The life sojourn of Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo

  • A mini biography of the late soldier, elder statesman, politician and former governor of Western State

  • And other things you might have not known about him

Gen Adebayo 1
Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo: Former military governor of Western State and late President of Yoruba Council of Elders,

By Charles Segun Adegbite

Late Major General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo(OFR), former military governor of the now defunct Western State of Nigeria(1966-71) and the first indigenous Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army(1964-65), was at a time the most senior military officer in Nigeria and the oldest general at the time of his death on March 8.

Had he lived a day more, he would have died on his 89th birthday (March 9, 2017), the exact 50years that his father died(March 9, 1967); but death did not allow him to see that day.

As an iconic soldier, he had many records of being the first in military, politics, academic and social activities he engaged in before he was finally made the Chairman of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) in old age; the position he held until he bade the world goodbye.

He was born at Ile-Ife (in present day Osun State, Nigeria) into the Christian family of Pa Isaiah Kayode and (Mrs.) Victoria Ogunrounbi Adebayo of Iyin-Ekiti, (Ekiti State) on 9 March 1928. He was the first child of the family. His father was an employee of the Public Works Department (PWD) of British colonial government in Nigeria.

The father rose through the ranks to become Chief Station Officer(CSO) in the then Nigeria Railway Service, NRS, (Later Nigeria Railway Corporation, NRC) which was an arm of PWD that time. After he had worked and been transferred to many parts of Nigeria like: Lagos, Kaduna, Enugu, Markudi, Jos and others, he retired and later became cocoa merchant.

As a devout Anglican, he (the father) was the auditor for the Ekiti Archdeaconry. He died a fulfilled man on March 9, 1967, the 39th birthday of his son, Adeyinka Adebayo; who was then the military governor of Western Region (later Western State that year) after he had instilled a lot of Christian virtues of being contented, humble and having faith in God in this his son.

Adeyinka was educated at All Saints School, Iyin-Ekiti, but completed his primary education in St. Andrew’s Primary School, Usi-Ekiti, because of the challenges of the transfer of his guardian teachers who he was living with that time. He later entered Christ School, Ado-Ekiti in 1943.

Worthy to be mentioned was his good academic records which enabled him gain admission into the Christ School. The minimum pass mark into the school in those days was sixty per cent. And for all the pupils who sat for the entrance examination in Usi-Ekiti in 1942, only Adebayo and his friend, Olajide Olatawura (who later became Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria) passed; even above the 60% requirement and consequently got admission into the best secondary school in Ekiti that time. However, he left for Eko Boys High School, Lagos in 1944, when he went to spend holiday with his uncle, who then encouraged him to move to Lagos.

This later brought a turning point in his life as he developed more of his good athletics skill there and completed his secondary education in 1947.

Gen Adebayo (2) 20151010

Military career

His athletic prowess was soon discovered at a military practice, which paved way for his joining the West African Frontier Force(the forerunner of the Nigerian Army) in 1948 as a regiment signaler at age 20. He later went to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) for Officers’ Cadet Training between 1950 and 1952. He returned to Nigeria and was soon recognised as a potential officer in Abeokuta, based on the excellent reports he got from various military formations where he had served.

Consequently he was selected after a rigorous process to sit for the prescribed examinations of the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) in which he came first in1952. He was the only one selected by the RWAFF in the whole of British West Africa Region in July1953 for the Officers’ training in the United Kingdom.

After completing the six months military officers’ training in Chester, England, he was commissioned as a full Lieutenant on December 5, 1953; a rank above the normal Second Lieutenant, because of the previous five years experience he had acquired since he joined the army in 1948.

So he was commissioned as the 23rd West African military officer with number WA23 in the Royal West African Frontier Force and 7th Nigerian military officer commissioned with number NA7. He then returned to Nigeria in 1954 and was posted to the First Battalion, Kaduna, as Platoon Commander, under Captain Bassey, who was then the oldest Nigerian military officer (having joined the army in 1932)

From that age 25, Adeyinka began to climb the ladder of leadership position in the army. He attended more courses like: Platoon Commanders’ Tactical Course (1955) and Platoon Weapons’ Course in Hythe, England (1955), Company Commanders’ Course (1959), Staff College Course in Camberley, Surrey, England (1960) and the famous Imperial Defence Course in London (1966).

