Travails of HID Awolowo
Peter, not Peter the Apostle, but Peter, the Hero of High Walpole’s Novel entitled ‘FORTITUDE’, said “It is not life that matters, but the courage you bring to it”, was part of Chief Obafemi Awolowo memorable speech and allocutus upon his conviction for treasonable felony, by Judge Sodeinde Sowemimo on the 23rd of September 1963.
In the lives of Obafemi and his beloved wife, Dideolu, since December 26, 1937, the most interesting potent linkage, was courage in their earthly conduct and affairs and equanimity to confront adversity with equal grace and candour.
Aside from courage, their confident hope in their unalterable destinies and God’s providence permeated their lives in their earthly sojourn.
Obafemi, after the death of his father, David Sopolu, in April 1920, life almost came to an abrupt halt, but with candour, grace, resilience and unshaking hope, he weathered the storm of life’s early troubled water.
Within a short span, after elementary education, he became a pupil teacher, class teacher, stenographer, school clerk, money lender, typist, public letter writer, transporter, cocoa produce merchant, labour unionist, journalist, etc., before he eventually became a lawyer in November 1946.
Alongside this troubled journey, was no other person, than his beloved wife, Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo, (Nee Adelana), whom he married on the 26th of December 1937.
Shortly after marriage and specifically on the 8th of May 1939, the economic slump of the 1930s, caught up with Obafemi’s investments in the produce buying and due to this business misadventure, which resulted to the near total collapse of his business venture, his properties had to be auctioned. His house in Ikenne fell on the auctioneer’s hammer for 40 pounds and his Chevrolet car fell for 25 pounds. His wearing apparels, did not also escape the auctioneer’s hammer.
Surprisingly, Obafemi was at this auction sale and this, took buyers, some of whom were his friends, off guards and they had to hurriedly leave the auction venue. When fortune smiles back at him, he was able to re-possess some of these properties at added prices.
This initial misfortune was enough to throw off a young marriage of about two years, but Hannah, like Obafemi, was also made of sterner stuff. Between this period, they started to raise their children and Segun came in on the 21st of January 1939.
Having realised this early challenge, Hannah quickly took to business enterprise, following her mother, Madam Elizabeth Oyeshile and her grand-mother, Chief Adebowale Oyegunle, who were successful female traders in Ikenne and she made instant success.
Obafemi and Dideolu’s initial difficulty was how to raise a sum of 1400 pounds, to enable him, proceed to the United Kingdom, for a Law degree, having earlier obtained the B. Comm London Certificate, by Correspondence in February 1945.
Their initial resolve, to borrow money from a very notable business man, a sum of 1400 pounds, free of interest for 12 years did not elicit a response or acknowledgment. It is however interesting to note that the condition attached to the loan, could naturally not excite a business man to warrant positive response.
However, mother luck smiled on Obafemi, when he was awarded a contract, towards the end of 1943, to supply the Army Unit base in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta and Kaduna, with Yam and Yam Flour. The profit from this enterprise, together with little assistance from close friends, was sufficient to sustain Obafemi in the United Kingdom for two years and it was now the lots of Hannah, to shoulder the financial responsibility at the home front, during Obafemi’s studies in the UK, between 1944-1946.
This prompted Obafemi, to say that “with my wife on my side, it has been possible for us to weather all financial storm.” She adequately took care of the home front, with five children, the oldest of whom was five and the youngest of whom arrived four months, after Obafemi’s departure to the UK.
As a crowning glory, Awolowo was called to the Bar on the 18th of November 1946, as a member of the Honourary Society of the Inner Temple and thus marked the end of a dark period and the beginning of another crowning light. Obafemi had a lucrative practice, between 1947-1951, with annual income of about 4300 pounds. He was in the course of his advocacy career described as a “terrible cross-examiner” in the popular case of Memudu Lagunju v Olubadan-in- Council and Ors.
It is equally interesting to note, that Ayodele and Tokunbo Awolowo, attended a Demonstration school, near their home in Ibadan, while Segun had been earlier sent to Agbeni Methodist School, the same school, attended by Awolowo’s house boy, Joseph.
Despite being the wife of the Premier, Dideolu, carried on her business as a prominent textile merchant, from her popular Awolowo corner in Gbagi Ibadan. She was the first trader to import lace materials in 1956, when she also became a major distributor of Nigerian Tobacco Company.
