Adekunle Fajuyi and the politics of remembrance

continued from  yesterday

This is how Akoni Wole Soyinka remembers the fallen hero:

Honour late restored, early ventured to a trial

Of Death’s devising. Flare too rare

Too brief chivalric steel

Redeem us living, springs the lock of Time’s denial

(Idanre and Other Poems, p.54)

Noteworthy in this piece of verse is the way the key words re-arrange themselves into a new collocation of attribution: the soldier-leader with  ‘rare’ ‘flare’ and ‘chivalric steel’ who ‘redeem[ed]’us by getting our ‘honour’ ‘restored’ but who, unfortunately, fell prey to ‘Death’s devising’.These are words which pay homage to the gravitas of Fajuyi’s historic assignment as well as the resonance of his noble personality. The latter parts of the poem deepen our admiration fora truly remarkable leader who conquered fear and the ‘dearth of wills’; this latent tree from which ‘soared a miracle of boughs’.Fajuyi died like a man; now he lives like an Idea.

The events of the night of July 29 have generated different narratives, and the Fajuyi phenomenon has lengthened into a yarn over the past 50 years, with all manner of fictive recreations and mythic accretions, partisan inflation and revisionist adumbrations. Just as well: the hard copy of martyrdom hardly ever comes without themalleablesoftware of myth and fabulation. But for a closer look at the man without/beyond the myth, we must pay more than a cursory attention to those few but profoundly revealing pages in The Man Died, detailing Wole Soyinka’s one-on-one encounters with Fajuyi the soldier and Fajuyi the man… ..

Fajuyi and Soyinka: two men of exceptional import, without a doubt: courageous, clear-headed, visionary, humane; one the first military governor of the old Western Region, the other Africa’s leading dramatist and one of the pillars of its political conscience. In just 18 pages (pp. 144-162), we learn so much about the mind and character of this 44- year soldier with the historic task of pacifying the Wild, Wild West and cleaning up the bloody mayhem precipitated by monthsof rampant anomie occasioned by the blatant rigging of the October 1965 elections by the tyrannical Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP (frightfully and derisively referred to as ‘Demo’).

In these few pages, we see Fajuyi’s consternation and anger at depraved public officials who want to hang on to office by all means even ‘when their usefulness is over’ (p. 148), and ‘The honourable course is to resign’ (p.147). An achingly sad example is the discredited former Chief Justice of the then Western Region who came begging to retain his position:

But do you know what the man did? He went on his knees, there, right there, an old man like that, a whole Chief Justice, he went down on his knees and began begging me. I was angry. I shouted on him to get up but he wouldn’t; he kept on saying, ‘I beg yousir’. So I walked out. When I felt he should have recovered himself I sent the guard to go and tell him to leave (p.147).

Evident, even audible here is the moral outrage of a leader with a cleansing mission, a deeply conscientious crusader strongly appalled by evil.And this moral crusader knew all too well that the crusade had to start with himself. Days later, when Soyinka told him somewhat accusingly ‘I saw you arriving at a function in a Rolls Royce. . .’,Fajuyi’s response was forthright, even apologetic:

Ah, I know what you are about to say,and I’ll admit that I didn’t like it either. But there was nothing I could do at the time. We were nearly late and those security men had already allocated the car for me. I was more or less pushed into it. But I agree with you entirely. It’s disgraceful that we soldiers should take over the ostentation of those useless politicians.(p. 153).  (My emphasis)

Thereupon the governor scaled down his automobile choice to a Mercedes. And even then, he promised to paint that car in military colours. And he did!  Still more from the gallant soldier:

As for the rest of the cars I’ll put them up for sale. The Cadillacs, the Rolls, all the submarines.The government could use the revenue. (p. 253).

After reading this, you just cannot doubt that a virtue called Accountability once had a prominent place in Nigerian governance. Fajuyi agonized over the incipient streak of materialism among his colleagues, as evident in some of the top officers’ scramble for Crown Lands. He was soon tagged ‘radical’ and a certain chill, even distrust, descended on the warm relationship between him and his somewhat pro-establishment Commander-in-Chief. When Soyinka asked for his opinion about Ironsi’s decision to rotate the governors, Fajuyi responded with an astounding mix of premonition and prophecy:

To tell the truth I am not too happy about it. I would like to finish what we’ve begun. I mean, we’ve hardly started! Still, I always remind myself of what I criticize in others – nobody ever wants to leave. I am beginning to fear that the army itself may not know when it is time to go (p.159). (My emphasis)

To think that the fear so clairvoyantly expressed by Fajuyi here in 1966 came to be so painfully justified about a quarter-century later in the diabolic despotism of the billionaire Generals and military politicians! There goes Lt. Col. AdekunleFajuyi, veritable Officer and Gentleman, a soldier who sought the company of intellectuals and in whose company they felt at home and at ease. Earnest, forthright, sensitive, and mentally and emotionally astute, Fajuyi combined the moral energy of a reformer with the sizzling idealism of acommitted intellectual. He possessed anger and compassion, chivalry and vulnerability in the right proportions.

