Femi, whose father, late Remi Fani-Kayode was the deputy premier of the defunct Western Region talks to YEMI ADEBOWALE about the life and times of the late nationalist and the impact on his own political career
How do you feel being the son of a great nationalist?
It is an honour and a privilege. I am very proud of my father and his monumental achievements just as I am proud of all the other great nationalists that fought for our independence and gave their all for Nigeria.
What does being the son of Fani-power mean to you?
It means everything to me and it defines who I am. I was born on the 16th of October and that is just a couple of weeks after we gained our independence. I am therefore a proud son of independence. I remember everything that happened from the age of six when soldiers came to our house to take my father on the night of the coup – January 15th, 1966. By providence, divine orchestration and the grace of God he was the only one out of all the great leaders that were arrested and abducted from their homes that night (other than Sir Kashim Ibrahim, the Governor of the old Northern Region) that survived it. Sadly all the others were murdered in cold blood, some in front of their families, and in some cases some of their family members were killed as well. This was a terrible slaughter. Those men and women that were killed that night were some of those that had fought for our independence and they were the brightest and the best that Nigeria ever had. May their souls rest in peace. There was a divine purpose that ensured that my father survived that night and from that time on, and at a very early age, I know that I would one day follow his footsteps and go into politics. I knew that I had to dedicate my life to trying to make a difference in our country and at try to make it a better place.
Has your father’s life in any way shaped your career and politics?
It has shaped my ideas and politics considerably. I learnt everything that I know from my father and I gained a lot from his experiences. He taught me the value of never writing anyone off and seeing the best in others. He also taught me that out of all the virtues courage and loyalty are the most noble. My father was a great believer in Nigeria. He served Nigeria in one capacity or the other from 1953 to 1995 when he finally passed on. His contributions and works inspired me enormously and the challenges that he faced in his career emboldened me. So, most of what you see and know about me were shaped by his experiences and counsel.
Why did you take after him in politics?
I took after him in politics because that is the path that God chose for me and that is what I had been prepared, groomed and trained to do from a very young age. My grandfather, Justice Adedapo Adetokunboh Kayode, had dabbled in the politics of Lagos Colony as well, though he later became a judge. So, I guess politics is something of a tradition for the Fani-Kayodes. My original intention was to join the military but my father refused to allow it. From that point, I knew that I would be a lawyer and then eventually end up in politics. I have been in it since 1989 when a few of my colleagues and I, under the distinguished leadership and guidance of the late Dr. Hammed Kusamotu and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi (Marafan Sokoto), set up the famous September Club. I must say that politics involves a lot of sacrifice in terms of time and that it is is difficult and challenging. However, it is also a worthwhile and noble vocation. I thank God for making me what I am today and I have no regrets about choosing this path. To serve one’s country and to try to make a difference and make it a better place is the right and proper thing to do.
You spoke about the first Nigerian coup on the night of Jan.15th 1966. Who were those that were killed that night that you described as heroes?
I will not just describe them as heroes but I will also describe them as true and courageous martyrs. Sadly, they have been largely unsung, unappreciated and uncelebrated by the Nigerian people because most of those in the younger generation don’t even know the history or who they were and what they did. When we sing about the ‘’labour of our heroes past’’ in our National Anthem, it is men like these that we are referring to. Many have run them down and said the most uncharitable and untrue things about them since they were killed. Others have even hailed those that murdered them forgetting that death eventually comes to us all and that virtually every single person that took part in the bloodletting and murders that night met a horrible, bloody, violent and untimely end themselves within a few months and years. I am sorry but I always get a little emotional when I remember these names and their families because it really was a waste of life and talent (he was at this point wiping off tears from both cheeks). It was a tragedy of monumental proportions. The politicians that were amongst them were great and illustrious leaders that had made their contributions to our body politic through the late 1940’s and 1950’s. They had fought for our nation’s independence and all of a sudden they were just cut short by some young and trigger happy rebels who had lost control of themselves and who had no sense of self-restraint. Chief Akintola was murdered in the sanctity of his home right in front of his family after he returned fire and wounded two of the mutineers. Sir Ahmadu Bello was killed in the sanctity of his home and so were two of his wives (who tried to shield his body from the bullets with theirs). His exceptionally brave bodyguard (who attacked the armed soldiers with just an ornamental sword) was also killed. Sir Tafawa Balewa and Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh were both arrested in their homes, abducted and later taken to a bush and shot just outside Lagos. What a way for them to end their lives. Those of them that were killed that night (from the military) were amongst the brightest and the best that the army ever had. For me and my family, these names will never die. Even if the rest of Nigeria forgets and misrepresents them, we will not because we know the history and we know what they stood for. Worse still, my father almost died with them on the same night and by the hands of the same bloodthirsty murderers. So, I seem to have cultivated something of an emotional bond with those names. I honour them every year both on Oct 1st and on Jan.15th with my family members by saying a prayer for their souls and for their families. They died that we might live.
The coupists also arrested and abducted my father Chief R.A. Fani-Kayode (Deputy Premier of the Western Region) and I witnessed the whole thing. Though I was only six years old I remember it vividly. He was taken from our home in Ibadan to Lagos. Thankfully he was rescued and liberated the following morning after a heavy gun battle between the mutineers and loyalist federal forces at Dodan Barracks under the command of Lt. Col. Gowon and Captain Takoda. Sir Kashim Imam (the Premier of the Northern Region) was also arrested and abducted by the mutineers in Kaduna but he also managed to cheat death. The coupists had targeted and intended to arrest, abduct and kill Chief Michael Okpara (Premier of the Mid-Western Region) as well but when they got to his official residence to execute their plan, they found the Prime Minister of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, staying there with him so they did not enter the premises. Finally they went to the home of Makaman Bida (Minister of Finance for the Northern Region of Nigeria) to arrest, abduct and murder him too but they did not meet him there because he had travelled out of town.