As governor, I didn’t have office for First Lady –Gen Adebayo.
Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo (rtd), was the Governor of Western Region between 1966 and 1971. He shared his experience in office with our senior writers: Kola Johnson, Banke Akinlaja
Can you recount your experience during the first and second coups and in what circumstance did you emerge as governor?
As a military man, I enjoyed my military life until some few ambitious military officers struck. They felt the civilians were not doing well and that the best thing was to take over. Unfortunately, they took over in the wrong perspective. They did that by killing our elder statesmen who were ruling then. Then the senior military officers took over after their coup failed and these senior military officers were overthrown again after six months. That was when I came in.
When the first coup took place, I was in England on course. I then decided to come home in July to see Aguiyi Ironsi, my boss; to know what was going on about the new government in Nigeria to enable me to know what to tell my colleagues over there who wanted to know what was going on in Nigeria. I got home on July 29, 1966, unfortunately the second coup took place that night when Aguiyi Ironsi was killed. I was unable to see him for my consultation. There was no officer I could relate with as the two officers who were my seniors were in hiding by then. There was confusion in the country.
I then met with some Yoruba leaders like Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chief S.L. Edu. They were of the opinion that I shouldn’t go back to England, so that we could have Yorubas in the hierarchy of the military. It was unfortunate that Aguiyi Ironsi was visiting the Western Region when he was killed along with the governor of the region, Francis Adekunle Fajuyi.
There was no government in the country for about four days. No leader and nowhere to choose a head. That was how I came through the advice of the elders, who convinced me to stay behind to know who to talk to, who to face and consult with in the Yoruba hierarchy. That was how I became the governor of the Western Region August 4, 1966. As a matter of interest, I was a senior officer to Adekunle Fajuyi, but he became a governor after I left for a course.
In short, that was how I could not go back to England. I brought back my family and settled down. Gowon became the head of state because the Northerners felt he should take over. In fact, they insisted that a Northerner should take over the affairs of the state. That was how Gowon became the head of state. If I had wanted to use my authority as a military man, I shouldn’t have allowed Gowon to take over, but because I wanted peace for the country, I agreed to head the Yoruba in the West. I became governor to settle the tension that would have arisen if I had refused to allow Gowon, who was working under me before I left for the course, to rule.
But as a senior officer, even if you had decided to assert your right to leadership, don’t you think you would be disadvantaged then as a Yoruba man considering the fact that power belonged to the North?
No, power was with the East, Aguiyi Ironsi was in power and he was killed….
They predominantly staged that coup so they could be in charge?
Cuts In…Okay, they wanted power and I wanted peace, above all, the country was greater than me.
Who were those two senior military officers ahead of you, sir?
Ogundipe and Akinwale Wey.
Did you have a foreknowledge of the coup, probably through a reliable source or through a casual hint or rumour and did you play any role in it?
Cuts in…… No. A big no. I wouldn’t have come home at all, because my family was with me over there.
It was believed that you were part of the arrangement that brought Gowon to the throne and that you were compensated with the governorship just for this purpose. How true is this?
I decided not to use my seniority on Gowon in the interest of peace, otherwise there would have been confusion. He’s a military man and I’m also a military person and the main issue we needed to tackle then was peace. We worked together and there was no problem at all.
As the immediate successor to Lt. Col. Fajuyi, how did you feel hearing about his death?
Of course I wept. Not only for Fajuyi, but also for the head of state, an Ibo man, who was my boss, visiting the West when he was killed with Adekunle Fajuyi. You know we were not thinking of where you came from then. We were thinking collectively about the military and the nation as a whole. So I wept for both of them. It was very saddening and tragic.
Can you intimate us with what transpired on that fateful day because Ironsi was to be their target; how come Fajuyi? Could there have been a hidden agenda, regarding Fajuyi?
No, Ironsi was his boss and their target; he said they could not kill his boss who was visiting him; that people would say he arranged for the man to be killed.
But supposing they wanted to spare him?
He wouldn’t agree, no serious loyal military man would agree.
We want to know the challenges you had ruling the West because there was anger at that period.How did you settle those things?
I calmed the Army down. I told them it wasn’t only Aguiyi Ironsi that was killed; that Adekunle Fajuyi loyally died with his boss in the Government House. He could have run away, but he did not. When I became governor, I said that both Aguiyi Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi should be given a befitting burial. I did it in the East at Umuahia and the West.
Again there were so many challenges. Challenges of loyalty; challenges of improvements in social services, particularly in West; challenges of security in the West when we had problem with politicians, including the carry-over effect of the political crisis in the West and the challenges of Obafemi Awolowo being in jail; challenges by non-workers; the Agbekoya and so on. I had to settle all one by one. I went to meet the Agbekoya in their villages, I even brought them to the Government House and they were surprised at the way I took everything.
Was it not a difficult job?
It was not difficult, it was settled diplomatically. I didn’t adopt the attitude of a boss; rather, I saw them as part of me. They had their grievances and we all came together to settle them. Same thing happened when I appointed my commissioners. I brought all the three political parties together, but AG was the dominant party then in the West, followed by NCNC, then NNDP. So I took six commissioners from AG, three each from NCNC and NNDP to balance the tension in the West. I was able to bring them together and worked with them. I made sure each of them sat together with me. We ate together, did everything together and they brought their own plans. I also made sure we all attended one another’s social engagements, that is, an AG man will attend the party of NCNC man and things like that. We did what people thought was impossible. We also settled health, education and unemployment problems.
It was understood that you once mooted the idea of making Obafemi Awolowo the Asiwaju of Yorubaland, how true was this and what impelled you to come up with that suggestion?
