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Ifajuyigbe: Fajuyi in history & as history – Part 1

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It was my late father who first stimulated my interest in the character and fate of Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, shortly after the man died in the heat of the July 1966 upheaval which ultimately led the nation into genocidal anarchy for thirty long months. I was fascinated by the character of the man who decided that his guest was not going to die alone if the scoundrels of ethnic vengeance were going to take his life while he was visiting his domain. In this very act, he showed the strength of his heart and his character. Hercules observed that ‘a true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart’.

Indeed, my abiding concern for the values he held made me raise the issue in my first published play, Death, Not a Redeemer, (1994) while exploring the notion of heroism in African drama! What kind of man was this, I asked myself? Did his wife and children share the heroic ideal of their benefactor? I put this question in a round-about-way to late Barrister Dayo Fajuyi one of Col. Fajuyi’s sons in my days as a young academic at the then Ondo State University Ado Ekiti. His answer gave me the impression that they grew up with the pain of a great loss! What about those who took over the leadership of the country? Did they also share in that vision? Did they look after Fajuyi’s family after his death?  

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Of such stuff are legends, folk and heroic tales made – a soldier-friend volunteering, sacrificing, giving up his life in order to respect the ideals of honour and valour in friendship. Something now other-worldly, surreal if you like, approved by the celestial forces of the cosmos. Which cosmos? Ours? The banal, our insane and banal almost epicurean embrace of the pleasures of life which promotes the cultural, ethical worldview of ‘if you no get money, make you hide your face?

Betrayal is somewhat part of human nature, an archetypal motif in all recorded history. But it is the bestial part. Not the sublime; not the elevated part. Men and women of elevated minds never succumb to the false allure of treachery. Such persons see loyalty as a form of virtue itself. It is its own reward, even though there might be some discomfort while affirming the sanctity of true friendship. Jesus Christ the Perfect Master alluded to this when he asserted: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. The Fajuyi sacrificial-death narrative is especially poignant and momentous in the tumultuous and uncertain times we have found ourselves in nearly sixty years after gaining nationhood. It was the late Chuba Okadigbo who once said that in Nigerian politics, if you are stabbed in the back, just keep running away with the knife inside you until you get to a safe place! 

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These thoughts came up for ruminations recently when I watched Professor Rasaki Bakare’s dramatic presentation of the life and times of Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, first Military Governor of Western Region from January to July 29th, 1966, staged in Ado Ekiti in honour of incumbent Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi on his 55th birthday. Titled Ifajuyigbe (An untold story of the late Col. Adekunle Fajuyi), the play captures the early vision of a young man vowed to live the life of a soldier, as part of his personal conviction and in full knowledge of being a descendant of a war hero. Fajuyi joined the Nigerian Army despite objections from his parents. When he was set to disappear from the village, his brothers laid siege, caught him while his two friends left for the recruitment centre. To prove his determination, he embarked on a three-week hunger strike until his father acquiesced and blessed the faith and dream of his son. Typical of mothers, Francis’ mother cried her heart out because she did not want her son to join the army. But he went ahead and made history in the annals of the story of Nigeria.

Fajuyi left Ado for the recruitment centre in Ilorin and met his future wife in the house of his host. He missed the recruitment that year, served as a security man for one year till the next exercise. He was recruited. From all indications, Fajuyi was a good man, a disciplined soldier, a stickler for the rules, an incorruptible officer, tough yet humane. The scene in which the soldier who eventually shot him to death recounted all that Fajuyi had done for him and his family is very instructive. When Fajuyi punished a Lance Corporal for trying to bribe him, I wondered where and how the Nigerian military descended into the cesspit of ten percent and looting of the state.

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The most poignant of the scenes was the scene where the Head of State, Major General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi is arrested when he suggests that Fajuyi has betrayed him, and how the latter had to struggle to assure his friend and Supreme Commander that he is not one of the mutineers. So, when they finally come for him, Fajuyi goes with them and ultimately pays the supreme sacrifice! This is a rough summary of the play. Bakare tried to say much within a short time, using very good actors who tried to carry the auditorium with the vocals. Stringing parts of history together for an effective dramatic effect is often very challenging. The audience was essentially a political one and the din in the hall did not help those of us at the back. Perhaps sensitive microphones should have been used. Also, the use of Yoruba language in some scenes resonated very well with the audience for obvious reasons. The wedding scene was unduly prolonged in my view. The assassination scene could have been better managed. Walls were breached. It was almost melodramatic, yet it is one of the most important scenes in the play – the circumstances of Fajuyi’s death and the implications of gunning down Aguiyi-Ironsi in the Southwest.

When the play eventually travels the country to Mapo Hall and other places as Dr Fayemi promised the cast, such minor lapses should be corrected. Abuja, Asaba, Benin, Kaduna, Lagos Enugu, and Kano should also see the play as a reminder of what the nation once was in terms of commitment to the national dream. The message will serve the national interest at this time of national doubts and dissembling forces. Overall, the actors gave a good account of themselves! Muideen Oladapo as ‘man’ Francis Fajuyi conveyed the nuances of character presentation very well. The dexterity and vocal power of the narrator helped to bridge gaps.

Obviously, I was, and I am more interested in the poignancy of the experience and depiction of the heroic than the technical details of the production.  So, next week, I plan to address Fajuyi as history and Fajuyi in history!

Eghagha can be reached on 08023220393 or heghagha@yahoo.com

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