She was also a major distributor for Coca-Cola products. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as Premier of Western Region, carried on business of government from his Oke-Bola residence and did not live in official quarters and he also shunned the use of official car and the use of siren to his office.
Despite her serious business commitments, she made sure that Awolowo’s dinner and dining table, remained another veritable avenue, for political and intellectual discourse.
As Obafemi’s loyal, amiable consult, wife, friend and soul mate, she was equally close to Obafemi’s trusted aides and friends, like, Dr. Akinola Maja, Adebayo Doherty, Samuel Shonibare, Alfred Rewani, Chief S.O Gbadamosi, FRA Williams, S.O Awokoya, Olanihun Ajayi, Adekunle Ajasin and Ayo Adebanjo. Obafemi could not suffer fools gladly and was always in the midst of intellectuals, because according to him, “only the deep can call the deep”.
Obafemi, for the last 39 years of his life kept a celibate life (no womanizing, no alcohol, etc., purely for spiritual edification and growth).
However, another dark eclipse came, when Obafemi Awolowo left office, as Premier of the Western Region in 1959, after an uninterrupted governance for 8 years and became leader for the opposition in the Federal Parliament in 1960. The first major clash, easily referred to as the “Coca-Cola Crisis,” came up between, Hannah, as wife of the outgoing Premier and Faderera, as wife of the incoming Premier, Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Dideolu, as wife of the Premier and also a family friend of the AG Leventis, the owner of Coca-Cola, enjoyed the patronage of the Coca-Cola bottling company as its major distributor, since 1956.
Faderera, wife of the new Premier, insisted that Mama should relinquish the distributorship to her and Dideolu felt insulted by this request. It is a striking coincidence, that the two women, Hannah and Faderera, were equally strong and had very strong influence on their husbands. Faderera Akintola, Nee Awomolo, from Igbajo in the Ijesha speaking town of Yoruba land, trained as a Nurse at the Baptist Mission Hospital Ogbomosho, when Ladoke was at the Baptist College Ogbomosho, from where they started a blossoming relationship, which led to marriage in 1935. Faderera, like her policeman father, was a woman with strong views.
Whilst the Awolowos, had lived the better part of their life in Ibadan, the Akintolas lived in Lagos since 1930, when Ladoke was a school teacher at the Baptist Academy in Lagos, between 1930-1942, from where he moved to the Railway as Clerk and later became Editor of the National Service Newspaper, Lagos, owned by Akinola Maja, who also established National Bank in 1933.
From the editorship of this newspaper, Akintola also proceeded to the UK, where he also qualified as a lawyer in 1949. When Akintola became Premier of Western Region in 1960, there was no Premier’s lodge, because Awolowo never lived in one. A dingy and rusty colonial house, was located at Iyaganku and refurbished as Premier’s lodge, where Akintola lived as Premier Western Region, until he was killed in the same Premiers Lodge on the 15th of January 1966, during a military coup.
Faderera too, was also a strong business woman and there was a mutual antagonism and recriminations between her and HID. They were of varied background and idiosyncrasies. Initially, they tried to tolerate this relationship and they were sufficiently close. Shortly after becoming Premier, Samuel Ladoke Akintola sent his daughter, Abimbola, to the UK, to study Medicine. As evidence of initial amity, the young lady was seen off by both Faderera and Mama HID, who generously gave the girl 50 pounds Sterling and also arranged that she should be met jointly at Liverpool, by Yomi, (Akintola’s son) and Segun, (Awolowo’s son). However, as a result of the political travails that started in 1960 and traverses 1966, the centre could no longer hold between the Awolowos and Akintolas family.
The period between 1960-1966 were period of great political dispersers, intrigues, power play, wicked imaginations, subterfuge, innuendos and hatred. In the heat of this, Obafemi and his wife were great targets. Obafemi regarded the period between 1962-1966, as a period of “fears and howling storms” and that apart from the innumerable mental agony in silence, it was also according to Obafemi, a “four year long journey through the dark and dreary tunnel”.
Obafemi lived a Spartan disciplined life. In a Press Clip on Awolowo’s 45th birthday, in the Daily Service of 3rd March 1954, editor and columnist, Bisi Onabanjo, alias Ayekoto wrote: “Mr. Awolowo, leader of the AG government in the west will be 45 on Saturday, March 6. I understand he does not normally celebrate his birthday elaborately.
