More than three decades after his transition, family members, leaders of thought, high calibre politicians, former political associates, former heads of state, former and serving governors, traditional rulers, members of the National Assembly and those of the academia including key drivers of the organised private sector are daily celebrating the political ideals and enduring legacies of the late sage and political icon.
At every leadership fora, speakers of note are continually extolling the exemplary leadership qualities, visionary administrative acumen and uncommon commitment to developmental ideals, accountability, due and creative application of resources for the overall present and long-term benefit of all that marked the political and administrative focus of the late Obafemi Awolowo.
Referred severally as an icon of immeasurable stature, administrator of impeccable integrity, statesman of statesmen and leader who had a habit of putting the people first, the first Premier of Western region, Awo as he was popularly called, demonstrated rare vision and uncommon commitment to leadership. His western region administration focused on the provision of free, universal primary education and critical infrastructure in the key sectors, operating even with the limited resources. Nigeria at this point in history is in a desperate need of politicians who play politics of self sacrifice, commitment and focus like Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Awo showed quintessential discipline in politics, exemplifying philosophical and psychological preparedness before aspiring for leadership positions. It, therefore, did not come as a surprise that when he passed on in 1987 the then Ikemba Nnewi, Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu aptly eulogized him as the best president that Nigeria never had.
That on its own presented some form of puzzle as to the reality of the nation’s geopolitical entity that a man whose vision and virtues are so extolled and venerated by many yet so equally and passionately hated by some obviously powerful political interest groups. This group consistently frustrated his many resolves at doing for Nigeria the same thing he did for the South West in terms of sustainable development and far-reaching transformation initiatives.
Awo was a practical and committed federalist who believed firmly in an appreciable level of regional autonomy within an agreed and workable federal system and structure of government. Nigerians are today increasingly coming to terms with the political dynamics behind this political disposition especially as it encourages political stability, regional integration, healthy competition and collaboration within the regions and amongst the federating units.
Thirty-one years after, Nigerians remain nostalgic about the quality leadership demonstrated by statesmen like the late Obafemi Awolowo, the commitment to leadership, the sacrifice and focus in governance, raising critical questions on leadership emergence and the deepening of democratic values within the Nigerian state.
The celebration of the leadership virtues of the late sage, 31 years after is instructive on the need for public servants and political office occupants to endeavour to leave behind lasting legacies that will positively impact on the lives of the people. By so doing, they will be immortalizing themselves and be helping to improve on the existing service benchmark in our emerging democracy.