Though invested with a tempting combination of military power and political authority, he did not wield the sword like a blind samurai; he never forgot the right ways of being human.There goes a warrior beyond the common run of contemporary Nigerian soldiery. For when you compare the likes of Fajuyi with the scheming, thieving, avaricious, and utterly dishonourable soldiers of fortune who puff around in our military uniforms today, you are compelled to ask: where are all the good men gone? Professor Bolaji Akinyemi (2001) intended no hyperbole, therefore, when he extoled Adekunle Fajuyi as ‘the only hero the Nigerian army had ever produced’.


From July 29 to June 12 – and Beyond

But why does the pendulum of this gem of a soldier-leader swing between deification and oblivion? Why does it take so much stress, so much strain to commemorate this hero whose remembrance we all should find as natural as the way we breathe? Again, the political economy of Memory and the fiendish vicissitude of Remembrance. The outpouring of feelings and tributes which accompanied Fajuyi’s assassination in 1966 and burial in January the year after thinned out after a few months as the country moved on to other crises: the pogrom on the Igbo, the rise of Biafra, the civil war,the inconclusive end of the war with its hypocritical ’No Victor, No Vanquished’ slogan, and the apparently endless cycle of coups and counter-coups with all kinds of military adventurers at the helm. A long, gruesome campaign for democracy forced the military to organize the presidential polls of June 12, 1993. Against all odds, and quite contrary to the wildest expectations of the military, that election produced a clear winner. The crown was about to land on the head of that winner when General Ibrahim Babangida’s military junta stopped the music and threw the country into a tailspin.

The undeclared winner of that election, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, insisted on his mandate. Disgraced out of power, General Babangida passed on the baton to a feckless Interim Government which soon collapsed under the weight of its own illegitimacy. Then came General Sani Abacha, maximum dictator, kleptocrat, and murderer who killed those democracy advocates he could lay his hands on and hounded the others into painful exile. Rather than see the annulment of the June 12 election as a rape of democracy and assault on our national will, many Nigerians soon naturalized it as a Yoruba problem. M.K.O. Abiola’s nation-wide mandate was driven into a tribal enclave.But NADECO and a body of other Civil Rights groups pressed on for the demand for democracy. Unfortunately, Chief Abiola never saw democracy when it came at last, having collapsed and died after that mysterious cup of tea offered him in captivity, during (we ust never forget) General Abdulsalaam Abubakar’s tenure as Head of State.

The June 12 ‘debacle’ (a word deployed and made irresistibly popular by Nigeria’s foremost journalist, Olatunji Dare) brought to the fore once again, the Yoruba Factor in Nigerian politics. Under frequent assault by Abacha’s killer squads, left on their own by other Nigerian ‘nations’, the Yoruba started examining their own room in the Nigerian house. Slogans such as ‘Confederation is the answer’ flared up on prominent pages of newspapers (The last time that statement appeared with that kind of spectacular prominence was 1983, in the aftermath of the grossly rigged federal elections).

The National Question’, ‘Sovereign National Conference’, ‘True Federalism,’, ‘Self Determination’, etc. Not a few people started contemplating the idea of ‘Oduduwa Republic’. But most telling was the way the evocation of Yoruba ‘heroes’ came to beendowed with a prominent role in this ritual of ethnic self-validation and the retrieval of communal self-worth. Abiola, martyr of democracy, found a worthy predecessor in AdekunleFajuyi: both being icons of gallantry and extraordinary sacrifice whose light shone beyond their ethnic base; Chief Obafemi Awolowo, unarguably the architect of Yoruba modernism whose place/stature in Yoruba mythology is only next to that of Oduduwa,the group’s primogenitorial avatar.

Continues tomorrow

•Being Professor Osundare’s Guest Lecture at the 50 years after Fajuyi celebration, organised by the Yoruba Think-Tank, July 29, 2016; International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.