Saturday, 5 December 2015

After HID Awolowo’s burial, Ikenne turns deserted

Sun up on Thursday, November 26, 2015: Ikenne, provincial homestead of one of Africa’s foremost political thinkers, statesmen, nationalists and former Premier of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, gradually rouses from the fatigue and hangover of the orgy of celebration of the funeral of the widow of the late sage, Chief (Mrs.) Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo, buried the previous day.
The streets, the markets and the motor parks still bear vestiges of the revelry of the night before as they were littered with dis­carded plastic food packs, disused water bot­tles and sachets, yoghurt and chocolate packs and cellophane bags. This is in spite of huge piles of the stuffs already gathered and ar­ranged by the roadside for sale by enterprising scavengers, mostly women.
At the Obafemi Awolowo Square, Dideo­lu Stores along Tai Solarin Way, the town’s major road, Our Saviour’s Anglican Church along Kehinde Sofola Street (where the fu­neral service was held), Yeye Odua (former Ajina) Street and several other reception ven­ues used by the government of Ogun State, Awolowo’s kinsmen, the towns folk and vari­ous groups in hosting guests; workmen and officials of the state’s Traffic Compliance and Enforcement (TRACE) agency are seen busy dismantling canopies and security barricades.
Although offices and schools have re­sumed after the one-day unofficial holiday declared in honour of the Awolowo matriarch, only few shops are opened for business even as at 9:00am. Traffic was light. Save for some commercial bike operators on the prowl for passengers, only few cars and township taxi cabs ply the roads. Indeed as the day wears on, the major motor park in the heart of the town has become virtually deserted. Only a handful of officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and touts are seen either seated on benches or play­ing with young female hawkers. There is no vehicle on turn. A few only drives in and out of the park without stopping, after finding no passengers to pick.
Ironically, the light human activity sharply contrasts with the profuse presence of roam­ing pets and other domestic animals- dogs, goats, hens, which, as if with an understand­ing with their owners, came out of a two-month forced hibernation with their brood to sun their furs and feathers. Saturday Sun al­most twice ran over two flocks of hens and their chicks on different lanes and saw local dogs stray across the roads at will, while rid­ing round the town.
At last, the “townlet’, (as that is what it can be called with its
hybrid features of a village and town) is regaining the old tranquil and idyllic temper it shares with other 32 neigh­bouring communities that make up Remo­land in Ogun State, which it had temporar­ily lost since September 9, 2015, when Mrs. Awolowo died, barely two months shy of her 100th birthday anniversary!
Since the demise of the grand old maid, ac­knowledged by her illustrious consort, to have been, besides God, the pillar of his success in public life, Ikenne, which is the headquarters of Ikenne Remo, a local government area comprising four other major towns-Iperu, Il­isan, Ogere and Irolu, in Nigeria’s gateway state, has been in frenzy as eminent world-citizens, leaders, politicians, industrialists and associates of the late nationalist, daily, indeed, hourly thronged the town to pay their respects and sympathize with the Awolowo clan.
The serenity of the sleepy community was often shattered by VIP visitors who besieged it in convoys of cars led by siren-blaring es­corts, hungry for photo-ops and media cov­erage, which the press centre set up at the Awolowo family house, guaranteed. “We’ve become accustomed to the wailings of sirens in the past two months, remarks Ms. Omo­tola Taiwo, a resident civil servant, adding: “Hardly would the noise of one have died down, before you hear another in the distance and you’d know another person had come. As ones goes another comes”.

Also, for the two-month mourning period which was used in preparing a befitting burial for the old woman, the family compound was a beehive of activities as the Awolowo feasted the townsfolk, providing free meals thrice every day. Local drummers, cultural groups, comedians, and praise singers cashed in on the opportunity to set up shop, angling for money from well-to-do prospects. The rites of passage, which saw Mrs. Awolowo’s corpse lying-in-state at special tribute sessions in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital and Ibadan, the former headquarter of the regional govern­ment headed by her husband, climaxed in a glorious funeral church service that attracted the “who-is-who” in the Nigerian society. The roll-call includes the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd), past and present state governors, ministers and other dignitaries.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari missed the church service, which the Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr. Samuel Chukwuemeka Kanu Uche, who officiated,  described as “one of the most attended and dignified” he had ever witnessed in his cleri­cal career, he flew into the town in a chop­per at about 2:10pm. The President, who cut short his trip to Iran and was billed to travel to Malta and France the following day, remarked that he could not, but come and personally pay his respects to the woman described as “Mother of the Nation”.
