Charting a new political direction for Nigeria (3)
YESTERDAY we gave you details of how hief Obafemi Awolowo convinced most of the ‘minor parties’ and ‘undecided’ to team up with the AG against Zik’s NCNC, which blew its chances through some electoral mistakes. Today, we serve you the roots of the Igbo-Yoruba conflict in Nigeria politics and how Awo stopped Zik from going to the Central Legislature via the Western Region.
HOW Awo stopped Zik from going to the centre from Western region
Even after the AG had taken the reins of power in Ibadan, the Western NCNC still insisted that Zik and Prince Adeleke Adedoyin were to proceed to the central legislature in Lagos. Dr Olorun-Nimbe, who collaborated with the Action Group and disobeyed party directive to step down for Zik earned the wrath of the party and was eventually expelled from the NCNC and soon sank into political oblivion. Adedoyin was prepared to step down for Zik on the condition that Olorun-Nimbe should relinquish the Mayoralty of Lagos to him.
But Olorun-Nimbe would not budge either. But I suspect that even so, some members of the Western NCNC still expected Adedoyin to step down for Azikiwe, their leader. And because he did not do this, his popularity in the party may have suffered. Perhaps it was consequent upon this state of affair that Prince Adeleke Adedoyin left the NCNC and left the arena of Lagos politics in 1953. Subsequently he joined the Action Group and became Speaker of the Western House of Assembly as well as a member of the AG Federal Executive (See Sklar, Op cit. p. 117f).
On further reflection, it would appear that most of Azikiwe’s colleagues, especially Adedoyin and Olorun-Nimbe and the defectors from his party did not quite appreciate or understand his plans for the achievement of national independence. A month or so to the 1951 elections, Azikiwe was quoted to have made the following statement;
So far as I am concerned, personally, my aim in trying to get a majority in the regional and central legislatures is to firmly entrench the NCNCers in a strategic position where we would create a deadlock and paralyse the machinery of government and thus rip the Macpherson Constitution and usher in a democratic one.
This means that if we come to power, we shall not only refuse to become ministers, but we shall use our majority to prevent budgets from being passed . . . I am no careerist and it is clear that salary for ministers can hold no attraction for me; it comes to only one-third or less of my earning. In fact, if I am offered a ministerial post, I will not accept it because I cannot serve in such a capacity in an inferior legislature of the colonial type.
I speak for myself and those colleagues of mine who see with me on this issue. There are other NCNCers who hold a different view, but if their opinion subsequently prevails that will not make me change my mind about accepting a ministerial post under the
Macpherson Constitution because such a decision of mine is fundamental and irrevocable—Statement by Dr Azikiwe to a newsman before the Lagos election,
Daily Times, November 23, 1951 (quoted in Coleman, Nigeria, p. 476 n. 49 & Sklar, Nigerian Political Parties, p. 116f)
I believe that if Azikiwe’s colleagues had understood his intendment to torpedo the government from the Central Legislature, the clamour or insistence to be the central legislator would have been more subdued since its lifespan was bound to be cut short at Zik’s instance and prodding.
For Zik was so focused on the achievement of this objective that he would have found a way of doing so even though the NCNC did not achieve parliamentary majority in the Central Legislature as a result of its defeat by the AG in the Western Region. If the NCNC had won in the West, it would have, by the dictates of the subsisting Macpherson Constitution of 1951 been in a position to produce the four central ministers due the Western Region as well as the representatives for the Western Region in the Central Legislature.
That would have given the party majority in that House as well as eight possible indigenous ministers in the central Council of Ministers (each region produced four ministers) which it would have used to paralyse government and governance from the centre in much the same way as it ultimately did in the Eastern Region in 1953.
Indeed, the central government and governments of the Eastern and Western Regions would have been torpedoed in 1952 and what became the Lyttelton Constitution of 1954 would have come in 1952.
Actually, I do not think that Azikiwe ever thought in terms of any governments emerging on the basis of the Macpherson Constitution and the 1951 elections. This conclusion is a direct and natural deduction from Azikiwe’s declaration above that he himself would not accept a ministerial position under the Macpherson Constitution. In effect, if Zik had had his way, that is, if the NCNC had won the elections in both the East and the West, Zik would have forestalled the formation of governments in the two southern regions and at the centre immediately after the inauguration of parliaments in the two regions and at the national level.
There would indeed have been no ministers or Heads of Government Business (or what later became premiers/ prime minister) both in the Eastern and Western Regions as well as at the national level.
In retrospect, it is plausible that this was the reason why the NCNC or Zik did not get into the business of offering ministerial appointments to elected legislators/ political groups like the IPP that it hoped to ally with or of naming anybody or offering the position of Head of Government Business to anyone, like Adisa Akinloye, for instance. For Zik, the constitutional arrangement would have been torpedoed before the need for any such appointments could have arisen, and the decolonisation process would thereby have been speeded up.
Azikiwe’s obvious plan was to use the hoped-for NCNC majority in the Black Parliaments in the East, West and at the centre to defer or kill every Bill from the British Governor of Nigeria in Lagos and the British Lieutenant Governors in Ibadan and Enugu.
