Saturday, September 19, 2015 6:42 pm
In 2008, when she clocked 92, H. I. D. Awolowo opened up on her topsy-turvy life with Obafemi Awolowo, her famous husband who died on 9 May 1987. She spoke with Adewale Adeoye of The Nation Newspaper. This is an abdridged and edited version of the encounter:
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 reminisces , 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 1915 to a modest family in the small Ikenne town of Ogun State. 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 after the wedding than the family moved to Ibadan.
Awo’s journey to London
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, Jimoh Odutola, based at Ijebu Ode said he later 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 and 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 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 his 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.
HID 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.
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 relationship and 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.
Mrs. Awolowo said from Epe, her husband was again returned to their family home until he was whisked away to Calabar Prison after his conviction where he served a prison term until the coup of July 1966 after which General Yakubu Gown set him free.
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 Federal Executive Council and Minister for Finance.
Second Republic Politics
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. 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 vindicated.
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 of South West Nigeria.
From his humble peasant background days to the peak of his achievement, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria had one 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.