Monday, July 25, 2016 5:21 pm
Nigerians mark half a century of the death of Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi, first military governor of Western Region
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
It will be exactly 50 years on Friday, 29 July 2016 when Lt.Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, first military governor of Western Region, was assassinated in a counter coup, led mainly by northern officers. As part of the activities lined up for the anniversary, there will be a lecture and discussion session at the International Conference Centre of the University of Ibadan the same day.
The lecture, entitled “Fajuyi and the Politics of Remembrance” will be delivered by Professor Niyi Osundare who teaches at the University of New Orleans, USA. Osundare is from Ekiti, the land of rolling hills and lush vegetation that also produced the late Fajuyi. That the two are of the same stock, readers should look forward to an interesting lecture on loyalty and integrity. Those to be on the discussion segments are: Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Church, Fola Adeola and Professor Wale Adebanwi. The session will be chaired by General Olufemi Olutoye. Also, one of the organisers is Engineer Francis Ojo, Vice President, Galaxy Television.
Fajuyi was appointed the military governor of Western Region on 18 January 1966. One of the moving speeches he delivered was at Aquinas College, Akure on 25 April the same year. This is published in A. G. A Ladigbolu’s book on Fajuyi, entitled: A Great Hero…That day, Fajuyi said: “When our country calls upon us for sacrifice, we shall be worthy to follow those who, in all the ages and countries, have lived and even died for God and freedom.” How prophetic! That statement was like proclaiming a nunc dimitis in the beginning of a race! It is on record that Fajuyi made a great personal sacrifice for peace, unity of Nigeria, loyalty to his boss, and a form of gallantry that could render the jaw of a medieval knight hanging slack. For doing these, it is safe to say that Fajuyi “died for God and freedom”.
Fajuyi displayed his gallantry and altruism on 29 July 1966. The Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi, visited Ibadan to address a conference of traditional rulers. At 4 am, soldiers, led by Theophilus Danjuma and Joe Garba, drove into Government House, Agodi, Ibadan, their eyes blood shot, their moustaches twitching malevolently. Their mission was to kidnap and kill Ironsi in a reprisal coup.
The gentleman officer in Fajuyi took over. How could he stand at an akimbo while his guest (not to even talk of his supreme commander) was to be killed under his roof? He refused. It would have given rise to Yoruba, Igbo suspicion and everlasting hatred, woven into a conspiratory theory. Fajuyi jumped on the open land rover conveying the victim, Ironsi, even as the soldiers barked goro and alcohol reeking orders at him to stay away from the drama. He forced himself into the vehicle as the murderers drove away with him and his guest, their real target.
As this writer put it in his contribution to a collection of essays, entitled, The Road to Lalupon, edited by Dr. Akin Onigbinde, the soldiers drove to Lalupon on the outskirts of Ibadan. A wine tapper was watching the hideous drama unfolding in the bush under his palm tree. As the desperate soldiers would make to shoot Ironsi, Fajuyi would rush between them and the victim, his hands spread in a you-cannot-kill-my-guest or boss fashion. He repeated the intervention many times so much that the killers were frustrated and angrily pumped hot bullets into the two hostages. And Fajuyi died a hero, a true friend, great officer and patriot.
There were certain events that made it clear that Fajuyi found himself in crossfire between angry northern officers (who saw the January 1966 coup, led by Majors Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna as an Igbo putsch against the North) and Ironsi, an Easterner. In that coup, prominent politicians were killed: Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, Premier of the North, Ahmadu Bello and Premier of Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola. A question that has remained in popular consciousness since then is: why was no Igbo politician killed? The events are chronicled in the trilogy being published by TheNEWS (this edition is the second). And it was, therefore, quest for vendetta that brought the killers of Ironsi and Fajuyi to Ibadan.
Series of events also led to the first coup itself, making the episodes to follow one another in quick and deadly succession like a pack of riffles knocked over by a drunk. Ladigbolu lists them as the 1963 census, “the results of which were not acceptable to some of the regions”, the Tiv riots of 1964 and the 11 October 1965 Western Nigeria election that the Action Group rejected as rigged, a development that led to operation wet e and the imposition of state of emergency on the region. These culminated in the first coup and the appointment of Fajuyi as governor.
Apart from his efforts at reconstruction in the West, Fajuyi and officers like him then, will forever be remebered for their integrity. As a reporter with Tempo, Babafemi Ojudu, our boss (later a senator and now, special adviser in the Presidency) sent me to interview Fajuyi’s wife, the late Eunice, in Ado Ekiti. The woman who, out of love for the husband, refused to marry after his death, lived in a one-storey building (with staircase and the first floor made of planks, not concrete). That was the only house built by the late soldier; he had no bank accounts in Switzerland or those remote Islands in the West Indies like the current pot bellied brass hats that embezzle money like no man’s business. It took the intervention of Ojudu and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu later to build a modern house befitting of Fajuyi and his wife.
This writer also experienced the same shock in Umuahuia, Abia State capital when he met Ironsi’s wife, Victoria. Orji Uzor Kalu was still the governor. “Is this the bugalow your husband left for you?” the reporter asked.
“Yes oh, my son,” she replied. “During my husband’s time, senior army officers did not steal money!” She told the reporter that day that one of her daughters, Loisa, was also a journalist in Tell.
