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Awo's religious influences

Published by Tribune on Wed, 16 May 2012

This year marks the 25th year of the demise of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who transited on the 9th May, 1987. The year equally marks the 75 years of marriage between Awo and his 'jewel of inesteemable value', Chief HID Awolowo, having wedded on December 26, 1937. THE background of Chief Obafemi Awolowo was rooted in an environment in which both the old and new religious values, ideas and doctrines competed for dominance. There was this initial conflict between the educated Christians and traditionalists within Ikenne township, the birth place and hometown of Chief Awolowo. Apart from the larger environmental influence, Awolowo's immediate family environment, in which the three religions (Christianity, Islam and traditional religion) were practised unabated, provided a greater religious influence on Awolowo in his early and later life. It will be recalled that Awo's sister was a devout Muslim. Awolowo's father, David Shopolu Awolowo, was one of the first Christians in Ikenne to be converted in 1896. Awo's grandfather was a member of the traditional iwarefa, the inner circle of the rulling traditional Osugbo group at Ikenne. However, Awo's paternal grandmother, Adefule, whom he adored, and who regarded Awo as the reincarnate of her own father was an Ifa traditional religion devotee. Chief Awolowo stated this clearly in his book "My early life" thus: "It was the practice with granny to get the Ifa priest to consult the oracle on certain occasions, especially, when a child was born to or by one of her own children ....' And this influence might have had a religious dimension. The reason being that Awo's paternal grandmother's traditional religious influences competed with the Christian religious influences of Awo's father because in 1939, Chief Awolowo,in one of his write-ups in the newspaper entitled "Making use of juju" advocated whole-heartedly the use of African juju. In the article, Awo intelligently extolled the intrinsic cultural values of traditional African medicine or juju. Late Chief Herbert Ogunde, in his lifetime, once disclosed that one of the attributes he really adored in Awo was his ability to combine his Christain belief with his traditional values and undertakings. Awolowo's father, Shopolu, spiritedly and physically attacked traditional worshippers. He once led a team of Christian faithful to destroy the shrine of Oluwaiye, the god of smallpox at Ikenne. And this background of a committed Christian father could have influenced Awe's belief in Christianity as a religion. The environment in which Awo was nurtured, conditioned him to have had sufficient interaction with traditional Ogboni cults, the Aborigines e.t.c. And he had been well entrenched in the traditional religion of his people because of his royal and noble background at Ikenne. Awolowo did not, however, allow his own religious persuasion to affect his traditional capacity and liberal mind on other people's religious beliefs. This explains the reason why Awo, as the traditional title holder of Losi of Ikenne, could as well be the Baba-Ijo of St. Saviours' Anglican Church, Ikenne, and could equally accept to be the patron of Wesley group at Agbeni Methodist Church, Ibadan. There are facts that Awo sometimes worshipped in mosques as situation demanded during his premiership, while he equally gave Islam, Christianity and traditional religions their due respect and rights in state affairs. His programmes were not based on religious discrimination. It is on record that Awo's premiership in the old Western Region witnessed the establishment of the first Pilgrims Welfare Board for Moslems in May 1958, though, a practising Christian. As a child, Awo had a measure of critical mind though Christian religious activities because of his resentment to prayer according to rules. He further stated in his book, Awo- The Autography. "On arrival at school, we lined up outside and later marched into the tune of a school song. The prayer would have been a pleasurable item but for the rigid rules with attendant threat. You must close your eyes and must not talk or whisper to your neighbours whilst it lasted". Awo attended different mission schools like Roman Catholic School, Itesi, Ibara Anglican School, Imo Wesleyan School and Itesi Wesleyan Baptist Boys High School, where efforts were made on so many occasions to convert him from one denomination to another. An example was when Mr. Gladstone Coker, Awo's benefactor, who gave him the name Jeremiah tried to convert him to Roman Catholicism. All these Christian denominational influences might have explained the reason why Awolowo later in life found it not very difficult to be a member of Agbeni Methodist Church, Ibadan, and also a committed member of St. Saviour's Anglican Church, Ikenne. Hence, Awo's liberal attitude to Christian denominational groups could have been conditioned by his series of experience at schools of different denominations. Until the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC) staged an unprecedented Ceremonial procession at Awolowo's funeral in 1987, many people were not aware that he was a Rosicrucian, fully involved in the mystical teachings. In August 1930, Awo lost his job and this marked the beginning of his spiritual crises. He had to reflect very critically about life generally, having lost his father at a very tender age.One could say that Awo put the Holy Bible first because he .was a vicarious reader and student of the Holy Bible. He more often than not usually quote from the Holy Bible in both private and public gathering. And equally used the Holy Bible throughout his prison life. He, however, believed that all religions worship only one God in different ways. Finally, Chief Awolowo could be said to always carefully select and use spiritual ideas he considered best from various sources. And this was rooted in his family liberal background on religion, his interwoven experiences in denominational mission Schools, and his exposure to variety of books by great authors. And Awo eventually died believing in life after life, and that he would reincarnate elsewhere. Oladipo, Director of Information, Education and Sports, wrote in from Ogun State
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