Fajuyi: Still a model of chivalry, gallantry 50 years after

Adekunle Fajuyi and Aguyi Ironsi

Francis Adekunle Fajuyi remains one of the shining examples of abiding loyalty and chivalrous comportment. A Nigerian soldier of Yoruba extraction, the late Fajuyi was the first military governor of the former Western Region of Nigeria. Fifty years after his assassination on July 29, 1966, Fajuyi comes alive today as the emblem of valor and heroism.

His death was no consequence of some cheap criminality, neither was it an emanation of military misconduct. It was the advent of General Aguiyi-Ironsi as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces that saw to the emergence of Fajuyi as military governor. Ironsi had arrived Ibadan on July 28, 1966 to hold an interactive session with rulers of the Western Region. Few months earlier, a bloody coup had ousted the civilian government of Tafawa Balewa. That coup saw to the deaths of many military officers of Northern origin. While Fajuyi played host to Ironsi, Northern military officers staged a revenge coup which followed the Kaduna-Nzeogwu-led coup of January 1966.

When the coup plotters seized Ironsi, there, Fajuyi insisted on going with his boss since it would amount to betrayal on his part to give up his guest to be killed. He had a choice but he decided to be killed alongside Ironsi. That act of courage in the face of death significantly marked Fajuyi as a reference point of gallantry.

Exactly 50 years after his death, many still reconnect with the Ekiti State-born’s heart of daring.

For residents of Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, the name Fajuyi comes to their mouths almost without thinking. Fajuyi is a family name, it is the name of a popular relaxation park; it is the name of a neighbourhood, it is also the name of a town hall and, perhaps most importantly, Fajuyi is the most popular terminus for commercial vehicles that are arriving in Ado Ekiti. Many people leave Ekiti with a mental picture of the area called Fajuyi and might have wondered why the area is known by that name.

Fajuyi Hall is the name given to the Ado Ekiti town hall. It is believed to be the only other convergence for the people of Ado Ekiti; and given its location, others use the hall for their businesses. It is located right inside the grounds of the palace of His Majesty,the Ewi of Ado Ekiti. It is also in the heart of the Ado Ekiti main market more popularly referred to as Oja Oba.

Ekiti State deputy governor, Dr Kolapo Olusola (left) with daughters of Late Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, Mrs Bukola Olanrewaju (middle) and Mrs Monica Olajuyigbe, at one of the events marking the 50th Remembrance Anniversary, at Fajuyi Park, Ado-Ekiti.
Ekiti State deputy governor, Dr Kolapo Olusola (left) with daughters of Late Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, Mrs Bukola Olanrewaju (middle) and Mrs Monica Olajuyigbe, at one of the events marking the 50th Remembrance Anniversary, at Fajuyi Park, Ado-Ekiti.

On its part, Fajuyi Square, Ado Ekiti is one of the most iconic places in Ekiti State nicknamed “Fountain of Knowledge.” For any new visitor to Ekiti State, there is hardly no way the person would have nothing to do with Fajuyi Square. As a matter of fact, visitors from Oyo, Osun, Lagos and Ògùn states to Ado Ekiti, Fajuyi Square is their final bus stop. From there, they would continue their journeys to other parts of the state or within the state capital. There is also Fajuyi Lane in Okesa, Ado Ekiti, facing one of the gates of the iconic Cathedral Church of Emmanuel, Ado Ekiti. The home of the Fajuyis is at Fajuyi lane. These are some of the landmarks named after the late Lieutenant Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, a former Military Governor of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria.

However, as widespread as the name ‹Fajuyi’ is used in Ekiti State, many people there do not know what it is all about, or who Fajuyi is or was, or what he represents or represented. A casual question: “Who is Fajuyi” would however reveal many things to many people. A respondent told of what he knew Fajuyi to be. In a response to this question in Ado Ekiti, Olanrewaju Adedipe said “Fajuyi is that popular relaxation centre in Ado Ekiti where you can get food and drinks and also enjoy music in fresh air.” Another respondent, Bukky Aro, said simply: “I just hear Fajuyi, Fajuyi but I don’t know who he or she was or what he was doing. But I know that the name is popular and common in Ekiti State.”

Interestingly, a popular entertainer in Ado Ekiti, Mr. Olayiwola Ojo, popularly known in the state as DJ Larry, gave a semblance of what those who ought to know should. Larry said: “Although I don’t know much about him, I can, however, say that he was a soldier. I only know he was a soldier, a military governor or something. He was in Ibadan then. I also know that he was killed in Ibadan but I don’t have a very good grasp of the circumstances that led to his killing and by who.” He said he had heard about Adekunle Fajuyi but had not “taken time to read about him as much as I would have to be able to speak with more knowledge of him.”

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi was born in Ado Ekiti, now the Ekiti State capital on June 26, 1926. His parents Isaiah and Felicia Osundunke Fajuyi were prominent indigenes of Ado Ekiti. The late Col. Fajuyi attended St. George’s Catholic School, Ado Ekiti and after sering for some time as a clerk, he joined the Army on November 16, 1943.

He was trained in Zaria, Yaba, Teshi, Ghana and also at the Officers Cadet School in the United King­dom, where he was commissioned as a Lieuten­ant in 1954. He had earlier served in the Nigerian Squadron of the West African Frontier Force, where he got a British Empire Medal in 1951 for his exploits in North Katanga. He later became the first indigenous Commander of 1st Battalion in Enugu, where he was until the January 15, 1966 coup.

He was posted to Abeokuta as the Garrison Commander where he was until the Commander in Chief and the Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces, General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, appointed him as the first Governor of the Western Region.

