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Afenifere at 70: Footprints of a colossus movement – Part 2

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Ayo Opadokun

Continued from yesterday
The Action Group was the first to propose and establish the institution of “SHADOW CABINET”. This is the practice in parliamentary system whereby the opposition party has permanent people to oversee different departments of government with a view to getting themselves well acquainted and knowledgeable about their ministries so that if their party were to win at the next election, they will be ready to hit the ground running from their first day in office.

8.The Action Group was the first to have a party motto: Freedom for all, life more abundant when Nigerians have
(i)Freedom from British rule;
(ii)Freedom from Ignorance;
(iii)Freedom from disease; and
(iv) Freedom from want.

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9.In the 1951 Regional Election, the Action Group was the only party that published policy papers as well as a manifesto. There is a detailed account (Annexure 1) attached to this narrative to debunk the reactionary and false allegation that the Action Group introduced carpet crossing to Nigerian politics. Read the authentic account of the Colonial Government Public Relations Official in charge of the election. Also the late Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu, one of the first set of Action Group Organizing Secretaries along with Papa Adebanjo who was a participant actor had written a credible account about the 1951 Election.

10. In 1949 as a result of series of editorial comments written personally by Chief Awolowo entitled “CRY HAVOC” in the Nigerian Tribune, the Lieutenant Governors who thought that the power vested in them to nominate and pick ministers had no condition precedent, i.e. their powers were unfettered had to accept the painful reality that such powers could only be exercised after the advice of the majority party. The Colonial Officials erroneous impression got corrected in favour of the majority party. The East and the North in sequence followed and enjoyed the advantage that the Action Group courageously fought hard to achieve against the wishes of the colonial officers who wanted to continue to dominate the government formed by the Nigerian elected party representatives.

11.The Action Group was the pacesetter in the following among others, namely:
“ i. Voting by symbol was introduced into Nigeria by the Action Group and was first practised at the Local Government Elections in Ijebu-Remo in 1953.

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ii. Steel ballot boxes and security-printed ballot papers were first used in the Western Region in 1956, at the instance and insistence of the Action Group Government.
iii. The first motion calling for Nigerian Independence was moved by Chief Anthony Enahoro, CFR of the Action Group in 1953.

iv. The first motion ever for the creation of a new Region – in this case for the creation of a Midwestern Region now broken into Delta and Edo States – was moved in the Western Region House of Assembly by an Action Group Member of the House.

v. It was only in the Western Region that the Leader of Opposition was elected Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.

vi. It was also in the Western Region that Ministers of Finance and of Works were withdrawn from the Tenders Board, and the membership of the Board was restricted to Officials headed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, together with known members of the Action Group and of the NCNC chosen, from time to time in equal numbers by the said Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance.

vii. Agricultural Settlements and Institutes were first established in the Western Region.

viii. It was in the Western Region that a minimum living wage was first introduced in Nigeria, and paid to workers in the Region.
ix. The first-ever industrial estate and housing estate in Nigeria were established in the Western Region.

x. The first television service in Nigeria, indeed in the whole of Africa, was established in the Western Region in 1959.

xi. The very famous Liberty Stadium was the first and the best of its kind in Nigeria when it was built in 1959. In terms of elegance and comfort, it still remains the best in the country.

xii. Before 1952, the Nigerian Government had never awarded as many as twenty university scholarships a year to Nigerian students. In that year (1952), the Western Region Government became the first ever to award two hundred university scholarships in one year to students of Western Region origin.

xiii. It was in the Western Region, on 17th January 1955 that Free Universal Primary Education, and Free Health Services for children up to the age of eighteen, were first introduced in any part of Nigeria. It was also in the Western Region that a six-year primary course, instead of the then existing eight-year primary course, was first introduced.

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12. Some people have disrespectfully and insultingly described the Western Region as “the wild, wild west”. No people with predominant wild inclinations such as are implicit in the description can record in a short period of eight years the supremely impressive, epoch-making, and pacesetting innovations and achievements which have been itemized above. The truth about the people of the Western Region is that they are sufficiently enlightened and bold to refuse to be led by the nose by any person or group however sophisticated such person or group may appear. They are slow to anger; robust in contentions; alert to their rights, and will fearlessly resist and combat evil whenever and wherever they discern it, with all their might and resources. To the people of the Western Region a leader is made, not born. He is expected to justify his leadership by his personal attributes, and by his works for the good of the people. Whereas in some other parts of the country a leader is born and it is the followership that are expected to justify their worthiness to follow by the extremity of their obedience and subservience”.

There is no attempt here to claim that the Action Group was perfect as it never obtains in human domain. Yes the AG in fact erred on some policy measured which the party had to correct in conformity with the popular will of the electorate. In fact there were many parts of Western Region which detested and rejected the Action Group party till the January 15, 1966 violent military insurrection against Alhaji Balewa’s led NPC/NCNC coalition government.

To be continued tomorrow.

Text to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Egbe Afenifere, issued by Mr. Ayo Opadokun, former general secretary of Afenifere, former General Secretary and spokesman of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), founding convener, Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER) and former Assistant Director of Organisation of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) on April 27, 2021.

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