For the last few years, and especially since I have been writing public commentaries, one request that I get asked more than any other is this: we want to know about your father. We want to know about his political career. What really happened? Why did he take the positions that he took? What motivated him? Yet it has taken me a long time to bare my mind on this issue simply because I have chosen to write a detailed, comprehensive and befitting book on it sometime in the not too distant future. However, for now, I will at least attempt to answer some of these questions in this short piece. The late Chief R.A. Fani-Kayode Q.C., S.A.N., C.O.N, my father, my leader, my friend and my benefactor was one of the kindest, most decent, most civilised, most intelligent, most handsome and most charming human beings that I have ever had the pleasure of being associated with.
This was a highly educated man whose paternal grandfather was one of the most dynamic and respected Anglican priests of his day and whose father was a lawyer, a judge, a teacher and an Anglican laypreacher. This was a man who was brought up in a family with very strong Christian convictions and even stronger Victorian values. A man whose father had studied law at Cambridge University before him and who later ensured that two of his own sons (including yours truly) attended Cambridge University after he himself had been there. This was a man that got a first class law decree at Cambridge in the mid-1940s. This was a man who came top in the British Bar Examinations for the whole of the United Kingdom. This was a man who was the youngest Q.C. of this time in the whole of the British Commonwealth. This was a man who was a founding partner in the first fully indigenous law firm in Nigeria which was named “Thomas, Williams and Kayode”.
A law firm in which all three partners, Bode Thomas, Rotimi Williams and Remi Fani-Kayode were all widely acknowledged as internationally-acclaimed legal geniuses. In the field of politics this was a man who played a notable and gallant role in the pre-independence struggle. This was a man who later set up the Action Group youth wing and made it into a forceful and effective political machine. This was a man who gave his all for the Action Group and yet was treated with suspicion and disdain simply because he had a mind of his own because he was rising too fast in the party and because he dared to challenge the excesses of the late Ooni of Ife, Sir Adesoji Aderemi (who happened to be a very close friend and ally of Chief Obafemi Awolowo). This was a man who, when he was rejected by the leadership of the Action Group refused to sulk and be intimidated into leaving politics (like so many others had been forced to do so before him). But rather boldly joined the opposition N.C.N.C.
Yet ironically and in my view it was from the point on that his political career really started going from strength to strength. He not only turned the whole of Ile-Ife (his constituency) to N.C.N.C. by defeating the Action Group in elections over there but he also eventually became the leader of the opposition in the West and the leader of the N.C.N.C in the Western House of Assembly. This was a man who, together with the admirable efforts of many others that came before him, ensured that the N.C.N.C held sway in many parts of Yorubaland and this was a man who stretched out his hand of friendship to Chief S.L. Akintola when the latter fell out with his leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. This was a man who faithfully and deligently served in Chief S.L. Akintola’s government and kitchen cabinent, a cabinet which had in its midst some of the brightest and best minds that Africa has ever produced. A cabinet which included brilliant men like Onabamiro, Rosiji, Okunowo, Oshuntokun, Akinjide, Adeyi, Akinloye, Akerele, Olunloyo and so many others.
