Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, son of the former deputy premier of the South West Region, the late Chief Fani Kayode has recounted his experience in the first coup staged in Nigeria in 1966.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode
The one time Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who was although a child at the time, witnessed the arrest of his father on the night of January 15, 1966, when the first coup was witnessed in Nigeria.
He recounts the events of that night in an interview with Leadership.
Fani-Kayode said: "What I witnessed that night was traumatic and devastating for me and my family and, of course, what the nation witnessed that night was horrific. It was a night of blood, terror and sadness. The events of that night set in motion a series of events which changed our history. The consequences of the events of that night are still with us till this day. So, it was not a good night; it was a sad and terrible night; one of blood and slaughter.
"What I saw, what I witnessed was this; in the middle of the night, my mother came into the room which I shared with my older brother, Rotimi and my sister Toyin. I was six at the time. The lights had been cut, so all we could see was lights from vehicles. At that time, my father was deputy premier of the South West so; the official residence had a very long drive. We saw two headlights and heard the engines of two lorries drive up the drive-way. The occupants of the lorries stormed our home and my father went out to meet them, after he had called us and explained that he would explain their coming later. He explained that he would rather go out to meet them than let them come into the house.
"The minute he stepped out, they brutalised him. I witnessed this. They tied him up and threw him into the lorry. Interestingly, the first thing they said to him was 'where are your thugs now?' My father’s response was 'I don’t have thugs, only gentlemen.' I think this made them brutalise him even more. They threw him in the back of the lorry, tied him up and, then stormed the house.
"When they got into the house, they ransacked every nook and cranny, shooting into the ceiling and wardrobes. They were very brutal and frightful and we were terrified. My mother was screaming from the balcony because all she could do was focus on her husband, who was downstairs.
“Don’t kill him, don’t kill him!!” she kept screaming at them. I can still visualise this and hear her voice pleading, screaming and crying. I didn’t know where my brother or sister was; the house was in total chaos. A six-year-old, I was standing there in the middle of the house, surrounded by uniformed men who were ransacking the house and terrorising my family.
"Something extraordinary happened. All of a sudden, one of the soldiers came up to me, put his hand on my head and said:
'Don’t worry, we won’t kill your father, stop crying.'
"He said this thrice. After he said it the third time, I stopped crying. I went rushing to my mum who was still on the balcony and told her to stop crying because the soldier had promised that they would not kill my father, that everything would be okay.
"I held on to the words of that soldier. That night, I never cried again. They took him away and as the lorry drove away, my mother kept on wailing and so was everyone in the house.
"From there, they went to the home of Chief S.L Akintola, who was the premier. When they got there, unfortunately, my mother had phoned Akintola to inform him of what was happening. Akintola had calmed her, assuring that all will be well. When they got to Akintola’s house, he already knew of their coming so instead of coming out, the minute they got there, he called out some of his boys and they came firing with their guns. A gun battle ensued and the plan was delayed. They thought they could pick my father, pick Akintola and go kill them were they deemed fit.
"Akintola wounded two of the soldiers who came and, when his ammunition ran out from inside the house, he came out with a white handkerchief and surrendered. The minute he stepped out, they just slaughtered him, right in front of my father. After they killed him, they moved on with my father to Lagos. When they got there, they went to the Officer’s Mess at Dodan Barracks.
"Akintola was one of the greatest Yoruba leaders, great orator, a nice man and dear uncle, just like Ademulegun was to me.
"When they took my dad away, everyone thought he had been killed. We decided to not spend that night in the house. The next morning, the policemen came and took us to the house of my mother’s first cousin, Justice Fatai Williams, who was a judge of the Western Region at the time. He later became the Chief Judge of Nigeria. From there, we were taken to the home of Adelekan Ademola, another High Court judge at the time, who later became a judge of the Appeal Court.
"There was so much confusion in the country and no one knew what was going on. We had heard lots of stories and did not know what to make of what anymore. There was chaos. It took some time for things to be figured out.
"Two days later, my father called and told us that he was okay and, when we heard his voice, I kept telling my mother 'I told you, I told you.' Justice Ademola was weeping, my mother was weeping, my brother and sister were weeping and I was just rejoicing, because I knew that he would not be killed.
"I never got to know who that soldier was (that promised me that my father would not be killed), but I believe that God spoke through him that night.
"These fellows who carried out this coup were not alone; they got some backing from the political class who identified with them, but that is a story for another day.
"The truth is, there has never been another night like that and the results of that night have been very profound and not enough Nigerians appreciate that. Some people in our country can never forgive those who did that, understandably. Others who believe that those young fellows did the right thing still say that those killings were heroic, which is something I find unacceptable and appalling." he added.