By Femi Fani-Kayode
If there were ever a man that were worthy of celebration in the context of Nigerian history, power and politics that man is Baba Ayo Adebanjo.
I must confess that I find it difficult to write about him simply because I’ve mentioned him so many times in write-ups over the years and there is so much to say.
I am however honored and delighted to be able to share a few words about this great and profoundly good man who is not only one of the founding fathers of our nation but also a great patriot and nationalist and an outstanding elder statesman.
Baba Adebanjo is one of those that fought for democracy and justice for the oppressed from day one. He is one of those that has stood firmly on his principles, displayed great fidelity and commitment to his cause and shown the world that Africa has men and women of courage that are consistent, true to their word and loyal to their leaders.
This is a man that began his political career as one of those that founded, formed and led the Action Group Youth Wing in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.
I am aware of the vital role he played because my late father of blessed memory Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode Q.C. S.A.N, was the leader of that youth wing and Baba Adebanjo was right there by his side.
They more than any other group fought against the British to ensure that we got independence 10 years later.
In those heady early days they marched down the streets of Lagos wearing black shirts, black berets, black sunglasses, black trousers and black leather boots demanding independence and antagonising the British colonial masters and authorities.
They were a sight to be seen.
They chanted as they marched with their fists clenched and held up high in the air in tight formation and large numbers rather like Adolf Hitler’s “Brown Shirts” and Waffen SS.
Their symbol was the mosquito which was pasted and printed on their flags and shirts because the mosquito was a terror to the white man, used to bite them and more often than not caused their premature deaths. This was particularly so in West Africa.
This was the symbol of the Action Group Youth Wing and they were very militant indeed. On many occasions they were arrested and detained by our erstwhile British colonial masters and they were branded as a great “security risk” by the authorities.
These were not just ordinary youths but were highly educated and responsible family men that had attended some of the best universities in the world like London, Oxford and Cambridge. They were very bright and they knew precisely what they were doing.
Baba Adebanjo was part and parcel of that group.
Throughtout that period one thing that he did which stood him out and made him different to most was that he never showed any form of inconsistency.
From the time he was in the Action Group Youth Wing right up until the time that the erstwhile leader of the Action Group, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo S.A.N, passed on in 1987, Adebanjo was totally and completely loyal him, to his principles, to his vision, to his family and to his cause. Indeed he remains loyal to Awolowo till today! In the history of our country few Nigerian politicians have displayed such loyalty to their leaders.
Adebanjo’s example has taught many of us one thing: that at the end of the day it is not about just blindly following your leader but it is about following the principles that that leader has espoused and established and building on his foundation.
That is precisely what Chief Ayo Adebanjo has done and in doing so he has inspired millions of youth all over the country and millions of new breed, new- generation leaders that seek to emulate him.
Permit me to add the following. Even though Chief Awolowo passed on and even though there were a lot of divisions within the ranks of those that supported him in the years after his passing, Baba Adebanjo was hardly involved in any scandalous and acrimonious feud or any form of bitter division with any of the others.
He simply focused on fighting injustice and tyranny and ensuring that Nigeria was set in the right direction. For example he more than anybody else, together with the late Chief Abraham Adesanya and other great Yoruba leaders, stood up when it mattered the most and insisted that military rule under the late General Sani Abacha had to be brought to an end.
He also insisted that our country had to be restructured and that the late Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12th 1993 presidential election, had to be sworn in as the President of Nigeria.
Unlike so many of us that fought in the trenches under the proud banner of NADECO at that time, that stood behind them during that fight and that were killed, detained and driven into exile, Baba Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Abraham Adesanya refused to go into hiding, to go underground or to go into exile.
They remained in their respective homes and they did not run anywhere despite numerous threats and attempts on their lives and despite being locked up on various occasions.
There was a time I went to see them at Adeniji Adele Police Station in Lagos because they had been falsely accused of murder and detained.
Of course this was a frame up and not only that, on many occasions the government of that day tried to destroy their reputations and good names forgetting that they were dealing with hardened and strong veteran warriors of the pre-independence struggle against colonial rule. These were men that simply could not be brow-beaten or intimidated.
They stood shoulder-to-shoulder with great men like Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Ayo Rosiji, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Bode Thomas, Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode, Chief S.L. Akintola, Chief Oduola Osuntokun, Chief D.K. Olumofin, Alhaji S.O. Gbadamosi, Chief Frederick Alade Rotimi-Williams, Chief Samuel Shonibare, Chief Matthew Adekoya Okupe, Aljhaji Dauda Adegbenro and so many others in the 1950’s that made a difference.
These were key members of the old Action Group who led with courage and faith and who inculcated the spirit of strength, power and excellence in everything that they did.
Baba Adebanjo carried that over as all these other great men passed on at some point or the other having served their nation and their people as best as they could in different capacities.
They may have had differences but they were all great men. Chief Ayo Adebanjo continued that struggle into the next generation and they became the new leaders of the Yoruba nation.
I am referring to men like himself, Baba Fasoranti, the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, the late Alhaji Lam Adesina, Professor Banji Akintoye, the late Chief Bola Ige, the late Chief Abraham Adesanya, Chief Amos Akingba, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Baba Bisi Akande, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, Sir Olanihun Ajayi, the late Chief Alfred Rewane and many others.
Throughout the years they continued the struggle and they consistently fought for justice and equity. They stood against military rule, they stood for June 12th, they stood for NADECO, they stood against civilian dictatorship and they stood for the restructuring of the country and the establishment of true federalism.
