My Last Conversation With Mama HID Awolowo

Mama HID Awolowo
Mama HID Awolowo

By Folu Olamiti

My first encounter with Mama, Mrs Hannah Idowu Dideolu  Awolowo, was on November 5, 1983 after the presidential election, in which Papa AWO contested and was perceptibly rigged out.

Mama had accompanied her husband, the symbol of progressive politics in Nigeria, on a visit to the Nigerian Tribune’s new office complex at Imalefalafia Street, Oke  Ado in Ibadan. The Tribune office had just moved from Yemetu Adeoyo area, Ibadan to the new site. It was an historic visit which, according to the then Administrative Manager of Tribune, the late Mr Olumuyiwa, was Papa’s second visit since he founded the newspaper in 1949.

Before that event, I had had close contacts with the sage in my major assignment as the Tribune reporter that covered his Presidential electioneering campaigns in 1979 and 1983, which he contested on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). I traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria with Papa AWO during those memorable periods. It was fun all through, being embedded in the campaign train of the greatest progressive party ever to emerge in the political history of Nigeria.

In the new Tribune office complex, Papa AWO, flanked by Mama, moved from one office to the other as they inspected the facilities so far installed. The inspection tour of the complex was about to end when Papa suddenly sighted me and called out my surname. Mama’s attention focused on me immediately and I could see a look of surprise on her.

“So you are Folu Olamiti, “Omo Baba” (Papa’s God Son), she interjected. For me, it was an encounter of a lifetime, more so as Mama from that time developed special interest in me. From then on, I must pay courtesies to Mama specially each time I went to Ikenne for one assignment or the other and enjoyed her warm hospitality. Indeed, the passing away of the sage in 1987 made the bond between Mama and Me grow stronger. Mama drew me closer each time, leaving me with a strong determination to be absolutely loyal to Tribune just as I increasingly became a caucus member of the Awolowo’s family.

The situation remained so till July 3, 2015 when Mama entreated me to visit her in Ikenne. For me, the visit was divinely inspired. This is because a week earlier, I had a dream and saw Mama spotting a sparkling white apparel and looking every bit resplendent as she ushered me into the larger family sitting room. As I settled down for our usual mother and son discussions with eagerness to tap more from her wisdom, I woke up.

After the dream, I put a call to Mama and her secretary picked and handed over the receiver to her. I felt her usual strong and clear voice immediately. She was excited to hear from me and we fixed the appointment for 2.00 pm.

Mama was ready and waiting for me. She looked splendid in a native dress. Typical of Mama, she was seated on the dot of 2.00 pm while I was 15 minutes behind schedule. The guilt of arriving late for the meeting hit me as I sighted her seated in her favourite corner of the spacious sitting room. Then I thought about the impressive ways she usually arranged her time and schedules. She was ever smart and mentally alert. You could hardly fault Mama on any plan she drew for engagements with people or groups. Even in Her old age, she usually worked round the clock

I had had the privilege of paying several visits to Mama, yet my last visit was touching and memorable. She beckoned on me to move closer. Almost immediately she intoned; “Folu I have aged. My legs are weak. They can no longer support my body. My hearing is impaired and my eyes are also fading. “I interjected quickly and said, “Mama there is nothing to worry about. Your complaints are traits of old age”.

I assured her that age notwithstanding, her elements; most especially her mental alertness was still intact. I prayed with her and expressed conviction that she would live to clock 100 years while the world would love to celebrate that rare grace. Mama seemed not to follow the track as she kept a low tone in response. Then she broke into silence as if to communicate some doubt and premonition on what was to come.

Mama dozed off for few seconds and became awake only to shift her thoughts to Tribune. She expressed joy on the rising and flourishing status of the Tribune titles. She was full of hope that the management would be able to keep the flag flying for long.

