The Contributions of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to the Growth and the Development of Nigeria During First Republic
Department of History and International Studies, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria
Submission: October 11, 2018;Published: March 11, 2019
*Corresponding author: Buhari LO, Department of History and International Studies, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria
How to cite this article: Buhari LO. The Contributions of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to the Growth and the Development of Nigeria During First Republic.
00116 Ann Rev Resear. 2019; 4(4): 555645. DOI: 10.19080/ARR.2018.04.555645
This study examines the personality of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the making of Nigerian nation in the First Republic. The study found out that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a Nigerian nationalist and statesman who played a significant role in Nigeria’s independence movement during First and Second Republics. The study notes that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was thrice a major contender for Nigeria’s highest office. He was a key player in the intra-party power tussle that erupted in 1962 that led to disturbances in Western Region House of Assembly. Also, the study examines major challenges faced by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and how he eventually became the Federal Commissioner of Finance and the Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council in 1966. The study employs primary and secondary source materials including books, journal articles and other scholarly publications to interrogate the study. It concludes that Awolowo was responsible for much of the progressive social legislation that made Nigeria a modern nation today.
The Yoruba speaking people are found not only in the Western Region Nigeria but also in other parts of West Africa (Dahomey and Togo, and as far as Brazil and Cuba). Therefore, elements of Yoruba speaking people forming the majority of the population in Kwara State .
The Yoruba form one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria with a history of centralized political systems, a common historical culture, and tradition. In the words of Professor Lloyd, Yoruba culture is remarkably uniform for a people so numerous and inhibited such a vast area . Remi Anifowose opines that party politics did not begin in Western Region, Nigeria until the emergence of the Action Group which was founded by Obafemi Awolowo to champion the cause of Yoruba nationalism against the rising tide of Igbo nationalism led by Nnamdi Azikwe, the National President of the NCNC . Hence, Awolowo was the motivating force that led the Pan-Yoruba movement which stimulated the political consciousness of the Yoruba.
Obafemi Awolowo was born in a village called Ikene on 6th March 1909, in colony and protectorate of Sothern Nigeria as it was then called under British rule .
Awolowo Oyeniyi was one of the most influential nationalists in the African Continent. His vision and tireless activities defined a modernist Yoruba political project in an emergent Nigerian post-colonial nation-state after decolonization process in the 1940s. The scene community was in religious flux at the time of Obafemi’s birth in the first decade of the twentieth century .
At the outbreak of the First World War, 1914 to be précised, Awolowo started his educational career at the St. Saviors Anglican School, Ikenne. Then, his father was still alive. Awolowo settled down to his studies and began to show early signs of his devotion to scholarship by maintaining top grades in all his elementary school subjects and by the time he was fully admitted to school, he topped the class throughout his career in the junior school .
With the death of his father in 1920, there was an abrupt cessation of Awolowo Oyeniyi’s schooling and all the hikes and career aspirations which he had systematically nurtured were remorselessly dashed. Awolowo served as a house boy for several years in the strange land serving from one master to the other in search of stipends to pay for schooling. Also, due to his financial constraints, he moved from one school to the other in Abeokuta resulting in transfers to as many as fair different schools within a short period. Awolowo pulled himself up by the bootstraps .
However, Awolowo gained admission to Wesley College, Abeokuta and began to show the stuff he was made of. Due to his determination and tenacity, he displayed his hatred of injustice and disapproval of hierarchical stratification between juniors and seniors, a common tradition in secondary schools in those
days. He disapproved the bullying of juniors by seniors .
Surprisingly, Awolowo developed an interest to study law
in spite of his financial blues and tribulations in paying his
school fees. By 1928, the young Awolowo took correspondent
courses (distant learning programme) in English, Commercial
Knowledge, Booking, Business method and shorthand. He
became a shorthand typist to earn some money to finance his
Obafemi Awolowo formed the umbrella body for the
propagation of the cultural identity and political unity and
development of the Yoruba as an integral part of the ethnic
nationalities which constituted Nigeria as one colonial political
entity. His thinking principally was to rally his own ethnic stock
for unity purpose in fostering a political strategy that simply
adopted charity begins at home as its central ethos .
