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Published On: Tue, May 13th, 2014

What I learnt from Awolowo

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By David Iornem

Last week, I was reading Obafemi Awolowo’s book entitled “My Early Life” and came across a passage that reconfirmed a philosophy that I have tried to practice. But the way Chief Awolowo brought home the meaning of that philosophy is so dramatically striking that it gave me greater insight into the matter. I wish to share this insight with readers in the hope that they too will learn from this great Master and sage, called Awolowo. I reproduce Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s words here for your reading pleasure and education.

“There were two books which helped me to evolve a philosophy of life to which, with some modifications which my own experiences dictate, I still cling. The first book was “The Human Machine,” which was a free gift to anyone who took a correspondence course with Bennett College, Sheffield. (Readers may wish to know that Chief Awolowo never went to any university. His two degrees – Bachelors of Commerce and Bachelors of Laws were studied privately on his own just like Professor Chike Obi who also studied at home for his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mathematics).

The book was a collection of terse, powerful articles, loaded with the practical and well-tested doctrines of applied psychology. These articles had been previously published under the serial title The Human Machine in the well-known weekly journal, John Bull. The second book was written, if I remember rightly, by an American author, and its title was It’s Up To You. The philosophy of the latter book is very simple but also very true and fundamental. I will state it in a nutshell; and here I am speaking from memory as I no longer have the book. Take a jar; put in it small beans as well as big beans, making sure that each of the big beans is heavier in weight than each of the small beans. Put the big beans at the bottom of the jar and the small beans at the top; shake the jar and, behold! the small beans rattle to the bottom and the big beans shake to the top. Repeat the process as often as you wish, and the result will be the same. Now, the world is like a mighty jar, and all of us in it, in our different theatres of operation, are like beans with varying sizes and weights. In normal circumstances, each of us is where he is because of his size and weight.

By means of favouritism and nepotism, or of some other deliberate and iniquitous tinkering with the contents of the jar, some beans which are small in size and weight may get to the top and stay there for a time, but they are sure to rattle to the bottom sooner or later. Said the author in words, which I vividly remember: “Nobody can fool the jar of life” The sine qua non for anyone who wants to get to the top, therefore, is to increase his size and weight in his particular calling, that is, mentally, professionally, morally and spiritually. Getting to the top, is one thing and remaining there is another. To maintain your place at the top you must make sure that you do not at any time shrink in size or lose in weight. But evaporation as well as wear and tear take place all the time; and unless these are constantly replaced, the man who gets to the top by dint of his own specific size and weight is also sure to rattle. I am a firm believer in this philosophy. It only remains for me to add that I also believe that the essence of this philosophy is applicable to political or economic organization as it is to an individual.”

I have seen proof of this passage in the life of many persons. You may steal today and think you have succeeded. You may rig an election, or even shoot opponents and take away ballot boxes containing votes and forcibly declare yourself or criminal associates as authentic winners. You may cheat at the exam and think you have succeeded. But don’t fool yourself. When the time of reckoning comes, the one who worked hard is he who will remain someone to reckon with. The words of elders are, indeed, the words of wisdom.

David Iornem via

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