He consequently had the following landmark achievements during his military career before he voluntarily retired in 1975. Military milestone achievements

  • Platoon Commander, 1954–1955
  • Regimental signal officer, 1955–1957
  • Aide-de-camp(ADC) to the last British governor-general of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson,1957-1958 (The first Nigerian to get such appointment)
  • Company Commander in the First Battalion, Nigeria Army and commanded Ikoyi Detachment (now Federal Guards) 1958 to 1960
  • Promoted Major in April 1960.
  • First Nigerian General Staff Officer(GSO) Grade 2 (Intelligence) at the United Nations Headquarters in Congo,1961
  • Promoted Lieutenant Colonel in 1962 (after UNO assignment); and became one of the six most senior officers in the Nigerian Army.
  • First indigenous General Staff Officer(GSO), Grade 2 Nigerian Army Headquarters, 1961–1962
  • First Nigerian to be appointed General Staff Officer Grade 1, 1962–1963
  • Commander, Nigerian contingent in the Congo, 1963
  • First indigenous Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army, February 1964 – November 1965
  • Promoted Colonel in 1964.
  • As the Chief of Staff, he had the following officers who later played prominent roles in Nigeria political history, working under him: Lt. Col. David Ejoor (General Staff Officer; Grade1) Lt. Col Yakubu Gowon (Adjutant-General), Lt. Col Odumegwu Ojukwu (Quartermaster-General)
  • Chairman, Organisation of African Unity(OAU) Planning Committee, 1963–1965
  • Head of Nigerian delegation to the OAU Summit in Ethiopia, November 1966
  • Military Governor, Western Region (later Western State{May28,1967 following the creation of 12 states in Nigeria) Nigeria, August 2,1966–1971
  • Commandant, Nigerian Defence Academy(NDA), 1971–1972
  • Ceremonial military duties, 1972–1975
  • Retired voluntarily from the Nigerian Army with the rank of Major-General, July 1975
  • Trained Gen. Ibrahim B. Babangida (who later became President of Nigeria), late Gen. Mamma Vatsa, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, e.t.c.

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1966 Coup and Counter-coup

At the time the first coup was being carried out on January 15, 1966, the then Col. Adebayo was in England for a course, having gone there since November 1965. The coup d’état led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, was carried out, during which the leadership of Nigeria National Alliance(NNA) party formed by Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello’s Northern People’s Congress(NPC) and Chief Samuel Oladoke Akintola’s Nigeria National Democratic Party(NNDP) were eliminated.

During the coup, Nigeria Prime Minister, Alh. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier of Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello, and his Western Region counterpart, Akintola, and other top politicians and senior military officers associated with them via appointment, who were Northerners and Westerners, were assassinated. But the President of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (who had heard of the coming coup and fled abroad), Premier of Eastern Region, Chief Michael Iheonukara Okpara and his Mid-Western Region counterpart, Dennis Osadebay and other top politicians of the Igbo descent were spared during the coup.

At the end of the coup, Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi who was the General Officer Commanding the Nigeria Army then, took over the reign of power. This development provoked military officers from Northern Nigeria who were then junior officers, especially when civil disturbance began in the North. From May 1966, Northerners had began to engage in civil disturbance against the policies of Ironsi, attacking and killing people from the Eastern part of the country.

This situation, some mutineers from the North took advantage of. They realized that young officers of Igbo descent who plotted the first coup, rather than being punished by Aguiyi-Ironsi , were promoted by him. They saw the whole as Igbo coup and decided to retaliate. Ironsi was embarking on nation-wide tour to explain his unification policies . So he went to Western Region, Ibadan on his first official visit there, the night of July 28, where he had gone to the then military governor, Col. Adekunle Fajuyi after he had finished visit to the North on July 27. The mutineers came to Fajuyi and briefed him of their mission but he insisted they should not kill him in his base to avoid crisis among Igbo-Yoruba, but they won’t listen. He had to volunteer himself to be killed along with Ironsi so that there won’t be mis-perception that he hosted the Head of State for Northern soldiers to come and kill him.