It is usually limited to his immediate family, and as a rule, he always like to have the day to himself and rarely receives visitors.
But on Saturday, there may be a break with the normal practice. He is bound to receive visitors and if there will be no celebration, it is likely that iced water and orange squash will be served. Mr. Awolowo himself is a teetotaler.”
Since 1951, when Obafemi contested election to the House of Assembly in Ikenne, and all through the first and second Republics, in rain and or sunshine, they were always together and Mama at the soap box, in the Second Republic, will always, lead the Party orchestra with Late Hurbert Ogunde, to sing the UPN’s Anthem, composed by Awolowo- “it is a duty that we owe, to our great dear motherland, to enhance her and to boost her in the eyes of all the world. Egalitarianism, is our natiomal watch word, equality of good fortune and to all each sure reward. Up, Up Nigeria and take thy rightful place, it is thy birth right and thy destiny, Africs leading light to be”.
On the 30th of September 1960, the eve of Nigeria’s Independence, the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa invited Awolowo, leader of the opposition, for a meeting for 7’O clock, in his official residence in Lagos. He left Ibadan for Lagos the same afternoon and was in the Prime Minister’s residence at 6.45pm prompt.
Mr. Odukale, the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary, told the visiting Awolowo, that he could not see the Prime Minister, despite the invitation. Awolowo left for the Ikeja VIP Rest House and at about 9pm, the Prime Minister rang him to express his apology and offered to come over to Ikeja to see the former Premier.
Awolowo seized the opportunity of the visit, to express his dismay, that he was being relegated in the scheme of things relating to Nigeria’s Independence, of which he was one of its architects and that the likes of Ernest Ikoli, Oba Akinsanya (Odeme of Ishera), H.O Davis, himself, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and Ahmadu Bello, all of whom were great pioneers and pathfinders of Nigeria’s Independence, should be properly accorded their rights of place in the Independence Anniversary.
Sir Abubakar apologised for this indiscretion, but despite this apology, Awolowo was equally shabbily treated, when he was dumped alongside his wife-Mama Dideolu, to an obscure corner of the independence anniversary ceremony’s venue in Lagos and was seated amongst Ex-Service men, including Sir John Rankine and his wife. Sir John Rankine was immediate predecessor in office of Sir Adesoji Aderemi, as Governor of the Western Region. He came all the way from the UK, on the invitation of the Federal Government.
Sir Abubakar, who noticed this breach, apologised again to Awolowo and his wife and left him, but nevertheless, the official usher also sat Awolowo and his wife among Ambassadors from African countries. They actually sat near the Ghanian High Commissioner. It was a brewing storm.
On the 16th of June 1962, the Federal Government, set up the Coker Commission of Enquiry to probe the Awolowo Government, headed by Justice G.B.A Coker, to probe six statutory boards in the Western Region. This was sequence to the (Emergency powers, statutory corporation, regulation Act), hurriedly passed by the parliament. On May 29, 1962, the Parliament also passed Emergency Rule Act, for Western Region with Dr. M.A Majekodunmi, as the Administrator of the Western Region.
Awolowo’s first taste of the emergency rule, was the restriction order placed on him by the Administrator of the Western Region, Dr. Majekodunmi, restricting him to a mosquito infested Government Rest House, Lekki Pennisula.
The condition in Lekki was so abysmal and appalling. The accommodation was enough to break Awolowo and his wife’s spirit. Biodun Falade-Awolowo’s indefatigable private secretary, a very resourceful person, ran errands for Awolowo between Epe and Lekki. Awolowo had no choice.
Mama Dideolu suffered this travail in Lekki without qualms. To ease communication and movement of people between Epe and Lekki, Awolowo had to buy a speed boat on the of 21st June 1962, to run errands between Lekki and Epe every morning and every other time to assist Mama in replenishing supply of foods and provisions. It was a gruesome experience to Obafemi and his wife.
Mr. Lynn, an Irish, was an unusual police officer. He was the Chief Police Detective, specifically deployed to humiliate, harass and embarrass Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his wife and perhaps cow them to submission. Lynn was the officer who placed Awolwo and his wife on house arrest at his No 7 Bell Avenue, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition.
