Region and 1951 Polls
culled from PUNCH, December 16, 2004
Much had been said and written on the wrong accusation of the Yoruba on a false
allegation of preventing the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe from taking office first as
leader of government business and later Premier of the West. Again, in Godwin
Nzeakah’s column: “Historical reflections,” in The PUNCH of November 10, 2004,
an article which ostensibly was meant to be a tribute to Zik, devoted 95 per
cent of space to reminding Nigerians for the umpteenth time the 1951 incident.
The Action Group (led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo) went into the 1951 elections as
a relatively young but well organised party with brilliantly articulated
manifesto against the much older and better known the NCNC (led by Dr. Nnamdi
Azikiwe). The Yoruba loved the Owelle; they flocked the NCNC rallies at Balogun
Square, Anola in Isalegangan, Campos Square and Amuto, mainly to see and listen
to “Zeek”. It was therefore no surprise that all the five seats in Lagos were
won by NCNC candidates i.e. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Ibiyinka Olorunimbe, Prince
Adeleke Adedoyin, T.O.S. Benson and H.P Adebola. The party also won seven of the
eight seats in Ibadan; it won seats in many other towns such as Abeokuta, Oyo,
Ife, Ilesha and Oshogbo.
In confirmation of the Yoruba support for Zik and the NCNC, the party won the
1954 Western Region version of the elections into the House of Representatives
as a result of which the three ministerial slots for the West in the federal
cabinet were taken up by NCNC members -Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Alhaji Adegoke
Adelabu and Chief Kolawole Balogun.
The fact that there were carpet crossings after the 1951 elections cannot be
denied but the blame for the manipulation and manoeuvering by politicians cannot
be laid at the doors of the generality of the Yoruba who three years later again
voted for the NCNC. Incidentally, the first person who crossed over to the
Action Group side of the House was Arthur Prest – a non-Yoruba. The elder
statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro, a non-Yoruba, also a member of the House, was
in Awolowo’s cabinet as Home Affairs Minister. So also were other prominent
Action Group members from the Mid-West. While not attempting to justify the 1951
carpet crossings, the fact should not be overlooked that as at today and in
spite of electoral laws forbidding it, our legislators still change parties
without first resigning their seats and testing their popularity on the platform
of their new party as demanded by law.
Nigeria has always been described as standing on a tripod – North
(Hausa/Fulani), East (Igbo) and the West (Yoruba). With this setting, some obas,
who were said to have expressed a preference for a Yoruba premier, were
naturally apprehensive of the unfolding scenario – the prospect of a regional
premiers meeting with the North represented by a northerner, East by an
easterner and the West also by an easterner! It was the considered opinion of
the paramount rulers that the interest of the West would be best served by a
westerner and that nothing meaningful could be achieved at any forum at which
Nigeria was the subject matter where the Yoruba, one of the three dominant
tribes, was not represented. If in 2004 – more than 50 years after – we are
still talking of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction and both the North and
the South-South are insisting that come 2007, the president must come from their
zone, it would be difficult to fault the stand taken by the obas way back in
Yoruba have always been very accommodating. In 1951, Mazi Mbonu Ojike was
elected Deputy Mayor of Lagos and many of our eastern brothers served as
councillors in the then Lagos City Council. Moronu once won a Lagos seat to the
House of Representatives and one Ebubedike was elected a member of the Western
House of Assembly via Badagry Constituency. About the same time, a Yoruba lawyer
of Egba extraction (Ajibola), who had lived in Port Harcourt for many years,
lost a council election on the platform of the NCNC, the dominant party not only
in Port Harcourt but also throughout the East.
Each time the unfortunate saga of 1951 is retold, all we read or hear is that
Zik was denied the opportunity to rule the West by the Yoruba, whereas the
action was against the wish and desire of majority of the Yoruba who had
demonstrated a preference for Zik and the NCNC at the polls.
A united Nigeria where the various tribes can coexist peacefully should be our
goal. If we must tell stories, we must be fair. We must tell it all and allow
the reading public to make their own judgement and not brainwash them.
•Awosanya wrote from 5, Afolabi Awosanya Street, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos.