The Titans' War
"I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep;
I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion."
- Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC)
Did you know that it was the personality clash between the first Premier of Western Nigeria (1954-1960), official Parliamentary Leader of the Opposition (1959-1963), and Asiwaju of Yorubaland, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909-1987) and the first Premier of Northern Nigeria (1954-1966) as well as the Sardauna of Sokoto (1938-1966), Sir Ahmadu Bello (1910-1966), which led to all the fear, fret, and fuss of the First Republic from 1960 to 1966? Sadly, that political rivalry resulted in the then national crisis and somewhat nearly negated their otherwise respective Progressive and Conservative contributions to nation-building.
Veteran journalist, Akinlolu Aje, who testified to have witnessed the quarrel since its nascence, identified Awolowo's vibrant and robust forays into the 'enemy' territories of then Ilorin and Offa (today's Kwara State) and the Middle Belt in the period leading to the 1959 elections as the genesis of their supremacy struggle. In his authoritative biography, Awo, Unfinished Greatness, (Pg. 83), Olufemi Ogunsanwo, a former Daily Times of Nigeria political editor, educed this part of Aje's incisive essay, Awolowo, Sardauna and the North:
"Awolowo refused to recognise the Sardauna as the de facto ruler of Nigeria. He would not kowtow to him. There was something antipathetic about the character of the two men that fueled the feud. Awo was progressive, restless, republican, idealistic, and egalitarian; the Sardauna was conservative, domineering, aristocratic, regal, and feudal. Both cared immensely about the welfare of their beloved peoples, hence the clash of personalities and interests."
The ardent wish for ethnic domination, utmost sectarianism and illiberalness with regards to democratic standards and deficiency of an ideological principle were also pinpointed by the late sage, as the fundamental causalities in the ruination of Nigeria's first attempt at democracy. From the above identified ingredients, it was actually the refusal of the politicians to cleave to the principles of democratic norms as well as tolerate opposing opinions or views that became tops in the collapse of Nigeria's then democracy. This was immediately followed by the tenacity of office (no matter what) on the part of the headstrong incumbent which did not help matters either. Also, the thoroughly blemished and compromised 1964 federal elections, which led to no conclusion or produced no definite results, coupled with the following year's fragmented and preposterous rigging of votes in the West, both brought in the rear.
It must be noted that the symptoms of an inner political turmoil were already evident long before the distressing falsification and contortions that surrounded the largely disputed 1963 Census exercise, particularly by Southerners. It was true that Nigeria's First Republic concept of prime ministerial government was from the same mold as that of the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707-1800), where it originated from - and its contemporary, the Parliamentary System in Sweden (1721-1772). In this arrangement, the head of state (Nnamdi Azikiwe) was different from the head of government (Tafawa Balewa), who was fastened with a form of political opposition that went to the largest party sitting in opposition (the Action Group), with its leader (Obafemi Awolowo) given the title "Leader of the Opposition."
Even before things went awry, Chief Awolowo, who believed that opposition, so intended and calculated in a parliamentary democracy, was both benignant and rewarding to the nation, had been very forthcoming by seriously and regularly providing alternative viewpoints to the policies of the Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa-led Federal Government (FG) - (1960-1966). However, by its actions and body languages, which smacked of outright discourtesy, ungraciousness and impertinence, the F.G insinuated that it had little choice but to mount an all-out offensive on Awolowo, the Leader of the Opposition, whose Parliamentary role it found meddlesome, embarrassing, and at best a needless discombobulating. An example of the Balewa government's failure to acknowledge his official role was to make Chief Awolowo and his wife, Hanna, seat among retired firemen in an obscure corner at the venue of the Independence Day ceremony on 1st October, 1960. By so doing, Balewa and Bello deliberately failed to recognize Awolowo's equally pivotal role in the struggle for Nigeria's independence.
As they hoped that commonsense would prevail and the looming political crisis in the country averted, Nigerians wondered why the FG was always getting itself all worked up over Awolowo's ordinarily good intentioned advices and suggestions. Up to 1960-1962, these circumstances were antecedent to the inveterate tendency of mutual enmity between Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on the one hand and Sir Ahmadu Bello, who maintained an iron grip on Prime Minister Tafa Balewa, on another. Ultimately, the hostility led to Awo's vilification, hounding, and imprisoning; a marked man, his very noticeably high political profile counted for naught.
Balewa, who hailed from Gemawa, a small tribe in Bauchi (today's Taraba State) was fathered by a slave, whose master selected little Abubakar to receive Western education, thus emerging the first Northerner to bag a University of London Diploma in Education, as well as being among the first four Northerners to be promoted Education Officers. Balewa remained at heart a Conservative realist, although many within the N.P.C mistakenly regarded him as a radical due to his very critical stance of the excesses of the Native Administration system, and his preferring to remain a commoner when he refused to be conferred with a title by the Emir to whose council he belonged as a valued member and adviser. Unlike a former minister of health (1967-1974), Aminu Kano (1920-1983), Balewa was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that to frontally attack the feudal system would not change much, which in itself did little to allay the emirs' wariness of him for they completely distrusted him. The emirs still remembered how in August 1950, Tafawa Balewa surprised everybody by canvassing on the floor of the Northern House of Assembly that a commission be set up to investigate the North's N.A system and to recommend appropriate reforms.
An Awolowo associate, later Commissioner of Agriculture (1967-1970) in the West, Governor of Old Oyo State (1979-1983), Minister of Power and Steel (1999-2000) and Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (2000-2001), Chief James Ajibola Ige, SAN, a.k.a "Cicero of Esa Oke" (1930-2001), who would become the first Nigerian serving minister to be assassinated, declared- articulating each syllable carefully:
"As early as February 1962, S.L. Akintola and NPC leaders agreed to change the balance of political forces in Nigeria by trying to liquidate Awo and the AG."
Being a courageous and dauntless critic, often given to harsh and captious judgment against government's 'injustice', 'incompetence' and 'insufficiency', overtly signalled Awolowo for elimination. It was only natural for the reactionary elements in the Balewa Government and the establishment to disfavor him. In actual fact, his counterparts from other parties were each time quick to dismiss and traduce him in the press as haughty, bumptious, overbearing, peremptory, imperious, and tribalistic. From then on, they went in search of any pretext to subdue him by force.