She said: “I am indeed happy with the resounding progress the Tribune titles have attained. It gladdens my heart and lifts my soul. I hear that the paper is one of the best in the country today. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Ibadan to formally commission the multimillion Naira printing machine they just bought. Though I was feeble, I was wheeled into the Production Room and I laid my hands on the machine to bless it for effective performance. I prayed for the entire members of staff and those who had contributed one way or the other to the success story. I assure you Folu that even when I cross over to the next world God will continue to grant my heart desire to keep Tribune going stronger and stronger”

From her countenance, one could see that the concluding part of that statement was more than just a wish. It was a fervent prayer to God to preserve and sustain Tribune long beyond her time.

On Monday 16 November 2015, Mama symbolically made her last appearance at the Tribune House in Ibadan. It was also the 66th year anniversary of Nigerian Tribune – the oldest surviving newspaper in Nigeria – a newspaper long ago nicknamed by Papa as ‘Apamaku’ (never say die newspaper). Mama’s lifeless body laid there as hundreds of both Tribune Staff and other well-wishers bid her farewell in the premises of a newspaper she toiled and laboured to nurture to greater height.

It goes without saying that the best honour those Mama left behind in Tribune can give her is to continue to work harder and ensure to keep the company’s flag flying and NOTHING should be allowed to truncate this lofty legacy of the Awolowos.

Mama touched my life a lot. She saw me through the still and turbulent waters during my 32 years sojourn in the Tribune. Of note was the management crisis that rocked the Tribune in 1997 and which prematurely edged out a managing director, two executive directors including me and a chief accountant. Not only that, the boardroom politics polarized the entire members of staff. Those tagged “Olamiti boys” were shoved out.

However Mama was not comfortable with the board’s decision and few months after she started pressing for my recall. She strongly believed I deserved better treatment. When the decision to bring me back was finally ratified, I insisted that a consultant should be engaged for the re organization and repositioning of the company.

I remember Mr Allan Olabode of the 21st Century Communication was brought in from Lagos and shouldered the responsibility to rebrand the titles to meet up with the ongoing wave of change in the media world. The rebranding got a boost when Gaius, a man with creative mind came up with a logo which is still the face of Tribune to date.

Olabode began a recruitment exercise that culminated into an interview exercise chairmaned by the late Mr Tunji Oseni. Interview session was held in Lagos witnessed by the Publisher, late Chief Wole Awolowo and Dr Mrs Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu. The outcome of that interview brought back majority of the “Olamiti Boys” who today are the backbones of the re-branded Tribune titles.

However one of them who did not return with the team but is still part of the family is Professor Wale Adebanwi. My recall tallied with Tribune’s 50th year anniversary. The celebration of this event also marked a big turning point for the Newspaper till date.

Having watched and interacted with Mama for decades, I can conclude that she was a woman of clean heart. She found it difficult to hold malice against anyone. She abhorred indolence, hypocrisy and liars. She was a symbol of purity, as she always ensured that her surroundings remained clean and spotless. I never witnessed any occasion where she raised her voice against anyone even in anger when provoked. If she felt she was right on an issue, she stuck firmly to that position. And if she wanted something done she would press till it was done. Her strong point was her ability to sustain the political dynasty of Chief Awolowo. That accounted for the reason AWO’s residence in Ikenne remained a Mecca before and after the exit of Papa AWO for great politicians from both sides of the divide in Nigeria. I found It amazing how politicians trooped to Ikenne to tap political wisdom from the woman Papa described as a “Jewel of inestimable value”



    Incredibly, Mama allowed many around her to fly on the wings of the name Awolowo, which she guarded very jealously till she breathed her last. Domestic staff in Ikenne will not forget Mama in a hurry. Many of Mama’s staff came in as bachelors and spinsters, but today, they are married with Mama picking up the bills of their children’s education up to university level.

    Let me sum up by saying Mama “rere” (Good mother) is gone and never to be seen and heard again, but the legacies which she left behind will continue to live so loud after her.

    For me, Mama, in death seems to be echoing the words of Apostle Paul to the people of Corinthians as captured in 2 Corinthians Chapter 13 Verse 11:

    “Finally, brethren, farewell, be perfect. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace and the God of love and peace shall be with you all. May the gentle soul of Mama continue to rest in peace.


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