The presence of the President and other VIPs coupled with the massive crowd of visi­tors from across the federation including the Oodua’s Peoples Congress and other groups in “Aso-Ebi” uniforms, no doubt, jolted and put under severe shock the 144km2- (land mass) capacity of the small town of 118,735 people, according to the 2006 census. Ikenne was a bedlam with security agents-the po­lice, Department of the State Security Service (DSS), soldiers, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence (NSDC), TRACE as well as the Fed­eral Road Safety Corps (FRSC) having dif­ficult time controlling the crowd and traffic. The entire town was agog, as masquerades and cultural troupes paraded the town, while the Ogun State Television aired a recorded interview with the deceased via its Outside Broadcasting (OB) Van on Tai Solarin Way. The celebration continued with parties that dragged into the night at which music icon, King Sunny Ade (KSA) and Fuji music star, Adewale Ayuba, a pride of the town, enter­tained guests.
Only as the siren wailings of the last rem­nants of security vehicles that came for duty receded as they pull out this Thursday morn­ing is Ikenne finally freed from the boisterous panoply of the funeral celebration, the only type of which, residents say, they witnessed when Chief Awolowo was buried on June 9, 1987.
Mrs. Awolowo’s funeral makes many an Ikenne indigene flush with pride, particu­larly, for focusing national attention on the town. Mrs. Esther Iyabo Adeyemi, a retiree and neighbour of the Awolowos, in a chat with Saturday Sun, enthuses: “I feel proud to have hailed from this town. We are blessed to have produced an icon such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his dear wife. I have not seen where a death attracted such universal sym­pathy and celebration. Here we are a small community in this little corner of Ogun State, where everyone knows from which com­pound the other is from. Yet, the entire coun­try is here identifying and celebrating with us!” A trader, Pa Babatunde Adenuga, echoes Mrs. Adeyemi: “Awolowo brought us this fame. He put this town on the global map”.
And indeed so. Ikenne is synonymous with the late statesman and the political dynasty he left behind. Although he had homes in La­gos and Ibadan, most of Awolowo’s political, social, economic and philosophical thoughts believed to have had bearing on public policy direction, were said to have been hatched at his country home. Ikenne is seen as the po­litical headquarters of the progressive political movement that later transformed into political parties that he led. It was the Mecca to which political pilgrims across the nation, especial­ly those seeking public offices, must visit to receive advice or blessing. Veteran journal­ist and old associate of Chief Awolowo, Mr. Felix Adenaike notes that Ikenne used to host crucial meetings of Awolowo’s political disciples- a trend which continued after the great nationalist’s demise, until the venue was shifted to Owo, home town of former Ondo State Governor, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, who succeeded Awolowo as the leader of the Yor­uba, one of the three largest ethnic groups in the country. Even so, some loyalists still meet under the auspices of Yoruba Solidarity Fo­rum, convened by Awolowo’s widow; former Transport Minister/Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Chief Ebenezer Babatope and Senator Femi Okorounmu.
Ikenne also featured in the famous 1960s treason trial, in which Chief Awolowo and others were jailed for alleged armed insur­rection plot against the Nigerian state in the First Republic. A rubber plantation located in the town, one of the many established by his government in various parts of the Western Region, was said to have been a hideout and depot of a cache of arms and weapons alleg­edly seized from the plotters.
Apart from Awo, another personage that has contributed to the globalization of Ikenne’s renown was the late maverick edu­cationist, humanist, activist, albeit atheist, Dr. Tai Solarin. Solarin, a radical socialist and critic, grabbed international attention by bat­tling the country’s successive military rulers over corruption and human rights violations. However, his less known, but more profound contribution was, perhaps, the establishment of the famous Mayfair School, a private re­puted secondary school that produced genera­tions of eminent Nigerians in diverse sectors, bred on the practical creeds of discipline, integrity and self reliance. “Mays”, as the alumni of the school who are to be found all over the world are called, nurture a sentimen­tal attachment to the school located in Ikenne, such that one of the conditions for ceding it to government, during the 1976/77 takeover of schools from voluntary agencies and private proprietors, was that the principal would ever be an “ex-May” in order to preserve stand­ards.
