Rivers state political crisis: Lesson from history, 20th may 1962.

Rivers State Crisis: Lesson from History

20 May 1962
Sixty-eight members of the Western Regional Assembly signed a No Confidence resolution on Chief SL Akintola as the Premier of the Western Region. They forwarded the resolution to the Governor of Western Region, Sir Adesoji Aderemi.

21 May 1962
The Governor, Sir Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife, wrote to Chief SL Akintola and informed him of his removal from office as Premier of the Western Region. Chief Akintola called a press conference and announced his rejection of the removal. He also filed an action in court for injunction against his removal.

The Action Group, in the exercise of their right as the majority party, elected Alhaji DS Adegbenro as the new Premier of the Western Region. He was sworn in and duly recognised by the Governor.

23 May 1962
Chief SL Akintola broke into the Premier’s office, which was locked, and insisted he was still the Premier.
The High Court at Ibadan heard Chief Akintola’s case and adjourned to 5 June 1962. The injunction was not granted.

24 May 1962
In a rare act of interference and for different reasons, the Premiers of the Eastern and Northern Regions took public sides against Alhaji Adegbenro, thereby supporting Chief Akintola.

25 May 1962
The Western Regional House convened for a confidence motion on Alhaji Adegbenro. A member of the Parliament stood up shouting there “is fire on the mountain” while another member took the mace and broke it. Pandemonium ensued.

The House reconvened later in the day, and for some inexplicable reason, police fired teargas into the room and caused commotion. Prime Minister made a broadcast and announced a meeting of the Federal House on 29 May 1962.

29 May 1962
The Federal House met, and the Prime Minister moved a motion to declare a State of Emergency in the Western Region, citing the absence of a duly constituted government as the reason. The Minister of Finance seconded. Chief Awolowo sought an amendment to the motion opposing the state of emergency. He was defeated.

The Prime Minister’s motion passed with 209 in support and 36 against. The federal government declared a State of Emergency in the Western Region. Dr MA Majekodunmi was appointed Administrator of the region.

The 29 May 1962 incident indeed marked the beginning of the end of the First Republic. Due to a lack of attention and record keeping, we made 29 May Democracy Day without considering that day’s event in 1962. That event gathered speed that led to the coup of January 1966, the counter-coup of July 1966, and the civil war.

The Federal interference in the Western Regional House of Assembly crisis was needless, politically motivated, and unnecessary. Subsequent court judgment by the Privy Council in Adengbero and Akintola found that the Governor of Western Region’s removal of Chief Akintola was constitutional.

Some patience and regard for due process would have allowed the issue to be resolved legally. That would have deepened our democracy and avoided the ugly consequences that followed.

Federal interference in the Rivers state “crisis,” in my opinion, is needless, unnecessary, and can cause grave harm to constitutional government. There is a need for all to act with restraint and follow the due process of the law. Abridging the law is a recipe for more crisis.

History is available to help us avert needless crises.

Osita Chidoka
20 December 2023

The sequence of events account was drawn from two opposing sources, one by Chief Awolowo in his book The Travails of Democracy and the other from Ayo Rosiji Man with Vision by Nina Mba.

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