Author Topic: Remembering Awoniyi, The Yoruba Northerner  (Read 260 times)

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Remembering Awoniyi, The Yoruba Northerner
« on: December 04, 2017, 06:17:06 AM »
ODAY, friends, associates and family members converge at First Baptist Church, Ileteju Mopa, Yagba East Local Government Area, Kogi State to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the demise of Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, the Aro of Mopa who died in a London hospital after an automobile accident. For a nation perennially groping in the dark for direction and leadership, the occasion affords another opportunity to reflect on the life and times of this thorough-bred technocrat and civil servant of the old brigade; a politician of an uncommon hue, a mentor to many of today’s leaders in business and governance, a great nationalist and patriot who over the course of his public life has come to mean different things to different people.

I recall that The Nation’s Emmanuel Oladesu had described him at his death, 10 years ago as a legend: bold, brave, strong-willed, courageous and assertive – a man in a class to his own. He had equally written what could in fact have passed as a fitting testimonial of his odyssey: “A conservative intellectual and technocrat, Sunday Awoniyi rose to become a super permanent secretary. In public service he was an icon. In politics, no matter how brief, he shone like a star.

“In strategic thinking, he did not take the back seat. In organizational prowess, he was not deficient…He died as a moral force in the North. Full of puritanical zeal, he loathed the counter-productive posture of the younger politicians who buried themselves in crass opportunism, classic graft and personal aggrandizement…

“An elder statesman, he sought fruitlessly to preach morality, using the political platform. When he proceeded to offer a new perspective on party leadership, he was denied the platform, completely edged out…”

That was his portrait of the quintessential public servant that many Nigerians were already familiar; an accidental politician if ever there was one, and one of the most distinguished pathfinders of an era. It was apt – a most fitting tribute.  Chief Awoniyi’s life is of course an open book. He started as a District Officer under the colonial administration – one of few northern Nigerians to hold the post. Among many other appointments, he served in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Power, (1961-62), acting Senior Assistant Secretary, Security, Northern Civil Service; Secretary, Executive Council of Northern Nigeria (1963-4), Provincial Secretary in charge, Minna (1964) and Jos (1964-5). It was while working with the First Republic Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, that he was aptly christened Sardauna Keremi, both for his loyalty to his principal and to his exemplary devotion to the public cause.

He was also Permanent Secretary, Kwara State Ministry of Finance, (1968-70) Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs (1971-75) and Petroleum Resources (1975-77). All of these long after Ivy League education which began at the Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology (now Ahmadu Bello University) from 1951 -56, University College (now the University of Ibadan) from 1956-59, and the Imperial Defence College (now the Royal College of Defence Studies) from 1970-71.

However, if civil service, known for its quietude largely defined the most part of his life, his foray into politics would later provide colour. Although he had served in the Constituent Assembly along-side others to work on the 1979 constitution, he would not take the plunge into partisan politics until the Third Republic when he ran on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NRC) – winning a seat to represent his Kogi West people in the Senate – although the experience would be short-lived by the military putschists.

Years later, at the dawn of the Fourth Republic, he would join other prominent Nigerians to found the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Working with others like the late Solomon Lar and Alex Ekwueme, they did a lot to give the party not just its pan Nigerian spread but more importantly, credibility. Unfortunately, things would fall apart, years later. First, his attempt to lead the party as chairman was scuttled by President Olusegun Obasanjo who could not stomach his independent-mindedness. Second, for their insistence on internal democracy and opposition President Obasanjo’s attempt to annex the party, he, alongside others, would be rusticated from the party.

Of course, he moved on. Soon after, he became leader of the Arewa Consultative Forum, the foremost political and cultural pressure group formed in 2000 by leaders of northern Nigeria – a position from where he occasionally weighed on issues affecting the north in particular and the nation as a whole.  Understandably, his positions on some of the burning issues of the day were often misunderstood. Not one to deny being Yoruba, he was accused of failing to identify with his kith and kin in the South-west. For him however, he was more appropriately a Yoruba northerner. Not for him the crass, repudiation of political geography or the seductions to specious invocation of ethnicity for self-serving, opportunistic ends. As far as he was concerned, neither geography nor mother tongue subtracted from the authenticity of his Yoruba-ness or his northern-ness.

Little wonder the North trusted him so much so that he would later in life become the leader of the Pan Northern Arewa Consultative Forum; in the same measure that his Yoruba kith would see him as an outsider. It is a lesson to today’s younger generation ever so quick to shout marginalisation even when they are yet to prove their mettle.  As the country strives to navigate its future, late Chief Awoniyi’s life obviously instructs on the virtue of patience, tolerance, hard work and integrity in public and private life. His’ was politics of accommodation, of integrity and profound discernment. That he yielded the space when he felt his counsel was no longer wanted is a stinging rebuke to the culture of do-or-die politics; the notion that public service is necessarily restricted to politics and the political arena. It is something that younger and upcoming politicians can learn from.


Nigerian Best Forum . NBF

Remembering Awoniyi, The Yoruba Northerner
« on: December 04, 2017, 06:17:06 AM »

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