the years has been the full development of man, shall we still be battling with the challenges of insecurity, ethnicity, poverty, corruption, inadequate housing, disease, erosion of values, amongst others? Shall we continue endlessly to reject our philosopher and his beneficial message instead of heeding to it to enable us restore our pride as a people, and as a nation? When will Nigeria heed Awo’s message of beautifying man?
• Mayomi is an analyst and change advocate.