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Sunday, 03 March 2024 05:10

[OPINION] Garlands For A Champion - Wole Olaoye

I grew up on a diet of welfarism as espoused by the great manager of men and resources, Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of the then Western Region of Nigeria. It is to that great man that many of us who later went on to play leadership roles in various aspects of our professional and national lives, owe our worldview— especially our conceptualisation of the essence of governance and leadership.


Awolowo insisted that a government derived its legitimacy from being able to protect and advance the cause of its people. Thus, he democratised the playing field by ensuring that everyone had access to primary education. His famous reaction to the subject was, “I want free access to education for all. I do not want the children of my drivers to be drivers to my children, neither do I want the children of my cooks to be cooks to my children.”


Awolowo set a high store by leadership. To him, it was nothing less than a sacred trust. If political leaders led by example, he argued, the people would follow suit: “Those of us placed in a position of leadership must be prepared to grasp the nettle if we unite in doing so, and if, in addition, we set a worthy example in probity, unselfishness, and self-sacrifice, the people will follow, all too readily, in our footsteps.”

It was under that general philosophical base of equal opportunities for all that the government of the Western Region operated under the philosopher-politician, Awolowo. Had Providence inserted the man in the affairs of his Yoruba race during the Oyo Empire days many centuries before his premiership, historians argue, he would have wound up among the many Yoruba gods celebrated today.


At the Summit of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU in Kinshasa in 1967 where he represented Nigeria, Awolowo declared: “Today, Africa is a continent of COMPETING BEGGAR-NATIONS. We vie with one another for favours from our former colonial masters… Unless a beggar resolutely shakes off, and irrevocably turns his back on his begging habit, he will forever remain a beggar. For, the more he begs, the more he develops the beggar characteristics of lack of initiative, courage, drive and self-reliance.”


That call for Africans to lift themselves up by their bootstraps is today being championed on the continental scale by institutions such as the African Development Bank led by Nigeria’s Dr Akinwumi Adesina. Since assumption of office as President of the bank after a stint as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Adesina has pursued a development policy based on five development priorities creatively code-named the High-5s.


Having assumed office on September 1, 2015 as the eighth elected President of the African Development Bank Group, Adesina vigorously encouraged African countries to buy into the five cardinal programmes of the bank namely: (1) Light up and Power Africa; (2) Feed Africa; (3) Industrialise Africa; (4) Integrate Africa; and (5) Improve the Quality of Life for the People of Africa.

Africa has never remained the same since the rolling out of the High-5s. All over the continent, there is ample evidence that a forward-looking development partner is at work, transforming the landscape and helping to create new capacities thereby making Africa a more attractive land of promise and sustainable viability than ever before. Overall, AfDB’s impact has been panoramic as evidenced by its 6,338 projects embarked upon all over Africa since 1967.

Considering that he was born in Awolowo’s Western Region of Nigeria, I have no doubt that the philosophical underpinnings of Dr Adesina’s commitment to uplifting the continent and making Africans stand tall in the comity of nations, is partially inspired by his experience growing up under the very inspiring premiership of the late sage of the region.

Since Awo’s transition in 1987, his name and ideas have remained in public discourse, proving that those who live in the service of humanity will never die. The Foundation established in his honour is an independent, non-profit, non-political, non-religious, non-sectarian research institute committed to the promotion of a socially edifying interaction between policy and scholarship. The organisation prides itself as being dedicated to the principles of public welfare, responsible, free enterprise, social democracy, a federal and republican Nigeria, an economically self-reliant Africa- and a stable and equitable global system


So far, the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation has lived up to its billing, especially in the weight of personages that have won its now coveted Leadership Prize. The prize is given in recognition for outstanding performance in the areas of leadership and good governance. Candidates are assessed on the parameters of integrity, credibility, discipline, selflessness, visionary leadership, accountability, tenacity of purpose, among other qualities. The selection committee is chaired by the venerable Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

Awo Prize

Adesina is the fourth recipient of the prestigious honour, the first three honourees being Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka (2012), former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa (2014), and lawyer-educationist Chief Afe Babalola (2018). Adesina will be formally presented the 2024 Leadership Prize at a ceremony in Lagos on March 6, Awo’s 115th birthday, in the presence of Heads of state and government, top diplomats, captains of industry, development partners and leaders in academia and the various professions. General Gowon will chair the occasion.

How marvellous to contemplate the intricate web of life: Soyinka, an admirer of Awolowo and world acclaimed intellectual and humanist who was our teacher at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU) when Adesina was a student; factor into the mix the freedom fighter Thabo Mbeki from whom student leaders used to collect revolutionary anti-apartheid posters at the ANC offices in Obalende, Lagos, in the 70s — and who went on to become the President of South Africa after the legendary Nelson Mandela; and then add Afe Babalola, brilliant lawyer and counsel to Irikefe Tribunal in the heady days of the 2.8 billion oil money saga when this writer faced the tribunal as a witness from Great Ife — and has since made a bigger name as an educationist and community leader… and it  would be clear that excellence defines the path of the past recipients. Adesina is in good company.

Awo would have been proud that such a forward-looking beneficiary of his free education policy in the old Western Region is now a continental champion and global player in matters of good governance and economic development.


Like honey to nectar, Adesina has been attracting endorsements galore. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who was one of several world leaders who nominated Adesina, said: “He epitomises and combines qualities of extraordinary leadership that are often rare to find: great visionary, incredible courage, the ability to take on huge and difficult challenges, extraordinary dedication and commitment to deliver programmes and policies that transform the lives of millions of people”.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also praised Adesina’s leadership: “His contributions to the African continent and global leadership have been exceptional. Under his leadership the African Development Bank has delivered bold interventions to address some of the greatest challenges of our time,”.

A double-barrelled tribute was jointly issued by Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Global Center on Adaptation CEO, Prof. Dr Patrick Verkooijen: “We can think of no person more highly qualified or deserving of this prestigious award. Dr Adesina is forged in the same mould as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a shining example of leadership.”

Having followed the trajectory of this worthy son of Africa from the 70s till now, I am proud to raise an elbow to Dr. Akinwumi Adedeji Adesina, Africa’s Mr. Optimist and recipient of the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership 2024.

African youths don’t have to look too far for a role model

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