As Black History Month in the UK comes to a close, it is important to recall how as Africans living in the diaspora, our pre and post-independence history shapes our present.
For Nigerians, a willingness to empower the women of our country continues to be a critical issue for our nation to confront. Too often we are viewed as second-class citizens making it even more necessary to celebrate the women who have broken through the ‘glass ceiling,’ living inspirational lives that serve as models for our highly aspirational young women.
Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo was meant to turn one hundred years of age on the 25th of November but sadly passed away last month on the 19th of September. She lived an amazing life of achievement and the effects of her accomplishments continue to ripple outward. Her impact will live on in generations of Nigerians far into the future.
Known as the ‘Mother of all Nations,’ HID Awolowo was a woman who strived for national unity in Nigeria. She did not believe in tribalism or isolation due to religion or culture. Even up until her death, she remained an active public force for change, holding leadership positions in some of Nigeria’s largest businesses and NGOs including the Nigerian Tribune and the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation.
As a leader in entrepreneurial business development, HID Awolowo empowered many women through her initiatives encouraging women to become more financially independent. In Yorubaland, she was given the titles, ‘Mother of Ife’ and ‘Mother of Oduduwa’ and was awarded with four chieftaincy titles. In 2014, Nigeria awarded her with the All Time Democrat award. As a unifying force within the country, she paved the way for women to have more active roles in Nigeria’s development and growth and her home in Ikenne remains the ‘Mecca of politicians.’ She was described by Ex President Obasanjo as the, ‘Matriarch of Yorubas.’
To help remember her life and in celebration of Black History Month, I recently took the opportunity to speak with HID Awolowo’s great grandchildren, Folajimi Ayodeji and Kepemi Aderemi, about how they remember her, her many contributions to our history and her legacy for our future. They shared these memories as a way to honor their matriarch and one of our history’s great leaders and influencers.
Mama was such an amazing woman and we are blessed to have had the privilege of knowing her at such close proximity. Her life achievements and legacy should be an inspiration, not only to Nigerians, but women across the world. Everything about her life speaks courage. She was industrious, unrelenting, disciplined, and very hard working, very accommodating; she was the wife of a politician who was active in politics without being intrusive. She made herself available to give counsel regardless of her political affiliations. She was sacrificial. She engaged actively with younger people so that whatever wisdom or history she carried she passed on regularly and fully. She was famously gifted with a lucid mind till the end of her life, meaning that she was a link between at least 2 or 3 generations. Her regular engagement with young people was a conduit for passing down wisdom, history, and experience, which would otherwise be lost.
She changed the roles of women within the home. Not only was she a dutiful wife and mother but also she was a very successful businesswoman and a force to be reckoned with politically. She oversaw the merger between Action Group and NCNC and stood in for Papa in the elections. As First Lady, she was watchful over her husband and his affairs. For the entire time that Papa was imprisoned and whilst he was in England studying law, Mama single-handedly ran her home and provided for her family. This epitomizes Mama. She was always forthcoming and hospitable but most of all she valued people. Mama was a support system for all those around her, she was determined and resilient.
Above all, she was a prayerful woman. For us as great grandchildren she was coherent and cared for our daily lives and ambitions up until the day she died. She was engaging in a way that allowed you to forget her age and the gravitas surrounding her, which in turn allowed us to be completely ourselves around her. Since Mama’s passing there hasn’t been a single day that the family have not received guests from across the country. The glowing tributes have been humbling to say the least but also highlighted the exemplary woman she was and the great life she led.
There have been very few people to touch the lives and hearts of so many Nigerians and even fewer women. Mama was one of a kind. We are proud and privileged to call her ‘Great Grandma.’
HID Awolowo will be recalled as a phenomenal woman who served as an inspiration, not just for Nigerian women but to everyone who calls themselves a citizen of the greatest Black nation today. She lived an exemplary life, setting a standard we should aspire to. May her soul rest in peace.