Although last week’s event by a Yoruba think-tank held at the University of Ibadan, was solely dedicated to the gallant Yoruba army general killed in the 1966 counter-coup, it also served as an opportunity for top notch leaders of the South-west region to harp on the essential changes that the region and the nation must embrace. Shola Oyeyipo writes
It was indeed a captivating and well rehashed story of the Yoruba race and how the South-west region must capitalise on its potential to bring about the much needed change in Nigeria when prominent discussants converged on the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Oyo State to extol the rare loyalty displayed by late General Adekunle Fajuyi, which a majority of the speakers considered inherent in Yoruba people towards togetherness and unity of the country.
The story of the late Fauyi, who was killed in the 1966, counter-coup is not lost on many Nigerians. So, even as it was retold with effect of immediacy, the event smacked of a people, who are becoming more united to push for a common front. This, they also reckoned, could be an instructive poser for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the President Muhammadu Buhari leadership in the near future. The Yoruba are becoming more resolute in the clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria.
Before the event, there had been signs that some Yoruba leaders were prepared to drop their party affiliations and come together in the interest of the region to clamour for a better deal for the Yoruba nation. That much, one of the stalwarts of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, said recently in an interview when he said he was prepared to work with anyone in the interest of the Yoruba nation.
Similarly, a former Lagos State governor and one of the national leaders of APC, Senator Bola Tinubu recently closed rank with former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba, in what was seen as part of an arrangement to make the South-west more formidable politically. And lately, there have many pointers to such reconciliation across the region.
The Ibadan event, however, attracted notable as Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, General Alani Akinrinade (rtd), Pastor Tunde Bakare, Mrs. Tokunbo Awolowo, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, Prof. Niyi Osundare, Yinka Odumakin, General Femi Olutoye, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and Mr. Dele Alake, a former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State.
Other are Dr. Amos Akingba, Mr. Tunji Olaopa, Mr. Moshood Erubami, deputy governor Ogun, Prof. Banji Akintoye, former Speaker, Oyo State House Assembly, Ashimiyu Alarape, the representative of the Ooni of Ife, HRM Adeyeye Ogunwusi and other notable leaders drawn from the academia, religious leaders, traditional leaders and civil society groups.
The keynote speaker, a renowned poet and literary critic, Professor Niyi Osundare, in an extensive and thought-provoking lecture titled: ‘Fajuyi and the Politics of Remembrance’, said Nigeria was suffering from Hero Deficit Complex (HDC), translating that the country is “a land with a missing ace in its grid of values”.
He wondered: “Why is this gallant soldier (Fajuyi) hardly ever remembered save in his ethnic base? What does this say about Nigeria’s imperfect union, the character of her values, the nature of her memory, the politics of her remembrance?
“What a forgetful, ungrateful nation had done to the remembrance of his exceptional gallantry and inspiring integrity. You know a country by the kind of people it remembers. Remembrance is an enabling companion of memory; and also its handmaiden. So, there goes Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, the soldier-leader for whom valour was a prime virtue, brave in battle, brave beyond it; paragon and parable. It was Nigeria’s truly first attempt at the proverbial handshake across the Niger – with his own life. But so far, Nigeria has shunned that handshake, forcing that generous, idealistic hand to coil back to its startled pocket.”
According to him, that Fajuyi is not celebrated as a national icon is simply because the country is yet to attain nationhood. “Were Nigeria a country with a solvent memory bank and a faculty of active remembrance, Adekunle Fajuyi would have his statue in prominent public spaces all over the country, and the story of his gallantry told and retold from generation to generation.
“For when those mutineers assailed the Government House in Ibadan on the night of July 29, 1966, and demanded the head of his guest, General Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s head of state, Fajuyi, in the true spirit ofOmoluabism, refused to betray his Commander-in-Chief who was also his guest. He stood his ground. He barred the exit of honour from his household with his own body, with his own life.”
He said while Fajuyi could have opted to trade the security of his guest for his own safety and possibly some plum position in the new government that was sure to emerge from the coup, a development that would have triggered a development with far-reaching personal, ethnic, national repercussions and ultimately change the course of Nigerian history and its ethno-regional complexion as we know them today, he stood his ground.
He expressed disdain for the state of affairs in Nigeria, where ethnic difference is so inherent whereas the likes of Fajuyi had paid the price with their lives without considering ethnic segregation, stressing that “No country can ever achieve nationhood when its component parts are as incorrigibly heterogeneous and so mutually antagonistic as Nigeria now is and has always been. This is why those who blissfully aver that ‘Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable’ should quickly reconsider the dangerously complacent certitude in their avowal.
