Political Philosophy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Awolowo's Political Thoughts.

Abafemi Awolowo


This paper presentation aims to give an account of the political philosophy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. And it contains Awolowo’s biography, his political thoughts, power struggle, comparison, relevance of this political thought to the contemporary Nigeria, criticisms/challenges, conclusion and references.
At the of this presentation, students should be able to:
Have a comprehensive knowledge of Awolowo’s Democratic Socialism, and how to apply it to the present situation.
To know how relevance is Awolowo’s political thought to Nigeria of today.
To know some of the weaknesses, and challenge of this political thought.
Keywords: Political philosophy, Obafemi, Federalism, Democratic Socialism, Awolowo.


A number of scholars have argued that no African politician can be said to have formulated anything that can be regarded as a political theory that is worth academic study.
This line of argument is often based on the inconsistence Incoherent an sometimes eclectic nature of political writings and utterances of African political leaders. In this studies therefore, it is argued that Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria can be properly credited with a precise political theory which is ‘’democratic socialism’’. It is also argued that though Awolowo’s democratic socialism be regarded as somehow unique considering his rejection of most of the basic presupposition of both the Marxist and African variance of socialism, there is no reason for his total rejection of the incorporation of some aspect of African traditional communalism into his scientific socialism.
Awolowo’s advocacy for non-violence transition of Nigeria from capitalism to socialism is here rejected, it is not argued that revolution is inevitable to socialism; however it is believed that some element of force or violence maybe required in breaking the resistance of the agents of exploitation, if any, when this is noticed. In addition, it is pointed out that Awolowo’s argument in favour of the rule of the enlightened or articulate few (that’s, those who have cultivated the regime of mental magnitude and have thereby banished negative emotions), makes the whole theory not truly democratic.
It is argued that Awolowo attempt to marry religion with socialism (political ) appears to negate the scientific pretentions of his theory. It is submitted that a truly scientific politics must be separated from a religion which deals with the supernatural.

Click here to read Biography of Obafemi Awolowo


Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s political philosophy was Democratic Socialism.
Democratic socialism is a socialist economy in which the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled, alongside a democratic political system of government.
Awolowo as a democratic socialist believed that both the economy and the society should be run democratically to meet public needs not to make profit for a few.
He believed that to achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Nigerians can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.
Socialism to him is a set of political and economic theories based on the believe that everyone has equal right to a share of his country’s wealth, and that, the government should own and control the means of production.
When we talk about the means of production, we refer to the instruments which labour uses to create value. When you combine the object of labour and the means or instrument of labour, you have means of production.

Chief Awolowo was primarily concerned with how to bring progress to Nigeria, to free it from European domination and exploitation, to restore it dignity, and to question all negative assumption and racist prejudices.
He did not make distinctions between scholarship and politics, academy and ideology. What we may call scholarly paper, he conceived as a document of economic and political liberation.
His motive was to attain development. He created a body of ideas on progress, conscious of the need to respond to negative comments about his people and country.

The major ideas they espoused addressed issues western domination, imperialism, exploitation, African personality, and alternatives for Africa.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo belonged to the nationalist phase of African history and the forest of ideas that they all generated, although he did not agree with some of them.

He made his own distinctive mark in various ways: intellectual ideas, community organizing, political mobillizati0on, and leadership. First and foremost, he has to be understood as an intellectual, one who was able to reflect on a large body of data and then able to create policy action from the conclusion.

He was intellectually restless, in in the sense that the ideas and policies were many and often come in a flood.

At a time when Nigeria was underdeveloped and with limited resources, the task of effecting change was tremendous. Chief Awolowo was able to do this through the use of one skill in particular: visionary leadership.

That is precisely what is missing today in the management of our institutions. We once blamed the woes on the British. The British left but the woes remained. Then the politicians were replaced by the military. The woes continued. Then we blamed the military and called for democracy. Greater woes.

Now is the time to call for accountability and visionary leadership of the type demonstrated by the example of Chief Awolowo.


Thus, we can talk of Awolowo’s doctrine, which, over time, has now become the very doctrine of the majority of Nigerians. Let there be one Nigeria, an indivisible entity.

He so much believed in Nigeria that he dedicated his autobiography not to his wife of inestimable value, but to “A new and free Nigeria where individual freedom and more abundant life are guaranteed to all her citizens.”
He did not say that Nigeria should collapse into pieces, even when he regarded the space as an artificial creation of British. He believed that political leaders ought to be committed to the maintenance of country’s unity.

A second component was that there must be a constitution, republican in nature. Sates, with their local governments, should be semi-autonomous and federating units. He devoted considerable amount of reflections on the idea of federalism and how to put it into practice.

His notion of federalism was located in democracy. To those who alleged that he wanted to take over government by force, they should be reminded of his believes that “government by tyranny or dictatorship is maintainable only by the use of force and by various acts of repression and operating against those who disagree with or are critical of tyrant or dictator.”