I wasn’t a politician. I was head of government. The case of Obafemi Awolowo posed a big problem in the West. He was jailed in the West. Obafemi Awolowo was trying to bring all the Yoruba together, the NCNC too were very strong in the West but not as the AG. Obafemi Awolowo was doing well with his programmes. The opposition said he was over-doing it; he got into problem and was jailed. So I brought all of them together. I didn’t know Obafemi Awolowo, I only knew of him when I was away on course. Yes, Yoruba made him the Asiwaju, but I mooted the idea, I didn’t force them. He played a very good role when he was with us in the military.
After Awolowo, Ajasin and Adesanya in that order, the Yoruba appeared to be rudderless as there was no single leader generally accepted across the board, as the leader. Some are suggesting that Tinubu be made the Yoruba leader, while others suggest you as being most suitable to lead the Yorubas. Even Olunloyo once suggested that you be made the leader, while Tinubu be made your deputy, what do you see to this?
No, I am the president of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), not Asiwaju of Yoruba. Anybody can be a leader. As far as I am concerned, anybody can be a leader. So far you are playing a good role in what you are doing, then you are a leader. If you are honest, not selfish and you are assisting the people and the society selflessly, then you are a leader.
But Obafemi Awolowo was made the leader and Ajasin succeeded him…
Cuts In….No, you are making a mistake. Obafemi Awolowo was very prominent, he did a lot for the Yoruba race and he was punished by non-Yoruba people and was working day and night for the Yoruba people and the country, please note that. Therefore, he deserved to be Asiwaju, because he did very well for the military government and his people, but now, everybody wants to be Asiwaju. Before you can be, you must be a good leader. You will be Asiwaju for nothing if you cannot help your people. You can be a leader of a party, or as I am made the leader of YCE. I haven’t gone beyond that.
Then concerning what you said that Olunloyo said, I didn’t hear that, but you must know that Bola Tinubu is a politician. I’m not a politician and so if Bola Tinubu wants to be a leader he’s going to be the leader of his party, because if you make him the leader, other party members would say no, he’s the leader of his party and the parties have their own leaders too. The problem we are having is that when you say you are a leader, you don’t start by saying you are a leader of your party, if you are a leader you are a leader of all, not of ACN or whatever. My son was a governor in ACN, can I say I’m his leader especially when I’m not in his party? I can only say I’m his father. You can’t force yourself on people, they must accept you. That’s the problem we are having in Nigeria today, you can’t force yourself on people. Some people are forcing themselves on us. Don’t say you are their leader, let them choose you.
Can we really have a leader for the Yoruba again, like what we had then?
Obafemi Awolowo did not make himself a leader, the people made him. If the people say they want a leader, yes, but that person must earn it. He can’t say he is their leader, no. Awolowo assisted the government immensely; he earned the leadership conferred on him. He deserved it and when I constituted my cabinet, there was confusion then in the West, but by addressing the feelings of the various interests in the region, I was able to bring about some measure of peace and unity.
Any aspiring leader must be seen to be a leader by the people. Even before I agreed to be the leader of the Elders, it took some time because I know the Yoruba very well. When you want to be a leader, you must have the qualities.
Could you tell us some of the qualities sir?
Sincerity, loyalty, respect, but you must not be a politician. Although Awolowo was a politician, he was accepted by all of them.
What would be your advice for our leaders and the Yoruba people?
My advice for the Yoruba is that they should be loyal to themselves. They must be sincere to the people. They must work for the people not people working for them. Don’t forget that education has assisted everybody now. A lot of people are now educated or at least politically enlightened. What we need now is loyalty, what we need now is to be sincere. And don’t use people for yourself, use yourself for the people. Let them know and see clearly that you are using yourself for them. At the national level again, people will say we want one country, we must rethink on the way we want one country.
As governor of old Western Region, we would like to know what your paraphernalia of office was like. That is, the size of your cabinet and other such features like the governor having an excessively elaborate aides like Chief of Staff, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Personal Assistants, etc.?
I had just 12 people to work with. In my office, I had military ADC and private secretary; finish. The rest were held by the commissioners, permanent secretaries and directors.
No SA, SSA etc.?
There was nothing like that. We had 12 ministries with 12 commissioners and permanent secretaries.
Was there the office of First Lady with all its elaborate paraphernalia as witnessed in the contemporary dispensation?
Nothing like that, but there were wives, wives of governors.
What was the size of the aides working in the Government House?
I had a cook, stewards.
Was it like that throughout the other regions?
Did you have things like security vote and were they audited then, if so, within what range of estimate was your security vote?
As far as we were concerned, the military and the police were the security.
No security vote?
Not during my time.
If you have a second chance, would you bid for the contemporary elaborate option or the old order?
I don’t think one needs elaborate staff, you only need enough staff to do the job.
What was the size and magnitude of your convoy in your days?
I used to have the pilot car (military car), my car which is government car and another one behind, in case my car breaks down. We spent less money on personal interest then.
What would you say were your challenges and achievements when you ruled as the governor of Western Region which encapsulated six geo-political states in the present dispensation?
With the staff and the money we had, we did a lot, made a lot of progress, spent less money on personal administration. From what we see now, they spend more money on administration than what they should do. In one state, they have more than 20 commissioners. That’s just one state and they all have their aides and first ladies too.
Finally sir, what would be your advice for our country?
If we want one country, we must discuss how we want to stay together. That is why people are asking for National Sovereign Conference. Somebody from the North said the regions could not be on their own if Nigeria breaks. If we break we separate, how are we going to put our edges together? Won’t we have boundaries? Won’t we quarrel on the boundaries, won’t the boundaries create more problems? So, what we need is to sit together and ask ourselves how we want to live and work it together as brothers and sisters, otherwise if we break, we create more problems. Then there will be problem between Mid-West and West, Middle-Belt and same for the North, between Kwara and Kogi. So let’s discuss and find solution to our problem.