Edward Akinlade


Edward Akinlade's Mentor - Chief Mrs. Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo

The Oldest Political Wife is 94
A quintessential gemstone, Chief Mrs. Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo,
matriarch of the Awolowo family, turned 94 last week Wednesday.
With a noble birth and marriage to a sage, Chief Mrs. Hannah Idowu Dideolu (HID)
Awolowo was sure to live a life worthy of emulation. An icon in every sense of the
word, HID was born in 1910 to a middle class family in Ikenne community of Ogun
State. By 1933; she was already married to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. At this time,
she was just 22 and her husband 24 years. Her husband, she once recalled in an
interview, had proposed to her through a letter. “In those days, a man would
propose to you in writing. Awo wrote a letter to me that he was in love with me
and wanted to marry me, “she said. They both agreed to start a love affair which
culminated in their wedding and subsequently, a new life as husband and wife.
“We had a good beginning and I thank God for the good time we both spent
together,” she further said in the interview.
Shortly after their wedding, the new couple relocated to Ibadan. But in the late
1930’s, Awolowo left for London to study Law. He left behind his young wife and
his baby boy, Segun. She was equally pregnant with Oluwole at the time. “I felt a
bit lonely when he left for London but was content that it was for the good of the
family,” HID said of their lives during the period.
This jewel would always make reference to a remarkable event in their lives
together that sometimes brings to mind the couple’s financial status during the
period in question.
The story goes thus: When Awolowo secured admission to study in London; the
family had no money to pursue the course. “Awo wrote a letter to a prominent
business man seeking financial assistance. I will not wish to mention the name.
The request was turned down. But we thank God for everything. He was the one
who saw us through.”
By the time he came back to the country, the political space had been dominated
by Herbert Macaulay, an engineer, and Dr.Nnamdi Azikwe. But by 1948, when
Egbe Omo Yoruba was launched by Awo and his friends, Hannah was on hand to
play the role of the ideal partner. She went with her husband on the campaign
trips and hosted political associates and other guests at home. She also
accompanied him on many of such trips.
Most outstanding was her unflinching support for her husband through a
traumatic period in the Nigerian political history. At this time, her husband was a
major character on the national scene. In 1962, the arrest of her husband on
allegation of treason was debilitating. She was with him when security operatives
called to whisk him away.
In 1954 when Awolowo became Premier of then old Western Region, he pursued
a total transformation of this part of the country with unprecedented
achievements that cut across board. He built the first TV station and the tallest
building in sub-Saharan Africa. He built the citadel of learning located at Ile-Ife
now the Obafemi Awolowo University. Every child in his region was given access
to free and compulsory education. Several industrial estates were built including
the Ikeja and Bodija Estates in Lagos and Ibadan respectively. The entire South
West was also mapped into agrarian and industrial estates. The United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP) at the time rated the region as being at par
with many European countries in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and
growth rate.
In all of these, HID was never found wanting. She stood with and by her husband
throughout all those years, providing and creating the atmosphere for him to
function maximally.
Again, the early 1960’s was another era of travails for the Awolowos. The
establishment had waged consistent propaganda, both on the radio and TV
against the sage. But here, she remained the pillar of support that she had always
been. She not only faced frustration from the political class, she also lost her first
son, Segun, a lawyer in a ghastly motor accident along the Lagos-Ibadan road at a
time her husband was serving a prison term for treason. She bore the troubles at
that time with the passion of a Christian.
The aftermath of the 1959 elections, during the Tafawa Balewa regime, believed
to have been rigged, was also a difficult period for the couple. Awolowo was in his
late 40s and his wife, in her mid-40s. The prevailing political situation at the time
denied them the opportunity to be close. “They came with armed men and led
him away,” she said.
By 1966 when Nigeria recorded its first military coup and the subsequent
equation change, Awolowo recorded a triumphant re-entry into Nigerian politics
and was there-after appointed to assist in manning the finance ministry. For this
period, things seemed to turn to normalcy for the Awolowos and the nation in
By the Second Republic, he returned to politics on the platform of Unity Party of
Nigeria. He lost his attempts at the presidency to former President Shehu Shagari
both in 1979 and 1983, under controversial circumstances.
But since Awolowo heeded the call to eternal rest, his image has continued to
dominate the land. Nigeria’s political history, certainly, would be incomplete
without him, so also, the history of the Awolowo’s would remain incomplete
without the impact of this inspiration who not only stood by him as a wife, but
also as a sister, mother and remained the pillar of support to the family even
years after the demise of the sage.
Today, this woman of essence is a model, both locally and internationally, having
sustained the philanthropic legacies of the family for this long.
Happy 94th birthday, Mama!

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