Saturday, December 26, 2020 8:20 am
On 26 December, 1937, exactly 82 years today, Chief Obafemi Awolowo married Hannah Idowu Dideolu Adelana, daughter of Madam Elizabeth Oyesile at the St. Saviour’s Anglicans Church Ikenne, Ogun State.
Below is a story on the love life of the couple, their business and politics. We published it in the February 2017 hard copy of TheNEWS and uploaded it on the the 2nd. The stories, published as two parts, are combined below:
Obafemi and HID Awolowo: Their Untold Love Story
Why did Chief Obafemi Awolowo describe HID, his wife, as a jewel of inestimable value? Here are the reasons
By Wale Adebanwi
IT WAS AN UNUSUAL DISPLAY of affection for an ascetic, almost socially-awkward man whose private and public life was over-defined by an uncommon abstemiousness that was foreign to the men of such means and influence. As they approached the fifth decade of their y, those who had known the couple for many years were not unfamiliar with their deep expression of love in words and in action, both in periods of personal tranquility and political prosperity, and in periods of private agony and political turbulence. But never had their storied love been publicly affirmed in more than four decades with a public kiss. Hannah Idowu Dideolu, the more swanky of the pair, loved to kiss her husband. But the socially conservative and reticent Obafemi Jeremiah wasn’t enamoured of kissing. He would rather write down a devotional ballad to his wife in a book than express his deep love with a kiss. Still, she would not let him escape without a clear and emphatic expression of passion through a kiss in public. If only once. And he obliged, as he always did if the love of his life is the one asking.
Therefore, when HID eventually publicly planted a solemn kiss on her astute husband’s lips during their wedding anniversary, the crowd cheered. The man whose life is one of a disciplined avoidance of public emotion has finally been forced to show his love in a tactile manner. While she held her hands around him, he placed his hands on each of her shoulders, Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo wrapped themselves in an unusual public display of tenderness and affection…
In that rare public moment the two elderly love-birds seemed to have closed themselves off from what Oscar Wilde called “the world of implications.” They were using the storied success of their matrimony to shun the annoying failure of the country that one of them had sought for so long to lead and reshape. Their personal imperfections and political frustrations were symbolically redeemed in that famed moment by their almost perfect love; the lifelong personal and political betrayals they had jointly expressed and their familial losses and unrealized dreams lost in one moment of intimate mutual adoration.
“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart),” croons E. E. Cummings in one of the most celebrated of his almost three thousand poems. “I am never without it.” Since they fell in love in 1934, Cummings lines constituted a summation of the shared lives of the most distinguished devoted couple in Nigeria’s history. The Awolowos’ matrimony is undoubtedly Nigeria greatest public love story. Mirroring the great love stories in human history from Abraham and Sarah, who travelled together in uncertainty and imperfection but struck together through perilous and pleasant times, to Romeo and Juliet, the archetypal love-birds who didn’t let the fear of death stand in the way of their mutual devotion, Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo’s wedlock is an exemplary love story with a significance, example and meaning that survive the almost five decades in which it lasted.
Shakespeare, that unsurpassable story teller, says in Sonnet 116, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments.” Indeed, the Awolowos never let any impediment – from the initial opposition of Hannah’s mother to whom she was devoted to their relationship, through the sudden death of the greatest bodily affirmation of their immortality, their brilliant and handsome first son, Segun, to the failure to clinch the most prized object Awolowo’s political life, the presidency of Nigeria – stand in the way of their mutual affection and reciprocal adoration. Their marriage was nothing short of a perfect harmony that blended and endured until, but even beyond, their physical separation by death. She was the passion of his life and vice versa. As Obafemi was lowered into the grave on June 6, 1987, Hannah called out to her beloved: “E ma gbagbe mi o” (“Don’t neglect me”). Everyone present thought she could no longer hear her; she knew he could….
The Love Which Makes ‘Em
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.
– Christina Rossetti, “I loved you first: but afterwards your love”
IN THE PUBLIC HISTORY OF Nigeria, Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo are undoubtedly the most memorable couple. No other member of Awolowo’s generation of Nigerian leaders had a similarly notable spouse who was always by his side in all matters public and private. Their attitude towards mutual public presence was almost evangelical. It was as if Obafemi Awolowo had no claim to leadership, honour, and public adoration without his wife beside him. In an instructive photograph taken when President Shehu Shagari invited the leaders of the other four political parties in the Second Republic to Abuja to witness the inauguration of Master Plan for Abuja, the proposed new federal capital city, Awolowo was the only one whose wife was present as the leaders viewed the plan encased in glass.
Doubtless there are other couples in public life in Nigeria’s history whose mutual devotion might have been comparable, but the joint lives of such couples were less storied; there are those whose companionships were sustained as co-equals like the Awolowos, but such rival matrimonies never survived as long as the Awolowos’ did; there were yet other matrimonies where the husband showered as much public adoration on his wife as Obafemi did on Hannah, but such couples didn’t attract much, let alone equal, national attention as the Awolowos did. Their love story is almost a fairytale; not because it was devoid of tension and trial, but because it triumphed over serial devastating adversities and a political failure that ceaselessly challenged the unsurpassed ideological triumph of Obafemi Awolowo’s vision of the total organization of the Nigerian state.
Even though both were born into polygamous homes in an era when it was anathema to have one wife, they turned monogamy into a moral, if not a philosophical, imperative, by not only shunning the temptations of variable amorous engagements, but even using their unique monogamy as a subtle indictment in a socio-cultural context in which being a big man more or less required turning carnality into a public virtue. In a political and social context in which multiple marriages or multiple wives (formal and informal), philandering, official and semi-official concubinage and serial betrayal on both sides was the “natural” order of things among the famous and infamous, Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo’s matrimony is a storied example of love, passion and unflinching commitment in the face of uncommon private and public challenges over five decades: business failure, separation and financial challenges, loss of children in infancy and full adulthood, political success and fall from grace, imprisonment and harassment and even humiliation; electoral victories and defeats, political duplicities and perfidious slanders by erstwhile political allies and personal friends. Through it all, Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo weathered the storm together remaining immoveable in their mutual devotion and unceasing in their shared love. In their obsession with each other, Hannah treated her husband as if he were a god, and Obafemi regarded his wife as a living goddess.
“[Obafemi Awolowo] had a very deferential attitude towards his wife so that her comfort appeared to matter so much to him,” observes Odia Ofeimun, poet, author and Awo’s former private secretary. Reflecting on their lives together which he watched from a vantage position for a few critical years, Ofeimun adds that Hannah reciprocated her husband’s deferential devotion. “To a very large extent, it was as if her contributions [in Awolowo’s political life] were generally to make the man comfortable with his choices. They obviously have lived together long enough for her to know all that he wanted. There is something that makes me wonder anytime I look back…. I wonder how they reached that position, because they agreed almost so totally with each other, so much that before [Obafemi Awolowo] did anything, she would have identified what needed to be done to support his choices.”
“Those of us who had the rare privilege of seeing Papa and Mama at close quarters will recall, with nostalgic feelings, how she became immersed in whatever cause her husband pursued, or believed in,” testifies Wunmi Adegbonmire, the former Secretary to Ondo State Government: “She cultivated and maintained the policy of making her husband’s numerous admirers and political associates feel at ease and welcome. There was no meeting held at Awo’s compound at which Mama would not personally serve food and ensure that everybody was fed. Hers was dignity wrapped with humility in public office and service.”
