Archive for the ‘History/biography’ Category

Adeboye: Living the dream

March 18, 2008

This piece was first published in The Nation, Lagos on Wednesday, March 5, 2008

He started dreaming as a child. He has pursued his dreams with total commitment and with the aid of some hardly revealed leadership tools. What is not in doubt is that at 66, the General Overseer of the RCCG has come a long waypastor-adeboye.jpg

Hidden secrets of Pastor Adeboye’s success

 As he marks his 66th birthday with the three-day Special Holy Ghost Service, some of Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye’s not well celebrated secrets of success are revealed by Group Arts and Culture Editor SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE Humble beginning

Now coated in cement plaster and paint, the three-bedroom apartment building seems to greatly aspire to escape its past. The discerning could easily visualise what it must have looked like 66 years ago when the son was born to the Adeboye household of Ifewara in Osun State – cracked mud walls graced by thatched roof the outdoor kitchen out of which oozed waves of smoke from firewood at evening cooking time.

Travel down to metropolitan Ilesa a few kilometres away and you’d encounter one of the citadels of western education in colonial Nigeria. Although the building no longer serve the purpose, the corner where Enoch Adejare Adeboye’s bed stood in his days at Ilesa Grammar School as a boarding student in the 1950s was pointed out by a classmate with nostalgia. “This was our hostel. That was the location of his bed space.”

“He used to keep to himself a lot,” Dr. M. M. Omole, an Ilesa-based agriculturist who was in the same class with the General Overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of Christ, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye continued. “I am sure it had a lot to do with his poor financial state when we were in school here. He spent more time studying that he spent relating with other students.”

His mother had “retired” from bearing children. With daughters and a son, the junior wife of the senior Adeboye felt she had had enough. Then tragedy struck. Her only son died. Relatives and neighbours – especially siblings of the dead son –appealed to the Ilesa-born petty trader to try and have one more issue. Who knows, it might be a replacement for the son that is gone. Their prediction proved true and on March 2, 1942, the earth welcomed a son who was destined to be a world changer of no mean stature, Enoch Adejare Adeboye.

Growing up a peasant farmer’s son in the village was one thing. Attending what was then an elitist post-primary education facility was quite another kettle of fish. By the time Enoch Adeboye entered Ilesa Grammar School in 1956, the sharp difference between his socio-economic status and that of his mates was glaring.

“I did not were trousers or a pair of shoes until I was 17 years old,” Adeboye has said more than once.

“When we were here,” Dr. Omole recollected, “there was a day we students decided to boycott the dining hall to protest against the pap and akara we were being served. The only student who went quietly to the dining hall to take his meal was Pastor Adeboye. I am sure it was not because he was so desperately hungry. Yes, he would have had difficulty purchasing what to eat. But at the same time, I think it had more to do with his loyalty to the principal, Rev. Canon Akinyemi who was his benefactor.”

Disadvantaged background and strict upbringing bring out different qualities in different children. No doubt, the combination of the two had done well for the man his followers love to call Daddy GO. Raised by a disciplinarian father and a hard working poor mother, Adeboye picked up the qualities that would make him what he is today quite early in life. His relationship with late Rev. Canon Akinyemi, father of Professor Boloji Akinyemi is a pointer to his later development.

 Great dreamer

“When I was young,” Pastor Adeboye told the crowd that had gathered to spend “a day with the GO” at the MUSON Centre at Onikan, Lagos in 1998, “a bishop visited our village. Schools were closed. Hunters lined the road firing dane guns into the air. Cocks and eggs were gathered as presents for him. I took a look at the pomp and pageantry and said to myself, ‘One day I will be a bishop.’”

If anyone takes his PhD in mathematics as an indicator of the fact that Pastor E. A. Adeboye is a clinical practical man who does not allow dreams into his realm of operation, such a person cannot be far from the truth.

Abacha for life campaign was on. A million-man march was organised for Abuja. Half way across the globe, Pastor Adeboye was travelling in the company of two of his faithful followers in Miami, USA. There they saw a large number  of people gathered at the beach for a musical festival.

“Why can’t we have a two-million-man gathering for Jesus?” That was the dream Adeboye’s mind produced out of the two events. The result? Lekki ’98 the first Holy Ghost Festival that up to that time was arguably the largest religious gathering in Nigeria if not Africa as a whole.

