By IBIYINKA SOLARIN
The DAWN document, a well-thought out, and meticulously prepared socio-economic framework for bold economic integration/transformation of western Nigeria was finally unveiled to the Nigerian public on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. Those who prepared this document, and the organizers of its public unveiling are students of history. The personage and history of Obafemi Oyeniyi Awolowo loomed large in their minds, both in the conception and preparation of this document as well as its presentation to the public.
Awolowo, it was, who had in the past used the metaphor of the ‘dawn’ in his long and turbulent political career, ‘the glorious dawn’, ‘ THE DAWN- the long- awaited dawn’ . This document thus encapsulates the dawn that the people of western Nigeria have been patiently waiting for since our country descended into the dark hole of military rule in 1966.
March 6, 2012, the date of the public unveiling of the document is Awolowo’s birth date, he would have been 103 yrs old, had he been alive.
Those that willingly and selflessly supplied the intellectual and sweat capital/equity, to prepare this document , the deep that called to the deep, the members of the Afenifere Renewal Group [ARG], made no bones about where they drew their inspiration from; the Egbe Afenifere, the Action Group, 1951-1966. This document can then be likened to a SOCIO-ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATIONAL MANIFESTO for western Nigeria. It is both a tribute and testimony to the sense of service and history of the ARG, that having surveyed the landscape, and confronted with the abyss that western Nigeria has sunk into from its Olympian height, they called themselves together and self-consciously asked the historical question, ‘WHAT IS TO BE DONE?’
This article is an attempt to proffer suggestions as to the politics and praxis of public engagement that I consider foundational to the success of DAWN.
The socio-economic quandary Nigerians find themselves in today, calls for men and women of steely resolve to save this country from self-inflicted implosion, which discerning observers can see in the horizon. Such men and women exist in our country but their ranks are thinning out, because, even ordinarily decent people have given in to despair and cynicism.
The political landscape and terrain in which the executors of the DAWN document will operate is more complex than in the past. Some of those one should otherwise consider as soul mates of the DAWN ideologues are to found be in different political parties. For all kinds of reasons, some are NOT even ANYMORE what they seemed to be in the past. Some have developed proclivities and tendencies that one could characterize as anti-DAWN. Nonetheless, the politics of DAWN demands extraordinary self-abnegation and a spirit of reconciliation. DAWN demands the goodwill of ALL and its executors must eschew any perception of triumphalism. The DAWN document is a historical one and the spirit that drove its preparers is a pan-Nigerian one that asks for NEW THINKING in our political and socio-economic trajectory. Everybody wins with DAWN because this document seeks to reenact the achievement of the past, reclaim lost grounds while moving forward and redesigning the paradigm of political and socio-economic transformation of Nigeria.
The readers of this article will permit me to use a personal example. I learned that the Action Group [AG] government of western Nigeria led by Obafemi Awolowo brought pipe-borne water to my home town, Sagamu, in 1956. I know because the rig sat across the street in front of my father’s house and the date is emblazoned on it and we children used to have school excursions to the waterworks engineering complex in Sonyindo, to marvel and be instructed by this development. TODAY, 2012, we BUY water to drink in Sagamu, the waterworks complex is gone, whereas in 1960s, some members of my larger family ALREADY had pipe borne water in their homes. The roads such as they are, are full of potholes that threaten the health of an expectant mother. No place on earth, offers me more soothing balm and restores my spirit, mentally and emotionally like a return to Sagamu when I visit Nigeria. But I confess a paradox nonetheless; because a melancholy fog often descends on me when I go round this town and no place more tellingly emblematizes this feeling than when I passed by the Akarigbo palace, burnt down, nine years ago, March 2003, lying fallow, unreconstructed till today, constituting an eye sore and a shame. And when I enquired whether these so-called irate youths, who ignited this inferno that consumed this cultural heritage, can point out their fathers and grandparents houses in this town, I got an empty stare.
What has this got to do with DAWN? This is the answer. The people who broke up a perfectly functioning entity and replaced it with largely insolvent states, impoverishing ninety percent of the population such that today, we have so much government but little development and manifest socio-economic retrogression have done us no favour. The politics of state creation then of course creates an elite and a bureaucracy with a vested interest and attachment to the status quo, suffused with a power complex and service. This is the politics that the NEW thinking of DAWN must contend with, with subtlety , through persuasion and a sense of what is manifestly deliverable under a new dispensation. A socio-economic and political paradigm shift that is designed to deliver what it promises, confronts the extant stagnation, so that the coming generation can inherit a healthy and productive future. Our people are hungry for CHANGE, change they can BELIEVE in. The politics of DAWN must perforce be driven by ideation in consonance with the cultural heritage and temper of the socio-cultural milieu. At the centre of the conception of DAWN is the future of western Nigeria. DAWN is the answer and hope of the disoriented, angry, sullen, desperate and despondent youth, who feels abandoned by the present and sees little to cheer about in the future. The youths must be invited to discuss this document all over western Nigeria because it is among their ranks the leaders of the morrow will rise, it is for their future, the sacrifices of today are being made.
In my brief sojourn in journalism, I once had the opportunity as the editor of the current affairs magazine program, ‘Focus’, on the old Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation [OGBC] to interview late professor S.O.Awokoya in January, 1980. This was during the 25th anniversary of the free universal primary education in western Nigeria of 1955, when Chief Awokoya was the minister of education. Already in his seventies, he spoke with such passion about the role and place of the development of man or woman vis-à-vis his/her society. This explains how Japan, with NEITHER petroleum deposit nor steel industry can produce 25% of global automobile market and be the number three economic power in the world, behind only the United States and the Peoples Republic of China. I remember this interview. I try to imagine in my mind’s eye, the disposition and mindset of those cabinet members of western Nigerian government planning for the free primary education in 1952, three years before its implementation. What motivated them to embark on such herculean task of such trail-blazing socio-economic initiatives that a hundred years of British colonialism had not essayed? We know it was M.A.Ajasin who wrote the original Action Group Policy Paper on Free Education. We know it was S. O. Awokoya who prepared the white paper for the adoption of the scheme. We know it was Obafemi Awolowo who prepared the executive memoranda on the cost for both education and health schemes. We know they must have believed they had a rendezvous with history. They were confident of their intrinsic capabilities to deliver on these schemes, hence they totally discounted the hostility, derision and incredulity of their political opponents as well as those of the colonial administrators, black and white.
But what was their conduct like to embark on schemes of such magnitude? What were their customs, habits, practices, actions, exercises, attitude and disposition like? What Awolowo referred to as their ‘earnestness, enthusiasm and sense of urgency’ . This is what I mean by praxis in this article, what the Webster collegiate dictionary refers to as ‘exercise or practice….study of human action…customary practice or conduct’. Awolowo himself set the frenetic pace, he led by example. Ayotunde Rosiji, the General Secretary of the Action Group, referred to Awolowo as a ‘workaholic’
DAWN leadership calls for high discipline, mental and social and a level of commitment and steadfastness that cannot be doubted. For example, certain traits are manifest in both Awo and Ajasin because iron sharpens iron. Awo put it bluntly ‘Do not enjoy in government what you cannot provide for yourself in private life……’ True then, much much TRUER in Nigeria of today. Adherence to this credo captures the core value that ought to guide the praxis of the execution of DAWN. A leadership that lives by it, will reap incalculable political capital.