To their rescue came Chief S.L. Akintola (1910-1966), Awolowo's deputy and 13th Aare-Ona-Kakanfo of Yoruba land, who was disgruntled by his boss' "no compromise" stance against the NPC that provided him and his ilk no opportunity for federal appointments and patronages. He began to rebuff, and even snubs his leader, Awolowo, whom he strongly resented for interfering with the way and manner he ran his office as Premier of the Western Region. Whereas Ahmadu Bello's "Southern Ambassador", Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966), often visited and consulted him at the Premier's Lodge, Nassarawa House, Kaduna, for advices and instructions, Akintola, a political arriviste, was encouraged and supported (by Bello) to pull the rug from under Awolowo's feet and become his own man once and for all.
Intent on slapping down the doctrine of party supremacy, Akintola arrogated certain privileges to himself alone, and in the process fast-tracked his tendency towards pretentiousness. Invariably, he seemed fitted from one madcap scheme to another. Firstly, in January 1960, he appointed ministers into his cabinet with no input whatsoever from the party caucus. Secondly, he was not careful to act unilaterally when he single-handedly decided to abolish women taxes in some three divisions of the Western Region. Thirdly, his January 1961 mid-season plans to reduce the buying price of cocoa equally back-fired. Awolowo started to have bad vibes about his deputy and was, therefore, more than ready to put paid to Akintola's clever effort to prettify what had already qualified as anti-party activities. Akintola fought back and all hell broke loose.
At the 1961 Jos Convention of the Party, where he was dropped as deputy leader for his disloyalty and insubordination, Akintola and his supporters staged a walkout on their party and its caucus as a way of registering their disapproval. Akintola headed home to receive the Sardauna, who was privately visiting Ibadan at the time, promising as he departed the Jos venue of the convention to punish the A.G and Awolowo for the raw deal they handed out to him. It must be noted that while Chief Akintola's faction enjoyed the fanatical support of his ministers including the party's general secretary, Chief Ayo Rosiji (1917-2000), Chief Awolowo's faction consisted of the party's federal legislators as well as its young ideologues, like Samuel G. Ikoku (1922-1997), who craved for a more radical ideology termed 'democratic socialism'. The Ogbomoso-born politician, Akintola, appeared to already have the backing he needed to supplant his leader, even if it meant becoming a lap dog of the N.P.C/N.C.N.C coalition government. By a year later, on 30th January, 1962, it had become clear to everyone that the A.G crisis had proved irredeemable as it was unsolvable.
Once he became more footloose politically, including forming his own party, Chief Akintola behaved with typical energy by making a trade with N.P.C's Sir Ahmadu Bello, who hated the political provocateur called Awolowo with a passion. It would also seem that Chief Akintola for the umpteenth time succeeded in putting his foot in his mouth when he chose to get into bed with the NPC, an unrelenting hostile and sinister enemy of his party and people.
Like a political tornado in 1959 and 1961, the expansionary policies of Awolowo's Action Group, which the Northern People's Congress considered a real threat, had seen the party tear through certain areas in the Hausa heartland considered to be a stronghold of the ruling NPC and where the fortunes of the main opposition party, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) led by Mallam Aminu Kano, had proved marginal. To their consternation, the AG ruled out any hope of compromise and vowed to further its campaigns in these places, claiming that the process of their expansion, which had already started to flourish, had reached the stage where it was now irreversible.
In the mid-fifties, the Sardauna's nerve had been stretched to breaking point during one of several meetings in Kaduna with Chief Awolowo, who matter-of-factly demanded autonomy for the Christian Tiv and Idoma people in the North, over whom Bello exercised control. For the Sardauna, who was in too vile a mood to co-operate, and who had long equated Awo's vying for the support of the minority tribes to trying to tear asunder his policy of One North, One People, this was a no-go area. As far as he was concerned, any attempt to attack the system was going to have to in some way deal with that issue. He arrogantly informed his arch-rival, Awolowo, that strong rule from his regional government was a lamentable, but permanent necessity and that what the North needed was a period of calm without more surges of radical change. Believing Awo's request to be tantamount to a betrayal of the Jihad led by his grandfather, Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio (1754-1817), who founded the Sokoto Caliphate (1804-1903), the strong and vigorous Sardauna vowed to oppose any attempt that sought the break up or cleavage of his authoritarian and monolithic North. He warned the public to be vigilant and report anything suspicious.
But Aminu Kano, a northern Muslim politician with focuses on Kano, believed otherwise. He asked a great many scathing and mordant questions about the emirate system in the North against which he had expressed an ingrained and a bred-in-the-bone aversion. The mallam bawled repeatedly and unrestrainedly at the authorities to introduce fairly radical reforms. He was joined by his comrade-in-arms and first president of NEPU, Abba Maikwary, "a learned man and well established person in the system in Kano". Maikwary was forthrightly dissatisfied with his party's cautious and patient route to rudimental issues and urged his colleagues to refuse to soft-pedal their agitation and clamor for more radical changes. The strident tone of Maikwary's vitriol and sometimes outright cruelty of his pronouncements really struck Chief Awolowo's fancy. Since he believed Maikwary and the A.G had similar views on the feudal system of governance, Awo promptly wooed him to his side.
Maikwary later emerged the Action Group's northern wing president in 1955 and Offa's dogged and most successful politician, Chief Josiah Sunday Olawoyin (1925-2000), a Yoruba, who would be imprisoned a record thirteen times, became the general secretary. The N.P.C's supposed traditional base had again been busted and nothing could be more nerve-racking for the Sardauna who now felt threatened in his own very domain. Offa soon began to vote with Awo's West, rejecting its classification as Bello's North. Alhaji Ganiu Olawale Dawudu (1935-2006), former Lagos State Chairman of Alliance for Democracy (AD) described Olawonyin at his death in October, 2000 as:
"... a patriot who was very loyal to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He believed in Awo's ideals. ...he was a strong advocate of Kwarans' merger with their kith and kins in the South-West."
Equally, Suraj Oyewale also substantiates in Offa: History Beckons, Yet Again of Sunday, 16th January, 2011:
"In fact, Chief Josiah Sunday Olawoyin ...a dyed-in-wool Awoist, was the leader of opposition in Sardauna's NPC- dominated northern parliament at the time."
The Northern Government's role as a prime mover in rejecting social change consistently came under attack when the duo of Maikwary and Olawoyin redoubled their struggle against the feudal system of governance which the NPC used to sustain and prop up the Emirs in the North. They were critical of the emirs' courts, which usually sat clandestinely and surreptitiously, inside the palace. Like a secret panel designed to elude observation or detection, these courts reached arbitrary decisions- most, if not all the time.