The gathering now holds annually at the Redemption City and its tag has become Holy Ghost Congress. The most astounding aspect is its purpose. Adeboye believes that through the means of his annual congress, Nigeria will become the greatest nation in the world. Tall dream wouldn’t you say?

From his childhood dreams to catching visions for growth for the mega church he leads, one of the secrets of Pastor Adeboye’s success is his ability to dream of great things. Commitment

Of what use is being able to dream if one is not committed to pursuing it to logical conclusion? Late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once spoke of an outstanding quality of the bulldog. When the bulldog grabs an object, one of its unique virtues is its ability to keep on breathing without letting go.

“In the early days of our marriage,” Pastor (Mrs.) Folu Adeboye, the GO’s wife once told a writer, “we used to quarrel. He would return from class at the school where he was a teacher, take his meal and immediately proceed to attack mathematical problems. Whenever I tried to take the books away from him he would pretend to need to ease himself only to go and lock himself in the toilet to attend to his mathematics.”

From his travails as the favourite of the late founder of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Rev. Josiah Olufemi Akindayomi, to the present day, to say uneasy lies the head that wears the crown in describing Pastor Adeboye is an understatement.

Once he sets his hearth to do carry out an assignment, Adeboye simply pulls all the plugs.

He wanted the International Office at the Redemption City ready under a month, he simply moved floodlights to the site and personally supervised construction workers round the clock.

Some years ago, while worshippers gathered at the auditorium awaiting the arrival of the GO at a particular Special Holy Ghost Service, the unthinkable nearly happened. As Pastor Adeboye stepped out of his office to enter the four-wheel drive that would take him to the auditorium, the gangly man of over six feet in height staggered and nearly fell.

“When I am fasting I am fasting and when I am feeding I am feasting,” those are the words of a man who would fast up to the point that one would wonder if he was on hunger strike for one fanatical cause or the other. To him, realising his dreams is so vital that no price is too high. Having embarked on stretch fast – fasting without breaking at the end of the day – for several days would rise every night to conduct prayer walk around the Redemption City every night. When the event he has been preparing for comes, there he is standing at the pulpit to minister as if nothing had happened. Where he gets the energy to conduct those services is definitely beyond mere human explanation.

One thing Pastor Adeboye understands is that there is nothing like a free lunch. There is always a price tag. So, whatever he desires – miracles for his congregation, financial breakthrough for projects or whatever, he is committed enough to pay the necessary price to make it happen.

 The warrior

One aspect of Pastor Adeboye that is not easy to perceive is that he is primarily a man who operates with the instinct of a military man. His humble mien notwithstanding, he is one general one would not want to face with regular weapons. In the spiritual real especially and in church growth drive that reaches up the level of what business analysts would describe as mergers and acquisition, Pastor Adeboye is a dogged warrior.

“When you are fighting a wise man and he surrenders,” he once told his ministers, “know that you are finished.”

Strategies for conquering new territories and retaining those already in his possession are what Pastor Adeboye executes without even the closest people to him realising it. He is not a fire-fighter tactician. Whatever brought the RCCG to where it is today did not begin today. From the formation of his ministry, Christ the Redeemer’s Ministries, while Rev. Akindayomi was alive to the establishment of Christ the Redeemer’s Friends Universal set up to reach out to the upper echelon of the society and other such tactical moves, Adeboye works within the framework of his vision making moves according to his long-time strategic moves.

“The Lord is a Man of war” is a favourite quote of his. And no doubt he does not perceive himself as a bastard. Like Father, like son, he is just as well a warrior as his heavenly Father.

 Empire builder

When his friend, fellow Ijesa man co-lecturer at the same department and Christian brother W. F. Kumuyi needed a location for his midweek Bible study and miracle service events, Adeboye did not hesitate to seek the help of his spiritual mentor, Rev. Akindayomi. When Kumuyi moved his mostly youthful crowd-pulling programmes away to go and establish the Deeper Life Bible Church contrary to his early expressed vision of only running a teaching ministry, Adeboye saw it not as a setback but as a stepping stone. Through his own ministry, he began his midweek services.

One of the qualities of empire builders is that they convert disadvantages to stepping stones.

Pastor Tunde Bakare started the first “model parish” for the RCCG. When he moved on with the entire congregation of over a thousand worshippers but for twelve to start Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Adeboye simply picked up the pieces to build the success story the model church has become today.

