Tafawa Balawa: 'The
eyes of the whole world are upon us'
At the Federal House sitting on May 29, 1962 Prime
Minister Sir Abubakar moved the 'the resolution' for the
declaration of a state of emergency in the Western Region.
His motion was seconded by the Federal Minister of Finance,
Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh. Excerpts.
"I rise to move the
resolution standing in my name which reads as follows:-
"That in pursuance of Section 65 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."
"Members 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 emphasise that the
Federal Government had been motivated solely by the desire
to ensure that peace, order and tranquillity 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
May 20, 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
"On the same day the Premier asked the Speaker, for the
same reasons, to convene the Western House of Assembly for
Wednesday, May 23 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 May 21.
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 May 21. A meeting of the Western
House of Assembly was summoned for May 25.
"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...
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 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, May 25, 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 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 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 hon. members to assess
the situation and to authorise 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
"Nothing could be farther 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 government and premier. The
question at issue is whether in the absence of a duly
constituted government of 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 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, a
responsible and friendly people are seeking to exercise our
development plans and so 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."
Obafemi Awolowo:'The PM's motion is uncalled for'
In reply to Balewa's motion for a state of emergency, the leader of
opposition in the Federal Parliament, and leader of the Action Group, Chief
Obafemi Awolowo tabled his opposition amendment. Excerpts
"I beg to move the following amendment to
the motion already proposed by the Prime Minister:
"To delete all the words of the motion after - That - and substitute -
"This honourable House declares that having regard to the provisions of
Section 65 of the Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria a state of
public emergency does not exist."
"May I draw the attention of hon. members to the provisions of Section 65
of our Constitution. It is not usual for members to read the constitution
unless occasion such as this arises or some other incidents, which affect us
occur. Section 65 reads:
"65(1) Parliament may at any time make sure laws for Nigeria or any part
thereof with respect to matters not included in the legislative lists as may
appear to parliament to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of
maintaining or securing peace, order and good government during any period
"The section 3 - (3) In this section "period of emergency" means any
period during which (a) the federation is at war; (b) there is in force a
resolution by each House of Parliament declaring that a state of public
emergency exists; and (c) there is in force a resolution of each House of
Parliament supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the
members of the House declaring that democratic institutions in Nigeria are
threatened by subversion.
"That is the section, Mr. Speaker, and I hold the view very strongly -
and that view is in no way shaken by the speech made by the Prime Minister
that the step which the Federal Government now proposes is uncalled for and
"The first question which any reasonable person ought to ask himself is
this. Is there a state of public emergency in the Western Region
|That is the most important question, which the Prime Minister and
the cabinet must ask themselves. I submit with great respect that a
state of public emergency does not exist in Western Nigeria.
"Not long ago after independence, there was rioting of a most severe
nature in the Tiv Division of Northern Nigeria. Several lives were lost,
several properties were destroyed, there was arson and a host of other
crimes were committed. At that time, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the
Prime Minister as he is today. He did not think it fit to call this
parliament to declare a state of public emergency in the Northern
Region. Also in Okrika - there was widespread rioting in Okrika; again,
several lives and properties were lost. I understand that this
widespread rioting in Okrika occurred twice in the Eastern Region. The
Prime Minister and the cabinet did not think it fit on that occasion to
declare a state of public emergency in the Eastern Region.
"But, because the Action Group is pursuing the normal democratic
processes as laid down in our constitution to oust someone who happens
to be a very close friend of the Prime Minister, and also because the AG
is looked upon as a moral foe to the NPC, this very far-reaching
provision of our constitution is now being invoked, only in respect of
what might be described as squabbles inside the chamber of the Western
House of Assembly. It is doing violence to our constitution and doing
violence to the construction of words to suggest that what happened in
the Western House of Assembly amounts to a state of public emergency.
