29TH November, 1961
On this day, in the House of Representatives, Alhaji Muhtari, Sarkin Bai(NPC Member for Dambatta, Kano), moved the following motion:
That this House views with grave concern the text of a Lecture delivered in London on 3rd September, 1961, by the Hon. Leader of Opposition, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which Lecture, in the opinion of this House, constitutes an incitement to his Nigerian audience in London and being based on statements without foundation in fact, is unbecoming of an hon. Member of this House when on a visit outside the Federation. I am quite sure that every hon. Member has got a copy of the text of his Lecture.
It was unusual to move a motion of censure on a Member of the House, especially the Leader of the Opposition. But the NPC-NCNC coalition was determined to discredit me by any means fair or foul open to them. Chief Anthony Enahoro(AG Member for Ishan East) put the point succinctly and clearly when he raised a point of order after the terms of the motion had been read out by Alhaji Muhtari. He said as follows:
On a point of Order, this Motion would amount to a vote of censure. Under Standing Order 74, it is laid down that in any matter for which these Standing Orders do not provide, the practice of the House of Commons shall be followed. Our Standing Orders do not tell us how to deal with a vote of censure. But Erskine May and other authorities tell us the circumstances in which a Motion of censure can be moved and those circumstances are three. And none of them applies to the circumstances which this Motion affects. The first one is censure on the Government or on a Member of the Government, for something done or omitted to be done. That does not apply in this case. The second is censure on an outsider who is not a Member of this House: if he is disrespectful to a member of the House or if he misrepresents the debate of the House. That does not apply in this case. The third one is the censure of a Member of the House for a breach of privilege. This Motion does not claim that there has been a breach of privilege. As I said, the circumstances under which there can be a vote of censure on a member of this House, let alone the Leader of Opposition, are: if he is disrespectful to the House as a whole; if he offends against the authority of the House; if he disobeys the orders of the House; if he interferes with the procedure of the House; if he interferes with the atmosphere of the House; if he libels the Speaker; if he libels the Select Committee of the House; if he interferes with witness giving evidence before the House. As I have said, since our own Standing Orders are silent on this matter, we have to follow the practice of the House of commons. That is what our Standing Orders provide. The circumstances under which it might be regarded that there was a breach of privilege is quite clearly set out on page 305 of Erskine May and those circumstances are set out at page 305 and indeed on other pages. There is nothing in our Standing Orders, nothing in the practice of any Parliament in the Commonwealth, by which the House is entitled to call on a Member to account for views which he expressed outside the House. And it will be setting in the mind of the nation a very dangerous precedent if this Motion is taken. For this reason, I would ask the Chair to rule it out of order.
The Deputy Speaker was in the chair when the debate began. He was a member of the NCNC. He disagreed with Chief Enahoro and ruled that the motion was in order. The debate on the motion was concluded on 30th November, 1961 and was passed 83 votes in favor and 32 against. The amendment to the motion was defeated by 66 votes to 32. I took no part in the debate. But I was somewhat astonished at the complete misunderstanding and deliberate misrepresentation of its text, and at the venom and intolerance which were exhibited by NPC/NCNC big wigs in the course of the debate–Obafemi Awolowo.
The full text of the Lecture is being reproduced here in 3 instalments
Politically, the independence of a country can be viewed from two angles: the corporate and the individual angle. A country is said to be free only when it has unqualified control over its internal affairs. On the other hand, a citizen of an independent country enjoys individual freedom when he is free to say and do what he likes, subject only to laws enacted by the freely elected parliament or the popular legislative assembly of the land.
The dependency of a country and the subjection of its citizens to alien rule are conterminous. But the independence of a country does not necessarily mean the freedom of its individual citizens. It all depends on the form of government. If, for instance, the form of government is oligarchical, authoritarian, or totalitarian, individual freedom will almost invariably be denied to the masses of the people. The point must be made, however, that in times of national crisis or emergency, it is legitimate for the Government to call upon the citizens to surrender, for the duration, some measure of their individual freedom, in order that the freedom of the country and its citizens may be preserved from violation. In a democracy, therefore, and in normal circumstances, the freedom of a country connotes the freedom of its individual citizens.
Furthermore, when the freedom of a country is looked at in its complete functional embodiment, it exhibits two conspicuous and inseparable facets. They are the political and economic facets. A country can only be said to be truly free and independent which has these two functional facets co-existing and cohering in their inseparable absoluteness.