His vision of a parish of the church within every five minutes walking distance within Lagos has been surpassed. He is reaching out for greater heights.

 Authority

Pastor Adeboye grew up under a father who was an authority figure in the true sense of it. He too does not care about hiding the fact that he believes in absolute loyalty to authority.

As a student, the school principal Rev. Canon Akinyemi who happened to have been from his Ifewara hometown helped him by allowing him to stay on in school even when his school fees were not paid. No doubt, the Anglican reverend gentleman must have played a role in securing a loan for Adeboye from the local Anglican church. As a result, he would not join students to protest an act of the principal no matter how justified his colleagues were or what repercussion he might face later.

Up till this day, Adeboye expects total loyalty. If anybody has any illusion of sharing of power in the RCCG hierarchy, the person should just seek out the mission’s organogram. Pastor Adeboye, the mathematician that he is, has fashioned out an ever-changing system that ensures nobody is in the position to challenge his authority. When Pastor Tony Rapu, one of the most outstanding “captains” in “General” Adeboye’s army was growing too big, he ended up out in the cold – literally. His Freedom Hall parish was quartered and shared among four assistants while he was “exiled” to Europe. He ended up leaving the mission to start This Present House.

The last Deputy General Overseer retired in 1998 and has not been replaced. No Assistant General Overseer (AGO) knows what to expect from the GO who would move a retired secondary school principal from the position AGO Training to AGO Family Matter, whatever that means, and replace him with a retired carpenter! What used to be the highly exalted position of State Pastor is now Provincial Pastor with as much clout as the then Area Pastor.

No matter what anybody says, such firm grip has helped Adeboye forge ahead with his plans for the ministry. Even the seeming anointed successors in the waiting of a few years ago had been sent to Siberias of missionary fields in past years.

 A different person

Attempt to blend in makes a man nothing different from other people. Pastor Adeboye is a man who does not fear being different. While his contemporaries pursued glamour, he took the Gospel message to the world with humility and gentle mien. Here is a man whose pen – one of the things he treasures in life – would pay for the glamorous fellow’s entire attire, yet he would carry it in a way that displays no outward self aggrandisement.

Sometimes ago, Pastor Adeboye had just three cars. One was a Lexus jeep, another a Lincoln Navigator and the third a Lincoln Town Car, a sedan that requires servicing once in four years. Yet nobody would perceive him as being ostentatious.

A sharp wit who cracks wonderful jokes, Adeboye does not really talk. He would rather communicate with even his immediate staff through notes – notes that are full of abbreviation that a new staffer has to learn his code! This sets him free to spend time in prayer and meditation, two things he does literally “without ceasing.”

Over the years, Pastor Adeboye has brought a lot of changes to the church he inherited in 1981. At the same time he has devised several ways and means for reaching the perishing world with the Gospel which is what he sees as his primary assignment. In all such pursuits, he does not shy away from being different. A state chief executive who is a Moslem invited him over to minister annually. He was always there to use the platform.

However, some had had cause to criticise him for carrying along wrong fellows in the name of church growth. Some glaring unchristian behaviours by some leaders had been overlooked while others paid highly for less sins – that is if there is anything like less sin. There was a year when the second wife of a prominent monarch and the second wife of a state chief executive were ordained in a church that is avowedly opposed to polygamy.

However one looks at it, Pastor Adeboye takes it all in the stride and heads in the direction he feels God is leading him. Like all heroes of all times, he is not perfect. But in him is a mix of qualities that has helped him build what is probably the largest Pentecostal church in Africa. He yet dreams of making it the biggest in the world!

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Life’s a party

March 18, 2008

This piece was first published in The Nation, Lagos, on WednesdayMarch 12, 2008. Poeple know him more in the sports arena than in any other area. He was a civil servant till he retired at the age of 60. Art is his passion. But Chief Frank Okonta believes…

Chief Frank Okonta is better known as a sports administrator than a public officer. What is less known about him is that he is a man who takes life as one long leisure cruise. He is also an arts addict whose collection is one of the most enviable in Nigeria. Group Arts and Culture Editor SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE learnt much about him in the hours they spent together at his home and galleryokonta-2.jpgokonta-4.jpgokonta-1.jpgokonta-5.jpg With wife, Patience

He’d rather be called Frank Okonta without the complication of a “chief”. So do not expect him to tell you where he bagged the chieftaincy title. But that is just one of the many things Chief Frank Chukwuma Okonta himself cannot define about himself.

