(b. Ikenne, Nigeria, 6 Mar. 1909; d. Ikenne, 8 May 1987)
Nigerian; leader of the Opposition 1960–2, leader of Unity Party of Nigeria 1978–83 A member of the Yoruba ethnic group, Awolowo graduated from University of London through correspondence courses and in 1946 qualified as a barrister. He worked as a lawyer, journalist, and trade union leader and was heavily involved with the burgeoning nationalist movement in Nigeria. In 1950 he founded and led the Action Group which became the dominant party in Western Region. Following defeat in the pre-independence national elections in 1959 he became leader of the Opposition in the federal parliament until his imprisonment in 1962. He was released following the 1966 coup d'état and became Federal Commissioner for Finance and vice-chairman in the military-dominated government. With the lifting of the ban on political parties in 1978 he formed the Unity Party of Nigeria. In the 1979 elections his party received overwhelming support in the Yoruba areas but performed less well elsewhere and he came second in the presidential elections. Following a further coup at the end of 1983 all parties were again banned.
Awolowo was, arguably, the greatest head of state that Nigeria never had. He never quite bridged the gap between being a leader of the Yoruba and a truly national leader. He was never a narrow ethnic sectionalist, but neither was he able to gain the trust of the majority of Muslim northerners or the Ibos of the east.
Subjects: African Studies.