"I was present there myself, and when I left that chamber, those who
were outside the chamber did not even know that anything was happening
inside the chamber. Ibadan is peaceful - the whole of the Western Region
is peaceful. It is true that the newspapers have been exaggerating the
situation in the Western Region, the Prime Minister himself has lent his
support to this exaggeration; he cancelled all his engagements - whether
they existed or not I do not know, the governor-general was suddenly
summoned back from his holiday in Nsukka to come to Lagos even when
there was no deterioration in the situation in the Western Nigeria.
"I maintain that this is a calculated, premeditated attempt on the
part of the Prime Minister and his cabinet to try, if they could, to
castrate the AG, to disturb the welfare of the people of Western Nigeria
who have always been looked upon as the foes of the NPC.
"May I say that I can understand the yearnings and the wishes of the
NCNC and the stand of the NCNC in this matter. Every political party
wants to be in power - we want to be in power here in the centre one
day, and by the grace of God we will. But the NCNC wants, naturally, to
fish in troubled waters. If I were in their shoes, I would think that no
occasion is more favourable than now to have a dissolution of the
legislature of the Western Region, because this dissolution now would
mean a split in the votes of the Action Group. It might be that by such
a split, they could sort of fluke in and form the government of Western
Nigeria. In any case, whatever happened after that dissolution, the NCNC
would not be any worse off than they were before, namely to be in the
opposition - that is the worst that could happened to them. But there is
a chance - the off-chance - that they may just manage to win.
"Therefore I can understand the action of the NCNC in this matter,
because that is the party in opposition in the Western Region. The NPC
has no foothold in the west, and it is doing its very best to find a
foothold in the Western Region.
"There are a number of persons who call themselves NPC members for
Ibadan, but they are by themselves, they have some following of a type
among people who live in Mokola, Ibadan, that is to be understood; but
the NPC as such has no following in the Western Region, and it is the
NPC dominated Federal Government that now wants to impose its rule on
the people of Western Nigeria, simply because there was what the prime
minister called the uproar in the chamber of the Western House of
Assembly - not an uproar in Ibadan as a whole; not an uproar even in
Ogbomosho the home of Chief Akintola who is involved in this matter, not
an uproar in Ijebu-Remo; not an uproar in Ikorodu; not an uproar
anywhere in the Western Region. The prime minister thinks that this very
far-reaching provision of the constitution should be invoked merely to
save a friend!
"Secondly, what is a public emergency
|What is a state of public emergency|
|What is a state of public emergency|
|May I say that my view quite candidly is that a state of public
emergency arises only when there is widespread violence in any part of
the federation. In this particular case there is no widespread violence
or rioting or disturbance in the Western Region. And yet, the bon.
Minister for war - for defence - sent soldiers to Ibadan, as a matter of
routine I think, because the soldiers there have been moved to the
Congo; and then he went on the air to say. "Oh yes, we have sent them
there because of the tension in Ibadan." Where is the tension in Ibadan|
|I may walk about the streets of Ibadan, and if the minister of
defence challenges that, I invite him to come along to Ibadan and go
about the streets of Ibadan. But they want to create this artificial
tension in the Western Region in order to invoke this far-reaching
provision of the constitution.
Gross misuse of power
"Thirdly, I say - I said it outside this house and I want to repeat
it on the floor of this honourable house - that the action now being
taken by the Federal Government is a gross misuse of power; I do not say
abuse because as far as I can see there is no abuse yet - I hope the
Federal Government does not abuse its power in the process of
implementing this resolution, but so far it is a gross misuse of power,
the circumstances which should warrant the use of this power have not
"What is more
|The prime minister was very, very careful in stating the events
which led to his having to decide to take this action which he is now
taking. I never knew him to be a journalist, I know him to be an
educationist, a politician and a statesman, but like some journalists he
has put a little bit of twist and slant in relating the events, so as to
show that it is the Action Group, vis-ˆ-vis Chief Akintola that is at
fault in this matter. Why did the prime minister not tell this house the
story which the police have no doubt told him concerning the events in
the house of assembly on that day|
|He knows the story but he had chosen not to tell it, and since he
has failed to tell it, I will tell that story and challenge the prime
minister to deny it.
