By Yinka Odumakin
IT’S been three years since Papa Awolowo’s “Jewel of inestimable value”,Mama HID Awolowo joined the Saints Triumphant on the eve of her centenary and now we are a few days away from the anniversary of the interment of what was mortal of her.
It is a good time to recall the last encounter with Mama a few months to her exit at the living room of the Awolowos in Ikenne in company of Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu and Pastor Tunde Bakare and his lovely wife. It is an unforgettable meet for which I am beginning to gain understanding as I write this.
My good friend and brother, Prof. Wale Adebanwi, first Black African Rhodes Professor at St Antony’s College, Oxford; has done extensive work on the post-humous career of Awo but yet to give us insight into the re-union of Awo and his sweet 100. He has an assignment if he reads this !
While waiting for the guy with one of the most gifted pens in my generation,let me hazard that contrary to the rude and insensate jabbering of an attack-dog columnist that Awo would have filed post-humus divorce against his wife if he returned to Ikenne when she was alive,the sage would have headed straight to some terrestrial altar upon seeing the love of his life who stood by him throughout his turbulent political career on earth and kept the flag flying years after his departure before handing over the baton to their seed.
The June 2011 acerbic attack was a frontal challenge to the Awo establishment in an attempt to rubbish the measuring rod in Yorubaland and foist an aberration as the new standard in the order of the declaration by the Publisher of The Nation that published the sacrilegious attack that “I can only tread the path of Awolowo, without his shoes. I don’t know his size, I can’t step into his shoes because they are either bigger or smaller…”
It was one offensive that went awry as it turned out the Awolowo family will always have an Awo. Mama’s response was exactly the way Papa would have done it . Read excerpts :
“Ordinarily, I do not join issues with uninformed individuals nor do I comment on articles written in uncouth and downright vile and violent language. Hypocrites that claim to be more catholic than the Pope or more Awoist than his family when they in fact hobnob with so-called pariahs when it suits them and their pockets certainly do not engage my attention, usually.
However, this piece, the latest in a long campaign of calumny against my person and family and which, if reports are to be believed, is the opening salvo of a fresh campaign apparently aimed at destroying and demystifying the Awolowo family, deserves an appropriate response, particularly since, we are informed, such campaign has been adopted as the preferred policy and strategy by a particular political party to consolidate its hold on its newly acquired political power base.
At 95, I have lived long enough to expect common civility from younger ones, assuming that they received and imbibed proper home training. Having just lost my daughter less than two months ago, I also expect that normal people would spare me the kind of vitriolic attack that was unleashed on my person and my family, particularly as such an attack was entirely unprovoked.
It is pertinent to mention here that, for all their protestations as the true children of Awo, the top hierarchy of the leadership of the ACN has not deemed it fit to offer me their condolences on the bereavement either by telephone, letter, or personal visit, up till now.
I should certainly not expect anyone in their right mind to, in the same article, rake up the old wounds of the previous tragic loss of my first son and then proceed to question and, indeed, dismiss the notion that he could possibly have been fit to carry his illustrious father’s mantle. All in a bid to situate the author’s ‘piper’ as the anointed heir of a heritage that can never be purchased.
For the avoidance of doubt, my son Olusegun was a graduate of Cambridge University and he was called to the bar in the UK after a stint at the Inner Temple, where his father also studied. These are facts that are open for verification by anyone who wishes to do so.
Our expectations of Segun were tragically cut short and it is a cruel irony that a so-called Awoist has chosen to taunt me with this. With friends like this, who needs an enemy?
The writer claims that, ‘in all his tribulations, the family (Awo) had was not his flesh and blood’. One of the basic tenets of journalism is that facts are sacred but comments are free. Perhaps, it should not be surprising that the writer failed even in this. I would like to refer him to the dedication contained in Awo’s last book, first published in 1987, The Travails of Democracy and the Rule of Law. I quote:
‘To my children, Omotola, Oluwole, Ayodele, Olatokunbo. They also bravely weathered the fierce and howling storm from sixty-two to sixty-six; they suffered mental agony in silence; they provided besides sources of cheer for Papa and Mama, in the four-year—long journey through the dark and dreary tunnel’.
