By the time Obafemi Awolowo had finished his law studies in London, Nnamdi Azikiwe had become the leader of the NCNC as well as the owner of a chain of newspapers, the most famous of them being the West African Pilot, Ahmadu Bello as now leader of the NPC also had the Hausa language Newspaper Gaskiya tafi Kwabo, to present the Northern point of view.
One Saturday, Awolowo on visiting his teacher friend Akin Deko at the government college, Ibadan, heard a student talking about West African Pilot asked:“I thought I heard your student mention something that sounded like West African pilot?” “So you heard from this distance? Akin continued “Yes, there is a student that short one there pretending not to be listening to us, he is one of my favourites. He does nothing but read the West African Pilot from page to page, then he reads anything in it by Nnamdi Azikiwe over and over again as many time as he can before the next issue of the paper comes out”.
“Really” Awolowo wants to be sure
“I am telling you the truth”, confirmed Akin Deko
“There is no need to worry”, Awolowo said. He began to walk towards his car, slowly, deliberately. He is thinking of the next step, how to handle the situation, for his people, especially the young ones who have turn to Zik making him their idol.
The student who was some two meters away from them and has since stopped cutting the grass on hearing the conversation, followed them at a discreet distance as if he was on some errand. “Not to worry”, Awolowo repeat the consolatory statement, “by the time I finished my plans, there won’t be Zik, the NCNC or the West African Pilot, at least in the western Region”.
Not very long after this, Obafemi Awolowo formed the Action Group, party of which he was leader, and established the African newspaper of Nigeria limited to publish the Nigerian Tribune and Irohin Yoruba.
Awolowo’s first political mission is to make sure that Azikiwe is out of the political scene; he is out to make Zik, the idol of most young generation faceless. He must not allow him succeed in western region, Zik’s political base.
In January 1951, Nnamdi Azikiwe could not stand any longer; the humiliation, threat and frustration he wallowed in, in his political career. He announced that he was retiring from Nigerian politics for five years to concentrate on his newspaper business. It was to be a period of rejuvenation for the great Zik. But his party voted him back at the convention.
The election to the three regional Houses of Assembly was duly held towards the end of 1951. The Ahmadu Bello Northern people’s congress (NPC) clearly won the election in North. In the eastern region, the NCNC had to come to an understanding with Endeley’s party in order to make it possible for Eyo Ita to become the head of government of the east.
The leader of the NCNC Zik himself led this party election in Lagos and the west, while his unrepentant political opponent Obafemi Awolowo led his party, Action Group (AG). At the end of a trying moment, no party had a clear majority in the western region. For Azikiwe, the outcome was satisfactory, at least his party is not trampled on as promised by his rival Awo. But the missionary Awo was not happy in such a situation, so he led Action group to action.
The Awo group did not sleep, campaign took the order, and a hand was extended to the small political parties, followed by a promise to reimburse each candidate his election expenses from two hundred pounds to five hundred pounds. This was the message at the Action Group parliamentary council meeting of January 5, 1952 in Ibadan, the Awo’s home and political seat. The nights of the 5th and 6th January were anxious nights in the Yoruba great city of Ibadan. Meeting of small groups, of large groups breaking into small groups and regrouping take place all over the town. People were camping and recamping, declaring and re-declaring.
The tension was high and the lieutenant governor could not hold his breath, he voiced out:
“Let them swear allegiance to the Action Group…if they wish. All I need to know is which party has the majority”, he smiled and added. “Then you can swear them in front of any of the gods you like. But let them have that paper signed”
Awolowo suddenly remember that Lagos was also a constituency to grasp if victory must be won: “contact the Lagos people Bode”, Awolowo is throwing the challenge to Bode Thomas, the maro who knew better the Lagosians than Awo. “What are we working towards? Chief Thomas wants to know the plan since he will be traveling to London within the week,
“I hope you can wait and settle this issue before you go…”Awolowo is very much interested in that contact since it is necessary for this political mission.