However, Adebayo only escaped death by the whisker because it was the day he returned to Nigeria, from UK, where he had gone for a course since November 1965 (and never witnessed the first coup of January 15) that another coup was already being carried out and he didn’t know. As he got t Lagos he heard that the Head of State had traveled to Ibadan and he decided to wait for him to return to Lagos, to report officially to him as head of the military.

According to him, he was officially booked to sleep in Federal Government House Lodge, Ikoyi, Lagos that night, but he just got the urge within him to sleep in his cousin’s house on Alhaji Ribadu Road, Ikoyi. And that was how God spared him from being killed that night when the coup plotters came to the lodge.

He explained that the course he went for in the UK was what spared him in that of January 15 coup because when the coup plotters came to the military headquarters they killed the Chief of Staff, Col Kur Muhammed, who took over from him in November 1965 when he was travelling abroad.
Roles in Nigeria-Biafra War

Before the Nigeria civil war, commonly referred to as Biafra War, broke out in 1967, following the declaration of Republic of Biafra by the then military governor of Eastern Region, late Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Adebayo had appealed to both the Biafra agitators and the Federal Government of Nigeria against the use of force to solve the ethnic crisis and other problems going on between the Igbo and northerners, but the two parties found it difficult to listen to him, for a lot of reasons.


First, he was the most senior officer in Nigeria, among the key players in Nigeria politics that time, when Sodeinde was already abroad. Both Col. Ojukwu who he encouraged to join the army, when he (Adebayo) was already the ADC to the last British Governor General of Nigeria, and Major-General Gowon, who was now the Head of State, and the military governor of Northern Region at that time, were all his juniors in the military then.

But when the war eventually broke out and the Biafran soldiers moved beyond their region, by encroaching into the Western Region, aiming to come to Lagos, the sit of Federal Government, Adeyinka used his military prowess to stop them by ordering the braking of all the bridges that linked the Mid-Western State and Eastern Regions with the West. That was what led to popular “Oleku Ija-Ore’(the tough Battle of Ore).

However, just as he had earlier warned, by the time the war eneded in 1970, not fewer than two million women and children among the Biafrans were said to have died of hunger and starvation alone. He was thereafter appointed by the Federal Government to head the reconciliation committee set up.
Political Achievements

He governed Western Nigeria for five years during which he achieved the following monumental things, among many others:

  1. He was the last military governor of Western Region(Aug.2, 1966-May 27,1967) and the first military governor of Western State (May 28,1967-1971) when Gen. Gowon created 12 States out of the existing four regions in Nigeria.
  2. He succeeded in asking the new Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon to release late Chief Obafemi Awolowo from prison in 1966,(who was then serving a jail term for treasonable felony) for peace to be restored in the Western Region; whose second premier, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and the first military governor, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi had been assassinated by coup plotters within six months in 1966.
  3. He created 28 administrative divisions in Western Region and built Divisional Headquarters in each.
  4. He introduced 40-hour, 5-day working week in Western State on July 17, 1967.
  5. Established the Faculty of Health Sciences in the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University)
  6. Established Wema Bank from the “ashes” of Agbonmagbe Bank
  7. Established the Western State Court of Appeal
  8. Introduced Grade 2 Certificate Course to the Nigerian educational system.
  9. Introduced the payment of bursary to students of Western State origin in all universities.
  10. Started the building of the permanent campus of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and moved it from its temporary site in Ibadan (Oyo State) to Ile-Ife(Osun State).
  11. Established The Polytechnic, Ibadan.
  12. Established The Institute Of Agricultural Research and Training, Moore, Ibadan, under the auspices of the then University of Ife.
  13. Introduced the payment of special allowance to Science Teachers in Western Region.
  14. Founding member and National Vice Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) 1979-1983.
  15. Chairman, Yoruba Council of Elders
  16. The first Nigerian who became governor (1966) and also had his son (Otunba Niyi Adebayo) elected as state governor(1999-2003)

Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo in army uniform
Academic awards/activities

  • Doctor of Civil Law(DCL), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
  • Doctor of Law (LLD), Ondo State University, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria
  • Pro-chancellor, University of Ibadan,Nigeria.

