By Owei Lakemfa
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, affectionately called Awo, was the programmatic politician who had change as mantra and believed that politics must serve the mass of the people. His philosophy of governance was encapsulated in the slogan: Life More Abundant, LMA.
In turn, his followers had so much trust in him that some lost their lives in the streets while defending his legacy when he was imprisoned from 1963 to 1966. Some of his followers so revered Awo that they swore he sometimes appeared in the moon. On such occasions, the faithful crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of him in the moon.
Awo brought so much development to the Western Region when he was the Premier from 1954-1959 that his administration became the yardstick by which other regions were measured in the First Republic.
Progressive politics in Nigeria was championed during the colonial times by Herbert Macaulay who challenged the British colonialists and defended the people against bad governance. Awo came to symbolise that progressive trend in Nigerian politics. However, despite his best efforts, he never became President which was why when he passed away in 1987, Emeka Ojukwu described him as the “best President Nigeria never had”.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is one of the politicians who identify with Awo. He tried to immortalise him, among other ways, by transforming the detention facilities in Lekki, Lagos where Awo was held into a museum, library and foundation.
As President Tinubu was sworn in on Monday, May 29, 2023, I imagined what Awo would have said if he were in the former’s shoes.
Awo would have started by stating the rationale for his contesting the presidency, repeating the fundamentals of social welfare and why the people are entitled to the basic needs of life. If there are obstacles to achieving these, he would state them and explain how his administration intends to overcome them. He would relate his past services and political alliances to the future he hopes to take the country, and invite the people to share his dreams.
Right from the podium, he would declare free education for all Nigerian children; how and when the current 18 million out-of-school children would be in school and a plan to eradicate illiteracy in the country.
Awo would have announced free health services for all Nigerians and an integrated rural development. He would have rolled out time-specific plans for mass employment based on his programme of production; the same way his Action Group party built the industrial base of the Western Region by developing industrial areas such as in Ikeja, Yaba and Apapa, and linking some by railway with the Lagos Ports.
Pensioners would have been assured that pension would be a first line charge and that the elderly would not regret old age.
Awo would have announced which type of loans to take and which would be rejected as well as probe all loans taken in the last two decades with a view of recovering misappropriated funds and jailing the culprits.
He would have announced an end to budget padding and legislators awarding contracts to themselves in the name of constituency projects.
Awo would have announced plans to reduce the cost of fuel, make local refining of petroleum products a cardinal principle, ordered the arrest and immediate prosecution of those who profiteer from fuel subsidy, including the various companies and persons who the House of Representatives Inquiry of 2012 established to have fraudulently received subsidy payments.
Apart from the recovery of stolen public funds, he would have ordered the recovery of so-called bad debts, the repayments of trillions of Naira used to bailout banks, paid to privatised electricity companies, owed by private businessmen and indefensible tax exemptions. Also, he would have ordered that fraudulently privatised public entities should be recovered.
On foreign policy, he would have let it be known that Nigeria is once again taking its pride of place in Africa with an African-centred foreign policy, and, that it would be no satellite to any power. Nigeria, he would have announced, is on its way to join the BRICS countries to build a brave New World where no nation is oppressed.
Alongside mass housing, Awo would also have announced mass new prisons and expansion of some current ones as his administration would make crime, punishment and social justice, a principle of state policy.
He would reiterate the fact that only the best and most competent from all parts of the country will be appointed into government, and that the cost of governance would be drastically cut, not by retrenching workers, but by reducing bureaucracy to the barest minimum. This would entail eliminating ministers of state who are mere spare tyres for actual ministers, and merger of functions such as those of the presidential spokesman and information minister. Indeed, where the three arms of government: the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary have their individual spokespersons, it is incongruous for a separate person to be appointed to speak for ‘government’.
He would have announced the decision to merge the Police, Civil Defence, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related offences Commission, Federal Road Safety Commission and the Vehicle Inspection Office.
Awo would have asked the Directorate of State Security and the various strands of intelligence to merge, and also merge the offices of the National Security Adviser, Chief of Defence Staff and Minister of Defence.
On security, he would have given the military marching orders to retake all villages and towns occupied by bandits, terrorists and foreign militia and the return of the Internally Displaced Persons to their ancestral homes.
He would have made it clear that government will neither side nor encourage one set of combatants against another. The former Premier would have announced the mobilisation of the general citizenry to defend their homes and communities while plans for state police will begin immediately.
Awo would have announced definite steps to restructure the country and ensure that all nationalities, no matter how small, would have a sense of belonging. He would commend the actions of Tinubu when as Lagos State Governor, he created new local governments in the state which he styled development centres. Awo would announce plans to make local governments real governments and not mere centres for elites sharing the country’s funds.
Awo, in rounding off his inaugural speech, would vow to pay true allegiance to the Nigerian people and a relationship based on trust. He would have said that a day of reckoning has come for those who short-change the country, and, for the people, a new dawn with the old giving birth to the new.
If Chief Obafemi Awolowo were President Bola Tinubu on the day of inauguration, the Nigerian people would be in no doubt that change indeed has come.