I have emphasized the inseparable nature of these two facets in order to focus attention to the point that, for a subject people, political freedom is not the end of the journey or struggle: it is nothing more than a most potent means to the acquisition and consolidation of the economic and other facets of the country’s freedom.
It is, I believe, generally agreed that political freedom is meaningless unless it goes hand-in-hand with economic freedom. Anyone who cares to read his history aright will readily concur that the prime and sole motivation for imperialist predations, conquests, and rule is economic in character. If the imperialist powers can accomplish their economic exploitation of the weaker nations without political control they will much prefer to do it that way. As a matter of historical fact, colonial expansion began with the division of the territories of the weaker peoples into economic spheres of influence. It was when it became clear to the imperialists that economic control would become precarious unless there was political control as well, that the latter was imposed. In other words, it is erroneous and dangerous to assume that the subjection of a country is at an end, simply because it is politically free. In these modern times, the economic subjugation of a country does take several, but not easily perceptible, forms, with the result that many free nations are only ostensibly so. The economic shackles they wear are heavy and
extremely depressing, but are visible only to the discerning eye.
The influence which a nation exerts, the respect which it enjoys, and the prestige accorded to it on the world scene, depend on two important factors: the size of its wealth and the caliber of its leadership. Granting an incorruptible, courageous, public-spirited, enlightened and dynamic leadership, the wealth of a nation is the fountain of its strength. The bigger the wealth, and the more equitable its distribution among the factors and agencies which have helped to produce it, the greater the out-flow of the nation’s influence and power.
There are two intangible essentials for the attainment as well as the preservation of freedom (whether national or individual) which must be mentioned. They are the will on the part of a people to be and remain free, and a recognition that the subjection or suppression of other peoples is a standing peril to freedom wherever it may exist.
Again, in these modern days the functions of a Government are multifarious. But the primal ones can conveniently be classified under two headings: 1) its duty to the State to preserve its corporate existence against internal disorder and external aggression, and 2)its duty to the citizens to cater for their welfare and promote their happiness.
The general well-being of the citizen depends on objective and subjective factors. He needs a healthy body which can be reared only on good food, adequate shelter, decent clothing, a reasonable measure of comfort and luxury, and a whole-some environment. He needs a sound and cultivated mind which is free to know and meditate upon the things of its choice. He has natural, conventional, and legal rights which must be protected and upheld, with impartiality and inflexible justice, mainly by the appropriate organs of Government, and partly by the society in which he lives. But, of course the citizen owes enormous duties to the State and to his fellow-citizens, which are regulated and enjoined by customary usages and the laws of the land.
No Government, however, can hope to discharge its duties to the State and to the citizens satisfactorily or effectively, unless it is, or at the very least strives continually to be, on good terms with its immediate neighbors and the rest of the world. At the same time, it must ensure at home as near a state of equilibrium as possible among all the citizens, in their legitimate demand for equitable shares of the national products.
In other words, the internal affairs of a State must be ordered by the Government in such a manner as to guarantee social justice and personal security to all, and the external affairs conducted in such a manner as to promote world peace, and undiscriminating respects for human dignity in all parts of the world.
I have made these fundamental and, I dare say, self-evident propositions, because I consider them essential (1) to a proper understanding of the doings and happenings in Nigeria since October 1, 1960, and (2) to a critical assessment of any proposals which I may make in the course of this lecture.
A good many things have happened in Nigeria since October 1, 1960. The first major act of the Government took place on the very day of our independence. It is an act which in my considered judgement detracts very seriously from the sovereignty which was that day conferred upon us. On October 1, 1960, the British High Commissioner in Nigeria (Viscount Head) and the Prime Minister (Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa) exchanged correspondence, by means of which an agreement was concluded on that day between Britain and Nigeria.
Under this agreement, Nigeria assumes and undertakes all the rights and obligations of Britain under any valid international instruments in so far as they were applicable to Nigeria before the latter’s attainment of independence. These rights and obligations were not spelt out in the correspondence; and in spite of repeated demands by my colleagues and myself, the Federal Government has refused to inform the country of these rights and obligations of Britain which our country assumed and undertook on the day of her independence.
Viscount Head, who by the way is generally regarded as the ruler of Nigeria, did once volunteer a public explanation of the agreement in reply to my criticism of it. He said that the agreement was harmless, and that some of the rights and obligations assumed and undertaken by Nigeria under it were those under The Geneva Convention. My own view is that if we would be party to the Geneva Convention, we must do so in our own right as a sovereign state, not as Britain’s underling or foster child.