“If the house has not fallen according to Karl Maeier’s apocalyptic prognostication, it is simply because Nigeria has been extraordinarily lucky. The Avenging Angels of the Niger Delta, the resurgent Biafra agitators, the increasingly violent clashes between nomadic herdsmen and native populations, and other ethno-regional and religious eruptions in different parts of Nigeria are all pointers to the cracks in the walls of the house that Lugard built for the glory of the British Empire.
“The component parts have never met on any genuinely democratic platform to negotiate the terms of their co-existence. We cannot afford not to do something about this imperfect union. To refuse to re-structure is to prepare to de-structure,” he stated.
He, however, warned that Nigerians must “scrutinize” the connotations of restructuring as currently being depicted because he considers it more a “mantra, a miracle code, and sound bite in the mouths of political opportunists, and some vengeful incantation in the arsenal of those temporarily out of power.”
To Osundare, the Yoruba strand of the national question narrative deserves a thorough, hard-nosed, and visionary appraisal. He said “Those who call for a relative autonomy that would allow Nigeria’s federating units appreciable room to develop their own way have their fingers right on top of the problem”, adding that “but we need to find a way of doing this without allowing it to degenerate into a good-we vs bad-they; civilised-we vs primitive-they; advanced-we vs backward-they”.
Alluding to Osundare’s averment that Fajuyi ought to be a rallying point in the search for a common national identity, foremost preacher and running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2011 presidential election, Pastor Tunde Bakare said any Northerner or whoever is against the call for restructuring Nigeria are working against the positions of Nigerian heroes.
“Any anti-restructuring position taken by the North would bring to the courts of historical opinion the sincerity of the motives of the perpetrators of the countercoup that led to the death of Adekunle Fajuyi. The elders of the North who, today, are opposed to the call to restructure Nigeria have deviated from the ideals of the founding fathers of Northern Nigeria – the likes of the Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa – leaders of our nation, who were forerunners of Fajuyi in the Nigerian hall of martyrdom.
“Lest we forget, these great Nigerian leaders from the North made it clear in the series of constitutional conferences that heralded Nigeria’s independence that true federalism with regional autonomy were the only condition under which they would exist within a Nigerian nation.
“Need we remind those in opposition to restructuring today that one of the main grouses of Nigerians of northern extraction within the army and civil society after the first coup was the abrogation of the federal system by the Aguiyi-Ironsi led government? This, without doubt, was the main reason the northern leaders and the counter-coupists, who took the lives of Aguiyi-Ironsi and Fajuyi demanded a reversal of the unification decree and a return to the federal system of government. Consequently, to oppose restructuring now, fifty years after, is to confirm the words of Aesop, that “the injury we do and the one we suffer are not weighed in the same scales.”
“In case it is not clearly understood by the antagonists of restructuring, whether they be from the North or the South, let me make it clear that the call for restructuring is a demand for true federalism; a demand for federating units that can truly self-administer like the regions in the days of our Founding Fathers; a demand for the prosperity of the constituent parts that make up the whole. It is therefore inconsistent with the interest of the North or the South for the current pseudo-federal structure to persist,” he said.
The Ondo State Governor, Mr. Olusegun Mimiko also harped on the urgent need for Yoruba, whom he said have played significant roles in charting the course for Nigeria to begin to genuinely x-ray what options is presented to the country.
“We cannot overemphasis the need to teach our younger generation our history so that they know where we are coming from. Yoruba always provided the platform for change and where action is needed too, we take action. The 1964-1965 coup, operation wet e, the 1966 countercoup, 1983, the June 12 resistance, the doctrine of necessity evolved to resolve the constitutional crisis that followed late president Yar’ Adua’s death, occupy Nigeria, the change that transformed Agbada to bow tie overnight is Yoruba effort. Would we have taken those steps if we did the political economics of what we did?” he asked.
Rather than the Yoruba race remaining as a perpetual agonizer in the Nigerian state, he suggested that the people must come together to unanimously clamour for restructuring, stressing that “It is an idea whose time has come; political and physical restructuring.”
He was particularly disenchanted by public perception of governors as lazy people, who only go cap-in-hand to Abuja to receive federal allocations, noting that “What we share is taken from the states.
“Are we ready to provide the platform for that (restructuring) to happen? Do we have the minimum package? We must be clear about the types of change we want. We must develop our indivisible and carry out a critical analysis of the changes we have brought. We must develop our own permanent memory. Can we say Fajuyi did not die in vain? Can we say MKO did not die in vain? So that what they died for; the value of ‘never say die’ cannot be in vain.”