Obafemi Awolowo

Obafemi Awolowo

Awolowo, Obafemi, 1909-87, Nigerian statesman, a Yoruba chief, commonly known as "Awo." In politics from 1940, he was one of the founders (1943) of the Nigerian Trades Union Congress. In 1950 he founded the Action Group, a new political party. Elected (1959) to Nigeria's house of representatives, he became leader of the opposition. Sentenced to 10 years for his party's attempted coup (1962), he was released in 1966. He was a leader against the Biafran secession and was federal Finance Minister until 1971. After military rule, he founded the United Party of Nigeria and placed second in the presidential elections of 1979 and 1982.

Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (March 6, 1909May 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.


Chief Awolowo was a leader who believed that the state should channel Nigeria's resources into education and state-led infrastructure development. Controversially, and at considerable expense, he introduced free primary education for all in the Western Region, established the first television service in Africa in 1959, and expanded electrification projects in the region using proceeds from the highly lucrative cocoa export industry. Although very popular among the Yoruba in western Nigeria, his left-leaning but superior politics made him unpopular with the nation's (supposedly) largest political bloc - the northern, Muslim, Northern People's Congress (NPC), which many Nigerians believed were being directed by the British government.

Crisis in Western Nigeria

Prior to independence, he was persuaded by prominent members of the Action Group to lead the party as Leader of the Opposition at the Federal Parliament, leaving Samuel Ladoke Akintola as the Western Region Premier. Serious disagreement between the Awolowo and Akintola on how to run the western region led the latter to an alliance with the Tafawa Balewa led NPC federal government. A contrived constitutional crisis led to a declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region, after an election which Awolowo claimed Akintola and his new coalition had lost, but rigged the result of. Revolt began with the Agbekoya attacking all known Akintola sympathisers in what became known in Nigeria political lore as "wetie."

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.

1966 military coup

In the aftermath of the election there was a military coup on 15th January, 1966, establishing a National military government, following by a counter-coup on 29th July, 1966 six months later. Chief Awolowo was pardoned and freed from prison by the July 1966 coupists who were led by Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon and Lt.Col. Murtala Mohammed. When the civil war broke out over the secession of the Eastern Region, Awolowo visited the Biafran headquarters and attempted to broker a peace agreement between Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and his Nigerian counterparts. When the negotiation failed, Chief Awolowo was invited to join the Nigerian government as the finance minister.

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.

The University of Ife, located in Ife, Nigeria, was re-christened Obafemi Awolowo University as a posthumous honour. His portrait adorns Nigeria's one hundred naira currency note.

External links

" Obafemi Awolowo: The Man With a Plan"

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