It is exactly 56 years ago this month. It was the news no one wanted to hear. It was as tragic as it was saddening. The whole of Western Region, indeed the whole of Nigeria, was struck as if by thunder. When the news of his death hit the airwaves on 10th of July, 1963, mothers wept with Mama HID. Fathers mourned with Papa Awo. Segun Awolowo was a child of promise whose sun set at noon.
Were Segun Awolowo to be alive today, he would have celebrated his 78th birthday on January 20. He would have likely become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria or a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He might have become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He could also have been the Governor of Ogun State of Nigeria. Or may be a Senator of the Federal Republic. It is to keep the memory of this illustrious star alive that Onigegewura brings you this story today.
Olusegun! Yoruba names are usually reflective of circumstances of birth. Let me digress. I recall a young couple from the old Bendel State who lived in our village, Aba Alaro, in the 70s. They lived as tenants of Baba Idowu. They were treated as part of the family. They spoke smattering Yoruba and I recall that the husband was becoming an expert in spicing his sentences with Yoruba proverbs. A year after his marriage, his wife gave birth to a baby boy. To appreciate the warm hospitality of his host, he named his baby after the first son of his landlord, Idowu!
Idowu ke! Idowu bawo! They asked him why Idowu. He proudly told the villagers that it was to honour his landlord, his adopted father. It was then explained to him that traditional Yoruba names were symbolic of a child’s birth and that Idowu was a name given to a child that came after twins. Without Taiwo and Kehinde, there’s no Idowu. Idowu is never a first born. Their Landlord was addressed as Baba Idowu because he had lost his twins. He was therefore advised to change the name to Olumide, Idowu’s middle name!
Olusegun Awolowo was born on January 20, 1939. For anyone familiar with the history of Obafemi Awolowo, the years preceding 1939 were one of the most tempestuous of his life. Awolowo, as a fledging but ethical businessman, became a victim of the economic downturn of the 1930s. Iya Agba told me that everything became so expensive during that time to the extent that salt literally disappeared from the market. Awolowo lost his investment. His house was auctioned. His prized car, a Chevrolet, was sold as part of the auction. Not only that, his clothes and other properties were also auctioned. And his marriage was less than two years old. It was during this tumultuous period that Segun was born. Oluwasegun – Almighty God gives me victory – is therefore an affirmation of Awolowo’s abiding confidence and faith in God’s power to make him victorious. Olusegun! A child of promise! Awolowo regarded the birth of Olusegun, two months before his own birthday, as the positive turning point. He picked his pen and wrote:
“After rain comes sunshine; After darkness comes the glorious dawn; There is no sorrow without its alloys of joy; There is no joy without its admixture of sorrow; Behind the ugly, terrible mask of fortune, Lies the beautiful soothing countenance of Prosperity; So, tear the mask!”
Segun was a son any parent would be proud of! He inherited Papa Awo’s brilliance. His mates and teachers at Agbeni Methodist School, Ibadan, where he was a pupil between 1943 and 1951 testified to his uncommon intelligence. At a relatively young age, he became the protector of his younger siblings. In 1952, Segun became a student of Igbobi College, Lagos. He also distinguished himself academically and he passed his West African School Certificate Examination in Grade One.
Upon completion of his secondary education, Segun found himself at a junction. He had a career choice to make. Mama HID wanted some of her children to take to business. Papa wanted some of them to read Law. But Papa Awo would never force his view on his children. Young Segun was allowed to decide on his career path. He chose Law.
In 1957, eighteen year old Segun left for London to study at the University of Cambridge. As a student, Segun lived life to the fullest. He was described as an all-round young man. He excelled academically and he was also sociable. Dr. Kunle Olasope, a childhood friend, recalled that Segun was a ladies’ man and wasted no time with the girls which made his friends to give him a nickname “Quicky, Lucky, Lucky.”
On January 20, 1960, Segun came of age when he turned 21. As you already know, 21 was then the age of majority in the United Kingdom. Social Segun naturally threw a party to mark the special occasion. The party which held at 15A Kensington Palace Gardens was attended by his friends and classmates at Cambridge. His sister, Tola Awolowo; Degbola Ademola and his sister, Nike Adegbola as well as Kayode Oyediran were some of the youngsters who attended the birthday party.