The "stormy petrel" Olawoyin, who would be dislodged at the 1983 thrice held Unity Party of Nigeria governorship primaries by former minister of communications, Senator Cornelius Adebayo, backed by Second Republic Senate Leader and Waziri of Ilorin, Dr Olusola Saraki (1933-2012), who had grown disenchanted with the administration of Governor Adamu Attah (1931-2014), was as obstinate as he was pertinacious. He would simply not take "No!" for an answer. In fact, it took the timely ascension of Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, as the new Emir of Kano in 1953, before the colonial government could muster the strength to direct in favor of the curtailment of judicial secrecy and enthronement of open sittings since the courts must now be built outside the palaces throughout the North. In his book, Power Broker, a biography of Sir Kashim Ibrahim (1910-1980), Professor Akinjide Osuntokun validates this further (pg. 68):
"As time went on, and under pressure from the emirs, the D.O.s' power of review was curtailed. It was under these circumstances that the judicial system became corrupt and some of the punishments inflicted such as amputation of hands or legs of rogues did not conform to modern ideas of justice. To complicate matters, the non-Muslim peoples of the North lived in dread of the Muslim courts. The possibility of their use as weapons of oppression and punishment for refusal to convert to Islam was great. In fact, reactionary elements in the North were not against the use of the courts to deal with political and religious opponents."
Meanwhile, the media was always full of shock-horror headlines whenever the stormy petrel, Olawoyin, took on the feudal system. He was both ruthless and unsparing in his criticisms of the fossilized, Neolithic and static N. A. system controlled by the Emirs. As Independence approached, Olawoyin and other non-Muslims agitators intensified their demand for more reforms. Concerned, the Lieutenant-Governor of the North held talks with Ahmadu Bello, whose bargaining position was weakened by his foot-dragging over committing to reforms. In the end, Nigeria's Independence was tied to reforms of the Muslim judicial system in the North by the Colonial Office. Sir James Robertson (1899-1983), Nigeria's last Governor-General (1955-1960), who had joined the Sudanese Political Service from 1922 to 1953 after his Oxford days and was believed to have the Sardauna's ear, was promptly informed to persuade him to reform. It was this combined pressure exerted by the British and the educated elite that finally produced a law passed in 1954 which defined and limited the powers of the emirs. The fact that Aminu Kano and his NEPU favored much more radical policies forced the emirs to quickly accept to reform and relish what little authority they had left.
Unforgettably so, at the 1957 London Constitutional Conference, Sir Ahmadu Bello's proposed reforms of the prevailing legal system in his Region, which restricted the Sharia's application to personal matters like "marriage, divorce, inheritance and property", became the object of ridicule from Olawonyin and his colleagues, which they labeled "old wine in new bottle." The British, however, admired Bello all the more for allowing them to ridicule his ideas and never reacting.
In a deliberate, nasty and vicious attack, Olawoyin had unsympathetically cautioned the North to thread softly on its secession agenda from the Federation of Nigeria in line with a 1953 threat; otherwise the provinces of Ilorin and Kabba would be tempted to also secede from the North. According to him, whatever was best for the goose was also going to be best for the gander. In the middle of the same year, in answer to the "secessionist agitation" of the northern leaders, who felt quite at home with a loose customs union or confederation, the British quickly summoned a constitutional conference in London, where all the leaders of the political parties and their advisers were in attendance. Osuntokun hammered home what the conference resolved, ibid (pg. 49):
"It resolved that Nigeria was going to be a federation with residual powers lying with the regions while the centre was given scheduled and specified jurisdiction. With this decision to locate residual powers in the region, the conference resolved the constitutional crisis and ensured that the federation of Nigeria would be made up of strong states and a weak centre. With this problem resolved, a decision to have direct elections into the Federal House of Representatives was taken and elections were to be held in 1954."
To the chagrin of the Sardauna, Olawoyin succeeded in working out ground rules between the A.G and some Yoruba elements in 'Ilorin talaka parapo' led by the indomitable Alhaji Sule Tapa Maito, with whom he had aligned the A.G in moves targeted at winning the support of the poor. In 1954, the Sardauna was driven to the brink of vexation upon discovering that Olawoyin and Maito as well as two other Middle Belt candidates, whom he had thought lacked any realistic chance of winning the elections, were all actually victorious having cleared their four Northern House of Assembly seats. While the feat expectedly won the Action Group accolades, it immediately dawned on the NPC Government that it had to work hard to win back the confidence of the people.
Although that sort of gain for the AG was nothing like enough to prevent the NPC's generic or broad-brush triumph at the polls, the fact that Olawoyin and Maito could defeat two Emir-sponsored aristocrats of Ilorin jolted the powerful Premier of Northern Nigeria and other leaders of the N.P.C. Truly, there were times when the challenges of containing such losses almost confounded the Sardauna for the Ilorin Emir ship represented the last aristocratic vestige of what made his forebears' 19th century jihad, which decisively defeated parts of Yoruba land, such great-hard work. Indeed, the cloud of political defeatism was gradually descending on the Sardauna, a prince who brooked no opposition or interference. Whatever the vicissitudes presently facing the North, he now seemed more determined to come through.
No sooner had the election dust settled down than the Sardauna artfully attempted to entice Josiah Olawoyin for support by dangling a ministerial appointment in his face. History was repeating itself. Bello's grandfather, who led the Jihadists against the old Oyo Empire in the early 19th century, had gone down in history as having successfully made clumsy yet endearing overtures of friendship to Afonja who betrayed Yoruba confidence and trust. Olawoyin rejected the offer to proclaim to Ahmadu Bello that mouth-watering offers, such as the one made to him, will not save the North. This feeling of rejection and hurt remained with the Sardauna until his death.
Rather, Olawoyin felt himself being drawn towards his brass-bound and uncompromising personality when he became the Leader of the Opposition in the Kaduna-based Northern House of Assembly, given his seniority among A.G members in the House. It vexed the Sardauna to find that Offa had refused to defuse into the politics of the North as these men ceaselessly tormented his government. Chief Awolowo also got into trouble with the Sardauna over Olawoyin's 'one-eyed king' wicked and facetious portrayal of a northern delegate to the 1954 London Constitution Conference, Alhaji (Sir) Umar Ibn Mohammed el-Kanemi (1873-1968), who doubled as the Shehu of Bornu. Ahmadu Bello genuinely believed that political virus had indeed attacked his Region whereby Awolowo and his Southern cronies now openly emboldened Northerners to contemptuously ridicule their leaders and elders alike.
After Bello and his fierce colleagues from the North staged a walkout over the matter, Awolowo gave in and demanded that the 'Stormy Petrel' should withdraw the invective with a standard apology, which the young man did. In fact, the then twenty-nine year old Olawoyin was said to have also written a nice little note to appease the Sardauna on the occasion. For his dogged struggle and activism though, Olawonyin was imprisoned a whopping thirteen times by the Sardauna Government, but arrests and jail sentences did nothing to deter him.
