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 governor refused.

"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 not extended.

"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 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

'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 Region.

"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 of emergency.

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.