This was exactly what he eventually did in the Eastern Region where the NCNC had parliamentary majority! With this plan, the Macpherson Constitution would have been ripped in January 1952.
There would therefore have been no need and no room to get to the stage of appointing ministers or Heads of Government Business. Unfortunately, some of Azikiwe’s colleagues in the NCNC did not know or understand this, hence their dithering, defection and general intransigence. (Zik did not call a meeting of the elected legislators in the Western Region or those of them that belonged to the NCNC before the inauguration of the Parliaments to explain this strategy and its obvious benefits and relevance in the achievement of national independence for Nigeria.) I imagine that if Azikiwe’s colleagues or elected legislators in the Western Region had imbibed this philosophy or were all privy to this Azikiwe’s strategy, then both the carpet crossing episode in the Western House of Assembly and the later inter-personal struggles for position or accession to the National Assembly within the NCNC would have been more checkered, subdued or even defeated. But then, it was possible that both Prince
Adeleke Adedoyin and Dr Abu Bakar Ibiyinka Olorun-Nimbe acted the way they did because of an old inter-personal quarrel they had with Azikiwe previously.
Impact of earlier internal squabble within the NCNC
In 1947 when an NCNC delegation led by Azikiwe (Igbo) visited London to protest the Richards Constitution of 1945, the two men, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin (Ijebu Yoruba) and Dr Abu Bakar Ibiyinka Olorun-Nimbe (Ilorin Yoruba), were members of the delegation. Others were Malam Bukar Dipcharima (Kanuri), Chief Nyong Essien (Ibibio), P M Kale (Bakweri Cameroonian), and Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (Yoruba).
A personality conflict arose between Zik, and Adeleke and Adedoyin on the other hand. The twosome contended according to Richard Sklar, that the memorandum and constitutional proposals submitted to the Colonial Secretary were drafted by Azikiwe alone, a charge which assumes credibility in the light of its similarity to other documents [authored by Azikiwe], e.g., the Political Blueprint of Nigeria, [his earlier 1943 Memorandum to the Secretary of State to the Colonies] and various press commentaries.
Possibly, the memorandum went further than members of the delegation had anticipated in setting forth a program for full independence in fifteen years.
Upon their return to Nigeria, the rift between Azikiwe and the two other Lagos elected members became more pronounced; Adedoyin and Olorun-Nimbe, General Secretary and Treasurer of the NCNC respectively, were expelled [from the party] along with the
Vice-President, M A O Williams, at the First Annual Assembly in April 1948. But Adedoyin and Olorun-Nimbe were the standard bearers of the party in Lagos and their expulsions were neither permanent nor effective. (Sklar, op. cit., p. 63f)
In August 1948, it was reported, the Chief Imam, Ahmed Tijani Ibrahim, and thirty Rabitis, backers of the NNDP/NCNC in Lagos, met with Azikiwe and mediated the return of the expelled NCNC executive officers leading to the readmission of Prince Adeleke Adedoyin and Dr A B Olorun-Nimbe to the party—West African Pilot, August 18, 1948; (Sklar, op cit., p. 71).
Azikiwe’s post-election letter to Awolowo
Anyway, Azikiwe was so focused on the achievement of this objective, the business of paralysing the colonial government to usher in national independence that he was prepared to work with even his greatest opponents and detractors for the purpose. According to Richard Sklar, Dr Azikiwe is reported to have sent a post-election [open] letter to Mr. Awolowo proposing that their two parties form an alliance in the Western Region that would ‘create such a deadlock . . . as to force the hands of Government to concede us a better constitution whose provisions would make party politics more effective’. –West Africa, December 29, 1951 (quoted in Coleman, Nigeria, p. 476, n. 49)—Sklar, Op cit. p. 116f.
What Zik was saying in effect is that in the event the AG won the election in the Western Region, that Awolowo should cooperate with him to achieve the above object and speedily secure national independence for Nigeria. Why did Awolowo not immediately cooperate with Zik as requested upon coming to power in the West?
Of course Awolowo was intelligent and sagacious enough to understand what Zik proposed and its workability. But perhaps he imagined that helping Zik paralyse government would entail pulling down governments in the regions as well, which would not be in his personal, party or class interest notwithstanding the fact that his refusal to cooperate would delay Nigeria’s independence.
You see, if Zik’s proposal of paralyzing government would be at both central and regional levels, it would mean that the elections at the regional levels would also be repeated under a new constitution that would come.
That constitution was expected to be a more democratic document that would stipulate direct elections through universal adult suffrage, which the NCNC had been rooting for. Awolowo could not be sure that his party would at that point in time win the repeat election in the Western Region under the expected new format.
You see, the only chance Awolowo had of winning the Western Region election at the material time was through indirect elections, the format used in 1951, in which vote buying and all forms of manipulations, including the use of the traditional institutions, the Obas, to flood and populate the electoral colleges with pliable individuals or electors, were possible.