Awolowo established himself as the spokesman for
the Yoruba of Western Region delegation at 1948 General
Conference on the review of the Richards Constitution of 1946
held in Ibadan. Awolowo Obafemi was an unrelenting advocate
of unity in diversity of the ethnic nationalities which formed the
component part of the new country which Lord Fredrick Lugard
had married together on 1 January 1914 as ‘Nigeria’ . It was
gathered that Obafemi Awolowo purposefully spearheaded the
formation of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in order to do all within
his power to infuse solidarity into the disjointed tributes that
constitute the Yoruba ethnic. He wanted to boost the Yoruba
morale, rehabilitate their self-respect and imbibe in them the
confidence that they are an important falter in the forging of the
federal unity of Nigeria.
Again, in the making of the nation, Awolowo reckoned
that if the component ethnic groupings in what he referred to
as “mere geographical expression called Nigeria feel happy
among themselves; if they are free within prescribed limits to
order their lives and advance their culture and if the solidarity
and devotion exhibited within their ranks can be sublimated to
the cause of the nation, then the federal unity of Nigeria would
have been assured” . Obafemi Awolowo strongly believed
in self-determination for each of the main ethnic blocks in the
federation of Nigeria. He strongly opposed marginalizing the
minority ethnic groups by the three majority’s tribes in Nigeria
By 1951, Chief Obafemi Awolowo founded Action Group
. He laid the framework of this newly established political
machine in the mold of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, the Yoruba
cultural organization he had founded earlier in London.
From inception, the Action Group led by Chief Obafemi
Awolowo made the populist programmes of free education
and the task of nipping out illiteracy, universal health services
and poverty alleviation, the cardinal principles of his policies.
Welfarism was the cornerstone of its programmes . Awolowo
liked to describe himself as the Chief organizing secretary of any
political party that he had the good fortune of leading. Awolowo
was a Master of Political Games. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who
was First Premier of the Western Region during one of the
sittings of the House, notes that:
Since its accession to power in 1952, this Government has
constantly and consistently, with the regards for the unity of
the Nigerian Federation, placed the interests and welfare of the
people of this Region above all other considerations. Its policy
and programme have been designed to benefit and have in fact
benefited rich and poor alike, sinner and saints, the peasantry
and the working class .
However, a five-year Development plan for the Western
Region was presented to the Western Region House of Assembly
in 1955 by the Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The white
paper proposed an expanded programme of road improvement
and tarring the improvement of urban and rural water supplied,
the general expansion of social services and the development of
product and industry. A front of £6,000,000 was obtained by the
Government while an additional £4,000,000 was sourced from
the Western Region Marketing Board (WRMB) for the execution
of the Development plan.
I am sure that all Honourable Members will agree with me
that the core of our wealth in the region is cocoa. It is the very life
blood of our economy…. Furthermore, it has been realized by all
of us for some time now, that an economy which depends mainly, as our does, on a simple export crop, is a precarious economy.
The Government is fully alive to these dangers, and steps being
actively taken to remove them .
The objective of the 1955-1960 plans was to achieve the
increase in agricultural and industrial production which was
expected to facilitate a steady rise in income and standard of
living for the people of the Western Region.
Saturday, 12 December 1959 was a great watershed in
the history of the Action Group when the party lost a very
important federal election its leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo,
had anticipated to win. This election was significant in because
Nigerian politicians and significant parties were awarded that
the party that won the majority of parliamentary seats in the
Federal House of Representatives was going to be the recipient
of sovereign power when the British Colonial Administration
transferred it on 1 October 1960 . Also, the election was
to determine the balance of power between the major political
parties in the Federation since it preceded the grant of political
independence to the country. The electioneering campaign that
preceded 1959 election up to that time was most expensive,
intensive, protracted and sophisticated election campaign
in Africa . Due to the deep and notorious ethnic nature of
Nigerian politics, to a very large extent, ethnic and regional
considerations, rather than good party programme, determined
which political party got people’s votes. Consequently, Chief
Awolowo Obafemi became the leader of opposition in the
Federal Parliament rather than the Prime Minister he had hoped
to become .