Theirs was an exceptional union. But their love didn’t endure because they were similar persons. It endured because they understood and expertly managed their differences and weaknesses. Obafemi was an ascetic, self-denying man with an egalitarian vision and evangelical zeal for public office; Hannah was a life-loving, warm, entrepreneurial Ijebu woman devoted to family life. The one loved to seek power and was fanatical about the monumental changes in human lives that could be wrought through power; the other, brought up by an enterprising and old-fashioned trader, was zealous about turnover. Obafemi was introspective and more concerned about the implications of the present for the future; Hannah was given to extraversion and was unsurpassable in taking care of the here and now, the want and needs of the present. So, how did these two essentially different people unite in such an uncommon harmony? How did they achieve a union in which, as Christina Rossetti sings in the epigram above, “one is both and both are one in love”?
Perhaps the core of the answer lies in what they shared which helped in managing their fundamentally different natures: fortitude. While Obafemi Awolowo’s fortitude could come across as muscular, HID’s was abiding fortitude. The one confronted adversity with an unwavering self-belief, the other accepted the tricks of fate with dignity. They were essentially united in their capacity to endure life vicissitudes, but slightly different in the temperament with which they responded. In the end, in addition to their love, it is the essential similarity in their capacity to suffer and endure, to wait and triumph that made them an unsurpassable pair and has turned their union into a story for the ages. Adversity didn’t bring them together; but the fortitude and love they shared when adversity came made them inseparable….
The Grammar of Fortitude
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, O abide with me….
– “Abide with Me” – Henry Francis Lyte (1847)
It isn’t life that matters, but the courage one puts into it
– Peter, in Hugh Walpole’s Fortitude
IT IS EARLY MORNING in the scenic but desolate island. A sudden rush of water at the beachfront gathers in a multitude of crests as if in a choreographed salute to Providence. As the crests crash by the beachfront with salty water gently wetting her, Hannah raises her voice in supplication. She is here to beseech the One whom she believes is omnisciently regulating the world and everything that happens therein; His help, mercy and grace are especially needed at this period of misery when all forms of comfort seem to have suddenly departed. As the ocean rumbles again in eagerness of yet another of its endless rushes, Hannah ends her prayer that morning and walks back to the house.
The wind is coming. She has to brace herself by spreading her wings. She is going to fly, but would never let the wind of adversity carry her away….
A while after Hannah returns to the small house, an abandoned Government Reservation House where her husband, Obafemi Awolowo, is under restriction, the man takes his usual early morning walk by the beachfront and the bush path, partly to reflect again on his fate and to exercise his body. The events of the last few weeks are on his mind as he contemplates the intrigues of his political adversaries who had crashed him from the heights of formal gravity and personal dignity to the grimy small house in the mosquito-infested island of Lekki, accessible only by canoe.
The Atlantic Ocean offers a beautiful scenery as the Leader of Opposition in Nigeria’s federal parliament casts his glance over the endless waters over which he once sailed to England about two decades earlier to further equip himself for what, he was convinced, was the expected salvation of his fatherland. But the ugliness and the constriction which are taking over his beloved Western Region and the country he is seeking to lead, and his own restriction by the new “emergency” government of the Western Region contrast sharply with the beauty and plenitude of the ocean. Whatever comes, he assures himself, he would remain unbowed in his self-possession and unyielding in his convictions that his country deserved better; Nigeria, he further reassures himself, is in painful need of the kind of visionary leadership and egalitarian rule that he, more than any other of his contemporaries, could offer….
Back in the “guest house,” Mama Segun, as her husband and many others called Hannah, looks around her again as she prepares to make breakfast. Whoever thought of making this a guest house must have had only unwanted guests in mind. It is the break of dawn still and the villagers would start to come to the house to help in any way they could. She needs to prepare for the new day…
The tempest was rising all over the Western Region. Also, the situation in the country at large was tense. It was an opportunity to show the woman of fortitude in Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo. The world had come to know her husband as resolute, forbearing and resilient. But the world was yet to know the stuff that she was made of. Would the coming tide wash her away or give her the opportunity to prove her worth too?
She would show the world, particularly her husband’s wide and widening circle of adversaries and his inveterate enemies that she was no mere appendage of a great man; she was a great woman in her own rights. She will stand by him like a Rock of Gibraltar….
The events that led Obafemi Awolowo and his wife, Hannah Idowu Dideolu (who was later to be popularly known as “HID”) to Lekki started no sooner than her husband’s political philosophy and ideological standpoint became popular in Nigeria. His adversaries, ranging from a mix of ideological, political, ethnic and personal rivals or antagonists, quickly identified him as the greatest threat to their vision of Nigeria and personal and/or political ambitions. His articulation of social democracy, decentralization of power based on pan-ethnic solidarity, egalitarian rule, and opposition to any form of ethno-regional domination clashed with the creed, or belief-system and/or practices of his contemporaries from the 1940s when he emerged as an important force in the politics of late colonial Nigeria. His opportunity to prove that the ideas of egalitarian rule and decentralized national governance that he had championed in his writings could be accomplished was his premiership of the Western Region from 1954-1959.
After his widely acknowledged success as premier, in his bid to become the prime minister of independent Nigeria, Awolowo relinquished the position to his deputy in the Action Group, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola. However, he lost his bid as his party could not secure an alliance with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), which could have made it possible for him to have a shot at the headship of the government as Nigeria moved towards independence in October 1960.
However, the immediate events that led to his restriction to Lekki were the crisis in the Action Group…
Shortly after the proclamation of the State of Emergency, Balewa appointed his Minister of Health, Moses Adekoyejo Majekodumi, the Sole Administrator of the Western Region in May 1962 for a period of seven months. One of the first acts of Majekodunmi was to use the Emergency Powers (Restriction Orders) Regulations, 1962, to restrict Awolowo to “a distance of three miles from the L. G. Police Station” in his hometown of Ikenne. The restriction order was dated May 29, 1962. Awolowo and Hannah arrived in Ikenne in the evening of May 31, 1962. His restriction formally began on June 1.
HID had started to bear the heavy burden of the crisis engulfing the Western Region. She too had been under immense pressures to mollify her husband as the AG crisis erupted. Some wanted her to persuade him against taking a principled stand. They wanted her to convince him to compromise with his adversaries in the region and the rest of the country. But she refused. She was convinced he was fighting a just cause. She had watched the events unfold, not from the ring side. She was at the centre of things. She was a witness to how her husband’s good faith in his successor had been abused and how the other regions, and the other major political parties, working in concert with the federal government had worked in concert to destroy her husband and his party; she had listened to her husband explain the proceedings at the Federal Parliament, including the role played by erstwhile allies turned dangerous adversaries. She was resolved that no matter what happened, she would stand wherever her husband stood. They started their mutual life together with little or nothing and they rose together to the pinnacle of power in the Western Region and as Leader of Opposition. She will remain steadfast, come rain or shine.
However, the incessant flow of people to the Awolowos’ home alarmed the authorities. What they wanted to achieve was to isolate him, and cast him as a belligerent, intransigent and disruptive element who should be avoided by all. After all, Okunnowo had said only a “handful of people from Yorubaland” supported him. But they realised that to be able to vanquish Awolowo, he had to be quarantined. They had assumed that the restriction would help to diminish him and reduce his popularity. If nothing was done about the experience of incessant flow of supporters and well-wishers to Ikenne, Ayo Rosiji might be proved wrong that Awolowo’s “political death” had commenced as the Federal Parliament debated the declaration of state of emergency. Thus, the attempt by Awolowo’s supporters to turn Ikenne to political Mecca had to be aborted. Okunowo’s appeal to Balewa “to do something” to “put this man under check” had a new resonance to the authorities.
