Fajuyi as a bridge between Yoruba and Igbo
By Reno Omokri
In my column last week, I published a piece, titled ‘Destroying Age Old Myths About The Yoruba’, in which I described the heroic sacrifice made by Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi as apocryphal.
Apocryphal simply means a historical event that cannot be proven.
I was referring to the refusal by Colonel Fajuyi to abandon the then Head of State, Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, choosing instead to be loyal to him until death, even though he was given the option to remain behind at the Military Governor’s residence, which would have spared his life.
I have since discovered that I was wrong, and I apologise to the family of the late great Colonel Fajuyi. The account of his death is not apocryphal. There were witnesses and I have since verified the authenticity of the account of his death from an eyewitness and another remote witness.
The events were confirmed by a former minister, who also happened to be a soldier in the Nigerian Army when that incident happened. He was there and saw it and confirmed it.
Also, a former President, who was himself involved in pulling Nigeria away from the brink confirmed it.
Colonel Fajuyi pleaded for the life of his guest, Major General Ironsi, and when his pleadings fell on deaf ears, he insisted that if Ironsi would be killed then it would be over his dead body.
The rest is too gruesome to recount here, and out of respect for his family, I will stop here.
Colonel Fajuyi was a hero like no other. The only person who has shown a similar loyalty in Nigeria’s history is former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the best friend of Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, and who stood by his friend, in life and death.
After Nzeogwu’s death (the circumstances of his death are still hazy and shrouded in controversy) at the age of 30 on July 29, 1967, his friend, Olusegun Obasanjo, cared for his family, and assisted his siblings with their education, and became like a son to his mother.
(Let me here note that Nzeogwu’s death was spiritual, and dare I say mystical, because it occurred on the first anniversary of the July 29, 1966 Northern counter coup. Why is this significant? It is significant because on that day, Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed as a direct result of Nzeogwu and Ifeajuna’s actions of January 15, 1966. Ifeajuna himself would later be executed in Biafra on September 25, 1967. If you attended primary school in Nigeria between 1960 and 1990, you may perhaps have used an exercise book known as the OLYMPIC 2B Exercise Book. The man who was drawn on the front cover of that exercise book is Emmanuel Ifeajuna. The drawing is of his Gold winning High Jump at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, in Vancouver, Canada).
At great risk to his political future, Chief Obasanjo wrote a biography of his late friend simply titled, Nzeogwu, which was published in 1987.
That book caused an uproar in the North because of the way and manner Obasanjo eulogised the man who killed the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, believed to be Northern Nigeria’s greatest and favourite son.
Obasanjo did not have to do it. None of Nzeogwu’s military colleagues from Eastern Nigeria did it. But he did. And in the preamble to the book, he admitted that he knew he was attracting enmity to himself, but that he would take it as the price he had to pay for honouring his late friend’s memory.
As a matter of fact, thousands of copies of the book were bought by Northern groups and taken to the University of Zaria (now known as the Ahmadu Bello University), where they were burned in a ceremony eerily reminiscent of the Nazi Book Burnings organised by Josef Goebbels.
As they were burning the books, the mixed group of students, faculty members and clerics were insulting Obasanjo, calling him in English and Hausa “arne”, ”traitor”, ”conspirator” and ”ungrateful person”.
The anger and indignation caused by the book was so widespread. There were riots, and the Niger State Government (the then military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, a great admirer of Ahmadu Bello was from Niger state), revoked the Certificate of Occupancy to a 5,000-hectare piece of land that had previously been allocated to Obasanjo Farms Nigeria Limited.
The furore caused by the event made the book an Instant bestseller, and I read it as a thirteen year old boy. It attracted the foreign press, and the New York Times did a special feature on the troubles caused by the book in a piece entitled ‘Of Fig Leaves, Art and Other Disputes; Nigeria: Strife Stirred By Best Seller’.
That New York Times piece is still available online. I urge my readers to read it.
It was speculated that Obasanjo’s political career was over, because of his book on Nzeogwu. Some even went as far as saying that he lost the race to be the Secretary General of the United Nations to Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt in 1992, because the Babangida administration was not really keen on his candidature for what they felt was his stab on the back of the North with the book, Nzeogwu.
Babangida may not personally have retained his bitterness five years after the book. However, there were elements in the North that nursed their bitterness up until then, and even beyond. Some still nurse that grudge to today.
So, it riles me when some persons accuse the Yorubas of being betrayers. Which person, living or dead, has shown as much love, loyalty and commitment to Nzeogwu, at such great personal cost to himself, as Obasanjo?
It is one thing to show loyalty to the living. At least, you can expect your loyalty to be rewarded. However, to show loyalty to the dead is almost unheard of. It is most chivalrous and altruistic, precisely because it cannot be rewarded. It is a virtue worth commending and emulating.
Obasanjo again displayed this trait, when he showed his loyalty to his late friend, Shehu Musa Yar’adua, by almost singlehandedly making his younger brother, Umaru Musa Yar’adua, his successor.
Umaru Musa Yar’adua, had already concluded plans to retire to a tertiary institution as a chemistry teacher, when Obasanjo plucked him out almost from obscurity. He did not have the clout, finances, or alpha personality required to dominate the political landscape of 2007. As a matter of fact, Obasanjo campaigned for him in more states than he himself campaigned.
