By Elere Samuel
It is rather unfortunate that a lot of us do not cherish the efforts of some of our forebears. We do not know the pains they went through in achieving the bits they were able to achieve. And worst still due to the arrogant sense of entitlement that has taken over majority of our youths, they easily resort to abuse, curses and blackmail of those they perceived in the picture painted above. I am particularly weighed down when a young man said he was ‘onijekuje ole’.
In response to these recent deluge of abuses and lies on a facebook group ‘Okun Our Heritage’ against Chief Awoniyi, I will like to correct the age long lie peddled around by the political enemies of Chief SB Awoniyi, that he was the one that sold Okun people to the north and called us Hausa/ Fulani.
Firstly, Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi was born in 1932 while the entire Okun land where he was born was carved into Northern Nigeria in 1914; that was eighteen (18) good years before his birth. Now, to all that believed Awoniyi sold us to the North, the question here is that, how could a man that was not yet born contribute to such activity?
When in 1954 Mr. S.A Ajayi from Ogidi, Mr. Fagbemi Adeleye from Ekinrin Adde, Mr. Jethro Adebola from Kabba, Mr. Bello Ijumu from Aiyetoro Gbedde and Mr. R.T Alege from Mopa were contesting in the first election in Okun land to occupy seat in the Northern House at Kaduna, Awoniyi was just 22 years old and had just graduated from Barewa Collge Zaria. That same year (1954) he proceeded to the Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, from there to University College Ibadan where he graduated in 1959.
The irony is that no Okun man had blamed all these forebears from Okun Nation for participating in Northern politics those early days when Awoniyi was only a youth enjoying school in northern Nigeria.
Secondly, In the News Magazine of January 2004, Awoniyi said the following while responding to Richard Elesho about him calling us Hausa/Fulani:
‘Now to my being a Yoruba man. My name is Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi. You cannot be more Christian than Sunday. My father and his friends founded the Baptist Church in my home town of Mopa… I am a Nigerian. I am a Northerner. I am a Yoruba from Mopa in Okun land of Kogi state’.
Also, responding to Mr Kola Ologbondiyan in an interview with Late Chief SB Awoniyi published in a Lagos based Newspaper, Thisday, of December 20 2003 while the journalist was pressing on his ancestry in relation to him accepting the leadership role of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF); Awoniyi said, ‘I am a Northern Yoruba Christian’.
About verifiable impacts in Okun land, Awoniyi as the first Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance when Kwara State was created in 1968, While Gilbert Obatoyinbo was the Chief Commercial Officer then started the lobby for the construction of Ilorin to Kabba road which was agreed upon and shared to indigenous contractors before he left for further studies abroad in 1970. As you know, Ilorin was a Provincial headquarters just like Kabba but while Ilorin became State capital, Kabba was left behind. So, when the workforce of Kwara including a huge chunk from Kabba province came down to Ilorin, Awoniyi made it a priority to connect Ilorin to Kabba by a trunk A road.
However in the mid Seventies when he was no longer with Kwara State Government the pace of the road contract slowed culminating in the termination of the resurfacing work from Ilorin at Omuaran. By this time Awoniyi was approaching retirement, he once again drew attention to the deplorable nature of the road connecting Oyi Local Government to the State capital Ilorin in conjunction with Obatoyinbo who served as Secretary to the military government of Col. Ibrahim Taiwo in 1975 . This time the efforts yielded result again which brought about the contract that was re-awarded to a foreign company Dumez for the stretch that covers Okun land from Eruku .
Beside the road, Awoniyi was the one that literally seized the electrification plan that was to pass through Okene from Benin to Lokoja. Mr. Columbus was the name of the white man that did the feasibility studies, Silas Daniyan was very instrumental to this agitation and the contractors had to factor in their request because Daniyan’s class mate and friend was in charge of the Ministry of power. They used a cartographic pen marker to draw the sketch of the first communities to be electrified which were not in the original plan; that was how Mopa and Kabba were noted and connected to the original plan. The commissioning of the light in this part of the world was done in Mopa, 1977.
To buttress some of my points here, many Nigerians know Simon Kolawole as a diligent writer that verifies his facts deeply before going to press. He was a former Editor of Thisday Newspaper and currently the MD/CEO of the Cable. In his article entitled …What Did He Want to Tell Me? Published in his Simon Kolawole Live on 12/02/2007 wrote as below:
I loved Awoniyi for one thing – he never ran away from his identity. Northern Yoruba are usually accused by South-west Yoruba of eating from both sides of the divide – claiming to be Northerners or Southerners depending on the circumstance. You could never accuse Awoniyi of that. Charged with being a lackey of the Hausa/Fulani/Muslim North, he once replied with humour, saying: “My name is Sunday Awoniyi. You cannot be more Christian than Sunday. You cannot be more Yoruba than Awoniyi. In fact, Awoniyi and Awolowo mean essentially the same thing.”
