Zik, Ndi-Igbo and their southern neighbours: Charting a new political direction for Nigeria

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Yesterday we published why southern Nigeria ethnic nationalities are disunited, the 1951 Western Regional election and its aftermath and the horsetrading that gave Chief Awolowo’s AG majority over Dr Azikiwe’s NCNC. Today, we take you deeper into the discourse on how Awolowo got the upper hand in the battle for the soul of Western Region. Read on…

The arrowhead of these fringe groups which tilted the balance in Awolowo’s favour by teaming up with the Action Group (AG) was of course five members of the six elected parliamentarians from the Ibadan Peoples Party (IPP) led by Adisa Akinloye; the sixth member, Adegoke Adelabu, Deputy President of the IPP, joined forces with the NCNC to form the NCNC-Mabolaje Grand Alliance.

 A great mobiliser, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (right) with one of his die-hard supporters, Mr Ayo Opadokun (left)

A great mobiliser, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (right) with one of his die-hard supporters, Mr Ayo Opadokun (left)

Given that the IPP and some other fringe groups and individuals were earlier allied to the NCNC and later changed sides, including one or two Yoruba NCNC members who subsequently colluded with the Action Group to frustrate Zik from moving to the central legislature, the said cross-carpeting saga has been somewhat over-stretched to create the impression that majority of Western NCNC members abandoned Zik on the floor of the Western House of Assembly and crossed over to Awolowo’s side.

This impression has of course deepened inter-ethnic misunderstanding between the Igbo and the Yoruba which had almost gotten to a flash point when tribal animosities were first aroused by the advent of tribal politics about 1947/8.

The Ikejiani testimony

But there is something that needs to be clarified at this point. Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani who observed proceedings at the Western House of Assembly from the stands on the fateful day when the House commenced business wrote thus about what he saw and what transpired a day before the opening of Parliament:

I lived at Ibadan at the time. The rumour was rife that the AG was buying some of the NCNC members. I, as well as some members of the NCNC, told Zik about the rumour. He dismissed the idea and said that he would not be part of the use of corrupt means to win the election for the party. One of the prominent NCNC members from Ibadan who won the election on NCNC platform was Chief Adisa Akinloye. It was the general feeling of members of the NCNC Central Working Committee that we should, that night, visit Chief Akinloye who lived in Oke Ado. Among those who went to Chief Akinloye’s house were Chief Festus Okotie Eboh, Chief T O S Benson, Kola Balogun and others. Upon arrival, Chief Akinloye and his wife welcomed us and we were served drinks.

Soon after, the matter of the rumour that some members of the NCNC would cross carpet to the AG the next day was brought up. Chief Akinloye vehemently denied that he would cross carpet to the AG. We finally left, satisfied that he had told us the truth. The next day we all went to witness the opening of the Western House of Assembly.

Openingceremony

Immediately after the initial opening ceremony and after members of the House of Assembly had taken their seats with the parties [to] which they belonged, the first person to cross over to the AG side was Chief Arthur Prest. Others, including Chief Augustus Adisa Akinloye, followed him. The carpet crossing resulted in an increase in the number of seats won by the AG to 42 and reduced the NCNC seats from 43 to 23. The Mabolaje Grand Alliance of Adegoke Adelabu and J M Johnson refused to be bribed and did not cross over.—Okechukwu Ikejiani, The Unrepentant Nationalist (2007) pp. 198-199.

Actually the final figures showed that the Action Group had 45 seats while the NCNC had 30-35 seats. (Richard L. Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties (1963) p. 35)

Of course it might look okay, based on Ikejiani’s testimony, to regard the five IPP members who crossed over to the AG as defectors from the NCNC because of Akinloye’s alleged assurances of support for the NCNC a night before the fateful “crossover episode”. But I do not think that so much weight should be attached to that so-called reassurance, given other available testimonies. According to Sklar, two of the elected candidates of IPP, “Mr S. O. Lanlehin and Mr A. M. A. Akinloye, President of the Ibadan People’s Party, participated in early organisational meetings of the Action Group. (Minutes of the 7th Meeting of the Action Group, November 12, 1950;

ActionGroup

Minutes of the 10th Meeting of the Action Group, March 31, and April 1, 1951.) Akinloye’s association with the Action Group appears to have preceded that with the Ibadan People’s Party, since it was reported that he would inaugurate the I.P.P. on June 16, 1951, following his nomination by the Action Group.

