[Guest Blog Post – Professor Pius Adesanmi] Igbo Re, Ona Re: The Nigerian Constitution and the Awo Road not Taken

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

By Professor Pius Adesanmi

Winner, the Penguin Prize for African Writing

Author of  You’re Not a Country, Africa!

Carnegie Diaspora Visiting Professor, University of Ghana, Legon

(Keynote lecture delivered at the Obafemi Awolowo Birthday Anniversary Symposium Convened by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation. Lagos, March 4, 2014)

I was not a very happy man during my last appearance on a national lecture podium in this country back in October 2013. Pastor TundeBakare, and my good friend, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, had given me the unenviable task of ruining an unsuccessful man’s birthday celebrationby inviting me to deliver a public lecture marking the occasion. What do you tell such a man? How do you celebrate the birthday of a man still wearing diapers in his fifties without telling him to his face that his life has been a colossal failure and an irredeemable calamity?

At the risk of being labelled a spoiler and a party pooper, I knew I had a job to do. So I came to Lagos to rob the nose of that particular birthday celebrant against the cold iron of reality. I told the celebrant that if you are still bedwetting in your fifties, what you need is a sober reflection party and not a birthday party. The celebrant in question, I’m sure you all know by now, is an elder brother of mine whose name I arrived at through a play of metaphors and personification. He is none other than Boda Nigeria.

Today, Dr. MrsOlatokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu and the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation have given me the task of commemorating another birthday, albeit posthumously, with a lecture. But this time around, the face being the abode of discourse (oju l’oro wa), you should be able to tell just by looking at my face and the cap that I am wearing, that today’s task is one in which I am infinitely well pleased. My pleasure, obviously, derives from the fact that we are gathered here on account of a celebrant of a decidedly different hue.

We are gathered to celebrate and reflect on the momentous passage of our celebrant and his ideas and ideals through the life of this country at extremely significant moments of its history. In other words, we are gathered here on account of a masquerade who, for everyday it pleased his maker to grant him among us between March 6, 1909 and May 9, 1987, danced exceedingly well. Danced well for himself. Danced well for his wife and children. Danced well for his people. Danced well for his country. Danced well for Africa. Danced well for humanity. And when your masquerade dances well, that Yoruba proverb authorizes you to indulge in self-congratulatory chest beating.

Because the masquerade for whom we are gathered here today danced well, we are not going to sing dirges like we did the last time, we are going to celebrate even as we reflect critically and regretfully on “could have beens” and “had we knowns”.  Last time, we did the body count for the celebrant, we looked at the mountains of corpses, a tragic consequence of wholly avoidable errors of the rendering, and we marked that birthday by singing, “oro nla le da”. Today, when we think of the man whose ideas we are here to engage and celebrate, when we think of his dance, and how he danced so well to help us avoid the path of self-destruction onto which we pigheadedly launched ourselves anyway, we are in order if we flagged off these events leading to the 6th of March 2014 by singing: “Happy birthday Papa Awo, Happy birthday to you”.

Now that we have paid our dues to the celebrant, now that we have cleared the path before us by saluting that great and illustrious ancestor of ours, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, if I continued this lecture beyond this point without other salutations, I risk the fate of the goat which entered the homestead without saluting the assembly of elders; I risk the fate of the ram which entered the homestead and did not acknowledge the elders in council. A tight leash around their necks was the last thing the insolent goat and the rude ram saw before they joined their ancestors in the bellies of the elders. I must therefore crave your indulgence to perform a ritual of salutation with which you are already familiar if you have ever attended any of my public lectures in this country:

To Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu  – iba!
To the ObafemiAwolowo Foundation. – iba!

To Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Chairman of this occasion – iba!

To Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State Goveror, present here with us – iba!

To all the Kabiyesis and Chiefs present in this hall – Iba!

To the esteemed discussants of this lecture – Iba!

To you, the audience, whose ears are here in this hall to drink my words – iba!
I pray you all,
Unbind me!

Unleash me!
Let my mouth sway words in this lecture

Like efufulele, the furious wind which

Sways the forest’s crown of foliage

Wherever its heart desires.

