First Address of Chief Obafemi Awolowo As President of the Action Group
On 28th April, 1951
To the Conference of Party Members at Owo
The pleasant duty of introducing the Action Group has been entrusted to me.
On the 21st March of this year, the Action Group was introduced to the public through the Press, and its aims and objectives were clearly set out.
Since then the Action Group has been unfolding itself and fulfilling its aims and objectives more by action than by words. The most eloquent tribute to the growing strength of this young organization is that all those who are gathered here this morning – accredited representatives of the entire Western Region – are members of the Action Group.
The aims and objectives of the Action Group have not only been published as I said, but are contained in the Draft Constitution, copies of which have been forwarded to you. I will not, therefore, take your time by repeating them.
There are, however, two items in the aims and objectives which I should like to emphasise, since they are the very basis of the Action Group. I refer to items (1) and (3). The two are complementary and they read as follows:
(1) To bring and organize within its fold nationalists in the Western Region, so that they may work together as a united group, and submit themselves to party loyalty and discipline
(2) To prepare and present to the public programmes for all Departments of Government, and to strive faithfully to ensure the effectuation of such programmes through those of its members that are elected into the Western House of Assembly and the Federal Legislature.
The attainment of these two aims implies [identification] of adherence to basic principles, and [identification] of methods in the application of the principles.
If any group of people fail to agree as to basic principles and as to the methods to be adopted in applying those principles, it is impossible for them to work within the same fold, and to submit themselves to party loyalty and discipline.
The basic principles which have brought the members of the Action Group together are summarized in the following motto:
LIFE MORE ABUNDANT
FREEDOM FOR ALL
It is our belief that the people of Western Nigeria in particular, and of Nigeria in general would have life more abundant when they enjoy:
(i) Freedom from British Rule
(ii) Freedom from Ignorance
(iii) Freedom from Disease and
(iv) Freedom from Want.
In our view, the rule of one nation by another is unnatural and unjust. It is maintained either by might or by complete subordination, through crafty means, of the will and self-respect of the subject people to the political self-aggrandisement of the tutelary power. There can be no satisfactory substitute for self-rule.
Therefore, British tutelage is to be denounced without any reservation. In principles, it is indefensible. In practice, it has been characterized by extreme planlessness and disregard for the vital interests of the people.
After almost 100 years of British Rule, our land is still riddle with unspeakable ignorance, disease and want.
An ignorant and poverty-stricken people are the easiest preys to political enslavement and economic exploitation. Diseases of all kinds follow in the wake of ignorance and want.
The basic principles which, therefore, have brought us together within the fold of the Action Group may be stated in the following words:
1) The immediate termination of British Rule in every phase of our political life.
2) The education of all children of school-going age, and the general enlightenment of all illiterate adults and all illiterate children above the school-going age.
3) The provision of health and general welfare for all our people.
4) The total abolition of want in our society by means of any economic polity which is both expedient and effective.
Having agreed on these basic principles, it becomes necessary to take the next step, namely: to agree as to common methods in the application of those principles. This is a very important step: because, even though people may agree as to principles, if they don’t agree as to methods of application it would not be possible for them to work together.
It is in order to evolve those common methods that some members of the Action Group were commissioned to prepare papers not only on Government Departmental subjects but also on the organizational problems of the Action Group.
It will be our duty at this at this Conference to declare our irrevocable adherence to the principles already enunciated and to fashion out from the papers which are already submitted on various subjects what our common methods of application shall be.
Once we have succeeded in doing these two things the fulfillment of our aims and objectives is well-nigh achieved. All that we would need in addition would be persistence and consistency in the pursuit of our principles, and resolution and discipline in the execution of our common methods of application.
I would like to say that this, in my humble opinion, is the first time in the annals of Nigeria that a political party is reared on a really scientific basis. For if all the leading members in the Action Group have more or less identical conceptions as to the principles which shall guide their activities, and jointly evolve common methods of applying those principles, it is my firm conviction that the organization will be successful and lasting.