He consistently said he was a “very, very proud Yoruba man from Northern Nigeria”. He said when Lord Luggard was mapping Nigeria along North/South lines, “he did not consult my people. I was not the one who told him to group my people with Northern Nigeria. There are Yoruba in Benin Republic,” he said. “There are Yoruba in Cuba. There are Yoruba in Delta [Itsekiri]. I am a Yoruba man from Kogi State. I am okay with that.”
Some Southerners, partly out of mischief and partly out of ignorance, describe anyone from the North as “Hausa”. There are over 200 ethnic groups in the North that are not Hausa or Fulani. In Kogi State alone, you have Igbirra, Igala, Bassa, Ogori, Okun and Nupe. Adamawa State can boast of over 50 ethnic groups! Plateau will count dozens. Are Tivs, Idomas and Igedes in Benue Hausas? Do you classify the Kaje, Kagoro, Jabar, Kataf and Marwa ethnic groups in Kaduna as Hausas? This is one of the topics I intend to treat in my book – but unfortunately without the informed input of Awoniyi. What a shame.
Aside politics, Awoniyi used his influence to help our community. An accomplished civil servant who retired as a Super Perm Sec, he was said to have influenced the decision to bring electricity to our town in 1977. Awoniyi set up a plastic manufacturing plant, Boja Industries – in the Arifun Industrial Estate, Mopa, where there is a cluster of manufacturing firms – to create employment for youths. He contributed significantly to the building of a new structure for our church and the building of a civic centre. Remarkably, too, Awoniyi built a modern market in the town and donated it to market women. That was in 1988. He helped many Okun sons and daughters to set up businesses and secure jobs.
Awoniyi was an excellent orator. Even his opponents acknowledged as much. He spoke our dialect – Yagba – with flair. He spoke Yoruba with panache. He spoke English with authority. I don’t understand Hausa, but I know the way the man spoke it sounded sweet. He led the Arewa Consultative Forum as someone who commanded respect, not as a second-class Northerner. While many will see Northern Nigeria as the enclave of Hausa/Fulani Muslims, Awoniyi made a point that a minority can earn his way to the top in the most daunting circumstances. He did not convert to Islam and he did not deny his Yorubaness. Awoniyi was a great man – a man of industry and integrity.
Dear God, what did Awoniyi want to tell me when he asked me to call him? And why on earth did I procrastinate?
The above words of Simon Kolawole and others are verifiable facts from published contents, but the average Okun youth will prefer to feed on hearsay, gossip and rumors to attack people.
Truth be told, as far as relationship with the Northern power brokers is concerned, Awoniyi was the most outstanding star from Okun land hitherto due to dint of hard work, diligence and integrity. This also made him to be at the receiving end of all forms of accusations and condemnation, leaving out other Okun stars in the North, possibly because as a Yoruba proverb goes ‘it is hard to miss an Elephant’ (Taba rerin kasopa rerin, ajanaku koja morinkan firi’. So, he was not a perfect man but show me who has done better since his demise.
Prof. Bode Adegboro once mentioned how Chief Awoniyi influenced the appointment of Prof. Adeoye Adeniyi from Ogga as VC University of Ilorin. He mentioned how Awoniyi influenced the appointment of Prof. Taiwo Daramola as CMD Unilorin Teaching Hospital and the appointment of Chief Harry Osha as Director of Nigeria Industrial Development Bank. We heard how Awoniyi through his contact with Gowon who was his classmate and friend at Barewa College was influential to Gen. Jemibewon’s appointment as Governor of Western region. There are so many others.
Awoniyi based on his northern connection was influential to the creation of Oyi Local Government, they did not want to give it to us based on population despite the fact that Kabba was of same Provincial headquarter Status as Ilorin which has become state capital…
It was Awoniyi’s influence as Board of Trustee Chairman for PDP that paved way for the appointment of Ministers from Okun under Obasanjo; you can cross check these from Chief Akanmode and Gen. Jembewon. Since his death what have we gotten?
It was Awoniyi’s calculation that Okun wouldn’t be able to beat the other two groups initially except we support them first and appeal to them to support us later that made him support Audu in 91 against Daniyan, in doing that he positioned an Okun man as deputy, thinking if all went well, we could take over. It was actually a very well calculated plan based on the history of the only election that had joined us in 1954; though it was not a pleasant one for those of us that wanted Chief Daniyan.
Awoniyi was the one that single handedly hijacked PDP gubernatorial ticket for Arch. Olorunfemi against all odds. I watched his interview on NTA Tuesday live as he was defending his position. This birthed the Okun Agenda. How did our people react before A.T Ahmed frustrated the efforts by aligning with Igala overnight?
Awoniyi left Lagos, Kaduna and other cities, to establish a multi-million naira plastic factory in Okun land that fed many families and trained many students for many years as the only functioning factory in the entire Okun land before it folded.
Awoniyi single handedly built a market in Okun land, built a primary school that have more than fifteen class rooms, built a multi-million naira Civic center hall and a Pastor’s residence.
These are few of the things this man did. Are they not of impact? Then some of you because of freedom are saying all these against him? Show me who has done better. Let us learn to cherish people that did their bit and pray to God to empower us to do more, instead of staying online abusing a man that died at 75, fulfilled.