This was man who came within a hair’s-breadth of losing his life in a vicious and relentless attempted coup d’etat which was ruthlessly executed by some misguided and demon-possessed junior army officers on January 15t, 1966. I personally witnessed much of what happened to my father at our house that night and that is indeed a remarkable story which shall be told on another day. This was a man who on January 15, 1966 and during the execution of that same attempted coup d’etat personally witnessed the tragic, cold blooded, brutal and totally unnecessary murder of his respected colleague and dear friend, Chief S.L. Akintola. This was a man who, again on January 15, was visibly shaken when he heard that Brigadier Ademulegun was not only shot in his bed by the coupists on that same night but that the so-called “soldiers” also shot to death Ademulegun’s heavily pregnant wife. This was man who on January 16, 1966 witnessed the remnants of the Tafawa Balewa government refused to accept the offer of the British High Commissioner to bring in troops from Gibralter within 24 hours and not only assist in restoring law and order in the country and in helping to keep the military at bay but also in bolstering up the shattered foundations of the Balewa government. This was a man who at that very same meeting watched with incredulity as the remnants of the Balewa government turned down the British High commissioner’s offer and instead bowed to General Ironsi’s chilling demand that unless they agreed to his becoming the head of state he could not guarantee their personal safety. And of course the fact that General Ironsi had, in a thoroughly menacing fashion, surrounded the building in which the meeting was taking place with soldiers whilst making his “offer of protection” did not help matters: The truth is that by his ultimatum the wily general had in fact set in motion the first successful military coup in Nigerian modern history. Back to my father: this was a man who in 1967 and at the very same meeting that Chief Awolowo was made leader of the Yorubas, was made deputy leader of the Yorubas by the very same people that declared Awolowo as leader. This was a man who was then isolated and ignored by the very same Awoists who had desperately sued for peace, unity and reconciliation in Yorubaland in 1967 and immediately prior to the Nigerian Civil War.
This was a man who in 1973, went into part-time Christian Ministry and eventually became a full-time Anglican lay preacher (just like his father had been before him). This was a man who, like his close friend and law partner, Chief Sobo Sowemimo (S.A.N), was a great friend and confidant to the late head of state General Murtala Mohammed and the then Chief of Army Staff, General T.Y Danjuma. This was a man who in 1977 was one of the pioneering foundation members of what was to later transform itself into the old N.P.N. This was a man who by 1981 recognised the fact that there were some glaring internal contradictions within that same N.P.N. He recognised the fact that what had started out as a great idea and a great party was by then in danger of falling apart. He recognised the fact that unless drastic changes were made within that party’s hierarchy and unless the attitude of a tiny cabal of feudalistic hegemonists that had highjacked the party quickly changed that all would not augur well in the future for either the N.P.N or for Nigeria. This was a man who in 1982 and who with great consternation heard about the locking up of a large number of very senior Ife traditional chiefs by the N.P.N-controlled federal police force (over the Modakeke crisis) and who witnessed the fact that the admirable and frantic efforts of the much-loved and present day Ooni of Ife (Oba Okunade Sijuwade) and those of the then governor of the old Oyo State, (the highly respected and irrepresible Chief Bola Ige (S.A.N) to get them released was to no avail. This was man who considered himself as being the Balogun of Ife before being an N.P.N stalwart and who consequently, upon hearing about this grave insult to his people, went back to his hometown and in a dramatic and legendary confrontation with the federal police high-command personally effected the released of the respected and much-loved traditional chiefs of Ile-Ife. And till today they not only still speak about this monumental event in Ife but some of the distinguished elders of the town such as Chief Ayo Martins still say things like we still do not know which kind of power he used to achieve this great feat that night. Needless to say it was just the power and grace of the living God.
THIS was a man who again in 1982 together with Alhaji Shehu Musa (a highly civilised and respectable man who was then the Secretary to the Federal Government), actually went to Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade ( a man for whom my father had tremendous respect and affection) and told them that President Shehu Shagari was interested in the formation of a coalition government with Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the event of the NPN winning the presidential elections of 1983. And of course this was all in an attempt to engender national unity and stability and prevent a coup d’etat from eventually taking place. Interestingly, a similar offer had been made to Chief Awolowo by Sir Tafawa Balewa’s NPC. Before the 1960 elections, however sadly, Chief Awolowo did not accept these overtures in good faith and the talks broke down.
This is a pity because if he had done so he may ultimately have been in a position to achieve his life-long ambition of ruling the country and Nigeria may well have been the better off for it today. But let’s get back to my father: This was a man who by 1983 witnessed, at very close quarters, the sheer arrogance, viciousness and pomposity of the deeply conservative core northern caliphate and who told anyone that cared to listen about the dangerous antics and acquisitive tendencies of a small cabal of greedy ministers in the NPN government of that day. This was a man who spent Nigeria’s notorious “years of the locust” (Between 1983 and 1995) literally weeping for the nation due to its hideous plight and frightening ordeal under a series of insensitive and oftentimes brutal military dictators.