The town has also produced eminent Nige­rian professionals especially lawyers, includ­ing the late Kehinde Sofola (SAN) and cur­rent Vice President, Osinbajo. It also gave the entertainment scene a gift in the Fuji rave, Ayuba.
Despite its renown, Ikenne’s present state of development neither advertises nor justifies its reputation as the birthplace of these eminent personages, no less, Chief Awolowo! Satur­day Sun observes that there is no marked difference between it and its cluster of semi-urban neighbours- Irolu, Iperu, Ilisan and Ogere in terms of physical development. They consist of old houses, mostly bungalows with pristine architecture that few modern houses only now fight to displace. Some of the township roads are bad and in deplorable condition. In fact, the old major road that linked Sagamu and Odogbolu at the southern and northern ends respectively was said to have been an eyesore and death trap until about a month ago, when the state government, in preparation for Mrs. Awolowo’s funer­al, ordered its repair. It was learnt that the dualisation of the highway, started by the immediate past administration, was jettisoned by Governor Ibikunle Amosun, leaving a section of the dual carriage way untarred. “Even the only lane left for use became impassable. It’s filled with a lot of craters and potholes. There is a huge one on this route that cars would go inside and then come out; because government refused to repair the road since former Governor Gbenga Daniel left of­fice. It has caused a lot accidents and untold damage to our ve­hicles. My husband and I don’t like taking this road, we prefer to go through the (Sagamu-Ijebu-Ode-Benin) Expressway”, complains Ms. Taiwo.
Also, save for a satellite campus of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, hosting the College of Health Sciences on the outskirts, there are no significant public institutions or even industries in Ikenne. The nearest around such as the ultra modern Gateway Stadium and the National Youth Services Corps (NYSC) permanent orientation camp are located in Sagamu while Ilisan, with which it shares boundary to the west, hosts Babcock University. Incredibly, only two banks- a branch of Intercontinental Bank, which, Saturday Sun learnt, had stopped operation since a robbery attack some months ago and a local microfinance bank, serve the entire town. Al­though public taps run, sources say, the people have enjoyed these services for decades and that this does not indicate proof of any special attention from the present government.
Short of alleging official neglect and marginalization, the people of the town say most of the development projects in the town have been inspired and executed through commu­nal self-help. The catalyst, a community leader, Hon. Leke Onasile says, is the Ikenne Development Association (IDA), which, he discloses, organises Ereke Day, an annual festival/ fund raiser for the development of the town. The 70-year-old former secretary to the local government laments the dearth of industries in the town; attributing it to government’s lukewarm disposition and failure to build upon its predeces­sor’s industrialization drive. “Look at the rubber plantation, by now, we expect to have had tyre manufacturing factories producing from here. That was Papa’s (Awolowo’s) dream. But it was not followed up. Also, Gbenga Daniel proposed a cargo airport. A site was found and earmarked for it along the Ilisan-Iperu Road. It’s been approved by the Federal Gov­ernment. But some people in the state House of Assembly were instigated against it seeing the light of the day. Again, the OOU Teaching Hospital was to be located here before it was diverted to Sagamu. I don’t know if people hate this town because of Awolowo. The question is, is it Awolowo’s town that deserves to be so treated?” queries Onasile.
However, Mr. Adenaike disagrees with these sentiments. He contends that the government cannot be held responsible for non industrialization of Ikenne, explaining that setting up of factories is strictly a business and not a political deci­sion, though he admits that government can serve as catalyst through policies and incentives. His words: “Investors con­sider a basket of factors including access, market, and other factors of production, which Ikenne may not offer”. He says a tyre manufacturing plant may have been considered infeasi­ble or unviable, perhaps, because the rubber tapped from the Ikenne plantation may not be in sufficient commercial quan­tity to sustain production, reasoning: “So, if the investor will have to go to Delta and Edo to source for raw materials, he may well feel it’s not advisable. It’s not a question of senti­ments”.
However, an observer faults Adenaike’s view. He notes that the Ikenne Remo Local Government is strategically located and endowed with enough natural resources that should make it an investor’s desired destination. “Apart from the abundant agricultural resources, it is located midway between Lagos and Ibadan, two major Nigerian cities, which, with their popu­lation alone are enough markets to consume what may be pro­duced there. The Sagamu-Ijebu-Ode-Benin Expressway also passes through the town, which opens access to markets in the South South and South Eastern parts of the country.
