By Adedara Oduguwa
We are all familiar with the ‘best president Nigeria never had’ and the most celebrated Yoruba figure after Oduduwa (Odumakin, 2012). A man of ideology and words. Although he died many years ago, we cannot stop but continue to mourn his death because; the nation refused growing after decades of his departure.
Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo’s exemplary leadership refuse to depart our memories even as we witness series of serial mediocre occupying leadership positions in our 55year old nation. The problem as often enunciated by some of us is utterly not corruption, but incompetency and lack of ideological orientation.
This Article tends to remind us about one man, who was so determined from the beginning of his life on what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. I find it very significant today in our political economy that our generation (the abused generation), which was failed by the outgoing generation should learn from such exemplary clues.
What is more, I have read this letter over and over in the last five years. And my conclusion is that, being focus is world’s greatest asset. Awo made a loan request of £1,400 from Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola on March 25, 1943 ,(the richest Ijebu man in those days) and promised to pay back by 1955.
Chief Odutola refused him of the Loan, Awo could not travel that year. He buckle up his lace and by August 14, 1944 (one year later) he travelled to England, became a Barrister at law and was called to the Bar in November 1946. Amazingly, by 1954 (A year to the time he promised to pay Chief Odutola the Loan ) , Chief Awolowo was already a Premier in the Defunct Western Region and already giving out Scholarship to over 200 undergraduates (First of its kind in Africa).
I find it a great pleasure, to replicate the full version of the Awoistic dedicatory letter, following a stiff request by friends that the Nigerian Youths need to see and digest this memorial document.
Dear Mr. Odutola,
I think it will be an exceeding saving of time and more business-like if I avoid all sweet preliminaries and go straight into the object of this letter and say that I am writing to ask you to be good enough to lend me a sum of £1,400 (One thousand and four hundred pounds) free of interest for twelve years.
It is a staggering figure! More staggering indeed does it become, when it is realized that I, who am asking for this loan, have nothing in all the world to give as a security for this money, excepting my good faith and my brains which again are of value only so long as I continue to breathe the breath of life!
Nevertheless, I here proceed to outline in brief why i want this big loan from you. And I hope you will be kind enough to sacrifice some time to go through what I have to say, even though , in the end you might find yourself unable to do me this grand favour.
One great ambition of mine since my boyhood days is to be a lawyer, a politician and a journalist, rolled into one. I cherish politics and journalism as a career. ; and I desire advocacy as a means of livelihood. For you will agree with me that a politician or journalist who has no money with which to support himself and family comfortably ,is like a blade which has no razor.
Now, at one time, I was on the verge of making enough money with which I could proceed to England in order to pursue the object of my ambition; but I suffered a twist in my fortune, and I crashed. Ever since, I have tried without success to recover lost grounds, financially. But spiritually and intellectually, I have made appreciable advance in spite of towering difficulties, all of which have now been surmounted.
As you are aware, I have just passed the intermediate Bachelor of Commerce Examination. Next year, I am taking the final B.Com. Having a degree is not my goal; I hate to be a government or mercantile employee. Otherwise, there are opportunities for me here and there to get a suitable and well paid job under government or one of the mercantile houses. As you know, however, once I become an employee of government or a mercantile establishment that is the end to my career as a politician and journalist. I have therefore resolved that under no circumstances will I take up such employment.
That is just by the way. I am now thirty-four years of age. After careful thought, I have come to the conclusion that if I could raise a loan free of interest sufficient to cover expenses , I should go to England , this year and within three years, I should qualify as a Barrister –at –law, and also obtain with Honours the LL.B Degree of London University. In addition this degrees apart from giving me good backing as a solicitor and Advocate will help me immensely as a politician and journalist.
But where on earth could i get the money? Who in Nigeria today could give £1400 free of interest to help his fellow-man? J.Henry Doherty, Esq., of illustrious memory who did the like to many successful Nigerians is no more. But after meticulous, shifting and weighing, I hit upon you.
