Late Major General Adeyinka Adebayo, the 88-year-old who was former Military Governor of the defunct Western Region, granted this interview where he spoke about national issues especially the Yoruba race. Also in the interview, he said that he was meant to be Head of State during the counter coup of 1966 but sectionalism pushed it over to General Yakubu Gowon, who was his junior. Excerpt…
How did you become military governor of Western Region? What were your challenges ruling an entity today seen as six states of the Southwest?
I had no challenges at all. First of all, the first military coup took place in January 1966. I had just handed over as Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters to somebody else and I was sent on a course to Imperial Defence College, England, which started in January. Seven weeks after I handed over and I was on that course in England, the coup of January took place and General Aguiyi Ironsi, who was then the most senior amongst us, took over as the military Head of State. Then, from the Imperial Defence College, where I was, we were going on a world tour and it was then the military government came to power in my home country, Nigeria. I wanted to know what the foreign policy of my country under General Ironsi regime would be so that I could tell them in countries we would visit during the world tour from the Imperial Defence College in England. So I had to get in touch with Brigadier Ogundipe, who was then the Chief of Staff at the Army Headquarters that I would like to come home to ask from the Commander-in-Chief about the foreign policy of our country and so I was asked to come. I left UK on the 28th of July that 1966 by the Nigerian Airways which would leave UK in the night and you arrive Nigeria the following morning. So I came to Nigeria on the morning of 29th of July and the (second) coup took place that night, while Ironsi was visiting Ibadan, Western Region and unfortunately the Head of State, Ironsi, was killed during the coup in Ibadan with his host military governor of Western Region at that time, Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuiyi. They were both killed during the coup and that was how I couldn’t go back for that course anymore because there was confusion. You don’t know what to do and being a very senior officer in the Nigerian Army then, having been the first Chief of Staff at the Army Headquarters and I was visiting the Head of State then to know what the foreign policy of the country under his regime was and I couldn’t see him. So I had to go round to see other people including our civilian elders: Pa Adetokunbo Ademola, Dr. Majekodunmi, Chief S. L. Edu and others. They decided that I shouldn’t go back to England being more or less the most senior officer then and being somebody they all knew, that it would be easier for me to be at home and take part in the new government. And knowing so well that I was the only Army senior officer of Yoruba extraction they knew then, they pleaded that I should stay back and take over as a military governor.
Being the most senior officer, why were you not picked as Head of State to succeed General Ironsi?
We discussed it for a long time. Then the Northerners decided that Gowon should take over although I was senior to Gowon. Even Francis Adekunle Fajuyi that had just been killed in the coup, I was senior to him too. With all due respect, Gowon was working under me before I left for Imperial Defence College in England but the North felt that it was their turn to take over as the Head of State and I felt I couldn’t work under Gowon because he was junior to me. Then our elders started pleading with me that I should be the governor of the Western Region being the most senior officer of the Yoruba people in the Army.
What was your rank in the Army then?
I was a full colonel and Gowon was lieutenant colonel. So we were holding that discussion for about three or four days. Eventually, they convinced me because they pleaded with me that I should take over the governorship of Western Region, to which I agreed and took over on the 4th of August, 1966.
What achievements could you show for your four years administration of Western Region?
My first achievement was that I was able to bring Yoruba people together. I was also able to get Chief Obafemi Awolowo out of prison. The misunderstandings among the Yorubas were brought up and settled and Chief Awolowo, who had been in prison for years was brought out. After he was brought back, he became part of the government and he was accepted by all the Yorubas and that was how Chief Awolowo became the Leader of Yoruba people. Gowon also brought him into his government and he did extremely well when he was Federal Commissioner for Finance. Chief Awolowo did exceptionally well to get the finances of the country together. That was how I became governor of Western Region and I was there for four years before I decided that I should go back to finish my duty as a soldier.
Who did you hand over the government to and where did you go from there?
I can’t remember him now but it was a military administration that I handed over to. And when I left, I went back to be the Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) where I worked before I retired from the Army. You are known for talking about Yoruba unity. Is it right to say that you came, saw and conquered? Well, I came, I saw an I’m still seeing. We haven’t conquered because we haven’t finished what you want that I should see. We haven’t seen everything and so we still have a long way to go.
Who should be blamed for Yoruba’s disunity?
Don’t forget that democracy is what people follow. We all can’t be in the same political party and if you want to be a leader, you have to shake your neck off from one of the political parties. So, we can’t say Yoruba problem is disunity as such. One can say people are in different parties but because we cannot all be in the same party, people call it disunity among the Yoruba people. I mean you want to be a leader, I want to be a leader, everybody wants to be a leader… When you play your politics well and put your programmes out and people believe in that programmes, you have the majority of the people around you , that is what you call unity but when you are not in the same political party, you speak differently, you do things in different ways and so you talk of disunity.
There is a controversy that concerns you here: Alhaji Bola Tinubu is touted as Asiwaju of Yoruba Land and you are said to be Asiwaju of Yoruba Land. Who really is Asiwaju of Yoruba Land?
As far as I am concerned, I am the President of the Yoruba Council Elders (YCE). It was Archdeacon Alayande who was the Leader before and I was in the post number two. Okay? So when he died, I took over the leadership and that was how I became the President of Yoruba Council of Elders. Tinubu was not a member of YCE. He is a politician. I am not a politician. In YCE, some of us are politicians, some of us are not. But we discuss politics in YCE and those politicians amongst us take whatever we discuss there to their various parties and make it very objective. Okay? So, there was no competition between YCE and Tinubu. He is not installed by anybody as Asiwaju of Yoruba Land and I don’t know about that. But as far as I am concerned, Tinubu is a good, distinguished Yoruba person and he hasn’t overdone anything that he shouldn’t do as a Yoruba person. He is one of the leaders in Yoruba Land and he is a very good politician and I admire him for that. He is bold, he is hard working, and he takes Yoruba matters first before his own.
-culled from vanguardngr