Stephen O. Awokoya

Awokoya
Photo: Getty

Stephen Oluwole Awokoya was an educationist, who as minister was responsible for launching the Awolowo administration’s Universal Primary Education in the West. Awokoya contributed in various ways to the development of the physical sciences. He was a member of the 1934-36 set at the Yaba Higher College where he received his education alongside future parliamentarian, Adelabu, and he obtained the science Master’s diploma in biology and chemistry in 1936. He taught first at St. Andrew’s College Oyo and then at Abeokuta Grammar School. Awokoya secured an overseas government scholarship with which he read for an honors degree in chemistry at the University of London, becoming therefore the first Nigerian to take the degree. He returned to secondary school teaching, later becoming principal of a school before he entered politics in 1951.

Awokoya’s association with politics started during the constitutional conference which afforded him the opportunity of distinguishing himself, hence, his recognition as a promising member of the new Africa personalities. In the Ijebu Central Council, Awokoya was an important figure and as a teacher, he held a position at the Nigerian Union of Teachers. Soon, he was appointed minister of education in the old Western Region of Nigeria. In 1952, he was proposed, alongside eventual winner, Obafemi Awolowo as regional minister of the pre-colonial western regional government of Nigeria. His Universal Education Scheme won him public accolades, and many, to the chagrin of Awolowo fanatics, called the schools “Awokoya schools.” Tension between him and his boss came to a head in 1956 when he resigned his position and contested an election against his estranged political party, the Action Group. Awokoya lost. After politics, Awokoya was appointed principal of the Emergency Science School (later called Federal School of Science) in Lagos from where he became Federal Adviser on Education. Because of his rich experience in education he later secured appointment as professor of education at the University of Ife. He became late in 1985 at the age of 72.