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Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, a Nigerian nationalist, politician, lawyer, statesman, and chancellor, was born on March 6, 1909 in Ogun State, Nigeria, where he began his political career.
Awolowo attended a number of local schools in Ogun State, Nigeria, before becoming an editor for The Nigerian Worker. In the 1930s, while working as a journalist, he founded numerous political and economic organizations, including the Trade Unions Congress of Nigeria, the Nigerian Produce Traders Association, the Nigerian Motor Transport Union, and Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a Yoruba political and cultural organization that sought to unite the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria. In 1947, while studying law at the London School of Economics, he created The Action Group, a political group focusing mostly on the Yoruba people of Nigeria’s southwest.
Following the completion of his degree in 1949, Awolowo returned to Nigeria and became the leader of the Action Group as well as the premier of the Western Region of Nigeria, which was still under British colonial administration at the time.
During the 1950s, when Nigeria was fighting for independence from British rule, Awolowo used his position as leader of the opposition to challenge the government of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who led the Northern People’s Party, the colony’s largest political party and the group most closely aligned with the British colonial administration. Three years before Nigeria’s independence, the British named Balewa Prime Minister to campaign for more political autonomy and ultimate independence. Though Awolowo encountered fierce resistance inside his Action Group party at first, he finally gained support to eliminate party split, which he thought encouraged violence and allowed British dominance to persist.
As a nationalist, Awolowo advocated for Nigeria’s independence as well as its economic and social progress. As a result, he established free basic education and free health care throughout Western Nigeria, as well as facilitating the construction of Nigeria’s first stadium, Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. Awolowo authored two books, Voice of Wisdom and The People’s Republic, in which he urged Nigerians to use the country’s resources to encourage educational and infrastructure development.
Obafemi Awolowo died on May 9, 1987, at the age of 78, in Ikenne, Ogun State, Nigeria.
On May 12, 1987, the Federal Government of Nigeria renamed the University of Ife The Obafemi Awolowo University in appreciation of his contributions to Nigerian statehood and prosperity. In addition to this award, the Nigerian Federal Government recognized Obafemi Awolowo posthumously on October 1, 2010, at the nation’s golden jubilee celebrations in Abuja, for his contribution to the Nigerian independence cause.