Friday, July 31, 2020 8:59 am
It was 54 years ago on 29 July 2020 that Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, Military Governor of Western Region and his Supreme Commander and Head of State, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi were assassinated in Ibadan in a counter coup. That was on 29 July, 1966.
The younger sister to the late Fajuyi, Mrs. Remi Ajayi, who was with him on the day of the coup. She shares her memory of what happened.
Where were you on the night that Colonel Fajuyi was killed?
I was with him on the night of the incident. I was with him throughout the six months he was in the Government House in Ibadan as governor. That night, there was a cocktail party for all the Obas (monarchs) who came to Ibadan for a meeting and the Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi, was in attendance. I was watching them from where I was upstairs. After the meeting, everybody departed. Around 4am, I heard gunshots. It was strange to me because I had not heard gunshots before. I just closed my ears and went back to sleep. When I woke up, I went to the kitchen to greet the staff and to collect my meal. Then the staff asked if I heard gunshots. Then I remembered the noise I heard in my sleep, so I said oh! that was a gunshot. I quickly ran into my brother’s room because I thought he had been killed. On getting to his room, I saw him sitting quietly on a chair; that was unlike him. Nevertheless, I was very happy to see him. I rushed towards him and said to him, ‘Brother, I’m happy to see you, I heard there were gunshots in the night. I was afraid something bad had happened to you.’
Then he asked me, ‘Why are you walking about in the house? Aren’t you going to work today?’ I said to him, ‘ I am not going to work. I don’t know what is going on. What is happening to you?’ Then he said to me, ‘Okay, if you are not going to work, then don’t roam about the house. Go and stay in your room.’ Then, I left him, but I didn’t go to my room. I was worried because of the way he looked. I saw him and Ironsi, they went to his office to make a call in pyjamas. As they were coming, I dodged. After that, I heard Ironsi saying to him (Fajuyi) that, ‘Francis, but you told me I was safe in your territory yesterday.’ Then he replied, ‘Yes, I thought you were safe. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t hear anything. But don’t worry, the two of us will stay together. Go and dress up and I will dress up. Anything that will happen will happen to the two of us.’
Ironsi then went into his room and my brother went to his room too. Before long, they dressed up and they were in the sitting room downstairs in their military uniform. My brother was there before Ironsi and he was pacing up and down in the room. Then Ironsi came down. Meanwhile soldiers were coming in through the main door. Before they saw the Head of State, they told my brother, ‘Give us Ironsi, we want Ironsi. Give us Ironsi, we want Ironsi.’ Then my brother said to them, ‘No, you cannot take him, he is my guest. Why didn’t you take him in Lagos or elsewhere? You cannot take him here. If you are taking him, then you are taking me along.’ At that time, Ironsi was already coming down. The soldiers then went to him and picked him up.
That was how the two of them were taken away from the Government House. The soldiers seized the police vehicle that came to drop those on morning shift and took the two of them in it. That was how it happened. I wanted to go to the house of the Secretary to the Government, Pa Odumosu, in company with my elder brother, Sunday, who arrived the previous night to collect money for his farms. As the two of us were going towards the gate, soldiers sprang up from the bush using their guns to direct us and shouting, ‘go back, go back.’ We were terrified. Soldiers were on top of trees, hiding in the ground, they were everywhere.
Do you remember the person that led the coupists?
I don’t know. But I remember that when my brother heard the gunshots, he sent messages to the guard house and the aid de camp, but they were all not there. They were all Hausa because my brother loved working with the Hausa, including the driver.
Could that mean they were aware of the coup?
Yes, I think they were aware and they did not tell him.
Does that mean he was betrayed?
I should think so because, why didn’t they tell him when they got information about the coup?
What was the altercation between your brother and the coupists when they wanted to take him and Ironsi away?
He insisted the soldiers must take him along with Ironsi.
What was the relationship between the two of them?
I would say it was cordial because Ironsi came that night in a helicopter, he could have gone back to Lagos in a helicopter. But my brother assured him he was safe.
How was the relationship between you and your brother?
We were very close. He loved me so much! I was the only one living with him in the Government House. No wives, no children. The children were in school. He was very kind to me. He was very honest to a fault and loved people who are very honest. He was very honourable and didn’t abuse his office. I remember a time his immediate elder sister visited us in the Government House. She decided to register a company so that she would be getting contracts from the government. The private secretary to my brother helped her to get that done. After she registered the company, she wanted to leave and return later to lobby for contracts. That fateful afternoon, she sat in the sitting room upstairs and showed me the certificate of registration. I congratulated her but warned her not to let my brother know about it. She asked me why. She insisted on showing him. When the governor returned later that day, they exchanged pleasantries and he sat with us. My sister went ahead to show him the certificate of registration thinking the governor would approve of it.
My brother was there before Ironsi and he was pacing up and down in the room. Then Ironsi came down. Meanwhile soldiers were coming in through the main door. Before they saw the Head of State, they told my brother, ‘Give us Ironsi, we want Ironsi. Give us Ironsi, we want Ironsi.’ Then my brother said to them, ‘No, you cannot take him, he is my guest. Why didn’t you take him in Lagos or elsewhere? You cannot take him here. If you are taking him, then you are taking me along.’
