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Tribute to a survivor and combatant (and the king’s college connection)

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As Ambassador (Dr.) Olatokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu gracefully glides into the platinum age of 70 years, it is tempting to overlook the fact that she is a doughty survivor and formidable combatant. Even if the scars are not visible, she has survived the loss of two brothers.

Barrister Olusegun Awolowo (who graduated from University of Cambridge) died in a ghastly motor accident in July, 1963; and Chief Oluwole Awolowo as well as a sister, Mrs. Ayodele Soyode (mother of Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo – the wife of the Vice-President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN). All these in addition to the demise of both parents – the sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1987 and his jewel Chief (Mrs.) H.I.D. Awolowo in 2015.

Rather than indulge in suffocating self-pity, Olatokunbo has opted to be a nimble combatant in the battle to rescue others by caring for the underprivileged; the aged; the homeless and most especially those who would otherwise be denied access to medical facilities (through the aegis of Obafemi Awolowo Foundation/Dideolu Hospital). It is self-evident that it is her caring disposition that influenced her choice of a career in medicine which was interrupted by her sojourn into diplomacy as our beloved nation’s Ambassador at The Hague, in The Netherlands, from 2000 to 2003.

I commend her warmly for her granite steadfastness and exceptional faithfulness which she has consistently demonstrated in sustaining the inimitable legacy of selfless public service and indomitable spirit of her illustrious parents. Having regard to her tenacity of purpose, fierce determination and steely persistence, she is surely already on the march to greatness in her own right in addition to her devotion to the sustenance and reinforcement of the legend and legacy of her father and mother.

In this endeavour, she has the benefit of the support of her only surviving sibling – Rev. (Mrs.) Tola Oyediran who is the wife of Professor Kayode Oyediran, former Vice-Chancellor of University of Ibadan and an old boy of King’s College, Lagos. His father, late Ambassador Oyediran, was an old boy of King’s College, Lagos.

Tokunbo deserves kudos for the resilience she has demonstrated in coping with the travails of the Awolowo family together with the triumphs. She is manifestly endowed with robust shock absorbers. At a very tender age, she went through the trauma of witnessing her beloved father in the dock for “treasonable felony” in 1963. The tragedy was further compounded by the betrayal and treachery of former allies particularly the son of a long standing family friend(Dr. Ladipo Maja son of Dr. Akinola Maja, a long-time ally of Chief Awolowo) who turned out to be the “prosecution witness.”

When Chief Awolowo was convicted by Hon. Justice George S. Sowemimo and detained in Calabar prison, it was the personal intervention of Chief Frank Giwa-Osagie, who was the Head of the Nigerian Prison Service and an old boy of King’s College, Lagos who saved him from being poisoned.

In politics, she has played her cards close to her chest, ever ready to welcome whoever wants to pay homage to the late sage and supplicate the blessings of the Awolowo family. Indeed, she has restrained herself through reticence and circumspection from venturing into the vortex of controversy in the affairs of our nation. Not for her the temptation to throw her hat into the ring as a potential first female President or Vice-President of Nigeria.

She is of course entitled to conclude that the family has already oversacrificed and overinvested in the pursuit of a vision which has been thoroughly savaged, bastardised, frustrated and compromised.

At the age of 70, she is welcome to reflect on how her father gravitated from being the humble, assiduous and committed secretary of “Egbe Omo Oduduwa” (a Yoruba cultural organisation) with its secretariat at 51, Messina Avenue, West Hampstead, London (the home of Dr. Oni Akerele , an old boy of King’s College, Lagos, who was the President) to becoming the leader of the same group which had transformed from being a cultural organisation into the Action Group, as a fully-fledged political party in Nigeria. He did it by a combination of zeal, dedication, doggedness and force of personality – while preaching the doctrine of “Welfare Socialism.”

Meetings at Dr. Akerele’s residence would sometimes drag on till late at night. However, first thing the following morning, Awolowo would have distributed flawless minutes of the proceedings of the previous evening to the astonishment of other members. He was phenomenal – a miracle worker.

That in itself is a story for another day. It is sufficient to record that our celebrant’s father displayed uncommon leadership as well as sagacity combined with vision and discipline. The followership adored him. A special chapter would have to be devoted to how “Awo” charmed the post Victorian-age elite of Lagos into rewarding him with unprecedented respect and deference. They adored “Awo” their former protégé who was now their charismatic leader with his signature fez “Awo” cap and round rim pebble glasses.

