Qualities of true Awoists, by Makinde

Professor Moses Akinola Makinde spoke with journalists on the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the establishment of the Obafemi Awolowo Centre for Philosophy, Ideology and Good Governance which he now heads. Sulaiman Salawudeen was there.

You are linked with the establishment of Awolowo Centre for Philosophy, Ideology and Good Governance. What is the aim of the centre?

The fact is that Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola is a true Awoist. He simply found me out and gave me the job. What he did was what Chief Awolowo would do: Seek out competent people and give them the job. The centre wants the legacies of Chief Awolowo re-enacted; that is what it is out to achieve in Osun State first and foremost, and in the old Western Region, including Edo and Delta. The centre’s name is Awolowo Centre for Philosophy, Ideology and Good Governance. Awolowo has a philosophy, ideology and you should know that Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) is the only party with an ideology. You want to rule, you must have an idea what you want to do. Other political parties don’t have an idea of what they want to do! All they want to do is share positions and make money, and that is what I mean by “job for the boys.” If you have an idea, you search for people who would make the idea work and I mean a brilliant search.

In few months, what should Nigerians expect from the centre?

Everything depends on funding. We are waiting for a bill to be sent to the state House of Assembly for a law. Right now, we are not independent. The governor has been the one funding the activities. We will soon, later this month, hold our maiden lecture in which we want public figures to come and deliberate. Then early next year, we will follow exactly what we have in the blueprint. The centre will be having conferences and workshops. The conferences, will centre on the theme: Awolowo’s philosophy, ideology and good governance. We have an editorial committee which I will head and we will scrutinise all the papers and those that are good for publication, we will publish in the centre’s proceedings. We have a Journal for Awolowo’s Philosophy, Ideology and Good Governance.

How are things turning up at the centre?

We are just starting. Right now, I am the Director General while Mr. Mustapha is the Head of Planning, Media and Linkage. We have a Secretary and an Administrative Secretary. Very soon, we will have other staff like the Director of Training who must have a doctorate degree. I am following the pattern of appointment which Awolowo laid down and of course which is what Aregbesola did by appointing me. I didn’t apply for this job. He said this is what I want to do, he gave me the name, of course I modified it and set up the centre. He said I should cost it and I said what about the buildings? He said I’ve got the buildings. So, I was searching for somebody who would be in charge of planning and so on. I was told that somebody who is very good in that area works in The Gambia. I contacted him and I wooed him and brought him here on October 1. When he was coming, he had a very good recommendation from the Nigerian High Commission in The Gambia. I saw a profile of what he had done and I said I must get this one. If I had wanted a job for the boys, I could have taken anyone and I have been talking with the governor that appointments at the centre is not job for the boys.

Despite your being an Ekiti man, how did you come by the job?

Chief Obafemi Awolowo surrounded himself with competent people. He went to every corner in search of people who were very competent, diligent and thorough. He was a diligent, thorough and competent person, so he would look for such people to work with him. Aregbesola’s appointment reminds me of what Chief Awolowo used to do. I am from Ekiti State, but I think I can work anywhere in Nigeria. In the United States, the President would go anywhere to search for competent hands. It’s not job for the boys who are your wife’s relatives or your friends or things like that. You don’t just want to give jobs to people because they are your friends, and if we keep on doing that, Nigeria will not make any progress. There is no reason why Mr. President should not look everywhere in the country and seek out somebody who is good for any job and give him the job, even if he is not a member of his party.

What have you done for Awolowo that qualified you for this job or were you just picked?

When Dr. Kayode Fayemi was a governorship candidate, he invited me to deliver a lecture because he knows the work I have done on Awo. In fact, I was late and they were all waiting for me. Aregbesola was there. There must have been some discussion among them about me. So, by the time Aregbesola was being sworn in as governor, he did something that made me say ah, this is Awo incarnate! In 1979, I was a member of the think-tank; Professor Sam Aluko was the chairman. In the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) anthem, there was something about egalitarianism and when Aregbesola spoke and he mentioned things about egalitarianism, it reminded me of those days. Then I decided that this is a good man, a man after my heart. I sent a text to congratulate him and for bringing back the Awo legacy to Osun State. I was so excited.

