AWO And The Truth About Baba Layinka By DARE BABARINSA

Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Chief Obafemi Awolowo
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WERE Chief Obafemi Awolowo to be alive, he would have turned 106 yesterday, March 6, 2024. Thirty-seven years after his death, Awolowo thoughts remain a dominant element of the Nigerian political landscape.


Many members of the political class, who may not have read a paragraph of Awo’s writings, love to wear the fez cap that became a symbol of Awolowo’s discipleship.


Even now, the Awo’s cap remains a symbol of definition in politics.

Younger Nigerians, especially those from the South-West, may not fully grasp the enormity of Awolowo, his conspicuous contributions to African political thoughts, his unforgettable landmark achievements as the Premier of the defunct Western Region and his management of the national economy during the Nigerian Civil War when our country never borrow a kobo to prosecute the war. When the war ended, we were richer than when it began.

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We know where we are today, thanks to the Nigerian political class.

I never had the opportunity of meeting Awolowo on a one-to-one basis, though he was the most dominant political figure of my childhood. Every year, the almanac hung in my father’s house, carried his pictures.


There was this unforgettable portrait of him on a white horse using his sword to pierce the fallen enemy! It was the turbulent 1960s, when he lost his son, went to prison and his enemies tried to destroy him, that finally prepared Awolowo for his apotheosis.


In 1983, I got the opportunity to meet Awolowo. I had been sent by my News Editor at the National Concord, Dayo Onibile, to cover a Press Conference at Awo’s Lagos home at Parklane, Apapa, where he would present Alhaji Mohammed Kura, as his running mate for the historic, 1983 presidential election.


After the Press Conference, which was attended by most of the governors of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, Awolowo decided to shake hands with us.

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We lined up and he was shaking us one by one. It was almost my turn when Chief Bisi Onabanjo, the Governor of Ogun State, came and ushered him away!


In 1987 after Awolowo’s death, I met Chief Onabanjo at Awo’s country home in Ikenne.


“I am still angry with you sir!”
I told him the story of how he deprived me the special opportunity of shaking hand with Awo.

“But I can shake you on his behalf and when I get to heaven, I would deliver your message!”

I got to know Awo more with my interactions with many of our leaders and elders. Chief Bola Ige, the first elected Governor of old Oyo State, used to regale us with Awo’s legendary table manners and his repertoire of stories during those long (at least two hours) lunch or dinner time. Then Awolowo died suddenly in 1987 and his followers were dazed.


No one was expecting him to depart so suddenly, despite his warning to them few months earlier.

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At his 78th birthday anniversary, the sage had spoken about ‘’the imminence of my transition to eternal life.”


None of them understood what he was talking about even when the speech was plain enough. Few days later, he called his son, Oluwole, and discussed his funeral programme with him, pointing out the site where he was to be buried within the large compound in Ikenne.


So, by 1998, Chief Awolowo had been dead for 11 years, but to Chief Ige, it was as if he was still alive.


When General Sani Abacha died suddenly In June 1998, our hope was on the imminent release of Chief Moshood Abiola from military detention. Abiola was the winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election and he was detained for attempting to claim his mandate.



We wanted Abiola to head what we called a Government of National Unity. Then Abiola died suddenly and our leaders, through Afenifere, agreed to participate in the new Transition to Civil Rule Programme rolled out by the military junta now headed by the genial General Abdulsalami Abubakar.


We met in Ibadan and agreed that it would be good for Chief Ige to run for the Presidency. He agreed. Would he open a Bola Ige for President Campaign Office in Lagos?


‘’I cannot do that,” he said. “Our leader would not like that!”
Chief Ige used to refer to Senator Abraham Adesanya as my leader and Papa Awolowo as Our leader.


Though Awolowo had been dead for 11 years, he would not want to take any step that would be contrary to what Awo would have approved!

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Chief Ebenezer Babatope, lawyer and journalist, was also very close to Papa Awolowo. He was the Director of Organisation of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN.


Along with his colleague, Chief M.C.K Ajuluchukwu, an old journalist and the Director of Publicity of the party, the two of them organised the special UPN Congress of 1982 at the National Arts Theatre, Lagos.


It was called to discuss the crisis in many states on the nomination contest for the forthcoming election of 1983.

Awolowo and many of the party leaders were seated on the High Table. Awo made his Presidential address and it was time to debate and contribute. It was becoming apparent that the proposed automatic renomination for the governors would carry the day.

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Suddenly there was a loud explosion in the hall. Many people thought it was a bomb explosion and everyone scampered for safety, including the big men and women on the high table. Awo and his wife, the formidable Chief Mrs Hanna Idowu Dideolu, sat stoically on the high table despite the melee while people were looking for any available door or window to exit! Babatope was forced to stay with the duo.

‘’If Papa had jumped, I would have jumped faster,’’ Babatope recalled.
Though trusted and respected by his followers, Awolowo did not believe in running a one-man show.



In 1967, the new military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, had sent a message to Awolowo, inviting him to come and join the new Federal Executive Council. A young Police Officer, Mohammed Dikko Yusuf, who was the Head of the Special Branch, at dawn flew in a helicopter to Ikenne with the clear instruction that he must bring back Awolowo’s reply.

“Young man, you will need to exercise patience,” Awo told M.D Yusuf who later rose to become the Inspector-General of Police during the regime of Generals Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo.

Awo then sent messages to his colleagues in Ibadan, Lagos and neighbouring towns to come for an urgent meeting. It was the meeting that decided that Awo should join the Gowon government.

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Today, politicians regard political appointments as preferment and once they are told, they would quickly rush to church or mosque for thanksgiving.

Mama also told us a story about Awolowo’s campaign in Lagos for the 1959 Federal election. At one of the rallies, Lagos women, among them the unforgettable Abibatu Magaji, burst into a song.
Awolowo, Baba Layinka, yio se bi o t iwi!

Awolowo, the father of Layinka, would keep his words!

The problem was that there was none of Awolowo’s children with the name of Layinka. When they returned home, Mama sat her husband down to extract the truth! Papa had a roaring laugher! There was no one bearing Layinka anywhere, he told her, but the song gained popular currency.


Many years later, Mama said they named one of their grandchildren, Layinka.
-the end-

The Guardian



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