Major General Aguiyi Ironsi
 

General Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi

Ironsi’s widow Slams Danjuma

Ironsi... A Forgotten Hero Keeps Returning

The Sorry Tale Of Ndume Without Ironsi

Those Who Chose To Forget Ironsi, Should Remember He Was Once Their Master

They Shot Him In The Chest

As A Family, We Are Through With Anything Military

Crash Of The Elephant

Ironsi's Death Retards Us 100 Years

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Ironsi’s widow Slams Danjuma
VULTURE WILL EAT YOUR CORPSE!
For calling my husband who you killed “useless”

Lady Aguiyi Ironsi (Sun)

By SHOLA OSHUNKEYE

Former Defence Minister, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma may have inadvertently heaped a coal of fire on his

T.Y. Danjuma

aging head with a recent interview he granted The Guardian On Sunday where he described the assassinated Head of State, Major-General G.T.U Ironsi, as a “useless”, “desk-clerk” Head of State.

Ironsi, Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces, between January and July 1966, was assassinated with Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, the military governor of the then Western Region, at Ibadan, in a counter-coup that watered the ground for the 30-month civil war that engulfed Nigeria between 1967 and 1970.

The Head of State, famous for his crocodile swagger, was reportedly murdered by General Danjuma and fellow coupists. Danjuma was on the Head of State’s entourage, and was actually reported to be with him till late in the night of the coup, before turning his gun at his boss at dawn.
However, in what has turned out to be a haphazard attempt to wash his hands off Ironsi’s blood, Danjuma denied pulling the trigger in the Guardian interview, reasonably distancing himself from the gory details of disclosing that he had to “hitch a ride to the barracks (from Government house, Agodi, Ibadan) after the ring leaders had taken Ironsi and Fajuyi away.

He, however, put the lie to his half-baked story when he employed some caustic words to justify the coup, describing Ironsi as a “useless” and desk-clerk” Head of State, 40 solid years after the assassination, and long after key witnesses to the unfortunate event had bitten the dust.
But Mrs. Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, former First Lady, widow of the murdered Head of State, now Commissioner I in Local Government Service Commission in Abia State, would not allow the unwarranted assault on her dead husband go unreplied. And reply she did in a most vitriolic manner when she spoke exclusively to Saturday Sun in Umuahia, the state capital on Wednesday.

“He is a useless man,” Chief Mrs. Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi declared. “He is a mad man…. That (Danjuma’s vituperation) shows how hopeless and wicked he is. After killing a man the way he did, and 40 years later, he will still not allow my husband to rest in his grave. He is using such a wicked and senseless language on my late husband. That means he (Danjuma) is a hopeless man. He is a shameless coward. Danjuma has got no virtue in him other than that wickedness. That is why he can describe Johnny like that even 40 years after he had killed him in such a brutal manner. But as long as there is God in heaven, and I know there is God in heaven, that is how vulture will describe him too.”

I don’t know whether you read the interview General Danjuma granted The Guardian last Sunday?
My attention was drawn to it.
He said the first military coup of January15, 1966, was an Igbo coup, a coup staged by Igbo officers to eliminate all northern officers and political leaders at the time.
Don’t mind that man. He is a useless man. He is a mad man. How can I continue joining issue with a man like that? He is a stupid man. He is just blabbing. He doesn’t know what he is doing. He is knows very well that he is just talking about what he does not know, what he is ignorant of. He didn’t know Johnny (Gen. G.T.U.Aguiyi-Ironsi, her late husband). He never came near us enough to know my family, to know the manner of man my late husband was. No, he never did. All the officers at the time were Johnny’s children. They related to him like his children. They ate together on the same table, played together, shared things together. It was like a big family, except for cowards and irritants like Danjuma.

Danjuma, at the time was an officer too.
I never knew him as an officer. I knew him as Danjuma. While it lasted, there was no officer I didn’t know or that I cannot vouch for, except this Danjuma of a man.

Are you saying Danjuma was so inconsequential, you didn’t or couldn’t recognize him?
I don’t mean knowing him in the manner you are portraying, I mean knowing him in the sense of understanding him. Knowing somebody peripherally is quite different from understanding him.

So, what didn’t your understand about Danjuma?
He has been a very sly and cantankerous man all his life. He is a loner. He doesn’t move with people. He is a dangerous man. We had always suspected him to be a dangerous human being, going by his strange behaviour and the way he kept to himself most of the time.

What were the things he did or did not do as to warrant your describing him as a dangerous man?
For instance, we maintained an open house at the State House. Officers came in and went out the way they liked. They ate on the same table with Johnny. Their ranks didn’t matter. It didn’t matter where they came from. Every officer would come, Danjuma would not. Even whenever he went to the mess, he only went to the people he can control, people he can use and these were people from his own side of the country. He had serious hatred for the Igbos. He never mixed with Igbo officers. He is a manipulator. He is a terrible Igbo hater.

But why would he hate the Igbos?
I don’t know but I was somewhat in the Army and I know when all of them joined the Army. I was in the Army for 20 years before they killed Johnny. So, I knew all of them very well. But Danjuma, I did not because he was never friendly. He is never a friendly person. You can imagine, I will cook and cook in the house for the whole officers who, out of their love for Johnny, frequently visited the house. I will cook and cook. Sometimes, I would go to bed without food because I had given my portion to a guest. But Danjuma never came round. I never saw him in my house for one day. His hatred for us was that much. Now, he is talking rubbish about Johnny.

Ma, I don’t mean to hurt you with what I’m about asking you. But while still commenting on the January 15, 1966 coup, he accused the Igbo officers involved in the coup of deliberately eliminating the cream of the Army, comprising mainly of northern officers, and to use his words, leaving “us with useless officers like Ironsi who was a desk-clerk Head of State”. How do you react to this?
That shows how hopeless and wicked he is. After killing a man the way he did, and 40 years later, he will still not allow my husband to rest in his grave. He is using such a wicked and senseless language on my late husband. That means he (Danjuma) is a hopeless man. He is a shameless coward. Danjuma has got no virtue in him other than that wickedness. That is why he can describe Johnny like that even 40 years after he had killed him in such a brutal manner. But as long as there is God in heaven, and I know there is God in heaven that is how vulture will describe him too.

Vulture?
Yes, vulture! (Banging the table…) For making such a wicked statement against my husband in the paper, that is how vulture will describe him. For a man to make that kind of statement like the kind he made in that paper, it’s vulture that will describe him. Vulture will eat his corpse.

You are cursing him ma?
Yes, I have to curse him. He deserves to be cursed because I am very, very bitter. Johnny has lived all over the world with people and I have never seen anyone make reference to him that way. Vulture will answer him, not me. He will go before his God and answer for this iniquity. Vengeance is for the Lord.

What do you make of this? He was in your husband’s entourage to Ibadan that fateful day to protect him and… (Cuts in…) He didn’t go to protect him. He went like a viper to murder him.

That same night, he said that the adjutant came to bang his door at about 1.a.m saying there was problem in Abeokuta, that the duty officer in Abeokuta saw the Commanding Officer holding meeting with Igbo Officers, excluding non-Igbo Officers, that the duty officer called two soldiers, who cocked their guns and rounded up everybody. That that was the beginning of trouble that fateful July morning (the morning of the second coup). He in fact said he was a stranger in the coup that killed your husband.
Lie! Lie!! Lie!!! Oh, why is this Danjuma such a terrible liar? He is the planner. He is a terrible Igbo hater. He hated Igbos with a passion. He said it in the interview that the Northern officers were just waiting for the right time to avenge the first coup on the Igbos. They planned everything. What is he talking about?

He even said the ADC to your husband lied. That everybody knew that he (Danjuma) didn’t do the kind of thing that he said he did, after shooting your husband, tying the body to a Landrover and dragging the body all over the place… He said he never did any of those things.
He is saying this now because he knows that Nwankwo (the ADC) is dead now. Why is he just saying all these things now? Why does he have to wait till the people who knew what happened that morning in Ibadan have died before saying all this? Why couldn’t he say all this while they were alive to puncture his lies? The ADC had been alive all these years, why didn’t he come out to say all this? Why wait till he is dead? What I’m saying is that mouth he used to desecrate Johnny’s name 40 years after he murdered him, it’s only vulture that will ask him. He is saying all this rubbish, because he knows that the man who knew the correct history and who would have punctured his lies and told the world exactly what happened is dead. He is talking garbage because Nwankwo is dead. Danjuma is a coward, coward of the highest order. He is not an officer and gentleman that all soldiers should be.
How many years now did they kill my husband, leaving me a widow at a very young age and my children fatherless at a very tender age? But has any of us gone to him to beg for food even as they did not pay him what is due to him? They did not build a house for me. Nobody bothered to care if my children and I were living on the street or in market shed.

