Ajibade and the general’s wife
Major-General Adewunmi Ajibade, who retired from the army as the Director of Military Intelligence, was my friend. During his years in service, he was one of the most influential and principled military officer who stood for courage and integrity. He paid dearly for it. But in the end, his career projection showed that even in Nigeria, the best can survive and thrive. He never held any political office and rose to attain the rank of major-general. Apart from being the DMI, Ajibade was later appointed as the Deputy National Security Adviser to the President. He was also the Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence at the Defence Intelligence Agency of Nigeria, DIA.
I met Ajibade through our mutual friend, Senator Ayo Arise, a meticulous man who would not waste his affection on frivolous and unstable people. Arise had very high regard for Ajibade and I soon knew why. Ajibade was a man of ramrod integrity and sincerity. His greatest attribute was his humility. After his retirement, he moved to Lagos. He was in charge of security at the Ikoyi Baptist Church and every Sunday, he would be in church directing traffic. Some worshippers, thinking he was just an ordinary security man, would even be rude to him, but Ajibade would only smile and continue with his assignment. He was not one to advertise his rank or his importance.
It was not a surprise that many Nigerians from all walks of life trooped to Ikoyi Baptist Church to bid Ajibade farewell on September 10. Those who knew him were aware of his life of sacrifice and his eventual triumph against odds. His greatest challenge was during the military era when the DMI found itself drawn into aspects of security that had nothing to do with the military. Many civilians were arrested and detained at the DMI Headquarters in Apapa, Lagos. Some of those included the late Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, a retired Director of the Mint who was later to serve with distinction as a Senator representing Ogun State. Another was Professor Akinjide Osuntokun, Nigerian former Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany.
At that period, Ajibade’s colleague, Colonel Frank Omenka, was put in charge of DMI Security Group. Omenka and his team were ready to do anything to please the powers that be. They believe that the DMI and its resources should be put at the service of General Sani Abacha, the late Nigerian dictator, who wanted to perpetuate himself in power. It was a difficult period for officers like Ajibade who stoutly believed that the DMI, and indeed, the military as an institution should not be dragged into politics.
It was good that Ajibade survived the Abacha era. In retirement, he tried to dabble into politics, thinking that he could run for the Senate from his native Kogi State, only to realise to his chagrin that it was a contest based on money. He tried to impress it on the governments of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and later President Muhammadu Buhari that kidnapping must be taken seriously or else “it would become an epidemic.” Ajibade was a man of few words, but his words were weighty.
One person who knew the value of Ajibade’s words was his wife, Moradeke. After his retirement in 2005, he relocated fully to Lagos to devote more time to his family and his private business. Then few years ago, he fell ill. It was a difficult period for Moradeke and the children. Three years ago, I had invited him to a Breakfast Fellowship at the Archbishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral, Ikeja. He was recuperating and he showed up full of enthusiasm. We believe the worst was over. Not so apparently.
In the military, the soldier’s wife is regarded as having a higher rank than her husband, because she needs to take charge of the home front. With Ajibade’s illness, it was time for Moradeke to take charge. She did so uncomplainingly and with tireless devotion and competence. The children rallied round and it was amidst the support of his loving family that Ajibade spent his last days as he breathed his last on July 2, 2021. Till the very end, Moradeke fulfilled the duty of the officer’s wife.
In being the Officer’s wife, Moradeke’s great predecessor in that office was Lady Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, mother of Louisa, my distinguished colleague at TELL and Newswatch. Dame Victoria’s husband, Major-General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi, was the first Nigerian officer to command the army, an institution created by the British colonial rulers. Following the coup of January 15, 1966, Ironsi became Nigerian first military ruler. His reign was turbulent until he was killed in the counter-coup of July 29, 1966. When Ironsi’s wife died on August 23, she had been a widow for 55 years.
Her life had taken a dramatic turn in 1966, the year she became First Lady and then widow. After the assassination of her husband, nobody told Lady Victoria the truth. She was only informed that he and his host in Ibadan, Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, had been kidnapped. She was left at the State House, Marina, the colonial building once the official residence of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who last held the office of ceremonial President during the First Republic. Thomas, her son had followed his father to the ill-fated trip to Ibadan. He escaped and came to Lagos through the railway. Lady Victoria drove to Ebute-Metta to bring home her son from the railway station. It was many weeks later that Lt. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu confirmed to her the bad news, that indeed General Ironsi had been killed by the mutineers of July 29, 1966.
Mama was a great survivor. She weathered the turbulence that came in the wake of her husband’s assassination and then the harrowing experience of the Nigerian Civil War. She was a lady built for the struggle, bringing up her eight children with matronly dedication and aplomb. Thomas, her 14-year-old son who was the last member of the family to be with his family, grew up to become the patriarch of his family, climbing the national stage as the Minister of Defence. Her children and grand children were holding the flag high in many fields of human endeavour and almost all the continents of the world. God had given her long life so that she could get to the Promise Land on behalf of her illustrious husband.
When I first met Dame Victoria, she was a stately woman passed her prime. She carried the burden of her years with grace and dignity. Louisa, her daughter, was my colleague in Newswatch and we collaborated in doing many cover stories, including the story of the assassination of Dele Giwa, our first Editor-in-Chief. We were truly excited when she agreed to join our team at TELL for Louisa is a journalist of omnivorous competence. Then the Abacha tyranny dawned on us like the creeping malevolence of an inclement weather. We fled the office as Abacha’s goons gun for top editors of TELL. Louisa provided us with her house as our sanctuary.
We met mama and several of Louisa’s siblings in that house. Mama never discouraged her daughter from taking on what was obviously a dangerous assignment, hosting strangers who were on the wanted list of the Abacha dictatorship. She embraced us with motherly affection and indulgence. We met in that house for several years. Not once did she or any member of Louisa’s household betray us. Who could have thought that a woman who had passed through the valley of death and tribulations would still be willing to give more for the goodness and greatness of Nigeria?
I congratulate Louisa and her siblings for having such a great mother. Mama’s life has confirmed to us that there is life after disaster.