The Crises in Western Nigeria


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The Crisis in Western Nigeria

-May 1962-

culled from Speeches by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

At the December 1961 Conference of the Action Group at Jos, it became clear that differences had arisen among the leading members of the Action Group, the party in power in Western Nigeria and in Opposition in the Federal, Northern and Eastern legislatures. Owing to the intervention of the elders of the party the rift did not widen but it was clear that there were basic differences between the actions and purposes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, former head of the Western Nigeria Government who later became the Leader of the Federal Opposition, and the Western Nigeria Premier, Chief S.L. Akintola and his supporters. The situation had been exacerbated in Jos by the withdrawal of Chief Akintola from the Jos Conference ostensibly to welcome the Northern Nigeria Premier, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, on his visit to the University of Ibadan. However, the party conference resulted in the ousting of Chief Akintola’s supporters from the Federal Executive, notably Chief Ayo Rosiji from the Secretaryship. Further, the party at this conference defined its political alignment as “democratic socialism”.

       In early May 1962 it did not appear that time had healed the differences within the Action Group and Chief Akintola charged his Party Leader with interfering in his work as Leader of the Government and of not being prepared to permit him any initiative. Chief Awolowo countered that Chief Akintola had ignored party instructions regarding governmental policy, particularly in raising local contributions to secondary grammar schools and thus the fees, and in reducing the price payable to local producers of cocoa.

      The rift had widened to unprecedented proportions and the party elders led Chief Rotimi Williams,” Q.C. the Action Group Legal Adviser and former Western Nigeria Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, endeavored to bring peace, but failed. Then the party requested Chief Akintola to resign his party position of Deputy Leader and the Premiership. He refused and the Governor, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, who had himself also tried unsuccessfully to reconcile both factions of the Action Group, dismissed Chief Akintola, when he felt that the Premier no longer commanded the confidence of the legislature. Chief D.S. Adegbenro, who was Minister of Local Government, was nominated as the leader of Government by the party and appointed Premier by the Governor.

    When the House of Assembly met at Ibadan to ratify the new Government, fighting broke out within the legislative chamber and many members were injured including a Minister. In addition, the mace, the symbol of parliamentary authority, was broken. A second meeting also ended in uproar.

     The Prime Minister then summoned the Federal Parliament to an emergency meeting on 29 May 1962 to determine what action could be taken in the exceptional circumstance prevailing in Western Nigeria. The speech reproduced below is the text of the motion proposed by the Prime Minister when he sought parliamentary approval to declare a state of emergency in the Federation. The motion was approved by 209 votes to 36 in the House of Representatives and in the Senate by 32 votes to 7 with two abstentions.

    Speaking to the motion, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who led one of the Action Group factions in the dispute said: “… this motion is discriminatory. I have already given instances to support this contention, and I do not want to go over those incidents again. I have made reference to the riots in the Tiv Division and the riots in Okrika and so on and so forth. I do not want to repeat them. But if this can be done to the Western Region, why was it not done to the Northern Region or the Eastern Region? I want the Prime Minister not only to project the image of being a state man in his dealing with the East and the North, I also want him to project the image of an impartial arbiter and statesman in his dealings with a Region which is not of his origin and a Region in which a party opposed to his party is in the power, a Region in which a party-the Action Group-has its base and from where it operates… Finally the step that is now being taken in this resolution is a violent assault on democratic institutions in Nigeria. It assumes that Parliament can only meet at the sufferance of a group of people who are hostile to that particular party and who are friendly to the Federal Government. That is a dangerous assumption and the Prime Minister must disabuse the minds of all right-thinking people that he had no intention at all to lend his weight to any group, however friendly they may be to him, in castrating the activities of Parliament.

      For the Government, the Prime Minister was the only member who addressed the House, but Chief Ayo Rosiji, who had been expelled from the Action Group along with Chief Akintola on the previous day, had asserted that “this is the blackest day Nigeria has seen since Independence.” He considered that the situations in which there were internecine riots in the Tiv and Okrika areas were not analogues to the situation in Western Nigeria.

      Supporting Chief Awolowo, Chief Anthony Enahoro, a former Minister in Western Nigeria said: ‘I am in a confused state because I think something has started today, something has begun today which is going to go much further than perhaps most of us here imagine. I can only hope and pray that in the exercise of the powers which the Prime Minister is going to seek later, he will be as careful and circumspect as he has promised to be, because I think that may well prove to be the salvation of this country.’

    Regulations made under the Emergency Power Act 1962, under which the motion for a state of emergency was brought were promulgated on the day following their approval by Parliament and concerned the maintenance of essential services, billeting, misleading reports, protected places, processions and meetings, control of arms and explosives, curfew, detention, restriction orders and deportation.

