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 1951.
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.