By Eric Teniola
This piece, last week, highlighted Awolowo’s leadership qualities such as vision, courage and strategy planning.
HE tried new experiments and he succeeded. He formed the Action Group along with Chief Adeyiga Akinsanya, Chief Olatunji Dosunmu, Chief Samuel Olatunbosun Shonibare, Chief Ayo Akinsanya, Chief Abiodun Akerele among others. Between April 28 and 29, 1951, the Action Group held its inaugural conference in Owo, Ondo State.
Hon. Gaius Obaseki, Chief N.F. Mowarin, Chief Michael Ajasin and Chief Arthur Prest were elected Vice Presidents; Bode Thomas became the General Secretary; Anthony Enahoro and S.O. Sonibare were elected Assistant Secretaries, while S.O. Ighodaro became Treasurer; S.T. Oredeinde was Administrative Secretary and S.L. Akintola and M.E.R. Okorodudu became Legal Advisers. However it was not all that smooth within the Action Group.
The party became factionalised. On July 7 1962, the following were expelled from the party: Chief S.L. Durosaro, Chief O. Tobun, Chief E.O. Okunowo, Chief F.O. Awosika, A.F. Odulana, Oba C.D. Akran, Chief Abiodun Akerele, J.O. Adigun, A.O. Adedeji, S.O. Ogundipe, Chief A.O. Adeyi, Chief A.M.A. Akinloye, S.O. Fajimi, Duro Ogundiran, E.A. Ogundiran, E.A. Lagunju, S. Hunponu Wusu, S.A. Sanni, Lasisi Ajimobi, L.O. Aniyi, D.O. Arowolo, N.A. Adibi, E.O. Oke, R.A. Lana, S.A. Adeniya, J.L. Tifase and Chief Samuel Adegbite Tinubu(June 26 1923-May 15 2014) alias Baba Deinbo.
Chief Awolowo later served as Minister of Finance between 1967 and 1971 and was succeeded by Alhaji Usman Shehu Aliyu Shagari (February 25, 1925-December 28, 2018). Chief Obafemi Awolowo changed Nigeria’s currency to naira during his tenure as Minister of Finance. He is still the issue in Nigerian politics even till today.
Awo’s most memorable speech ever was delivered on May 1, 1967 after he was made the leader of the Yorubas at Ibadan. For the benefit of all, I wish to reproduce the full statement of that speech because the issues he raised 54 years ago in that speech are still relevant today.
On that day he declared: “The aim of a leader should be the welfare of the people whom he leads. I have used ‘welfare’ to denote the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the people. With this aim fixed unflinchingly and unchangeably before my eyes I consider it my duty to Yoruba people in particular and to Nigerians in general, to place four imperatives before you this morning.
Two of them are categorical and two are conditional. Only a peaceful solution must be found to arrest the present worsening stalemate and restore normalcy. The Eastern Region must be encouraged to remain part of the Federation.
If the Eastern Region is allowed by acts of omission or commission to secede from or opt out of Nigeria, then the Western Region and Lagos must also stay out of the Federation. The people of Western Nigeria and Lagos should participate in the ad hoc committee or any similar body only on the basis of absolute equality with the other regions of the Federation.
“I would like to comment briefly on these four imperatives. There has, of late, been a good deal of sabre- rattling in some parts of the country. Those who advocate the use of force for the settlement of our present problems should stop a little and reflect.
I can see no vital and abiding principle involved in any war between the North and the East. If the East attacked the North, it would be for purpose of revenge pure and simple. Any claim to the contrary would be untenable. If it is claimed that such a war is being waged for the purpose of recovering the real and personal properties left behind in the North by Easterners two insuperable points are obvious.
Firstly, the personal effects left behind by Easterners have been wholly looted or destroyed, and can no longer be physically recovered. Secondly, since the real properties are immovable, their recovery can only be by means of forcible military occupation of those parts of the North in which these properties are situated. On the other hand, if the North attacked the East, it could only be for the purpose of further strengthening and entrenching its position of dominance in the country.
“If it is claimed that an attack on the East is going to be launched by the Federal Government and not by the North as such and that it is designed to ensure the unity and integrity of the Federation, two other insuperable points also become obvious. First, if a war against the East becomes a necessity it must be agreed to unanimously by the remaining units of the Federation. I
n this connection, the West, Mid-West and Lagos have declared their implacable opposition to the use of force in solving the present problem. In the face of such declarations by three out of remaining four territories of Nigeria, a war against the East could only be a war favoured by the North alone.
Second, if the true purpose of such a war is to preserve the unity and integrity of the Federation, then these ends can be achieved by the very simple devices of implementing the recommendation of the committee which met on August 9, 1966, as reaffirmed by a decision of the military leaders at Aburi on January 5, 1967 as well as by accepting such of the demands of the East, West, Mid-West and Lagos as are manifestly reasonable, and essential for assuring harmonious relationships and peaceful co-existence between them and their brothers and sisters in the North.
“Some knowledgeable persons have likened an attack on the East to Lincoln’s war against the southern states in America. Two vital factors distinguish Lincoln’s campaign from the one now being contemplated in Nigeria. The first is that the American civil war was aimed at the abolition of slavery – that is the liberation of millions of Negroes who were then still being used as chattels and worse than domestic animals.”