On July 29, 1966, Adekunle Fajuyi, a Lieutenant Colonel, and Military Governor of Western Nigeria, staked his life, when some revenge-seeking counter-coupists came for the head of Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s military ruler. Aguiyi-Ironsi was on a visit to the region; and the governor told the coupists that they’d not kill his guest in Ibadan, the regional capital. But the soldiers insisted. Ultimately, they killed the guest and his host. But there was no compensation, either for Fajuyi’s family or the Yoruba race, for the supreme price he paid to keep the country together. Instead, the atrocious crime was treated as a military affair. That he even refused to heed the coupists’ advice to step aside was beyond gallantry. Till date, Fajuyi remains an assassinated governor!
As at that time, it was a wrong move for the Ekitis to have localized a national tragedy of that magnitude. That’s why the narrative of a story is very important. For instance, Fajuyi was governor of Western Region, not by his own making but by the ruling capacity of the government of the day. So, his death was a national tragedy. That there was a coup was also a national tragedy. Most importantly, that the sufferings the Ado-Ekiti-born military officer had to go through in the hands of his murderers could become localized was a tragedy of monumental proportion. In sane climes, names of people like that are never allowed to be forgotten. If this is not corrected, Nigeria risks living with it - arguably more in denial - for a very long time to come; and that will be worse!
What are we saying? It is one thing to scrutinize real events and times of a narrated coup and establish the coupist’s real offence but it is a different ballgame when the executioners are merely waiting for a narration upon which to hang an entire scheme. For instance, when Fajuyi was telling his would-be assassins that ‘Johnny Ironside’, as Aguiyi-Ironsi was fondly called, was the Head of State, and his guest, there’s no doubt that he meant well for the country. Perhaps, had he known that Nigeria wasn’t a country that rewarded merit, he would have used his good office to escape and enrich himself. Had it been clear to him that the country he loved so dearly was on the verge of an internecine war, he possibly would have had a rethink about making that supreme sacrifice.
Fajuyi reminds us of certain basic norms that should never be taken for granted by an active agent or a political gladiator. Notable among them are the definition of a state and the meaning of ‘citizenship’. If every citizen understands what citizenship is all about; and, if those in leadership positions are aware of not just the real meaning but also the pride attached to it, our society will be better organized. Take, for instance, Seun Kuti’s celebrated police assault could have been avoided, had the police officer in question been given a proper orientation about how, truly, to be a citizen. Obviously, the story would have been different, had he been treated as a citizen and a policeman carrying the Federal authority. On the converse, if a policeman had to be slapped, and the son of the legend whose legendary radicalism is part of what’s still fetching him his meal tickets, then it would be very difficult for his behaviour to be moderated because he sees the abuse of citizenship as a normal thing. Therefore, Seun couldn’t but resort to self-help. Well, that’s not the way to go but, unfortunately, that’s what we have!
Let us come back to Ekiti and its interesting politics. As we know, some iron-cast political predictions may not always come to pass. Expectedly however, some political pundits will take such predictions personal, based on some past, if not jaded, political permutations and beliefs. Such is the ‘Ekiti Wonder’ where a large chunk of the political population did not expect the flawless political transition the state witnessed during the 2022 governorship election. But again, give it to former Governor Kayode Fayemi who midwifed a transition programme from his political party to his political party.
Without being immodest, clear observations of past and present political games in this part of the world have shown that it’s not an easy task for the outgoing principals, with their almighty powers of incumbency, to nurture and produce worthy successors, except in Lagos and, recently, a few other states. It’s majorly the opposition within the ruling party. Impliedly, many people can only imagine but have not experienced that gift because in it lies the essential lessons of hope and perseverance on Fayemi’s part. So, that his efforts should be commended is the beauty of democracy which doesn’t need help! Needless to repeat that the former governor can now savour the bliss and the peace that accompany such victory!
On April 20, 2009, I authored a piece, entitled ‘Ekiti: Fayemi and the Conspiracy Theorists’ in one of Nigeria’s national dailies, where I cautioned members of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) against allowing “hilarious concoctions of conjectural delusions to polarise their thinking with a sickening system which may leave them parched and paranoid.” So, when recently, Governor Biodun Oyebanji reportedly appealed to the people of the state “not to draw a distinction between his administration and that of former Governor Fayemi”, the wise man was only admonishing them not to be too complacent or have a fine deal with petty conflicts of supremacy of relevance to the detriment of the state’s flourishing prospects. Again, why this warning?
In fairness to posterity, Yorubas are the most well-read, well-travelled, exposed and civilized people in the country. Even at that, an average Yoruba man knows that it is normal for his friends to disagree. After all, hearing different ideas and perspectives is an important way to learn something new. That’s why, in the last election, one could find a Yoruba man voting for Bola Tinubu; and another Yoruba man voting for Peter Obi, in the same Lagos State. One doubts if it ever happened like that to any other tribe; until the gubernatorial election that Igbo journeying hand was stemmed for Babajide SanwoOlu, the governor.
At this juncture therefore, it will be appropriate to train the minds of the good people of Ekiti State to the continuance of identifiable and defined governance. If there’s democracy, let’s thank God for it! Even in a democracy, some are populists and some are class-conscious. Some are also sophisticated. Starting from what it means to be a Nigerian citizen, Oyebanji is a full grown man and he knows where the shoe pinches. He is one leader who understands the risks inherent in lacing Fayemi’s shoe with indignity, as if his regime was a washout. Besides, to think that one is not a continuity of the other but a product of an opposition within; or that the governor is not helping himself by identifying with the immediate past administration in which he served as Secretary to the State Government cannot be the best way to prepare a broth for a democracy that’s as fragile as ours.
At any given moment, there’s always a political leader. Till date, Tinubu remains a leader in Lagos politics. Oyebanji has also started well by identifying with past leaders in Ekiti State. It can only get better! And, who knows? The consummate politician may be a student of Lagos politics where Tinubu continues to be venerated by his successors, many years after leaving office.
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Nigeria!
*KOMOLAFE writes in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State, Nigeria ( [email protected] )