Home Articles REMINISCENCES; POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF EARLY 1960’S – HOW ACTION GROUP, AWOLOWO...

REMINISCENCES; POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF EARLY 1960’S – HOW ACTION GROUP, AWOLOWO FAILED TO PENETRATE THE NORTH

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Prior to independence, the Action Group was more of a Regional party as it did not enjoy national spread.  It had become almost regionalized.  The Party was performing creditably in the West; where the level of development, was better than any other region in the country.  The Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was very hardworking. His leadership and administrative qualities could not be matched with that of any other leader in the country as at then.  The credentials and catalogues of his achievements indicated this.  All these made Awolowo to stand above all other leaders.  The outstanding performance of Awolowo in the West was a very good one.  If this could be extended throughout the whole country, Nigeria would have been great.  In the light of this, Awolowo chose to go to the Federal House, so that he could become the Prime Minister.

While Awolowo was Premier of Western Region, Chief S. L. Akintola was in the Federal House, representing his Federal Constituency. He was the Leader of Opposition in the Federal Assembly, and also a Minister.  He was a warm and hospitable person who was also highly intelligent.  Akintola had great oratorical skills.  The 1959 election was to be held to elect Representatives into the Federal House.  Awolowo was to go the Federal House, while Akintola was to come back to the West.  In their bids, Awolowo won the Federal election to the Federal House.  But he could not realize his ambition of constituting the Federal Cabinet.  The NCNC had aligned with Nigeria Peoples Party to form the majority. This enabled Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the Northern Peoples Party to become the Prime Minister while Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Leader of NCNC, became the 1st Ceremonial President of Nigeria. Chief Awolowo was left with the position of Opposition Leader.  Meanwhile, Chief S. L. Akintola had formed the Cabinet in the West and had become the Premier of Western Region.  Akintola was only a figurehead, because Awolowo was still the leader of the Party and the party was supreme.  He had to implement decisions reached at party caucuses.

The whole rulership was complex, as only few people knew what was going on within the Government.  The 1959 Federal election cost a lot in terms of energy and expenses, especially during Awolowo’s canvassing for the position of prime minister.  Our brethren in other regions only took our money, and all what we were hearing was the echo of ‘Baa ko daya’.  The government of S. L. Akintola took office 1960.  That year, things went on smoothly and it was a year of celebration for the West and the entire country.  The independence celebration took place on 1st October, when the British finally-handed over the governance of the country to Nigerians.  During this year too, there was political cohesion, and party loyalty; a situation which helped the parliamentary system to work.  In 1961, the Northern Region was preparing for the Assembly election, which could hold later in the year.  We, of the Action Group needed to extend our campaign and mobilization drive to the North.  On May 1st 1961, the schedule for campaign in the North was released.  All the leaders of the party including all members of the House, who belonged to Action Group, were to be involved.  Before this time, we had passed the 1961 Budget.  My team was to go to Maiduguri in Borno Province of the Northern Region.  This team included myself, late Pa Chief J. F. Odunjo, an elderly person, author of ‘Alawiye’ books and prominent leader of the party; Alimi Adesokan my good friend, Adedeji a.k.a. Baba l’eje, a prominent son of Igbara-Oke; and one other person from the MidWest.  We went in Adesokan’s Mercedes Benz car and we ordinarily adopted Baba J. F. Odunjo as our team leader.  He was older than all of us.

The journey was very interesting but it took us days to get to Maiduguri.  The first day, we slept at Jebba and the second day we were at Jos.  That night we met with Chief Awolowo.  We were together listening to the news on the Radio, when we heard the comment of Chief Maja who said Action Group should not have extended its campaign to the North.  He expressed the view that the whole exercise was a waste of money. He said the Northern Peoples Party should be allowed to maintain predominance in the North, while NCNC be predominant in the East and Action Group, to remain preponderant in the West.  That comment really shook us to the marrow, even though Chief Awolowo took it with equanimity.  But then, we knew something terrible was about to happen.  With this comment on the radio, the younger members of our party were now able to know that the elders had already had some misgivings as regards the whole exercise.

Nevertheless, we proceeded on our journey.  The following morning, we left Jos, passed through Potiskum, straight on to Damaturu and in the evening of the third day that we left home, we got to Maiduguri.  There, we began to feel the hostility of the North towards Action Group’s mobilization tour.  The Hotel, which had been earlier booked to provide accommodation for us, would not allow us in.  We were told that some white men who had booked before us had occupied our rooms.  We were not really bothered because we knew it had political undertone.  We eventually got a hotel which was owned by an Igbo man.  He was very glad to receive us.  It is important to note that up there in Maiduguri, we were not free as we were in the West.  Our movements were restricted as spies were all over the place trailing us, and the ‘Yandokas’, local policemen were everywhere, monitoring us.  The situation was so tense and the news spread throughout the whole country, particularly at home, in the West that the Yandokas had shot some of us with arrows.  This was false. Panic gripped the whole of the West as to our safety and our whereabouts.