There remained, however, another and more vexing problem. It was the A.G incursion into the Middle Belt where its United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) leader from Gboko, Joseph Tarka (1932-1980), signed an alliance with the A.G pledging to protect one another against the combative behemoth, the N.P.C, as it were, in their midst. With the Middle-Belt success, Awolowo was further inspired to be more inventive and endearing with his own calculations. The Action Groupers, who landed in both Adamawa and Bornu in 1958, came on like gangbusters at precisely the right time. Their struggle instantly fetched them another alliance with the Bornu Youth Movement led by its founder and patron, the nonconformist Alhaji Ibrahim Imam (1916-1980), pioneer General Secretary of the N.P.C, who had been invited back into the Bornu Youth Movement (BYM) after it metamorphosed in 1954 from the Bornu Youth Improvement Association (BYIA), which he founded in Maiduguri in 1949. Osuntokun, wrote ibid (p.60):
"The BYM represented Kanuri nationalism and stood out against any attempt by the Hausa-Fulani leadership of the NPC to lord it over Bornu, which had always seen itself as superior to the Sokoto Caliphate of Usman dan Fodiye."
This writer had also described Ibrahim Imam in A Stab in the Back, published in The Nigerian Voice of 21st June, 2013 thus:
"A tempestuous character, powerful orator and one of Bornu's greatest sons in modern times, Ibrahim Imam founded the Bornu Youth Improvement Association (BYIA) in 1949, emerged General Secretary of the Northern People's Congress (NPC) and was largely responsible for the expansion of the NPC in Northern Nigeria. He later became a political ally of Chief Awolowo following his dumping of the NPC for the Bornu Youth Movement (BYM) which later joined the Action Group in 1958."
The political accommodation of Tarka and Imam by Awolowo was like a blow so sudden and vicious that the Sardauna literally stood still, trying to find a plausible excuse for. It is a statement of verifiable historical fact that all three men (Awolowo, Tarka and Imam) that were having a field day behind the Sardauna's back, happened to be his sworn-enemies. Again, the Sardauna construed this 'gang-up against the boss' to mean an effort to torpedo his political philosophy of "One North, One People." Aje corroborates our worst fears about the depth of the alliance, ibid:
"Alhaji Ibrahim Imam formed his own party, the Bornu Youth Movement, and aligned it with the Action Group. In the ensuing elections in 1958, it captured most of the local government seats in northeast provinces of Borno and Adamawa. He outflanked Sir Kashim Ibrahim, a teacher and legislator who represented the NPC ....The Sardauna was not amused. NPC thugs set Ibrahim Imam's house in Maiduguri on fire.
In March 1953, Lagos demonstrators, who plainly did not have all the facts, booed and jeered the Sardauna and other northern politicians at the Iddo Terminus as they prepared to board the railway that was to return them to Northern Nigeria. The crowd openly lambasted them with shouts of "feudalists" and "imperialist stooges", even as it was obvious that booing didn't help anyone. This incident had been shortly preceded by Bello's strong advocacy of the NPC's opposition to the motion for self-government planned for 1956 and moved by Chief Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010) from Chief Awolowo's Action Group. On 31st March, 1953 in the House of Representatives, Enahoro stated that:
"...The bare idea of self-government is no longer attractive; it is, no longer enough. Whether it is expressed 'self- government in our time' or self-government as soon as practicable', it has ceased to be a progressive view, because Nigerian nationalism has moved forward from that position. The question in the public mind since the end of the war has been self-government, when, what time, what date?"
Awolowo and the A.G had severally surprised Ahmadu Bello and the N.P.C before with their ingeniousness but this time the northerners remained resolutely opposed to this and were hell bent on blocking the motion. Muhammadu Ngileruma, then minister of natural resources and later Waziri of Bornu, insisted that the North was not ready to commit suicide, citing the paucity of his people in the country's administrative cadre:
"We in the North are men of practical experience and we wish to work on a sound foundation. We never believe in false
propaganda... If we members from the North accept self-government in 1956, we are doing a very serious disservice to our Region. This is because I know there are very few educated elements in the country who know the meaning of self-government."
Bello, who had personally ordered his followers to scuttle the proposal, had been completely miffed about the matter. He argued that an important issue such as the independence of a country as complex as Nigeria should first have been discussed by all the political parties concerned before it was moved, and only when approved should it be moved by the leader of the Party with the idea, in this case- Chief Awolowo. Even the politically urbane Ibrahim Imam, who was then N.P.C general secretary, pitched his tent with his leader (Bello) when he moved a motion for adjournment, stating:
"To move a motion of such political significance and importance ought to have been discussed by all the Regions of Nigeria. Self-government for a population of over thirty million people is not a matter of little importance that can be taken up independently by one party, forming only a section of the community, because of political expediency... we should only approach the motion through brotherly affection and mutual understanding. But we have not been consulted or asked for our views and opinions before this motion was tabled..."
The Sardauna, who feared that acceding to Independence now would simply afford the Southerners to take over the country since they already dominated the civil service of both regions and the country's economy, suggested that the South should leave the North alone if it continued to insist about the 1956 date. That they were simply not ready to commit political suicide by substituting British suzerainty with Southern domination. He accused Awolowo and his group of playing politics and dismissed the motion for having all the hallmarks of a rushed job. Bello rightly insisted that the North will not be rushed into taking any decisions yet, at least, not until they had consulted with their people back home. Clutching a well-reasoned and prepared speech, Ahmadu Bello concluded, speaking the minds of his northern colleagues:
"Any country which accepts self-government must do so with its eyes wide open and the problem, therefore, of one section of the country imposing its will on the others do not arise... Numberless motions will not achieve self-government for the unified Nigeria. Self-government can be demanded and obtained only when its meaning is fully understood by all the mass of this country. Let all the implications be trashed out and agreement reached by the leading citizens of the three Regions. This is the primary objective to which we have addressed ourselves and, in doing so, to show the country our fitness to discharge the heavy responsibility we have begun to assume. Then, once this objective has been attained, we will be on the safe side in demanding self-government."
"Fair argument", Awolowo must have reasoned, fully convinced that Enahoro's motion had succeeded in waking up the North from its slumber and galvanizing it to action. He, there and then, scribbled a note to the Sardauna seeking to know whether the North will support the South if the motion was delayed to which the Sardaunda replied on the same note in the affirmative, and added a cheeky riposte "As soon as practicable". This had been preceded by the walking out of Chief Awolowo and his Action Groupers and Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe (1915-1990) and members of the N.C.N.C from the House of Representatives just before Ibrahim Imam's motion of adjournment could be debated. This notwithstanding, the truncated House, consisting of the N.P.C House members and their British officials, had proceeded to pass the motion for adjournment before departing for the North. The bitter disappointment felt by these northerners continued for a long time to affect the relationship between them and their Yoruba rivals.
