Fire on the mountain


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Fire On The Mountain



T. O. Shobowale Benson



culled from GUARDIAN of December 1, 2003

Fire On The Mountain was the signal chant for the political party war that erupted on the floor of the Western House of Assembly, one bright morning in May 1962. The confusion and fracas in the House led the police to teargas the chambers, which emptied within one minute as Honourable Members fled for their lives. That incident climaxed into the declaration of a state of emergency, following a motion tabled in the parliament by Prime Minister Abubaka Tafawa Balewa on May 29, which was overwhelmingly adopted. Consequently, the Government at the centre declared a state of emergency in Western Nigeria for six months and Chief M.A. Majekodunmi was appointed the a.dministrator.

I was graphically reminded of that happening on the floor of the Western House of Assembly by the biography of Dr. Moses A. Majekodunmi titled "My Lord, What A Morning", which the Maye of Lagos autographed to me on August 30, 1998. This was after a meeting of some honorary titled Chiefs held at Chief Majekodunmi's No. 3, Kingsway Road Mansion. Chapter 5 of the book from pages 140-180 dwelt on the Western Nigeria emergency. Dr. Majekodunmi the administrator of the region during the emergency period also retained his post as Federal Minister of Health.

I feel a compulsion to tell the story of that political turmoil on the floor of the Western House for posterity to know the truth of the event. I was the party general who strategised the NNDP/NCNC plan of action. All political parties played political games and rascality in those days with the Action Group blazing the trail for others to follow.

I was in the chair at the party conclave, which took the decision to confront and foil the Action Group in the House, should it be established through numbers that the party had oiled the NNDP-NCNC out of a majority in the House as it did in 1952. But unfortunately, due to over zealousness on the part of the executors of the action, things were not carried out as originally planned.

In 1952, the Action Group propagated its philosophy of East for the East, North for the North and the West for the West and argued that if an Hausa man could be leader of the government in the North, an Igboman as leader of government in the East, then an Igbo man should not lead the government in the West. Of course the Action Group philosophy gained ground. On its own part, the NCNC philosophy focused on one Nigeria, one country and one constitution. Therefore, the NCNC lost to the Action Group in the West even in the appointment of two of the five Lagos members to the Federal House, the Action Group voted against Zik in the Western House of Assembly irrespective of the fact that NCNC won the five members in Lagos.

However, the man who led the East then (Eyo Ita) whom the Action Group regarded as an Igbo man was an Efik and not Igbo. In its political game and rascality, the Action Group, through vote buying and manipulation had vaporised the NCNC majority in the House and this prevented Zik from being leader of government in the Western Region or going on from the West to the House of Representatives in Lagos. The Lagos Metropolis was then part of the West. At that time, members got to the Federal House from their regional Houses through Electoral College except in Lagos where general election was conducted and the NCNC 'Five Men of Destiny' defeated the five members of the Action Group.

The political imbroglio of 1962 centred on appointing a premier for the region after the "sack me I sack you" power play of the AG, which asked the Governor of Western Nigeria, Sir Adesoji Aderemi to sack the premier (Akintola). Adegbenro was nominated by the Governor to replace Akintola and Akintola fired back by sacking the Governor and later went to the High Court of Western Nigeria in Ibidan on Suit No. High Court (W.N) 1/16/62, claiming that he had been wrongfully removed.

The High Court referred the constitutional questions involved to the Federal Supreme Court for decision and Akintola's claim was upheld by the Supreme Court, presided over by Honourable Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, then the CJN with Justices Taylor and Bairamian, both Justices of the Supreme Court. Akintola went back to the High Court, which ruled in his favour, thereby upholding the dismissal of the Governor and also upholding Akintola as the Premier of Western Region. But Adegbenro appealed the judgement to the Privy Council in London and also brought an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court on Suit No F.S.C. 187/1962 from the judgement of the High Court. The Privy Council in London overruled the Supreme Court and gave judgement in favour of Adegbenro thus upholding the power of the Governor to sack the Premier and the appointment of Adegbenro as replacement for Akintola.

The region was thrown into deep turmoil as there was no effective government and the parliament in Lagos had to step in to resolve the impasse. The parliament decided that as a Sovereign State the decision of the Supreme Court of the land was supreme and no further appeal in Nigeria would go to the Privy Council in London. The Supreme Court had ordered that the Premier be confirmed by a vote in the House of Assembly to test the strength of the claimant factions.

