Monday, March 2, 2020 3:00 am
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
No doubt, Fajuyi’s place in authentic history is assured. He is elevated to the pantheon of men who have stood for principle and will never be forgotten any time events of 1966 are recalled. He has become a historical figure too. And in very positive terms. He represents an iconic age in the history of the military in administration and governance. That spirit died after July 1966. Brigands without honour became commanders of a profession historically associated with honour and decency. It is a tragedy that the nation may never recover from. I have noticed that when heroes of Nigeria are mentioned in the media, nobody mentions Fajuyi. Focus is often on people who held national power. Perhaps it has to do with lack of knowledge or the yardstick which the writers use to define their heroes.
For some too, Fajuyi’s death was a waste of human resource, a sacrifice too he to make for the bumbling giant that has become Nigeria. If he had stayed alive perhaps it would have been difficult to lead the Nigerian military into paths of brigandage that followed. But what about the officers from that era who remained alive and went on to become villains of the highest order, robbing Central Bank in Benin, amassing billions in foreign accounts, owning the biggest estates and business concern around the world, shooting their way into power and holding the entire country to ransom and purloining an oil well proceeds from which they say they do not know what to do with? Were the Generals who became the nation’s wealthiest men also from the Fajuyi era? Was Fajuyi an exception, an anomaly from that era, and could have become ‘like them’ too were he not taken away from the scene? Not likely!
The prolonged stay of soldiers in political power made them susceptible to the spoils of office as the politicians had done in the First Republic. The thesis therefore is that we should not have allowed the soldiers to remain in political office. Did we have a say, even though we sometimes called on them to remove an incumbent government? Put properly, the military hierarchy, in order to keep the integrity of the armed forces should not have remained in governance for the many years that they did. General Gowon did nine years and wanted to extend his stay until the red-eyed Murtala Mohammed knocked him off his rockers. Murtala/Obasanjo stayed within reasonable limits and handed over power in the honourable tradition. When Ibrahim Babangida seized power in 1985, he wanted to stay in power for as long as he could dribble us. But for the hand of fate, Abacha would have remained forever! Sadly, when Obasanjo returned in as civilian president, it was reported that he wanted to stay beyond two terms. The taste of political power had altered the military training from Sandhurst.
In interrogating the Fajuyi heroic action, we should be interested in the meaning of friendship, of loyalty, and of character. We should also be interested in the factors that made a Fajuyi possible in time and in a historical sense and whether in real terms his sacrifice had any effect on the national struggle for cohesion and ethnic unity. Fajuyi was possible because of his character and the prevailing circumstances in the military.
Insubordination or ethnicization of the military had not taken full hold. That came later. But in terms of character, Fajuyi could still have been possible just as we have had some officers who served with honour and are currently living or died depending only in their entitlements.
When a man sacrifices his life for the community, the immediate family suffers. Often, especially in the developing world, they are forgotten by the establishment. The widow bears the brunt. The kids suffer emotional trauma. And their lives are never the same again. In some cases, the quality of life drops too. Friends of their father go their own way because the real link with the family is gone. So, although one may be a hero to the entire world and bring a good name to the family, the immediate family may not share in the enthusiasm of the larger community. I am not arguing that this is the case with the Fajuyi family.
If the descent into anarchy had ceased with the tragedy of July 1966, we could have said that Nigeria learnt from the ‘labours of its heroes past’. But contemporary Nigeria is frightening. Bishop Matthew Kukah summed it up at the funeral of the young seminarian who was slaughtered by the Boko Haram scoundrels when he said that Nigeria was not dying for. In other words, Nigeria pays no attention when a worthy deed is done. The Fajuyi remembrance for example, is a local thing. Such an iconic character ought to be national property, a national celebration on October 1st and beyond. Such a character ought to be mentioned in the history books as a lesson to the younger ones. But it may be that we do not need heroes anymore. Bertolt Brecht observed that ‘Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.’ Indeed, but for Dr Kayode Fayemi’s intellectual disposition, his sense of history and commitment to popular causes, he would not have deemed it necessary to see the drama titled Ifajuyigbe, written and directed by Professor Bakare Rasaki, who incidentally is Commissioner for Arts and Culture.
As an aside, Bakare ventured into the topic because of his intellectual and/or academic background. A typical politician would not have the time for such intellectual excursions into history. Town and gown can be fruitful, just the way my stay in government brought the JP Clark Building to the University of Lagos through my relationship with Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, then Governor of Delta State, a fact which Professor Rahman Bello, then Vice Chancellor, fully and openly acknowledged when I returned to the Senate of the university in 2015. I will do a full-length essay on this subject in the months ahead.
In concluding my two-part comment on the heroic example of Lt. Col Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, I daresay that Fajuyi rests in history and has become a historical figure. ‘The ordinary man is involved in action,’ wrote Henry Miller, ‘the hero acts. An immense difference’. The heroic is to be found in acting, doing, and performing. Fajuyi’s spirit of friendship may not resonate with the youth of this generation on account of how they have encountered a fragile and uncaring Nigeria, we may say, does not deserve such an altruistic figure. Yet, humanity needs such characters to affirm its connectedness with the realities of existence.
-Professor Eghagha who writes from the University of Lagos, can be reached on 08023220393 or [email protected]