On this job, I just got the text that “I want you to put up a centre on Awo’s ideology for me in Osun State.” I said. well, that must be the most interesting job I have ever got because of my own interest in Awo, too, then I was still in the Obafemi Awolowo University on contract. I came up with the name and a blueprint and he said I should cost it. Then I said I don’t know anything about costing when building is involved. He said I should forget about buildings and I said that is alright. I gave him my publications on Awo. Awo as a Philosopher he said he was seeing it for the first time. Awo’s Last Conversation and others and he knew this is a man who had spent most of his time on Awolowo. There is no other Nigeria, who has got such a rigorous and engaging conversation with Chief Awolowo for three and half hours. Now they have published another one. Professor Osinbajo has even suggested that the book should be recommended for secondary schools because here, we do not know our heroes. We do not read about our heroes. They know about Chairman Mao, the Chinese hero; they know about Maoism. Here, people who never grew up when Awolowo was alive never knew Awolowo. And history is very important. In Nigeria, we know a lot about Winston Churchill, we know about the Victorian era but here we don’t know about our own heroes. I introduced the Awo philosophy in the United States. I introduced a course on Social Philosophy. When I was in the US as a scholar, they called for papers on Afro-American philosophy, on social and political philosophy. The Africans there mentioned Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah, and Julius Nyerere and said they should write about them. When I got the invitation to present a paper, I wrote back to say what they gave me was intellectual bankruptcy of African political writers. I told them that more than all the people mentioned, the greatest and the most prolific Obafemi Awolowo, was not included. I said because Awolowo was never head of state, you left him out because al the people you have included had been Head of State. I said all these pople had not written anything compared to Awolowo and I said I am writing on Awolowo and they apologised to me. To really tell them I knew what I mean, I wrote to Chief Awolowo and he sent me two sets of his books, all his books. It arrived a day before I was to present the lecture and on the day I presented a box of the books to the community after my lecture. I gave it to the university. Already, I had established a course on Social and Political Philosophy in the university. I taught Awo, Nyerere and Awo has become a permanent feature there now. Maybe when the governor read all these things, he was convinced I could do the job and he had no doubt that this is the man that could do this job.

Awolowo was an international figure but fate had it that he was a Nigerian and he never really emerged as a head of state. Is Aregbesola not limiting him further by making it a state idea?

Somebody has to start something; all Nigerian governors cannot say they want to fund this. Anywhere in the world, ideas are initiated by one person and if they are good , he sells it to others and they will take it. What Aregbesola has done is to start the idea then others who are interested in what we are doing will join us. We expect that the parliamentarians, the civil servants and others who have come to the workshop and learn about ethics, social and political philosophy, discipline, transparency and good governance and learn to eliminate all the evils Awo called “negative emotions”; when we set out to eliminate all that, then we would have lived up to the philosophy of Awo and John Dewey. John Dewey is an American philosopher and he came up with “Learning by Doing.” We learn by doing. So, we expect that having learnt all these things, go and do it. After some years, any state that still remains corrupt, not transparent and still has not imbibed the ethics, I think the governor of such state himself should declare his state a failed state because it has refused to learn. If you are a reasonable person, tell me who does not like good ideas? Everything was developed through ideas, either of one man or a group. Einstein’s idea of Relativity that has shaped the whole world is an idea of one man. When Aregbesola gave the idea, I’m sure all the governors would like it.

What relationship would the institute have with some of the universities in the South West? Is it going to stand on its own or would affiliate with a university?

It will not be an affiliate of any university because by such, it would be under the control of such university. Rather we are going to have linkage. That is, we are going to have resource persons. Very soon, we will go to some vice chancellors and request that we want to teach ethics. As far as Ethics is concerned, we want them to learn Kantian Categorical Theory and Utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, which brought out “the greatest good for the greatest number.” These theories would be taught by academics. Do you know Awolowo was a great academic? He was a great academic.

When you bring academics, they bring theory. How can we relate what they will bring to reality?

Philosophers often say that Africans are incapable of knowing what inconsistency means. I used to argue that this is not true. I used to attack them but now I agree with them because we are very inconsistent in our thought. That is why you have somebody in Party A today, tomorrow you find him in Party B. Today, he is in PDP, tomorrow ACN and the next day, Labour Party. That is inconsistency and that is not part of what Awolowo taught. If you are going to be an Awoist, you must be consistent. I want to say that if there is any person or politician who has been inconsistent, cut that person out. That person is not an Awoist. If people who are inconsistent are calling themselves Awoists, they are not and Awo himself will judge them.

But we have some personalities with that trait…

We have 150 million Nigerians. Such personalities are not Awoists because they are inconsistent.

But they claim that they are Awoists…

Yes. You can tell me that you are the Queen of England or the King of Idanre.

So, you are with the intent of re-shaping such people…

Yes, if they can come back to being consistent because they have no patience. Inconsistency in some cases exists because of economic reasons. If they don’t get money here, they get it there, and there are many of such people all over the country. Awolowo was the consistent type. I know that in 1979, NPN came to Awo to woo him; gave him plenty of money, but he refused. The other parties were bought and they said it was an ‘accord’. But they could not buy Awolowo, he refused to join them. Of course, it was an accord of folly because they dumped them later. We have to be consistent, it is very important. And we want to make this intellectual. I know many people in this country who have been very consistent. The younger brother of a presidential candidate was with me on the board of NAL Merchant Bank and he would say I have a brother who wants academics and intellectuals, and he will give them plenty of money. I knew many professors in Ife who were coming to our meetings because we were for the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and when they got plenty of money and went away. They became very big shots but that’s not my own style. So, if I want to be inconsistent, I could have been but I was always thinking of Chief Awolowo’s ideals.

You cannot be consistent if you are not disciplined. Awo said that you must be self-disciplined if you want to discipline others. You can’t call your commissioner and sack him because he embezzled money when you yourself are culpable. There are many ministers now; when they steal money, the President cannot sack them because if he does, he will be in trouble. You cannot discipline others unless you are self-disciplined.

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