"The truth is that in the house of assembly that day, hon. Members
were assembled as we are here now assembled; prayers were said and then
immediately after that, one Mr. Oke, a supporter of Chief Akintola, a
member from Ogbomosho, jumped on the desk and was running about on the
desk and then lifted a chair and struck somebody on the head. That is
how it started, and then thereafter one Mr. Ebubedike, the member for
Badagry, who lives in Ajeromi, took the Mace and then in an attempt to
strike the speaker with the Mace, the Mace struck the table and broke
into two. These events were witnessed by the police and then chairs were
lifted and were thrown all over the place by supporters of Chief
"The police will testify to the fact that all the members of the
Action Group supporting Alhaji Adegbenro remained calm under the gravest
possible provocations. They too could hit back - there were 66 of them
against 40 odd of the other side and they could have hit back but they
did not hit back. I should have thought that the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister
would have given that story. I spoke to him over the telephone myself
and he was candid enough to admit that he received the report of the
police that the supporters of Alhaji Adegbenro remained calm throughout.
"One of the ministers was injured, very badly. He was stabbed with a
knife inside the chamber. That is what happened and the prime minister
should have said this.
"Then the meeting reassembled. It is true that I told the prime
minister that it would be only right and proper that the meeting should
reassemble, otherwise we would have done damage, serious and irreparable
damage, serious and irreparable damage, to the most important instrument
of parliamentary democracy. If democracy is to survive in this country,
parliamentary must be allowed to meet. It is also true that I did ask
the prime minister to see to it that police protection was afforded to
hon. Members inside the chamber. It is true, as he has pointed out, that
he did say that in the case of police being inside the chamber the
decisions taken thereat would not be accepted by him.
"But how does parliament function if a group of people, a minority,
choose to make trouble in an assembly of this character
|When we came this morning everyone of us was searched. The prime
minister has learned a lesson from the Western Region and I notice that
he has removed all movable chairs and articles from this house. Why did
he not make that suggestion to the speaker in the Western House of
|I did make that suggestion to him, that if we met on Saturday we
would see to it that all the chairs and movable articles that could
injure people were removed from the chamber. The prime minister has now
followed that suggestion of mine and has seen to it that chairs and
other movable things are removed from this place.
"But may I say with respect that we do not come here to disturb the
peace in this House; we do not come here to do that. We come here to
urge our points of view, have our say and leave the government to have
its way. That is the essence of democracy. What prime minister should
have done on this occasion, if he is the democrat and liberal which I
think he has always been, should have been to see to it that the
culprits, being known and being identified, were dealt with properly
under law. There were people who should have been thrown out of the
chamber. It was not proper that tear gas should have been thrown into
the whole chamber which prevented all the members from meeting.
"Suppose I chose to start trouble here
|It is true that the police are around; they may shoot, they may
fire, and all sorts of things, but we would create trouble all the same
and the police might come in and throw tear gas and disperse all of us.
We might then come again and start the same trouble; the same police
action might take place and we might come again and start the same
trouble all over. What would happen to parliamentary democracy|
|It would be finished.
"That leads me to my fourth point, that a dangerous precedent is
being set in this country. I warn the prime minister, who has been a
faithful custodian of our constitution, to see that the precedence is
not allowed to be created. There is still time, I know it is not easy
for a government, having come into the open in the way the prime
minister has done, to retreat. I have been in government myself for
eight years and I know what it means to be defeated in the open. But I
do warn, very seriously, that the path of duty on the part of the prime
minister lies in his seeing to it that parliament functions, and
functions properly in the Western Region. It will be an act of bad faith
to our constitution to set up an organisation which would by-pass the
constitution of the Western Region, under any circumstances whatsoever,
and particularly under these circumstances.
"The fifth point I wish to make is that this measure, this motion, is
discriminatory. I have already given instances to support that
contention, and I do not want to go over those incidents again. I have
made reference to the riots in 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, whey was it not done to the Northern Region
or to the Eastern Region
|I want the prime minister not only to project the image of being a
statesman in his dealings with the East and the North, I also want him
to project the image of an impartial arbiter and statesman in his
dealings with the region which is not of his own origin, that is the
Western Region, and a region in which a party opposed to his party is in
power, a region in which a party the Action Group has its base and from
where it operates.