Dr. Dosunmu, members of the high table, distinguished audience, having saluted the homestead and the farmstead, do I now have the authority to proceed with this lecture? We should be thankful to the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation for placing the theme of our assignment today within the philosophical purview of paths, of roads, of journeys through space and time, and ultimately, of choices made or not made in the unavoidable human destiny of movement. But to each culture, to each civilization its particulars of framing the philosophy of roads and paths; of framing the cultural underpinnings of choice – the choice which places your feet as an individual or as a people on this road and not that road. Furthermore, whether you must set forth at dawn or not and how you go about propitiatory interventions to avoidending up in the ravenous jaws of the famished road fall within the province of cultural predilections.

padesanmi_large-carleton-uDifferent cultures, different approaches. Thus it was that in 1916, seven years after Chief Obafemi Awolowo was born, a certain culture that is conventionally associated with individuality – call it the imperialism of the singular subject – gave us one of the most famous poems of all times (as far as I’m concerned) in the English language. Almost a hundred years after its publication in 1916, philosophers, philologists, writers and artists, literary critics, and even, cultural dilettantes are still debating and trying to interpret its meaning and intent, with some even claiming that it is the most misread, most misinterpreted, and most misunderstood poem in the history of English poesy. That great poem, ladies and gentlemen, is entitled, “The Road not Taken”, authored by the famous American poet, Robert Frost. Please forgive me one more indulgence. That poem must be read entirely if only to highlightthe particularity of Chief ObafemiAwolowo’s nation-buidling roads and constitution-making paths within the Nigerian equation. Writes Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

This poem gives us the title of today’s proceedings. It is also the unsung and always unreferenced origin of the use of that phrase – the road not taken – in much of our national discourse. Perhaps, the deciders of the theme of this symposium weren’t even aware of the fact that they were drawing a straight line all the way back to this poem. However, for our purposes today, what I want you to pay attention to is the overwhelming evidence of individuality in this poem. There is only one isolated subject speaking of individual choice, destiny, and consequences in this business of taking or not taking a particular road. Notice that thiswayfaring Western persona in the poem describes himself as “one traveler” and treats us to a generous deployment of “I” in three of the four stanzas of the poem.

If only the speaking subject in Frost’s poem had been an African of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s ethnic stock! He would have been faced with an entirely different, and I daresay, more auspicious proposition. For one, he would not have been alone, for in this business of forked or bifurcated roads, the Yoruba worldview allows for the presupposition of the presence and guidance of either those who have gone before and have therefore acquired the requisite experience to guide he or those who “follow behind”, to borrow a popular Naija-speak; or the presence of those who, even if still here among us, possess such superior intellect and vision as could be deployed for the collective benefit of a people at the critical moment of choice – the choice of roads and paths.

In essence, to the aloneness, singularity, and individualityof Frost’s confused fictional character who stands at that critical bifurcation, saying, “me, myself, and I” must decide which of the two diverging roads to take, the Yoruba world responds with a co-presence which banishes aloneness, a voice of wisdom, prescience, vision, and experience; a superior intellect saying to the lonely traveler: “You are not alone. Igbo re, ona re”. This voice, we must insist, is not an intrusion into the private recesses of individual agency at the moment of choice. Rather, it is evidence of a communalist telos designed to deny the validity of lazy alibis and excuses in the event of sad and stubborn wrong choices and decisions. For the remainder of this lecture, whenever I scream “Igbo re”, your chorus shall be “Ona re”. For none Yoruba speakers, “igbo” is bush, signifying here the wrong way, full of thorns, serpents, and wild animals. “Ona” is way, road or path, signifying here the right way. When a Yoruba elder tells you “igbo re, ona re”, he is saying “here is the bush and here is the road, the choice of which to take is yours”!

Make the appropriate substitutions and that singularly forlorn persona in Frost’s poem, standing splendidly alone at the point of divergence of two roads becomes Nigeria at the parturition point of project nationhood in the first half of the 20th century. But Nigeria was never going to be alone in that long march to the choice of a road to national destiny. The she-goat was never going to be left alone to suffer the pains of parturition. Project Nationhood, that new space of civic and psychic belonging that was going to be forged out of the inchoate desires of different ethnic nationalities yoked together by colonialism, was singularly blessed by the presence of a stellar cast of nationalist heroes and sheroes, of statesmen and women, some destined for demiurgic roles, some destined for vatic roles, some destined to combine both and even more roles as they screamed at that emergent nation at the crossroads: igbo re, ona re!

