General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo (retd) passed away on March 8, the eve of his 89th birthday. He was a pioneer in many respects. His Nigerian Army commission number, NA7, means that he was the seventh indigenous Nigerian to be recruited into the army. He went on to have a sterling military career laden with several highpoints.
He was Aide de Camp to the last British General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army, Sir Welby Everald. He was also the first Nigerian General Staff Officer (GSO). He became the Chief of Staff to Major-General Thomas Aguyi Ironsi when he took over as GOC, Nigerian Army. In this important position, characters who were to play major roles in the future history of the country – David Ejoor, Yakubu Gowon and Odumegwu Ojukwu – all served under him.
After the bloody counter-coup of July 1966, Adebayo, besides the fleeing Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, was the most senior surviving officer in the Nigeria Army. It is to his credit that, rather than rock the boat, he subsumed his ego and entitlement to power in the overall national interest. It was a most difficult time of national trial, and the tested senior military officer realised that discretion was the better part of valour.
Adebayo allowed his junior, Yakubu Gowon, to assume the leadership of the country and be promoted above him. He accepted, too, to be military governor of the old Western Region (later Western State), comprising five of the present states of the South-West geo-political zone, with the exemption of Lagos. This was immediately after the counter-coup of July 1966 which claimed the lives of very senior military officers and some of the key political leaders of the country.
It was a most volatile time for everyone in the country, but to Adebayo’s good memory, he was a reliable voice of reason to the young Gowon administration. He was never for the civil war, and spoke out forcefully against the descent to anarchy which he observed at the time. Unfortunately, his warnings went mostly unheeded and the monumental tragedy which became the Nigerian civil war happened.
Through it all, General Adebayo stood with his people of the Western State, and was a major force in the reconciliation after the war. He served his people with his all, and was known for his liberal policies as an administrator, which made some of his critics at the time to label him as weak. With the benefit of hindsight, that opinion has largely changed. General Adebayo, indeed, did his best to spread development to all parts of the expansive areas under his control, even in the difficult circumstances the nation found itself. He was not tainted by corruption which was then just creeping into our body politic.
Adebayo was a great lover of his family and people. This quality was recognised when, later in life, he became the President of the very influential Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE).
In that position, he helped to maintain decorum and orderliness amongst the often dissenting voices on the Yoruba agenda, thus nipping potentially explosive situations in the bud. He was a strong voice for Yoruba unity in particular, as well as wholesome and integrated development of the country in general. He was never afraid to hold an opinion, no matter how unpopular it might have seemed at the time.
General Adebayo is well respected and held in very high esteem throughout the country, and in Yoruba land in particular. He has been decorated with many honours at home and abroad, including that of the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). The government should immortalize him.
The late General was a devout Christian of the Anglican Communion. His many legacies in God’s service will forever speak for him. We express our heartfelt condolences to members of his immediate family, the people of Ekiti State and the nation at large. He will be sorely missed for his wise counsels and remarkable statesmanship.