"In the North, to the annoyance no doubt of my good friend the
premier of Northern Nigeria, I think it is correct to say that it was
the Action Group who, during the 1959 elections, campaigned for the
first time in the history of Northern Nigeria. The hon. The Sardauna of
Sokoto, the premier of the Northern Region, had to go into villages and
towns and mount the soap boxes to address the masses. It had never
happened in the history of the Northern Region that the Sardauna would
descend to the depths of mounting a soap box and talking to the masses
of the people - they take orders through other agencies and not directly
from the Sardauna himself.
"I remember that a story was told to me on that occasion, that the
Sardauna drove through several miles of dusty road and, at the end of
it, he found himself covered with dust, and sneezing he said: "I will
never forgive Awolowo for this!" If he does not want to forgive me we
can talk that over between ourselves because we are friends, but this is
not the way to deal with that particular situation: this is not the way
to deal with that particular annoyance. This is wrong.
"I want to refer to some of the points made by the prime minister.
The prime minister said that there is no constituted authority in
Western Nigeria at the moment. I say with respect that the prime
minister is wrong in making that declaration. The governor, rightly or
wrongly, has acted in removing Chief Akintola from office and, rightly
or wrongly, in appointing a successor. Under our constitution it is the
court that has to determine whether the removal of Chief Akintola is
right or wrong and whether the appointing of a successor is in order. As
a matter of fact the moment the removal of Chief Akintola is declared
void, then he resumes his office, but if the court declares to the
contrary then, of course, the successor carries on. The case has been
fixed for the 5th. Why not wait till the 5th.
"It is the duty of the prime minister, in my view, to support the new
appointee, the successor of Chief Akintola, until the case is disposed
of. That is his duty, a clear duty. But what is the pretext of the prime
minister in taking this measure
|''Well,' he said, 'this case is coming up on the 5th but because of
this uproar inside the chamber something must be done even before the
"May I say in this connection that I cannot help expressing the
feeling that the prime minister feels greatly concerned about the action
of the governor of the Western Region of Nigeria, I would not say for a
personal reason - but for a reason which is not unconnected with his own
position in the federation. May 1 say that until Chief Akintola refused
to resign I myself had not discovered the provisions under Section 33 of
our constitution in the Western Region, and I am aware until that
provision was invoked that the governor-general or the governor could
remove the prime minister or a premier if it appeared to him that the
prime minister or a premier if it appeared to him that the prime
minister or the premier no longer enjoyed the support of the House of
Representatives or of the House of Assembly, as the case may be.
"But that is our law. If the prime minister feels that the
governor-general may one day wake up and remove him from office, then he
could do something about it. As far as I know the two parties in
coalition with him have never at any time suggested that he should
resign his office. On the contrary, from the demonstration which we have
noticed in this honourable House, they are all loyal to him and he has
no cause to be afraid either of his own party, the NPC, or the NCNC
which is in coalition with the NPC.
"But here is a man (Chief Akintola) who himself pleaded guilty to the
charges of maladministration, anti-party activities and indiscipline and
was found so guilty by his own compeers. The only question on which
members divided was whether he should be sentenced to life imprisonment
or to a fine or whether he should be cautioned and discharged. That was
all. As to the verdict, it was unanimous; but whether he should be
called upon to resign or whether he should be cautioned and given some
less punishment, was the issue, it was the votes of eight-one people
against the votes of twenty-nine members.
"As I said, the Prime Minister has nothing to fear from the
governor-general. I think they are on the best of terms and the parties
in coalition are very friendly to him."
'I was not there to fight the Action Group'
Dr. Moses Majekodunmi was the administrator of the Western Region
during the state of emergency in 1962. In this interview with
The Guardian on his 80th birthday in 1996,
reminisces what it was like, to administer the region famously called the
Wild, Wild West. Can you on your days as administrator of the Western
"I was appointed administrator of the
Western Region comprising what you now call Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun and Lagos
states right up to Okuku in the north, Benin and Asaba. I was there for just
a little over six months, from June 29th to December.