Fajuyi was born on 26 June 1926 in Ado Ekiti. He attended St George’s Catholic School where his mates nicknamed him “Theobroma Cacao” (Cacao for short). In the account of Ladigbolu, when Fajuyi saw that a visiting soldier was better paid than a teacher, he dreamt of joining the Army. His first attempt was thwarted by his family but he finally joined in 1943 in Ilorin. He later rose to a Sergeant in the Nigeria Signal Squadron, Royal West African Frontier Force.
According to Wikipedia, Fajuyi was trained at the Eaton Hall Officer Candidate School in the United Kingdom from July 1954 until November 1954 when he was short-service commissioned. On completion of Congo operations, Fajuyi became the first indigenous commander of the 1st Battalion in Enugu, a position he held until just before the first coup of January 1966 when he was posted to Abeokuta as Garrison Commander. It was from there he became governor-and met his death.
Ladigbolu, in his book, A great Hero… provides more biographical information on Fajuyi:
On 16th November, 1943 he enlisted in the Nigerian Army at Ilorin and was posted to No. 2 Primary Training Centre, Zaria for Basic Military Training. He was placed on a salary of1:10 pounds a month. After he had enlisted in the army, the typing job which he learnt when he was in the Forestry Division became an asset. When his mother learnt that he had enlisted in the army, she became upset and wept for many days. His parents did not see him for three years but he kept on writing letters to comfort them. On joining the Army in 1943 he did not realize that he was embarking on a career which was to last twenty two years, eight months and thirteen days and which was to take him to different parts of the world as well as earn him remarkable honours and positions. After the basic military training at Zaria, he was posted to the Signal Training Centre as a non-tradesman. He later attended courses at the Army Clerks Training School, Yaba and on successful completion of the course, he became clerk class iv in January 1945. He was later upgraded to class 1 in November, 1945.
His military training was extensive and was by no means confined to Nigeria. not long after he joined the Army, he was sent to the Command Training School in Teshi, Gold Coast (now Ghana). There, he received a mixture of military and secondary education. For twenty years after his return from Ghana, his engagements were on two major fronts – home and overseas. On the home front he served in different parts of the country in numerous capacities – Private Soldier, Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, staff Sergeant, Signal Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel and later Military Governor. In each capacity, Francis Adekunle Fajuyi distinguished himself by his honesty, gallantry, infinite capacity for hard work and talents.
During his Other Rank “Service, he had a number of promotions”. He was promoted Lance Corporal on 13th February, 1945, Corporal on 2nd November 1946,and Sergeant on 1st December, 1947. He was promoted to the post of SQMS on 1st December, 1952. On 29th November, 1953 he proceeded to the West African Training School at Accra on Potential Officers course at the officer Cadet School and was granted Commission in the Rank of Lieutenant on 20th November, 1954.
At the Officer Cadet School he was the first Nigerian to be appointed an Under-officer while still undergoing a Cadet’s course. Whilst in Europe, he was attached to the British Army on the Rhine in Germany and served there with the 60th Rifles. He returned to Nigeria in February 1955 and was posted to Third Battalion Nigeria Regiment as Platoon Commander.
As an Officer, he attended the Platoon Commanders’ Course in England in 1957. He was also sent to attend 3″ Mortar course in Netherawon in 1959. Fajuyi was sent to attend Senior Officers Tactics Course in Pakistan in 1964. He was promoted to Captain on 13th July, 1957. On 5th November 1960, he was promoted to Major. On 15th January 1963, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel.
Fajuyi as a dedicated and hard-working Officer served in various Units and held many appointments with distinction. He served as Military Adviser, HQ ONUC, Congo from 22nd August 1961 to 21st December, 1961. He also served as follows: – Second in Command 3rd Battalion Nigerian Army, Kaduna from 9th April, 1962 to 18th October, 1962. Commanding Officer 1st Battalion Nigerian Army, Enugu from 23rd October 1963 to 23rd November, 1965. He was appointed Commander Abeokuta Garrison from 26th November, 1965 to 17th January, 1966 and Military Governor, Western Nigeria on 18th January, 1966 to 29th July 1966.
In The Congo
Fajuyi as an Officer in the Nigerian Army was an Officer of peace, no wonder he was sent out on the mission. His peace-keeping experience which served him so well in Western Nigeria had been enriched by the operations in the Congo where he was drafted with the Fourth Battalion of the Nigeria Army. It was his first taste of battle. He Company went into action against dissidents of the Congolese army barely three days on arrival. His performance during these operations were superb and excellent which earned him the award of the Military Cross (MC) for personal courage and gallantry. He was the first Nigerian Officer to be given the award and the formal presentation was made at the State House, Lagos.
His other military awards included 1939-45 War Medal which was awarded in 1950, BEM (King’s Birthday) 1951; Nigerian Independence Medal, 1960; So outstanding was his performance during the Congo operation that he was appointed a Military Assistant to General McEcon, Supreme Commander of the united Nations Forces in the Congo. After his first return from the Congo operations, he was thrice reposted there, because of his excellent and outstanding performances to continue his good work.
On assuming duty as Military Governor of Western Nigeria, he brought into his office all the qualities which had distinguished him as a great soldier. ‘It was a call to duty’ according to him, and he further explained in a military fashion – ‘Quite honestly, I don’t feel like a Governor, I feel more like a soldier – a soldier of peace. Essentially, I am a soldier. This is merely an extra – regimental duty as far as I am concerned. I would be happier in the barracks with my soldiers than in this palatial Government House’”
-Ademola Adegbamigbe is the Editor, ThdNEWS, 08055002056, [email protected]