Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, daughter of late political colossus, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in this interview she gave insight to why she shunned politics and founded Awolowo Foundation.
It has been over 30 years that Papa Awolowo passed on. How would you describe him as a father?
He was an exceptional human being and father. His life was dedicated to the service of entire community, I mean the whole country. He had to make time for so many competing interests. In spite of the fact that he had only 24 hours a day, he spent little time with us.
I could remember when we were young, he always kept a box of chocolate and biscuit in his room from where we used to pick. It was a demonstration of love and affection for his children. He shared his wisdom with us as we grew older. We apply his wisdom and experience at the appropriate time in our endeavors.
Did he have enough time for his children and the family?
Like I mentioned before, he didnâ€™t have enough time for us. But, the little time he shared with us, he made us feel we were important to him. When he was the Premier of the old Western Region, he used to hold Christmas parties. He made us to participate for people to see us; to show that he was proud of us. At tender age, we understood he had to do what he was doing. We were satisfied with the little time he had to spend with us.
Why did you lose interest in partisan politics after a brief stint in 1990s?
I tried, it didnâ€™t work. I came out in 1990/91 to contest for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) governorship ticket. I learnt important lessons from that experience. Since then, I have decided to divert my time and energy towards promoting the legacies of Papa through a non partisan platform, the Awolowo Foundation. It is an opportunity to promote Papaâ€™s legacies.
Many thought you came out to fill the vacuum created by Papaâ€™s demise. What do you think?
I had no ambition of taking over the leadership role of Papa in politics. Rather, I had wanted to use political office to promote his ideals. I actually believe in what he did, his achievements as the First Premier of the old Western Region. His legacies are still there for people to see and appreciate. But, when politics became unpleasant for me, I decided to look for another way, to sustain his legacies. It will not do the legacies any favour if there are too much negative things in politics. I believe his plan for human and infrastructural development is what we should follow.
It was unfortunate those that were opposed to his philosophy didnâ€™t take time to understand his position. They didnâ€™t want him to win election. It was unfortunate for this country. We are selling the message through the Awolowo Foundation. We have made some impacts so far.
Can Nigeria ever produce a woman president?
In foreseeable future, it is possible. But, considering what is happening now it is a tall order. The odds are against women are overwhelming. They need a helping hand and support from men folk. But, women too should present themselves; those who have the capacity and skills in terms of intelligence should come out to make impact in politics; they should dredge up the courage.
Most of Awolowo legacies like free education, free medical service and life more abundance have faded in the South west. What do you think is responsible?
May be people are not perceptive enough to understand Papaâ€™s vision that brought up those programmes and policies. They could not understand the relationship between those policies and future development of Nigeria. A few people understand it when he was alive; itâ€™s now gaining wider currency. People are now starting to understand what he stood for. Itâ€™s all about human development. Even the World Bank said you must develop every single individual for the world to develop.
There is a general perception that most of the Awoists have betrayed his political philosophy. Do you agree?
The reality is that those who understood Papaâ€™s philosophy and worked very close with him have dwindled. The vast majority of the present day Awoists did not know him and what he stood for. They profess Awoism by mouth only to win elections. If you donâ€™t understand the philosophy, you canâ€™t serve the people like Chief Awolowo did; you cannot project for the future. That is why the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation keeps talking about his philosophy and vision; promoting it for the benefit of the present and unborn generations.
It is the right of the individuals to have their potentials fully developed by the government. That was the philosophy behind the introduction of free primary education in the Western Region in 1955 by the Action Group government headed by Chief Awolowo. Most of those who benefitted from that programme are doing well in their chosen career. You can imagine if that opportunity was not there, may be many of them couldnâ€™t have gone to school.
It is the responsibility of the government to make life worth living for the citizens. There is abject poverty in the land. The youths account for 70 per cent of the population; they are jobless. We are sitting on a time bomb. Those who have investments in Nigeria should be worried because they canâ€™t abandon their properties. It is our responsibility to develop the country.
What does restructuring means to you?
Restructuring means federalism. It carries with it resource control, devolution of power. Secession is not part of restructuring. It is those who believe that they have been short changed by the system and nobody is listening to them that are pushing for secession.
We practised true federalism in this country up till 1966 before the military intervention. In that era, both the federal and regional governments were equal. The Federal Government legislates on Defence, Immigration, Foreign Affairs and few other things while the states had powers to make laws on Education, Health, Agriculture and so many other things. Unlike now that the government at the centre had taken over most of the state or regional government responsibilities. Up till 1966, each region had its own constitution, agents in the United Kingdom who were more or less ambassadors.
Unfortunately, all those privileges have been taken away from the states because we are operating unitary system of government in disguise of federalism. The system is so appalling that states now go to Abuja every month to collect federal allocation for the running of their states. This is so because they have no control over the resources within their jurisdiction. One can recall that in the First Republic, the Western Region relied on cocoa as major source of revenue to implement its programme like free primary education and free health for children under 18. The regional government encouraged cocoa farmers through provision of farming in-puts and agricultural extension services. The government buys from the farmers and export the produce in exchange for foreign currency. The Federal Government had nothing to do with all this. The only thing was that the region paid royalty to the federal government. It was the same thing with the Eastern Region that produced palm oil; the Northern Region with groundnut and cotton. That was how those regions operated. There was development in each region.
In the Southwest, our stand is that there should be synergy among the states so that they can maximise their potentials for economic and human development. A situation where the states go to Abuja for subvention is not ideal. Lagos State and few other states in the country are viable. You can see how Lagos State has partnered with Kebbi State in the production of rice. We want similar gesture to be replicated among the South West states.
Other zones may look at restructuring from different perspectives; we need to come together to discuss those peculiarities and harmonise our differences so that we can move the country forward. We need to be more conciliatory. If you have many children and some of them are giving you problems all the time, you canâ€™t close their discontent or ask them to shut up forever. We are in democracy; the voice of every interest group must be heard.
Can we blame the woes of this country on military intervention?
Of course, yes. They truncated the course of democratic governance in this country. Had it been there was no interruption by the military, our democracy could have grown beyond this level. We wonâ€™t be where we are today. The military had done a lot of damage to the system. But now that we are in democracy, we should adjust for peace and development of the country.
Again, we need a constitution that we all subscribe. The present constitution was imposed on us by the military. We need to remove every trait of military in governance. I am sure if there is will on the part of the authority, everything is possible.
How do the family feel having their son-in-law as Nigeriaâ€™s vice president?
We are happy for it. We just hope he will do us proud. We keep praying for hi success and the government at large.
How would you assess the Buhari administration?
The administration has made fighting corruption and containing terrorism its cardinal programme. My prayer is that they will succeed. Beyond that my prayer is that they succeed in other areas. They should listen to people as much as possible particularly those calling for restructuring.
The new statute of Chief Awolowo commissioned recently by Governor Akinwumi Ambode has drawn criticism from the public. What is the family position?
The Lagos State governmentâ€™s heart is in the right place.. We commend the state government for the honour done Papa. There are statutes everywhere. It is difficult to build a statute. The government had spent a lot of money building the statute. There are some places where Papaâ€™s statutes have been removed and they are not replaced. I commend the courage of Governor Akinwumi Ambode.
I am sure the governor is experienced enough to make corrections. We are happy that 30 years after Papa passed on, the governor still found it worthy to honour him. The family will not make formal complaint on the new statute.
Source: The Nation.
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