Both the rump of the Action Group and the NNDP claimed to have majority of Assembly men, yet both parties wanted an alliance with the NCNC. But remembering how Zik was spited and done out of his party's victory 10 years back, the NCNC decided to team up with the Akintola and Ayo Rosiji's NNDP. Meanwhile, Chief Rosiji had been expelled from the AG for advocating an alliance with the North and the late Samuel G. Ikoku replaced him as General Secretary of the AG.

The NCNC strategy was to seize the opportunity of the alliance to slap back the AG in the face to pay it back in its own coin for what it did to the NCNC in 1952 at the Western House of Assembly. When the party learnt that the A.G. had enlisted an expatriate Greek business magnate and the National Bank to fund its vote-collecting operation, it fell on the NCNC to devise a method of blocking the AG. It was then imperative that the AG scheme for victory through manipulation and financial inducement be thwarted. Our counter political game plan was to seize the mace at the Assembly in order to nullify the day's session.

On the D-day in the Western House of Assembly, AG and NNDP/NCNC alliance members each sat on opposite sides and galleries and each on the side of the seat where honourable members of their camp were to be based as they trooped into the Assembly Chambers. But the NNDP/NCNC alliance was ready with the machinery it set up to stop and rubbish the AG. Riot police with guns and teargas canisters strapped to their waists were combat ready for any eventuality.

As honourable members entered the Chambers, the Chief Whip of the NNDP/NCNC alliance counted them. The two candidates for the office were Chief Akintola for the NNDP/NCNCN alliance and Chief A.S. Adegbenro for the Action Group. After the Speaker had entered the Chambers, it became clear that majority of members were on the side of the AG. To kick-start the operations, party whips gave the signal for action to Honourable Oke from Osun Constituency as had been prearranged.

He got up from the back row where he sat and jumping from one table to the other shouting repeatedly "Fire on the Mountain, Run, Run, Run". He kept up the chant and the jumping exercise. Thus there was great confusion in the House as members packed their bags and baggage out of the Assembly chambers. The honourable member representing Ajeromi-Ajegunle Constituency, Mr. Ebube Dike, an Igbo settler from Okigwe, raced to the Speaker's table and made for the mace to hit it on the Speaker's head. The Speaker, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin dodged it and the mace hit on the table and broke into pieces.

At this point the confusion in the House knew no bounds as people ran helter-sketer, some bleeding from wounds. The police had thrown teargas canisters through the windows and the main door hence people scrambled to flee through the ventilation holes of the Assembly. In the end everybody managed to wriggle out of the chambers and the police sealed off the Assembly. The state of emergency that followed foreclosed the Western House of Assembly.

When Majekodunmi assumed duty as the Administrator, his first assignment was to detain parliamentarians; Awo in Lekki, Akintola in Olokemeji and some others placed under house arrest. When it reconvened six months later, Chief Akintola was restored to the Premiership and Fani Kayode was appointed the deputy Premier by Akintola. The office of deputy Premier was not in the constitution and I complained to Zik at the State House and also to Okpara but they asked me to meet Akintola to resolve the matter. Akintola's stand was to adopt any means to win the battle and one of them was to make Fani Kayode the Deputy Premier. All the people who complained against Fani Kayode were regarded as being jealous of him and we left the matter like that thus Fani Kayode was called "Fani The Power". That was the kata-kata that was going on in the Western House of Assembly before the army struck in January 1966.

In politics when you plan one thing, your followers execute it wrongly. It was the assigned role of Ebube Dike to remove the mace, being the authority of the parliament but he attempted to hit the mace on the head of the Speaker. It was not the intention of NNDP/NCNC alliance that the mace be broken but only to remove the mace and end the day's session. Likewise the instruction to honourable Oke was to tap the table to arouse the attention of Ebube Dike and not to jump up and down and shouting fire on the mountain. However, Ebube Dike in his ulterior motive regarded this as a reprisal action to pay back the AG on what they did to Zik in 1952, so 1952 remains a remarkable year for Igbos.

So the NCNC decided to punish Awo in 1964 when it reneged in a solid agreement to make Awo the Prime Minister. The 1964 elections saw the NPC victorious and Balewa was called upon to form the government at the centre but instead of remaining with the UPGA (AG-NCNC Alliance), the NCNC joined the NPC to form the central government.

TOS Benson, CFR, SAN, is the first Nigerian Federal Minister of Information, Culture and Broadcasting




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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.