Most importantly many of their projections and words over the years appear to have been prophetic because everything that they warned us would happen in our country if we did not do the right thing and heed their counsel have ended up happening. The truth is that nothing beats foresight and wisdom and it usually comes with age.
Baba Adebanjo is not just a leader but he is also a seer and a visionary. He is a gifted man that can see deep and far into the future and he is a man that literally defied death, defied danger, defied fear, defied the odds and stood up like the great and strong collosus that he is and showed us the way.
At times when challenges come my way, I always say to myself that if Baba Adebanjo could have gone through all he has gone through in life simply because of his political beliefs and despite it has managed to remain strong, happy and has stood to the end then why on earth would I not be able to do so as well?
Over the years I have garnered courage from his strength. I have learnt to drink from his waters, to tap from his wisdom and, like him, to stand firm in my beliefs and my cause, if necessary, unto death.
He may not know it but there are millions of youths, young men and women, new and emerging leaders and indeed present leaders all over this country, like me, that he inspires.
After Baba Abraham Adesanya passed on, Baba Adebanjo continued the struggle and others gathered around him and built up Afenifere to make it an even stronger voice.
Through the years Baba has raised the alarm about our collective oppressors.
When the military came he raised the alarm. When civilian dictators came he raised the alarm. When the Fulani herdsmen came he raised the alarm. When Boko Haram came he raised the alarm.
And throughout the years he boldly told the world who was behind these terror groups, what they were trying to achieve and how best to counter them and take them on.
Not many people could do so but he spoke out even when it was unfashionable and dangerous to do so. Today everybody is singing the same tune that he has been singing for the last forty to fifty years.
This is a great man, a man that is worthy of emulation, a man that deserves our respect, a man that we are constrained to honor and obey.
He is a man that many of us love deeply and a man that means everything to the Yoruba nation. I say this without any fear of contradiction because this feeling goes across party political lines and it is self-evident whether you are in the APC, PDP, SDP or anywhere else.
Baba Adebanjo is our father and he will always be our father. He is a father of the Yoruba nation, he is an elder statesman of Nigeria and he is a man that we revere and that we will never forget.
I also have to say the following. What he has managed to achieve in the last few years has been absolutely astounding in terms of building bridges with other ethnic nationalities from outside Yoruba land. This is particularly so in the case of the good people of the South-East, the South-South and the Middle Belt.
The noble initiative of the famous “handshake across the Niger” which took place on January 11th 2018 in Enugu was an Afenifere initiative and Baba Adebanjo was one of those, together with Pa Fasoranti, the leader of Afenifere, that managed to effect it in collaboration with Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Ohanaeze, Nzukor Umunna and all the other individuals and groups that participated.
He has set into motion similar initiatives with the leaders of the South-South and the people of the Middle Belt.
What he and Afenifere have managed to do is to essentially capture the constitutional principles that he had espoused since 1949 and propose them as a solution to the challenges that we face as a nation today.
He believes that, juat as the Action Group proposed in 1951, that the Yoruba must work together in peace, harmony and fellowship with the other oppressed ethnic nationalities in the country with a view to restructuring our nation and to ensuring that we have fair reasonable and equitable rules, laws, governance and lleadership.
He believes that every Nigerian, regardless of his or her faith, tribe or circumstances of birth, must have a sense of belonging and equal opportunities.
He rejects the ‘born to rule’ philosoohy and ethos and he believes that every Nigerian must be made to feel as if they are equal citizens and not that some are more equal than others.
He has also stood up to the hegemony of the core north and northern adventurism more than any other Yoruba man in the last 20 years and certainly more than any other Nigerian over many years.
He has spoken up clearly and consistently that he is not a slave, that his children and grandchildren are not slaves and that his people, the Yoruba people of South Western Nigeria, can never be slaves.
That is the essence of his message and it is something that I have drawn great strength from given the fact that most Nigerians have been beaten into submission by the circumstances that they have found themselves in.
It is left for those of us in the new generation of leadership to continue where and when he stops. We will follow him until the day that he passes the baton to us and I for one will never forget Chief Ayo Adebanjo.
I will never forget how he touched my soul, how he stirred my spirit, how he moved my heart and how I looked to him for strength even when he didn’t know that I was looking.
I will never forget how I read his essays and watched his interviews over and over again. I will never forget how I watched him on television, recorded him and watched it repeatedly.
When people say “FFK you seem to be so courageous and strong”, they have no idea that I drew my strength and courage from men like Baba Ayo Adebanjo, Baba Abraham Adesanya, Dr. Amos Akingba, Sir Olanihun Ajayi, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Bola Ige, General Alani Akinrinade and many others who saw all these things over and over again and who refused to flinch even in the storm.
They are like the eagle that takes pleasure in flying directly into the rage of stormy thunder and rises above its frightful dangers.
They are like the lion that sees conflict, danger and war ahead and yet plunges into battle with courage, pride and joy.
These are great men of the Churchillian mould. These are proud, noble and veteran warriors. These are strong and valiant men that have been forged by the fire of affliction and built in the mould of the Biblical King David’s “strong men”.
I am so proud of the fact that Yorubaland is blessed with such leaders and such elders. With them there is hope and as long as we in the next generation can imbue their spirit of fortitude, courage, faith, honor and strength, nothing will overcome us, nothing will destroy us and nothing will overwhelm us.
I am persuaded that posterity will he kind to Baba Ayo Adebanjo and history will never forget his timeless contributions to the development of our nation. He will always be a reference point for all that is wholesome and good.
May God bless him forever.