In the preparation for the independence of Nigeria, in 1959,
the Government of the United Kingdom indicated its willingness
to grant independence to Nigerian parliament moved and passed
a motion to that effect. Consequently, on January 14, 1960,
there was motion calling for the British Government to grant
self-rule or sovereignty to Nigeria on October 1, 1960. It was
moved and passed in the Federal House of Representatives. As
regards this important motion, the Government kept Awolowo
and his opposition group in dark. They only heard the news
that such motion was coming up. Sir Abubakar moved motion
and seconded by Mr. Raymond Njoku, the Minister of Transport
(NCNC). On July 29, 1960, the United Kingdom parliament
passed ‘Nigerian Independence Act, 1960’, which provided for
independent Nigeria . Awolowo did not attend many of the
official functions and ceremonies that were organized to mark
Nigeria’s attainment of independence as he was not invited in
the way that his office and contributions to Nigeria demanded.
Obviously, it was as a result of the deep-rooted animosity
between the Government and Chief Obafemi Awolowo that led
to ugly situations .
Despite the fact that Chief Obafemi Awolowo boycotted all the
independence celebration ceremonies, he and his wife attended the night of September 30, 1960, where the Union Jack was
lowered and replaced by the Nigerian Flag. Also, Chief Awolowo
attended Independence Dinner which took place on the night of
October 1, 1960, where he and his wife were seated far away from
the high table that could hardly recognize the faces of those who
sat there. This incident created a sense of aggravated insult and
humiliation in the personality of Chief Awolowo and his wife as
some ex-colonial officials bore unspoken ill-will against him for
the role he played in the struggle for the Nigeria’s Independence
Before Awolowo embarked on his ambition for the office of
Federal Prime Minister, he was keen as ever on putting this region
(Southwestern) on a sound economic footing as a major player
in industrial and commercial concerns. He raised the minimum
wage of workers from the 5 shillings of 1954 to five shillings and
sixpence on April 1, 1959. He incorporated the Western Hotels
Limited which invested in the building of the majestic premier
and Lafia hotels in Ibadan where industrialists and tourists could
have decent accommodation and cool their heels. Chief Obafemi
Awolowo set companies and empowered them with government
funding to shore up their working capital.
These include Western Nigerian Development Corporation
(WNDC), the Finance Corporation, and the Western Nigeria
Housing Corporation. The Western Nigeria Ministry of Industries
was the main supervisory department of government which
incorporated these mega-corporations.
WNDC under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo
floated a large number of industries and companies wholly owned
by the government or held in partnership with several foreign
investors. These include: National Bank of Nigeria, Wema Bank
of Nigeria, Great Nigeria Insurance Company, the Nigeria General
Insurance Company, the Nigeria General Insurance Company,
Gravil Enthoven and Company, Lagos Airport Hotel, Vegetable
Oil, Cocoa Industries, Odu’a Textiles, Wrought Iron Ltd, Union
Beverages Ltd, Sunga Company, Wemabod Estates, Western
Livestock, Fisheries Services Ltd, Caxton Press, Epe Plywood,
Askar Paints, Nigeria Crafts and Bags Ltd, Nipol Plastic, Phoenix
Motors, and several others. Today, many of these companies are
still viable and have been consolidated in the Odu’a Group of
Companies which is regarded as the largest conglomerate in the
history of Nigeria .
The 25-storey building known as Cocoa House was built
started by Chief Awolowo’s administration. Chief Obafemi laid
the foundation and saw its completion by his successor as the
crowning glory of his party’s success story. After completion in
the sixties, the building remained the tallest in West Africa for
decades thereafter .
Chief Awolowo’s term in office as the premier was valid
until December 1961 but he resigned his premiership and
vacates his seat in the House of Assembly two years ahead of his
mandate. Ironically, those who wanted independence postponed indefinitely were the beneficiaries of these selective royal
honours in 1959 and 1960. The British Government was very
pleased to hand over the reins of government to the northerners
on October 1, 1960.
