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How Gowon became head of State ahead of me — Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo

By  Bashir Adefaka & Oyinloluwa Akeredolu
Major General Adeyinka Adebayo, the 83-year-old former Military Governor of the defunct Western Region, is President, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE).

As a major stakeholder in national issues especially the Yoruba race, he was taken up on the recent Pan-Yoruba Conference held in Ikenne, Ogun State and what he knows about the seeming protracted egocentric problem between the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade during which he also said that he was meant to be Head of State during the second coup but sectionalism pushed it over to General Yakubu Gowon, who was his junior.

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.

Major General Adeyinka Adebayo...we can’t say Yoruba problem is disunity as such

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 any more 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.

The first Pan-Yoruba Conference held at Ikenne last week but you were not present. Why?

I sent a group of people there. I sent a team of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) to attend the meeting because I was unable to attend myself. Although they didn’t speak at the conference,they were there.

What is your own position on the conference?

It was a good thing to have such a meeting but on the other hand, I feel we should come from the bottom, first, instead of having a large crowd. They should have started one-by-one in the bottom before calling a large meeting.

For instance, the traditional rulers, who are our fathers, should get together and have their own meeting first and they should use their fatherly influence to bring other groups in. If our fathers can come together, then the elders can be called by them and then the elders on the guidance of our fathers, the traditional rulers, can now call a large crowd.

What we had at Ikenne last week was a good start, at least from that meeting, we have been able to know what the problems are. Then we can now continue from there and start to get ourselves together towards solving them.

At the meeting, it became open and generally said that the problem between the Alaafin of Oyo and the Ooni of Ife largely was responsible for the Yoruba disunity and the problem is likely to have started during the process of installation of the Alaafin when Prince Sijuade at that time, now Ooni of Ife, played in favour of the present Alaafin. What can you tell us about this since your administration as military governor of Western Region handled the installation of the Alaafin?

As far as I know, I don’t know the role Prince Sijuade played in the then Prince Lamidi Adeyemi’s becoming the Alaafin of Oyo. The present Alaafin was installed from the nomination of his family, whose turn it was to have the candidature for the stool and somebody, who was trying to compete with him was convinced that he should allow the present Alaafin to have his way as the candidate. And when the family agreed on the present Alaafin, its nomination was brought to the government and I installed him.

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, he takes Yoruba matters first before his own.

Since you knew what you did, once, to get the Yorubas together, what do you think is the way out of their present circumstance?

Well, you see, we all cannot be together but majority can be together. It’s on the political side that we have a problem. If the political side can bring themselves together and follow their political parties well and maintain their political activities well, there won’t be much problem.

You see, when you cannot form good political parties and you cannot choose the leaderships for your parties, that is where we have a problem.

It was said that Yoruba Council of Elders, which you head, was created by President Olusegun Obasanjo during his last regime to further complicate Yoruba disunity problem. What is your take on that?

Did Obasanjo create YCE? He has interest in the elders. Yoruba Council of Elders formed and maintains the name it bears. Obasanjo believed and I’m sure he still believes in the Council. So he supported them.

Do you relate very well with Afenifere?

Afenifere is a political father for political parties and me, I am not a member. I am an Afenifere person of Nigeria people.

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 and I was senior to Gowon 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.

At what rank that time were you in the Army?

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.

 

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