Other Ibadan personalities who were reported as sympathetic to the Action Group but ‘noticeably inactive,’ included Rev. Alayande, S. A. Akinfewa, Mr Lanlehin, and E. C. B. Omole. Daily Times, June 16, 1951.” (Sklar, op. cit. p. 295) Chief Akinloye was to become the Minister of Agriculture in the emergent AG government of the Western Region; an offer that may have been made to him before the inaugural opening of the Western House of Assembly and the so-called carpet crossing episode.

It was possible that Akinloye warmly welcomed the last minute NCNC delegation that visited a night before the D-day in the hope that the NCNC would make him and his group a better offer for coalition or alliance; an offer that never came, hence his apparent volte face.

Actually, circumstantial evidence points to a possible earlier commitment of the IPP to the NCNC. Ibadan people immediately embraced Adegoke Adelabu for not crossing over to the AG. In subsequent elections, Ibadan people voted for the NCNC-Mabolaje Grand Alliance. This indicates that the IPP won the 1951 elections in Ibadan probably because it had identified with the NCNC, which the Ibadan people that never wanted anything to do with Awolowo, rallied to.

Now let us look at the actions of men like Chief Arthur Prest. In April, 1948, Chief Arthur Prest, an Urhobo who claimed to be Itsekiri, emerged as a Legal Adviser of the NCNC National Executive Committee. In 1950, at the height of the anti-Azikiwe, anti-Igbo campaign by the Awolowo group and consequent inter-tribal exchanges between the

Igbo and the Yoruba, Chief Arthur Prest, President of the Warri National Union, an affiliate member of the NCNC, joined hands with Chief Anthony Enahoro (a former editor of the Lagos Daily Comet, owned by Azikiwe, who was disillusioned over issues surrounding his imprisonment for six months for his role in the uprising of the Zikist Movement of October 27, 1948) to inaugurate a Mid-West Party, which evolved into the Mid-West section of the Action Group.

Owo Conference

At Action Group’s Owo Conference of April 28-29, 1951, Chief Arthur Prest was elected a Vice-President of the Action Group. Therefore that he and his likes sat with NCNC members on the fateful day the Western House commenced business did not mean that he was an NCNC member at that point in time. He and others like him had defected, ‘crossed carpet’, a long time before the fateful day.

They imbibed the anti-Azikiwe plot much earlier. His leading the other so-called NCNC members in “crossing carpet to the AG”, as claimed by Dr Ikejiani must have been part of the plot, a prearranged move for needed dramatic effect and possibly to pull over the undecided through the bandwagon effect. And the bandwagon effect actually worked. The undecided or the confused joined Chief Prest and the others in crossing over to the AG. In Obafemi Awolowo’s own words: Some independents who were not sure of the truth sat on the fence . . . During the meeting three members of the NCNC crossed to the Action Group, one of whom crossed back to the NCNC . . . {Address by Obafemi Awolowo (Mimeographed) See also Daily Service, January 8, 1952}

So, Awolowo’s statement is a confirmation that some bonafide NCNC legislators crossed carpet to join the AG on the fateful day. But given Ikejiani’s claim that twenty NCNC members crossed carpet on the floor of the Western House of Assembly to join the AG at the said occasion, what may be in dispute is the actual number.

There is another fact to be derived from Dr Ikejiani’s testimony. The NCNC did not take the business of lobbying the elected legislators or independents for support seriously. It was only a night to the opening of Parliament, weeks after the elections, that some NCNC members visited Chief Adisa Akinloye, leader of the third largest party in the contest, a party the NCNC was hoping would be its junior partner in government. The NCNC did not enter into any concrete agreement with this party. No assurances were established.

