PERHAPS as a fitting symbol of the university’s envious place in Nigerian academia, the 2023 international conference of the Obafemi Awolowo University’s Faculty of Social Sciences kicked off with a bang on Wednesday. Built around the theme, Accelerating All-inclusive Development: The Nigerian Journey towards the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, the conference, which had its prologue at the African Centre of Excellence located around the ICT-Driven Knowledge Park within the university’s grounds, witnessed the presence of royalty in academia from around the country and abroad, the business community, and others, was attended by the university’s vice chancellor, Professor Simeon Bamire; the Deputy Vice Chancellors (academic), Professor Olubola Babalola, and Prof Yomi Daramola (administration); other principal officers of the university; the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Professor Philip Akanni Olomola and the chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Professor Joshua Oyeniyi Aransiola, among others.
Billed to address such diverse issues as population dynamics, gender, health and social inclusion, business innovations and economics for all-inclusive development, among others, the two-day conference was kicked off with a keynote address by the Senior Special Assistant to the Federal Government of Nigeria on Sustainable Development Goals, Adesope Orelope, who urged both state and non-state actors to build synergy in achieving the objectives of the initiative, and was moderated by a panel of seasoned academics made up of a Professor of Political Science and ex vice chancellor Vice Chancellor of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Femi Mimiko; Professor (Mrs) Olabisi Aina of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Professor D.O. Yinusa of the Department of Economics – he is also the immediate past commissioner for Budget and Planning, Osun State.
Among those honoured on occasion for monumental contributions to the attainment of a better and much more productive society were the Executive Director of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, Dr. Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, and the President, National Wheat Farmers, Processing and Marketers Association of Nigeria, Princess Olusola Amushitan.
Speaking on the occasion, the university’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Adebayo Banire, said Dr. Awolowo Dosumu was being recognised for her contributions in the area of education and national development. As he noted, the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, of which she is co-founder, “ is dedicated to generating ideas for national development.”
Her achievements, he added, were “not so surprising given the legacy of the sage and father of Yoruba politics, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.” He enthused: “We are happy that the legacy continues even in close to four decades after his demise. “
Tracing the trajectory of development in the defunct Western Region of Nigeria, Awolowo Dosumu, who was represented on the occasion by the Managing Director and Editor in Chief of Nigerian Tribune, Mr Edward Dickson, accompanied by the Editor, Saturday Tribune, Dr. Lasisi Olagunju and the Editorial Page Editor, Nigerian Tribune, Dr Abiodun Awolaja, documented the visionary landmarks of the Obafemi Awolowo government that pioneered developmental paradigms that global agencies would later codify as Millenium Development Goals and later Sustainable Development Goals, the focus of the conference.
Noting that the theme of the conference was reflective of the core needs of Nigerian society as a part of the global configuration, as well as the university and the Foundation’s shared vision, she drew the attention of the audience to Chief Awolowo’s party, the Action Group’s promise of four freedoms in its manifesto, three of which were “freedom from ignorance, freedom from disease and freedom from want”, a development agenda that put people firmly at the centre of the process and which was replicated by the Unity Party of Nigeria, its successor organisation. As she showed, a little less than 40 years before the human development paradigm was developed by some brilliant scholars at the World Bank, Awo and the Action Group had already articulated and begun to implement their people-centered development agenda.
She added: “To further illustrate his trailblazing leadership, a little less than 50 years before the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (later Sustainable Development Goals) came into being, Awo had already made universal education, maternal and child health, poverty reduction, employment opportunities, agricultural reforms, as well as environmentally correct policies including forest reserves and reforestation, priorities of his government.
The labour policy of his government was the most enlightened in the whole Federation, having introduced a 5/- per day minimum wage in 1954 (as opposed to 2/4 in other Regions). Rapid industrialization and provision of infrastructure, amongst other innovative governance strategies, marked Chief Awolowo out an exceptional moderniser in government. His administrative and planning genius and his leadership approach effectively transformed individuals and society.”
Lamenting that none of the 17 SDGs currently being worked on in Nigeria by the United Nations (zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education, among others) had been attained by Nigeria, she pointed out that as the institutional custodian of the intellectual legacy of Chief Awolowo, the Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ Foundation considered it its responsibility to encourage contemporary leaders and the citizenry to make the Awolowo ideas a constant reference point in Nigeria’s quest for development. In order to perform this mission effectively, she said, “it is imperative that the democratic and development-oriented ideals of Chief Awolọwọ remain the Foundation’s definitive guide.”
Awolowo Dosumu, a former Ambassador to the Netherlands, is the recipient of numerous national and international honours. But if the recognition by the OAU, Ile-Ife, is any indication, there are still many more to come.