Therefore, a decision was taken that Awolowo had to be moved to an inaccessible place. After they considered a few options, Majekodunmi ordered that the isolated island of Lekki not too far from the Epe beach was the best place to restrict the man. There was an abandoned Government Rest House there. On June 19, 1962, shortly after noon, the order for restriction in Lekki was delivered by a British officer of the Nigerian police force to Awolowo in Ikenne.
From experience, Awolowo knew there was nothing to eat in the island apart from fish. But he had little time to prepare for the journey. Therefore, Hannah went to work with the women assisting her. Within three and half hours, she was ready to accompany her husband to Lekki with sufficient provisions for feeding him there. But he didn’t want her to come along to Lekki. She would have none of it. She would go wherever he went, unless she was legally prevented from doing so. Even though she was ready to brave the odds, yet Hannah kept asking herself what her husband had done to deserve being tossed around like this. They were both despondent as they drove out of their house in Ikenne. There was uneasy silence in the car. After a while, Hannah broke down in the car and wept. But her husband hugged and consoled her. She eventually took care of herself. She even began to smile and so they began a discussion about their destination.
“We had been there before, when we went there for a holiday….” Said the Leader of Opposition who had become the opposed. He was trying to make light of their burden.
“Yes, but the place is no good!” Hannah insisted on the gravity of what awaited them in Lekki.
“Well. What can we do? Go there, we must. The decree has come from His Excellency, the Administrator….”
“And there is no electricity there!” HID retorted.
He acknowledged that and added that he had called the Administrator to tell him about his rheumatic pains which were usually acute in that part of the year, the raining season. Hannah was shocked at Majekodunmi’s callousness.
“You told him that?”
Her husband was affirmative.
“And yet he insisted on our going to Lekki. How cruel!”
At this point, Awolowo became convinced that, despite the brief expression of emotion by his wife, her fortitude and “joyful spirit had been fully regained.”
The conversation between the two – with Awo saying “we must” and his wife saying “our going” – was yet another demonstration of the unbroken bond between the two. Instinctively, they knew they were in this together.
“My wife’s resilience was… astonishing and inimitable. If anyone had visited us at Lekki six hours after our arrival there, he would have thought we had been there for weeks,” writes Awolowo in his memoirs about the way H.I.D. took charge of affairs as they landed in his place of confinement on June 20, 1962. After shedding tears as they left Ikenne, she stilled her nerves and figured out in her mind how to take command of the space they would occupy and make their time there as convenient as possible in what would clearly be an unpleasant environment….
When they moved back to Ikenne, it was obvious to Hannah that her husband was being tossed around in preparation for something more sinister. What it was she and her husband couldn’t decipher yet. He was to remind the judge in his allocutus fourteen months later of Peter, the hero of Walpole’s Fortitude – cited in the epigram who heard a voice saying to him “Blessed are all sorrow, hardship and endurance that demand courage.” Earlier, he commented in his biography that Hannah had “courage of a rare kind.” But he quickly added that “I have that too.” Still, he confessed that “I am no match for her at all in her exercise of infinite patience and forbearance under all manner of circumstances….”
Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet,
Through Love all that is copper will be gold,
Through Love all dregs will become wine,
through Love all pain will turn to medicine
– Jalâl ad-Dîn Muhammad Rûmî, 13th century Persian Poet and Sufi mystic.
WHEN HANNAH IDOWU DIDEOLU ADELANA married Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo on December 26, 1937, she was hoping for marital bliss in the context of perilous economic circumstances into which her new husband was being thrown. For a young lady who had never known want all her life, marrying this promising young man was a gamble. At his point, Obafemi was hovering between striving and thriving. He had experienced much turbulence in his short life. Even though he started out with a lot of opportunities under the watch of a father who had invested much hope in his future, the death of his father seventeen years earlier, that is, in April 1920, meant that Obafemi was pushed hither and thither in the course of life until he became a man.
Despite the fact that the young Obafemi had survived the “abrupt cessation” of his schooling in 1920 — and the resultant “remorseless” dashing of “all the hopes and aspirations which [my] father had systematically and relentlessly instilled in me,” —to graduate from high school in Abeokuta and later Wesley College, Ibadan, thus becoming a journalist, clerk, money-lender, public letter-writer and now a produce buyer (in that order), his business was on the brink of collapse by the time Hannah was moving from the comfort of her home in Ikenne first to his house in Ikenne and subsequently to Ibadan.
However, the meticulous and prudent young man did not plan to bring his beautiful wife into a matrimony beset by financial worries. After abandoning money-lending, the “seamy side” of which he didn’t like, Obafemi concentrated on public letter-writing. But realizing that he could not make enough money from this to travel to England to study law, he got into motor transport business and produce buying.
The motor transport business soon “came to grief” and Obafemi concentrated on produce buying, involving commodities such as cocoa, palm kernel and cotton, which though hazardous, was bringing good profit. He formed the Progressive Economic Corporation (PEC) in which friends and some others invested. In the 1935-1936 season, the profit was good enough for his business associates to either get the profits due them or for such profit to be ploughed back into the business for further gains. Things were even better the next business season. In the 1936-1937 season, as Obafemi planned to wed Hannah, Nigeria witnessed the best cocoa boom such that it was, as Obafemi Awolowo later revealed, “all too easy to make money.” In fact, he made enough profit in this season to pay off the capital investment of his business associates in addition to profit. Now he must have considered the fiscal comfort which Hannah would enjoy after they were married.
Obafemi had enough in this season to proceed to England for his life-long ambition to study law. However, since he was already engaged to the charming lady, Hannah, whom he described as “a beautiful damsel,” and was set to marry her in December of 1937, he had to wait to conclude the ceremonies so he could take his wife along to the United Kingdom. His decision to delay his journey was made even more sensible by the forecast for the 1937-1938 cocoa season shared by most people in the business. After making lots of profits in the following year, he projected, he would sail to the London with his wife to begin a new life.
Obafemi and all others engaged in the business of produce buying were terribly wrong about the forecast for the following year. Cocoa business experienced a slump and not only did he lose everything, he also became terribly indebted. Therefore, as he exchanged vows with Hannah on Boxing Day of 1937, all he held onto was hope for a better future and a firm belief in the goodness of God….
“My mother said this man is too obstinate. He was inflexible. She didn’t want me to marry a man like that,” Hannah recalls her mother’s warning against marrying Obafemi almost eighty years later. She was not feeling too strong this afternoon in June 2015, so I spoke with her as she reclined on a sofa chaise in her room. But she recalled her mother’s warning distinctly.
“Even people, other people in Ikenne, were saying he was too tough, too stubborn. Will you be able to cope with this stubborn man if you marry him?” she remembers people asking her.
As an only child, her mother was over-protective when it came to the choice of a spouse. She was happy that she wanted to marry an Ikenne young man so that she would not be taken too far away from her. But she wanted an easy-going and unassuming man. Not this Obafemi who was so “obstinate,” “assertive” and “troublesome.”
Even though Hannah had not met Obafemi, nor knew of him when he received his first “love letter” — as a propositional letter from a man to a woman was called in those days — his reputation preceded him. Most of those who knew him in Ikenne only knew him in his younger days. He never suffered fools gladly and was eager to pick a fight with anyone who threw down the gauntlet.