An opposition leader could be charitable and part the
government on the back when its policies are good and
commendable. In this regards, Chief Obafemi Awolowo,
opposition leader, demonstrated this maturity. Unfortunately, he
was no pushover, either.
Because of his stand against the Federal Government,
Balewa encouraged the administrator, his personal physician,
to issue proclamations and decrees confining and restricting
the movements all the leading political leaders in the Western
Region including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the
Opposition in Lagos, to remote villages in the region in October,
1962, while Akintola and his followers were given preferential
treatment and treated with kids’ gloves. Awolowo, a top federal
lawmaker, was abruptly relocated from Ikene his hometown to
the mosquito-infected fishing village of Lekki Island in Epe by
Moreover, Chief Awolowo was arraigned alongside 27 of his
associates for allegedly plotting to the overthrown government
of Balewa. He was sent to jail for ten years in 1963 with the
leading lights of his party. The government was determined to
silence the opposition once and for all.
Awolowo appealed against the judgment at the Supreme
Court, the Chief Justice, Sir Ademola, the Prime Minister’s friend,
and his two expatriate colleagues, wasted no time in discussing
all their grounds. But the acting Supreme Court Judge Louis
Mbanefa, an Igbo man, wrote that Chief Awolowo could not be
pronounced guilty because the evidence of his Chief accuser was
not corroborated by any other witness. Just before Chief Obafemi
Awolowo was sent to prison, the Federal Government decided
that it was a good time to split the Western Region into two
and it duly seated the Midwest region on August 10, 1963, after
a referendum. In spite of sustained agitations, no states were
seated in the east or north. Chief Obafemi Awolowo observed
this and raised alarm and advocated for Midwest Region, he was
arraigned for treasonable felony. Chief Awolowo was very lucky
to win his freedom again at his second treason trail .
On April 2, 1963, Chief Obafemi Awolowo went into the
witness box to give evidence in his own defense in a marathon
effort which lawyers present in court described as a brilliant
and sterling performance and which the judge described as very
interesting. He defended himself for sixteen days, he poured
scorn on all the allegations of a violent take-over of government
by him and his men with the use of torchlight and ammunitions,
none of those could be produced in court. As he was standing in
the box, Chief Awolowo said it was the legitimate ambition, to
want to succeed as the head of government in any future election.
He voluntarily resigned because of his ambition.
Before, Awolowo was sentenced to ten years in prison, he
welcomed any sentence the judge might impose on him even
though, he did not agree with the judge’s verdict. He noted that
his concern was not for himself by his imprisonment might do
harm to Nigerian for three reasons.
On April 10, 1964, the appeal lodged by Awolowo at the
Supreme Court in Lagos was heard. This time, the Federal
Government was confident that it could afford to relax its
earlier ban on Awolowo to have a solicitor of his choice from
Britain most probably due to the pressure of public opinion.
The prophetic words of Chief Obafemi Awolowo while he was
in courtroom came to pass as the soldiers who carried out the
January 15, 1966, coup showed no mercy to their victims.
Shortly after Chief Obafemi Awolowo was released from
Calabar prison on August 3, 1966, he joined some groups to
prevent the escalation of the crisis. On August 11, 1966, there
was a meeting of the Yoruba people to adopt a common agenda in
the ensuring constitutional discussions to determined Nigeria’s
political future as well as to discuss the looming political crisis in
the country which hung in serious dilemma after the massacre of
Ibo civilians in Northern Nigeria in the July 1966 revenge coup
and the murders of the Head of Supreme Military Council, Major
General Ironsi and Governor Fajuyi in Ibadan on 29 July, 1966.
However, Nigeria was heading for civil war and colonial
Adebayo was eager to rally the people of the west to forge a
common front. At this meeting in Ibadan, Chief Awolowo was
elected by acclamation by his colleagues and his erstwhile foes
as the undisputed leader of the Yoruba people shortly after
the Military Governor vacated the chair. From that movement,
Chief Obafemi Awolowo once again became the de facto political
leader of the Yoruba people and the defender and protector of
their interests. Awolowo joined some groups that included the
National Conciliation Committee which met Ojukwu in May 1967.