      By mid-day 29 May 1962 a state of emergency was declared and the Prime Minister appointed Senator M. A. Majekodunmi, the Federal Minister of Health and the country’s leading gynecologist, Administrator of Western Nigeria. The Regional Government was suspended. The first act of the Administrator was to order the restriction of most of the leading political personalities in the Region, including Chief Awolowo, Chief Akintola, Chief Adegbenro, Chief Rosiji, Chief Williams, Chief Enahoro and Mr. R. A. Rani-kayode, the Regional Opposition Leader.

     Meanwhile, the Administrator had a considered the charges and the counter-charges during the crisis and recommended that a Commission of Inquiry should investigate the workings of the Western Nigeria Government Corporations and associated companies, particularly in regard to the investment of public funds in private companies. The Commission was duly appointed with a Lagos High Court Judge, Dr G. B.A. Coker, as chairman.

     It is important, however, to quote what the Administrator thought was his task: ‘…I have been assigned the heavy responsibility for the as a painful necessity because I know that all talk of development is futile if there is unrest in any part of Nigeria. In this anxious period, my duty is to seek rapidly to reduce political tension and secure an atmosphere of calmness so that the people of Western Nigeria can have an early opportunity of resolving for themselves the difficulties which now confront the region. I shall do my utmost to be absolutely impartial to all factions and political parties. I am appealing to the Obas, Chiefs and peoples of Western Nigeria to reassure their people that it is not the intention of the Federal Government to substitute an oppressive regime for democratic government.’ 

THE PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, Sir, I beg to move the following Resolution standing in my name. 

‘That in pursuance of section sixty-five of the Constitution of the Federation it is declared that a state of public emergency exists and that this resolution shall remain in force until the end of the month of December, nineteen hundred and sixty-two.’ 

   You all know the reasons why Parliament has reassembled today. 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 emphasize that the Federal Government has been motivated solely by the desire to ensure that peace, order and tranquility is maintained throughout the 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 20 May the Premier advised the Governor of Western Nigeria that in view of the political crisis which had been developing in the Region and of the rival claims of the two factions for a majority support of the electorate in the Region His Excellency should exercise his powers under section 31 of part 3 of the Constitution of Western Nigeria to dissolve the Legislative Houses 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 23 May, to consider and pass the 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 21 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 21 May. A meeting of the Western House of Assembly was summoned for the 25 May.

   As you all know, two unsuccessful attempts were made on that day to hold meetings of 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 the 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 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 decide 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 insist 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 further 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 the meting under Nigeria Police protection, but that it had 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, 25 May, the Council of Ministers met to discuss the situation. The same evening I made a nationwide broadcast, explaining the position of the Federal Government in the matter; and, in the course of my 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, for 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 25 May 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 s Party in power so sadly rent asunder in the old-world struggle that would ultimately do nobody any good inside and outside Western Nigeria. This is the background against which I ask Hon. 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 suggested 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 beyond the precincts of the Legislature of the Western Region.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. We were surely not responsible for the chain of events that led to the party and personal wrangles, to the attempted by-passing of the Western Legislature, or to the mutual dismissal and counter-dismissal between Governor and Premier. The question at issue is whether in the absence of a duly constituted Government in Western Nigeria, the Federal Government has no responsibility for ensuring peace, order and good government for that Region.

   The main purpose of this resolution is to seek Parliament’s approval for the 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 task of nation-building. The eyes of the whole world are upon us, particularly now when we, as a responsible and friendly people, are seeking to execute our development plans and so increase the happiness and prosperity of our people.

    I solemnly assure you that the powers 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 processes of parliamentary government could be guaranteed for all classes of the people of Western Nigeria.

Then the Prime Minister summed up finally:

   I doubt, after listening to the members who have spoken this morning, whether Hon. Members appreciate how grave the situation is. This is a very serious situation and before taking the decision which we in the Federal Government are proposing, we are on our shoulders.

   First of all, we should ask ourselves: are we justified in taking the actions which we now propose to take with the support of Parliament? I think, after hearing the points made by some Hon. Members this morning, that we are justified. In the first place, Nigeria is under two years old as an independent sovereign country. Do we allow people to side-track our courts and put away our Constitution and do what they like simply because they become leaders of political parties?

    I will explain what I mean because I did not wish to express my views at the beginning. We have a Constitution and we have our Law Courts. The Premier who was supposed to be removed by the Governor had asked the Governor to dissolve the Legislature, but the Governor refused. He asked the Speaker to convene a meeting of the House, and the Speaker refused. The Premier went to the Court and filed a motion, but before the Court did anything about the motion filed by the Premier, the Governor appointed another Premier.