Where was he born? This is a question that is as difficult for him to answer as what he did with eight years of his life in Europe. Don’t even bother asking him where he grew up.

“My mother told me,” he responded to the question about his place of birth, “that when she was eight months pregnant, my father sent her to the village to deliver. A month after I was born, she returned to Lagos where my father was based then.”

Thus Frank Okonta was born in Lagos, although the delivery took place at Ibuzo, his parents’ hometown. By the time he was old enough to begin primary school, his medical officer father had been transferred and he started his educational pursuit in Bauchi. His father, who was a nurse/dispenser, was again moved and he finally completed his primary education at Jos thereby earning the nomenclature “Dan Jos”. By the time he was entering secondary school, his parents were on their way back to Lagos where they were when he was born. Although he went to secondary school in Kaduna, he traces his living in Lagos back to those days.

“I attended St. John’s College in Kaduna,” Okonta told The Nation.

He spoke about his college days with uncommon enthusiasm. But that is the way he speaks about everything. He never believes in any negativity in life. To him, all developments contribute to the building of the whole man.

“Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu was our PT captain,” he recalled. “Even then we used to call him ‘major’. He would go into the houses to ensure that all students come out for sporting activities. In fact, sports was so much active at St. John’s College that no student participated in less than three sports.”

If the sharp reporter goes to Chief Frank Okonta’s Frank Okonta Close residence at UPDC Estate at Lekki in Lagos, he would be wrong to come armed with a recorder to tape a one hour interview. This writer did not make that mistake and his gamble paid off. The appointment was scheduled for 2 pm. But considering the notorious Lekki traffic, early start guaranteed this writer got to his house before one o’clock.

What should have been a one-hour engagement did not end till more than four hours later. From his residence to his gallery, Frank Okonta chatted like an old friend. The age gap was no barrier for him at all. He spoke on different subjects with equal enthusiasm. Here is someone who loves life and does not care to hide it.

Born on August 3, 1939, Frank Okonta’s father wanted his son to follow him into the medical field. After leaving secondary school Frank’s love for the media world led him to the Radio School between 1959 and 1960. Thereafter the father thought it was time for his son to pursue a “real career”. In 1961 he was sent to England to pursue studies in the medical field. His elder sister who ended up with a glorious career in the medical field was already out there building herself up in the same field. So the second born being the first son of the family was expected to better the father’s career success.

It took the whole of between two and three years for Frank Okonta to turn his back on the stethoscope and scalpel. He had finally made up his mind that the world of television production and documentary films would suit him better.

He proceeded to attend a television and film school in England and thereafter launched into a life that the average parent would not want to discuss with his relatives and friends.

“I lived more or less as a hippy in those days,” Frank Okonta said. “I had a very, very good time.”

He did not bother to pick up any regular job. Instead, he made contributions to British Broadcasting Corporation and the Office of Information among other media houses. He travelled all over Europe generally having fun. In the process he took time to take a course in Political History at Oxford College of Technology. Although it might not appear in his CV, he also made his first forage into the high-tide world of marriage.

“I made a mistake,” Frank Okonta said in his usual jocular manner. “I thought love should be the sole basis for marriage. Love is one of the basis for marriage but it is not enough. There are other factors that must be considered.”

When he speaks about his wife Patience, whom he married much later, there is no doubt that he has made a greatly successful comeback.

“I deeply pity those who do not have happy homes,” he said. “If a man is not happy in his marriage, it is a great problem. I thank God for the woman I married. She has been such a great source of joy for me in life.”

Okonta’s first marriage was not without any blessing anyway. It produced a daughter, Nkem who became an artist. Okonta’s gallery at Lekki was named after her. As it happened, she died of cancer a few years ago. His second marriage has produced children who are doing well in their different fields.

By the time Okonta returned to Nigeria towards the end of 1972 he showed no interest in picking up a regular job. He spent a year with the Midwest TV producing a programme on farming. Then he moved on to join Tam Fiofori at Sunart Production to produce a documentary of the Rivers State people.

Recalling his days at Midwest TV, Okonta said he used to travel to Lagos every week to process his films. Sometimes, according to him, he would leave Lagos at eight pm to head back to Benin.

