The first premier of the western region was Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo GCFR. He was born on March 6, 1909, in the Remo town of Ikenne, in what is now the Nigerian state of Ogun. David Shopolu Awolowo, a farmer and sawyer, and Mary Efunyela Awolowo were his parents. He had two maternal half-sisters and two sisters. Awolowo’s father was a great chief and a member of the Iwarefa, the traditional Osugbo tribe that dominated Ikenne at the time.
Awolowo’s father converted to Christianity in 1896, making him one of the first Ikenne residents to do so. Adefule Awolowo, Awolowo’s paternal grandmother, was an ardent worshipper of the Ifá, whom Awolowo worshipped. Obafemi was a reincarnation of Awolowo’s father, according to Adefule, Awolowo’s grandmother (his great-grandfather). The conversion of Awolowo’s father to Christianity ran against to his family’s beliefs. He was a frequent challenger of Obaluaye, the god of smallpox. Obafemi’s father died of smallpox on April 8, 1920, when he was about eleven years old.
He went to several schools, including Baptist Boys’ High School (BBHS) in Abeokuta, and then went on to become a teacher in Abeokuta before becoming a shorthand typist. He went on to work as a clerk at Wesley College in Ibadan and as a reporter for the Nigerian Times after that. Following this, he began a series of business enterprises in order to gather finances for his trip to the United Kingdom for further studies. Following his studies at Wesley College in Ibadan, he enrolled as an External Student at the University of London in 1927 and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree (Hons.). In 1944, he moved to the United Kingdom to study law at the University of London, and on November 19, 1946, the Honorable Society of the Inner Temple called him to the Bar. Awolowo created the Nigerian Tribune, a private Nigerian newspaper, in 1949 with the goal of instilling nationalist awareness in Nigerians.
During the Nigerian Civil War, Obafemi Awolowo served as the first premier of the Western Region from 1954 to 1959, and later as federal commissioner for finance and vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council. He ran for the highest office in his country three times.
He was the most prominent federalist in Nigeria. He advocated federalism as the only basis for equitable national integration in his Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947) – the first systematic federalist manifesto by a Nigerian politician – and, as head of the Action Group, he led demands for a federal constitution, which was introduced in the 1954 Lyttleton Constitution, based primarily on the model proposed by the Western Region delegation led by him. He proved to be and was regarded as a visionary and active administrator during his tenure as premier. Awolowo was also the country’s most powerful social democrat.
Awolowo was a Nigerian statesman and nationalist who was instrumental in the country’s independence campaign, First and Second Republics, and Civil War. He was a self-made man among his contemporaries in Nigeria, the son of a Yoruba farmer.
He was the Leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament from the eve of independence, leaving Samuel Ladoke Akintola as the Western Region Premier. Akintola formed an alliance with the Tafawa Balewa-led NPC federal government after disagreements between Awolowo and Akintola on how to handle the Western region. A constitutional crisis prompted the Western Region to declare a state of emergency, which resulted in severe law and order breakdowns.
Awolowo and his party faced a more difficult situation after being excluded from national governance. Enraged by their exclusion from power, Akintola’s supporters created the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) under his leadership. After suspending the elected Western Regional Assembly, the federal authorities reconstructed it following maneuvers that put Akintola’s NNDP in control without a vote. Awolowo and some of his students were arrested, accused, convicted, and imprisoned for conspiring with Ghanaian officials under Balewa to overthrow the federal government shortly after.
He has children with Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo, with whom he was married. At the age of 78, Awolowo died quietly at his Ikenne house, the Efunyela Hall (named after his mother), and was laid to rest at Ikenne, amid political and ethno-religious tributes.