Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, has called on African leaders to emulate the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo, and make themselves role models for the future generations of Africans who would help confront the challenges facing the continent.
Mr. Mbeki was speaking to an audience at the Muson Centre, Lagos, Friday after he was presented with the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership.
He said Mr. Awolowo was a “strong defender of the liberation of the African continent and a role model that inspired later generation as they aspire to build the Africa of our dreams”.
“We need change agents,” Mr. Mbeki said. “The Obafemi Awolowo of our day to nurture a million new Obafemi Awolowo. Awolowo came across as a leader of great integrity. He set himself as an exemplary leader. What we learned from Awo legacy will help us to confront our cotemporary challenges.”
Mr. Mbeki is the second recipient of the award after Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka.
“African leaders need to draw inspiration from former African leaders like Awo,” he said.
Mr. Mbeki said he has been “deeply pained” by recent diplomatic squabble between his country and Nigeria.
He said both countries should be united and help the African Union confront what he described as the new scramble for Africa.
“This is not an occasion to address parochial issues of inter- state relations,” he said. “However, I must say that I am deeply pained when I heard or told stories of unnecessary petty conflicts between Nigeria and South Africa. Neither of our people nor Africa as a whole are enemies.”
Narrating how he first came to Nigeria in 1971 as the first African National Congress, ANC, delegation to the country during the dark days of apartheid, he said his trip to Nigeria for the award was like homecoming to him.
He reminisced on his experience in Nigeria with famous people including Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. He thanked Nigeria for providing shelter and for helping with the education of ANC activists during the apartheid era.
He said African countries should build strong institutions “to help overcome our problems and attain the progress that we seek”.
The Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership is created by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation in recognition of excellence in leadership.
The chairman of the Selection Committee of the awards, Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary General, said after a rigorous selection process of nomination, Mr. Mbeki was the unanimously chosen by members of the committee as deserving of the award this year.
“I believe he was eminently qualified to receive the award because through his political career and in particular as president of South Africa he demonstrated those value of which Chief Obafemi Awolowo was known for: consistency, principled, integrity, respect for the rule of law and policies that look after the masses of the population,” he said.
“The legendary introduction of universal primary education by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and in South Africa and Thabo Mbeki during his time as president of South Africa focused specially on empowering the black South Africans who had for generation denied the right of economic opportunity by the apartheid regime. Chief Awolowo in his various writings told us of the benefit of pan-Africanism and Thabo Mebiki himself is a great symbol of pan-Africanism.”
The executive director of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, Olatokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu, thanked Mr. Mbeki for his contribution for helping to dismantle apartheid. She said Mr. Mbeki started his anti-apartheid struggle at the age of 14.
“He went to use his opportunity in high office to actualise core South Africans. Today, he remains a respected and credible voice globally,” Mrs. Awolowo-Dosumu said.
Eminent Nigerians including President Goodluck Jonathan, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Jones Oladehinde Arogbofa, former Head of State and Chairman of the event, General Abdul salami Abubakar, former Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, a leader of the Niger Delta, Edwin Clark, former Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, attended the event.