“Crime rate was low then,” Okonta said. “You know I have been living in Lagos for much of my adult life. Even while I was schooling in Kaduna I spent all my holidays in Lagos because my parents were in Lagos. My father was in the civil service while my mother was a successful business woman. She built quite some houses in Lagos here. I still have a place at one of houses and my brother lives there.”

To him, the freewheeling life of travelling around shooting documentaries was fun enough. The security of paid job with hope of retirement package simply did not appeal to Okonta. For him, his beer, wine, champagne, cigarette and later cigar were all that made the world go round. The night clubs where life bands played and sporting events were enough fun.

Frank Okonta’s love for sports had taken roots before he left St. John’s College, Kaduna. He recalled how he and his brothers would walk from their Ebute Meta residence to King George V Stadium, now Onikan Stadium to watch football matches.

“Lagos was much safer then,” he recalled. “Life was much sober. Whenever one walked down the road, there was no apprehension that someone might be out there waiting to snatch your bag or car. We moved around freely at all times.”

By the time the one-year project of documenting the people of Rivers State was completed, Frank Okonta moved on to another temporary engagement. This time around, he worked with Prof. Nwachi of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs as a liaison officer alongside the Yeye Oge of Lagos Chief (Mrs.) Opral Benson. Preparations were then in top gear for the Festac ’77.

Then came the change. Close to the age of forty, Frank Okonta finally decided there was the need for some sort of stability in his life. First he went out in search of a regular job and ended up at the Ministry of Information. Secondly he met the woman that has since remained his lifetime companion, Patience. He got married to her and the family settled at 1004 Estate on Victoria Island where they lived for several years.

At the Ministry of Information and Culture – the two ministries were one then – Okonta found a perfect home. Operating in the areas of protocol and liaison, he travelled widely. “In fact, I’ve been to virtually all the continents of the earth.”

Apart from travelling widely Okonta utilised the opportunity to pursue one of his greatest passions in life – African arts. As he travelled, he took works of Nigerian artists along using every forum to market African arts. In the same sweep, the avid films and documentary lover had more than his take as the Nigerian Television Authority among other such media agencies of the Federal Government were under the supervision of his ministry.

It was during this period that Frank Okonta became renowned as a sports administrator. He spent so much time at sports administration meetings that, according to him, his wife often wondered which came first – sports or the family. He held several positions including those of President of the Cycling Federation of Nigeria and Chairman of Boxing Association of Nigeria.

Another great change came in Frank Okonta’s life in 1999. Clocking 60 years of age, he retired from the civil service at the position of a Deputy Director.

“When I retired,” he said, “I chose to live a sober life. I wanted no more headaches. So I left the world of sports and other such things and opened this gallery.

“The world of sports is very turbulent. Sports administrators in Nigeria are hungry people. There would be five naira meant for a project and someone who does not even attend meetings would come and ask you to account for how you spent the fifteen naira you got. If you buy a new car or build a new house the suspicion is that you had stolen money meant for sport.

“The politics in Nigerian sports administration is so much that a good number of administrators have no problem moving into partisan politics. Both are about the same except that they are not sending hired assassins after themselves in sports administration politics.”

Why did he then choose art?

“I’ve always loved arts. I love beautiful things. I’ve been collecting works of arts for several years. I have works of masters like Ben Enwonwun as well as works of younger ones. I have paintings, carving mixed media works and all sorts of works.

“When I come into this gallery, I feel fulfilled. No doubt I am a wealthy man. My wealth is not in digits stored in a bank. But how can one derive fulfilment from going to the bank manager and asking him to let him sit down and watch his savings. I come into this gallery and I see things that make me happy.”

Last August 3, Frank Okonta’s Nkem Gallery hosted the opening of a one-week exhibition of painter Larry Isima to mark Okonta’s birthday. Immediately after the opening ceremony was over, the other side of Okonta took over.

His residence, a walking distance from the gallery, has a large garden. No doubt his architect wife and his partying spirit must have connived to create the fairy vista. There a lavish party was thrown where friends, especially fellow arts lovers, wined, dined and chatted till late.

“My philosophy in life is to be happy,” Frank Okonta told The Nation during the interview conducted recently. “In my house, we always look for an excuse to throw a party. If I offer to throw a party for a friend and he has nothing to celebrate at that point in time I will ask him to locate a friend of his who has something to celebrate.”

