Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
Amid a flurry of tributes, Nigeria, saturday, bade farewell to Major General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, former governor of the defunct Western Region and one of the nine indigenous Nigerian officers in the entire Royal West African Frontier Force.
RWAFF was a multi-battalion field force formed by the British Colonial Office in 1900 to garrison the West African colonies of Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia.
Adebayo, who joined the RWAFF in 1948, was number seven (NA 7) among the nine indigenous Nigerian officers in the entire RWAFF in 1954 – a period all other officers were Britons. The eight other Nigerian officers were Fred Ugbonah (NA 1), Duke Wellington Bassey (NA 2), Aguiyi Ironsi (NA 3), Samuel Ademulegun (NA 4), Ralph Sodeinde (NA 5), Babafemi Ogundipe (NA 6), Zakari Maimalari (NA 8) and Omar Lawal (NA 9).
The Nigerian regiment of the RWAFF, which was also known as the ‘Queen’s Own Nigeria Regiment’, formed the nucleus of the Nigerian Army at independence in 1960.
Adebayo was buried with full military honours in his hometown, Iyin Ekiti, on Saturday. He had a brilliant military career, holding pioneer command positions at home and in the United Nations Peace-keeping Force during the Congo crisis. He was aide-de-camp to the last British Governor General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson. He later became the first Nigerian Chief of Staff (Army) in 1964 under the last British GOC of the Nigerian Army, Sir Welby Everald, and was the first Nigerian GOC under Major General Aguiyi Ironsi.
At his funeral yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, was among the dignitaries that paid glowing tributes to him.
The president named the Federal University, Oye Ekiti after him as a mark of honour.
Osinbajo, who led the federal government delegation at the funeral service held at All Saint’s Anglican Church, Iyin Ekiti, while extolling the virtue of Adebayo said his impact reverberated beyond the military.
The acting president noted that the renaming the Federal University after the late General Adebayo was done to immortalise him for his immense contributions to the unity and development of the Nigerian nation.
The town was agog as top Nigerians from all walk of life, including state governors, business moguls , politicians and foreign nationals had besieged the town to honour the Iconic Nigerian.
Osinbajo, said the President, who had harmonious relationship with the late General Adebayo would have loved to witness the ceremony, but for the present situation at the presidency, apparently referring to the president’s medical vacation in London.
He said General Adebayo fought relentlessly for the unity of the country during the civil war that ravaged the country between 1967 and 1970, saying the late general mooted the suggestion that the federal government should opt for dialogue rather than the use of force.
Noting that the ceremony was a celebration of life of sacrifice and dedication to one’s community and nation, Osinbajo said General Adebayo was a fine gentleman, who Buhari had harmonious relationship with.
“To let you know how respectable this man was to President Buhari, the President personally instructed me to be here. General Adebayo had demonstrated that one must learn how to impact on the community where he has the opportunity of serving. As a military officer, he did well and as a military governor, he served the people selflessly.”
Osinbajo also noted that, “As one of the pioneers of Nigeria’s most enduring institutions, the military, General Adebayo played a critical role in rescuing Nigeria from the abyss of disintegration. Not only did he advise against the use of force in resolving the Biafran crisis, in what turned out to be one of the most clairvoyant statements on the war, he declared in a broadcast before the war thus, “I need not tell you what horror, what devastation, and what extreme human suffering will attend the use of force. When it is all over, and the smoke and dust have lifted, and the dead are buried, we shall find, as other people have found, that it has all been futile, entirely futile, in solving the problems we set out to solve.”
“But General Adebayo was no peacenik. When the situation demanded as Governor of the West, he worked hard alongside others to protect the region from the onslaught of the rebel army by halting the advance into Lagos in Ore. Immediately the civil war ended though, he was readily at hand to play the role of the post-war conciliator, as the officer requested by General Yakubu Gowon to chair the Committee on the reconciliation and integration of the Ibos back into Nigeria. By most accounts, he handled the task admirably,” he added.
Osinbajo further noted that, “Even in retirement, he remained passionately committed to the unity of Nigeria. His life of meritorious service to God and country is a testament of faithfulness, diligence, humility and integrity. His impact has clearly reverberated beyond the confines of his first love – the military and across all spheres of life.”
According to him, “Many remembered his role during the dark years of military rule as one leader who supported the struggle in various ways, unafraid to speak truth to power with his house serving as the foundational headquarters for NADECO – the National Democratic Coalition.
“It was a fitting recognition of his steadfastness that his first son, Adeniyi, was elected as the first civilian Governor of his native Ekiti State.
