On May 1 1967 at a meeting of Leaders of thought of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo made the following declarations ‘I consider my duty to Yoruba people in particular and to Nigerians in general to place four imperatives, two of them categorical, and two conditional. (1) Only a peaceful solution must be found to arrest the present worsening stalemate and restore normalcy. (2) The Eastern Region must be encouraged to remain part of the Federation (3) If the Eastern Region is allowed by acts of omission or commission to secede from or opt of Nigeria, then Western Region and Lagos must also stay out of the Federation. (4) The people of Western Nigeria or Lagos would participate in the Ad hoc Constitutional Committee or any similar body only on the basis of absolute equality with other Region of the Federations”.
It was the gravest statement made by any leader in Nigeria at a crucial time.
The same Chief Awolowo made another controversial statement on July 6 1974 at the University of Ife when he said’ the 1973 census is a barren exercise’- an event which I covered for THE NIGERIAN TRIBUNE. We shall come to that later.
The question is why did the Western Region not follow the Eastern Region when it seceded on May 30 1967?
The DAILY SKETCH which published in full Chief Awolowo’s speech on May 2 1967 sold in Enugu at two shillings per copy which is more equivalent of today’s six hundred naira. The speech was a hot cake.
Then there was the argument that the fate of the Yorubas in Ilorin and Kabba provinces at that time was not properly addressed in that speech considering the political influence of Chief Josiah Sunday Olawoyin(1935-2000) and later leaders like Chief Cornelius Olatunji Adebayo (76), my friend Chief Ayo Opadokun and Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki (1933-2012).
It is a pity that Chief Awolowo did not publish his memoirs before he died in a domestic accident in his hometown of Ikenne in Ogun state in the early hours of May 9, 1987. Maybe he would have shed more light on why he made those declarations.
I personally believe till today that it was the speech that took the Federal Capital from Lagos, although events have proved later that taking the Federal Capital out of Lagos does not equate with taking commerce out of Lagos-thanks to Chief Bola Tinubu and his successors.
Chief Awolowo’s speech stunned the nation. It was a wakeup call on General Yakubu Dan Yuuma Gowon , the Head of State at that time to prepare for war and save Nigeria. If Chief Awolowo had taken Western Region and Lagos out of Nigeria, it would have been suicidal. In his book,’THE ART OF WAR’, the Chinese General Chow –Hou Wee said that “the general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. What is essential in war is victory”.
If Chief Awolowo had taken Western Region and Lagos out of the Federation at that time definitely Western Region and Lagos would have been the battle ground. And where were the troops and how prepared was he for a major war. At the time he made those declarations, officers of the Western Region in the Nigerian Army were less than 7%. At that time Lagos, Ibadan and Abeokuta garrisons were occupied by ‘northern troops’. Even the then Governor of Western Region, Major General Adeyinka Adebayo was not prepared for war. Chief Awolowo admitted on May 1 1967 speech, that ‘We have neither the military might, not the overwhelming advantage of numbers here in Western Nigeria and Lagos. But we have the justice of a noble and imperishable cause on our side, namely: the right of a people to unfettered self determination. If this is so, then God is on our side and God be with us—then we have nothing whatsoever in this world to fear’.
Major General James Oluleye described it better in his book titled ’ARCHITECTURING A DESTINY’.
By Eric Teniolawrote.