There goes the jewel of inestimable value…
Mrs. Awolowo was not just the matriarch of the Awolowo family, one who in both good and trying times, stood not behind but by the side of her husband, the late sage, Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo, undoubtedly Nigeria’s greatest politician and political thinker. The great statesman was not just another man and his was not just another life. His days of growing up, his education, his journalism, political career and life of service to Nigeria tested him to the limits. Only that manner of man could have triumphed over these vicissitudes. But as attested to in his book, My Early Life, ‘… I owe my success in life to three factors: the Grace of God, a Spartan self discipline, and a good wife’ one who built and kept the Awolowo home … a true haven, a place of happiness, and of imperturbable seclusion from the buffetings of life’.
HID’s industriousness contributed in no little measure to financing the education and much later, the legal expenses of the sage during his trials. Her Christian upbringing as daughter of the Baba Ijo of Saint Savour’s Anglican Church, Ikenne, strength of character, courage and industriousness as a business woman stood her in good stead in those times including when she lost her first child, Olusegun. Indeed, she embodied the Biblical teaching of a wife as ‘a good thing’.
Mrs. Awolowo was a mother in the sense of a nurturer of many in many ways: in Church, where she led many groups as president, or as matron, in business where she was an inspiring entrepreneur, a publisher and chairman of the longest consistently running newspaper in Nigeria since 1949, Nigerian Tribune, and as the Yeye Oodua, a title bestowed on her in 1980 by the late Ooni of Ife conferring on the great woman the prestige of the mother of a race.
HID was indeed a mother to the Yoruba nation and, by extension, the whole of Nigeria. In the days of Awo’s trial and later, imprisonment, she held the political front firmly and their home remained a watering hole for Awo’s loyalists and political associates as well as a fountain where the thoughts and philosophy of Awoism was sustained and from where it flowed to the whole of Nigeria. Needless to say, Awo’s ideas have, in modern times, continued to be some of the defining values that drive the progress of Nigeria, the Yoruba nation, and even inform an adjustment, for the good, of the values of other nationalities. HID must be acknowledged for her role first to make a man like the late sage and in turn to keep his ideas alive even when he was physically absent from the public stage. In more recent times, she played a unifying role through the Yoruba Unity Forum to keep the people united and strong. Ekiti State governor Ayodele Fayose described her as ‘the real conscience of the Yoruba nation.’
Much has been said, and rightly too, by a wide range of persons about HID’s role as a mother of the Nigerian nation. President Muhammadu Buhari noted her ‘behind-the-scene contributions to communal, state, regional, and national development…’ Senate President Bukola Saraki described her as ‘ a pre-eminent mother of the nation’ and popular juju musician Evangelist Ebenezer Obey regretted that ‘we have lost the mother of the nation.’
HID was all about a loyal and dedicated wife. She was about motherhood in the widest sense of nurturing and growing people and ideas. She was about rising to the challenge of taking charge when the occasion called for it. She was about being strong and steadfast in the face of life’s vicissitudes. In sum, she was about being the authentic great woman. The achievements of Chief Awolowo could only have happened because of an HID. But, of course, HID might never have been the greatest she could be without an Awolowo. The Awolowo-HID relationship epitomised the most excellent unitive bonding of husband and wife. This explains the greatness that they both attained, in life and after. Separately and together, HID and Awo have earned their places on the right side of the history of Nigeria. Born on September 25, 1925, she was educated between 1921 and 1933 at St. Saviour’s Anglican School, Ikenne, St. Peter’s School, Faaji, Lagos, and Methodist Girls High School, Lagos. She married Obafemi Awolowo in 1937, had her own children but then went on to mother greatness in a man and a nation. As this jewel of inestimable value departs, when or whence comes such another?