Okoli-Akinsanya affair

Ikoli-Akinsanya crisis was the internal party conflict that led to the demise of one of the earliest national political groups in Nigeria. The party never recovered from the crisis, which pitched its leaders against one another. While this internal party conflict is considered by some historians as the genesis of tribalism in Nigerian politics, it is more admissibly a contributing factor to the era of cultural nationalism that followed.

The Lagos Youth Movement, founded by Samuel Akinsanya in 1933 aspired to increase its scope when in 1937, people like the brilliant H.O. Davies returned from the United Kingdom to serve as its Secretary. The organization, now called the Nigerian Youth Movement, also had its ranks swelled with the return to Nigeria of Nnamdi Azikiwe, who is to become the country’s first president at independence. Finally, the ideals of Eto Iya, an early preacher of unity and Nigerian renaissance was entrenched with the addition of Azikiwe, an experienced journalist whose African Morning Post newspaper had become highly influential in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Azikiwe’s short-lived involvement with the NYM did stir the interest of his Igbo kinsmen in the politics of Lagos, which was before then, reserved for the town’s dynasties. Azikiwe resigned from the executive arm of the organization for business reasons in 1939, the Daily Service newspaper sponsored by the movement being in friendly competition with his own West African Pilot for the small reading public. He pulled out completely in 1941 following disagreement over the selection of a candidate for a seat in the Legislative Council vacated by Dr. K.A. Abayomi, outgoing president of the NYM. With him were Igbos and Ijebus who believed Akinsanya had been denied the slot because of his Ijebu ascendancy. Akinsanya polled 108 votes, Ikoli received 60 but results were reviewed in favor of Ikoli who was perceived as having brighter chances at the coming election. The winner candidate, Ernest Okoli, an Ijaw man, enjoyed the support of Obafemi Awolowo and his cohorts.

Awolowo’s efforts at resuscitating the party after the ensuing disaffection came to nullity. The departure of Azikiwe and other Igbo members of the NYM, and of Akinsanya and many Ijebus, left the organization in the hands of the supporters of Okoli, other camp most of whom were Yoruba. From this sprang a predominantly Yoruba party, the Action Group of Awolowo. By this time, tribal rivalry had become a major factor in Nigerian politics.