The late Chief Hannah Idowu Dideolu (HID) Awolowo virtually spent her life espousing the cause of progressives. Like her husband, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, she believed in welfarist socio-political philosophy.
THE late Chief Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo would be remembered as one of the country’s greatest women leaders. Her death on September 19, 67 days to her 100th birthday is an epochal event in Nigeria’s political history. It marked the end of a phase in that political history. Mama Awolowo was not only the partner to one of Nigeria’s most illustrious founding fathers, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, but also a huge source of inspiration to many political leaders who constantly sought her blessing, to launch their political aspirations.
Pillar of progressive movement
But, no doubt, the woman who is better known as HID would be more fondly remembered for being the pillar that held the progressive political movement together throughout her husband’s turbulent political career and beyond. She was believed to have pepped up her late husband’s confidence and made him to believe that greatness went beyond mere colour and panache.
The story was told of how the late sage found himself in an awkward position, at the early stage of his political career, because he was no match to some of the eloquent politicians of that time. This was an era when oratory was the benchmark of measuring the success of politicians. At the time, the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Adegoke Adelabu of Penkelemesi fame, Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe of timber and calibre fame, Ayo Rosiji and Bode Thomas bestrode the political scene like giants. It was his jewel of inestimable value, it was said, that made him aware of the pragmatic and visionary side which was more enduring than flowery speeches.
The late Mama Awolowo’s transformation from being a house wife to becoming a businesswoman and later a politician started towards the end of the Second World War in 1944, when the late Awolowo left the country to study law in England. That was when the responsibility of catering for the family was placed on her shoulders. At the time, the couple had their first child, Segun, and the late Mama Awolowo was pregnant. She was forced by the exigency of the time to step into the male-dominated world of business to fend for the family in her husband’s absence. Hitherto, she was a full-time house wife. This experience later helped to shape her political life.
She was to play a sturdy role in the formation of the defunct Action Group (AG) when she headed the women’s wing of the party that gave the rival National Council for Nigeria and the Camerouns a run for its money. Despite the fact that the latter was formed seven years earlier than the former, the AG was to win the highly-contested premiership of the Western Region in 1954. This increased the visibility of HID, as she was fondly called. From that period, she had the added responsibility of fulfilling the role of the Premier’s wife.
Difficult year for the Awolowos
The year 1962 was particularly difficult for Mama, as her husband, alongside some AG stalwarts, were jailed for treasonable felony. The following year saw the death of her first son – Segun Awolowo (Snr.) in a ghastly car crash. With her husband behind bars, it must have been too much for the matriarch of the Awolowo family to bear, but she trudged on like a soldier and ensured the political family of her husband was still in one piece.Awo sought to rule Nigeria thrice but he was far ahead of his time and was not understood by the populace. The late Mama’s shoulders were there for Awolowo to cry on when he suffered defeats in the hands of an electorate that was unprepared for change. The late Mama Awolowo stood in for her husband in the alliance formed between the NCNC and the AG, called the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), while he was in jail. The plans were that she would contest the elections, and if she won, would step down for her husband in a by-election.
To fulfil his dream of becoming president in the Second Republic, she toured the length and breadth of the country with her husband campaigning. She also coordinated the women’s wing of the party and was always present at all party caucuses.
In her much younger days, Mrs. Awolowo was known to be very enterprising. She owned a famous fabric store in the popular Gbagi Market, Ibadan decades ago where she was one of the first dealers in lace materials. She was also the first Nigerian distributor for the Nigerian Tobacco Company (NTC) in 1957. She was until her death the Chairman of African Newspapers Nigeria Limited, Publishers of the Tribune titles.
Mother of Yoruba nation
As the mother of the Yoruba nation, she made invaluable contributions to the Awolowo School of progressive politics encapsulated in the social democratic mantra of ‘life more abundant’ during and after the life time of the great sage. Mama virtually spent almost her entire adult life espousing the cause of progressive and welfarist socio-political philosophy among her people. She, alongside her husband, the Sage, Papa Obafemi Awolowo, ensured that the message of life for all and life more abundant was preached across the length and breadth of the country, to the hearing of all, irrespective of their religious belief, tribe or political leaning.
That she bestrode the political landscape of Yoruba land and Nigeria like a colossus was not by accident, rather it was by a dint of hard work, dedication and firm commitments to the ideals and ideas espoused by her husband’s political parties, be it the Action Group (AG) or the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). She was totally committed to Yoruba unity, which was first achieved by her husband, Papa Awolowo himself, with the founding of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa (Afenifere) in 1948.
Mama did all she could to sustain it, even after the demise of Papa. She saw the emergence of the Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF), the umbrella body of all the Yoruba socio-cultural groups, of which she was the chairman until her death. She was honoured with the title Yeye Oodua by the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade. She had previously been known by the title “Yeye Oba of Ile Ife”.