The whole idea of appointing an administrator was because it was alleged
on the floor of the House that law and order had broken down in the Western
Region and that the two factions, the Awolowo and Akintola factions, needed
some time to cool off after the row which broke loose in the House of
Assembly which resulted in a member having his head broken with a chair and
a lot of things which came up during the debate of the emergency.
Immediately I was appointed, I was given a list of names (of people) by
the police whose movement they wanted me to restrict. We called it
restriction order in those days, not detention. Now this list had up to 40
names, and the first name on the list was that of the late Sir Adesoji
Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife. I called the Inspector-General of Police and told
him that I could not sign a restriction order on the Ooni, but that he
should go back to Ibadan, and talk to the Ooni, and advise him to go back to
Ife, and also that I will come and visit him as soon as I got to Ibadan.
The other names on the list were all my old friends: Awolowo, Akintola,
Fani-Kayode and some of his NCNC group members, There were people I was
familiar with. Such as the late Biodun Akerele. I signed the order, and they
were restricted, some in their houses, others in government guest houses
where they were made as comfortable as could be arranged.
When I arrived Ibadan by plane, the Prime Minister's executive jet, I was
met by the Head of the Civil Service, the late Chief Simeon Adebo, the Chief
Justice of the West, Justice Kwashie Audu, and all the senior civil
servants. The road was lined by thousands of peoples from the airport tot he
Government House all praying for me - Olorun a ba egbe o, Olorun a ran e
lowo o (God will make the burden light for you, God will help you).
That night, I made a radio and television broadcast tot he people of
Western Nigeria and asked for their co-operation and I must say that I got
this in abundance.
Although I had already arranged to visit the Ooni at Ife, to my surprise,
he came to the Government House to greet me on the fifth day of my arrival.
We sat down and had a long talk. He was very helpful, and gave me some very
useful ideas on what to do with the administration, a gesture for which I
will be eternally grateful.
Although I knew him before I became administrator, I was never so close
to him until then. And even after my service as administrator, we remained
very close friends. Many a time, I visited him at Ife and partook of his
Iyan (pounded yam) and champagne.
I did not find my period of administration irksome. I got co-operation
from the civil servants, and I was fortunate in my choice of commissioners
who served with me during that period. Among them was Omololu Olunloyo, who
is still very active in politics.
Many of this commissioners were recommended to me by friends who were in
politics, and some of them I had never met before, but I did invite my
friend, the late Adeniyi Williams who was the retired Chief Engineer of the
Federal Ministry of Works. We used to have council meetings, and of course,
I took my time to read all the council papers before these meetings. If
there was anything I felt I had to know in-depth, I asked the Permanent
Secretary of that ministry to come and discuss with me.
And so it was when the late M.S Showole, from Ipara-Ijebu, complained to
me that he was having problem with the Ministry of Agriculture over the
renewal of his timber license. Having gone through his papers, I discovered
that he had a good case. I asked why he wasn't granted his permit, and was
told that he was an Action Grouper. I let the commissioner know in no
uncertain terms that I was not there to fight the Action Group, or indeed
any group, and that the man should be given his licence immediately.
Until the time of his death, M.S. Showole never ceased to repeat the
story to his friends, many of whom became our mutual friends.
I found that the rift between the members of the Action Group at that
time was a tragedy particularly for the West, because they had a very good
programme, a first class civil service and were highly disciplined. But all
efforts at reconciling the opposing factions failed even during the period
The late Sir Adetokunbo Ademola and one or two Obas from the Western
Region used to meet at Sir Ademola's house. Sir Adetokunbo Ademola would
take permission from me to release Awolowo and Akintola to attend the
meeting, so that they could effect resolution of their problem. But up to
the time the plot of treasonable felony for which Awolowo went to jail was
discovered, it was not possible to effect this reconciliation.