The clouds they said bore no ominous signs, the air was fresh and the moonlight that night had not failed to shine forth its light. The city of Ibadan, the garrison city of the Old Oyo Empire was in a swell mood. The Supreme Commander Aguiyi Ironsi was in its abode. He must have been treated to a welcome reception laden with the effusions of the Yoruba culture, surely the Yorubas of the Western Region of Nigeria were indeed striving to be good hosts, its guest was Nigeria’s number one citizen, having assumed power following the January 15, 1966 coup which had been put down by the same man. Ironsi was on tour of the Federation trying hard to sell Decree 34 which was to ensure the unification of the civil services of the four regions into one body. He had begun by touring his own region, where he hailed from—the Eastern Region before moving to the North and then to the Midwest before finally arriving in Ibadan. Ironsi thought it would be business as usual, discuss with the stakeholders of that region on the positives of that decree as well as announce to the leaders there the Supreme Military Council’s SMC’s decision to release the Chief Obafemi Awolowo from Calabar Prison, this was not to be.
The late Major General Alexander Madiebo had in his book described the period as the “Gathering Storm” the January 15th Coup had been unfairly dubbed as an Igbo Coup, as a number of leaders of the Northern Region as well as the West had been assassinated including Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of the nation. A number of military officers were also killed with the North having again the highest casualty list, including the likes of Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari and Colonel Yakubu Pam , very fine officers who never deserved to die. General Ironsi then the General Officer Commanding had rallied loyal troops to quell the putsch in the South forcing the likes of Emmanuel Ifeajuna and other coup plotters to abandon the cause, as well as lured Nzeogwu to lay down his arms arresting him upon his arrival in Lagos.
No doubt, the coup had created some level of bad blood which remains till this very day. On a daily basis the North continued to agitate for maximum punishment for the January 15th coup plotters, while the South saw them as heroes. To add salt to injury, General Ironsi had floated the idea of a Decree 34, which was much resented in the North. Rumblings occurred in the army with soldiers of both the Eastern and Northern Regions accusing each other of plotting another coup. Ironsi it was alleged was reportedly inundated with security reports about a counter coup, one of such events was reported by Madiebo himself to Ironsi who naively then invited one of the key plotters of the July 29 Counter Coup in Yakubu Gowon and had asked Madiebo to repeat his report before Gowon an accusation to which Gowon flatly denied and Madiebo reprimanded for rumour bearing.
When the counter coup broke out, Ironsi and soldiers of the Eastern region were caught flat footed, Ironsi who was lodged in the guest house owned and operated by the Western Region could not reach his Army Chief in Yakubu Gowon, who was in Lagos coordinating the technical aspects of the coup. All set in motion, a Theophilus Danjuma then a captain came with troops to arrest his Supreme Commander, not however without a Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi then the Military Governor of the Western Region refusing to allow the captors take his host away from him. The rest is history, Fajuyi, an officer of honour was to pay the supreme price.
This is a man who could have hidden under the staircase like I heard one did, or under the bed, thanking his Orisa for sparing him from such an ordeal. This is a man who could have taken the cock and bull story approach of Danjuma who alleged that he was pushed off the vehicle by junior soldiers after promising that no harm would come to Ironsi and Fajuyi. This is an officer who could have adopted the crocodile tears shedding of a Yakubu Gowon by denying the whereabouts of the Supreme Commander, no, the soldier in Fajuyi would have none of such.
What Fajuyi did that day will continue to resonate through the ages, it much towers above the fabled courage of the Spartans and it is in its very right, in league the story of Alexander the Great’s charge in India as well as Napoleon’s decision to face the bayonet bearing soldiers of France sent to capture him on his return from Elba. Here was an Ekiti born Officer with no form of ethereal affiliation of whatsoever with Ironsi, save for the fact that he wore the same uniform lay down his life for the Umuahia born Officer who happened to be his Supreme Commander.
Fajuyi did not ask what portion was that of a Yoruba with that of an Igbo man. He did not allow the tribal proclivities of “omo kedu Kedu” and “Ndi Ofe Mmanu” both derogatory terms by which both ethnic groups addressed each other, as well as a number of other differences which were then rife to deter him from towing such a path.
Sadly in a nation like ours such heroics have been given the back seat while we cheer near cowards and the pusillanimous who have only contributed more to the woes of this nation. In a nation where those proven to be corrupt are beatified and given saintly garbs, where lecturers and professors, those vested with educating the future of our nation earn less than a councilor and where companies scramble to sponsor programs like Big Brother Naija where the craze is to be the rave of the moment, irrespective of how deplorable such appears to be but sees best graduating students from our universities receiving the paltry sums of 1000 to 10,000 Naira then it is no wonder!
Yet, even in such a state of despair, it can be argued everywhere that Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi did not die in vain, his killers may have mocked him and those who profited from his death may bestride the land as behemoths today and yet his star, drenched in his blood will forever dim theirs.
At a point where ethnic nationalism and other inordinate sentiments are being pandered to by a number of our leaders, trumping nationalism and nation building, the Fajuyi example will continue to be a model for the champions and those desirous of a Pan Nigerian nation which not only will be the Giant of Africa but also the defender of the rights of the black man all over the world.