What came across to many as conceit and obstinacy in Obafemi in his youthful days, therefore, were manifestations of what he described as a resolve to exercise “spartan control and discipline over myself [and to go about] my business independent and unafraid.” This independent-mindedness and fearlessness morphed into a psychological and political tenacity and intense deliberateness almost unequalled in the private and public lives of any other political leader in Nigeria’s history.
Hannah was soon to experience this tenacity and deliberateness after Obafemi started taking himself “extremely seriously” from 1932….
When Hannah returned to Ikenne from Lagos in 1933, the cute 13 year-old that left the small town five years earlier, had become an attractive 18-year old young woman. She was turning heads in the small Remo town. Her beauty was complemented by her charm, modishness and cosmopolitan skills. Young men in Ikenne were in awe and not a few of the mothers of young men were eager to “snatch” this young woman for their bachelor-sons….
Even though Hannah was unaware of the young Ikenne man living in Ibadan who had moved from public letter-writing into transportation business and then produce-buying, he was aware of her. He knew of her family background and had heard so much about what a beautiful, amiable, conscientious, and disciplined lady she was.
In the immediate post-Victorian era Western Nigeria, “love-letter” had become the significant and acceptable way by which the educated and the “modern” men courted similarly educated and modern young women. But when Obafemi wrote his first letter to Hannah intimating her of his love for her and his desire for a relationship that would lead to marriage, she hadn’t even met him and was left wondering who this love-struck man was.
“My husband started courting me in writing ever before we met face to face,” Hannah discloses in her autobiography. He was then the secretary of the transporter’s union in Ibadan and a leading member of the produce buyer’s association. The skills he had deployed as a public letter-writer came in handy in the process of expressing his affection for Hannah. Even though he deployed the language facilities he had acquired from wide-ranging literature, he made the core of his message very clear: “I want to marry you.”
Hannah was not interested in a relationship; she was not even interested in dating a man she had not met. There were a few others who had expressed interest in her. They were mostly non-Ikenne indigenes. Given her mother’s very clear and strong position that she was not ready to “lose” her to some non-indigene who could take her to a “far-away” place after marriage, she turned down her suitors. Even though the latest suitor was an Ikenne indigene, she was still not interested. But the letters continued to arrive from Obafemi in Ibadan. He needed to move on the next stage of what was emerging to be a well-planned life and would not be deterred by the lady’s rebuff.
One day Mr. Emmanuel Obajimi Olutunda, a native of Ikenne and Obafemi’s friend who was also a relation of Hannah met her to verbally relay another message from Obafemi. Olutunda spoke glowingly about this man. He was a “serious,” “successful” and “focused” man who would make a good husband, he said. The relentlessness of the suitor through letters and Olutunda’s testimonial succeeded in raising some curiosity in Hannah. She told Olutunda, “Look, I don’t even know the man you are introducing to me.” That was an ice-breaker. Olutunda promised to bring the suitor as soon as possible.
He sent a message to Obafemi in Ibadan. It was a message of optimism, or more precisely, of possibility.
On the appointed day in 1934, the smartly-dressed Obafemi, accompanied by Olutunda met Hannah in her friend’s house. Here, at last, was the man behind the sweet words. And here was the object of his desire, the much-sought after beauty. Obafemi introduced himself and added that he was the one behind the letters. He had come to re-affirm his craving for her love. He asked for her hand in marriage. Having satisfied her curiosity, Hannah again repeated her rejection of his request for a relationship that could blossom into marriage. She told him she had someone else in her life. It was just a ploy to shake him off.
Before that day, as Hannah repeated, “I did not know him very well, because he left Ikenne in 1921 when I was just six years old, but I have been hearing about him. He had written to me, as was the pattern in those days…. I rejected his offer saying there was a man already in my life.” Hannah added with a smile, “You know you won’t agree immediately….”
“Eventually, we came to terms and settled down,” was how Hannah described her decision to enter into a relationship with the man who would go on to redefine modern political leadership in Nigeria….
Obafemi and HID Awolowo, their Untold Love Story (Part 2)
Why did Chief Obafemi Awolowo describe HID, his wife, as a jewel of inestimable value? Here are the reasons
By Wale Adebanwi
The Countenance of Prosperity…
IBADAN IN THE LATE 1930s when Hannah moved there to begin a new life with her husband was an effervescent city. It was an old war-camp turned city-state which became a trado-modern city. It was later to be described in “five mercurial lines” by one of Africa’s pre-eminent poets, John Pepper Clark, ” as a “running splash of rust/and gold – flung and scattered/among seven hills like broken/china in the sun.” In the 1930s, the “running splash of rust/and gold” was in the throes of defining what would be its modern identity. It was the city to which Obafemi brought Hannah to experience “the beautiful soothing countenance of Prosperity”….
Hannah explained to her mother that her husband had requested that he wanted her to be a full-time “housewife” and they had both agreed on this. She wasn’t initially happy about the arrangement herself. When her husband first told her a few months after marriage that he would not want her to “trade” or do any work, she was very sad. It was not only that she would be wasting her skills, she had become used to earning money on her own and not depending on anyone, including her father; therefore, this new regime would mean total financial dependence on her husband. More important, she was already being put under some social pressure because she was yet to conceive. In that era in Yorubaland, perhaps the most important prayer for the newly wed is “eyin iyawo o ni m’eni,” which was a prayer for fruitfulness of the womb.
Hannah’s situation was therefore not made better by what some gossips had started to describe as infertility. She was not tending a pregnancy or taking care of a child. Yet, she wasn’t employed in any way. It was an untenable position for a young married woman in late 1930s Nigeria. Yet, as pledged, she had to abide by the wishes of her husband.
She visited Ikenne regularly and therefore was open to being constantly taunted alternatively by those who advised her against marrying the rascal and those who advised Obafemi not to marry an abiku.
However, regarding the issue of whether his wife should work, the transporter and produce-buyer was convinced that, as in the tradition of his people, it was his exclusive responsibility to take care of his wife. At that point, he could not imagine that it was possible for his wife to combine the administration of the home front with commerce. He would learn later that she could do so brilliantly and still support him in his proposed political life.
“He wanted two things – politics and law,” Hannah, on the eve of her seventieth birthday, justified her decision to obey her husband’s wishes in the early years of their matrimony. “When I married him, he was in business – transport and produce buying. But he had always said, ‘One day I want to be a frontline politician. One day I want to be one of the first class lawyers in this country.’ So, I knew what he wanted, and I wanted him to be what he wanted to be.”
However, unknown to Obafemi’s cousin who was mocking Hannah for not conceiving by mid-1938, she was already pregnant, even though it was not visible yet. Still, when many who had been scornful of her “inability to conceive” eventually saw the evidence of pregnancy, they didn’t believe it. “When I was pregnant with Segun,” Hannah recalls, “they said it was not pregnancy, that there was no baby in my tummy….”
Contrary to the doubts, on January 20, 1939, the Awolowos welcomed their first child, a son. He was named Olusegun, a telling name, the full meaning of which was Oluwasegun (God is victorious). It was a strong response to their traducers….
