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Why My Presidential Ambition Failed — Obafemi Awolowo

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Having suffered sev­eral cycles of elec­toral defeat, Chief Obafemi Awolowo never realised his life-long aspiration to lead Nigeria. In the twilight of his life, he granted an interesting and wide-ranging interview to the Nigerian philosopher, Prof. Moses Akinola Ma­kinde, in which he reflected on his political career and lamented the failure of his longstanding presidential ambition. Excerpts:

“In 1959, during the elec­tion that was to usher in inde­pendence in 1960, I embarked on an elaborate campaign in the North. I don’t know how old you were at that time. I was using a helicopter to campaign in every nook and corner of the north. The most important aspect of the campaign of the Ac­tion Group was free educa­tion, life more abundant for the generality of the people etc., etc. Our manifesto was centred on the development of man. We worked so hard that the Sardauna of Soko­to, Ahmadu Bello, was forced to come out to campaign, a thing he was never used to. My hope at that time was to liberate the north from il­literacy, ignorance, and the ‘ranka dede’ mentality of the less privileged majority. If I had won the election, I would have put a lot of money edu­cating the north in order to bridge the educational gap between that region and the western and eastern regions. This was because I saw the lack of education as a stum­bling block against political enlightenment of the whole northern region.”

“Because they were not educated, the voters could not make up their own minds and make their own choices. Rather, the innocent people of the north had to be dictat­ed to by emirs and the elites who feed them on a regular basis whereas in the western region, people could argue with their Obas, could read manifestos and make an in­dependent choice of which party and which politicians to vote for. Unfortunately, all my efforts to liberate the north from the cruel jaws of the oligarchy were frustrat­ed by those who prefer, and will always prefer, the status quo to a new dawn of edu­cational advancement. You can see that even now, the educational gap between the north and south is increas­ing by leaps and bounds. All the talk about catching up is nonsense . . . How can you catch up with somebody who is running while you are crawling?”

“But I think that sooner than later, the leaders of the north will see the repercus­sion of their selfishness and carelessness in their attitude towards western education. But the time will be too late, and if they don’t regret it or blame themselves for lack of foresight, the northern youth may ask their leaders some questions when they see the rate of development that goes with education in many parts of southern Ni­geria. They may then won­der whether it was in their stars or in the selfishness, carelessness and lack of foresight of their past and present leaders. If I had been given the chance in 1959 or 1979, I would have changed the fortunes of the north as a place that can be compared favourably with the south in terms of educational, so­cial and economic develop­ments.”

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“As for me, I don’t think we should always blame a President’s lapses on his advisers. It is the duty of a President, as an educated and intelligent man, to know what advice is good or bad for his people. If he consid­ers the advice just, and of public good, he will take it as he himself would have calculated the consequenc­es of such an action. What is more, he should be able to use his own discretion as Mr. President. If he is in doubt, he calls experts from the universities where scholars must have done researches about such things or known about similar cases with par­ticular consequences.”

“As the Premier of [the] Western Region I chose my ministers strictly on merit and because of their educa­tion, standard and discipline. Every minister or adviser and top civil servant had to do his homework properly before bringing anything to a cabinet meeting or any other important meeting where it will be subjected to rigorous debate. Where there are grey areas, expert opinion would be sought for the purpose of objectivity. As the Premier, I had to follow all procedures vigorously and meticulously, always relating our decisions and actions to the public good . . . *It is because of this ser­vice to the public that I often maintained that the office of the President* *or Prime Minister is not for pleasure. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, it looks as if the office of the President* , *Minister or Adviser is for pleasure, like dining and wining and carousing with* *women of easy virtue both at home and abroad.”*

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