I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that out of the bounty with which providence blesses your grit and efforts as a businessman, you can well easily afford to advance such a sum of money. I have no doubt too that as a young and progressive man you will be quite happy to give the money for the pursuit of the project for which I desire it.
But then, could you take this risk?
That is the question. As I have said before, I have no security for this loan. Moreover, I want it free of interest. So that you stand to gain absolutely NOTHING in the whole transaction ,except the satisfaction that by helping me to achieve my ambition you are indirectly or even directly helping Nigeria or even Africa.
This risk becomes greater when it is borne in mind that I might die in the course of my studies or immediately after , so that, since I have no security or surety, you stand the chance of losing not only the money but also the satisfaction which you may cherish that you are contributing to the uplift of Africa. It is indeed a great risk; the greatest any man ever embarks upon.
But, this is a big BUT, if I live, as I have no doubt I will do, you will not only get your money back in full, but you will , to the end of your days , have cause to rejoice that you have done one of the most outstanding and most philanthropic acts any human being ever does. Among other things, I shall make excellent use of the money while in England by breaking records in my examination. On my return to Nigeria, I shall strive to be one of the foremost advocates, politicians and writers in West Africa, and while I do all these, I shall make it a point not only to pay your money back in full, but also to repay your kindness and generosity towards me in every way I can.
All the same, it is a big risk! So , Sir, I like you to think seriously about it, and see if you can take it in the interest of a young man who has brains ,industry and determination to back his ambition , but lacks the money. I know we have never been close friends, but I have a shrewd idea that you may take the risk and help me.
On this assumption, therefore, I proceed to the next and last stage of this letter.
I shall not require the whole £1,400 in a lump sum. To start with, you will help me pay a sum of £208-13s-3d to the Inner Temple. I have already received an application form from this Inn of Court; and from the details forwarded, I gather that the sum of £208-13s-3d will cover all the cost of training as a Barrister, examination fees excluded.
When I am ready to sail, you will advance me a sum of £100 to cover passage, provision for my family and any other incidental expenses( NOTE: If i got torpedoed on the way, you would certainly lose this £100 but you will recover the £208-13s-3d).
At the same time you will remit to a London Bank the sum of £491-6s-9d. It is out of this amount that I shall pay the university fees for LL.B course a, and for special courses in political science and journalism, when I land in England. This is to say, the initial advance will total £800.
At the end of the first year, provided I make satisfactory progress in my studies, you will give instruction to the bank to honour all cheques from me drawn on this account. There will be an arrangement to be signed by me on my return.
On my return, I shall require TWO years within which to establish a solid practice and build a good reputation. After these two years, I should commence to pay at least £200 per annum either in monthly, quarterly or annual payments. So that in seven years after the first two years, I should pay back the whole sum of £1,400. That will be TWELVE YEARS from the time you help me to pay this in April or so this year, then I should be due to pay the whole of £1400 by April 1955.
Now, as you yourself will see, this is the farthest limit within which I can pay the money. It may be possible for me to pay the money within THREE to FIVE years of my return. As a matter of fact, the sooner I pay it off, the better. But it is much better to be on the safe side in a matter like this. It is no making promises now which will be difficult to fulfil in future. On the contrary it is better to mention a period of twelve years and pay within SIX or EIGHT years than to mention FIVE YEARS and fail to pay within TEN years. Personally, I prefer that I should fail to get the loan under theses unattractive but sure conditions, rather than succeed in getting it under attractive but precarious conditions.
Now, this is all I have to say. You have my request before you, and the reason why i make the request. It is left to you to decide whether it is worthwhile to take the risk of helping me in the manner outlined above or not.
If you do me the great favour, not only myself and all that are mine, but also God and Africa will be grateful, I shall have no cause whatsoever to grumble or to blame you, FOR THE RISK IS GREAT.
