“While Awolowo was busy leading the federal opposition against the government of Federal Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the Western Region’s Premier, Chief Akintola, Awolowo’s deputy in the Action Group (AG), was strengthening his own political base among the Yoruba.
Akintola, a clever politician in his own right, had come to believe by early 1962 that AG ought to try to cooperate with the NPC leaders and join with them in a “National Government.”
Akintola saw several advantages in such a policy, and was backed by many Yoruba Chiefs and by the most important AG financial supporters.
Electoral competition in each region since 1959 had sapped the AG treasury, and Akintola saw wisdom in a bargain with NPC in which obvious federal hegemony by the latter would be counter balanced by promises to recognize AG dominance of Western Region politics and continued control over the Midwest.
AG could then save money by not continuing the fruitless quest for legislative seats outside the Western Region. To Awolowo on the other hand, cooperating with NPC for any purpose was now anathema. Supported by AG intelligentsia and those Yoruba masses not closely controlled by traditional Chiefs, Awolowo confronted Akintola in the executive meeting of AG early in 1962.
This squabble within the top AG leadership was exacerbated by other matters. Though both Yoruba, Akintola and Awolowo were from Ijebu and Oyo respectively [?] and their wives were enemies. Finally, Awolowo objected generally to Akintola’s conservative political and economic ideas while Akintola saw the AG President as being excessively influenced by extremely left-wingers.
This quarrel split the AG and opened the door to the destruction of opposition within the Federal Parliament. Having been removed from the office of the Vice-Chairman of AG, Akintola was stripped of the premiership by vote of the backbenchers when the Western Region government tried to convene. Akintola then filed suit against the deposition.
Meanwhile when Chief Adegbenro, the successor for Akintola designated by Awolowo attempted to convene his new government, the minority of members who were against Awolow’s scheme disrupted the Western Legislature. The majority, 65-52, clearly supported Adegbenro’s forming a new government to replace Akintola, and asked the Federal Prime Minister Balewa, to ensure peace in the regional legislature so that the new Western Region Government could meet to carry out its business.
Balewa refused to promise such protection, and Nigerians were treated during the second year of their independence to the following spectacle in the legislature of the Western Region.
In Ibadan, Alhaji Adegbenro and the Speaker agreed to try once again to hold a meeting some two and half hours after the first had been disbanded. Policemen were stationed beside and behind the Speaker’s Chair. At once, the Akintola faction and the NCNC opposition began to shout and bang their chairs.
Chief S A. Tinuba [Tinubu?] sat on the floor beside the Speaker’s Chair and continually rang a bell. Mr. J. O. Adigun threatened to throw the Record Book at the Speaker. Mr. Akinyemi smashed one despatch box, and Mr. Adedigba threw the other at Alhaji Adegbenro (it was caught by the Sergeant-at-Arms).
Mr. Adeniya then hit the Speaker with a chair, while the NCNC members smashed theirs or threw them at opponents. All this time the police had been begging the Speaker to let them act, and when he finally did so they again released gas and cleared the House.
On May 29, the Federal Parliament declared a state of emergency, causing the virtual dismemberment of the Western Regional government, and the detention by the new “Administrator of Western Region” [Dr. M.A. Majekodunmi?] of all the politicians involved.
The apparent partiality of the federal government was a crucial aspect of these events. Regardless of what may have been the hidden causes of Balewa’s actions, the events gave many Nigerians the impression that AG’s internal troubles were being used to ensure the end of the troublesome Awolowo.
By preventing the intervention of federal police units to ensure order in the Western Region Parliament, Balewa had shown little interest in allowing the western politicians to iron out their difficulties through the accepted procedure of a parliamentary no-confidence vote.
Other subsequent actions by the federal government, and by the Administrator appointed to restore order, confirmed the view of millions of Awolowo’s supporters that their influence was being systematically destroyed.
Six months after the emergency began, Chief Akintola, the exponent of cooperation with Balewa’s federal government, had been invited to form a government for Western Region. Awolowo found himself facing the charges of a commission examining the malpractice of Action Group, and then a trial ending in a 10-year sentence for treason.
One clear lesson of the Western Region Crisis was the willingness of the NPC-coalition Federal Government to exercise influence within a region’s political affairs in order to ensure a government friendly to NPC aims.
The discussion of political attitudes in Chapter Five will elucidated some quite understandable reasons for Balewa’s willingness to act in this manner in the interests of national unity as he conceived it.
Here we must concentrate on the structural changes wrought by actions surrounding the Western Region Crisis. None of those is more important than the impact on the judiciary.
Akintola had filed an an action in the Western Region High Court against his dismissal by the Regional Governor, contending that the Governor had no right to decide merely because a majority of the legislative members had signed a petition supporting Adegbenro.
The High Court Chief Justice passed Akintola’s challenge on to the Federal Supreme Court without ruling, and that Court supported Akintola’s claim. At the urging of Awolowo’s supporters, however, the Privy Council Judiciary Committee considered the dispute and reversed the Nigeria Federal Supreme Court’s decision in May 1963.
Though Awolowo’s followers were heartened by this outcome, it was ignored by the Federal Government, and resulted in one of the significant constitutional changes that was to follow.
” February 1963 – Awolowo Is Charged With Treason – Chief Obafemi Awolowo first Premier of the Western Region between 1954–59, Leader of the Action Group and leader of the opposition in the federal parliament, general secretary of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa since 1948. Formerly Secretary of various unions and co-founder of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria. Publications include Path to Nigerian Freedom, an autobiography entitled Awo, and numerous political booklets. The trial of Chief Awolowo and 24 others began with high drama.
(Photograph by Matthew Faji Photographer ©BAHA) – AKG Images AKG2475427
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