Following the successful completion of his Law Degree in Cambridge, he was called to the English Bar in 1962. It was a proud moment for his parents, particularly his father who had been called to the same Bar 16 years earlier when Segun was just 7 years old. Immediately after his call to the Bar, Segun went to visit his best friend, Yomi Akintola (the son of Chief Ladoke Akintola) who was in Dublin at the time. It was from Dublin that Segun went to the airport to come back to Nigeria in August 1962. In another account, Dr. Olasope recalled that Segun came back to Nigeria in January 1963. Despite his outward appearance as a playboy, Segun was an extremely serious young man. According to Wole Soyinka, the Segun who returned to Nigeria was a young man “with a clarified sense of mission, shedding the image of the young, pampered playboy.” Earlier in 1962, the Sole Administrator for Western Region, Dr. Moses A. Majekodunmi, had set up a Commission of Enquiry into the affairs of some statutory corporations in the region. The Commission was headed by Justice George Baptist Ayodola Coker, who later became a Justice of the Supreme Court in 1964. I can see lawyers reading this nodding their heads as they remember the popular case of Vaswani v. Savalakh!
As the premier during the period covered by the commission’s terms of reference, Awolowo was one of the key people summoned to appear before the Commission. It was at this period that Segun returned to Nigeria to assist his father with his appearance before the Commission. His father found in him a dependable companion who was quick to appreciate salient legal issues. A chip off the old block. A son to be proud of. Segun’s first taste of criminal case was as one his father’s counsel in the treasonable felony case. Segun appeared alongside other famous lawyers who appeared for Chief Awolowo before Hon. Justice George S. Sowemimo. People marvelled at the brilliance of the young man who was already his father’s rock at that tender age. One of the people who noticed the morning star was the Attorney General of the Federation, Dr. Taslim Elias. It was certain that Segun was going to be a brilliant advocate like his father. That was until that fateful day! A black Wednesday in the month of July 1963!
Papa Awolowo was in Broad Street Prison in Lagos. Mama HID was at the time in an apartment in Somolu, somewhere off Ikorodu Road. It was Mama’s temporary residence whilst she looked after her husband who was in detention. Segun and Tola were living at their Oke-Bola residence in Ibadan. Tola was at the time working with Shell as a secretary to the regional manager.
Tola had a car but was just learning how to drive. It was a Triumph Herald, white in colour. She had a driver who took her around. Ogunjimi Odunlami was the name of her driver. Ogunjimi was popularly known as No Paddy. That’s the name everyone called him. That’s the name he loved to be called. No Paddy! It could have been a shortened form of ‘No Paddy for Jungle’.
Segun on the other hand was a licensed driver. He was as skillful behind the wheel as he was deft with his legal practice. However whenever he wanted to travel he usually asked his sister to allow No Paddy to drive him. This was to allow him to read and review his case files. At such times, Tola would have to rely on her fiancé, Kayode, a young medical doctor, to drop and pick her from work.
Segun spent the evening of Tuesday, July 9 with some of his friends, including Kunle Olasope, at Osunmarina Restauarant, next door to Radio Nigeria Ibadan. Segun left them early to go home as he was travelling to Lagos on Wednesday. At their Oke-Bola residence, Segun informed his sister that he would need No Paddy the following day to drive him to Lagos. He had discussed with Mama earlier and they had both planned to visit Chief Awolowo at the Broad Street Prison on Wednesday. Mama was eager to see her husband and Segun also had some legal issues to discuss with his father as well as a court appearance in Ikeja. Rashidi Ayinla was woken on Wednesday by the sound of the muezzin calling Muslim faithful to prayer. He swore to himself as he looked at the time. He was already late. He was supposed to have been on his way to Ibadan. He dashed to the place where his stage carriage was parked on the street. It was covered with early morning dews. Mud had splattered allover the contraption. It was clear that the vehicle had seen better days. The mud had partly covered the number plate. One needed to strain the eyes to see that the number was LF 2065.
Rashidi tugged at the door. It was a moment before he realized that he was standing at the passenger door. He swore again and rubbed his face. He felt sleepy. But he had to be in Ibadan! As he drove out of Martins Street in Mushin, he noticed that the vehicle brake was a bit loose beneath his foot. This brake again! He mumbled a silent prayer not to meet any policeman on the road. He knew the consequence of being arrested again. A pedestrian dashed across the road. Rashidi swerved. This brake!
He yawned. He was tired. He was sleepy. He knew that was how he felt some weeks earlier when he was involved in a fatal accident in Abeokuta while driving the same car. He also knew he was not supposed to be driving the car in this condition. His fatal accident case was still pending before a Magistrate Court in Abeokuta. He sped on while trying to keep his eyes open.
