The bitternes of Femi Aribisala (2)

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A FITTING culmination to his political career in this period was the singular honour that was bestowed on him when he was selected to move in 1958, on the floor of the House of Representatives, the resolution which formally demanded Independence for Nigeria in 1960.

This was the resolution to which the British government was favourably disposed and thus acceded to. Chief Enahoro is often wrongly assumed to have moved this motion; his own motion for self-government in 1956 was, in fact, defeated by the opposition of the Northern People’s Congress.

Chief Akintola’s 1957 motion for independence in 1959, was, like Chief Enahoro’s, unsuccessful because the British government refused to accede to it.

The second phase of Chief Fani-Kayode’s political career commenced in 1960, when he entered the Western Nigeria legislature in August, 1960, as a member of the N.C.N.C. This phase, which lasted till the close of his political career which ended with annulment of the 1993 presidential election results, presents greater difficulty than the pre-independence phase, and, it must be conceded, is not as glorious.

However, it started well enough when within a few months he succeeded the late Chief Osadebay as the Leader of the Opposition in the Western Nigeria legislature in November, 1960, even though, he had just joined the N.C.N.C. a few months before.

This appointment was obviously in recognition of his effectiveness as a legislator and political leader. Within a short period, his dynamism and strong leadership revived the Western wing of the N.C.N.C. and restored their faltering morale. In 1962, when the pro-Awolowo faction of the A.G. sought to remove Chief Akintola as Premier, he saw this as an opportunity to bring the N.C.N.C. into the government of Western Nigeria and thus came to the assistance of the smaller embattled pro-Akintola faction of the A.G. by allying the Western wing of the N.C.N.C. to them.

When the pro-Awolowo faction sought, in May, 1962, to remove Chief Akintola by means, which at the time, were legally ambiguous and had no constitutional precedent, the N.C.N.C. legislators led by Chief Fani-Kayode joined the pro-Akintola A.G. legislators to forestall in the legislative chamber what appeared to them to be an unconstitutional method of removing the Premier, particularly as Chief Akintola had earlier filed a lawsuit.

A vindictive, intolerant, paranoid and partisan Federal Government, seeing an opportunity to break the back of their bogey, the pro-Awolowo faction, rushed in with indecent haste and doubtful constitutional legality to impose a state of emergency in Western Nigeria. When the so-called emergency ended in January 1963, Chief Akintola was asked by the Federal Government to form a government without the benefit of a new election which would have decided once and for all which faction really commanded a majority in the legislature.

When I took Chief Fani-Kayode up on this, he informed me that as of January 1963, when a coalition government of the pro-Akintola faction and the N.C.N.C. was formed, that alliance commanded a majority in the legislature. It is difficult to accept this as neither a vote of confidence in the Akintola government nor new regional elections were ever held.

It may be recalled , however, that Chief Akintola had pre-emptively challenged his attempted dismissal when he filed a lawsuit in May 1962. He was successful at the Federal Supreme Court, which then occupied the intermediate position the Court of Appeal presently occupies in the judicial hierarchy. The pro-Awolowo faction appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which was then the final Court of Appeal for Nigeria.

A powerful Board, which included some of England’s finest jurists such as Lords Radcliffe, Devlin and Guest, held that Chief Akintola had been lawfully dismissed, as the novel procedure adopted by the pro-Awolowo faction was constitutional. It must be conceded that it was a failure of statesmanship on the part of Chiefs Akintola and Fani-Kayode that they did not immediately resign at this point, for their government had by that decision become illegal.

Of course, the Balewa-led coalition government of the N.P.C. and N.C.N.C. must also even take a greater portion of the blame for committing the constitutional abomination of nullifying this judgement by passing a law, which had retrospective effect from October 1, 1960, abolishing appeals to the Privy Council. This was done in order to sustain their allies in power. This singular action destroyed parliamentary democracy in the West, and subsequently, in Nigeria.

The primary motive which informed the actions of Chiefs Akintola and Fani-Kayode and their associates was the desire to take the Yoruba out of the cul-de-sac they believed that Chief Awolowo’s rigidity had led them into. Both men had in 1959 evinced a preference for an alliance with N.P.C in order to prevent the political isolation of the Yoruba. Consequently, they also believed in reaching a consensus with the N.P.C in order to establish a working relationship with them.

This involved refraining from taking actions that the North might consider inimical to its interests – e.g. they wanted to put an end to the political activities of the A.G. in the North and thereby transform the party into a regional party.

Both men and their associates felt that as a result of the Yoruba’s political isolation in opposition, some chauvinistic Igbo leaders had seized the opportunity to completely efface the Yoruba from the public services, while at the same time establishing Igbo hegemony in the country.

 

Mr. AKIN AJOSE ADEOGUN, a commentator on national issues, wrote from  Lagos.

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