THE PRIME MINISTER: That was what happened. That was exactly what happened. The Premier filed a motion in the High Court challenging the power of the Governor to remove him. The Premier, on the very day he received notice from the Governor removing him, filed a motion in the High Court challenging the Governor’s power. The Governor then disregarded this motion in the Court and appointed another Premier. This happened with us in the Federal Government. We wanted to appoint

CHIEF AWOLOWO: On a point of explanation, the action to which the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister made reference was actually filed on 22 May. The Prime Minister could check that up. The papers were delivered on the 21st but not actually filed the following day, the 22nd, and the Governor could not have been served until he had made the new appointment. I would like the Prime Minister to check up these facts.

THE PRIME MINISTER: I have checked them up. I know quite a lot about this. I have checked up because the day that the Governor-

CHIEF AKERELE: On a point of explanation, Sir-

MR SPEAKER: I do not think that can be admitted.

THE PRIME MINISTER: On 21 May, the Governor called the commissioner of Police, Western Region. The Commissioner of Police went to Government House. There, the Commissioner of Police found the Governor, the speaker and, I think, the Leader of the Opposition.

      A letter was handed to the Commissioner of Police by the Governor in which was conveyed the dismissal of the Premier, and the Commissioner was asked to deliver this letter to the Premier. That was the information I got. It was not the duty of the Commissioner of Police to act as a messenger between the Governor and the Premier; but he took that letter not knowing that it was a letter of dismissal. Then later on it was discovered that they had made a mistake. Instead of dating it 21 May they had dated it 21 August. The Attorney-General, Chief Ighodaro had to come back to the Commissioner of Police to ask what to do; and the Commissioner of Police then said that he had nothing to do with it. All this was reported to me.

     It must be borne in mind that we in the Federal Government wanted at one time for a good reason to appoint a commission of inquiry into the National Bank. We received a report from a Bank Examiner that the Bank was not in good shape, perhaps there was misuse of the money put into the Bank. But the Court by the action of these same people, stopped us, they said we could not go ahead. We had to listen to the Court and obey the Court. We did not go ahead. We could easily have gone ahead but we did not.

    We called a meeting of Parliament; Parliament gave us approval to go ahead and we did. When we appointed the inquiry again, the inquiry sat for only fifty minutes and the court stopped us. We did not disobey, we had to wait. I may ask why could the Governor of Western Nigeria and the Action Group not wait if they really had any regard for the Court? Why could they not wait?

    According to the information I got from the police, at the very time that the letter was handed to the Premier, he filed a motion. I must say honestly that I am not investing this story. This information was reported to me on the 21 May. The letter was sent to the Premier and he filed a motion challenging the Governor’s action in the High Court that very day. That is the information I got from the police.

    I think that all of us should be responsible enough. We have to respect our constitution. One side cannot say that they do not wish to respect the court or the constitution and, because the Federal Government as trying to ‘kill democracy’ as they put it. On the other hand I think we are trying to preserve democracy in this country by taking the action which we are proposing to take and there should be respect for the courts in the manner which we have demonstrated.

   Apart from all that, the damage which that, the damage which that fight, the free fight in the House of Assembly, has done to this country is very great. That alone is enough to justify our action. We want to build a name for Nigeria and here we are faced with a fight breaking out in the Legislative House of a Region! The Whole House was shattered, every bit of furniture there was broken, the people broke their heads: some persons were stabbed. If you really look into it all, you will see that quite a large number of people should regard themselves as irresponsible and they and ourselves should all be ashamed of it

   Also the Leader of the opposition said that the Prime Minister had said he would not give police protection; he, the Leader of the Opposition, thought the Speaker could always invite outsiders to be in the House. What happened was that the first meeting ended in a fight. They wanted to meet immediately and I said--- ‘no, it would be wrong, if they want to meet why can they not wait for a week or for another ten days. If they meet now they will also fight.’ I was told that, if the police were to protect the members of the House of Assembly from another fight, there would have to be a policeman behind every member of the House in the Chamber. How could that be called a meeting of the House of Assembly? That is the reason why I insisted that if they met in such a situation, it would be wrong for us in the Federal Government to accept what they decided upon.

   When I said that, I never meant to suggest that we had any right either to approve or disapprove of measures decided upon by the Regional House of Assembly. But we would be called upon to deal with a Government in the western Region and it would be very difficult for us to know whether the government voted in the way that the other faction wanted us to believe would be acceptable to us.

    I have to say that this is very serious situation. We have many times heard people saying that the Federal Government is not effective; the Federal Government is this or that. We are well aware of that, and we are trying to do what we can. But, I must say now, and I hope everybody will take it as a warning, that we in the Federal Government are determined to assert our authority and we are also determined to deal severely with any individual or group of individuals who want to damage the name of Nigeria.


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