As an harbinger of bad news, he came again to arrest Awolowo for treasonable felony. When he came, Mama had quickly alerted Awolowo- “Baba segun, okunrin o ni jan gbon ye tun ti de o” (Baba Segun, the troublesome man is here again).
Awolowo was formally arraigned before Justice Sowemimo and as already scripted, refused bail and sent to Broad Street Prison.
Mama asked Awolowo “why are they doing all these things to us?” Mama followed Awolowo to the prison gate, with a head unbowed. She came back to the prison much later in the day to bring Awolowo’s four requested books. Throughout Awo’s stay in Broad street prison, Mama Dideolu never missed a day visit to the prison yard.
Mama was solid as the rock of Gibralta, in times of triumphs and tribulations. During Awolowo’s treasonable trial, Segun Awolowo, his eldest son was killed in a tragic motor accident on the 10th of July 1963 on his way to Lagos from Ibadan, to defend his father, as one of the counsels in the treasonable felony case. Awolowo had earlier, heard about this ugly news on his transistor radio.
Awolowo was later relocated to the Calabar Prison, from where he was eventually released in August 1966 by General Yakubu Gowon, who made him the Minister of Finance and the Vice-chairman of the Federal Executive Council.
For the period Awolowo was in prison, both at Broad Street and Calabar, it was a soul that was split-one in prison and the other outside of prison weathering the storm and tide, to preserve Awolowo’s enduring legacies.
On the 21st of September 1962, Mr. Lynn, the Irish police officer came again, for the umpteenth time, to search the Awolowo’s official residence Ikoyi, Lagos. He found on the table, the sum of about 2,000pounds and a letter addressed to Pandit Nehru, who was to come to Nigeria on the 23rd of September 1962 on an official visit.
He found them as subversive. Awolowo resented this misuse of power, to regard Nigerian currency notes and a letter to Pandit Nehru as subversive documents. After much protests and resistance, Mr. Lynn, returned back the money and letter.
Obafemi was a thorough bred Ijebu man. In parenthesis, a pick pocket, at an event, during the Second Republic, at a public function, in Ijebu Ode, saw Bisi Onabanjo, then, Governor of Ogun State, as an easy prey, dipped his hand into Onabanjos pocket, but could not find anything, but rather, Onabanjo caught his hand and retorted –“it is not easy to pick money from an Ijebu man”.
Despite Awolowo’s conviction, Mr. Lynn came again to Awolowo’s residence in Oke-bola Ibadan, on the 30th June 1964 to search the house for the 21st time. Lynn had said “Mrs. Awolowo, we have come to search your house once again”. It was a traumatic experience.
Awolowo, popularly called (Baba Layinka) by the Yorubas and who could be ranked with the likes of Mustafa Kemal Attarturk of Turkey, who laid the foundations for modern Turkey in the 1920s, Mahatma Ghandi- the pathfinder of India and his able son in law and Prime Minister of India-Pandit Nehru, was hurled to jail in Black Maria- a lorry used for common criminals to complete his demystification, public ridicule and humiliation, upon his conviction.
Mama begat five children- Olusegun (1939), Omotola (1940), Oluwole (1942), Ayodele (1944), Tokunbo (1948), but in later life, lost Ayodele (Mrs. Shoyede) a barrister at law and later Oluwole (the unbreakable).
Chief Awolowo attributes three factors for his success in life namely: the grace of God, his spartan self-discipline and his good wife. Awolowo died on the 9th May, 1987 and but for his exit, this unique marriage would have celebrated 50 years of marital bliss on the 26th of December 1987. After all, the immortal sage, was not wrong, when he described Mama Dideolu, as “a jewel of inestimable value.”
Mama, despite high and low moments, in the vicissitudes and journey of life, travails, labyrinths of unexplored mines, detractors and traducers, still kept her faith, joyful and unbroken spirit, fortitude, forbearance and endurance, until she joined the saints triumphant on the 19th of September 2015; and what a joyful passage, at almost 100years! Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo, may your clan continue to increase!
Kehinde, a former member, House of Representatives,
National Assembly, Abuja, representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State, (1999-2003) and
Principal Partner,Femi Kehinde & Co (Solicitors), Ibadan.