With the moral support of Hannah, by the close of 1942, Obafemi Awolowo was free of all the debts which had “enthralled and cramped” him and his wife and children. Now “financially liberated,” the couple began a new life in which the head of the home was able to re-lunch his delayed attempt to travel to England to study for law. They had torn the mask, therefore, the “beautiful soothing countenance of Prosperity” was in the horizon. But, as Obafemi acknowledged, Hannah’s support was critical to this recovery. He confessed that “With my wife on my side, it has been possible for us to weather all financial storms. Because of her charm, humility, generosity and ever-ready sympathy and helpfulness for others in distress, she is beloved and respected by all our friends and acquaintances….”
Since he read Robert G. Ingersoll’s collection of essays in Lagos around 1931, Obafemi had started raising doubts vehemently about “the legends and fictions which the Israelites and their successors in dogma have woven round” God. In all this period, Hannah remained a steadfast Christian. As Awolowo later wrote, “Throughout the period of my oscillation between agnosticism and Christianity, my wife stood immovably for the latter. However, he eventually returned to Christianity. Her constant admonitions and steadfastness did more than anything else to restrain me from going beyond the point of no return….”
With his eyes focused on a future political life before he left Nigeria in 1944 to study in England, Obafemi clearly leveraged his wife’s royal background in Ikenne and Ofin (Sagamu). Given that she belonged to the Liyangu family, one of the three ruling houses that could access the Akarigbo throne, and the Obara family, also one of the three ruling families of the Alakenne throne, her heredity held the potentials for a significant social and political life for her husband. What emerged later from this background has been described by Nolte as “a gendered approach to politics” which involved “a division of labour between Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo in Ikenne and Remo,” one in which “Awolowo himself acted officially in the public sphere while his wife provided access to and mobilised non-public political resources.” It can be argued that though this approach was without doubt gendered, it was remarkably predicated as much on Hannah’s noble birth as well as her personal skills.
The leveraging of familial and communal connections that eventually became the socio-political basis for Awolowo’s emergence in local politics were also undeniably buoyed by the rare combination of certain traits in the couple – who were both succinctly described by Yomi Mamora as “two of a kind.” Obafemi’s methodical, comprehensive and thoughtful planning and mobilization of resources blended with Hannah’s calculated, determined, meticulous and patient shaping and projection of social capital in the struggle for influence and prestige. She also has a matchless capacity for recollection and detail, an intrinsic facility for identifying and understanding the social order of things and a unique aptitude for tracking loyalty and treachery. Therefore, within the first five years of their matrimony, it was already evident that theirs was a perfect harmony that blended. For a few months short of fifty years, they were to enjoy a mutuality that melded so well as to become storied….
Unknown to Obafemi, Hannah’s mind was already working on what she would do to make money while he was away in England. She and three (soon to be four) kids were not going to depend on a man who would be struggling with his studies in the UK for subsistence in Nigeria. She was going to exhibit her entrepreneurial skills while he was gone. She will be so successful before he returned that he would be convinced that she should be allowed to operate a business.
Once he was gone, Hannah returned to Barclay’s Bank to withdraw the twenty pounds (£20) he left for her and the children in the bank. That money formed the foundation of what turned out many years later to be a multi-million naira business empire called Dideolu Enterprises and Ligu (a shortened form of Liyangu) Stores. She used the twenty pounds to start a business in buying and selling. She bought some agricultural items such as tomatoes and onions from traders who brought them from the north of Nigeria. She also bought some food items from the north and resold them. With her natural talent for business, in no time, Hannah was doing very well.
“I prospered in business,” she recalls. “And before my husband could send us money I was buoyant enough to send him twenty pounds (£20). He later told me the money reached him at a time he had no money.”
But the law student assumed that his forbearing wife had again displayed her eagerness to sacrifice everything for his success. She had saved the twenty pound he left for the family’s upkeep and mailed it to him, he thought. Hannah remembers that “He wrote to thank me thinking it was the money he left for us that I sent to him. He wondered how we would survive now that I had returned the money. But I replied that I was working and that home was alright….”
Characteristically for a man who was a stickler for details, by the time Hannah sent money again, he started raising questions. What is the source of the money, he queried?
Hannah remembers that “Occasionally, he used to ask for the source of the money, but since he needed the money which I used to send to him from my little business, he had no choice but to keep his calm, because he was in no position to object in far-away London.”
Obafemi himself later wrote in his autobiography that “It is to record to my wife’s credit that she never made a financial demand on me throughout my stay in the United Kingdom. She always sent me good news every week about herself and the children; but when I returned home I leant that she had passed through many anxious times with four children the oldest of whom was only five when I left home, and the youngest of whom arrived four months after my departure….”
Hannah might have begun to be metaphorised in Obafemi’s mind at that point as a jewel. Also, he must have realised at that juncture, more than ever before, that he had found gold, the inestimable value of which will become much more apparent in their future together….
Exchange of letters continued between the couple in the two years and four months that Obafemi spent in London. He eagerly gave him details about his life in the UK, including the formation of a pan-Yoruba organisation, Egbe Omo Oduduwa (A Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa – Oduduwa being the popularly-acknowledged progenitor of the Yoruba) in 1945. Before he returned to Nigeria in December 1946, Hannah had sent money to her husband four times. It was a measure of how well she was doing in her business that she could take care of four children, expand her business and yet send money to the UK. By this time, she had given birth to their fourth child, a daughter, Ayodele.Therefore, she was bearing a heavy burden, which included not only feeding the family, but also clothing everyone and paying the fees of two of the kids in school.
In their future together, Hannah’s ability to take care of the home front not only when her husband was very busy in public life, but also when he was away (in detention or prison) would be critical not only to his psychological health and happiness, but also to the survival and stability of the family.
Obafemi Awolowo was called to the Bar in London on November 18, 1946, as member of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. He returned to Nigeria the next year to the embrace of his wife and four children, Olusegun, Omotola, Oluwole and Ayodele, the last of which was born while he was away on December 29, 1944. Tokunbo, was born after his return on February 20, 1948….
By the time Ayodele and Tokunbo were ready to travel to the UK to study, Awolowo was already in jail. Therefore, Hannah was responsible for most of their expenses, while coping with the emotional, social and financial consequences of her husband’s incarceration.
But she didn’t approach taking care of the home and her children as spending “my money.” She explains that “(s)ince we have agreed that whatever we have, we have it together,” whether it was herself or her husband spending money on the family, either was only spending mutually-owned resources. Her fierce loyalty to her husband, which became increasingly evident over the years, even after his death, meant that she regarded her life and possessions as all in the service of her soul-mate.
As the wife of the Premier, Hannah, as the premier’s wife, was a model of modesty and decency. She took care of the home and concentrated on her business while doing her part to entertain guests and complement her husband during official events. She was conscious of the fact that as a wife of a man in such a strategic position, her conduct must be above board, because people were eager to attribute the failure of her husband to her – while they didn’t attribute his success to the wife. Therefore, she was guided by what she thought a woman in her position should embody.
Odia Ofeimun, poet and public intellectual, who was Awolowo’s private secretary in the Second Republic, says “One of the first things I noticed was that if she and her husband were travelling, Mama would be ready at least an hour plus in advance, waiting by the car or in the car, by the foyer. I had to ask her, ‘you know, Mama, many husbands have to wait for their wives to do such things?’”