For 40 years, she bore the brutal assassination of her husband and late Head of State, General G.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, with stoic silence. Despite varying, sometimes provocative accounts of the July 29, 1966 coup, by witnesses to the tragedy, she kept silent but held firmly to her unshakable faith in the power of the Almighty to help her ride the storms and conquer the vicissitudes that usually attend the demise of a family’s breadwinner. And as Chief Mrs. Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, widow of the assassinated Head of State, told SUNDAY SUN, in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, last Wednesday, “God has been faithful.”

“God has really shamed all the enemies of Johnny, (her late husband),” Mrs. Aguiyi-Ironsi, who is Commissioner 1 in the Abia State Local Government Service Commission, said in the exclusive interview. “I was very young when they took him away from me. But with God on my side, and with practically no assistance from anybody, especially the federal government of Nigeria, I was able to train all our eight children (six girls, two boys) to an enviable standard in life.”

Although she said the struggle was hellish, she took everything in her stride, resolutely determined to give her children the best she could afford. And the fact that all the children turned out well has dug a bottomless spring of joy in her heart, so much so that she almost completely forgot the pains induced by the gruesome assassination of her husband in Ibadan, capital of the old Western Region on July 29, 1966.
That was until last Sunday, when The Guardian published an exclusive interview with former Defence Minister, General Theophilus Danjuma, who defied the age-long African tradition of showing utmost respect for the dead, by abusing the late Head of State in a most vitriolic manner, describing him as “useless” and a “desk-clerk” Head of State.

Apart from desecreating the memory of her late husband, dishing out what she called “absolute lies”, Mrs. Aguiyi-Ironsi was miffed by the fact that an officer far junior to her late husband could have the temerity to lambast the dead Head of State the way he did.

In this concluding part of the interview, the woman said only cowards could speak ill of the dead the way General Danjuma did of her husband. Not only that, she also described the former Defence Minister as a terrible “Igbo Hater”.

In the Guardian interview, Danjuma also said something like they, northern officers, had to wait for the right time to strike back, perhaps at the Igbo officers, after the coup of January 15, 1966. He even used the word “draw” as to even scores in a football match. How do you see this?

It only buttresses my earlier point that he is a terrible Igbo hater. He is a man who loves killing. He loves blood, and once it goes to his head, he starts planning.

He also said the reason he hated your husband so much was that after the masterminds of the January 1966 coup had been arrested, that your husband never did anything. That he just kept them there, no trial, nothing; that maybe he was just waiting to free them. Danjuma was even angry that some journalists were already writing and describing them as heroes.

You see, he is a foolish man. What he didn’t know is that Johnny was not a dictator. He never took any decision single-handedly. What he did or did not do was collective decision. He never single-handedly took any decision. He believed two heads are better than one. Even when they did Decree 34, was it not a collective decision? When that one was not good, they said it was only Aguiyi-Ironsi who gave Decree 34. How can that be possible? When you hate somebody, there is nothing that person can do that would do be good in your sight.

Do you really believe he pulled the trigger that killed your husband?
I am not interested in the garbage he is saying now. It is 40 years now that they murdered my Johnny and Danjuma’s name has been repeatedly mentioned as the person who killed my husband in a most brutal, most wicked manner. He killed Johnny.

In trying to extricate himself from General Ironsi’s assassination, Danjuma said he lost control when an officer came up and said soldiers should first of all seize his crocodile swagger, or else your husband will disappear. That he disagreed with the officer, and that was the point he lost control and the boys took over.

At least you can see from this disjointed statement the face of a pathetic liar. Why can’t this coward own up to his evil deed or shut his mouth forever? How can a mere disagreement over a mere swagger make him lose control, when he was already in military fatigue, which he said he borrowed for the operation, and when he was fully armed? Why can’t this man show a little intelligence? So, because of that minor disagreement over a mere stick, he backed out of a coup he was a ringleader? He backed out after shooting him. He lost control and fired him?

