The love story of Papa and Mama Awolowo
MUCH has been said and written about the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his “jewel of inestimable value”, the late Chief Mrs.. H. I. D. Awolowo who recently passed to eternity about 2 months short of her landmark 100th birthday. After a most remarkable life, Mama H.I.D Awolowo, the Yeye Oba of Ile-Ife, belongs to the ages now.
One usually undiscussed problem of Nigeria is our confused family structure in which the traditional, Moslem and the Christian marriage systems co-exist and often conflict with each other. It is nonetheless an issue, which, fundamentally, affects this society. Many men, including lawyers, judges, legislators etc are known to, illegally, combine two or the three forms of marriage while the law often condones such infraction. In effect, while it will be fair to say that the Nigerian society is confused of the family structure it should have, a really foundational issue, the Awolowos represent a unique example in devotion, commitment and faithfulness of a couple to each other in a true monogamous Union.
Theirs is probably the most celebrated love story of our time. Chief Awolowo’s total regard and respect for his wife is well known and well recorded. In one of his books his description of his wife as “a jewel of inestimable value” is no doubt one of his most quoted lines. He never spared any opportunity to pour encomium on her. Yet, Awo was not an actor.
He said what he meant and meant what he said. Nobody ever doubted the depth and genuineness of his love. He was a man of conviction well known for his Spartan discipline and to have been a single woman man all his life. His life was a challenge.
Yet those who knew the beginning of the relationship knew that the marriage between these two nearly did not happen. For a time, it was a troubled Romeo and Juliet story, which could have been aborted. One of the people with intimate knowledge of the stalemated relationship was a Mr. S. T. A. Okusanya, a friend of the late sage and a relation and the boss of the then Miss H. I. D Adelana, who was a teacher at the St. Saviour’s Anglican Primary School in her days as a spinster when Mr. Okusanya was the headmaster of the school. That headmaster later became Chief S.T.A Okusanya, the Baba Ijo of St. Saviour’s Anglican Church Ikenne and my father-in-law when l married his daughter, Lolade. At her baptism at birth, Mama Awolowo was made Lolade’s godmother and they maintained a special relationship to the end.
The story as told by my father-in-law was that Awo and mama were very much in love and were desirous of getting married. Awo was already emerging as a young man with a sharp social conscience. He was serious-minded and at under 30, he was already gathering arsenals for his future political career and engagement. He was a dashing young man. Miss Adelana was also a paragon of beauty, a gentle, well-comported young lady whose adoring persona will make any young man turn his head.
Theirs seemed like a relationship made from heaven. However, there was a problem and a serious one for that matter. Mama’s mum, the late mama Adelana, an empress in her own right, was a rich, strong merchant of immense influence in Ikenne in her days. She was totally opposed to the idea of a marriage between her beloved daughter and Awo. She saw in the various activities of the young man in Ikenne and beyond, a bold, adventurous, dare devil who would either die young or end up in prison!
For her it was inconceivable for her beloved daughter to be joined in marriage with such a maverick who was always courting trouble! Over her dead body!
On the other hand, Papa Adelana, the father of Miss Adelana, was agreeable to a wedding between the young couple. He could see a great future for them and loathed to see anyone truncating such a promising union.
But such was the strength and gusto of the late Mama Adelana that her husband did not dare to disagree with his wife on the issue! Rather, he went quietly to her relation, Mr. Okusanya, many times urging him to appeal to his aunt to allow the young couple to get on with their lives! But he was not going to force anything so as not to complicate matters or incur the wrath of his wife!
As for Miss H. I. D. Adelana, as she then was, much as she was very much in love with the then Mr. Obafemi Awolowo marriage without the consent of both or any of her parents, particularly her mother, was out of the question. She was totally submissive and prepared to wait for her miracle to happen. Eloping was beyond the contemplation of the couple, and if anyone ever thought of it, it was never suggested.
As for the dashing young man, Awo, the affection of this budding lion was never feeble. Having already found love, no one was going to stop him. His faith in the suitability of this well-behaved paragon of beauty for him was beyond any doubt. He was not unaware, and may have been comforted and emboldened by the positive disposition of Papa Adelana to the relationship. No matter how long it took, he was prepared to wait until Mama Adelana changed her mind. But he was implicit in his faith that changes her mind she will! There was a deadlock awaiting heavenly intervention.
And so the waiting game, which, l guess must have lasted for the better part of two years, continued. Then one day, out of the blues, Mama Adelana called her relation, Mr. Okusanya, to ask if his friend, (Awo) was still interested in marrying her daughter!
No one asked why she changed her mind! Wherewith, Mr. Okusanya, Awo’s partner in the holy conspiracy, said he needed to consult his friend! Well, he did and Awo, who had never flinched in his love to young Miss Adelana, triumphantly, said he was very much on board! The rest, as they say, is now history. Marriage followed quickly thereafter and thus the beginning of a long and checkered era in the life of this show-piece and remarkable couple.
For those of us who had the fortune to know them closely, the relationship between the two was always a sight to behold, a spectacle. They were the quintessential couple, an exemplar. They were the apple of each other’s eyes and were totally engaged. They were a challenge and an inspiration to many young couples. They generously honoured and respected each other, literarily, as the bible enjoins. Their love was so deep and sincere you could touch it. You would be right to say that Papa was Mama’s god on earth next to her God in heaven. She revered and nearly worshipped him. He was the fountain of knowledge and wisdom from which she drank daily. Like a chicken protecting its offsprings
from a hawk, so did she protect her man severely. In his several battles in life, she was a constant companion and his abiding lieutenant.
She was the cheerleader at every engagement. She dutifully ministered to his every need as if it was her life’s mission. She, obviously, knew her husband intimately- his moods and sensibilities. She was a prodigious housekeeper who generously made their home welcoming to the many visitors who thronged this Mecca daily for over 60 years. She scrupulously kept an eye on everything that was going on and a sharp ear on everything that was said. She was a shrewd businesswoman in every sense of the word- detailed, calculating and prudent to the core. Papa was, obviously, right at the centre of her life. She was blessed with a good head. To the end, she was cerebral, quick-witted, forgetting nothing and often knew every one by name and the names of their spouses and children!
On his part, Papa’s love for Mama was generous and undiluted. He adored, honoured and protected her vigorously. I cannot think of anything that could infuriate or incur Papa’s furry, speedily like dishonoring his wife! The lion in him will come out venomously. From my observation it was clear that if Papa ever disapproved of anything mama said or did that was entirely between them and their God. She was the apple of his eyes, the source of the joy of this strong man in whom he was well pleased. They shared interests in politics, socials, religion and virtually every field. They shared their burdens, successes, tragedies with equanimity. Their dinner table was a forum of an enlightened discussion and conviviality everyday. They were a model in political leadership and family relationships who influenced many a couple of their generation. He was the lion and she was his most adoring lioness and a really invaluable jewel who adorned his life.
After Papas demise, Mama never lost sight of her duty. She continued to work, tirelessly, to the end, for the sustenance of the Awolowo legacy. She was descent, courageous, dutiful and accountable to the end. It is futile, may be, unimaginable, to think of or speculate on what Awo’s life could have been like without his wife on his side. One thing that is sure, however, is that while Awo lived a remarkable life and succeeded in many things and affected his generation fundamentally, it is, generally agreed, that in the sacred choice of a wife, he made a perfect choice which suited him so well and helped him, in no small measure, to fulfill his life’s mission and to engrave his strides so emphatically on the sands of history.
•Adefulu, (MFR) is a Lagos based lawyer