And this was one of the reasons why the British colonialists insisted on the use of indirect elections in the 1951 elections. They wanted to stop Zik and the NCNC by getting AG to win the Western Region elections. Similarly, it was designed to stop Aminu Kano and the “radical” NEPU which was poised to win the elections in Northern Nigeria. It should be noted that because the 1954 Federal elections were conducted under the Lyttelton Constitution (which was the ultimate result of NCNC’s paralysation of the colonial government in Eastern Nigeria in 1953 as the orchestrated deadlock in the central or national legislature later that year) through direct elections, the AG lost to the NCNC in the Western Region. As already pointed out above, it was for this same reason that the AG did not conduct a snap election in the West and stayed in power for virtually the entire five-year period to which it was elected in 1951.
The point is that the AG first needed to consolidate power in the West before it could risk another contest with the NCNC knowing what it did to win in 1951/52. However, it would appear that after the NCNC National Executive unsuccessfully canvassed or campaigned at the party’s Port-Harcourt Convention for its central ministers to resign as a means of pulling the central government down, Chief Awolowo cottoned unto the idea that the central government could be paralysed in this manner in order to usher in a new constitution without upsetting his own government in Western Nigeria.
Hence he subsequently mobilised the AG central ministers for an AG/Endeley manoeuvre in the Federal House of Representatives on March 31, 1953 that delivered the coup de grace that induced the constitutional conferences of July and August 1953 and the NCNC-AG alliance that helped usher in the Lyttelton Constitution of 1954. Anthony Enahoro’s motion (March 31, 1953) of self-government for Nigeria by 1956 gave expression to an Action Group policy, adopted at that party’s annual convention of December 1952..
The Minutes of the Emergency Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Action Group, Lagos, March 24, 1953, shows that the party authorised the four Western ministers to support Anthony Enahoro’s self-government motion.
Stoppage of Zik’s movement to the central legislature
It will be remembered that the Macpherson Constitution provided that the Lagos Capital Territory was to be represented in the Central or National Legislature by two elected legislators from Lagos. However, contrary to expectations, that Constitution did not allow that the two members would move directly from Lagos to the National Assembly. Instead, the Western House of Assembly was made the Electoral College that would elect from amongst the elected legislators from Lagos the said two representatives for Lagos. This indeed arose from the fact that the nation’s capital city, Lagos, was inadvertently, or as viewed in some quarters, mischievously made part of the Western Region by the British colonialists in spite of the subsisting notion and practice that national capitals should never be subordinated to any one region of a country.
As already stated above, after the 1951 Western Regional elections in which the NCNC won all the Lagos legislative seats and following this constitutional provision, the NCNC National Executive Committee decided that Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, President and Secretary-General of the NCNC respectively, were to proceed from the Western Regional Legislature to the Central or National Legislature to represent Lagos. However, there was a twist.
Having secured parliamentary majority in the Western House of Assembly, the onus fell on the Action Group to decide which two of the elected Lagos legislators were to proceed to the National Legislature since the House constituted the Electoral College for that purpose. Of course this right or power was not absolute since the NCNC could have its way if there was unanimity of purpose amongst its elected legislators from Lagos.
Given that no Action Group member qualified to be elected as representative for Lagos in the National Assembly, it was hoped in some quarters that the Action Group would in the spirit of give and take allow Nnamdi Azikiwe and Prince Adeleke Adedoyin to proceed to the Central Legislature as decided by the NCNC, but the Action Group decided otherwise by electing Prince Adeleke Adedoyin and Dr Abu Bakar Ibiyinka Olorun-Nimbe. In taking that decision, the Action Group effectively blocked Azikiwe from leading his party in the National Legislature which ought to be his place in the scheme of thing as the leader of the NCNC. Of course matters were not helped by the insistence of Dr Olorun-Nimbe to go against his party’s decision on this issue by cooperating with the Action Group and accepting to serve in the Central Legislature as decided by the Action Group.
Perhaps the Action Group’s decision was calculated to destabilise Zik and the NCNC—an action that could be viewed as normal in the perennial struggle for power and advantage among political parties, but I dare say that sometimes the import of such action is overrated by politicians and carried out without a thought to the future; the ephemeral nature of political power and the fact that they might someday need support, cooperation, even protection, from an erstwhile opponent in the unpredictable labyrinth of power and political manoeuvring.
That in the long-run there is little to be gained from an over-kill and the humiliation of an opponent, for this often leads to lasting enmity. There is wisdom in Nelson Mandela’s quip that “… I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate.
Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonouring them.” (Mandela, Nelson, Long Walk to Freedom, 1994, 1995, p.10) Indeed, Mandela’s resolve in this regard can be discerned from his handling of affairs between himself, the ANC which he led and President F W de Klerk in the months leading up to the latter’s relinquishing of power to the ANC in South Africa.
o much has been said and written about the Igbo-Yoruba conflict in Nigeria politics. What are the roots of this conflict? Does the conflict have anything to do with the Nigerian National Development Party (NNDP), Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) and emergence of the NCNC?