H.I.D Awolowo in people’s eyes
“A sparrow flies into a room through a window, and flies out by another. Where the sparrow comes from is unknown. And where it disappears too, as its destination, also remains unknown; only its brief flight through the room is visible”, wrote Warner, Marten and Muir, in their syndicated authorship of “The new groundwork of British history.”
LIKE the sparrow, so it was with the departed Chief (Mrs.) Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo. While alive, she was many things to many people. She was variously described as a statesman’s wife, a business woman and a mother. These multifarious roles encapsulated into an appellation “Jewel of inestimable value,” coined by her life partner, Chief Obafemi Awolowo – Quod est demon strand um. I see her roles in different order.
First, as a trader progressing into highbrow businesses, followed by being a mother and lastly as the wife of a statesman. She was born on November 25, 1915, and transited on September 19, 2015, after living for 99 years nine months and 24 days. Why not round it up to make 100 years, as she witnessed the 100th birthday celebration meetings? This is an issue that Nigerians debate. A secondary school teacher replied that H.I.D’s children should round it up to be 100 years, Thirdly, if an astrologer predicted her life span, he would not give the fractional parts; it is unbecoming of astrologers; they round up life span. Nigerians’ arguments on her age motivated this writer’s choice of title for the opinion piece: “HID Awolowo in the eyes of the people.” Descending from a long line of traders, she started life as an apprentice trader to her mother, Elizabeth Oyesile Adelana. Ijesha-Ijebu (Odo Ayonyelu), Ogun State, is my country home which is a few kilometres to Ikenne. There, she would accompany her mother on every market day “I was apprenticed to my mother as a trader, accompanying her to Ijesha.” I was present at a political rally at Ijesha-Ijebu in 1951 when this fact filtered into my young ears and remained in my memory till now. Personal reminiscences are for evidential purposes, and not grandstanding. Ijesha-Ijebu cannot be singled out of Hannah Idowu Dideolu’s textiles markets where she was accompanying her mother.
Among the list of markets where neighbouring towns of Ode-Remo, Iperu, Ilishan and Aiyepe. Therefore, under her mother, she began the textiles trade exposure and graduated to large scale businesses, like Dideolu Stores Limited and Ligu Distribution Services Limited with distributorship in Nigerian Tobacco Company and Nigerian Breweries products. Because of her business acumen, some critics of H.I.D would accuse her, “She has a finger in every pie.” I remember her reply: “People say that I dabble into many businesses. Do you come across a trader in sponge who does not sell soap? Do you ever see a dealer in palm oil who does not double up with vegetable oil or eggs to make an omelette? Who sells food ingredients without complementing them with salt? Therefore, a dealer who confines her business to a single product is sure of starvation”. Conclusively, she was greeted with a deafening applause at a campaign rally in 1983. An apprentice trader who ended up as Chairman, Board of Directors, Nigerian Tribune was an icon. God is great!
Nevertheless, there is no rose without a thorn. There is also the saying: “There is no life without an admixture of problems”. Next to the order is her status as a mother. In her checkered history, Chief (Mrs.) H.I.D. Awolowo was rock solid behind her husband. She would take every travail in her stride. From December 26, 1937, when she was married to Chief Obafemi Awolowo to October 1, 1944 on the day that he travelled to the United Kingdom for law studies, leaving the children behind, the travail of treasonable felony trial of November 5, 1962, to September 11, 1963 (the judgment date ), and 13 days after, the tragedy of Mr Segun Awolowo’s death struck in a motor accident. His driver died instantly. Segun was one of the defence counsel in the trial. The tragedy confirmed the saying, “Life is not like a bed of roses. As there are days of triumphs, there are days of sorrows”. With Segun gone, followed by Mrs Ayo Soyode and Oluwole, two children remain to mourn her – Chief (Mrs.) Tola Oyediran and Dr. (Mrs.) Olatokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu. The foregoing sad recollection is not a romantic comedy, but to show the glory of our Creator; Gloria Deo in Excelsis. Worthy parents must empathise and sympathise.
This narrative is a panegyric if the oft-repeated complimentary allusion, “Behind every successful man is a woman” is not challenged. I vehemently disagree. Nothing can be more sententious than this statement. What, if the man is a failure in life? How do we place the parents of the successful man? How do we reckon with the sisters? To me, the statement is a sham and farce that is made to cajole a wife to create fun at every social occasion. It is irrefutable that the late Chief (Mrs.) Awolowo was “A jewel of inestimable value,” having remained with him through thick and thin, but to embellish that without her, he might not be a success, falls wide of the mark.
Naturally, he was endowed with cast iron determination. In his autobiography, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo attributed his success to three factors, two of which were God’s Grace and Spartan discipline which sustained him through his law studies. She was assessed to be a jewel, having been tested and trusted for decades. She possessed pacific mien and would not engage him in any argument to arouse animosity, She could have her say, but he would have his way; both had listening ears. Whilst many a wife is cantankerous and domineering, HID was cool as a cucumber.
Second was her frugality. Before travelling abroad, he deposited £20 into a savings bank account. Like a business woman who she was, a small amount was withdrawn for a small business, out of the profit she remitted to the husband. Suspecting that she was unnecessarily extravagant, the explanation followed that the remittance was the accrual from the small business and that she had also refunded the paltry withdrawal. What a jewel; any other wife might have expended the money on frivolity like “aso ebi.”
One admirable quality of H.I.D. was that she was not only a jewel to the husband, but also to his extended relations. She was not given to hostility with his extended family, unlike most wives who are thorns in the flesh to husbands’ relatives, constituting themselves into an island of “me and my husband,” in a common parlance. Evidently, General Theophilus Y. Danjuma and his wife were examples of Chief (Mrs.) Awolowo’s tolerance – her adoption of Gen.T.Y. Danjuma and his wife as her children. He wrote in the condolence register: “My wife, Daisy and I were adopted by Mama some ten years ago. We still miss her loving maternal guidance.
There could be many such Danjumas from different parts of the country. Nevertheless, the glory lies in the fact that the late Chief (Mrs.) Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo died in the hands of her biological child. “Mama eventually breathed her last in my arms. She was a kind and loving mother,” Dr. Olatokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu disclosed to the distraught guests. Adieu, good mother!
• Oshisada, a veteran journalist, wrote from Ijesha-Ijebu (Odo – Ayonyelu), Ogun State.