Colonel Fajuyi was serving as governor when a counter coup, which has been variously described as a “revenge coup” by many analysts occurred. In the coup, he was assassinated by a team of military officers led by then Major T. Y. Danjuma. He was killed along with his C-in-C, General Ironsi in the putsch.

Since the death of the man variously described as “a hero and an excellent example of a gentleman”, a lot has been said both about him and the circumstances of his death at the age of 40.

A commentator, Mr. Adewole Ijiola, told the Nigerian Tribune that the death of Fajuyi “created a vacuum of integrity which I as a person has seen grow wider both in the Nigerian military and in the larger society.” He said it was “an act that has eternally left me with the question: Are we on a level field in this country? I personally feel that all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others as George Orwell posited in his classic: Animal Farm.”

However, for some, they have moved on despite the death of someone whom they had seen as a shining light among his peers. For instance, elderly Mr. Sule Akerele, who resides at Okesa area of Ado Ekiti remembers the late Military Governor more as “a very good wrestler and he was a champion in the art.” He recalled that in our days as young men, he was one of the close friends of the late Fajuyi, saying “I was Fajuyi’s close friend when we were very young and used to wrestle from quarter to quarter in Ado-Ekiti.”

Dr Kolapo Olusola laying a wreath at the Cenotaph of the Late Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi during one of the events marking the 50th Remembrance Anniversary at Fajuyi Park in Ado Ekiti
Dr Kolapo Olusola laying a wreath at the Cenotaph of the Late Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi during one of the events marking the 50th Remembrance Anniversary at Fajuyi Park in Ado Ekiti

Pa Akerele said: “We used to gather ourselves for wrestling matches in the evenings. We would move from one quarter to another. We moved from Ule-Asa in our Okesa quarters, we went to Baisaya in the same Okesa quarters, and went to a place called Ojude in Eregburu for wrestling matches. We also used to wrestle at other quarters in Ado Ekiti like Akogun in Irona; Ijigbo and at Odofin in Odo-Ado and also at the Ode-remo.

He recalled that “Fajuyi used to win in many of the matches and he used to be carried on the shoulders of the supporters and hailed as a champion as we sang home. Before he went to join the army, he informed me and I told him that the only reason why I could not join him to go was because he was educated while I wasn’t. That was why I didn’t follow him to join the army then.”

Of his death, a memory Akerele re-jigged from the excitement of the wrestling exploits, he said “his sudden death in 1966 was a huge blow to us. We all heard about the news and we were shattered. Many of us, including the old and young  wept bitterly when they brought his corpse to Ado-Ekiti for burial then.”

Recalling the kind of man Fajuyi was as they lived their lives, he described him as “a very straight-forward man and a good friend. Even when he became a soldier and rose to become very big officer, he used to come and ask of me. He didn’t forget those of us his friends.”

In a tribute to the late Fajuyi by Oloye Lekan Alabi, a prominent Ibadan chief, published on June 26, 2016, the occasion of the 90th post-humous birthday of Colonel Fajuyi, he was not particularly impressed. Oloye Alabi’s experience showed that not many are willing to give of themselves for the cause of this man many have come to believe is worth of celebration.

Of the numerous things his committee of eminent Nigerians set out to achieve through the Adekunle Fajuyi Foundation, he said apart from the incorporation of the Foundation with the Corporate Affairs Commission, not much has really been achieved because of lacklutre on the part of those who could help.

Oloye Alabi, a seasoned administrator and secretary of the committee said: “We commenced work and a plan of action with three major assignments drawn-up – (i) launch of a N500 million Adekunle Fajuyi Foundation at Akure Sports Stadium, (ii) Symposium at the Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, and (iii) a 4-day 30th memorial celebrations starting on Friday, July 26, 1996.

“The first assignment enumerated above never saw the light of day because individuals / authorities lobbied by the Committee gave one excuse or the other such as “unfavourable politi­cal climate”.

“After fruitless visits, letters, telephone calls to Abuja and places where we thought power resided in, we shelved the launch and embarked on plan number two. I must mention the great enthusiasm, material, and financial support given to the com­mittee by the former Military Administrators of the old Ondo State, Colonel Mike Torrey; Commander Anthony Udofia of Osun State; and Colonel Ike Nwosu of Oyo State, in our efforts to actualize our plan of action.”

Oloye Alabi, who served as Chief Press Secretary to three governors, two of whom were soldiers, added: “We thought everything was sealed until feelers, about two weeks to the event, reached us indicat­ing a last minute cancellation plan by the authori­ties.

“The excuse to be given, we were informed, would be our failure to obtain police permit. I, on June 12, 1995, therefore, quickly wrote an appli­cation for police permit to hold the symposium. I personally delivered same to the Commissioner of Police through the Police Public Relations Officer at the Police Headquarters, Eleyele, Ibadan. Three days after, a reply dated 15th June 1995, reference no: CB 3422/OY/Vol.5/328 and signed by Mr. J.B Onwubuya, Deputy Commissioner of Police, on behalf of the Commissioner of Police, was deliv­ered to me.

“In it, the Commissioner of Police re­gretted to inform “that in view of the uneasy calm currently prevailing in the country, it is considered inappropriate to hold any symposium of the above matter for now. Consequently, your application is not approved. In view of the fact that the sympo­sium can be postponed, you are advised to consider the option to take place at a more auspicious time, later in the year, please”.

Oloye ’Lekan Alabi, the Agba – Akin Olubadan of Ibadanland, Found­ing Honourary Secretary/Trustee, Adekunle Fajuyi Foundation and Chairman, 2016 Adekunle Fajuyi Memorial Lecture Planning Committee has endured these among many other disappointments, just like many of those who have craved eagerly for the right honour to be bestowed on Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi. However, it is believed that with the gradual rise in Nigeria’s democratic credentials, the right things would be done.