Then came the time when the people of the North needed to know more than the basic facts of their political life. At first, this was something that sounded rather simple, but which in fact was very difficult because there was a risk that the main issue will be forgotten. And, it so happened. Still hurting by the time the Sardauna and his associates returned to the North from their long, wearisome journey from Lagos, their rancorous and sore debate in the federal legislature as well as their fresh experience in the hands of the demonstrators in Lagos were uppermost in their considerations.
They had an intense debate inside the northern legislature which was to the benefit of their Region's secession from the federation if the South continued to treat the North as the Federation's Cinderella. While at it, some of them expressed great regret over early British interference which deadlocked the 19th century Jihad of their ancestors, who they claimed were bent on 'dipping the Koran in the sea.' The secession debate was incontrovertibly a favorite one, but it seemed undoubtedly pure invention. In fact, the outcome would have been presumptuous to judge had Bryan Sherwood-Smith, the Governor of Northern Nigeria, who led his other British officials, not managed to dissuade the Northerners. He advised that they ignore the predictable Southern media which he called "ignorant" and their so-called superiors, whom he described as "incorrigible".
On 5th April, 1953, in spite of everything done by the authorities to prevent political foul play in the most serious flashpoints in the North, violent riots still broke out around Fagge and the Sabon gari areas where the Igbo, clutching cutlasses and Dane guns, faced the Hausa-Fulani, who wielded bows and arrows. The melee claimed several Igbo lives, leaving some Yoruba and other Southerners in their hundreds badly wounded. The mainly Hausa-Fulani rioters started fires and built barricades while the police tried to disperse them, using tear gas and rifle butts to break up the protests. The riots were at first seen as a swift riposte to the Lagos affront to their leaders' dignity, but it was baffling to find that rather than attack the Yoruba followers of the Action Group, the Hausa rioters in Kano directed the violence against Igbo traders and shop-keepers which made some to feel that the Hausa crowd may have been reacting to perceived sharp practices of Igbo traders, who allegedly monopolized the skilled and distributive trade in Kano.
Later on 10th April, 1953, Deputy Leader of the Action Group, Chief Akintola, an energetic campaigner who also spoke fluent Hausa and Nupe, was asked by his party to personally lead a peace delegation to appease the Northerners in Kano following the brick-bats in Lagos. But District Officer, Douglas Potts, cancelled Akintola's scheduled campaign meetings, due to escalation of hostilities, even before his planned arrival in Kano on 16th April, 1953. The Emir, who was warming up to appeal personally to his people, had to abandon that line of thought as imprudent for the reason that the Hausa-Fulani rioters might misconstrue it to mean his readiness to spearhead the Jihad against disbelievers and doubters of the Koran. In the alternative, he could only manage an appeal radio broadcast asking the rioters to discontinue the protest and cooperate with the combined force of the colonial police, the army and his Dogorai. This, in itself, did not end the hostilities until about thirty-six more deaths had been witnessed and the seriously wounded had passed two hundred people.
In the meantime, Chief Awolowo and the Action Group had sealed off the challenge of the ruling N.P.C and continued to consolidate their hold on the Middle Belt up to 1959. Understandably, the party needed to gain national appeal or outlook and fully aware it had no choice but to ally itself with the minority areas, it accordingly placed a new emphasis on state creation carrots which it offered their leaders. But first, they had to prove whether they were good or bad risk through ensuring victory for the coalition in the coming federal elections.
The Sardauna and other NPC leaders were convinced that the coalition will have a negligible impact, but were soon proved wrong. In the 1959 federal Parliament elections, several A.G/U.M.B.C Tiv candidates who were propelled by sheer jingoism to be independent instead of being controlled by the Hausa-Fulani's N.P.C, won seats into the federal legislature (1960-1966) including the likes of Joseph Tarka (to whom, according to Eric Teniola, the position of N.P.N Senate Leader was zoned in 1979. Tarka rejected it, but Saraki obliged its modification of Senate Leader), Gayus Gilama, Alhaji Ibrahim Dimis (b. 1927), all three later became Senators in the Second Republic), and Chief Solomon Lar (1933-2013), who later became Governor of Plateau State during the Second Republic (1979-1983), Minister of Police Affairs (1993-1994) during the military regime (1993-1998) of General Sani Abacha (1943-1998), and National Chairman of People's Democratic Party (1998-2002) in the Fourth Republic (1999 to date).
Unfortunately, that was one side of the coin. The other side being that Ahmadu Bello was not only opposed to the creation of additional states in the country; he continued to wage a virulent hate campaign against it. This paid off eventually because many of the victorious A.G/U.M.B.C members later decamped to the N.P.C. The rough necked Sardauna had, in the rough-and-tumble of political combat, heated up the political space against the opposition, and in the process, tucked some of them comfortably into his N.P.C bed.
Prior to the decisive confrontation with Chief Awolowo, northerners had rightly been embittered, rancorous and acrimonious about being humiliated, disparaged and belittled by the Lagos crowd whenever they arrived there. Responsibility for this ignoble and mean treatment, they squarely placed on the shoulders of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and his 'irritatingly caustic' West African Pilot newspaper and also on Chief Awolowo's, for his alleged 'radicalism' and 'bad manners', which unbrokenly made them the butt of cruel jokes. Therefore, in the event that their Party- the N.P.C, won power at the center, they swore to negotiate Lagos away as a joke, to be classified as a colony and administered by a northerner. That was how the late Mutawalli (custodian of the treasury) of Katsina, Alhaji Musa Yar'Adua, father of future President Umaru Yar'Adua (1951-2010), came to be named Minister of Lagos Colony.
At the risk of being repetitive, Awolowo and his cohorts appeared naive enough in 1954 to keep foraying into 'enemy territories' in the North and leaving allies in their wake, and yet expected the N.P.C leaders in these places to just fold their arms and do nothing. Of course, Chief Awolowo and his party knew they were up against extreme antagonism and hostility entering the lion's den like they did again in 1959 without hesitating, yet coasted home to massive victory in Tiv land. Aje didn't mince his words:
"Chief Awolowo was feared so much for making these incursions into the North. In fact, he was loathed. Top backers of the Sardauna and NPC agreed that Chief Awolowo did not mean well for the North; that given the chance, Awolowo would indoctrinate the common folks to be rude to the elders, shun religion, and slight the district heads and even the Emirs. A situation like that could not be tolerated in the North. Awolowo was trying to destabilize the system. A law was passed in the Northern House forbidding any derogatory word or abuse directed against the person of the almighty Sardauna."