No, he gave the impression that he lost control and left the place while the soldiers took General Ironsi and Colonel Fajuyi away.

That is his pack of lies. Was I there? Is my Johnny alive to tell me what happened? Those who were there, who saw everything, he waited until they are dead before opening his mouth wide and try to poison my family. It’s only God that will pay him back. God will pay him back in his own coins.

The way you are talking, it’s like you can never forgive Danjuma.
Danjuma? Me forgive Danjuma? Look at Gowon. Gowon has shown that he is a man, he is not a coward. Gowon has shown that he is also a good Christian, a God-fearing man.

How did he show that?
Even if he had hands in killing my husband, he has come to the family and apologised. He said, please, forgive. And I said I don’t hold anything against anybody. I said vengeance is for the Lord. Those who killed him, I leave them to God. I myself, I don’t bear grudges against anybody. Even though Mrs. Aguiyi-Ironsi is still in this country, alive, do they want to know whether I’m alive or dead? Do they remember me?

Do they remember my late husband? Do they remember my children? Have they said that when we killed this man, he hadn’t a penny, let’s do something for his family? Let us go and put a little shelter upon their head? Do they care whether we live in an open market or under a bridge? They don’t know. They don’t care. Yet, these are people who we used our youth and all our strength to work for. But we have become a sacrificial lamb but I know the God of heaven is alive and He is seeing everything.

Okay, what if Danjuma changes his mind tomorrow and walks up to your house and say, ‘Ma, I’m sorry for everything. Forgive us’. Would you forgive him?

I’m a child of God.
I know, but would you forgive him straight from your heart?
Me? Who am I not to forgive? I’m a Knight of Saint John; so, I will always forgive people so that God in Heaven can forgive me of my own sins too.
Saturday Sun, February 23, 2008

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Ironsi
Ironsi
Ironsi... A Forgotten Hero Keeps Returning
BY ALABI WILLIAMS,

THIS week, Nigerians will remember the late General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, former Head of State and one of the fallen heroes of the tragic political events of 1966. The tale of Ironsi represented a major loss for the immediate members of his family, his Igbo kinsmen and Nigerians in general. Beyond this, his demise deepened an inherited culture of distrust and political instability in the country.

The late General was an urbane military officer, widely travelled and well liked. But he had to help absorb some of the pains and contradictions of being a Nigerian.

As the colonial government was departing Nigeria in the early 1960s, there was a glaring need to stabilise the polity. The Regions were largely autonomous, even as they possessed glaring peculiarities. Therefore, within the larger ethnic groups, a motley of interests had to be secured just as the smaller ethnic groups equally demanded for their minority interests within the large political space.

The military was a sensitive organ in the midst of conflicting regional interests. Those who exercised rare vision knew that over time, the military would play a major role in Nigeria's political history. The immediate challenge was to transform it from being a colonial army into a national one. That was monumental, because real balancing of forces was needed to assuage ill feelings among the people of Nigeria. And for a newly independent country, that was some burden.

Eventually, in 1965, Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi topped the list of four other senior officers, who were tipped to take over from Major-General Sir C.E Welby Everad, as the General Officer Commanding (GCO) the Nigerian Army. The regional politicians, who saw the need to have one of their own to command the army, contested that position.

On account of the relative number of officers from the North, the British showed some liking for the region. But it would appear that the colonial masters applied fairness, to balance the huge political weight of the North's with a controlling command of the military by the South.

Besides, Ironsi stood very tall with his military experience garnered over the years. At age 17, he worked as a civilian storesman at the Nigerian Ordinance Deport, Apapa, Lagos. Later, he enlisted as a private soldier in the 7th Battalion of the Nigerian Regiment. That was in the early 1940s. By 1948 he was selected for officer training course in Britain's Camberley Staff College. He returned to Nigeria as a Second Lieutenant in 1950. In 1952, he again attended a course of instruction at the School of Infantry at Warminster on Salisbury Plain.

In 1953, he served as A.D.C to the then Governor, Sir John Macpherson. By 1956, he was appointed an Extra Equerry to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, both at Buckingham Palace in London and on the Queen' tour of Nigeria. He was later promoted Lieutenant Colonel and placed in command of the Fifth Battalion stationed in Kano. At attaining the rank of Brigadier, he was sent to London as Military AttachZ to the Nigerian High Commission.