National honour

  • Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(OFR)
  • The Federal University, Oye-Ekiti,(FUOYE) was named after him as Adeyinka Adebayo University(AAU).
Gen Adebayo's son, Ex-Gov Niyi
Gen Adebayo’s son, Ex-Gov Niyi Adebayo

Chieftaincy Titles

  • Bobajiro of Ife, Osun State
  • Agbaakin of Ekitiland, Ekiti State.
  • Fowoko of Oyo, Oyo State
  • Jagungbayi of Abeokuta, Ogun State
  • Jagunleke of Ijebuland, Ogun State
  • Taiyese of Ilesa, Osun State
  • Jagunmolu of Akure, Ondo State
  • Balogun of Ila-Orangun, Osun State
  • Agbaakin of Osogbo, Osun State
  • Taiyese of Lagos, Lagos State
  • Akogun of Ikorodu, Lagos State
  • Bobagunwa of Idanre, Ondo State
  • Akogun of Igbajo, Osun State
  • Korede of Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. And many others
Gen Adebayo's Son.Niyi(Right), Wife(middle) and Gov Ambode
R-L:Gen Adebayo’s Son, Otunba Niyi, his widow, Mrs Modupe Adebayo and Lagos Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode (in white Agbada)

Marital and Family Life

He married Chief (Mrs.) Modupe Adebayo, (who he acknowledged in his biographical book(Onward Soldier Marches On: A Biography of Major-General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo by Oluranti Afowore) as “a woman who stood by me during the eventful years of being in the saddle of power in the West”

Adebayo had other wife(ves) whose number he did not disclose, but told this journalist, Charles Segun Adegbite, thrice during interviews in 2016 and January 2017, “I have one wife at a time”.

His eldest son, Niyi Adebayo, a lawyer and politician was the first Executive Governor of Ekiti State, and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC). Another son, Adesola Adebayo was the Commissioner for Works and Transport, Ekiti State under Dr Kayode Fayemi led Administration from 2010 to 2014. Another son, Adedayo Adebayo, played rugby for Bath and for the England National Team, winning six international caps between 1996 and 1999. One of his other children, Leke Adebayo, is an actor, writer and producer in London, who has appeared and scripted various productions.

He died peacefully after a very brief illness in his GRA. Ikeja, Lagos, residence on March 8, 2017. At the time of his death he was a respectable voice among the military, being the oldest of the Nigerian military officers. He was also the leader of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) who came out to warn the Fulani herdsmen when they abducted one of the prominent Yoruba politicians and former Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF) Chief Olu Falae in 2015.

He was until his death the only surviving general among the nine indigenous commissioned military officers Nigeria had as at 1954, when Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello became Premier of Western, Eastern and Northern Regions respectively.

Those officers were: Fred Ugbomah (NA1), Duke Wellington Bassey(NA2), JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi (NA3), Samuel Ademulegun (NA4), Ralph Sodeinde(NA5), Babafemi Ogundipe(NA6), Robert Adeyinka Adebayo(NA7), Zakari Maimalari(NA8), O-mar Lawal (NA9)

Ugbomah left the Army shortly after he was commissioned as lieutenant. Aguiyi-Ironsi, Ademulegun, Sodeinde and Maimalari were killed during the coup d’etats of January and July 1966. Ogundipe died serving as the Nigerian High Commissioner I Britain. Brigadier Bassey died in 1996.

He told this journalist in an interview last year that he was still alive only through God’s grace; 20years after the last officer, Bassey, died and 50 years after military coups claimed the lives of other colleagues.
Read also: Glorious exit of Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo

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