Ultimately, this reflected his belief that the business of government is about people. He insisted that resources should be devoted to elimination of poverty.

He was opposed to expensive expenditure on the military and defence on the grounds that spending resources meant for development on arms was unproductive. He was in support of building an army to protect the country and it territorial integrity, but not “as an instrument for maintaining totalitarian regime”.

He warned, “any government that does not enjoy the good will of the people should resign: it must not utilize the people’s money for the purpose of both of their enslavement and starvation.”

The focus on the people led to the third doctrine: progress and development.

He said all citizens must be educated, and he was the principal figure in the introduction of free universal primary education in the western region in 1955. The educated citizens must be active in developing the country’s resources. for Nigeria to progress he argued that the state must use the resources of the nation to carter to the people by creating jobs, making education available and creating the condition to have access to the basic necessities of life: housing, food, clothing and health.

He linked an economic set of objectives to the larger principles of state of objectives: “the more prosperous a state is, and the more equitably and justly distributed its wealth is, less liable it is to the danger of internal disorder and the more able it is to discourage external aggression.”

The objectives his work itemizes were grounded in welfare politics.

His own personal narratives of overcoming poverty became translated into the project of allowing all to do the same. He genuinely believed that no one should be poor and was most happy when formulating and implementing policies to eradicate poverty.

He believed that poverty is manmade, “the direct outcome of inhuman and ungodly social order, in which a strong, selfish, ruthless few exploit and deprive the masses of the people, politically and economically.”

The state, he argued, is the only one with the resources and capability to eliminate poverty and ensure quality of opportunity to children, irrespective of the income of their parent.

However, the most important lessons to take away from chief Awolowo’s work are his prescription for the implementation of welfare politics.

His legacy to Nigeria, and indeed the world, is the proposal of critical conceptions that must be infused into political leadership. He argued that leadership must be grounded in ethnics-a morality of spending resources more carefully, without corruption, and with compassion for people.

Leadership must respect the rule of law and human rights and cannot be based on violence and the operation of alternate political ideology. As chief Awolowo concluded, politics is about vision, the politics of formulating ideas and objectives, the politics of presenting those objectives, and the politics of implementing them.
People cannot be expected to accept a set of objectives different from their own aspirations.

Neither will they accept leaders who say one thing and do another or who create budgets on grandiose projects only to divert public money into their private pockets

leadership is about service-no more no less. Wesley college got it right in it motor: “Bi Eniti Nse Iranse”(as he that serveth) drawn from Luke 22:27. While the secondary schools of the time, whose motto were in Latin, ridiculed, this Yoruba one, the young Awolowo saw servant-leadership in practice: the student lived the motto, did everything for themselves, and ran the school using team work.

A is team work. Chief Awolowo wanted to serve, and he also sought to lead.

Today public service has become about accumulation and personal aggrandizement in which in which the leader becomes the master. The state is imperialized, converting citizens into subject, resources into private ownership. Politics is about how to control people and resources, and the game of politics is how to game opponent to create greater access to the spoils of office. He higher the level of power, the more the resources that flow into private pockets so that the wealthy is the one with the closest access to the corridors of power. In that environment, power brings wealth, fame and adulation, not public service.

If chief Awolowo were still alive he would argue that we need a set of leaders who will who will be our servants not our bosses, who will not ask us to look at their grandiose houses while we live in shanties, who will endure the same kind of suffering as the majority of the population, while children will attend the same public schools as those of their “subjects.’’ Who will use the local hospitals when they are sick. He would make the same immortal statement he made over sixty years ago: ‘’it is the amount of patriotism, unstinted effort and wisdom which we apply to the exploitation of our vast resources, and of the just and the equitable distribution of the result of such exploitation that will determine the measure of our greatness and happiness as a people.’’

His slogan,’’ freedom to all,’’ will forever remain true. Let us all work for it.


Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his work was trying to compare democratic socialism and tyranny or dictatorship.
He said that it takes power and force for tyranny or dictatorship to stand, and in tyranny or dictatorship citizen have no right to participate in decision making or have the right to choose their leaders. But he was looking for an egalitarian government where Nigerians will have equal rights, to votes their leaders and holds them accountable, that is why he wanted it to be democratic.
But he preferred socialism because he wanted to do away with capitalism which is the private ownership of the means of production.
He said that Nigerians will continue to suffer even as an independent country as long as capitalism exists. So he was totally against capitalism and he did not want the use of force to rule.


