Those who now scramble to fashion fitting epitaphs that adequately describe and celebrate HID’s illustrious life need not go to great lengths. Her illustrious husband already did the work himself, and spared his wife’s pensive survivors the effort. We are glad Awolowo never hesitated in using his own voice and words to tell the entire world exactly how lucky he was in his choice of a life-long partner. The rest of us can only hope and pray to be that lucky.
It’s quite rare a husband gets to write a befitting epitaph for his wife, especially when he predeceases her by more than 28 years!
The late sage and leader of the Yorubas, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, bestowed this singular honour on his wife, Hannah Dideolu Awolowo (fondly called ‘HID’) who also recently went the way of all flesh at age 99, on September 19.
Nineteen years before his own demise in May 1987, “Awo”, as he was popularly known, wrote the following about his wife: “Throughout all the changing fortunes of my life…my wife, Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo (nee Adelana) has been to me a jewel of inestimable value. She is an ideal wife… The outpouring of her love and devotion to me and to our family is exceeding and beyond words…With my wife on my side it has been possible for us to weather all financial storms…I do not hesitate to confess that I owe my success in life to three factors: the Grace of God, a Spartan self-discipline, and a good wife. Our home is to all of us, a true haven; a place of happiness, and of imperturbable seclusion from the buffetings of life.”
These loving words Awo first wrote about his HID in his autobiography My Early Life, published in 1968, remained true about the woman up till the time of her death. And what better epitaph could there be at her demise at a very ripe age? Everyone knows the genuine, profuse and diverse outpourings of grief that have trailed the demise of the Awolowo family’s matriarch, which has one consistent refrain: that the Awolowo family has lost its jewel of inestimable value.
Surely, HID was a matriarch whose strong and lingering presence after her husband’s death demonstrated the Awolowo family still included another solid Awolowo many decades after the late sage’s physical exit. To slightly paraphrase the Yoruba saying, “Baba Ku, Mama Ku”. (The impressive patriarch might be dead but the equally outstanding matriarch remains).
The same outpouring of grief being displayed after the death of Awo’s widow shows it was not only the Awolowo family that lost a jewel, but also to the entire country and the world at large. Beyond any doubt, her life and lessons therefrom transcended the distinguished family into which she married, and the legendary Nigerian with whom she shared a lifetime of solid achievements and service to humanity.
HID was born on November 25, 1915, to parents who did not have the acclaim she was to enjoy later on in life. Her maidenhood probably did not include accounts of a ravishingly beautiful young woman who drew men from far and near seeking her hand in marriage, or over whom whole nations went to war, like Helen of Troy or Cleopatra. But HID was an impressive young woman nonetheless, not only because of her beautiful womanly features but also for her attributes as a decent human being. Those attributes were not lost on a young man of destiny, Obafemi Awolowo, who diligently pursued the young HID romantically until he won her hand in marriage. The latter occurred in December 1937.
Married life was not easy on the young Awolowo family. And it did not get better even as the years went by. Just about a year after their marriage, Awo ran into rough financial weathers and his properties were sold at auction in Ibadan, in 1938. His young wife persevered and quietly assisted her husband to hold the family together with whatever she earned from her own business activities. A few years later Awo travelled to Britain to study Law and earn admission into the English Bar. He left his wife in Nigeria and the three young children they had by then. HID neither nagged nor betrayed her husband in any way during those very long and lean years. In fact she had to support Awo financially in England while he studied there, sending money to him from Nigeria through earnings she made from her trading activities.
After Awo returned to Nigeria on completion of his studies and became a prominent lawyer and politician, the low tides of life continued to buffet the couple and put their marital relationship under great, even excessive stress. In 1963 the grave political crisis in the Western Region led to the arrest, trial and conviction of Chief Awolowo and some of his associates. He was sentenced to 10 years for treasonable felony and subsequently shipped off to far-away Calabar to serve his time.
Even though separated from her husband and in a political and social wilderness of sorts, HID remained steadfast by Awo’s side in all manners of speaking. There were no whispers of stolen, secretive liaisons attributed to her in the wake of her husband’s distant incarceration, even when she had all the advantages of time, distance and chance to engage in those.
Things got worse: in the thick of Awo’s worst political travails, news arrived that Segun, the couple’s first child and a Cambridge-trained lawyer, had lost his life in a ghastly road accident. HID remained resolute and supportive of her husband even in this harrowing moment of their collective grief. She neither “cursed” her “luck” nor blamed her husband for bringing “trauma” to her through his life-choice of wading into the murky waters of Nigerian politics.
When Awo eventually returned home from his multi-year stint in jail after the January 1966 coup, his dear HID was waiting for him, steadfast at his side and pure as the day he was hauled off to the gulag.
The rest, as they say, is history. Close to three decades after his own death, Awo remains a Nigerian legend and the mainstay of Yoruba politics. HID’s enduring, steady presence after her husband’s demise certainly helped make this possible, even though all indications are that Awo’s influence on Yoruba politics will likely survive HID’s own recent demise. Politicians of all stripes are still likely to invoke the late sage’s name in seeking a measure of relevance in Yoruba politics. They are still likely to don the popular “Awo cap” as they seek to bask in the positive aura of the Awolowo legacy, especially within the Yoruba nation of the larger Nigerian space.
Awo clearly knew, and appreciated, the fact that HID played a very great role in fashioning the enduring political legacy of “Awoism”. But unlike him she was not renown for public erudition or display of cerebral capacity. Still, Awolowo knew he had a jewel in his hands. He realised that a major part of his success was the unwavering and enduring support of the woman who stood firmly behind and by him, and helped build a political and social institution through the proverbial thick and thin.
Those who now scramble to fashion fitting epitaphs that adequately describe and celebrate HID’s illustrious life need not go to great lengths. Her illustrious husband already did the work himself, and spared his wife’s pensive survivors the effort. We are glad Awolowo never hesitated in using his own voice and words to tell the entire world exactly how lucky he was in his choice of a life-long partner. The rest of us can only hope and pray to be that lucky.

Akeem Soboyede is a journalist and US-trained lawyer.


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