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Review of Sunday Awoniyi's Book
 

Book Title:             Sunday Awoniyi: Selected Speeches &

                                Writings (Volume One)

No. of Pages:       556 pages

Publishers:           Spectrum Books Limited (2008)

Book Reviewer:   Dr. Bukar Usman



Sunday Awoniyi: His Legendary Qualities  


Introduction

Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Ipineteyan Awoniyi, Aro of Mopa, who is popularly known simply as Sunday Awoniyi was born on April 30, 1932 and died on November 28, 2007. The book titled Sunday Awoniyi: Selected Speeches & Writings, which I undertook to review partly as a tribute to my highly respected senior in the public service and partly for its relevance, the Sunday Awoniyi Foundation compiled it posthumously from his archives. It was presented at the launching of the Foundation on April 30, 2008, his birthday. It has 9 sections, classifying Chief Awoniyi's speeches in the following areas: public service, activities of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), speeches on the life and times of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto whom he wholeheartedly served as an aide, tributes to friends and associates, letters to the Presidency, press interviews on various matters, motivational talks to interest groups and the speeches he delivered at various book launchings. A speech at an event of November10, 2007, which he could not deliver because the event was postponed is included in the book. It is instructive and somewhat ironic that he expressed extreme reluctance to deliver the speech and indeed he did not do so before he died.      


‘Political Will'

Associates of Chief Awoniyi indicated that around the time of his death, he was anxiously looking forward to relinquishing the ACF Chairmanship and devote his time to writing his memoirs. Alas! The cold hands of death did not allow him to do so, thereby denying us, regretfully full access into his mind. This is unfortunate as several other notable personalities had passed on without writing their memoirs. However, Chief Awoniyi's posthumous publication sensibly put together by the Foundation contains more than enough materials to justify our belief that he stood and lived for high principles worthy of emulation. In that respect, the publication could well serve as his ‘political will'. What we miss therefore is his admirable literary skills in prose, which clearly manifested in the publication under review.


The Bridge Builder

Chief Awoniyi often modestly describes himself as a "normal peaceful, self-effacing, low profile" person trained as a civil servant to seek compromise behind the scenes. For much of his life,  he lived by and promoted the values of justice, fair play, concern for all people, hard-work, religious accommodation, and enjoyed sound relationship with others irrespective of politics, religion and ethnicity. In pursuing these ideals which he said should be practiced and not mouthed, Chief Awoniyi dedicated himself to service as a bridge builder among the various segments of the Nigerian society. In the process, Chief Awoniyi did not hesitate to retire from the service to protest what he felt were unfair treatments meted out to two of his close associates: Alhaji Ismail Babatunde Jose and Dr. Taslim O. Elias. This was followed some years later with an emotional birthday wishes letter to Dr. Jose, in which Chief Awoniyi remarked that "It is known only to a few friends that the way you were treated and the cavalier method of the retirement of Dr. T. O. Elias were the events that finally made me give notice of my retirement from the civil service. I resolved also that, with God helping me, I would never accept any local, state or federal appointments after retirement". It is noteworthy that Chief Awoniyi kept his word.


Loyalty

Chief Awoniyi was an embodiment of deliberate and rational loyalty to a good leader. He was to Sardauna what Alhaji Wada Nas was to General Sani Abacha to whom he remained absolutely loyal and, like a true disciple, he relentlessly espoused his virtues up to the end. Chief Awoniyi drew a lot of inspiration from Sardauna and so continued at every turn to harp on the values of truth, justice, fair play and brotherliness which he attested the Sardauna preached and lived for. There is no doubt that although Chief Awoniyi as Sardauna's aide had imbibed some of his virtues by association, he himself must have had his innate qualities for both personalities to so attract each other so enduringly.


Civil Service Career

Chief Awoniyi started his public service career in 1959 and retired in 1977. He had a successful career, rising to the post of a Permanent Secretary within only seven years. His voluntary retirement at the early age of 45 clearly underlines the import of the saying that it is not how long you served but how well you have done so. Little wonder Chief Awoniyi's writings and speeches provide invaluable lessons to bureaucrats and politicians as well as the youth whom he yearned for during his life time to always maintain close relationship to "...tell them what the country has been through, (and) what little experience I have..."


Partisan Political Activities

While in retirement, Chief Awoniyi participated in partisan politics until he reached 70, yet he disliked being described as a politician. Rather, he insisted on being referred to as "...Administrative Officer sucked into political activities..." On leaving the civil service in 1977 until he quit partisan political activities, Chief Awoniyi had been in the fore front in the formation of political parties including the ANC, NRC and PDP all in the bid to realise his commitment to the development of "strong, well-run, disciplined, self-sustaining national political parties." He almost achieved this vision through the formation of the PDP. In the end he said he was disappointed by subsequent political developments in the party and in the nation as a whole.         