Many people do not know this, but Obasanjo appointed Nzeogwu’s brother as one of his Special Assistants when he returned as Nigeria’s elected President in 1999. He also appointed the son of another January 15, 1966 coup plotter as his Special Assistant (I am honour bound not to mention the name of his father).
Not done, Obasanjo then appointed Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, the son of the late Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, as Minister of Defence in 2006. That was one of the most difficult ministerial appointments in Nigeria’s history, because certain persons felt it was an insult to their injury. And that, perhaps, was why Obasanjo only appointed him as minister in his second term. If he did it in his first term, he might not have won a second term.
Before then, Obasanjo made him an Ambassador. Can you imagine the flak Obasanjo got from the North? Obasanjo did not have to do it.
As a matter of fact, Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi was actually another eyewitness to the events of July 29, 1966. He was with his father at Colonel Fajuyi’s residence. He was hidden for his safety, but he knows what happened. And he is still alive today.
After Fajuyi was killed, his successor as Military Governor of the Western Region, Adeyinka Adebayo, became almost like a surrogate father to the late Aguiyi-Ironsi’s daughter, Louisa Aguiyi-Ironsi, who grew up partly with his own children.
Young people of Southeastern origin should not think that the Yoruba are their enemies, or that they are perpetual cowards, ‘sabo’, and betrayers. It is not true.
The only way we can ensure a level playing ground for all Nigerians is by having a common Southern front. When we have Southern solidarity, then we will have Southern equality with the North.
However, if you believe that the Yoruba cannot be trusted, Bendel people are cunning, Rivers people are backstabbers, and Akwa-Ibom and Cross River are ‘ete’ boy boy, then we will only have Southern disunity.
This is 2021. The son of a Black African Kenyan man is the most popular US President that ever lived according to a survey of mostly White people. His wife, the great granddaughter of slaves, is today the most admired woman in America, and possibly the world. A Nigerian is in the Biden cabinet, and seven Nigerians were recently elected or re-elected into the British Parliament.
Primordial thinking is dying out internationally. We cannot be the holdout in Nigeria. We should not be.
It is time to purge ourselves off primordial sentiments. Nigeria is in too bad a state for us not to realise our predicament and face our common challenges.
And even if we cannot be friends, let us at least be comrades. We have a common challenge with the nepotism of the Buhari administration. What we need in 2023 is a government headed by a Nigerian from any part of Nigeria (but preferably an Igbo person, not for primordial reasons, but to right historical injustices) who can treat all Nigerians equally.
And we are not going to get that if we call each other ‘ajeokutamamomi’ or ‘ewu Yoruba’. The cabal that believe in nepotism are watching us and laughing. Their divide and rule tactics are working.
And lastly on this issue, when I posted last week’s column on Facebook, a young man from the Southeast justified the stereotype of the Yoruba as betrayers, by alleging that they had usurped the houses of Igbos as abandoned property after the civil war.
The truth about that sensitive subject is that cases of ‘abandoned property’ was an issue that erupted amongst the ethnic nationalities that were themselves consanguineously linked to the Igbos in and around Port Harcourt and in around the Benue area (less prominent in the Benue area, and more prominent in the Rivers area).
In Lagos, as well as the entire Western region, property belonging to the Igbos were not seized by the Yoruba. Not at all.
As a matter of fact, not only were the Igbo able to reclaim their houses in the Western Region after the war, they were also able to claim back rent for the period between 1967-1970.
An example of this is the case between the late Alex Ekwueme and Otunba Subomi Balogun. Although they were not really friends, per se, they lived close to each other. Just before the outbreak of the civil war, Alex Ekwueme left Lagos for the Eastern Region, like most prudent Igbos.
After the war, he returned to Lagos and, surprisingly, met his house in a renovated condition. While he was wondering what happened, his neighbour, Mr. Subomi Balogun, approached him and gave him his back rent in cash. These were the words that Mr. Balogun spoke to Mr. Ekwueme on that day in 1970:
“I renovated your house, rented it out and this is the rent we collected.”
Otunba Balogun is still alive, as are the children of Alex Ekwueme. This account can be confirmed from eyewitnesses.
What we need at this point in time is mutual respect and keeping our eyes on the prize.
Which is why I am a bit peeved that some Southern state Governors did not attend the Southern Governors meeting which held in Lagos on Monday, July 5, 2021. All the Governors of the Southwest attended. Apart from the Governor of Enugu, no Southeastern Governor attended. They were represented. One of them did not even bother to send a representative.
The Governor of Cross River (who always looks like someone about to cry), did not even bother with the meeting.
This is not the time to be represented. This is the time to be present! Only Southern unity can bring about the emancipation of our people from the killer herdsmen and bandits now plaguing our land. If we do not hang together, we will all hang separately.
Southern Governors should read and memorise Genesis 11:6:
“The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them.”
If possible, let that be their motto.
Gospeller. Deep Thinker. #1 Bestselling author of Facts Versus Fiction: The True Story of the Jonathan Years. Avid traveller. Hollywood Magazine Film Festival Humanitarian of the Year, 2019.