The contest for the psyche of Middle Belt politics in the May 1961 snap elections to fill vacant seats in the Northern Region Assembly, where Ahmadu Bello considered Awolowo and his daring A.G/U.M.B.C coalition as his most conspicuous and marked foe, greatly altered the Premier's attitude towards the common folks. After days of prevarication, the Sardauna, a prince who had lived preeminently through Fodio's formidable reputation, suddenly found himself compelled to disembark from his high horse to fight for the people's votes "on dusty campaign trails and makeshift platforms." It was unprecedented in the history of the Northern Region. Chief Awolowo himself captured it like this in his opposition amendment to Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa's motion of 29th May, 1962, seeking a state of emergency in the Western Region:
"The Sardauna of Sokoto, the premier of the Northern Region, had to go into villages and mount the soap boxes to address the masses. It had never happened in the history of the Northern Region that the Sardauna would descend to the depths of mounting a soap box and talking to the masses of the people- they take orders through other agencies and not directly from the Sardauna himself."
It was massive understatement to say that the Sardauna was preoccupied with the victory of the A.G/U.M.B.C coalition in the 1959 federal elections where Chief Awolowo campaigned vigorously and cleared all the Tiv seats to boot; Bello practically flew into a bad panic. The unexpected and sudden loss made it clear just how vulnerable his grandfather's empire was. Even Awolowo, against whom he later directed his attack, was surprised by the virulence and viciousness of his criticisms. In A.G's Recklessness May Wreck Our Federation, an election campaign speech he gave two years later, literally speaking, the Sardauna's cobra mercilessly sank its venomous fangs into Awolowo's hand:
"It has been alleged several times during the last few weeks that people are being threatened, manhandled, terrorized and kidnapped so that my party may be returned to the new House of Assembly. These wild allegations...are what some politicians in this country are good for. Most of them are mere upstarts in the game of administration. The last thing I will ever do is to kidnap anybody. I would not kidnap such an insignificant person as the former Action Group candidate for Rabah-Wurno constituency. I would go for the federal leader of the Action Group himself. But God forbid such a thought ever coming to my mind."
Bello's words would be prescient. It was true that a number of problems marred the elections such as unwarranted arrest, intimidation and kidnapping of candidates who belonged to opposing political parties by the Native Authority police. But even at that, among a people who had always been marginalized, exploited and constantly threatened by the ruling party, only nine N.P.C nominees could be returned by the party as unopposed candidates for the election. By the time the Northern House of Assembly eventually wound up its activities, the Sardauna government had wheeled and dealt nothing less than six honorable opposition members (including Joseph Tarka) into prison on treason charges. Exhausted and utterly demoralized for failing to convince Tarka and his comrades to join their party, Bello and his cronies in the N.P.C became overpowered by fear of the unknown as they resorted to browbeat politics to willy-nilly bully and intimidate them out of circulation.
Ibrahim Imam, the political iconoclast from Bornu, where he was a victim of a state-sponsored arson and had escaped by a whisker to Jos, contested and won a 'safe' seat on A.G/U.M.B.C ticket in Tarka's birth place to emerge Leader of the Opposition in the Northern House of Assembly. At her husband's behest, Tarka's wife interpreted and even managed Imam's campaign for him as he couldn't speak a word of the local language. Again, Chief Awolowo got the blame for setting up a safe haven at once for him.
A British-born Judge discharged and acquitted Tarka of the trumped-up charges, which Ahmadu Bello and his henchmen had made up to punish him unfairly. At Awo's bidding, Chief Bola Ige ably supported Chief Rotimi Williams (1920-2005) to successfully conduct Tarka's defence. As daydreams usually seem to be rehearsals for real-life situations, Tarka's ordeal appeared a treasure chest for the treasonable felony trial of several opposition leaders barely two years later.
The sudden defeat in the election, of Josiah Olawoyin and Patrick Dokotri from Ilorin South and Jos South respectively, never ceased to amaze keen observers. In 1963, the mostly dominated N.P.C Federal Government of Alhaji Tafa Balewa, which had found their continual confrontation very wearing, charged both men for treasonable felony. Their chances of getting off the hook soon did not look good in view of the fact that the almighty Sardauna had already voiced his backing of the F.G in the matter publicly. The country was starting to be conditioned by repression and violence as Ahmadu Bello was determined to covertly take the battle to his opponents. Like a dog salivating upon being presented with food, Bello hungered for revenge; nothing short of the seizure of Chief Awolowo will satisfy this seemingly bottomless hunger.
Towards the NPC's numerous attempts to gain the upper hand, Bello's 'ambassador in the South', Balewa, was ordered to use federal apparatus to break the Opposition and its power of party machines. It would have been surprising if the Sardauna had not muscled in. The prime minister, who at first appeared quite undisturbed about the developing situation as his 'boss', however, took his new assignment seriously. He began work earnestly, fully aware that his party was already maintaining an iron grip on the North, and having been assured of Akintola's co-operation.
Therefore, disentangling the sources of the finances of the Action Group, which particularly enabled the party to stand redoubtable in its campaigns that led to the elections of 1959 (astride the ruling N.P.C in both regions), represented, for Balewa, a realistic starting point. The idea was, as would a plane, to swoop down and strafe the leaders of the A.G following Chief Akintola's allegation that the bank had granted many of them unguaranteed loan facilities. Purporting to be cracking down on cases of corruption, the prime minister got the ball rolling by flexing his muscle to ensure the enactment of a law in Parliament, which established a Tribunal of Inquiry into the activities of the regional government.
On 16th May, 1961, after identifying the National Bank of Nigeria (NBN) as the chief provider of financial services to the A.G in the Western Region, he immediately appointed a Supreme Court judge, in the person of Sir Valerie Bairamian, as Sole Commissioner, to carefully examine and investigate the bank's dealings as they related to the A.G. Five months later, exactly on 27th October, 1961, the Supreme Court, in answer to the prayers of the N.B.N's directors, stopped a determined Balewa Government from going full steam ahead with its plan, ruling that it lacked the power to investigate a private enterprise as the bank's shareholders did not whistle-blow about any rot to be uncovered, in which case, it must be heard by the courts, anyway. The Courts, which frequently shied away from making such decisions, on this occasion, came close to being dubbed by the Balewa Government as full of interfering busybodies. Undeterred, the prime minister and his fellow unrepentant Machiavellian feudalists in the ruling N.P.C accelerated their plot to destabilize the West without any reduction in intensity or amount. So at that stage, the fate of the bank directors and the A.G leaders found itself to be in the lap of the gods.