Chief Awolowo declared four principles in order to induce
the northern-dominated federal military government to sue for
peace with embittered Easterners. He also made it known that to
the war to keep Nigeria one would only be legitimate if the West
and the Midwest agreed with North which was what eventually
Chief Obafemi Awolowo somewhat foresaw the terrible
things to come. Civil war was one of these. While he was in
prison, he had warned his compatriots against the breaking up
of Nigeria into a number of sovereignty states which would not
only do permanent damage to the reputation of contemporary
Nigerian Leaders but would usher in terrible disasters which
would bedevil us and many generations to come.
After the outbreak of the civil war in 1967, Awolowo in
concert with the Yoruba military leaders, took steps to get the
Yoruba not only to participate in the war effort but to use that opportunity to have a sat and a role in the Armed Forces of
Nigeria that was bottom heavy in favour of the North and the
Eastern Region since independence on October 1, 1960.
Chief Obafemi was approved the Chairman of the Federal
Executive Council of Nigeria on May 19, 1967. In that capacity,
he represented Nigeria at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’
Conference in London in 1969.
He was confirmed as a Stateman of genius after he
successfully fenced off all discussions about the Nigerian Civil
War. Awolowo used his connection shortly after he was appointed
to nudge Gowon on to create thirteen new states in Nigeria
before Ojukwu declared secession in July 1967. In order to keep
the unity of Nigeria, Awolowo once again initiated a brilliant
strategy that Nigerian government should change its currency
which Biafran economists and its leaders did not anticipate. The
then government changed the currency which actually affected
Chief Awolowo’s dreams came true in his lifetime. He
had wanted thirteen states created after a plebiscite based on
It is very apt to say Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a very good
stimulator maybe it was due to knowledge he acquired from
outside the country. Obafemi saw the usefulness of the television,
light, and water, convinced his people and brought to the Yoruba
people of Nigeria. On secularity of Nigeria, Chief Obafemi
Awolowo notes that it is very good for the religious institutions
in the country to pray for the success of the government … if they
are in the state of confusion that such governments have good
programmes. It would be wrong and futile for religious bodies to
pray for the success of a manifestly satanic administration .
Also, Awolowo wish religious bodies should pray for the
reformation of such governments, clergymen should serve
as apostles of welfare, simply the way they are challenges of
oppression and injustice; since they are challengers of oppression
and injustice since they work closely with the downtrodden
and in the areas of greatest poverty. He stated further that they
have the direct relationship with the communities of the poor
people; clergyman should be main development partners of the
government. He advised that clergymen should fight modernday
slavery, fraudulent schemes, disintegrative and anti-cohesive
loyalties and the innumerable machinations of reprehensible,
predatory and anti-democratic Nigerian politicians called
modern day black slavers .
In his effort in the making of the nation, Chief Obafemi
Awolowo warned Nigerians that the introduction of second –
hand clothing into Nigeria would kill Nigerian industries. They
hated him for that. Today, no Textile mill is standing in all of
Nigeria, while second-hand clothing business booms and so is unemployment . In order to appreciate the efforts of Chief
Awolowo’s government and the welfare of people, two students
per secondary students in Ibadan were taken on a seven-day
excursion round the Western Region. At the end of the excursion,
the nationalist and Pan-Africanist, Chief Awolowo who was the
Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, explained to these
students why he did free and compulsory education, free medical,
seven shillings and sixpence minimum wage for workers, the
first Television in Africa was tested, he laid the foundation of the
cocoa house which was the tallest in Nigeria as at that time, the
teachers’ college and roads, etc. under the leadership of Chief
Obafemi Awolowo, there was a vision, there was purpose and,
of course aim.
David Williams (1982) President and Power in Nigeria: The Life of Sheu Shagari, (London, Frank Cass and company ltd, UK), p. 48.
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Obafemi O; p.60.
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Development of Nigeria, (Ibadan, Best Quality Prints, Nigeria), pp. 216-217.
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Alabi-Isama G (2013) The Tragedy of Victory On-the-spot Account of the Nigeria-Biafra War in the Atlantic Theatre, (Ibadan, Spectrum Books Limited, Nigeria), p. 15.