It is my contention that as far as the constitutional history and trajectory of Nigeria is concerned, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was at once demiurgic (creator, originator) and vatic (visionary) and that, for me, is what makes his own voice the loudest in the assembly of founding fathers who tried to tell Nigeria: igbo re, ona re!But let us pause to probe this “igbo re, ona re” business further before we begin to unpack how Chief Obafemi Awolowo specifically applied it scrupulously to Nigeria’s process of constitutionally becoming and what we may learn from his proposals as we march yet again Abuja for a national dialogue.

The privilege of not being alone at the crossroads, the privilege of enjoying the guidance and co-presence of that cautionary voice of wisdom, does not in any way conduce to intellectual laziness and ethical demission at the moment of choice. The role of that voice is purely advisory. The exercise of choice is still your responsibility. In essence, nothing in the Yoruba world compels that patriarch, that matriarch, that visionary voice which stands beside you at the fork in the road to do more than point out which is the road and which is the deceptive option which hides thorns and thistles, potholes and gullies after the very first sharp bend.

In essence, if Chief Obafemi Awolowo had done nothing more than stand with Nigeria at that critical fork in the road to constitution-making in the 20th century; if he had done nothing more than show her the choices and possibilities, saying, “Nigeria, igbo re, ona re,” before turning his back to return to the warm embrace of his wife and children in Ikenne; if he had done nothing more than this, he would still have more than largely satisfied the imperatives of his culture. He would have done his bit. He would have done his best. Nothing in that culture compels him to tarry perpetually, to linger permanently in the company of a wilfully blind and voluntarily deaf customer like Nigeria, hanging on to the feet of this customer, and trying to place them on the right road.

In other words, as far as the philosophy of “igbo re ona re” is concerned, any gesture, any action beyond the utterance of that caution is an extraordinary privilege enjoyed by the person or entity being advised. It is jara, it is supplementary. No sage is compelled to go that far. Ladies and gentlemen, that is precisely why Chief Obafemi Awolowo stands out in terms of his decades-long commitment to Nigeria’s constitutional development in particular and to the overall envisioning of the country’s destiny in general.

Decade after decade after decade; in book after book after book; in essay after essay after essay; in speech after speech after speech; in action after action after action, what we confront in Chief Awolowo’s extraordinary output, especially with regard to constitution-making, is precisely that extra mile, that extra gesture, that jara after the solemn and repeated utterance of “igbo re,ona re”. I would therefore want us to consider his expansive body of work, an intellectual tour de force, as fulfilling the dual function of showing Nigeria the difference between the right way and the wrong way to constitutional bliss and also going the extra length of painstakingly mapping out strategies for travelling on the right way.

The theme of this symposium, we must remind ourselves, insists that there is an Awo road to the Nigerian constitution that was not taken. The temptation is great to begin any analysis of the nature, character, and prescriptions of that road and why we refused to do any mileage on it by focusing on the statesman’s 1966 book, Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, because its title bears the most direct resonance not just to our objectives today but also, and perhaps more importantly, to Nigeria’s ongoing quest for constitutional direction at fifty-three. Doing this would be starting the story in medias res for the said book is but a significant culmination of a long maturational process of intellectual rigour and prescience with regard to the articulation of a constitutional path for Nigeria.

A clear hint of the incipience and long evolution of Chief Awolowo’s thought on Nigerian constitutional issues can be found in Awo, his 1960 autobiography. Chapter twelve of the autobiography is entitled “evolution of a federalist”. Here, the thinker declares: “In 1951 when the controversy on the form of Nigeria’s constitution began, I had already been for more than eighteen years a convinced federalist.” The path to this conviction, Chief Awolowo informs us, started as early as 1928 when he encountered the thought and work of Indian nationalists and the the Indian National Congress. And we are informed in the preface to Thought on Nigerian Constitution that our thinker has played “a leading role in the work of constitution-making in Nigeria since 1949.” What these temporal milestones in the origin and evolution of Chief Awolowo’s thought on constitutional federalism confirm is the fact that almost 30 years to independence in 1960 – again, I’m thinking of the hint that the seeds of his convictions on the necessity of constitutional federalism for Nigeria were sown as far back as 1928 – a visionary mind was already rigorously applying itself to the constitutional destiny of this country. From the very womb of the colonial incubus, Chief Awolowo was already telling Nigeria, igbo re, ona re!