Not long after the A.G. internal party conflict in Western Nigeria had snowballed into a national crisis following the commotion and free-for-all fight in the Region's House of Assembly, thE Balwea's F.G moved in and suspended the Western legislature. He appointed a new administrator for the Region in the person of Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi (1915-2012), who in turn selected Justice G.B.A. Coker, a former N.C.N.C lawyer, on 16th June 1962, as Chairman of the Coker Commission of Inquiry, tasked with probing six Western Region's Statutory Boards. This followed Chief Akintola's whistle-blowing that Chief Awolowo's henchmen and some A.G officers had soiled their fingers with government funds; a case of the pot calling the kettle black. It also came on the heels of the passing by Parliament of the 'Emergency Powers (Statutory Corporations Inquiry) Regulation'. N.P.C's constant scheming to control the Western Region through their puppet, Majekodunmi, an N.P.C member and Balewa's bossom friend and physician, was not lost on the Yoruba, who vowed to resist their every move.
Expectedly, while Chief Awolowo was found guilty by Justice Coker and his Commissioners of 'unbecoming conduct' during his tenure as Premier of Western Nigeria, Chief Akintola, the suspended premier, whose unexplained sources of funds for his skyscraper built on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi (which earned him the sobriquet "Onilegogoro") upon assuming office as Premier, came out unquestioned and unbruised. Ogunsanwo wrote, ibid:
"...neither was he taken to task over his 40,000 Pounds indebtedness to the National Bank (one of the institutions being probed) which he repaid in one lump sum before the Inquiry opened. He was treated with kid gloves by the Commission and let off the hook because he was an ally of the federal government."
One is bound to then wonder how things fell apart so quickly after attaining Independence. Especially, as the N.P.C alliance with the N.C.N.C had begun to cause some restiveness among the northerners towards the end of 1961 which led to their conviction that finding a trusted Southern partner to work with might not be a bad idea after all. (Just as General Muhammadu Buhari has presently found Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose masterstroke gave victory to Buhari in the presidential election of 28th March, 2015). The then northerners found Chief Awolowo, whom many of them met for the first time at the 1950 Constitutional Conference in Ibadan, “a rather haughty, unfriendly but aggressively determined man" and hated his politics, which they considered "a personal affront" to the North. Awolowo's alleged 'self-first politics' were attributed to have prevented the Yoruba from participating in national mainstream politics due to his personal ambition to be in-charge of the federal government as well as his blunt refusal to be subservient to the Sardauna, unlike his former deputy, Akintola, who not only worshipped and respected the Sardauna, but was also too willing to obey him. Paden provides in his book, Ahmadu Bella, Sardauna of Sokoto:
"The Sardauna recognized that no one party could control the federal government and therefore he knew he needed alliances. He wanted an alliance with the Yoruba because of religious and cultural affinity. Awolowo was contemptuous of the Sardauna and Sardauna knew it. Why was Awolowo contemptuous? Fear of northern domination- there is a Yoruba saying that one would rather commit suicide than prostrate to a Hausa man. Awolowo was a tribalist."
Awolowo's tribalism, according to Paden, flowed freely from his believe in the supremacy of the Yoruba and his categorization of the northerners "as a bunch of semi-literate backward people." Osuntokun reported that the northerners always tried in vain to understand how the North and the West, whose peoples shared a lot historically and culturally, could so easily become politically incompatible. That, in fact, some of them preferred the Igbo leadership of the N.C.N.C with whom they had co-operated without the crippling "rivalry and antagonism" that characterized the Hausa-Fulani-Yoruba political relationship. But with the collapse of the N.P.C/N.C.N.C alliance, Chief Akintola, who the northerners at first disliked for joining Chief Bode Thomas (1918-1953), whom they regarded as "brilliant but very arrogant", to give northern ministers hell during the 1953 crisis, quickly warmed up to them; his selling-point being that he spoke Hausa and Nupe fluently. They soon identified Akintola as the man who could be trusted and with whom they could form a party in the future. Chief Awolowo was singled out as the clog in the wheel of the anticipated partnership between the Yoruba of the West and their people in the North.
The coup the grace was applied when the N.C.N.C, with hatred for the A.G which sprang from the same feeling of insecurity over the Action Group's championing of the cause of minorities in Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers provinces, considered as the lebenstraum of the dominant Igbo in Eastern Nigeria quickly teamed up with the N.P.C. For a people whose ancestral land could not contain its own population, the Igbo not only equated the A.G's call for a Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers State as a projectile placed at their underbelly, they were going to support whatever punishment the Sardauna and his party deemed fit for Chief Awolowo. The then minister of finance and an N.C.N.C man, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh (1919-1966), hatched the diabolical plan which saw Chief Awolowo and his adherents in the Action Group charged to court to face trial for treasonable felony against the Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa-led Federal Government. With considerable following in the Western Region, the N.C.N.C immediately saw an opportunity to fish in the troubled waters of the West and so joined hands with the N.P.C to push Awolowo and his men out of circulation. The N.P.C, which had always imbued itself with a pathological fear of the Action Group for standing in its way of supremacy in the country's politics, hoped to use the trial to stop the A.G's championing of minority rights in the middle belt of Northern Nigerian, and even in the Adamawa and Bornu provinces.
As far as Ahmadu Bello was concerned, the effort of Chief Awolowo and the Action Group to infiltrate the North and create states there, as well as to pluck Kabba and Ilorin provinces from the North and merge them with Western Nigeria was nothing but a furthering of that aforementioned 19th century struggle between the Yoruba and the Fulani during which the latter ousted the former. It was simply war by political means. Perhaps, Bello had no comprehension of what was truly involved- that the fire of irredentism in Kabba and Ilorin had become such a roaring bonfire that needed no stoking up from outside. Likewise the blame of the 1960 rebellion among the Tiv which the Sardauna heaped on Chief Awolowo and his Action Group was actually a people's struggle to confront outside domination by the Hausa-Fulani. No sooner had Balewa and the Sardauna put Awolowo away than they realized that if the North must continue to wield federal power, they needed to maintain Akintola in office as premier of the West at any cost.