Now he has stopped drinking and smoking for health reasons. But Frank Okonta’s love for the bottle and the butt was legendary. Although he does not regret his teetotaller status he still speaks about champagne and cigar with the relish of a man who would not mind spending his entire life between France and Havana.

Well that is what he has actually done. His entire life has been spent living. While a good number of people spend their days worrying about problems that might never manifest, Okonta spends his days just being happy.

Among guests at Frank Okonta Close at Lekki on that August 3 were prime arts collectors Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Engineer Yemisi Shyllon and Chief Sammy Olagbaju and painter and arts teacher, former Lagos State Chairman of Society of Nigerian Artists, Kunle Adeyemi. The four have something in common. They are all arrow heads of the Visual Arts Society of Nigeria (VASON) a co-sponsor of the exhibition. Frank Okonta is a patron of VASON, an organisation that seeks to do for visual arts what MUSON is doing for music.

At 68, Frank Okonta’s nothing of retiring into total sober peaceful life just cannot include staying away from his passion for arts and partying. Bubbly and easy to approach, Okonta radiates the air of someone whose arrival at the most sober funeral would create a cheerful atmosphere. To him, life is one long party. And the party just goes on.

My life with Awo – HID

February 26, 2008

First published in The Nation three days after Chief (Mrs.) HID Awolowo’s 92nd birthday

hid-3.jpghid-4.jpghid-1.jpg

Last Sunday, matriarch of the Obafemi Awolowo dynasty clocked 92. Just before then, she shared the story of her life with the late legendary politician in an exclusive interview. ADEWALE ADEOYE and Group Arts and Culture Editor SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE write on the encounter 

The compound was serene. Some old men hung around the corridors. The mausoleum, where the late patriarch of the family was kept for nine years stood like a timeless monument. Some birds sang sonorous songs on a bevy of flowers that dot the beautiful landscape.

Inside the building, the sitting room was elegant, modest and full of saintly aroma. It could have been the abode of a clergyman of an earlier century, a principled school principal or a nun. There were no cobwebs, no waste bins, no dirt: the large sitting room was immaculate.

Welcome to the Ikenne, Ogun State home of late political jaugernaut, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The leader’s been gone now – for years. But it still remained home for the object of this hunt, his widow, Chief (Mrs.) Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo.

There were several pictures on the wall: supporters, as numerous as sand upon the seashore with Awo raising the iconic two-finger “V” victory sign, the meeting with Indira Ghandi if India, shaking of hands with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, the meeting with the Queen Elizabeth of England in the late 1950s, and interestingly too the picture of Mama as Chief (Mrs.) H. I. D. Awolowo is fondly called and her late husband oon their wedding day in 1933. In the photograph, Awo was been 24 years old and Mama, 22. She looked like an innocent dove perching on a dew-soaked flower in early summer.

She looked radiant, beautiful and precious. She held the hand of her soul mate, the man who would later transform political landscape of Nigeria in ways no one else has done. Another picture in the room showed her when she was 50 looking as 20 years younger than her age.

She still looked younger and stronger than her 92 years age when she stepped out at her birthday thanksgiving service last Sunday leading the chorus of praise. Accompanied by her children, grandchildren and selected dignitaries such as Governor Gbenga Daniels of Ogun State, she moved with the grace the belied her and radiated what the officiating bishop described as divine glory.

Although her husband passed on some two decades ago, Mama is still alive to see him being celebrated as politicians scramble to proclaim belief in and be identified with his political philosophy and legacy – a good number no doubt dubiously so. Just last week, Otuunba Gbenga Daniels’ government in Ogun State forwarded a draft law to the state legislature seeking the late political legend’s house being named a state monument.

Not that this would be a difficult task. Even his bathroom slippers and comb still lay at appropriate locations in the house as if awaiting the return of their owners. His last diary sits on the table as if awaiting the next entry. Although it is not functional now, there are talks of repairing the Mercedes Benz limousine that took Awo round as he criss-crossed the nation in pursuit of his elusive presidential mandate.

The guests settled in the sitting room awaiting the unique encounter. A lady passed served them pineapple juice. They were on the second round of taken in ornamental glasses when Mama walked into the room. She settled at one corner of the room. Now a few days short of 92, she sat like a god. She was assisted by a young charming lady of Igbo extraction, Chinyere. But the locals in Ikenne now prefer to call her “Kikelomo” meaning a treasured offspring.