Up there, we were treading carefully and were being received warmly by our kinsmen who were living there.  That was the only area of success.  Any move towards the Northern indigenes was almost impossible and futile.  We were able to visit the Administrative Staff College where we succeeded in making very few friends, who were not really keen to join our party.  The reason they gave was that North was conservative, more than any part of the country.  They also claimed that we Southerners were pagans and so we could not do anything together.  We compared notes with them proving that their conservative attitude had put them under a dictatorial arrangement and structure which made slaves out of them.  They seemed not to be convinced.  So, our words made little impact on them.  The little impact it had reflected during the second republic during which time the North realized the importance of national cohesion and a national party, hence the birth of National Party of Nigeria in 1978.  We were there for a whole month; and eventually came back to the West.

1962 DECLARATION OF STATE OF EMERGENCY AND SUSPENSION ORDER

Shortly after we passed the 1962 Budget, we heard there was going to be a conference of Action Group, to be held in Jos.  I was surprised to hear this, same with other leaders of the party who were not informed of such a conference nor involved.  That was very wrong.  Who could have organized such a conference and who were the people to participate in such a conference if we did not do?  It was a total surprise.  We later found out that the younger members and the crops of new graduate members of the party, those members whom we did not know, attended the conference.  We later heard on the Radio that the conference had resolved that Chief S. L. Akintola should resign as Premier of Western Region.  We became more confused.  This was never discussed in our meeting at Ikenne.  It was also not discussed at the Parliamentary meeting.  Those of us who had been working through the thick and thin to make Action Group Party great were never consulted.  Delegates were not chosen from the constituencies, as it ought to be. The only thing we were told was that the ‘Party was supreme’.  This time, I was still the Federal Secretary of Ijesa Action Group Party.

At this point, I was called upon, as the Deputy Speaker, to go with some people to Ikeja where a meeting had been slated to take place at late Chief Sonibare’s house.  At that time, Ikeja was part of the Western Region.  At the close of school on that day, I left Ipetu Jesa and proceeded to Ikeja.  It was not really a difficult task because I had a very good driver, very hardworking Tayo Seweje.  The meeting was to sort things out and resolve the differences. But it was a failure, as it could not bring solution to the existing problem.  Another meeting was therefore called at A.G. Secretariat, Oke-Bola, Ibadan.  After the meeting, we held our Parliamentary meeting where majority of us agreed to toe the party line in support of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.  We agreed with him that the Premier should resign or be removed. 62 members out of 102 members that were present in the House on that fateful morning had signed for the removal of the Premier if he failed to resign.  The Speaker was already on chair; He said the prayer and was about reading the order of the day.  Just like a volcano waiting to erupt, or a time bomb waiting to explode, the disgruntled members who were not satisfied with the parliamentary decision, showed their discontentment.  Most of them were Yorubas who believed in ‘West for West’, the set of people Awolowo always referred to as ‘Omo Okeles’.  Hon. Oke E. O., representing Ogbomoso South West, stood on the table, and exploded: “Fire on the Mountain”!  The Honourable member representing Badagry West, Hon. F. Ebubedike, took up the Mace, the official symbol of authority and smashed it on the Speaker’s table.  The mace broke into two.  There was commotion all over the place.  Chairs began to fly in different directions. One located Chief Awolowo but was quickly intercepted by Chief Alfred Rewane.  There was free-for-all fight, a situation which attracted tear gas from the security men.  As soon as the tear gas was thrown, the whole place became deserted as the honourable men fled.

The Speaker, myself, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Jonathan Odebiyi managed to find our ways to the Speaker’s Office.  There, Chief Awolowo telephoned the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa to inform him of the rascality displayed by the people on the floor of the House.  Mutually, we should agree to keep decency in the House.  The opposition should learn not to be violent and ought to know that nobody had monopoly of violence.  But Tafawa Balewa urged us to be calm, promising, he would call the people to order and that the police would only keep vigil but would not throw tear gas on us.  We were to meet again on that same day by 2.00 p.m.  We actually met.  But it was a continuation of pandemonium that started in the morning.  In flagrant disrespect to an earlier promise, the police went on, tear-gassing us.  After this, we proceeded to the High Court Premises to swear to affidavit supporting the result of the voting which the opposing members disrupted.  We took the case to the court and later to the Privy Council.  But before any judgement or hearing, a state of emergency had been declared, and the House was suspended and the cabinet forthwith dissolved.

Culled From a Book Titled: The Part To Play: An Autobiography of Chief S.T. Adelegan, (deceased) Deputy Speaker, defunct Western Region House of Assembly