Aware that the Igbo had their eyes focused on grabbing federal power for themselves, the northern leaders wasted no time in aligning with Chief Akintola and his Yoruba supporters in the West. With Akintola, who usually flew into a passion at the mention of the Igbo, and who rained abuses on them at the slightest opportunity while the electioneering lasted, in their kitty, the northerners' estimation of Igbo usefulness suddenly dropped; changing their earlier calculations towards the 1964 election. If we could digress a bit, the same cold calculations had just characterized the victory of the flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress in the just concluded presidential election last March. General Muhammadu Buhari failed to secure the constitutionally mandatory 25% of votes cast in all the states of South-East and South-South zones. If, Tinubu, the proud but undisputed "custodian of all South-West's votes" had not delivered his zone as promised, thereby providing the masterstroke needed for Buhari's victory, GMB's chances of splashing his political 'swagga' all over Yoruba land (as we have seen) could have come perilously close to yet another failure. In his past attempts at the 'topmost job', the lanky General's major albatross has been his inability to break outside the country's three northern zones of North-East, North-Central and North-West by winning the constitutionally required votes. The same explains the loneliness and vulnerability felt by the northerners in the power tussle of 1959 that even with their avalanche of seats won in the North without an ally in the South, it was utterly impossible for them to form a government at the centre. That's how the Sardauna became Chief Akintola's willing tool in his struggle for political mastery of the Western Region over and above his political leader, Chief Awolowo.
To cut a long story short, the protracted case of treasonable felony against Chief Awolowo and 32 of his supporters began on 5th November 1962 and ended in conviction and infliction of terms of imprisonment on 11th September, 1963 by the trial Judge, Mr. Justice George Sodeinde Sowemimo, who served as a judge for 32 years and in the end became Chief Justice of Nigeria (1983-1985). Adewale Ademoyega, one of the five majors who planned the 15th January 1966 coup, wrote in his 272-page book, Why We Struck, pg. 20:
"By September 1963, judgment was given in the trial of Awolowo and others facing the treasonable felony charge. The prosecution had alleged that plans were made to overthrow the Balewa Government by a popular (non- military) revolution. It was also alleged that men were sent to Ghana for training and that firearms and ammunition had been illegally imported. In his judgment, the trial Judge, Mr. Justice Sowemimo, did not declare that the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubts. Rather, he declared that he had no choice except to convict eighteen of the accused. These included Chief Awolowo and his notable aides like Alhaji L.K. Jakande, Chiefs Onitiri, Omisade, Olawoyin, and also Ayo Akinsanya and Okotie-Yesin. He sentence them to various terms of imprisonment, ranging from two to ten years."
The sentence came exactly thirteen days after Segun Awolowo, Awo's first son, died in a car accident. The F.G rejected calls to set Chief Awolowo free in view of this tragedy and Justice Sowemimo did not help matters either when Nigerian newspapers reported that he met with the Sardauna secretly soon after delivering his judgment. Alhaji Jakande, who later became first civilian governor of Lagos State (1979-1983), was said not to have only confirmed the story in 2003 but also claimed that the judge never bothered to deny the report.
It is noteworthy that Chief Awolowo was shocked to find that Ibrahim Imam, his erstwhile comrade from Bornu, whom the A.G and the U.M.B.C did so much to support when he battled Sir Kashim Ibrahim and the N.P.C fiercely over who controlled Bornu votes, happened to be one of the star witnesses called against him and his Party. Justice Sowemimo subpoenaed Ibrahim to testify against Chief Awolowo and other Action Group leaders after Imam had been allegedly persuaded by a generous financial reward from the Sardauna.
Earlier, Sir Ahamdu Bello, who already knew that he barely, had three more years or thereabout to live (as predicted by his soothsayers that he will not surpass his grandfather's age - 56 years) declared in March 1963 that an unnamed political party had threatened to kill him on 29th March, 1963. It was not in doubt that he had the Action Group in mind. "If I am assassinated," he bravely informed his colleagues in the House, "I will only join my family". His followers promptly advised him to disregard the threat and to remain focused in the service of the North instead of retiring prematurely from politics only to merely face his traditional duties. The said date, however, came and went uneventfully, but on 15th January 1966, the assassination which the Sardauna had wished on himself almost three years earlier finally came after him. (Funrara okere nii fenu re po ode nigbo).
The curtain fell effectively on the First Republic when in an allegedly pro-Igbo military putsch, the conspiratorial lot of Sir Ahmadu Bello, premier of Northern Nigeria; Chief S.L. Akintola, premier of Western Nigeria; Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, prime minister of Nigeria and his minister of finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, were all wiped out by the soldiers. Several army officers, including Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, Col. Kur Mohammed, and Lt. Col. Abogo Largema (All senior Kanuri army officers from Bornu) and Lt. Col. James Yakubu Pam, also lost their lives. Others that died in the coup were: Brigadier Ademulegun and his pregnant wife, Col. Ralph Sodeinde, Major Adegoke (all Yoruba). Lt. Col. Arthur Unaegbu, was the only Igbo officer who lost his life in the coup. Major-Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (1924-1966), the most senior army officer at the time, thereafter took over the reins of power as head of state.
Six months later, a bloodier coup, this time, by northern army officers took place on 29th July, 1966, to avenge the loss of the North. Aguiyi-Ironsi, was killed while on a state visit to Ibadan along with his host, Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi (1926-1966), military governor of the West. The indiscriminate slaughtering of several army officers and rank and file from Eastern Nigeria was simultaneously carried out in Lagos, Kaduna and Abeokuta in such a manner that few had expected the extent of its savagery and brutality. The new head of state, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, 32 at the time, moved very fast by releasing Chief Awolowo and others from Calabar prison after serving 3 years, a decision which caused a feeling of great happiness and excitement throughout the Western Region. Gowon later appointed Awolowo federal commissioner for finance and vice chairman of the federal executive council during the troubled period immediately preceding the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War (1967-1970). Chief Awolowo ultimately triumphed over his arch-enemy, the Sardauna- Sir Ahmadu Bello, and survived him by another 21 years before giving up the ghost at his Ikenne home on Saturday, 9th May, 1987 at 78.
Lastly, as the All Progressives Congress (APC) turned victorious in the presidential election of 28th March, 2015, Chief Awolowo's "very interesting" defense speech in the witness box on 2nd April, 1963 echoes all over the Nigerian political space once again, to underscore the progressives' doggedness, perseverance and never-say-die spirit. Awo's prediction seems to have finally come to pass, having declared in his submission at the trial that it remained the legitimate ambition of all politicians, more so the Leader of the Opposition in a future election, to ascend to the headship of government:
"I regard the defeat of my party in December 1959 as a temporary setback because my faith in democracy and democratic ideals remained and still remains unshaken. I feel that with hard work and perseverance and with judicious maneuver with all progressive elements, we could still win at a later time."