When one looks at Chief Awolowo’s extensive oeuvre, one is struck by the recurrence of certain registers, themes, and concepts. He has hardly a book in which a chapter is not dedicated to reiterating the importance of getting Nigeria’s constitutional framework right. We already cited Chapter 12 of his autobiography. The 1947 book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, written in 1945, contains a Chapter, “Towards Federal Union”, which, as usual, makes the case for a federal constitution. In 1968, The People’s Republic, offers two significant constitutional chapters. Chapter 5 is entitled “constitutional basis” and Chapter 10 is entitled “suitable constitution.”

And this is not counting the volume of essays and speeches in which these keywords and registers appear. Indeed, wherever the word, “constitution” appears in the Awolowo opus, you can almost always count on encountering the qualifiers, “suitable”, or, even more frequently, “federal”, which the thinker always poses in a binary opposition to unitary. Wherever or whenever that binary opposition occurs in his work, he resolves the argument, always unambiguously, in favour of federalism, recommending it forcefully and repeatedly to Nigeria as “ona” and always pointing atunitarianism as what – “igbo”. Igbo re, ona re!

We must hasten to point out that Chief Awolowo’s use of the word “federal” or the expression “federal constitution” bears no resemblance with the blasphemous use of that word in Nigeria’s contemporary political discourse and practice. In a reversal of semantics possible only in Nigeria, what we in fact call federalism today is what Awolowo consistently critiques and decries as unitarianism in his work. Not content with launching us onto the path of this asphyxiating unitarianism, the direct heirs of the unitarianscritiqued in Chief Awolowo’s work are in fact those claiming to be the Federalists of our own day, criminalizing dialogue, imposing no-go areas on national discourse, and mouthing constipated clichés about national unity, corporate existence, and indivisibility of nationhood. They take the dog of unitarianism and go to town to present it to the people as the monkey of federalism.

Unlike the political jokers ruling Nigeria today, Chief Awolowo was no victim of conceptual confusion. He was no trafficker in semantic jibiti. Hence, in making true federalism the foundation and the essence of the Awo road to Nigerian constitution and nationhood, he applied himself to a rigorous methodology of definition, explication, exploration, and analysis. This much is evident in Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, by far his most extended reflection on the subject. What should detain anybody willing to find answers to the contemporary dilemmas and discontents of project nationhood in this book is, however, neither the rigour with which the author identifies some thirty-three accusations leveled against the constitution of the First Republic after it was suspended nor the unimpeachable brio with which he delivers his submissions in favour of a genuine federalist constitution.

After all, given the condition of Nigeria today, given our report card after fifty-three years of this experiment, it should by now be visible to the blind and audible to the deaf (apologies to my good friend, Patrick Obahiagbon) that the author of Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution was right on the money about the factors he identified as weighing heavily in favour of true federalism. Those factors are: ethnic divergence, geographical separateness and diversity, different economic visions and divergent resources, religious differences and, above all, linguistic differences. Identifying these factors which compel federalism is the easy part. How the author arrives at hisunshakable conclusion that any nation in which these factors are assembled but which insists on foraging in constitutional pastures other than federalism is doomed is an entirely different proposition. Let’s hear Chief Obafemi Awolowo in subsection three of Chapter Two of the book under consideration. This is the part where he declares federalism a necessity for Nigeria – and not the unitary beast we currently misname federalism:

“Our own stand in this matter is well known. We belong to the federalist school. Nevertheless, we have elected to adopt a completely objective and scientific approach to our present search and are prepared to abandon our stand if we sound reason for doing so. Accordingly, we have made a much more careful study of the constitutional evolution of all nations of the world with a view to discovering whether any, and if so what, principles and laws govern such evolution. We have found that some countries have satisfactorily solved their constitutional problems, whilst others have so far not. In consequence of our analysis of the two set of countries, we are able to deduce principles or laws which we venture to regard as sound and of universal application… there are altogether six continents in the world… we will take the continents one by one…”

I do hope that the central claim of this passage has not escaped any of you. To arrive at his scientific conclusions about an appropriate constitutional path for Nigeria, the author assures us that he undertook a study of the constitutional evolution of all the nations of the world, of every country in every continent. And if you are tempted to think that he couldn’t possibly have done that, he assures you thus: “we certainly cannot and should not be expected to give full details of our investigation in this discourse. But we can and certainly will state, as briefly as possible,the facts from which the principles or laws are deduced”. And what, we may ask, is the most significant deduction that our thinker makes from this empirical methodology? Hear him:

“…in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality – particularly of language – a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistic or national minority groups. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognized and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangements as such disappear. If the linguistic or national group concerned are backward or too weak vis-à-vis the majority group or groups, their bitterness or hostility may be dormant or suppressed. But as soon as they become enlightened and politically conscious, and/or courageous leadership emerges amongst them, the bitterness and hostility come into the open, and remain sustained with all possible venom and rancour, until home rule is achieved.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I have questions for you. Does the scenario above sound familiar? If between 1928 – when the seeds of these ideas were sown – and 1966 when Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution was published, the cripple named Nigeria was given repeated forewarnings of war and doom, does this particular cripple have any excuse for being caught up in wars and rumours of war in 2014? What do you call a cripple who gets caught in war even after receiving the benefit of repeated forewarnings and foreknowledge of the impending war? Do you believe that a man who puts decades into a systematic study of the constitutional experiments of every nation in the world, drawing valuable experience, lessons,deductions, and insights therefrom has earned the right to be listened to by his own country when he tells her igbo re, ona re?

Igbo re, ona re. Apart from true federalism and its associated advantages, the minority question constitutes another significant signpost on the Awo road to constitution-making. Indeed, he treats this question with so much empirical minutiae that a detailed outline of his breakdowns and permutations would have to wait until the discussion part of our proceedings. Suffice it to say that he warns that a federal constitution must at all times be sensitive to minorities and sufficiently malleable to take care of their legitimate fears of domination whenever the need arises. Says Chief Awolowo of ethnic minority groups:

“We must not group them or any of them with any of the larger and self-sufficient linguistic groups. If we did, we would be placing the small linguistic group or groups concerned in a state of comparative political and social disability. A minority problem would thereby be created which would demand solution… with great respect, we do not think that it is possible to charm the minorities and their problems out of existence… the truth is that minorities do and will always exist in Nigeria… Vis-a-vis the majorities, these minorities, these minorities have their fears –real or imaginary – which can only be allayed by unequivocal and entrenched constitutional arrangements.”

The minority question can only be handled with unequivocal and entrenched constitutional arrangements! Igbo re, ona re! Ladies and gentlemen, what do you think has been Nigeria’s answer to this particular aspect of the Awo road? You need not look beyond this podium for Nigeria’s answer. Given “igbo re ona re” and other cultural deployments in this lecture, some of you can be forgiven if by now you’ve concluded that I am Yoruba. Well, Nigeria disagrees with you. Nigeria says I’m a northerner. In fact, technically, Nigeria would rather have me silence my Okun-Yoruba identity and blend into some northern lapland in which the beneficence of an umbrella Hausa-Fulani identity would take care of all my problems in the Nigerian family.

Constitutional guarantees of the financial viability of the constituent parts of the federating unit is a key feature of the Awo road. This need not detain us beyond the observation that we have done the exact opposite of this requirement.And I believe that other key areas of Chief Awolowo’s thought such as the importance of separation of powers, secularity of the Nigerian state, and the need for local government autonomy (p.149) can be examined in fuller detail during our discussions.

What I propose to do for the rest of the time that I have is to examine a number of issues which, Chief Awolowo himself admits, may strike the average person as trivia and unworthy of discussion in the context of constitutional considerations. However, the significance of these false trivia can only be measured by the heavy price Nigeria pays today for failing to pay adequate constitutional attention to them. Perhaps the attention that Chief Awolowo pays to such issues as would appear to the ordinary man as trivia is also because he understands that they can combine to vitiate what he calls the social objectives of a federal constitution. It is under these social objectives that he addresses a wide range of issues in consonance with his socialist persuasion, such as education, health, human capital development, employment, poverty. If you are tempted to think that a constitution is not a party manifesto and should not be dabbling into social objectives, Chief Awolowo already anticipates your train of thought and pre-empts you in this passage:

“It may be objected that all we have been saying has nothing to do with constitution-making. Our emphatic answer is that it has a mighty lot to do with it. Our experience during the past six years has shown… that though we are ostensibly free as a nation, yet as a people we remain tightly shackled in the chains of ignorance, disease, want, and native tyranny. It is a duty which we owe to ourselves, and to future generations of Nigerians, to ensure, as far as human ingenuity can contrive it, that the demons which held us in thrall under the old constitution are fought and destroyed under the new constitution.”