To her surprise, my brother’s mood changed. He asked, ‘What is this? Is this why you came from Ado Ekiti to this place? Do you want to soil my name? The thing we want to eradicate, you want me to have a hand in it? You will be going about getting contracts from the ministries? No way, you cannot do that!’ Then he tore the paper and went upstairs. My sister broke down in tears. She was very bitter. If he could do that to his immediate elder sister, then you will know he was an upright man. In another instance, the Head of Service and Secretary to the Government, Pa Odumosu said while bringing the remains of my brother home for burial, that he had never seen such honest man in his life. He recalled that some British men came to have a meeting with them because they wanted to site an industry in Ibadan. He said at a point, the British requested to see my brother privately, so he was asked to leave. They wanted to bribe him, he collected the money from them and sent them away. He then called Pa Odumosu in and narrated what happened to him. He told him that the people wanted to bribe him. He said he collected the money from them because it was part of our money. He then instructed him to pay the money into the government’s treasury. Pa Odumosu said he was so surprised because he didn’t know about the money. There are several instances.
Let’s talk about the first coup in 1966. What role did your brother play?
He didn’t play any role. It was in January of that year. He was here in Ado Ekiti spending his holiday when he got signals that he should report in barracks in Lagos. He immediately left for Lagos. As he told us, when he got to Lagos, it was late in the night, so he couldn’t go to the barracks. He decided to check in a hotel with his driver and orderly. In the morning, when his orderly went out to buy newspapers, he saw soldiers everywhere in Lagos. He quickly ran back to him to tell him of the development. He informed him that the military had taken over everywhere. My brother quickly got up and dressed up for the barracks. When he got to the barracks, he met Ironsi and other soldiers having a meeting. Then Ironsi said to him, ‘Oh Francis you are here. Come, come, come.’ That was when he joined them. That was where they appointed four military governors.
Does that mean the coup had taken place before he went to the barracks?
Yes, the coup took place in the night when he was still in the hotel.
To her surprise, my brother’s mood changed. He asked, ‘What is this? Is this why you came from Ado Ekiti to this place? Do you want to soil my name? The thing we want to eradicate, you want me to have a hand in it? You will be going about getting contracts from the ministries? No way, you cannot do that!’ Then he tore the paper and went upstairs. My sister broke down in tears. She was very bitter.
In what way did his death affect the family?
It affected us so much. There was no help from anybody. For somebody to lay down his life for the nation and his family and children were completely forgotten like that; that was very bad. It affected me personally in a great way because it was 10 days to the time I was to travel to the United States for further studies. I had just gained admission into the university. I had already got my passport but I couldn’t go again. I just took some courses in Ibadan because he was the one who trained me through secondary school. My father only paid my fees in the first year in secondary school. When my brother came home on holiday and saw that I did very well in my examinations in Christ School, he was very happy. He gave me one pound to go and buy something for myself. He held me by the hand and took me to our father. He said, ‘Baba, thank you for training my sister.’ He prostrated for him. He said he was happy that our father even in his old age knew the value of education and could send me to a secondary school. He told our father that, henceforth, he would be responsible for my education. One of our sisters tried to stop him because we are not of the same mother. But he said, ‘No, it doesn’t matter. After all we are of the same father. She is brilliant. Whether we are of the same mother or not, we have the same blood.’ That was how he took me along with him.
How long did it take the family to get information about his death?
That day, they killed him with Ironsi. We heard that they took them to Mile 12 in Iwo road, Ibadan. They took them into the bush. When the news got to town that they had abducted Fajuyi and his whereabouts was not known, some farmers said they heard gunshots in the bush. The police launched investigation into the report. They then discovered the shallow grave where they buried him and Ironsi. They then took the bodies to the barracks.
Do you think he had the chance of survival if he had not insisted on going down with Ironsi?
Of course, they didn’t want to take him. They didn’t want to kill him because he was a friend of the Northerners. They loved him. I’m sure of that. Before that coup, the soldiers working with him warned him. They had wanted to stage the coup before that time. He begged them not to shed blood again. He appealed to them to stop the plot. He said in the first one that took place, many people lost their lives. He said it was enough. He asked them to convince their leaders not to do it. But that time, they didn’t tell him. Maybe they felt he would have dissuaded them from carrying it out. They might also have thought that, if he heard about it, he wouldn’t allow Ironsi to stay that night. He would have asked Ironsi to go back to Lagos and come the next morning for the next meeting.
My father only paid my fees in the first year in secondary school. When my brother came home on holiday and saw that I did very well in my examinations in Christ School, he was very happy. He gave me one pound to go and buy something for myself. He held me by the hand and took me to our father. He said, ‘Baba, thank you for training my sister.’ He prostrated for him. He said he was happy that our father even in his old age knew the value of education and could send me to a secondary school. He told our father that, henceforth, he would be responsible for my education. One of our sisters tried to stop him because we are not of the same mother. But he said, ‘No, it doesn’t matter. After all we are of the same father. She is brilliant. Whether we are of the same mother or not, we have the same blood.’ That was how he took me along with him.
What kind of husband and father was he?
He had three wives and they bore him children. He was a good father and husband. He loved his children very well. He wanted his children around him. His death left a huge vacuum in the family. He was the pillar of the family and everybody missed him.
How were you and the children able to continue with your education?
God made it possible. Their mothers struggled to give them education. In my own case, I went to civil service training school for secretarial studies. I trained as a secretary and started working as a secretary in the ministry. The wives were working. Two of them were traders while one was a teacher.
At what time was the Fajuyi Park created in his honour?
It was when he was buried here. The then Ewi of Ado gave this land for him to be buried here. That day, they immortalised him. The government then beautified the place. The then Military Governor, General Adeyinka Adebayo, who took over, beautified the place and successive governments from the old Ondo State had also done their own bit.
Did his family suffer from accommodation problem after his death?
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