As for my personal role in my husband’s life before, during and after the crisis, I commend to the writer most of his publications, particularly AWO, My March Through Prison, and The Travails of Democracy and the Rule of Law.
It is surely to the utter shame of a so-called avowed Awoist that he has exposed his absolute lack of any knowledge of Awo’s life. I would not be surprised if the writer was unaware, as many of his cohorts also appear to be, that I was the first person to use the broom as a party symbol when I led the party’s campaign for the Federal elections that were held during my husband’s incarceration.”
The abject insult that was heaped on my person by the writer, for daring to rise above partisanship and pursue the common good has caused me the kind of pain that can only be dealt with by offering it to God, whose wheel of justice may grind slowly but is guaranteed to grind exceedingly fine.”
This was the woman we visited at 99 a few months to her death and days to the inauguration of the present administration .
Before what transpired that afternoon, there was an incident on January 14, 2015. The APC campaign entourage led by General Muhammadu Buhari was in Ikenne to pay courtesy visit to Mama and possibly seek her endorsement with her son-in-law, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on the ticket as Vice -Presidential candidate. The Matriarch was however measured in all she said to the team:
“I am happy to see all of you this evening; thank God He has brought you all safely.
“As a mother of the nation, you all know that I do not belong to any political party; I have long retired from partisan politics after the death of my husband, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
“I can only pray for you for God’s guidance and protection as you tour the country to campaign for votes. I pray that God will grant you your heart’s desires. It is also my sincere prayer that God will grant us a peaceful general election in Jesus’ name.”
Our Ikenne visit a few days to the inauguration of this administration was to see Dr. Awolowo-Dosunmu and we ordinarily would have seen her at her apartment .But by some design she asked us to join her at the main house where Mama was resplendently seated though with all the physical attributes of old age.Her head was bowed and eyes dim.
But her voice was very clear as we seated and she asked for Pastor Bakare’s hand after exchange of greetings. Having a firm grip of the hand of the Cleric, the Leader of Remo faithful women asked in Yoruba “Olorun si wa ndan “(God still exist?). The same question three times.The Pastor assured her God is still up there and rules in the affairs of men. With her head still bowed she followed up “Awon to nbo yi ni”(It is these people coming ).
It became clear that Mama was not doubting the existence of God but bewildered how God would deal with the immediate future of Nigeria that was being painted on the canvas of her heart and troubling her inner eyes.The deep was calling to the deepest. It must have been a serious troubling of soul moment for this great woman to need reassurance that God was still up there.
She had faced challenging times in her lifetime and the farthest he went was asking the love of her life “why”. On pages 246-7 of My March Through Prison,Oloye Obafemi Awolowo had this testimony about his wife:
“Throughout the crisis, my wife, who is a heroine in her own right,wept in my presence on three occasions. The first occasion was when we entered our car to travel from Ikenne to Epe, en route to Lekki where I went on further restriction. The second was on January 1,1963. For the first time, I saw her wear dark glasses. On seeing me she wept without inhibition.
‘Why,why,why,?She sobbed. “Why are they so cruel ? “She disclosed to me later that she had cried all night, and all morning.The third occasion was when we met for the first time in August after the death of our late son. Again, she wore dark glasses; and,on seeing me, she broke down and wept.”Why has this happened to us?,she asked in a very moving tone.
Her sight and her utterance stirred indescribable emotions within me and for a minute or so could not speak. And so,in answer to her query I said slowly,”I don’t know, you don’t know and we will never know. But God knows. And our faith in the merciful wisdom of God who knows why Segun died should be enough consolation for us as Christians”.
Mama’s physical eyes remained shut during that memorable encounter but her inner eyes saw clearly the fate that awaited an uncritical nation. She saw a badly divided polity ahead. She could see that human blood would become the cheapest commodity in our land. She visualised the global secretariat of poverty under construction in Nigeria. She couldn’t do anything about Nigerians jumping into the Lagoon to end miserable lives
As she cried inwardly,those tears of hers dropped for those who deluded themselves in beer parlours that $1 would sell for N1 and that they would soon buy a litre of petrol for N40.
By September 19,2015, Mama decided she already had enough and there was no point celebrating her centenary in the midst of all these. She boarded the last flight !