The words of Shakespeare resonated loudly in Ikene, Nigeria, – ”When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” And like it was 28 years ago when Chief Obafemi Awolowo died, the entire country was shaken by the death of Mama, Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo, (Yeye Oodua) a jewel of inestimable value.
If death hadn’t come knocking, late HID Awolowo, matriarch of the Awolowo dynasty would have been celebrating her 100 years birthday today.
“She was the only child of her mother. Her Mother was very anxious of giving her the best training. She felt that if she stayed at home with her, she might over-pamper her and she took her to a Pastor in Lagos and that was where she grew up. Mama grew up under a very strict upbringing and thus was very disciplined. If you did not do anything right, all she needed to do was just one look and you would understand what she meant.”
Her marriage to Papa and her sterling qualities
They were introduced to each other by a cousin of Mama in Ikenne here and after the introduction, things became firmed up and that was how they got married. She was a very quite person, very enterprising. After they got married, Papa initially said she should not work but the business traits in her could not allow that. After some time, Papa permitted her to engage in trading. And since then, she had carried on working, she showed outstanding business acumen.
Even the week she died, she was still asking about her business, monitoring her sales and stocking her stores in Ikenne. She ran The Tribune until she died. She was a very hard working woman. Her hard work paid off when Papa went to the United Kingdom, leaving her with three children.
She did not only manage the home very well, ensuring that nobody lacked anything, she also sent money to Papa in the UK. It was a surprise to even Papa then that she was able to manage the home and also send money to him. So she carried on working, although at that time her store was within the premises of our home. She was a seamstress, what is popularly known now as Fashion Designer.
She was also selling fabrics. She was a complete entrepreneur. She knew how to turn everything into money. Again, this quality also paid off during the Awolowo crisis, when Papa was incarcerated. She felt that the environment was just too hostile for my sister and me to get any meaningful education.
She took the best decision then by sending us abroad for studies and she did everything possible to ensure that there was no hitch. That was very courageous of a woman. That also helped in giving us the best education. I also gathered from some documents I read recently, including Papa’s letter to her while he was in prison that she also spent her money on the party then and they both agreed that the money would not be refunded. Both of them were a team.
At a point, it was clear that Papa kind of politics was being beaten to a retreat. Although there was no room for that now, but she felt that the best was to become non-partisan.
She really felt bad about the politics of bitterness between 1962-1966. Everything was bad but my conclusion was that they both had a life-machine which could only be propelled by both of them, because I don’t how both of them kept on and the question of either of them giving up never arose.
Her kind of food
She liked amala a lot.
How she spent her last day
She woke up that Saturday Morning, got ready for a meeting of extended family in Ikene. It was a monthly meeting of extended family members. Since, I have been here in Ikene, she would ask me to represent her at the meeting but on that day, she decided to attend the meeting and she presided over the meeting. She was there before any one. She waited for others. So, the meeting started by 10:am.
The meeting dwelled on the plans for her centenary birthday. And since a committee was raised to firm up arrangement on that, we asked her to retire back into her room after a few hours and at 11:30am she went into her room. Co-incidentally, we were having our own meeting on the same event too and she was invited and she came.
We sang for her, and she prayed and blessed us more than how she used to do and then retired back into her room. After a few minutes, suddenly, I was called and I rushed into her room, and when my sister and I got there, she was gasping for breath and moments after she stopped breathing. Certainly, we did not expect she would leave us that day or soon. So, it was a shock.
She lived a fulfilled life
“She was absolutely fulfilled. In this world, the most successful people are those who discovered their actual life-machine and stayed with it.
It was very clear that when you reflect on her last moment, she was very comfortable. She embraced the end, she breathed her last with ease and I could see that she was happy. That is not to say that she had achieved everything or had solved every nagging issue, but I think she was satisfied that she had done her best.” No doubt it was a life well lived and that calls for celebration. Adieu Mama.
By Ishola Balogun