This was a man who in 1993 openly opposed the annulment of the June 12 election and boldly stood up at the NRC elders caucus meeting and told them that if the north supports the annulment then there is a distinct possibility that Nigeria would cease to exist. This was a man who, at that same meeting, told the conservative north that those of them from the south that had stretched out a hand of friendship to the north since the early 1960s (and in the name of a “united Nigeria”) had effectively been proved wrong by the fact that this very same north was now insisting on supporting the annulment of a free and fair election that had been won by a southerner. And worthy of mention here is the condescending response of Alhaji Lawal Kaita (a deeply conservative Fulani prince from Katsina and a former NPN governor of the old Kaduna State). He impudently asked Papa at that same meeting whether he had taken that position simply because, like Chief Abiola, he was a Yoruba man. And in answer to this impudent and disrespectful question Papa calmly replied Kaita with the following words, which were of course laced with a high degree of passion and an even higher degree of contempt: He said “it is not your fault Lawal. I did not play politics with the likes of you but rather with the likes of your father!” Yet this was a man who still believed in and loved Nigeria. This was a man that did not make one kobo out of politics but who rather spent so much money on it. This was the man that my father was and this is just a tiny glimpse into his expansive and colourful political career: A career that spanned from 1950 to 1995. Yet the truth is that politics was only a fraction of his person. And quite apart from that he was also a devout and practising Christian, a successful businessman, an academic, an intellectual and a visionary of sorts. He was a loving and kind family man who always put his wife and his children before anything else. And the truth is that there is not a day that has passed in the last five years since he was called home to glory that I have not thought about him or missed him bitterly.
But of course Nigeria and Nigerians never honour their true heroes. They would rather distort history, tell lies, indulge in deceit, worship money and engender falsehood. This is a country which takes delight in destroying its brightest and its best. This is a country which prides itself on reveling in mediocrity and literally enthroning corruption, decay, retrogression and mendacity. And of course, this is why nowadays the brightest and most educated people in Nigeria usually stay out of politics and sadly some of them even choose to do an “Andrew” and leave the country altogether. And yet who can blame them? For it is in the same light, and therefore not surprising, that even up till today the Nigerian people and successive Nigerian governments have refused to properly honour the man who successfully moved the motion for independence for the country in 1957. That man was not Chief Anthony Enahoro (his motion had been moved in 1953 and it was unsuccessful) but it was rather Remilekun Fani-Kayode. This is a historical fact that sadly appears to be very surprising to many Nigerians. Yet what we fail to appreciate is that as long as we continue to refuse to acknowledge the roles of all our past heroes (and not just a select few) this country will not go anywhere. It will just continue to wander. And it will continue to be heavily afflicted with a deep and debilitating spiritual wound. This is because God is a God of truth, righteousness, fairness and justice. This is because God never sleeps and knows the deepest and darkest thoughts that are hidden in the inner chambers and subterranean recesses of our collective minds. Yet it is my prayer that the Lord forgives and delivers us all for our glaring and inexcusable omissions. It is my prayer that the Lord heals the historical wounds and deep divisions in the political terrain of our beloved land. It is my prayer that, as a nation He will eventually see fit to lift us up where we truly belong. Yet I have no doubt that despite all we see this shall eventually be the case. And as for my beloved father, I thank God for the life that he lived every day. I thank God for the fact that he continues to live on this earth through me and through my siblings, just as one day, when I have also been called home, I shall continue to live on this earth through my own sons and through my own daughters. For as the Bible says, “The blessing of the Lord goes from generation to generation.” And may God bless the wombs of the faithful mothers and virtuous wives from whom such great men have come. Merry Christmas, happy New Year and God Bless Nigeria.