|Urhobo Historical Society
reply to Balewa's
for a state of
emergency, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of
opposition in Nigeria's Federal Parliament, and
leader of the Action Group [party], tabled his opposition
amendment. The following are excerpts from his speech:
"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 of emergency."
"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 unwarranted.
"The first question which any reasonable person ought to ask himself is this. Is there a state of public emergency in the Western Region
"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
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 yet arisen.
"What is more
"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 Akintola.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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."