“And she explained it to me in such a simple way. She knew her husband was going to be a politician and usually women constitute some kind of obstacles, but she vowed that she will never be the reason for her husband not doing what he had to do. If they had to travel together, she stood by the car and waited for her husband, her husband never had to wait for her. It is a rare woman who organizes herself in such a way because as she is sitting down there by the car, she gives instructions on what is to be done, how to manage the shop,” explains Ofeimun
Hannah also supported her husband morally and financially. Their houses in Ibadan and Ikenne were not places of influence peddling for her. On the contrary, she gladly fed the people, both the distinguished and the hoi polloi, who visited constantly.
“I supported him wholeheartedly,” she says with a sense of fulfilment twenty-eight years after his demise.
She stood unflinchingly by his side for almost fifty years. Hannah’s attentiveness to, or attentive courtesy concerning, the demands and needs of her husband are almost mythical. Hannah Dideolu constantly replenished Obafemi Jeremiah. At the same time, she was a powerful influence on him in many ways. She managed the gulf between Obafemi Awolowo’s public ambitions and his private obligations and stabilized things when the one threatened to challenge the other. Therefore, he could not have succeeded in his public ambitions if she didn’t help to manage and maintain his private obligations. This was what he attested to in his autobiography where he credits her with making their home “a true haven: a place of happiness, and of imperturbable seclusion from the buffetings of life.”
“Mama played a very significant role in papa’s life,” is how Abimbola Awofeso, Obafemi Awolowo’s nephew, describes their relationship. “She was more than a pillar. She was very loyal; she gave papa peace of mind.”
Indeed, while Obafemi Awolowo may have instilled in himself an uncompromising conviction regarding his own potential greatness – which he describes in his memoir as his “great and immortal role” – undoubtedly, it was Hannah, with her abiding fortitude, exceptional devotion, constant encouragement, industry and above all, transcendental love, that pressed Awolowo, without any hesitation, towards, and sustained him in his, greatness. She was the first to identify and nurture Awolowo’s potentials with enthralling care, shrewd awareness and helpful goading. Therefore, when he called her an “ideal wife” and “a jewel of inestimable value” in his autobiography, it was only to capture what he later explained as her “outpouring of her love and devotion” which were, and remain, “beyond words.” The “Grace of God” and his “Spartan self-discipline” added to “a good wife,” confesses the man who is popularly called “the Sage,” were the three factors responsible for his remarkable life.
However, while most people who have written and spoken about the love between Hannah and Obafemi Awolowo which led the latter to describe his wife as “a jewel of inestimable value” often repeat that golden phrase, what they fail to account for is the fundamental challenge to his psychological and mental – and, by that implication, physical – health which Hannah helped Obafemi overcome. Even Hannah herself has never articulated this publicly. It is perhaps one of the reasons why people, including even some members of their immediate family, fail to understand the deep and abiding love between the two and their unbroken bond, a space on mutual love and enduring trust into which not even their children and grand-children could intrude.
All the surviving children and the grandchildren all attest to this, affirming what Ofeimun articulates. “You don’t get between Papa and Mama,” Ofeimun says, “because between them there was something nobody could enter into.” Their last child, the medical doctor, Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, corroborates this. “They complemented one another,” she says. “You could not find solace with one against the other. If they took a stand on something, they both subscribed to whatever it was. Mama wouldn’t allow you to come behind Papa’s back or vice versa.”
One of the grandchildren, Ayotola Ayodeji, Oyediran’s youngest daughter, also confirms that the grandchildren understood the symbiotic love between their grandparents. Even if you loved “grandma” Hannah on her own terms, she explains, you still had “to love Mama if you loved Papa.”
A Couple and the Politics of Turmoil
“BABA SEGUN, OKUNRIN ONIJOGBON YEN tun ti de o” (“Segun’s dad, that troublesome man is here again”).
Hannah Awolowo quietly announced to her husband around eight in the morning on November 2, 1962. He was shaving at a wash-basin just by the side of the door to his bedroom. He still had shaving foam on his chin.
Hannah went down the stairs to fetch Lynn after her husband asked her to lead him upstairs. He was accompanied by one Ezekwem, also a police officer.
At this point in 1962, some British officers remained in the police force. They and their Nigerian colleagues were all in the service of Her Majesty’s Government, because Nigeria was yet to become a Republic. Most of these British police officers and the other British officers in the civil service who were holdovers from the colonial era saw themselves as agents of the imperial order charged with ensuring the perpetuation of British interests in Nigeria. Awolowo was generally regarded by these officers as a major stumbling block to the continuation of British suzerainty in Nigeria at the end of colonial rule. Few holdovers of the colonial era had greater loathing of Awolowo than Lynn. He was therefore an enthusiastic tool in the hands of those Awolowo accused of having committed themselves to “nothing but the death of the Action Group and the political liquidation of Action Group leaders.”
This morning, the insolent operative of the ascendant order in immediate postcolonial Nigeria, Lynn, carried a malicious smirk on his face that even his nervous smile could not conceal.
“What bad news have you for me this morning?” The former Premier of Western Region and Leader of Opposition asked Lynn to make light of the national tragedy that was unfolding in Nigeria.
“I have never brought you bad news!” Lynn shot back resentfully.
Brazen liar, Hannah Awolowo must have thought as she listened to the conversation! She had not labelled him “okunrin oni wahala” for nothing. He had been harassing the couple and their family incessantly for many months now.
In fact, Lynn had brought bad news.
As Awolowo ushered him and Ezekwem into his office, the latter laid his hand on the Leader of Opposition’s left shoulder and said “In the name of Her Majesty, the Queen, I hereby arrest you, on a charge of treasonable felony, conspiracy to commit a felony, and conspiracy to effect an unlawful purpose. You are not obliged to say anything, but whatever you say will be taken down and may be given in evidence at the trial.”
This was the good news the cowardly Lynn brought!
As he prepared to follow the policemen to the High Court at Tafawa Balewa Square, Awolowo reflected on the “catalogue of… acts of humiliation…directed against” him since May 1962….
Hannah too was reviewing the events of the last few months in her mind since the declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region on May 29, 1962 when her husband was restricted within three-mile radius of their house in Ikenne. Upon hearing the bad news of the restriction, they both drove to Ibadan to pack a few things before heading to Ikenne on May 31. Twenty days later, he was restricted to Lekki….
It turned out to be the first step into the ploy to destroy Awolowo politically and, if possible, physically liquidate him. Through it all, Hannah followed her husband and stayed with him in restriction and house arrest.
“Why are they doing all these things to us,” Hannah asked her husband as he prepared to leave with those who had to arrest him.
For her, it was not only Obafemi who was experiencing the succession of humiliation and harassment. They were experiencing it together. They were indissoluble; thus, whatever happened to one, happened to the other.
But she was determined to weather the storm. She was also unbending in her trust in God.
“By God’s grace,” she declares to her husband, not to console, but to encourage him, “we will prevail over the wicked ones and all those who do evil to us.”
Obafemi Awolowo didn’t want his wife to follow him to court that morning. But she insisted and drove behind the convoy of police vehicles that led her husband to court….
“I will go with them,” Hannah volunteered.
It was a demonstration of nerve that her husband thought bordered on recklessness.
They were being hounded. He had experienced the “humiliation and degrading treatment” which included being restricted to Ikenne, Lekki and Ikenne, in that order, and now he was under house arrest in Lagos. He could not trust the power – which he later described as “a wicked and ruthless cabal” – that had treated him enough to follow one of its most zealous agents so late in the night to Ikenne from Lagos. And if he couldn’t, why in the world would he allow his beloved wife to follow him? At any rate, he had never met this Irishman and his Nigerian assistant, before that night. Even though he initially appeared “urbane and cordial,” there was no reason to follow him to Ikenne in the night. But Hannah was prepared to follow Lynn and the other police officer who had come with him.
