By Eric Teniola
IN reply, the Leader of Opposition in the Federal Parliament, and Leader of the Action Group, Chief Obafemi Awolowo said: I beg to move the following Amendment to the Motion already proposed by the Prime Minister:
“To delete all the words of the Motion after-That – and substitute- “This honourable House declares after having regard to the provisions of section 65 of the Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria a state of public emergency does not exist.”
“May I draw the attention of honourable Members to the provisions of section 65 of our Constitution. It is not usual for Members to read the Constitution unless occasion such as this arises or some other incidents which affect us occur.
Section 65 reads: “65(1) Parliament may at any time make such laws for Nigeria or any part thereof with respect to matters not included in the Legislative Lists as may appear to Parliament to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of maintaining or securing peace, order and good government during any period of emergency.”
“The section 3-(3) In this section “period of emergency” means any period during which (a) the Federation is at war; (b) there is in force a resolution by each House of Parliament declaring that a state of public of emergency exists; and (c) there is in force a resolution of each House of Parliament supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the House declaring that democratic institutions in Nigeria are threatened by subversion.
“That is the section, Mr. Speaker, and I hold the view very strongly- and that view is in no way shaken by the speech made by the Prime Minister that the step which the Federal Government now proposes is uncalled for and unwarranted.
“The first question which any reasonable person ought to ask himself is this. Is there a state of emergency in the Western Region? That is the most important question which the Prime Minister and the Cabinet must ask themselves. I submit with greater respect that a state of emergency does not exist in Western Nigeria.
“Not long ago after independence, there was rioting of a most severe nature in the Tiv Division of Northern Nigeria. Several lives were lost, several properties were destroyed, there was arson and a host other crimes were committed. At that time, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister as he is the Prime Minister,today. He did not think it fit to call this Parliament to declare a state of emergency in the Northern Region. Also in Okrika- there was widespread rioting in Okrika; again, several lives and properties were lost. I understand that this widespread rioting in Okrika occurred twice in the Eastern Region. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet did not think it fit on that occasion to declare a state of public emergency in the Eastern Region.
“But, because the Action Group is pursuing the normal democratic processes as laid down in our Constitution to oust someone who happens to be very close friend of the Prime Minister, and also because the Action Group is looked upon as a moral foe to the N.P.C., this very far-reaching provision of our Constitution is now being invoked, only in respect of what might be described as squabbles inside the Chamber of the Western House of Assembly. It is doing violence to our Constitution and doing violence to the construction of words to suggest that what happened in the Western House of Assembly amounts to a state of public emergency.
“I was present there myself and when I left that Chamber, those who were outside the Chamber did not even know that anything was happening inside the Chamber. Ibadan is peaceful- the whole of the Western Region is peaceful; it is true that the newspaper have been exaggerating the situation in the Western Region, the Prime Minister himself has lent his support to this exaggeration; he cancelled all his engagements- whether they existed or not I do not know; the Governor- General was suddenly summoned back from his holiday in Nsukka to come to Lagos even when there was no deterioration in the situation in the Western Nigeria.
“ I maintain that this is a calculated, premeditated attempt on the part of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to try, if they could, to castrate the Action Group, to disturb the welfare of the people of the Western Nigeria who have always been looked upon as the foes of the N.P.C.
“May I say that I can understand the yearnings and the wishes of the N.C.N.C. and the stand of the N.C.N.C. in this matter. Every political party wants to be in power- we want to be in power here in the Centre one day, and by the grace of God we will. But the N.C.N.C. wants, naturally, to fish in troubled waters. If I were in their shoes, I would think that no occasion is more favourable than now to have a dissolution of the Legislature of the Western Region, because this dissolution now would mean a split in the votes of the Action Group. It might be that by such a split, they could sort of fluke in and form the Government of Nigeria. In any case, whatever happened after that dissolution, the N.C.N.C. would not be any worse off than they were before, namely to be in the Opposition- that is the worst that could happened to them . But there is a chance- the off-chance- that they may just manage to win.
“Therefore I can understand the action of the N.C.N.C. in this matter, because that is the party in opposition in the Western Region. The N.P.C. has no foothold in the West, and it is doing its very best to find a foothold in the Western Region.
“There are a number of persons who call themselves N.P.C. Members for Ibadan, but they are by themselves; they have some following of a type among people who live in Mokola, Ibadan, that is to be understood; but the N.P.C. as such has no following in the Western Region, and it is the N.P.C. dominated Federal Government that now wants to impose its rule on the people of the Western Nigeria, simply because there was what the Prime Minister called uproar in the Chamber of the Western House of Assembly- not an uproar in Ibadan as whole; not uproar in Ogbomoso the home of Chief Akintola who is involved in this matter; not an uproar in Ijebu-Remo; not an uproar in Ikorodu, not an uproar anywhere in the Western Region. The Prime Minister thinks that this very far-reaching provisions of the Constitution should be invoked merely to save a friend!
“Secondly, what is a public emergency? What is a state of public emergency? May I say that my view quite candidly is that a state of public emergency arises only when there is widespread violence in any part of the Federation. In this particular case there is no widespread violence or rioting or disturbance in the Western Region. And yet, the Honourable Minister for War- for Defence- sent soldiers to Ibadan as a matter of routine I think, because the soldiers there have been moved to Congo; and then he went on the air to say”Oh yes, we have sent them there because of the tension in Ibadan.” Where is the tension in Ibadan? I may walk about the streets of Ibadan, and if the Mnister of Defence challenges, I invite him to come along to Ibadan and go about the streets of Ibadan. But they want to create this artificial tension in the Western Region in order to invoke this far reaching provision of the Constitution.
“Thirdly I say- I said it outside this House and I want to repeat it on the floor of this honourable House- that the action now being taken by the Federal Government is a gross misuse of power; I do not say abuse because as far as I can see there is no abuse yet- I hope the Federal Government does not abuse its power in the process of implementing this Resolution, but so far it is a gross misuse of power; the circumstances which should warrant the use of this power have not yet risen.
“What is more? The Prime Minister was very, very careful in stating the events which led to his having to decide to take this action which he is now taking. I never knew him to be journalist, I know him to be an educationist, a politician and a statesman, but like some journalists he has put a little bit of twist and slant in relating the events, so as to show that it is the Action Group, vis-à-vis Chief Akintola that is at fault in this matter. Why did the Prime Minister not tell this House the story which the Police have no doubt told him concerning the events in the House of Assembly on that day! He knows the story but he has chosen not to tell it, and since he has failed to tell it, I will tell that story and challenge the Prime Minister to deny it.
“The truth is that in the House of Assembly that day, Honourable Members were assembled as we are here now assembled; prayers were said and then immediately after that, one Mr. Oke, a supporter of Chief Akintola, a Member from Ogbomosho, jumped on the desk and was running about on the desk and then lifted a chair and struck somebody on the head. That is how it started, and then thereafter one Mr. Ebubedike, the Member for Badagry, who lives in Ajeromi, took the Mace and then in an attempt to strike the Speaker with the Mace, the Mace struck the Table and broke into two. These events were witnessed by the Police and then chairs were lifted and were thrown all over the place by supporters of Chief Akintola.