No concessions were made to the IPP even till the last day as to what its place would be if it helped the NCNC form government. If the NCNC could not or did not bother to lobby or talk with the IPP, which had six elected members, then one can safely assume that it did not reach out to the undecided independents scattered all over the Western Region.

On the other hand, Awolowo took the business of getting majority of these legislators to his side seriously. There is nothing a politician, in fact any individual, likes more than to be consulted. A mere visit from Awolowo could be enough to sway an elected parliamentarian to his side. And Awolowo exploited these nuances of practical politics to the fullest.

On the other hand, going by Ikejiani’s testimony, Azikiwe dismissed reports about what Awo was doing and declined to get involved. He probably felt that the NCNC’s stronger ideological position or tactics of militant nationalism with regard to the anti-colonial struggle was enough to see his party through; that it was enough to attract the elected independents to his party without any further discussion or assurances. And so like Julius Caesar he adopted a lackadaisical attitude to this important game of practical politics and left too much to chance. Like Caesar he forgot that “security gives way to conspiracy” and that “It is the bright day that brings forth the adder; And that craves wary walking”. It is also possible that Zik had at this time become war-weary and a bit lethargic. Or perhaps he was assailed by sheer pessimism.

Sheerpessimism

But he did snap out of it later. When in 1952/53 Zik had to battle the ‘sit tight’ ministers in the Eastern Region, he displayed remarkable spirit and acumen, and was able to show that he was equally adept at the practical end of political mobilisation in the way he fought, against all odds, to mobilise the Assemblymen against the ‘sit tight’ ministers and the British Lieutenant Governor of Eastern Nigeria.

Indeed, Zik’s attitude in the immediate aftermath of the Western elections was even worse than that of Caesar; for the Roman conspirators hid their intentions until the last moment, but in Zik’s case his opponents did trumpet their intentions even from atop Olumo Rock for years.

Zik fought them vigorously at the theoretical level; at the level of newspaper campaign and doctrinal exposition. But when it came to the real thing; the practical politics of door to door canvassing, he left the field and allowed his opponents to operate unchallenged.

Had Zik and his Yoruba lieutenants engaged their opponents adequately at this level, they would have discovered that the mere notion that the great Zik visited, to say nothing about the words his sharp tongue could have uttered, could have changed minds and given victory to their party. Indeed, if Zik had for instance offered Chief Adisa Akinloye the premiership or the position of Head of Government Business of Western Nigeria, the NCNC would have beaten the Action Group.

Ministerialpost

It would have garnered the majority to form Government in Western Nigeria and the AG would subsequently have fizzled out. But then such is the ‘if’ of life. Personal assurances from Azikiwe could have defused the lie that he had the ambition of becoming the Head of Government Business or Premier of Western Nigeria. How many people read the Daily Times of November 23, 1951, where Zik declared his disinterest in such a ministerial post? Even his close friend,

Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani had no idea that Zik had no ambition of becoming a Head of Government either in the regions or at the centre at that point in time.

That all he wanted was to frustrate governance or the institution of government under the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 and hence force its replacement with a new constitution that would grant independence. If Ikejiani knew about this plan, he couldn’t have added his opinion that with the “cross carpeting” in the Western House in 1952, “It was obvious that the dream of the NCNC that Zik would become Leader of Government Business in the Western Region was a forlorn hope.” And if Ikejiani did not know, how many, even within the NCNC, would have known?

This is not to say, by the way, that there was anything wrong if Zik had aspired as a Nigerian resident in Lagos to head the Government of Western Nigeria. He certainly had the right to so aspire. But he was the leader of a national party.

Therefore his place was at the centre, in the national legislature and not in any of the regional Assemblies. This was why he aspired to go to the Central Legislature. He found himself in the Western House of Assembly because the British had mischievously made Lagos part of the Western Region and constituted the Western House of Assembly into an Electoral

College to elect two out of the five elected legislators from Lagos that would represent Lagos in the central or national legislature, in spite of protestations from the NCNC and, remarkably, from H O Davies of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), all of whom rightly argued that a nation’s capital territory should not be subsumed into a region.