If we can compare Awolowo’s ideas with what is happening in Nigeria today, you will understand that, what Nigeria is practicing is not exactly from the ideas of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, because Nigeria is practicing Democratic Capitalism today which according to Awolowo was too exploitative, it encourages few rich individuals at the expense of the majority, it creates an atmosphere of job insecurity and unemployment and it leads to man’s inhumanity to man.
In his book “path to Nigerian freedom’’ (1949) he advocated federalism as the only basis for equitable national integration and as head of the action group, he led demands for a federal constitution which was introduced in 1954 Littleton constitution.
But if Awolowo’s idea was not rejected, Nigeria would enjoy the best system of government ever, because this is exactly what Nigeria needs now, and for Nigeria to develop, we must adopt Awolowo’s idea.
Because his ideas are developmental oriented and his doing was to bring development in Nigeria.


Awolowo’s democratic system was criticized base on the following:
1. The slow nature of socialism in the economic growth of the country. It gives no room for individual to participate in the production process, so therefore, there is no competition and that slows the economic growth of a country.
2. Awolowo himself was too desperate for power and people said he was only trying to take over the government; also socialism cannot exist in a country like Nigeria.
3. He was also a Couse of using force to maintain his leadership status.
4. Also in a democratic socialist state, there is absence of price signal, low feasibility, and negative social and political effect, inability to obtain upmost profit from the use of resources, labours and land.
And all this are the things that lead to the slowness in the economic growth.


Revisionist are everywhere. And for the most part they are attempting to rework history by allowing their prejudices, and preconceived notions to cloud their reasoning.

These arm-chair critics have become masters at injecting wilful fallacies. Intentional falsehood, and historical nonsense into their understanding of history; and in so doing have begun to spread aspersion on the memory of the great Obafemi Awolowo who was political giant with a brilliant mind.

However, his failing and missteps were far fewer and less injurious than those of his contemporaries.
Within the context of Nigerian, and indeed within African politics, Awolowo had no equal. He toward above his contemporaries. Not only that—all the leaders we have had since his exit from government and politics have been political dwarfs.
Also, Awolowo’s democratic socialism was criticised base on the following:
The slow nature of socialism in the economic growth of a country, it gives no room for individuals to participate in the production process, so therefore, there is no competition and that slows the economic growth of a country.
There was nothing like price signal, low feasibility, negative social and political effects and inability to obtain the upmost profit from the use of resources, labour and land.
People lose initiative to work or involve in entrepreneurship, creativity is absent here.

One will be hard-pressed to name a political leader in Nigeria—during the second-half of the twentieth century – who did more for his people and for his country than Awolowo.

His accomplishments as the premier of the western region are still evident and remained unmatched by any leader in Nigeria today. And as a federal minister, under General Yakubu Gowon, he saved Nigeria from self-immolation.

From the time he began his political career until his passing to the heavens his two great missions was to make Nigeria better than the way he met it; and also to secure Nigeria’s economic, social and political future for the next generation. Unfortunately, he was unable to achieve all his dreams.
He was unable to achieve all his dreams because he refused to compromise his principles. He refused to betray his constituent and his conscience. He refused to bow to the wishes of the colonialist. He refused to obey the barking orders given to dodan barracks.


The foundation of Awolowo’s dialectic transparency and rule of law fairness. His dialectic involves the universal mind remain important. Its strength depends on how he can be compared Hegel’s absolute spirit.
It has following are harnessed, love, social justice, and to do with the golden rule which embodies the ideas of fairness. It brackets the ideas of love your neighbour as yourself.
For Awolowo, education is the development of self-centeredness and embraces the idea of love as the mind, body and brain.
Awolowo gave a clear explanation guiding principles for good governance.
Transparent and of the areas of education; education that centres on accountable nature of the based administration and in the area of good governance, on the following principles; equity’ social, justice and adherence to accountability, leaders depends on the level of acquiring certificate and laurels and the one that has to love they have for the people, do with the development of the whole people.

the latter is considering the fact that human being are made of the holistic form of education which helps individual to mind, body and brain, these have much influence on them.

Awolowo educate political theory of idealism which power of reflection.
Awolowo was interested on right means that the political practices should be based on education that can lead one to acquire mental magnitude, moral order, political norms and also natural justice.

By Mkohol Aondona Kenneth
Department of Political Science. Benue State University, Makurdi.


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Awolowo, O. The People’s Republic (Ibadan: University Press, 1968) P. 212.

Berthold-Bond, D., 1993. Hegel’s Grand Synthesis: A of Study of Being, Thought and History (New York: Macmillan,1993).

Hoffmann, M.N.G., 2005. The Curse of the Hegelian Heritage: “Dialectic”“Contradiction”and “Dialectical Logic” in Activity Theory Working Paper 9. School of Public Policy, (Atlanta, Georgia, 2005).
Inwood, M., 2003. Hegel in Bunnin N. and Tsui-James EP. (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy (2 ed.) (Oxford. Blackwell Publishing, 2003).

Ogunmodede, F.I., 1986. Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Socio- Political Philosophy: A Critical Interpretation Publishers, 2010) pp: 100-101.

Popkin, R.H., A. Stroll and A.V. Kelly, 1981.Philosophy Made Simple(London: Heinmann Ltd; 1981) pp: 81.



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