I AM trying to get a copy of Prof. Pat Utomi’s latest book as I am fascinated by the chapter on how criminals hijacked the Nigerian political space. We cannot forget in a hurry how Senator Nuhu Aliyu got up one day on the floor of our Senate and screamed that “there are criminals in this chambers”. The ex-cop was said to have seen a man he once arrested on a robbery charge sitting there as a senator.
It is stupefying how individuals of questionable character now have a place in our national life, just like the lot who dominate our politics today. It would have been the eighth wonder of the world if our situation had been different from what we have now in terms of our afflictions. For many of our young people who have not seen any other thing than what currently operates, the tendency is to assume that our politics has always been an organised crime sprinkled with a few men and women of valour.
This is why it’s necessary once in a while to recall the days when we had our public space dominated by people of values and patriots in service of the fatherland. A Joint Council of Western House of Chiefs and the Western House of Assembly debates in Ibadan on July 2, 1953, showcased men any polity that is desirous of making progress should pray not to lack.
The debates took place against the proposal by the Colonial Governor that the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, Mr S.O. Awokoya, Chief Anthony Enahoro and Mr S.O. Ighodaro be appointed as central ministers from the West to replace Oba Adesoji Aderemi, Chief S.L. Akintola, Chief Bode Thomas and Chief Arthur Prest, who resigned as ministers following the crisis occasioned by the motion for the self-government of Nigeria in 1956 moved by Chief Anthony Enahoro in 1953.
There was a joint resolution of both chambers of the Western Region taken round and approved in major town halls across the West that a reconstituted Central Council should have the resigned ministers back. It so happened that the lieutenant governor of Western Region had made the new nominations to the governor retaining only the Ooni and three new faces without reference to the decision of the people of Western Region through their elected representatives.
The colonial officers got more than what they bargained for as Chief Obafemi Awolowo rose to lead the opposition to the proposals as the President of the Council tried to force the nominations through by reading the proposal to nominate Mr S.O. Awokoya. In opposing the proposal, Awo made very profound submissions in the best tradition of learned men.
The Leader of the Action Group recalled all the processes leading to the debates and perusing every provision of the constitutional instrument relating to the issue. He thereafter went on to indict the lieutenant governor and the governor thus: “…The lieutenant governor and the governor, in the full awareness of all these circumstances, have the audacity respectively to recommend and propose the names of my honourable friends in this Order Paper.
“The perfidious and wicked intent and design behind this apparent compliance with the letters of the law are clear. The lieutenant governor in complicit with the governor desires to put our much-vaunted solidarity and discipline to the test in the hope that if the test is severe enough, that solidarity may crack to the evil delight of the imperialists. Further, there is an unmistakable imputation that the Africans are by nature treacherous, corrupt and selfish; and that if the inducement is big enough, such as an offer of a central ministry, the chances are that they would prove traitors to the cause, and seek their selfish gains at the expense of national aspirations.”
After a lengthy submission, he concluded on a very defiant note that set the mood for the debates: “…Today we are being forced against our wish to take part, not in a drama, but in a burlesque – a burlesque which not only depicts the incapacity of Britons to rule this country any longer, but also brings vividly home to us the humiliation, insult and degradation which we will continue to suffer as long as we remain under alien rule….Our enslavement today is the outcome of our weakness in military might as well as the effective application of our spiritual power. The former we have not. But the latter we have in the fullest measure because we are images of God just as the White men are. I have no doubt that if we apply our spiritual power we shall be free; and by God’s grace, we will, and will then put an end to this type of infamy. Mr President, I beg to oppose”.
The Oba of Lagos spoke with the same vehemence when he declared: “It should be made known in unequivocal term that the Obas would not accept for the Central Ministry any names other than those of Chief Bode Thomas, Chief Arthur Prest, Mr S.L. Akintola; of course that of the Ooni is a foregone conclusion.”
On the charge by the lieutenant governor of the Western Region that the resigned ministers were rejected because they were rude to the governor, the Oba said: “If they were rude to the governor, a report should have been made to us long before now and I am perfectly sure we should have gathered them together, cautioned them and brought them back to the governor. If a son did something wrong and on account of that he was rejected permanently by the father, then the father is not discharging his duties as a father.”
When the President called for the approval of Mr Anthony Enahoro’s nomination, the Uromi-born nationalist rose to oppose it. He said inter alia: “I moved the motion for ‘self-government’ which no doubt started this present crisis. By what process of reasoning has the governor through the lieutenant governor thought it proper to recommend me for ministerial appointment in the centre? It may not be generally known, but I think it’s proper at this juncture that I should reveal that not long ago the governor declared that he could not possibly have me as a minister.
“It is not yet clear yet that he said rather than have me as a minister he would pack up and go. Everything that could possibly be done by the legal process to prevent me from taking part in the election and taking my seat in this House and even, later on, to pay penalty for taking part in all these were done in the law court…I have been asking myself since yesterday what has happened since that time – what kind of metamorphosis I might have gone through as to change the governor’s hatred for me into friendliness as to propose me for ministerial appointment. Immediately it occurred to me that the imperialist is up again to play its usual trick. But unfortunately, on this occasion, the tactics of divide and rule has failed.”
Mr S.O Awokoya in rejecting his nomination and that of Mr Ighodaro said, among other things: “I rise to oppose the foolish motion. In doing so, I would like to make it clear that nothing would make me accept a ministerial post in His Excellency’s Council under such humiliating, discreditable, unbecoming and outrageous circumstances as the present.
“What does the proposer of this infamous motion take me to be, and for that matter, the two other gentlemen: Mr Ighodaro and Mr Enahoro? Stooges, Machiavellian politicians or pompous Nwapaistic braggadocios? Never in my life have I been so scandalised and horrified. Never during these 40 years since I left my mother’s womb, has any mortal, by word or by deed, suggested to me the playing of such treacherous and ignominious role as that implied by this motion. I have also the authority of Mr. Ighodaro to state that at no time had he been gratuitously insulted as to be expected to perpetrate such unparalleled perfidy as to accept a ministerial post in the manner that is to be proposed today “.
See real beings rejecting ministerial posts that folks would sell their mothers to get under internal colonialists today and bear the worst indignities to keep! By the time the proposals were put to vote, all the 70 members in attendance voted for Ooni and all rejected the nominations of Awokoya, Enahoro and Ighodaro. We need such men in our land again!