By Rotimi Ojomoyela
For a man who had no airs around him, it is a surprise to many that some of Nigeria’s leading military generals including Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari, and Theophilus Danjuma were at one time or the other aides of General Adeyinka Adebayo. He was also a man who comfortably shared the political space with Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the time the late sage had his greatest influence in national politics as vice-chairman of the Federal Executive Council.
HE was like a cat with nine lives. At the time of the first military coup, Adebayo by happenstance was out of the country on a military course, a development that many say saved his life.
After that coup, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi was appointed the first Military Governor of the Western Region. When the coup that killed Fajuyi occurred on July 29, 1966, Adebayo again by happenstance was lodged in a cousin’s residence instead of the army barracks, a development that again surely saved his life.
At the end of the second coup, Adebayo was the most senior military officer in the country given that all his superiors were either assassinated or exiled.
The six senior to him at the time of the coup were Major General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi, Brigadier Samuel Adesujo Ademulegun, Brigadier General Zakariya Maimalari, Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe and Colonel Raph Sodehinde.
Adebayo was a rational man who was almost always motivated by rational behavior and so, did not engage in a superiority tussle during those dark days. He was appointed military governor of the Western Region to succeed his fellow Ekiti compatriot, Fajuyi, who fell to the bullets while defending the then military head of state, Gen. Ironsi who was his guest in Ibadan.
As military governor of the Western Region, he acted with political dexterity in quenching the embers of political antagonism that was itself one of the major reasons for the instability that engulfed the region during the First Republic.
His engagement with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the minister of finance and vice-chairman of the Federal Executive Council, was also laced with political tact, a personal character that was to follow him for most of his life even after leaving office and the army.
His tenure as the second Military Governor, Western Nigeria from 1966 to 1971 nevertheless, witnessed momentous and turbulence moments.
Besides the war that the national government was engaged in, Adebayo also had his internal rebellion framed in history as the Agbekoya Revolt. The revolt which lasted between 1968 and 1969 led to rebellion against the regional government’s policies leading to the burning of prisons and the liberation of prisoners among other acts of insurrection.
Chief Awolowo, a cult hero at that time was instrumental in negotiating a truce with the rebels.
Extreme human suffering
Adebayo was also against the decision to go to war with Biafra, and he was on record to have warned on the consequence of the Civil War. The noise of war, however, silenced him.
In a broadcast shortly before the war began, Adebayo was quoted as saying, “I need not tell you what horror, what devastation, and what extreme human suffering will attend the use of force. When it is all over, and the smoke and dust have lifted, and the dead are buried, we shall find, as other people have found, that it has all been futile, entirely futile in solving the problem we set out to solve.”
He, however, also played his defensive part in safeguarding his territory. When the war broke out, Adebayo ordered all bridges into the west of the country to be destroyed to prevent the Biafran rebels reaching Lagos.
After the civil war Adebayo became chairman of the Committee for the Reconciliation and Integration of Biafra, and in 1972 he returned to military duties. He retired in 1975 and was a founder of the National Party of Nigeria. Remarkably, he did not make an alliance with Awolowo who was in the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN.
As he entered into his twilight years, Adebayo became more of an elder-statesman and served as leader of the Yoruba Council of Elders.
President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him pro-chancellor of the University of Ibadan in 2013, only to sack him two years later over undisclosed reasons. Some, however, attributed the sacking to the active political involvement of his son, Otunba Niyi Adebayo in the formation of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the party that eventually came to topple Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party, PDP from the presidency.
It is instructive to know that General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) was his Aide De camp, Muhammadu Buhari and Theophilus Danjuma also worked under him at one point or the other.
His kinsman, Opeyemi Bamidele, said the late General’s exemplary and sterling leadership qualities earned him the chairmanship of the revered Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE).
He added that Adebayo brought his pan-Ekiti spirit to bear during his time in the saddle in the old Western Region by exposing the entire old Ekiti division to modernity through the building of schools, hospitals, roads and water.
For his efforts, Governor Ayodele Fayose has named the new Governor’s Lodge at Oke-Ayaba and the Specialists Hospital in his community after him.
Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, who died on March 8, 2017, on the eve of his 89th birthday, would be remembered for his legacy of avoiding conflict. He was survived by his wife, Dupe, and 16 children, among whom are the first civilian Governor of Ekiti State, Niyi, and Adesola, who served as the state’s commissioner of works and transport in Governor Kayode Fayemi’s government between 2010-2014.