John Lynn was in the official residence of the Awolowos in Lagos in the night of September 8, 1962 for the first time to announce that he had a warrant to search his house and compound in Ikenne. This was barely a month before he returned to arrest him.
Hannah and her husband had just finished their dinner, which, at that point, they used to have between eight and ten in the night. (He would later change while in jail to eating breakfast between eight and nine in the morning and dinner between five and six in the evening, skipping lunch. His wife embraced the same eating pattern when he informed her while still in jail). It was almost eleven in the night when Lynn announced his journey to Ikenne, insisting that he had to be in Ikenne to search their house. It was obviously a plan to “catch” Awolowo unprepared so as to “discover” the “arms cache” he was “hiding” in Ikenne.
So, Lynn asked the Leader of Opposition if he would like to come with him to Ikenne.
“Me? No! Not at this hour of the night!” Awolowo replied.
It was at this point that Hannah offered to go with Lynn.
“You are doing nothing of the kind,” responded her husband….
“My beloved Mama Segun, I learnt that you had been ill. I was upset. But I am happy to hear that you have improved considerably. Your health and your life mean almost everything to me. I must say categorically that life would mean nothing to me without you and our children and grandchildren…”
This was how Obafemi Awolowo began one of the most important letters that he would ever write to his wife, particularly in the darkest hour of tribulations. He wrote the letter as he waited for the judgement of the Supreme Court. He was afraid that if his appeal was dismissed, in the course of his imprisonment, his adversaries might kill him while putting out a story that he was trying to commit suicide. He, therefore, decided to write to HID to “disburse my mind completely to her as to what I thought she might do if certain eventualities occurred.”
If he was unsuccessful at the Supreme Court, Awolowo asked Hannah to “take it like a brave woman that you are,” assuring her that that “would not be the end for me.” “That would not be the end for me. The best is yet to be,” he added.
“This much I want you to bear in mind; if you heard that I died, you could be sure that my enemies had killed me. I say this because after committing this heinous crime, these evil people might issue a release that I committed suicide, or that I died or was killed when I was trying to escape lawful custody…. I have great hopes for the future, and I am determined to live,” Awolowo declared in the letter.
After dealing with political matters regarding what HID should do with the proposed AG/NCNC alliance and the coming elections, while encouraging her to be the “moving spirit” of the organisation of the Women’s Wing of the AG, Awolowo turned to family matters. He implored his HID “not to lose hope at all.” He further entreated her to “concentrate on your business and Church duties.”
He then discussed the four children and grandchildren and what needed to be done about each of them, including their personal prospects and schooling. By this time, Tola was married, Wole had left school and was living in Ikenne, while Ayo and Tokunbo were getting ready for college. The loving father stated in the letter that he was sure her eldest daughter could fend for herself, praying that “it may please God to bless the union between her and Kayode [Oyediran] with undying love and with children.” He acknowledged the crisis in the life of his 20-year old only surviving son, but prayed “fervently that it may please God to direct him aright and help him make a success of his life.” As for Ayo and Tokunbo, he ventured that it should be easy for HID to arrange for admission for them when they are ready at the Universities in Lagos and Ibadan, respectively.
When HID read the letter, though he had urged her “not to be sad about the contents of this letter” or “shed tears,” she broke into tears. But she quickly got over it and braced herself for what the future held in store for her and her “ever devoted and affectionate husband….”
Even though H.I.D.’s campaigns in Ondo Province must have jolted Premier Akintola as the 1964 regional elections approached, Akintola was not comfortable with any suggestion of visiting the Ekiti areas of the Province himself. The Ekiti were diehard supporters of Awolowo – such that Akintola’s biographer, Osuntokun, himself an Ekiti, states that “Awolowo’s hold on the Ekiti-Yoruba, particularly the intellectuals, remains a mystery….”
The leaders of the AG who survived the attempt at mass incarceration of the leadership of the party and serial arrests and harassments hatched by the ruling parties at the federal and regional levels, the NPC and the NNDP respectively, met in early 1964 and decided that it would be most helpful to the party if Awolowo’s wife led the campaigns across the region. She was already the leader of the women’s wing of the party, called the Action Group Women Section, which organised alongside Mrs. Wuraola Esan and Chief (Mrs.) Olu Solaru. She was a focused, strong-willed and dedicated person who knew the dynamics of the politics of the region. She had also weathered the storm alongside her husband. Among the many acts of intimidation which she had taken in her stride was the tear-gassing of her home in Ibadan on May 27, 1963, about eight months after Awolowo began serving his ten-year sentence. It was a test of the legendary patience that her husband said she possesses in abundance
The jailed leader’s wife, Hannah, continued her tour after Eastern Region’s Premier Michael Okpara’s visit to Ibadan. She campaigned in the Ijebu division too. At Ijebu-Igbo, she launched the UPGA campaign for the federal elections on October 20, 1964. In their welcome address, the local leaders of UPGA said “(w)e realise that the battle ahead is tough but we can assure you that by the grace of Almighty God and the support of our Leaders, we shall return the UPGA candidate in Ijebu North East with the opponent losing his deposit.” However, they urged the Federal Government “to check the excessive intimidation by the NNDP Government of Western Region” against their members and supporters. Yet, they asserted that they were sure of a victory “which will obviously lead to the immediate release of our Hero and true Yoruba Leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.” The same day, in their welcome address to Mrs. Awolowo, the party faithful in Ago-Iwoye stated that“ the cause of the past Two Dark Years and the great sacrifice made by the members of your family in an attempt to wrench Yorubaland from the greedy clutches of the power-drunk politicians are not unknown to this community, as such we are here to register our approbation to your line of action as well as the ideals of Democratic Socialism.”
The Jewel and the Lion
…should the worst happen, I want you to take it like a brave woman that you are. That would not be the end for me. The best is yet to be, as long as my life is spared…. I take this opportunity to renew to you, my only Darling Wife, my vow of undying love. In God’s good time we will meet again in a most happy reunion, and that before very long…. Your Ever Devoted and Affectionate Husband.
– Obafemi Awolowo, Letter to Wife, May 1964
HER LONG AWAITED DAY OF joy was finally here.
From the splendour and glory of Obafemi Awolowo’s elevation to the position of Premier of the Western Region through the dark disquiet of his days of restriction in Ikenne, Lekki and Ikoyi to the unutterable sorrow of Segun’s sudden death, which was followed by Obafemi Awolowo’s 10-year jail sentence, Hannah had journeyed through them all with grace and self-possession.
Now, the exhilarating bliss of her husband’s release from jail was provoking far greater positive sensations than she had ever experienced in the course of their lives together. Her animated state and the powerful glee that coursed through her mind agitating her limbs this morning of August 4, 1966, were inversely proportional to the numbing emotions and grief heralded by the break of dawn on July 10, 1963.
What was she to do? Where was she to meet her Ever Devoted and Affectionate Husband, as Obafemi Awolowo had described himself to her in his last depressing letter?
She was getting different vibrations. Happiness was overpowering H.I.D. She wanted to travel to Lagos to meet him. But then she received a message that she was to stay back in Ikenne to organise a thanksgiving service at the church which will be of help upon his arrival in their hometown. What would she do when she first beheld him in freedom for the first time since November 2, 1962? He had predicted in his letter to her in May 1964 that “In God’s good time we will meet again in a most happy reunion, and that before very long.” “Before very long” took three years, nine months and one day. Awolowo was pardoned on August 2, 1966. He was flown to Lagos the next day….