But then the British colonialists did not want Zik in the central legislature, knowing how much he could upset their apple cart if he got there. So they actually hoped and desired that he would be trapped in the Western House of Assembly and prevented from getting into the national legislature if the Action Group achieved parliamentary majority in the House. And this was exactly what happened in the end.

The commitment of the western NCNC

All in all, we must never overlook the fact that majority of members of the Western NCNC, including stalwart parliamentarians like TOS Benson, H P Adebola etc, stayed with Zik, to say nothing about the firebrand, Adegoke Adelabu, who, in his own words followed ‘ideology’ without any prompting or lobbying from the NCNC, and did everything to promote Nigerian nationalism in the Western Region and to place it above tribe. (At the seamy NCNC Annual Convention of October 28-30, 1957, in Aba, Adelabu “exclaimed that he would have been welcomed into the camp of the Action Group or the Northern Peoples’ Congress as an ally, but that he rejected both tribalism and religion as the basis of party affiliation. I followed Zik because of ideology; let that ideology live on.” (Sklar, op. cit. p. 199)

Party affiliation

And that these and others like them continued to carry the NCNC banner long after the 1952 saga and Zik’s eventual departure from the Western House of Assembly in 1952/3.

They fought vigorously to stem the tide of ethnicism from Nigerian politics and were able to defeat the Action Group (23 parliamentary seats to 18) in the Federal elections of 1954 in the Western Region as well as hold unto NCNC’s superiority in Lagos politics for another decade. Indeed, the NCNC victory in the 1954 Federal elections in the Western Region, coming so soon after the fateful ‘cross-carpeting’ episode of 1952, forced Awolowo to steer clear of a snap election to test the popularity of his government despite all the ensuing criticism that AG’s victory and access to power in Western Nigeria in 1952 was fraudulently contrived and unpopular with the masses; and that it was indeed facilitated by the British ploy of imposing the system of indirect election which they knew and hoped would enthrone intrigue in that election.

Furthermore, the role of principled men like H O Davies must always be put in perspective. Hezekiah Oladipo Davies was a stalwart of the Nigerian Youth Movement. According to Richard Sklar, Davies was also a prominent member of the Egbe

Omo Oduduwa; at the inaugural conference of June 1948 he was chosen as co-legal adviser (with Bode Thomas) and he was largely responsible for the successful promotion of the Egbe Endowment Fund for ‘Oduduwan scholars’. But he opposed the Egbe philosophy of regionalism and its utilization for political purposes. In this regard he clashed with Obafemi Awolowo, who had been a follower and admirer of

Davies in the Youth Movement. . . . Davies withdrew from the Nigerian Youth Movement early in 1951 before its incorporation into the Action Group. On May

1, 1951, the community of Effon-Alaye, Ekiti, conferred on him the title of Otun, and three days later he inaugurated a political party, Nigerian People’s Congress.

Davies and Azikiwe then negotiated an agreement to cooperate in bringing about an early reform of the Constitution, but the entente between their two parties lapsed when the Nigerian People’s Congress refused to affiliate formally with the NCNC. (Daily

Times, May, 2, 5, and 9, and August 8, 1951) Subsequently Davies became Legal Adviser of the NCNC {– Richard L Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties (1963)

Apparently, H O Davies was not an insider; he apparently did not know the real purpose for which the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was created. Hence he allowed his enormous talent and personality to be used in entrenching the organisation.

And he must have been embittered by this development! As a matter of fact, Chief Awolowo had to grapple with the problem of reining in men like Chief H O Davies and pacifying the other Yoruba leaders who refused to accept him, for the rest of his life. (See, APPENDICES: Chief Ayo Opadokun, ‘Reminisces on Efforts to Unite Yoruba Nation’)

Anyway, since the vast majority of Yoruba voters continued to vote NCNC even in the aftermath of the ‘carpet-crossing’ incidence in the Western House of Assembly, how can we turn around to lump them together with the few individuals who sold out, succumbed to whatever Awolowo offered, or embraced Action Group’s philosophy of tribal solidarity and exclusivity? Indeed, these generalisations do not take cognizance of the fact that the Western NCNC stood solidly behind Zik to the bitter end.

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