In 1960, he commanded the Nigerian Contingent to the Congo where the United Nations tried to restore order in that crisis-torn country. Here, he had first hand experience at crisis management and Ironsi is acknowledged to have demonstrated courage and leadership. From there, he returned to London as Military Adviser to the Nigerian High Commission, where he took time off to do a course at Imperial Defence College, Camberley. Yet again in 1964, he was recalled to the Congo to re-enact the feat of 1960. This time, he commanded the entire United Nations Contingent.

This was the background that gave the late General a head start when it came to looking for an indigenous General Officer Commander for the Nigerian Army.

The political situation in the country in the early years after Independence was very unstable. That provided opportunity for a group of brilliant young officers to stage the January 15, 1966 coup. Records of the events that culminated in the coup do not link the late General Officer Commanding the Army with those horrible events. If he had knowledge of the plans by those officers to eliminate the major regional political actors of the First Republic, his actions before and after that coup did not clearly explain. But there was anger in the North following the success of the coup in the North and partially in the West. The Eastern politicians were saved of the horrors of the coup either by omission or commission.

In the aftermath of January 1966, it was Ironsi, who battled to patch up the disaster and save Nigeria an imminent ethnic assault. In his wisdom, he collapsed the regional groupings into a unitary system of government with a central, powerful command. He appointed Military Governors to man the four regions - Lt. Colonel Hassan Usman Katsina for the North, Lt. Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi for the West, Lt. Colonel David Akpode Ejoor for the Mid West and Lt. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu for the East. It was planned that after some time, these officers would exchange positions all in the spirit of engendering unity.

Gen. Ironsi believed so much in the unity of Nigeria. What else to expect from a widely travelled military officer, who witnessed crises in the Congo and experienced good governance in the UK

To secure the peoples' confidence Ironsi's regime managed to distribute key positions in a manner that reflected federal character. The Supreme Military Council (SMC) had nine members including the four regional governors, Service Chiefs and the Attorney General and the Inspector General of Police. The 23 Permanent Secretaries' jobs in the Federal Public Service were shared among eight Northerners, seven Midwesterners, five Westerners and three Easterners.

He proposed a new Constitution that would prepare the country for a new democracy. Towards that end, he appointed Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams and former Attorney General, Dr. T.O. Elias to help do an outline for the new Constitution.

On the economy, Ironsi put together a think-tank to do a blueprint for growth and productivity. Dr. Pius Okigbo and Chief Simeon Adebo were put in charge.

However, all these did not impress the northern politicians and soldiers, who still nursed the grudge over the January 1966 coup. As the General was visiting the regions and reconciling with traditional rulers across the country, plans were in top gear to pull the carpet under his feet. That was what took place on July 29, 1966. He was assassinated in Ibadan during a tour of the Western Region on peace mission.

After his dead, Nigeria became further polarised with ethnic irredentism taking front stage against the much-needed unity. The absence of Ironsi robbed Nigeria of maturity in the military. The crop of younger officers who seized control of government could not manage the crisis, which culminated in a three-year civil war.

After the war, little was done to record for history the attempt made by the late General to restore hope in the country. It was only his close friends and colleagues, who attempted to rehabilitate his legacy, particularly in showing love to members of his immediate family, until recently when his son was offered an ambassadorial position.

The lesson for Nigeria is that every attempt should be made to conserve political experience, rather than wasting them. Imagine what Nigeria would have gained if Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi were alive to participate in the mediation before the civil war. Perhaps, the war wouldn't have been if his maturity and experience were harvested. Perhaps too, the military would not have plunged Nigeria into a wasteland as they laid siege to the economy, if Ironsi were allowed to mid-wife it into a responsible force. And for the Igbo, perhaps this civil war trauma would have been averted.

There can be consolation for Nigeria over the killing of Aguiyi-Ironsi if his legacies are dispassionately preserved, to serve as a lesson for those who are willing to learn. It will not make enduring sense if the collective memory of the man continues to remain in the margin. There is so much to learn from the life and times of Ironsi.