Although some observers believe Chief Awolowo himself deserved blame for his home town’s backwardness, having apparently failed to influence the siting of development facili­ties there while in power, Adenaike says such view does not take into account the ideals and values for which the late elder statesman was noted. “Pa Awolowo was a man of integrity and character, who would not, unlike what we have now, un­duly favour his area in terms of distribution of amenities. He was completely detribalized and above board. He ensured that there was a just and equitable dispersal of growth factors so that no part of the region was disadvantaged, or left undevel­oped. He left things in the hands of his followers and aides in government, although that was why some were able to betray this trust”, the former boss of African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc owned by Chief Awolowo explains.
Senior Special Assistant on Media to Governor Amosun, Adejuwon Soyinka, denies that the state government neglect­ed the town in its development drive. He notes that one of the 15 models schools built in some communities across the state is sited in Ikenne and was recently named after the late Mrs. Awolowo. Apart from this, says the governor’s spokesman, the town has benefited from the regime’s even distribution of other development projects and dividends of democracy since its advent in 2011 despite “obvious financial challenges”. He lists these to include a farm settlement with an oil palm nursery; fish hatchery and a 20-hectare Cassava multiplica­tion farm as well as rehabilitation and construction of new roads in the local government area generally, among them the Ilisan-Ago-Iwoye Road. “It will be grossly unfair for anyone to claim that there is no government presence in Ikenne or accuse Governor Amosun of neglecting Ikenne in terms of development”, Soyinka submits.
However, residents are unimpressed with government’s defence. They argue that except, perhaps, for the model col­lege, many of the cited projects are in other parts of the local governments. A student of the Federal University of Agricul­ture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) living in the town thumbs down government’s boast of working on the 26-km Road in Ikenne, as mere “panicky window-dressing” induced to save the re­gime from embarrassment over the utter neglect of the area. “I doubt if they would have bothered to fix the road had Mamma HID not die”, he says. Even now, there are fears that the job may again be abandoned as the contractors had withdrawn the caterpillar, graders, tractors and other equipment from the site, after patching and tarring a stretch that terminates just in front of a school at the southern end of the town named after Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The school and another, AUD Primary School sharing the same street with the Awolowos’ compound are the beneficiar­ies of the Ogun State government’s efforts at giving the town a befitting face-lift for the funeral. Both schools looked re­splendent and almost brand new in fresh colour coating, hav­ing been newly renovated. Sources in the town inform Sat­urday Sun that a dilapidated roof of a block of classrooms at the OAP School which had long caved in, was replaced and the entire school buildings repainted 72 hours to the funeral grand finale. AUD Primary School, on the other hand, had its wall fence and school gutter that had hitherto both collapsed thereby exposing the pupils to danger, refurbished.
This Thursday morning, a middle-aged man stands at the entry point of the town. Smiling, he hails passing motorists: “E jowo e ba was dupe lowo Amosun o!” (Meaning “Oh please! help us thank Governor Amosun”) leaving a visitor wondering what to make of his seeming excitement- a genu­ine expression of gratitude at the good fortune that flowed into the town on account of HID’s death, or perhaps, mere mock­ery of perceived superficiality underlying it?
However, Ms. Taiwo does not leave you guessing what the average Ikenne person thinks of his town’s position on gov­ernment’s priority index: She says in response to a question: “Well, maybe we should wish that HID could die every year, so we can get government attention, so our roads can be fixed, so our schools too can be renovated”.
Her sarcastic remark underscores fears that the passage of the grand old maid may, in actual fact, signal the end of the awesome political reverence and influence Ikenne has en­joyed so far. “This reverence is conditioned by the existence of a network of powerful and political associates and loyalists all over the country able to make things happen in their re­spective areas of influence. This bond has been nurtured over decades of credible leadership and respect for the deceased old couple. They are the only ones these external forces knew, trusted and respected. The import of this cannot be lost on anyone most especially, people in positions of authority. How­ever, with the link severed now, there is nobody again to fear”, explains a political observer.
However, Ikenne, described as Nigeria’s Nazareth, would appear to be a lucky community, as the dying hope of its win­ter proclaims the birth of a new spring. Just as its old titans are quitting the stage, a new hero has emerged to replace them in Vice President Osinbajo, who also hails from the town! The question is, will he make the difference?

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