Since this is a very selfish request, I enclose herewith a stamped addressed envelope for a reply to be sent to me under registered cover.
With very kind regards.
(Sgd) Obafemi Awolowo.
(Culled from the book, Chief Obafemi Awolowo: The Political Moses by Adedara Oduguwa, Page 119-123).
Touching and inspiring? Yes, that is the best way to describe it. Many would be amazed that with all the grammars and accolades such requests was turned down, perhaps probably because Chief Odutola couldn’t affords it? Well, far from it.
At a glance, let me introduce Chief Adeola Odutola. Chief Odutola was born in Ijebu-Ode, seven years before the birth of Awo (1902). He was one of the pioneers of modern Nigerian indigenous entrepreneurship (He reigned in Ijebu after D.S.D. Oduguwa of blessed memory who died in 1939). Odutola started as a Court Clerk in the 30s and entered private industry by establishing Damask Stores and Fish Stalls around Western Nigeria (Wikipedia, 2015). He later entered Cocoa and Palm trading business. Odutola later joined Nigerian Youth Movement, transferred his resources gradually into energy, saw milling, gold mining and became major agent to John Holt Nigeria. By 1967 Odutola was already manufacturing Tyres, became first president of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and later President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (Wikipedia,2015).
However, as at the time Awo requested for £1400 education loan from Chief Odutola, The Chief already worths millions of naira. Now the question is why then did he refuse the request? Well, let’s say he was not filled with enough grace to give or God didn’t want to share his glory with him. Because, Awo would have owe everything he achieved in later years to him.
There are lots of lessons that could be learned from this letter:
- Definiteness of purpose: Awo knew what he wanted and he shot at it. He wanted to become three things: A lawyer,a journalist and a reputable politician. He was so definite. Many of us don’t know what we want. To be wealthy is not a goal but a feeling. If you worth billions and you don’t stand for anything, then you have achieved nothing. Letter like this is for you.
- In life-war, the force of determination is greater than that of bullet: Awo was so determined and focused. He did not allow the Loan request refusal to weighed him down. He had three children already (Segun, Tola and Wole) but yet, he was so determined to become a politician, Solicitor and a Journalist. Today, we refer to him as the best president Nigeria never had (politics), Senior Advocate of Nigeria- SAN (Solicitor) andfounder of the Nigerian Tribune (Journalist).
- Destiny cannot be changed nor denied but can only be delayed: Awo was so optimistic of travelling abroad and achieving his goals. He planned it for 1943 but failed since Chief Odutola refused to grant him the request for loan. He was not discouraged! Worked harder for the next one year and travelled by 1944. This also explains why the only person that can fail you is YOURSELF. Never blame the third party for your failure. Take the courage to try again.
Chief Odutola , am sure was ever disappointed for not granting that favour because Awo later installed him as the Ogbeni Oja of Ijebu Ode when he was the serving Premier of Western Region. In addition, “in 1956, however, a general election was called. Odutola contested on the platform of the Action Group and recorded an overwhelming victory. This was not surprising. He had fully become a man of the people. In 1955, he had been elected Chairman of the Ijebu Provisional Council. In 1956, a vote of confidence was passed on him, in recognition of his good management of the Council. He was also re-elected Chairman of the Council. In 1957, the same process was repeated. Odutola remained Chairman till 1959 (Abati,1995:78) .”
Are you surprised? Never be, the man who requested for education loan now a Premier (equivalent to some 7 states governor today) while the billionaire became one of his many Local Govt. Chairmen. They became so close that Chief Odutola was with Awo in the Action Group political party. What a life!
Conclusively, Awo did not only end up becoming his dream, he added good name to it. Today he is celebrated and respected around the world. I am a beneficiary of this name. Thus, you can be greater than your greatest admirer if only you have faith in God and determination.
Remember, for every Chief Odutola in your life, gets Awo!
God bless Africa.