Mrs. H. I. D. Awolowo had been intimated with the fact that she was to speak on the travails and triumphs of hersel, her late husband and her family, a clan that is no doubt one of the most influential in Nigeria.

Two daughters were with Mama during the interview. They were Mrs. Oyede Ayodele and Dr. (Mrs.) Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu. Mama requested of them to remind her of events she might have forgotten assuming the posture of mild senility usually associated with people her age which her sharp looks did nothing to confirm. Of course, she spoke clearly vividly recalling events way back to the first day she met her late husband around 1930.

How did you feel on the first day Awo met you? She was asked, writer looking straight into her scintillating eyeballs.

“In those days,” she recalled, “a man would propose to you in writing. Obafemi wrote a letter to me that he was in love with me and wanted to marry me.”

Wisdom teaches that women are like diplomats. Do not expect a straight anwer from them to such a request. They would never say yes. They would say “No” when they actually mean “Maybe” and “Maybe” when they mean “Yes.” So it was that young Hannah said “No” which late graduated to a “Maybe.” At this point, young Obafemi knew he had won the battle.

The couple got married in 1933, few years before the outbreak of the Second World War. Awo was 24 and his bride 22.

“We had a good beginning,” she reminiscences her face glowing the memories of a wonderful past barely exposing what looked like a set of milk teeth, “and I thank God for the good time we both spent together.”

Hannah Idowu Dideolu was born in 1910 to a modest family in the small Ikenne community of Ogun State. It was at a time when the educated elite and number of cars in the country could be counted on fingertips. Lagos, which is now barely 40 minutes drive from Ikenne would take drivers two days in those days. Kano to Ikenne in 1910 would take two weeks. Travellers going overseas, mostly to London, spent about one month seafaring.

It was an era when colonialism was rife in Africa, revolutionary movements threatened autocratic regimes in Asia and Eastern Europe and Black renaissance movement was gathering steam in the United States of America. Nigeria in 1910 was a young politically. In fact, only one political party, the Peoples’ Union, established in 1902 and led by two medical doctors, J. K. Randle and Orishadipe, were in existence. By 1933 when Hannah got married to Obafemi, there had been rapid growth in the social and political awareness in Nigeria.

It was not long the wedding that the family moved to Ibadan. In the late 1930s, Hannah’s husband journeyed to London where he studied law. He left behind his wife now the young mother of a baby boy, Segun. She was equally pregnant with Oluwole.

“I felt a bit lonely when he left for London but was contended that it was for the good of the family,” Mrs. Awolowo recalled that period of their lives. She recollected one remarkable event that took place which brings to mind the young couple’s not too comfortable financial status.

Having secured admission to study in London, the family had no money to pursue the course. H. I. D. said, “Awo wrote a letter to a prominent businessman seeking financial assistance. I will not wish to mention the name. The request was turned down. But we thank God for everything. He was the one who saw us through.”

Although Mama would not disclose the identity of the businessman it is now a well known fact that the business mogul based at Ijebu Ode who is now about 110 years old, said later that he regretted not lending Awo the money he needed to pursue his education.

By the time Awo came back to Nigeria, the political space was largely dominated by Herbert Macaulay, an engineer and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. The latter could speak several Nigerian languages and had the habit of bamboozling the crowds with his verbose use of the English grammar.

In 1948 when Egbe Omo Yoruba was launched by Awo and his friends, Hannah was on hand to play the role of a supportive partner. She went with him on campaign trips and hosted political associates and other guests at home. She also accompanied him on as many trips as caring for the children would permit.

Most remarkable about this woman was her dogged support for her husband through a traumatic epoch in Nigerian history an in which her husband was the main actor. In 1962, the arrest of her husband on phantom charges of coup plotting was shocking to her. She was with her him when the gang of armed security personnel came calling. He was accused of planning to overthrow the government of Nigeria.

Earlier on when Awo came to power in 1954 in the Western region, he had transformed the area into a mini-paradise and the envy of many of her peers. He built the first TV station and the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa. Awo built the most formidable University located at Ile-Ife. Every child in his region was given access to free and compulsory education. Several industrial estates were established including but not limited to the Ikeja and Bodija Estates in Lagos and Ibadan respectively. The whole of the South West was also mapped into agrarian and industrial estates. The United Nations Development Program, UNDP rating the region as being at per with many European countries at the time in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the growth rate.