In physical stature, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Premier of the Eastern Region) and Sir Ahmadu Bello, (The Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region) towered above Chief Obafemi Awolowo. However, in the political arena and strategic thinking he was more than their equal match. My late father Chief J.K. Randle (an old boy of King’s College, Lagos) was a friend of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as well as his rivals – Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello. In the 1930’s, my father played at centre-forward in Zik’s Football Club and it was his passion for horses and horse-racing that endeared him to Sir Ahmadu Bello.

I am obliged to reveal the other side of “Awo” which is rarely ever mentioned – he had a terrific sense of humour, gaiety and great sense of fun which were only on display when he was amongst a very close circle of friends. It was there for all to see on the few occasions when he visited the Lagos Island Club or Lagos Race Club where my father was the chairman of both premier clubs. Somewhere in the archives of the clubs are iconic photographs of Chief Obafemi Awolowo looking very relaxed, jovial and savouring the company of friends and foes alike.

Regardless, the dominant trait and enduring legacy were his stern mien, seriousness of purpose and dedication to the pursuit of excellence as well as the upliftment of Nigeria. He made no excuses for being a thoroughbred Yoruba first and foremost but it did not preclude him from his duty to Nigeria and Africa. He was ever ready to work from the crack of dawn till late into the night. The free education policy which was launched in Western Nigeria in 1955 remains his most enduring legacy. Knowledge became the key to freedom and liberty for the many rather than the few – in the pursuit of his catchy slogan: “Life More Abundant.”

He was never awed by intellectuals or scholars. On the contrary, he cultivated them. According to the World Bank report of 1963, under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Western Region of Nigeria was destined to surpass Singapore; South Korea; Malaysia; Indonesia and Hong Kong in economic and human capital development. The prediction is yet to manifest into reality.

Time and space will not permit us to dwell on the irony of history when the feud between Chief Awolowo and his deputy Chief S. L. Akintola erupted at Mapo Hall in Ibadan in 1962 and changed the course of history as well as the destiny of Nigeria.

Thankfully, the children of Chief S. O. Adebo (Head of Service, Western Region and an old boy of King’s College, Lagos) are here to confirm that Chief Awolowo was fortunate to enjoy the support and loyalty of dedicated and incorruptible civil servants. Elder statesman Chief Folarin Coker, former civil servant in the Western Region and Lagos State, is still with us at the age of 95 years. He is ever ready to remind us that there was a moral dimension to Chief Awolowo’s superlative performance. Mrs. Apinke Coker was Awo’s personal secretary but when she accompanied him on his trip to London to negotiate Nigeria’s Independence, Chief Awolowo as Premier of the Western Region personally paid the fare of Chief Coker so that he could accompany his wife.

The celebrant was a teenager then. Here she is, fifty-five years later – still charming, vibrant, radiant and determined to keep the flag flying at full mast.

She was previously the Co-Chairman of African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc, publishers of “The Tribune” group of newspapers. The mantle of leadership as the sole chairman has fallen on her shoulders. At the time when the fortunes of the newspapers were dwindling it was the then Chairman, Chief (Mrs.) H.I.D Awolowo, the matriarch of the Awolowo dynasty who engaged the services of my firm, J.K. Randle Professional Services to provide consultancy services which we successfully executed.

The company is evidently thriving and has been restored to the front rank of our nation’s media. At a time when the J.K. Randle family is under threat, assault, invasion and siege by the government (and its demolition squad which is on a rampage) we may have ignored the incisive observation of Chief (Mrs.) Awolowo which she shared with me – no matter the complexion of the government, you must replenish your wealth, your power, influence and your prestige, otherwise you would be in peril. I remain eternally grateful to her for her wellgrounded wisdom and profound knowledge. At close to 100 years old, she was still mentally alert and genuinely concerned about the future of Nigeria.

As Olatokunbo steps into those mega-sized shoes of her parents, we have every reason to believe that she would rise up to the challenge. Poor lady; she has to ride two horses at the same time – one belongs to her mother while the other belongs to her father. Another horse is on the way – it is a birthday gift from the King’s College Old Boys Association!! Happy birthday.

  • Bashorun J.K. Randle, a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region, is currently the Chairman, J.K. Randle Professional Services.

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