NGO Activities

The Arewa Consultative Forum which was formed on March 7, 2000 was coined by His Highness, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari the Emir of Ilorin, who presided over the affairs of the organization briefly before Chief Awoniyi took over.  From then on Chief Awoniyi went on all cylinders propagating the aims and objectives of the ACF, which he galvanized into the formidable NGO it is today. Chief Awoniyi was ever ready to assure supporters and critics that ACF, a non-partisan organization, was out to forge unity, peace and progress in the North under the firm belief that: "A riotous, intolerant North will be a liability to the unity, harmony  and development of this nation. Our federation is so closely knit that instability in one part affects the whole. A united, peaceful and stable North can only strengthen our federation". 


Transparency

Chief Awoniyi was a strong and consistent advocate of transparency, particularly in the electoral process of this country, believing that if you win clean nobody would complain. That belief was the basis for his unflinching commitment to transparency in the electoral process which he saw as the most important factor in nurturing the democratic culture. It was against this background that Chief Awoniyi expressed pessimism in March 2003 and predicted that future elections were likely to be worse than the 1998/1999 elections because the stakes were higher. Subsequent events have resoundingly proved him right.

 

Systems and Procedures 

As a veteran bureaucrat and a reputable protector and promoter of probity, especially regarding public property, Chief Awoniyi advocated the entrenchment of systems and procedures in public service as a guarantee for "...orderly, predictable and quantifiable progress and development...' He abhorred corruption stating that what was ill-gotten could not endure and that the best judge of the success in fighting against corruption was the common man; and also that the litmus test of any policy or action should be based on how it affects the well being of the common man. That was why Chief Awoniyi judged leaders more by their willingness to listen and take advice. For him, whenever a hard decision is contemplated, there was always the need to "choose the time very carefully" and "prepare the minds of the people patiently and sympathetically over a period before implementing it." Leaders should always tell the people the truth regarding government policies and actions, to avoid creating public apathy and mistrust. To underscore the virtue of integrity in leadership, Chief Awoniyi went down memory line and recalled that as Premier of the North, the Sardauna declined to read a campaign rally speech which promised a bridge and a health centre to a community because the projects were neither in the budget for the year nor the Five Year Development Plan. Sardauna said he would rather lose the community's votes than tell them lies. 


Given Chief Awoniyi's background as a security administrator, he had a strong desire to enhance the crime-busting capacity of the Nigeria Police Force. He said the solution is in FEET that is, to Fund, Equip, Encourage and Train members of the Force. Chief Awoniyi had equal sympathy for the plight of the people of the Niger Delta. Once again, he drew inspiration from Sardauna's timely warning that: "Those who may feel that the problems of the oil producing areas are not in their backyard, and feel a safe distance from all communities should be reminded that Nigeria is an entity within one environment; decay in one part will ultimately affect the rest of the nation. The fate of the mineral producing communities should be a concern for all."      


Quiet Operator             

Chief Awoniyi was one of the promoters of the defunct political machine, the All Nigeria Congress (ANC) party. He was one of the founding fathers of the PDP and participated in preparing its manifesto. Chief Awoniyi was a foundation member of the ACF. His deftness and knowledgeable qualities about the contemporary political environment were obvious. However, in accord with his characteristics of being a quiet and behind-the-scene-operator, not many knew the formidable role he played in terminating the Third Term saga. The book gives a good account of what he accurately foresaw, the challenges and how the misadventure was doomed.


Conclusion  

It is perhaps most fitting to conclude this review by recalling here Chief Awoniyi's parting words: "As we prepare for the great beyond, we should work and pray to be remembered for sowing the seeds of good accord..." There goes Chief Awoniyi whose inspiring National Honours Award citation reads like an epitaph: "A man of great integrity and sense of public service, a candid and fearless adviser, a brilliant, innovative, yet, self-effacing officer."


Sunday Awoniyi: Selected Speeches & Writings is a must read for the bureaucrats, the current and budding politicians, youths, researchers and the general reader to savour  the legacy of the  distinguished administrator, politician, a great thinker. His inspirational expositions for entrenching an enduring democracy and national progress under a sound leadership and supportive follower ships contained in the book should be a guide for those aspiring to build an egalitarian society on the basis of truth, justice and fairness.

 

July 14, 2008                

 

 

 

 

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