In 1952 Western House of Assembly election they were five NCNC candidates, branded men of destiny: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Dr Ibiyinka Olorunnmibe, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, Mr. H. P. Adebola and TOS Benson. In the election, the NCNC candidates swept the polls. After the elections under the Richards Constitution in the Western House of Assembly, NCNC won 43 seats out of 84, while the Action Group led by Chief Awolowo got 41 seats.
When the Western House of Assembly convened on February 7, 1952, many of the NCNC members crossed carpet to join the Action Group.
The Action Group got the Obas by telling them that although it was right for Zik to be leader because he won the election, it was not politically expedient to have Northerners leading the North, Easterners leading in the East, while Westerners are not leading the West. TOS Benson, in an interview with Times International magazine of April 18, 1988 noted that “this campaign was largely accepted by the Obas and majority of the Yorubas and this led to the bribing of some members of the NCNC at the opening of parliament. Among those that led the cross carpet was Arthur Prest, Dr Ibiyinka Olorunnmibe and Prince Adeleke Adedoyin.
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In the Daily Times Special publication to mark the 76th birthday of anniversary celebration of Zik, on page 18, Zik described the incidence thus: “We had attended a meeting of the Western House during which I would take office as the leader of government business with the elected members in full attendance. All of a sudden, elected members of the NCNC started crossing the carpet. We did not know that Awo had won over 20 members from our party the first person who crossed over to the Action Group side of the House was Arthur Prest who brought the Action Group strength to 42. Others crossed over until we were reduced from 43 to 23.” Zik went on to explain that “The Mobalaji Grand Alliance under Adegoke Adelabu refused to take money nor cross over The Western House of Assembly now fell into the control of the Action Group with 61 members, while my party was left with only 23. Chief Awolowo then said: “I am asking Your Honour to appoint me leader of the Government business in the House.” It was now clear that he had got the majority, and I was leader of Opposition. The people clapped and rejoiced and the House was adjourned. My members burst in- tears. Okotie-Eboh cried and said: “Na rubber I de sell, you come tell me to come join politics TOS Benson and other joined in the crying. I pulled my handkerchief and cleaned my face. Then Okotie-Eboh asked me: – What kind of man you be? We de cry, you take your handkerchief.” “oh you expect me to cry” I asked him. “My people say the Igbos go to war, and the leader in the war front would not run away, fear or cry other- wise his army and followers would also scamper away. Leaders would not have to show that they are wounded. That is the test of leadership and the price of leadership which we are paying. Please, cry no more.” I cajoled them to stop crying.
The point was that they were new to politics. Then we moved to the Ibadan Catering Rest House. Okotie-Eboh again interjected: “Wetin be this? From 43 seats to 23. I assured him “God dey” Okotie-Eboh grunted ‘Hmmmmm, me no sabi this oooo. Awujale commented: How can the kobokobo man become leader of government business here, so that in October he would become the premier, God forbid.”
Chief T O S Benson in the Daily Champion Newspaper of December 3, 2003, gave the account of the incident thus: “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 Igboman 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 the 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 Igboman was an Efik and not Igbo. In its political game and rascality, the Action Group, through vote buying and manipulation have vaporized 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 Action Group.”
In an interview with Odia Ofeimun in Thisweek magazine of March 23, 1987, Ofeimun told us that Awo had tremendous admiration for Zik’s oratory. He said Awo used to tell him that perhaps Zik as enjoying the largesse of a previous reincarnation “though Awo never failed to mention that had he shown such waving as people associated with Zik, the Yorubas would have jettisoned him long before.” To show his respect and admiration to Zik in the early part of 1982, in a the letter which was eventually leaked to the press and published in the Sunday Concord Newspaper by the Dele Giwa, Awo wrote that he expected Zik to be a philosopher king and that he Awo was ready to be Zik’s Chief Servant in the progressive parties Alliance PPA coalition then being conceived. In yet another interview with Peter Enahoro in Africa now magazine of December 1981, Awo noted that “I have never refused to serve under my contemporaries, you may recall that at least on one occasion, I offered to serve under Zik. The second occasion was not published.
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In 1964 when the campaign for the Federal election was going on UPGA did not present a leader, this was discussed and Dr. Michael Okpara came to me in Calabar (prison). He told me that Zik would like to give up the presidency to become Prime Minister and that number of people thought we should work together. I said I agreed entirely. Zik would be the Prime Minister and I would be the Minister of Finance. But first I had to get out of prison. It was suggested that my wife (HID) would be presented to the electorate as the would be Prime Minister and that the campaign would be fought around her. As prime minister, she would release me from prison and subsequently resign in favour of Zik.”
Following Awo’s death in 1987, Zik said: that the news of the demise of his compatriot upset him beyond description, he noted: “It is incontrovertible fact of history that Chief Awolowo left his footprints on the sands of time and from generation to generation, his contributions to the history of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general shall be a landmark and an inspiration to guard our people in our holy crusade for a place in the sun.”
Contributed by Dr Raphael James