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The Last Of The Sages

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There is this age-long aphorism ‘Behind every successful man is a woman’. Feminists especially those of the radical stock may pick holes with this as it arguably gives women the ‘reductionist’ role of mere cheerleaders. However, the power behind the throne which most times goes to the women is so powerful that it may metamorphose an average Joe into something akin to a Superman.

King George VI was a bashful young man who battled endlessly with a terrible stutter that made him reclusive which some historians attribute to his dropping out of Cambridge University as his confidence level sank to its lowest ebb. He was content to live in his more extroverted and man about town elder brother who was later to be known as King Edward VIII. The latter was love struck and gave up his lofty throne to follow the love of his life - twice divorced, American Wallis Simpson. Prince George was forced by circumstances beyond his control to become King George VI in 1936.

The Second World War provided him the rare opportunity to rally round his people and together with Sir Winston Churchill inspired the Britons to victory against the sinister forces of Adolf Hitler. His Wife, the Queen Mother Elizabeth played a great role in making him speak fluently. She made him believe in his oratorical prowess which was hidden and he achieved his potential because of his wife’s faith in his abilities. The hit movie ‘The King’s Speech’ clearly shows the power of a woman.

Eleanor Roosevelt spurred Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the apogee of greatness after a bout of polio left him crippled at 39 when he was still in his prime. FDR as he was fondly called contemplated quitting politics because of his disability which confined him to wearing braces for the rest of his natural life. This was a time when the rights of the disabled were non-existent but she made him do the unthinkable in becoming the Governor of New York and being the longest serving American President and the only to serve for four terms.

The Late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo burst into the Nigerian political scene at a time when oratory was the benchmark in measuring the success of politicians. This was the glorious era reminiscent of the Pax Romana when the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Adegoke Adelabu of Penkelemesi fame, Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe of timber and caliber fame, Ayo Rosiji, Bode Thomas etc. Awo as he was later to be called was no match for these illustrious men of colour. His jewel of inestimable value, Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo pepped up his confidence and made him believe that greatness went beyond mere colour and panache. She made him aware of the pragmatic and visionary side which was more enduring than flowery speeches.

Being a traditional man, Awolowo believed that the duty of provision for a family rested solely on the shoulders of the man. He ensured his wife was a full time home maker. This however was to change in 1944 when he took the life changing decision to study law in England. As the bombs ticked off in Britain, the fire of ambition and desire failed to be quenched as the then young Awo sailed to the then colonial masters to study law to better equip him for the challenge of political leadership and nationalism. They had three children with a pregnancy. Young Hannah was forced by the exigency of the time to step into the male dominated world of business to fend for the family in her husband’s absence which was a long term investment for a brighter future. She not only held forte at home but also sent money on a regular basis to finance the Golden Fleece of her husband.

She was to play a sturdy role in the formation of the Action Group when she headed the women’s wing of the party that gave the rival National Council for Nigeria and the Camerouns a run for its leadership. Despite the seven year earlier start of the latter, the former was to win the highly contested premiership of the western region in 1954. This increased the visibility of HID as she was fondly called as she carried out her duties as the Premier’s wife without the corrupting influence of the basterdised influence of the Maryam Babangida inspired First Lady menace.

1962 was a particularly difficult year for mama as her husband alongside some of the stalwarts of the Action Group were jailed for treasonable felony in 1963. That same year saw the death of her first son – Segun Awolowo Snr in a ghastly car crash. The dream of the young, promising Cambridge trained barrister went up in the smoke and with her husband behind bars must have been too much for mama to bear but she trudged on like a soldier and ensured the political family of her husband was still in one piece.

Awo sought to rule Nigeria thrice but he was far ahead of his time and was not understood by the populace. He was something similar to the Biblical Moses whose ideas would be the guiding light for the nation rather than being there physically. Her shoulders were there for the late sage who later became the leader of the Yorubas to cry on when he suffered defeats in the hands of an electorate that was unprepared for change.

She suffered the misfortune of having to bury three of her children – her two sons – Segun and Wole and one of her daughters – Ayodele Soyode. She also lost her husband seven months to their diamond golden jubilee and passed on sixty-seven days to her centenary.

There was a prediction by some Awoists to console him when they said that one day the progressives would take over the mantle of leadership of this country. Not only did mama witness this in her lifetime, her grandson-in-law, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN is a great beneficiary of this grand dream.

Ikenne was the political home of many politicians from across the nation whose blessings from mama they sought to launch their political aspirations and also to drink from her fountain of wisdom. It is sad that with her death, the Mecca status of that town will descend to that of a Siberia. That is Nigerian politicians for you as they are worse than fair weather friends.

May her gentle soul rest in the bosom of the Lord and we are glad that her re-uniting with her earthly lover will now be permanent and free from the vagaries and treachery of this sinful planet.

Sun Re Mama!
TONY ADEMILUYI

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Articles by Anthony Ademiluyi