Shortly after meeting Gowon, Lt. Colonel Murtala Mohammed, one of the plotters of the coup that made Gowon head of state, personally drove Awolowo to Ikenne. One of Awolowo’s most loyal political associates, Bisi Onabanjo (later Governor of Ogun State in the Second Republic) accompanied him in the car.
He arrived Ikenne to what a newspaper described as the “warm and hearty embrace” of HID. The Lion had come home to his Jewel.
He was also warmly welcomed by two of his children and his grandchildren. Only Tola – who had since wedded Kayode Oyediran in November 1963 – and Wole, were around. Ayo and Tokunbo were studying in England. There were also four grandchildren who had been born while he was in prison. Funke and Omotunde (Segun), Segun’s children were born in 1963, Oluwakemi and Yewande (Yemisi), Tola Oyediran’s daughters, were born in 1964 and 1965, respectively.
“We had lots of hugs,” was how Tola Oyediran described the reunion with their father. “He was filled with a lot of emotions and so was everybody. We were happy that, at last he got his freedom. It was a trying time for every Awolowo. I don’t even know how to describe it…. We kept touching him? Are you the real Papa? Talk to us now, we said to him.”
At the service, Awolowo read the first lesson. In his speech later, he acknowledged his wife’s fortitude and thanked everyone who had come to welcome him. The Lisa of Ijeun said he was particularly grateful to the common people, the men and women who stood by him even when some whom he had assumed will be steadfast “failed….”
Death and Love Everlasting
WHEN HID WISHED HER HUSBAND a “deep sleep” on the night of May 8, 1987 as they departed for their separate bedrooms, she could not have imagined that that would be her eternal goodbye to the man she married a little less than fifty years earlier.
“A sun wo o”
They both laughed.
They had both said goodnight in their Remo dialect, only for HID to return to her husband to affectionately say another goodnight in the native argot of Ibadan, the city that defined most of their private and public lives together. “A sun wo o,” was the Ibadan’s way of wishing one another a deep, undisturbed sleep. It was also a prayer against any untoward incident, particularly an idagiri (emergency), in the night.
Before they said goodnight, they had chatted as they sat together by the door adjoining their individual rooms while HID packed a few items for the wedding of the daughter of Otunba Biyi Durojaiye which she planned to attend the next morning. At the urging of HID, Chief Awolowo had been advised by his doctor to take some rest and stay upstairs in their house on Ajina Street, Ikenne. He was 78 the previous March, and age was beginning to tell on him. The exhausting physical and relentless mental exertions over the many decades had evidently weakened the man who is popularly regarded as a sage – the only Nigerian leader to be so described in the history of the country. He was becoming weak.
His last public appearance was at the coronation of the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse II, on Saturday, May 2, 1987. That day, for the first time in their entire life together, as HID revealed, Awolowo slept off publicly.
On their return trip, HID was also struck by the fact that he slept from Warri to Ikenne. She felt that he was exhausted and needed a long stretch of rest, away from reading, writing and meeting people. But the Association of Jerusalem Pilgrims were waiting at home to meet them when they arrived 11pm. Even though he was tired, they met them at Efunyela Hall.
The next day, a Sunday, they attended service at St Saviour’s. After the service, the JPs, as the Jerusalem Pilgrims were called, were hosted to lunch at Efunyela’s Hall. “When a snake shed its skin and you see it lying on the ground, you may think you are seeing a snake or that a snake is still there. Don’t be fooled by what you see, because the snake is gone. Only the skin is there as a camouflage. The snake is gone and you will never see the snake again,” Awolowo told the audience at the reception. The parable escaped everyone, including HID.
The following Friday, May 8, his long-time friend, Alhaji S. O. Gbadamosi, showed up for dinner and they reminisced over the past. Gbadamosi left later in the night.
The next morning, HID noticed that the light was on in his room. That was an indication that he was up. He never slept with the lights on. Usually, Awolowo would come out of his room to have breakfast at the table upstairs around half past eight in the morning. When it was past that time, HID asked one of the male assistant in the house where he was. He replied that he was still in his room. There was no response when she knocked. He shouldn’t take that long for Awolowo to be ready for breakfast. At any rate, he would have responded to her, even if he wasn’t ready.
HID grew worried. By this time, Awolowo’s sister, Alhaja Awofeso had arrived. She was surprised to find that her sister-in-law had not left for Lagos. They both knocked more loudly, raising some alarm. Still no response….
HID then asked the senior driver to bring a cutlass so that they could force the door open. It was now clear that something serious, if not tragic, had happened inside the great man’s room.
“As the door was forced open, and I saw how he slumped helplessly, I knew the worst had occurred,” disclosed HID. He was holding his toothbrush.
“I rushed to him. With the help of his senior driver and his sister, Alhaja Anotu Awofeso, we lifted him up to his bed. Then I grabbed him and noticed that his body was still warm, I tried all I could to bring him back to life but to no avail. I still believed he would come around when shaking him and calling Papa Segun! Papa Segun!!”
HID and her husband had not called each other by the name of their deceased first child in more than two decades.
Though she could see that he was gone, she was in disbelief. She sent for his doctor. “I still nursed the hope that he will be revived. And I was saying so many words to him.”
The doctor, Dr. Bayo Yusuf, arrived. He confirmed that Awolowo was dead….
28 YEARS LATER, PLANS WERE in gear to mark HID’s centennial birthday in Ikenne. While her children and grandchildren were meeting in Efunyela Hall, someone suggested that HID should go to Efunyela Hall to greet them. Around one in the afternoon, she was placed on her wheel-chair and pushed to the hall. As she entered the hall, her children and grandchildren erupted in cheers and broke into a song. She was happy. When they were done, she prayed fervently for them emphasizing that they would all live long enough to be similarly honoured. Eyin na a dagba (“You too will grow old”). It was her last prayer….
When she returned to her room in the ground floor of the main house, she asked for pounded cocoyam. The steward brought her food. She was fed by one of her assistants. As she ate, she chatted with Esther, who took over the feeding to encourage her to eat more. At a point, she said she was full. After a little while, she asked to be placed on the bed to rest. They placed her on the bed. As she rested, everyone in the room left to give her time to sleep. Time was around half past two.
Shortly before three in the afternoon, someone needed to pick a bottle of water from the refrigerator in Mama’s room. When HID noticed that someone was in the room, she asked to be raised because she wanted to sit up. The lady asked Mama to give her a minute because she needed some help to raise her up. She called Mama’s personal assistant, Esther, to join her in the room. As they returned to the room and tried to raise her, Esther noticed that her breathing was rapid, as if she was gasping. Once she sat up on the bed, Esther rushed out to the adjoining house where Mrs. Oyediran was staying to let her know that Mama’s breathing was irregular. She also alerted Dr. Awolowo Dosumu, whose own apartment was a bit farther than her elder sister’s. They both rushed down to Mama’s room with some of the grandchildren, including Ayotola Ayodeji, who were still around.
When HID’s youngest child, Tokunbo, came into the room, she sat on the bed to rest her mother on her bosom. She breathed her last…
Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate, notes in his tribute that with her passing, “An Era recedes…”
Thus ended one of the greatest public love stories in modern Africa.