“What are we working towards?” Bode repeated his question as if all what the infatigable Awolowo has been saying has not yet sank into his ears.
‘To prevent Azikiwe from being head of the government in the western region and to prevent him from being elected from the western House of Assembly to the House of Representatives in Lagos’, Awo responded.
“The first is easier than the second”, Bode said getting up to leave.
The house was ready by the 7th January, 1952; a guard of Honour mounted by the first Battalion of the Nigeria Regiment in full ceremonial dress was ready by 9.30am led by the Ibadan native Authority police Band. The first battalion marched before the main entrance to the House of Assembly. The first members of the house to arrive were the ones from Lagos, Dr. Azikiwe, Adeleke Adedoyin, T.OS Benson and Dr. Olorun-Nimbe. They went in and sat on the front row, other members of NCNC joined them casually.
The order of the proceedings was followed with all the ceremony and protocols. The Lieutenant governor bowed and took the presidential chair. To the right of the hall were the chiefs, the Obas from the various provinces of the region. The members of the House of Assembly were to sit on the left hand side of the hall. But the uncompromised political war lord, the great antagonist in the play of Nigeria politics of genes, Sir Obafemi Awolowo with members of his Action Group filed in, forty nine (49) of them, wearing their party badges, if only to let the opponents believe in his political sportsmanship, his ability to get it at all cost.
Awolowo stopped to ask the clerk of the House what the sitting arrangements were and when he was told there was no particular sitting procedure for members of the political parties, he shook his head: “we insist on sitting together party by party” with that, he led his party members out of the House until he get the call of the clerk of the House that his demand had been taken into consideration.
The Lieutenant governor read the short address which the governor had sent to the Houses of Assembly “urging the three regions to work with diligence and commitment”. The leader of the NCNC had been looking over the ranks of the Action Group members. He had seen a few people he had expected to be with him in their ranks.
Now he turned to his right and watched three members of his party get up, walk past him bowing in the process and cross over to the Action Group.
There were welcoming handclaps as they shook hands with Awo and Bode Thomas, “welcome Eka abo!” they were warmly greeted as they took their new seats.
Could that be the reason Chief Awo insisted on sitting arrangement based on party? What makes the three NCNC men cross over to AG?
T.O.S Benson, one of the vice presidents of NCNC covered his face with a white handkerchief and when he looked up again at Azikiwe, his eyes were red. A sign of a troubled heart, trouble mind and trouble head. Azikiwe turned to Dr. Olorun-Nimbe and expressed tears “see what these people are doing.”
All members took the oath of allegiance to his majesty, the king of England. Then the Lieutenant governor addressed the joint Houses of Assembly and of Chiefs. Later in the day at 3pm, they met again and the members of the House constituted themselves into the Electoral College to elect some members to the House of Representatives in Lagos. And just as Awo plotted, the great zik failed to be elected to the House of Representatives. What a game of politics!
Zik returned to Lagos that afternoon a humiliated man! After his consultation with his millionaire friend of Ojukwu transport service, the father of the great Ikemba, who will one day revisit the war his father’s friend fought and lose. Ikemba will take it beyond region, he will fight the whole nation but who knows whether the result will be different from the former.
Zik announced his resignation from the Western House of Assembly. He had announced three years voluntary retirement from politics, almost one year ago, January 1951 to concentrate on his business, at least as an Ibo man. Now, he has resigned.
For Awo, the battle has just begun, end is yet to be heard, and he has just aimed at the target.
The following day, someone immediately put an advertisement, a mock obituary in the Daily Times on the demise of the NCNC now referred to as National Council of Nuisance and Confusion. The paper reads: “The NCNC was Zik (sick) on Monday January 7, 1952 and died on Thursday 10 January 1952”.
-Culled from- ‘Midnight Stroke: the Oedipus Impulse’, written by Anietie Udobit (2015 revised)