Thursday 16 March 2023

STAR-SPEECH-FROM-THE-ARCHIVES: Chief Obafemi Awolowo's Valedictory Speech to Western Region House of Assembly (November 3, 1959)

Before I left the Region, I took the opportunity of a meeting of the Legislature in November to make a valedictory address to the two Houses. Nothing, in my humble opinion, could be more fitting as a finale to this chapter than extracts from that valedictory speech. On 3 November 1959, addressing the House of Assembly, I said, among other things, these words:

Eight years are a short period in the life of a legislature. .. . But the eight years since January 1952 have been packed with delibera-tions, decisions and actions of an exceptionally momentous and memorable kind.

The government and the opposition do differ quite naturally, most often very strongly, on the merits of the achievements of the government and of the Legislature of this Region since 1952. But there can be no conscientious dispute as to the facts of those achieve-ments.

In the course of our journey, the government and the Legislature have erected a number of truly brilliant and imperishable mile-stones. These have been a credit to us.

When the battle for 1956 as a target date for Nigeria’s independ-ence raged fiercely in 1953, it was our Legislature alone that passed resolutions in support. By means of resolutions unanimously passed in this honourable House and in the other place, we were, by a long stretch, first in the field in opting for Regional self-government which eventually served as the precursor to national independence, and as the most powerful instrument for accelerating the advent of Nigeria’s freedom.

When we first assembled here in January 1952, with the exception of a few members we were all new to a parliamentary life as distinct from extra-parliamentary political activities. There were cynics as well as well-meaning people who thought and predicted that we would make a mess of our great and historic assignment.

It would be pretentious to suggest that we had not made mistakes, but which earthly institution is free from these unavoidable human frailties? Indeed we have made our mistakes. But on the whole it is correct and incontrovertible to say that the Parliament and government of this Region have conducted themselves and the affairs of the Region in strict accordance with the best traditions; with credit to ourselves, honour to our Region, country and race; and glory to God.

It is the duty of the government resolutely to govern the people under its jurisdiction according to its light and judgment. On the other hand, it is the duty of the opposition to express its views candidly in opposition to any government measure which in its view is not in the best interest of the people. Criticisms have been made in this House, especially during the consideration of Bills, that the government does not often give regard to opposition views. The truth is that it is neither politic nor wise for a government to submit or appear to submit in the open, on major issues, to the opposition.

It must be clearly recognised, however, by those who have learnt anything about the running of a government that in the private counsels of a Cabinet and the Government Party, the SPIRIT of the opposition is always present. It is present to warn the government of the day against acts and measures which might give the opposition the cudgel with which to whip the government and attract the majority of the people to its side....

The aim of a good government is the welfare of the entire people under its jurisdiction. In pursuance of this aim, it is impossible for a government to please everyone. As long, however, as the govern-ment is satisfied that any given policy, measure, programme, or legislation, will rebound to the greatest good of the greatest number of the citizens under its charge, it should be inflexible in its path. This indeed has been the guiding principle of the government which I have headed since 1952.

Under God’s guidance, dominated in our thoughts, counsels and actions to do the best we ever can for all our people, and occasionally restrained by the SPIRIT of the opposition, I am satisfied that my government and this honourable House have done exceedingly well for this Region. We have set a pace and a standard unequalled and unsurpassed in the annals of our great country.

Since 15 March 1957, when I declared my intention to leave Regional politics for good for the Centre, some friends and admirers have wondered why I have chosen to relinquish the cer-tainty of a Regional Premiership for the probability of a Federal Prime Ministership. My attitude on this issue, however, is clear and unequivocal. I have never had any doubts that the place for the leader of a nation-wide political organisation is the Centre. When my party won the Regional Elections in 1951 we decided that I should lead the team in the Western Region because we realised then that it was only at the Regional level that Party policies and programmes could be put into effect. We had the burning desire to demonstrate to the world Nigerians’ capabilities in the art of government, and to establish, through our performances in the Western Region, a firm basis for the accelerated advancement of the country as a whole towards independence. With the attainment of self-government by the Western Region in 1957 and the irrev-ocable promise of Independence for Nigeria on 1 October 1960, our objectives have been realised and my assignment in the Western Region is completely discharged. From December this year, it is at the Centre that I will exhibit my political activities, playing there such role as Providence may from time to time entrust to my party and to me.

I have come here this morning, therefore, to take my bow on this exalted stage, to the audience before whom I have performed, these eight years past.

The undoubted, outstanding and epoch-making successes which have characterised my regime have not been achieved single-handed. I have owed these successes to God’s abiding grace and mercy, and to the co-operation of all my colleagues without excep-tion. I take this opportunity to pay public tribute to my cabinet and Parliamentary colleagues for their patriotism, public-spirited-ness and devotion to duty; and for their unwavering loyalty to the noble cause of our great party and to my leadership.

However much one may dislike the methods of some individual opposition members, the fact remains, and I hereby publicly and gratefully acknowledge it, that under the leadership of the Honour-able Dennis Osadebay, the opposition has made worthy contribu-tions to the healthy growth of parliamentary democracy in this Region.

As I leave this honourable House certain things give me great satisfaction and confidence as to the future of this Region. Firstly, I am leaving behind a team of ministers whose competence and sense of duty are undoubted; a fair-minded and proficient Speaker, and a body of legislators whose patriotism has never been in question.

Secondly, the team of ministers is going to be led by a colleague whose wise counsels and advice have been of great help to me in my conduct of the affairs of this Region. Thirdly, our civil service is exceedingly efficient, absolutely incorruptible in its upper stratum, and utterly devoted and unstinting in the discharge of its many and onerous duties. For our civil servants, government workers and labourers to bear, uncomplainingly and without breaking down, the heavy and multifarious burdens with which we have in the interest of the public saddled them, is an epic of loyalty and devo-tion, of physical and mental endurance, and of a sense of mission, on their part. From the bottom of my heart I salute all of them.

Fourthly, our police force is impartial and efficient and is capable of maintaining law and order, and of speedily coping with any breach or attempted breach of it. Fifthly, we have a judiciary which is independent and impartial in every sense of the word, and a thoroughly upright, knowledgeable and fearless Public Service Commission. Sixthly, the economy of the Region is in a very healthy state, and the finances of the government are sound and buoyant.

I want to end this valedictory speech by paying special tribute to the Obas, Chiefs and people of the Region. It is the loyalty, patriotism, obedience to constituted authority, and sense of civic responsibility on the part of the vast majority of them that have made the governmental regime and era with which my name will for ever be associated in this Region such a supreme and completely satisfying success.

Taken from pp 290 ff of "Awo: The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo", Cambridge University Press, 1960.

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