THE last time I was here in this august Chamber was May 25, 1962, when I sat in the official box as a very important guest. That same day two meetings of the Western Region House of Assembly were held: one in the morning, and the other in the afternoon.
Each meeting ended in fiasco—deliberately engineered by the powers-that-be at the federal level as an initial process in a well-calculated plan to annihilate the Action Group of Nigeria and t0 destroy its leader politically and (as we have now been reliably informed) physically as well. It had been thought by the arch-planners that, on the accomplishment of these diabolical ends, they would thenceforth remain in power for ever, and that all those who believed in the ideals of the Action Group either would totally surrender their ideological identity, or would never, never, taste of power again.
The last time I spoke in this Chamber was on the third of November, 1959, when I delivered my valedictory address to the House of Assembly. I did not imagine then that I would one day, like this, be accorded the honour and privilege of ever again addressing Hon. Members of the House of Assembly in this same chamber.
It is, therefore, most gratifying for me to be here again in this Chamber and to have this unique honour of addressing you on this occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the introduction of Free.
Universal Primary Education in Western Region out of which five virile States—Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Benin—have been carved. I have pleasant and proud memories of my association with the Western Region, and of the role which I had the honour to play as the leader of its government for eight full years from January, 1952 to December, 1959. During this period the Western Region earned the nickname of pacesetter in all that is good and worthy of report.
- Some of the pacesetting achievements can be recalled: Voting by symbol was introduced into Nigeria by the Action Group and was first practised at the local Government Elections in Ijebu-Remo in 1953.
- Steel ballot boxes and security-printed ballot papers were first used in the Western Region in 1956, at the instance and insistence of the Action Croup Government.
- The first motion ever for the creation of a new Region – in this case for the creation of a Midwestern Region now known as Bendel State—was moved in the Western Region House of Assembly by an Action Group Member of the House.
- It was only in the Western Region that the Leader of Opposition was elected Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly. It was also in the Western Region that Ministers of Finance and of Works were withdrawn from the Tenders Board, and the membership of the Board was restricted to Officials headed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, together with known members of the Action Group and of the NCNC chosen, from time to time in equal numbers, by the said Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance.
- Agricultural Settlements and Institutes were first established in the Western Region.
- It was in the Western Region that a minimum living wage was first introduced in Nigeria, and paid to workers in the Region.
- The first-ever industrial estate and housing estate in Nigeria were established in the Western Region.
- The first television service in Nigeria, indeed in the whole of Africa, was established in the Western Region.
- The very famous Liberty Stadium was the first and the best of its kind in Nigeria when it was built in 1959. In terms of elegance and comfort, it still remains the best in the country.
- Before 1952, the Nigerian .Government had never awarded as many as twenty university scholarships a year to Nigerian students. In that year (1952), the Western Region Government became the first ever to award two hundred university scholarships in one year to students of Western Region origin.
- It was In the Western Region, twenty-five years ago that Free Universal Primary Education, and Free Health Services for children up to the age of eighteen, were first introduced in any part of Nigeria. It was also in the Western Region that a six-year primary course, instead of the then existing eight-year primary course, was first introduced.
Some people have disrespectfully and insultingly described the Western Region as “the wild, wild West.” No people with predominant wild inclinations such as are implicit in the description can record in a short period of eight years the supremely impressive epochmaking, and pacesetting innovations and achievements which have been itemized above. The truth about the people of the Western Region is that they are sufficiently enlightened and bold to refuse to be led by the nose by any person or group however sophisticated such person or group may appear.
They are slow to anger; robust in contentions; alert to their rights, and will fearlessly resist and combat evil whenever and wherever they discern it, with all their might and resources. To the people of the Western Region a leader is made, not born. He is expected to justify his leadership by his personal attributes, and by his works for the good of the people. Whereas in some other parts of the country a leader is born and it is the Iollowership that are expected to justify their worthiness to follow by the extremity of their obedience and subservience.
When the decision was taken in 1952 to introduce free universal education and free health services for children up to the age of 18 in the Western Region, it became necessary in order to finance the schemes immediately to impose an Education and Health Levy of 10 shillings per male adult taxpayer throughout the Region and also per female adult taxpayer in Ijebu Province only. The collection of the levy commenced two years before the introduction of the schemes. This time-lag led to a lot of misrepresentations, which were heightened by the novelty of the schemes and the incredulity of the people towards them.