H. I. D. stood with her husband throughout all these years providing the conducive atmosphere for him to function at his best. However, the early 1960s was for her an era of travails. The Federal authorities waged consistent propaganda on the radio and TV denouncing Awo.

She was however a great source of emotional, spiritual and physical strength for her deliberately persecuted husband. Mama did not only face the jeering of political opponents, she also lost her first son, Segun, a lawyer in a ghastly motor accident along Lagos-Ibadan road at a time her husband was serving prison term for treason. Looking back at those years, Mrs. Awolowo said she bore the tribulations with the passion of a Christian realizing that all things that come into being must pass away.

Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a close political associate and friend of the family, told our correspondent in a chat that in one of Awo’s campaigns in Eastern Nigeria, a man threwn a stone from upstairs of a storey building which landed on Awo’s head. He said instead reacting, Awo simply concealed his pain from his wife and continued with his speech as if nothing had happened.

The Federal authorities did not help the situation either. The Tafawa Balewa regime was faced with uprising in the Western region after the 1959 elections believed to have been widely rigged. Mama said she was disturbed. Awo was in his late 40s and she in her mid-40s, usually the prime time that couples hope to have the most passionate relashionship and the spend the best of times together as a family. This was a privilege the Awolowos were not to enjoy.

“They came with armed men and led him away,” she said.

Her husband was at first taken to Epe on the Atlantic Ocean. As the armed men led him away, she recalled how she felt lonely and dejected. A crowd of supporters burst into the old ballad as Awo was led across the sea as if he was never to return. It was the Christian hymn Abide With Me rendered in Yoruba: Wa ba mi gbe, ale fere l’etan, Okun kun su Oluwa Bami gbe, bi oloran lowo miran baye, iranwo alaini wa ba mi gbe.

Mrs. Awolowo said from Epe Island, her husband was again returned to their family home until he was whisked away to Calabar Prison after his conviction where he was served his until the coup of July 1966 after which General Yakubu Gown set him free.

Mama is particularly thrilled by the cultural revolution that the late Hebert Ogunde led through her sonorous revolutionary music, Yoruba Ronu, an epistemological appeal to the people of the South West to wake up in their mental slumber and rescue the race from her political stupor. The military leaders did not only release her husband, something she was thrilled to witness, the events also led to the victory of light over darkness. By 1966, almost all the conspirators that worked day and night to persecute and humiliate the late sage had either been shot on the streets by the coupists or found themselves in exile. Mama’s better half made a triumphant re-entry into Nigerian politics and he was latter appointed as the Vice Chairman of the Finance.

Things ran smoothly with Awo playing different roles until the Second Republic when he returned to politics on the platform of his party, Unity Party of Nigeria. He lost bids for the presidency to President Shehu Shagari both in 1979 and 1983 under suspicious circumstances. The obvious fraudulent charade that went by the name of 1983 elections saw the military coming back to power exactly three months into the new term. Again, the Awo camp felt vincicated.

By the time Awo passed on, he stood like a colossus his image dominating the land. It has been said that apart for Oduduwa the founder of the race, no other person rises taller than Awolowo among the Yoruba nations of South West Nigeria. From his humble peasant background days to the peak of his achievement, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria had on woman on his side confirming the much misused cliché, behind every successful man, there is a woman. She was there during the travails and they shared the laurels of victory together. Now the children and grandchildren are there the keep Mama happy while the legacy of her husband sweetens her life. Paragon of in her younger days, she has aged graciously.

As the interview wound up, a simple request was made of his widow. It turned out to be the peak of the encounter. Asked if she could recite some of her late husband’s oriki Yoruba praise chant, she lit up like a Christmas tree. Beaming as if she could actually feel and see his presence in the room, she plunged into it in their native Ijebu dialect. No doubt she was actually seeing him in her mind’s eyes. She reeled out the lines with the ease and skill of much use. Her eyes roved over spaces in the sitting room as if conjuring wonderful moments they spent together. No doubt her mind was filled with happy memories. After all, it is said that sweet is the memory of the righteous. Such memory of Awo is clearly more alive in the mind of Chief (Mrs.) H. I. D. Awolowo that any other living being.