On the same Wednesday morning, Kayode Oyediran, Tola Awolowo’s fiancé, was with a friend in Molete when he overheard some people lamenting that Awolowo’s son had been involved a serious accident on the road to Lagos. With his heart beating as if it was going to burst, Kayode approached the crowd and began to ask for details. The response was as expected, conflicting and confusing. Some said the accident was at ten miles from Ibadan. Others said it was fifteen miles from Ibadan. One woman swore with Ogun, the god of Iron, that the accident happened at Aba Nla village. Some said it was a black Peugeot. Others said it was blue. Segun’s car was in fact navy blue. Kayode was in apparent denial. It could not be Segun. Not Segun Awolowo, his prospective brother in law. He told his friend that the people must be mistaken and that Segun was probably with Mama already in Lagos. Dare, his friend, wanted to share his optimism. He suggested that after dropping a mutual friend at UCH they should drive to the supposed scene of the accident.
At UCH, the entire hospital was practically upside down. Kayode learnt that people were looking for Professor Latunde Odeku, a neurosurgeon of international repute, to go to Adeoyo Hospital to attend to a road accident victim who had sustained a head injury. Kayode and Dare decided to drive to Adeoyo first to find out the identity of the accident victim.
At the gate of UCH, he was shocked to see Tola and a relative. Someone had informed Tola that her brother had been taken to UCH after an accident. Tola was already overwhelmed with emotion. Kayode was equally overwhelmed, but he put on a brave face. He told her that they had heard the rumour too but that Segun was not in UCH and that they were on their way to Adeoyo. They left her at UCH and proceeded to Adeoyo, praying and hoping that it would not be Segun that was involved. At Adeoyo, Kayode was informed of the news he dreaded most. He was directed to the room where Segun’s lifeless body was being packed. Tears dripped down the face of the medical doctor. “Am I dreaming?” He whispered to Dare. Dare himself was speechless. Not Segun! Not Segun Awolowo. They both willed the prone body to wake up and give them his boisterous laugh. The Segun that Kayode remembered was the vivacious Segun, the brilliant Segun, Segun the Advocate!
The first visitor Papa Awo had on that Wednesday morning was Abraham Adesanya. Adesanya had been sent with a bundle of document by Chief Anthony Enahoro’s leading counsel. The counsel wanted Awolowo to review the documents and return them to him the following morning. Awolowo collected the documents. They were vital for Enahoro’s defence. Adesanya was still with him when S. T. Oredein and J. O. Lawson were ushered in. They wore a sombre look. Awolowo was not called the Leader for nothing. He was gifted with the ability to read body language. He immediately sensed that something was wrong. Oredein moved close to the Leader. He knew he had to be tactical with how he broke the news. In a barely audible whisper he told Baba Segun that they had just heard in the news that Segun had an accident and that though the driver died on the spot, Segun survived and had been taken to Adeoyo Hospital where doctors were battling to save his life.
Awolowo intuitively knew the worst had happened. The bond between father and son is an eternal bond. “Driver died on the spot; and doctors are battling to save his life!” He mused aloud. Awolowo stood up from his leaning posture, and in an emotion-laden voice, he exclaimed: “The boy has died!” His mind went to his wife. How would HID cope? And he was not there to provide emotional support for the grieving mother! He requested for the use of the prison phone to make some calls. The Superintendent of Prison declined. Order from above. Calmly and without betraying any emotion, Awo requested Adesanya to get in touch with their family doctor to attend to his wife before the tragic news reached her. It was after Adesanya had gone that Awolowo turned on the transistor radio in his cell and heard the news no parent wanted to hear.
Alone. Detained. Bereaved. Segun! Awo’s mind went back to his birth. His first day of school at Agbeni Methodist School, Ibadan! His Grade One result at Igbobi College! His graduation at Cambridge! His call to the English Bar! Ha! “And just as he was at the threshold of the fulfillment of our hopes in him, and the progressive realisation of his own aspirations, he was suddenly cut-off!” But Awolowo did not sorrow. He knew that death was never the end. Death was but a transition. “In the fullness of our individual time, everyone of us will be translated from this terrestrial sphere into the celestial realm.” Awolowo spent the night trawling through Enahoro’s documents. He was making notes on the documents as he went along. It was a comprehensive editorial work that he did.