Igbo re, ona re! What then are the false trivia that could stand in the way of a constitution achieving its stated social objectives? How many of you in this hall have ever given a thought to the fact that the convoys of our government officials could stand in the way of the constitution and national progress? If you’d never made a connection between the constitution and the convoys which always drive you, Nigerian citizens, off the road whenever an Oga at the Top is passing, here is what Chief Awolowo has to say in making that critical connection:

“In the fourth place, some people may wonder whether it is necessary to make provision in the constitution forbidding the Prime Minister and Premier and their ministers to make use of the services of police orderlies and outriders, and to inspect a guard of honour. The unfortunate thing, however, is that these little and trivial-looking things had contributed in no small measure to tenacity of office on the part of those who held these offices under the First Republic. They had imagined that their individual ego would be deflated almost to the point of political extinction if they were deprived of these empty and vain trappings. They had, therefore, been driven to practise all kinds of chicanery and vice in order to remain in office. We must not allow our public men to develop this type of warped sense of value in the future.”

Poor Chief Awolowo! How could this phenomenal thinker have known that aalmostthree decades after his death, these public men would even allow their constitutionally unrecognized wives to develop a warped sense of value, shut down Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt whenever they come to town, harass elected state governors, and dip their hands into our national treasury at will to fund ephemeral monuments to their ego that the next First Lady will erase entirely! If Chief Awolowo had imagined that the degree of travesty we witness today in the name of First Ladyship would happen even in a million years, my wager is he would have proffered constitutional checks which we would have ignored anyway! Those going to Abuja may want to think seriously about this First Lady business. Chief Awolowo would not have remained constitutionally indifferent to such unspeakable travesty.

There are other issues the discussants may also want to take a look at in the light of Chief Awolowo’s exhortation to his readers to assess is views and proposals with “constructive objectivity”. Chief Awolowo, for instance, was in favour of a bi-cameral federal legislature. Perhaps, the circumstances of his times dictated this conviction. Given the fact that to describe our National Assembly in Abuja today as corrupt and indolent is to be nice to it, do we still need two chambers today and should our lawmakers be working full time?

There is also the question of independent candidacy in elections. Chief Awolowo views this very negatively and proposes its non-recognition in the constitution. Do our circumstances today support this stance? Given the climate of ideological poverty in our contemporary party politics where the two leading parties in the country are currently trading migrating herds of corrupt and ethically-challenged politicians, is it not time to start giving serious constitutional considerations to the question of independent candidacy?

A suitable constitution, Chief Awolowo, declares again and again in Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution, is the bedrock of political stability. But he also recognizes the fact that even the best and most suitable constitution is useless if a country is hostage to corrupt and visionless leadership. And because he is convinced that “the only alternative to Federalism for Nigeria is the wide road to national impotence and ruin”, he presses the question of leadership, qualitative leadership in the service of a suitable constitution. For him, the constitution must somehow find a way to guarantee qualitative leadership and weed off moneychangers from the temple before they get a chance to turn it to a den of robbers. Luckily for those currently ruling Nigeria, they hardly read books! Imagine if they read books and stumbled on Chief Awolowo’s idea of a good leader that could deliver on the promises of a suitable constitution:

“Good leadership involves self-conquest; and self-conquest is attainable only by cultivating, as a first major step, what some applied psychologists have termed ‘the regime of mental magnitude’. In plain language, the regime of mental magnitude is cultivated when we are sexually continent, abstemious in food, abstain totally from alcoholic beverage and tobacco, and completely vanquish the emotions of greed and fear”.

You think this is too severe? Papa Awolowo is not done yet. Listen to this:

“There are those who would regard these prescriptions for leadership to be too stringent. They are welcome to their view; but for the good of the fatherland, such people should steer clear of the affairs of State, and confine their activities to those spheres where their excessive self-indulgence cannot incommode the entire nation, to the point of threatening its very life”.

Igbo re, ona re! Well, much to our misfortune, such people did not listen to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. They did not steer clear of the affairs of state. On the contrary, they dragged the state and her affairs towards “igbo” where Awolowo had prescribed “ona”. When a musician saw the tragic consequences of their preference for “igbo” and hatred for “ona” and began to sing “Nigeria jagajaga, everything scatter scatter, poor man dey suffer suffer”, they clobbered that musician, abused him, said that it was his father and mother who are jaga-jaga, and subsequently went to Abuja to receive Centenary honours in recognition of their illustrious contribution to fifty-three years of national bedwetting and diaper-wearing. Nigeria jaga-jaga…