Only we must make sure about two things, namely: that our principles are just, and that our methods are practical. For nothing defeats their own ends so easily as unjust principles and impractical methods of approach.
With these few remarks, I believe that I have succeeded in portraying to you the rock-sure foundation on which the Action Group is erected. We are here in this historic Conference to reinforce and to add to the superstructure already built, by the pledge of the leaders inhabiting the two Zones (YORUBA AND MIDWESTERN or WESTERN AND EASTERN) of the Western Region.
It is true we speak different languages; but it does not require any laborious research to discover that, broadly speaking, we originated from common stock; and that in any event our political and cultural associations have been of such long standing as to make us look upon one another as close relations. And above all, we are Nigerians whom both Nature and Constitution have joined together. It is within our power to remain together.
In the first release of the Action Group it has been made abundantly clear both in item (5) of the aims and objectives and in the body of the release that it is not the intention of the Action Group to embark on Regional politics exclusively. It is sheer necessity that has compelled us to decide to get together to put our own house in order.
As an earnest of our good faith, the subjects on which policy papers have been prepared are not confined to Regional subjects but cover Central subjects as well.
Furthermore, the Action Group is not meant to be an ad-hoc or temporary organization. It has come to stay and it will live forever.
We have promised, and we mean to abide by our word, that if a countrywide organization acceptable to all is established, we would not hesitate to become the Western Regional Working Committee of such an organization. But it is clear now from all accounts that such an organization will not emerge before the general elections under the new Constitution.
It must, therefore, be our hope and our endeavour that as soon as we have duly consolidated and strengthened our position throughout the Western Region, we should, in cooperation with nationalists in other Regions, influence the formation of a countrywide organization on the same realistic and scientific lines as the Action Group.
I have no doubt that we all know that the realization of all our aims and objectives depends chiefly on our having a substantial majority in the Western House of Assembly. With unity, determination and hard work, it should not be difficult for us to get all our candidates elected into that Assembly.
We are not fighting for seats in the House of Assembly because we desire power for its sake. We believe that, in a partial sense though, the new Constitution affords us an opportunity to be of better service to our people. We are a party – in fact the only party in Nigeria definite ideas and practical programmes for the advancement of Nigeria towards early freedom and prosperity.
Our enemies and detractors are already at work. They are seeking to dwarf our stature in order to delude the public that they are taller than we are. They are also seeking to divert us from our noble and constructive courses in to the barren land of petty strife and fruitless controversy.
I believe I am voicing your sentiments, when I say that we do not grudge other parties their professed popularity and excellence.
But it is mean and cowardly, and an evidence of weakness and utter demerit, for any group of people to attempt to commend themselves to the public by the negative process of belittling and condemning others. Strong, courageous, resourceful and self-confident people are never afraid of rivals or competitors.
It is not an easy matter to resist the temptation of being dragged down the drains of bitter recriminations and press war. But if we are to attain our objectives we must resolve to pursue our course unflinchingly without paying the slightest heed ‘to the envious, and the asses that bray.’
What our people want to know above all things else is not the defect or incapacity of this or that organization, but the plans and programmes which we have for improving their lots and the relative merits of such plans and programmes.
Such plans and programmes we have; and what is more they are plans and programmes which could be put into execution within a period of five years.
Our line of action is therefore clear. Whilst our enemies and detractors busy themselves with abusing and decrying us, we should direct all the machinery of our publicity towards the propagation of the excellence and the relative superiority of our programmes and the suitability of the men who will put forward to execute them.
In this way we would succeed in commending ourselves to the public by our sheer merits and our merits only. This in my view is a nobler attitude; and if we remain true to it, we are bound to succeed where our detractors fail.
Taken from “Voice of Reason: Selected Speeches of Chief Obafemi Awolowo” Vol. 1, Fagbamigbe Publishers (1981) Pages 195-200