By Eric Teniola
THE crisis of the Action Group reared its ugly head at the party’s annual convention held in Jos, Plateau in January 1962 like a joke. It was at the convention that the General Secretary of the party, Chief Ayotunde Rosiji (1917-2000) resigned and Mr. Samuel Goomsu Ikoku (1912-1997) took over as the Chief Scribe of the party. Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro (1923-2010) became the deputy leader of the party. Mr. Ikoku had earlier defeated his father, Dr. Alvan Ikoku by 59 votes in the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly election. The 8th convention of the party was held in African Sports Club in Jos with Chief Ajibola Idowu Ige,SAN(1930-2001) elected publicity Secretary of the party and with Professor Samuel Adepoju Aluko(1929-2012), Prof. Hezekiah Adedunmola Oluwafemi Oluwasanmi (1919-1983), Prof. Victor Adenuga Oyenuga(1917-2010),Chief Arthur Edward Prest(1906-1976), Prof. H.E. Ajose, Dr. Sanya Dojo Onabamiro (1913-1985) and Prof. Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje(85),in attendance. At the convention, then leader of the party, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909-1987) was on one side, while the Premier of the Western Region at the time, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola (1912-1966) was on another side. The crisis snowballed into a major national crisis, the consequences of which we still face today.
On May 29, 1962, then Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966) summoned an emergency meeting of the Federal House of Representatives which was then the Federal Parliament in Lagos during which he moved a motion on the Action Group crisis. The full motion is hereby reproduced and the reply of the then opposition leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The motion reads thus:” I rise to move the Resolution standing in my name which reads as follows:”That in pursuance of section sixty-five of the constitution of the Federation, It is hereby declared that a state of public emergency exists in Western Region and that this resolution shall remain in force until the end of the month of December, nineteen hundred and sixty-two.”
“Members know the reasons why Parliament has reassembled to-day. For the past week or so there has been no properly constituted Government in Western Nigeria. I would like to recapitulate briefly the events which have led to this impasse and in doing so I would like to emphasise that the Federal Government had been motivated solely by the desire to ensure that peace, order and tranquility are maintained throughout parts of the Federation.
“ A political crisis developed within the Action Group which was the party in control of the Government of Western Nigeria. Following the crisis the National Executive of the party deposed Chief Akintola as Deputy Leader and asked him to resign his appointment as Premier of Western Nigeria. On the 20th of May, the Premier advised the Governor of Western Nigeria that in view of the political crisis which had been developed in the Region and of the rival claims of the two factions to a majority support of the electorate in the Region His Excellency should exercise his powers under section 31 of Part III of the Constitution of Western Nigeria to dissolve the Legislative House of the Region. The Governor refused.
“On the same day the Premier asked the Speaker, for the same reasons, to convene the Western House of Assembly for Wednesday, May 23rd to consider and pass a Motion for a vote of confidence in the Government of Western Nigeria but the Speaker also refused. The following day the Governor purported to exercise the powers vested in him by section 33(10) of the constitution of Western Nigeria set out in the Fourth Schedule to the Nigeria Constitution Order-in-Council 1960 and purported to remove Chief Akintola from his office as Premier of Western Nigeria with effect from the 21st of May. Chief Akintola thereupon filed a Motion in the High Court challenging the power of the Governor to remove him from office in the manner he did. The matter is still before the court for determination.
“The Governor, nevertheless, proceeded to exercise the powers in normal circumstances vested in him by section 33(1) of the Constitution of Western Nigeria by purporting to appoint Chief D.S. Adegbenro to be Premier of Western Nigeria with effect from the 21st of May. A meeting of the Western House of Assembly was summoned for the 25th of May.
“As Members know, two unsuccessful attempts were made on that day to hold meetings of the Western House of Assembly; the first one ended in a violent uproar and disorder. The police had no alternative but to use tear gas to disperse all Members, but before then the House had become a shambles. I was then approached by one side to the dispute to allow the Nigeria Police to guard the Chamber of the Western House of Assembly so that another meeting could be held, this time, in the House of Chiefs which was to be used as the House of Assembly. The other side almost immediately warned that it would be unwise and risky to allow such further meeting to be held. Before the attempt to hold a second meeting I felt impelled to issue the following release: “The two factions in the Action Group have contacted the Prime Minister regarding the holding of another meeting of the Western Nigeria House of Assembly today. The Prime Minister cannot stop the meeting from taking place but because of the fight which has broken out in the House this morning if the parties decided to hold a meeting of the House of Assembly they may do so. It must be on the strict understanding that there will be no police protection within the Chamber. If, however, any party insists on being afforded police protection within the Chamber the police may be so present, but the Federal Government will not accept any decision reached as a result of such proceedings in the Chamber. If in spite of all the efforts of the Police there should be an outbreak of violence or any disorder, the Police have authority to clear the Chamber and lock it up.”
“Shortly after the release had been issued, I received a further report from the Inspector-General of Police that an attempt had been made to hold a meeting under Nigeria Police protection but that it has resulted in a far greater uproar and commotion than the earlier one. The Police therefore cleared the Chamber and locked it up.
“ In the afternoon of the same day, May 25th, the Council of Ministers met to discuss the situation. The same evening I made a nation-wide broadcast explaining the position of the Federal Government in the matter, and in the course of any broadcast, I made the following observation:
“No responsible Government of the Federation could allow an explosive situation such as that which now exists in Western Nigeria to continue without taking adequate measures to ensure that there is an early return to the Region of peace, order and good Government.”
“I said a few moments ago that the past week or so there does not appear to have been any validly constituted Government in Western Nigeria. In the light of the violent incidents on May 25th which badly shattered both Houses of Assembly, it is difficult to see how the public affairs of the Western Region could possibly be carried on in an atmosphere of warring factions of a party in power so sadly rent asunder in the old world struggle that will ultimately do nobody any good inside and outside Western Nigeria. This is the background against which I ask honourable members to assess the situation and to authorize the Government of the Federation to take appropriate measures in accordance with the provisions of our constitution.
“Allegation of conspiracy have been made against the Federal Government, that it had planned the whole crisis in order to take over the Western Nigeria Government. It has also been said in certain quarters that this parliament would be abusing its powers were it to declare a state of emergency because the sad and unfortunate occurrences had not extended.
“Nothing could be rather from the truth. We are surely not responsible for the chain of events that led to the party and personal wrangles and the attempted by-passing of the Western Legislature and to the mutual dismissal and counter dismissal between the Governor and Premier. The question at issue is whether in the absence of a duly constituted Government in Western Nigeria, the Federal Government have no responsibility for ensuring peace, order and good government in that region. The main purpose of this Resolution is to seek Parliament’s approval for measures which the Federal Government proposes to adopt in order to ensure an early return to Western Nigeria of peace, order and good government.
“I ask all Nigerians to co-operate and support the Federal Government at this momentous turning point in our national history. It is not yet two years since we began the adventurous but arduous talk nation building. The eyes of the whole world are upon us, particularly now when we, a responsible and friendly people are seeking to exercise our development plans and to increase the happiness and prosperity of our people.
“I solemnly assure you that the power we shall soon be forced to assume will be exercised in as humane and democratic a manner as the circumstances will permit and that as soon as reasonably may be, the Federal Government will actively promote and encourage a situation in which an early return to the normal process of Parliamentary Government could be guaranteed for all classes of people of Western Nigeria. I beg to move.” The Prime Minister’s motion was seconded by the Federal Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh representing Warri constituency.
Watch out for Chief Awolowo’s reply next week.