(born March 6, 1909, Ikenne, Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria—died May 9, 1987, Ikenne) Nigerian nationalist politician and leader of the Yoruba ethnic group. While studying law in London, he wrote the influential Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947) and laid the basis for the first Yoruba political party, the Action Group. As premier of Nigeria's Western Region (1954–59), he worked to improve education, social services, and agriculture. He remained a major figure in national politics but never won high elective office.
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Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (March 6, 1909—May 9, 1987) was a Nigerian politician and leader, a Yoruba and native of Ikenne in Ogun State of Nigeria, who started as a regional political leader like most of his pre-independence contemporaries. He founded many organizations, including Egbe Omo Oduduwa, the Trade Unions Congress of Nigeria and the Action Group political party. He was an active journalist and trade unionist as a young man, editing The Nigerian Worker amongst other publications while also organizing the Nigerian Produce Traders Association and serving as secretary of the Nigerian Motor Transport Union. After earning a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Nigeria, he travelled to London to earn a law degree. He was the first indigenous Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria's parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1960, and was the official Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament to the Balewa government from 1960 to 1963.
Excluded from National government, the position of Awolowo and his party became increasingly precarious. Some politicians, mostly of Akintola's group, angered at their exclusion from power, formed a break-away party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), under Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Constitutional crisis in the region led the federal parliament to declare a state of emergency in the west, the elected Western Regional Assembly was thus suspended, only to be reconstituted after new elections that brought the NNDP in control. Shortly afterward, in 1964, Awolowo and several others were charged and jailed for conspiring with some Ghanaian authorities under Kwame Nkrumah to overthrow the federal government. The remnants of the Action Group fought the National election of 1965 in alliance with the largely Igbo, and south-eastern NCNC. Amid accusation of fraud by the opposition, the NPC-NNDP won the election. There were violent riots in some parts of the Western region.
He went on to resign his position a year after the end of war in preparation for elective office.In 1979, Chief Awolowo founded the Unity Party of Nigeria as a successor to the Action Group, and contested the presidential election that year. He lost to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in a heavily rigged election by about 400 000 votes. In 1983, he again contested the presidential election, this time losing to Shagari by over four million votes, in an election that Awolowo regarded as fraudulent.
Chief Awolowo is remembered for building the first stadium in West Africa, first television station in Africa, running the best civil service in Africa at the time (in the Western Region), introducing free health care till the age of 18 in the Western Region, introduction of free and mandatory primary education in Western Nigeria, and coining up the name Naira for Nigeria's currency (formerly known as the Nigerian Pound) as the Federal Commissioner of Finance under the Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon.
Chief Awolowo was respected by Kwame Nkrumah, and some politicians in the West continue to invoke his name, his policies, and the popular slogan of his Action Group party—"Life More Abundant"—during campaigns. He was also the author of several publications on the political structure and future prospects of Nigeria. These works include Path to Nigerian Freedom, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution, and Strategies and Tactics of the People Republic of Nigeria.