On Thursday morning, Abraham Adesanya was one of the first set of callers to visit Awolowo to offer his condolences. Adesanya was shocked when the bereaved father handed him the documents, fully annotated. “Is this a man or a spirit?” Adesanya wondered! Awo recalled: “I had worked all night to study the documents and to jot my comments thereon. There was nothing I could do to revive my beloved son. But there was a lot I could do for a friend who still lived, and was fighting to regain his personal freedom.” What a man! What a Legend!
On the same Wednesday morning, Mama had been driven to Ibadan at top speed by her driver, Elijah. HID also felt something was not quite right when Segun failed to turn up as earlier agreed. When someone informed her that Segun had an accident at Abanla, near Ibadan on the old Shagamu-Lagos road, and had been taken taken to Adeoyo for medical attention, she knew she must go to Ibadan immediately.
When Mama got to the old Sahagamu-Lagos road, she asked Elijah to slow down because she saw many people at the scene of the accident. Her maternal instinct told her the worst had happened. She became apprehensive. Why should many people gather together because of that accident? She wondered. By the time she got to Challenge in Ibadan, Mama noticed that all the streets were crowded with people wearing mournful faces and wiping their eyes. It was at that moment that Yeyeoba of Ile-Ife knew that something had happened.
By the time she got to her Oke-Bola residence, T. O. Ogunlesi, Afolabi Ogunlusi and Muyiwa Adebonojo, all of them medical doctors, were waiting for her with their injections. Mama asked them not to bother. The doctors were shocked when Mama told them that she knew what had happened. It was however Kayode Oyediran who formally broke the news to the grieving mother. Professor Oyediran painfully recalled: “We went upstairs to Mama’s room where I held her tightly and told her the truth. It was a most awful moment and experience.”
The news of Segun’s demise reverberated across the land. It was a death like no other. Iya Agba told me that the entire Ile-Ife was shrouded in darkness momentarily that fateful day. Messages of condolence poured in. Over 500 messages were recorded in less than 24 hours. The Attorney General of the Federation, Dr. Taslim Olawale Elias wrote: “His untimely death is a serious blow to the Nigerian Bar!” Olu Akinfosile, the Minister of Communications confirmed what Iya Agba told me when he observed that: “Every home in the land was deeply shocked at the untimely and tragic death of Olusegun.”
From the North, Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello commiserated with Obafemi Awolowo. From the other side of the Niger, Michael Okpara condoled with the first premier of Western Region. Even the Court, on resumption of his father’s trial, paid tributes to the memory of the brilliant advocate.
Dr. M. A. Majekodunmi, the Federal Minister of Health who served as the Sole Administrator for the Region in 1962 sympathised with Baba Segun. In his message, Dr. Majekodunmi recognized Awolowo’s strength of character when he said: “You have borne many trials in the past with Christian fortitude and I know that in this fresh trial, your faith will sustain you.” Segun was buried in Ikenne the same day. A memorial service was later held for him at St. Saviour’s Church, Ikenne. Rashidi Ayinla, the 35 year old driver who caused the gruesome accident, was later arraigned before Iyaganku Magistrate Court, Ibadan and was charged with manslaughter of Segun Awolowo and Ogunjimi Odunlami (No Paddy). The court was informed that Ayinla was already facing another charge arising from a fatal accident at Abeokuta which he committed with the same vehicle. The Magistrate ordered that he should be remanded in custody pending conclusion of police investigation.
On July 19, 1963, the West African Pilot ran an editorial titled We Bad Samaritans! It was authored by Dr. Tai Solarin. Solarin argued that Nigerians’ carefree attitude towards accident victims was a contributory factor in Segun’s death. According to the human right activist; “let us figure out, in rough estimate, how many vehicles must have driven past during those 100 precious minutes. Some say it was about one hour, 30 minutes. That is 90 minutes. For that hour of the day around 9am, there must have been a car or a lorry or anything on four wheels after at least every two minutes.” Yoruba musicians also went to the studio to compose songs to console Awolowo. In his mournful dirge, Kasumu Adio appealed to Awolowo to accept Segun’s death as the will of God: “Awolowo gba n t’Oluwa ba wi! Awolowo gba nt’Oluwa ba wi! Baba to bi Segun n be nile, won fi Segun da won loro! Iya to bi Segun n be nile, won fi Segun da won loro!” Segun Awolowo left behind two children who are keeping his name and legacies alive: Pastor Funke Awolowo and Mr. Segun Awolowo, Jnr. May the soul of Oluwasegun Awolowo continue to rest in perfect peace.
I thank you for your time.
Image Credit: Segun Awolowo, Funke Awolowo and Mama’s autobiography.