Former Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State described her as a stabilizing force of the Yoruba race and a quiet contributor to the unity of Nigeria. The former governor, in a letter to convey the goodwill of the people and government of Ogun State to the matriarch on the occasion of her 95th birthday in 2010, said she was “a quiet contributor to the unity and progress of the Yoruba race in particular and Nigeria in general and an epitome of the best of womanhood”.
A good wife, caring mother
He went on: “Mrs. Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo is a personification of the good wife, the caring mother and the woman with enough deep conviction to weather the storm of life without giving up. Indeed, she was never overawed in the face of calculated and concerted efforts to destroy whatever Chief Awolowo stood for. HID Awolowo was with her husband through thick and thin. She never wavered in her support for the good cause her husband stood for”.
The founding Secretary General of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and the Convener, Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), Mr. Ayo Opadokun, said
Mama played a significant role in the annals of packaging the progressive political movement early in the 1960s. He said: “When Papa was detained for political reasons, Mama was the strong pillar that galvanized many from across the Nigerian and she also campaigned vigorously for election under the progressive wing of the political train.
“Mama had her own share of the ups and downs of life, but she took them all in equanimity. She was not the kind of woman that easily succumbed to the low point of life’s struggles. When the late Segun Awolowo (senior) died painfully in the ‘60s, she was a major attraction because of the commendable spirit with which she handled that affair then.”
Opadokun also noted that when the Unity Party of Nigeria was formed in 1979, she played a major supportive role to her husband. He said: “She had her own way of exciting audiences at political rallies; she was very good at church hymns and she turned around one of them in the Yoruba version into a political weapon, in the sense that it was adopted by the UPN and used in all major campaigns during the Second Republic.
“In fact, she became a rallying point for many political activities in Yoruba land for many years. All of us who are one way or the other her political children would continue to appreciate the role she played within the progressive political movement in Nigeria.”
A legal practitioner, Mr. Niyi Akintola, also extolled the virtues of the late Mrs. Awolowo, saying the nation has lost a rare gem with her demise. He said: “She lived a good and fulfilled life and I wish to commiserate with the children and the grand children, especially Chief (Mrs) Tola Oyediran and Dr. (Mrs.) Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu. I know they would be particularly touched; I wish them well and I pray that God will give them the fortitude to bear the loss.
A rare gem is gone
“Mama was a role model to so many people, particularly young women. She was a pillar of support to her husband; in fact she has shown by example how a woman can stand by her husband in pursuing a desired goal. She has also been able to hold the family together since 1987 after Papa’s demise. It is to her credit that the Awolowo dynasty still remained intact.”
The late matriarch suffered the misfortune of having to bury three of her children – her two sons – Segun and Wole and one of her daughters – Ayodele Soyode. She also lost her husband seven months to their diamond golden jubilee.
As a Christian, she was devoted; as a teacher, she was dutiful; as a wife, she was ‘jewel of inestimable value’; as a mother, she was generous and sympathetic; as a trader, she was reputable and renowned, and as a politician, her political stocks never fell till she breath her last. With her passing, Nigeria has really lost a rare gem of inestimable value.
Born on November 25, 1915, at Ikenne Remo, Nigeria, to Chief Moses Odugbemi Adelana (a prince) and Elizabeth Oyesile-Adelana (a businesswoman and member of Nigerian royalty), she attended Saint Saviour’s Anglican School, Saint Peter’s School, and Methodist Girls’ High School in Lagos. She married Obafemi Awolowo, then a journalist, on December 26, 1937. HID was born into a polygamous household, the daughter of the second of her father’s three wives, and the only one of the seven children borne by her mother to survive long after birth. She grew up in a lively and happy home, filled with nine half-brothers and half-sisters.
Lessons for Nigerian women
From what majority of people have been saying about the great woman, there are a lot of remarkable qualities in her that young Nigerian women can emulate. It is remarkable that her husband, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, described her as ‘the jewel of an inestimable value.’ At least Mama HID Awolowo must have proved her worth for her husband before she could earn such an enviable appellation.
For example, during the tough moment, especially when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was tried and jailed for treason and conspiring with the Ghanaian authorities under Kwame Nkrumah to overthrow the Federal Government of Nigeria, Mama HID Awolowo was acknowledged by her husband taking an active role in the politics of Western Nigeria to sustain his obstructed ideology.
As already indicated, HID had contested the 1963 elections with the intention of stepping down for her husband in a by-election. To fulfill his dream of becoming president in the Second Republic, she toured the length and breadth of the country with her husband campaigning.
Mama HID Awolowo also coordinated the women’s wing of the party and was always present at all party caucuses. Her key role in the political career of her husband is a good lesson for all women to be their husbands’ prime supporters. Beyond reasonable doubt, her life proved that behind a successful man, there must be a woman.
Deputy Political Editor, The Nation