The Nigeria Action Group Crisis of 1962 (Causes & Consequences)
The Action Group (AG) crisis of 1962 was an intra-party disagreement which ordinarily should have been of little interest to students of Nigerian government and politics conflicts within political parties are normal and sometimes necessary.
However, the Action Group crisis of 1962 had constitutional significance as it not only put the 1960 Independence Constitution and its operation to serious test but precipitated a chain of events which eventually culminated in the collapse of the First Republic.
Causes of the Action Group Crisis of 1962
The crisis in the Action Group in 1962 could be attributed to the following factors:
- The failure of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Action Group (AG) to become Prime Minister after the 1959 federal elections and his refusal to honour an invitation by the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, to form a government of national unity comprising mainly the three major political parties, namely, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Action Group (AG) put the Action Group on a collision course with the new federal government and some members of the Action Group party who supported the coalition government (especially Chief Akintola and his supporters).
- Chief Awolowo’s unenthusiastic support for the appointment of Chief S.L. Akintola, the Deputy Leader of the Action Group as the new Premier of the Western Region following the appointment of Chief Awolowo as Leader of Opposition in the House of Representatives after the 1959 general elections did not go down well with Akintola’s Supporters.
- The declining level of discipline in the Action Group also created a deep rift in the party. For example, immediately Chief Akintola assumed office as Premier of the Western Region, he began to operate independently and he took major decisions without due consultation with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the party leadership.
- The adoption of democratic socialism as the ideology of the Action Group offended the conservative financial backers of the party who decided to take side with Chief Akintola.
- Chief Awolowo’s scathing criticism of the domestic and foreign policies of the Balewa government in the House of Representatives and abroad further strained the relationship between the Action Group and the federal government and the Akintola camp, which strongly supported the policies of the Balewa government. Awolowo’s strong criticism of the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact and the strong popular opposition tc the pact led to its abrogation in January 1962. He also several denounced the economic policies of the government, and recommended that key sectors of the economy should be nationalized. His popularity soared among university students, minority groups movements and other mass organizations. The federal government found these unacceptable and it had to fight back. The NPC/NCNC coalition government simply capitalized on the internal cleavages within the Action Group to achieve its objectives. As rightly pointed out by a popular Yoruba musician, the lizard cannot enter the house if there are no crevices on the wall (“Bi ogiri o l’anu, alangba o le raye wo be”). The internal conflicts in the Action Group provided a good opportunity for its political enemies to deal decisiveb with the party.
- What ultimately sounded the death knell of the Action Group was the sudden withdrawal of Chief Akintola and four of his ministers from the 8th Annual Congress of the party held on 2nd February, 1962 at Jos. This led to the factionalization of the Action Group. The major faction was led by Awolowo and the minority group came under the leadership of Akintola. But the minority soon became the majority through manipulation of the electoral process, and covert political support arm the centre.
Political Implications of the Action Group Crisis
The major consequences of the Action Group party crisis included the following:
- The emergency powers of the Federal Government, as stated in Section 65 (3) of the 1960 Constitution, were invoked for the first time. During the period of a state of emergency, far-reaching powers were vested in the Federal Government and this demonstrated that the 1960 Constitution subordinated the regions to the centre.
- The crisis brought to the open the intolerance of Nigerian political leaders for the opposition. Chief Awolowo was unable to tolerate dissent within his party and the Tafawa Balewa government never relented in its determination to deal with its opponents including Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Instead of engaging in the arduous task of governance, they were busy plotting and scheming to outwit their opponents.
- Chief Obafemi Awolowo and twenty of his close associates were arrested and tried for attempting to overthrow the federal government. As a result, Chief Awolowo was jailed for ten years and others were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
- The crisis led to the decline and eventual demise of the Action Group.
- As a result of the crisis the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) was formed by Chief Akintola and his associates.
- In an attempt to retain power in Western Nigeria against popular opposition, the Akintola government unabashedly rigged the 1965 elections in the Western Region and this triggered a series of riots and disturbances, which the federal government and the regional government could not contain.
- The Action Group crisis triggered a series of other crises, which eventually led to the military intervention of January 1966.
- The AG crisis heralded the dawn of a bitter struggle between progressives and conservatives for control of the Nigerian state although the two camps appeared ideologically indistinguishable.
- It created disunity among the Yoruba people. It is not that the Yoruba have always been united. But they had operated largely under the same umbrella since the formation of the Action Group in 1950.