“In the last years of his glorious life, though General Adebayo remained an unapologetic nationalist, he challenged the leadership of the South-west of Nigeria, to relive and revive the glories of the Old Western Region. As he said, “Awolowo earned the respect of the people by leaving an enduring legacy that defined the Yoruba heritage, the Yoruba political elite is now compelled to do better.” He was particularly concerned that the West had fallen behind in education, in Agriculture and in the provision of social services and urged that a renaissance of the Western Region was called for and immediately necessary.
“The good General is gone. But as scripture says a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children. That inheritance is not money or property, it is a legacy of character, of patriotism, love of country, and service to the people. We thank the Lord for the life and times of this good man.”
The Primate of Anglican Communion, Most Reverend Nicholas Okoh, who officiated at the funeral service, described Adebayo as a forthright , disciplined, focused and a man of human disposition.”
Former Governor Niyi Adebayo and son of the deceased thanked Nigerians for the support the family had got since the patriarch died on March 8, 2017.
The highly-sobered Adebayo showered encomiums on the federal government and Governor Ayodele Fayose for immortalising his father, saying he was overwhelmed by the prompt action.
Fayose had earlier named the Governor’s Lodge at Oke Ayoba and the General Hospital in Iyin Ekiti, built by the deceased while in the saddle as the military governor after him.
The former governor said: “Though the shoe my father left behind might be too difficult for me to wear , but I promise to live up to expectations. I will do my best for my father to be happy with me in heaven.”
The military paid the late General Adebayo last respect with a parade at the church and at the site of the tomb.
After the church parade, his casket was draped with military flag .
The men of the Nigeria Army, led by a Major General, who represented the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai, also performed the same military ritual at the site of the tomb, where they engaged in exchange of flags and match past in honour of the late general.
The Major read the military oration to pay last respect to the first Chief of Army Staff and the number seven military officer in the history of the country.
Adebayo’s body was lowered into the tomb at about 2.45 pm, after which the ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust was done by the Primate of the Anglican Communion.
Meanwhile, the burial programme for General Adebayo presented a platform for PDP and APC to contest for relevance.
Fayose had earlier taken shine off the All Progressives Congress (APC) by organising a state burial programme at the Oluyemi Kayode Stadium in Ado Ekiti in honour of the late general on Friday, but this didn’t dissuade members of the APC from fighting for relevance as well.
APC members from Ekiti State, led by its Deputy Chairman, Mrs. Kemi Olaleye, were all clad in Ankara in honour of one of their leaders, Otunba Niyi Adebayo at the church procession.
However, leaders of the party, including the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi, and APC deputy National Chairman, Chief Segun Oni , former commissioners, House of Assembly members, appeared in white flowing agbada to denote them as holding the family with great respect and honour. Those belonging to Fayose’s camp wore Aso Ebi adorned with the deceased’s portrait and occupied a section of the town where they danced to the music supplied by a local musician.
Members of the APC were also had their own at Eyemote Comprehensive High School along Ado Ekiti, where they were being entertained by a popular musician, Yinka Ayefele.
Roll Call at the funeral service included: Acting President Osinbajo, Governors of Ondo, Edo, Ogun , Ekiti and
Oyo States – Rotimi Akerele, Godwin Obaseki, Ibikunle Amosun, Ayo Fayose and Abiola Ajimobi respectively.
Also present were Fayose’s wife , Feyisetan; wife of Edo State governor, Mrs. Betsy Obaseki; Mrs. Onari Duke; Mrs. Bisi Fayemi; former Governors of Edo State, Ogun, Delta, Edo , Ekiti and Osun – Adams Oshiomhole, Aremo Segun Osoba, James Ibori, Lucky Igbinedion, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, respectively, were also present.
Others were former deputy governors of Ogun and Ekiti, Segun Adesegun and Chief Paul Alabi, respectively; Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun; Minister of Budget and Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma; CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele; Chairman of THISDAY Newspapers, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena; business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote; Mr. Segun Awolowo; Afenifere leader, Chief Ayò Adebanjo; Chairman of UBA, Tony Elumelu.
Others were: former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Azubike Ihejirika (rtd), Lt Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd), Major General TM Abraham, GOC 2Div, representing the Chief of Defence Staff; Brig Gen Charles Ofoche, Maj. General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd), General Zamani Lekwot (rtd), retired General Chris Garba; Chief Ayò Ogunlade; former EFCC Chairman, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu; Mr. Odein Ajumogobia; a Chief Ademola Seriki; Alhaji Sanusi Daggash, Mr. Tunde Fowler, Retired General David Jemibewon, and Mr. Opeyemi Bamidele, among others.