 

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The Sorry Tale Of Ndume Without Ironsi
BY EMMA EKE
"WHO is this late General J.U.T. Aguiyi-Ironsi
That name is strange to me." That was a sharp answer offered by the first girl, in her mid twenties. She was approached for an inquiry on how to locate, the country home of Nigeria's first military Head of State at Ndume Ibeku, Umuahia, Abia State. Further inquiry from several youths elicited similar response: none could give direction to Ironsi's homestead.

However, it took the intervention of an elderly man, a commercial motorcyclist (Okoda rider) to educate the questioner and the youths, who expressed ignorance of the existence of a man of the status of Ironsi.

"At least, that sends a message" remarked the Okadaman, that "Ironsi is gradually being written off the history of this nation. Don't ask young people, they would not know much about the family of the General (as those who knew his exploits popularly refer to him). His village is called

Ndume in Ibeku, along Umuahia Ikot-Ekpene Road," he volunteered.

Yet, there was a proviso. "Mind you, there is no good road leading to his community, but if you go with okada, there will not be much problem getting there," the man said.

Aguiyi-Ironsi was assassinated 38 years ago, precisely on July 29, 1966. He was in Ibadan, in continuation of a nationwide, to sue for peace aftermath of the January 15, 1966 first military coup d'etat and its accompanying pogrom against easterners living in Northern Nigeria. Some junior army officers killed Ironsi, along with his host, Col. Adekunle Fajuyi.

The journey from downtown Umuahia took less than 45 minutes on a bike ride to an erosion-ravaged community. And tucked away by a bushy alley is the famous Aguiyi-Ironsi's traditional compound that has no landmark to indicate it from its exterior.

What go for roads in Ndume are waterlogged and muddy footpaths that welcome a first time visitor to a village square, leading to various hamlets. But for the few scattered houses, mostly uncompleted bungalows, and a few children playing at the square, the community could go for a ghost town that sunny afternoon.

"Before now, everybody loved to be identified with this community. However, since the killing of 'General' and the failure of successive governments after his, to do anything to immortalise his name, we have become a pariah of sort," said His Royal Highness, Eze Ephraim Meregini, the traditional ruler of Ndume Ibeku, in a chat with The Guardian.

And this appears the typical feature of the community: deserted save for children of school age, playing in the mud; a scenario corroborated by a teenage girl. "My parents went to the farm and they asked me to take care of my younger ones," said Beatrice Ugorji, 10, who disclosed that she was a class three pupil at Ndume Primary School. She it was that led a number of other children into the nearby village square, adjacent the home of Chief Lazarus Aguiyi-Ironsi, younger brother to the late Head of State.

But beyond the welcome smile on the mien of tall and fair complexioned Lazarus, lay some bitterness. The retired public servant did not hide this in most of his "off record" discussion with the visitors. As he explained, he had a reason to express angry against the society that has abandoned his family since the killing of his elder brother.

"Who would be in my shoe without being upset, having lost all the hope of elevating this family to the highest status, which was dashed after we have given our prominent son to serve this country selflessly” he queried, pains visible on his face.

The youths of the community were not left out in the expression of anguish at the fate that had befallen them. Mr. Boniface Achara, an unemployed graduate of the Abia State University, summed it up:

"Though I did not have the opportunity of meeting the slain Head of State, as I was not yet born, I don't need any soothsayer to convince me that my life would have been different, had 'General' successfully ruled this nation the way he had planned. Even at that, had the powers that be rehabilitated him, by now our lot in this village would have been different."

Achara quoted his father as having told him how the community was regarded in the whole Eastern Region and beyond "if you claimed to hail from the village, when Ironsi assumed the number one position of the country."

"As a young man, my most regret of the whole episode is the fact that there is no single status of the 'General' within our community that claims to have had such a widely travelled Army officer. Why shouldn't children born after his time forget that such an icon hailed from here” " he said.

The grouse and sense of loss of Aguiyi-Ironsi is not helped by the half-hearted attempt made by the Abia State Government to put up some permanent structures to commemorate the life of Ironsi. If the beats its chest at the naming of the tomb at the Aguiyi-Ironsi Conference Centre, as immortalising him; it lacks explanation on why rodents and thick brush have taken over the Cenotaph sited at Ihe Town, outskirts of Umuahia.

An official of Abia State Ministry of Information and Culture put it this way: "The General was and still is the property of the Federal Government and not the state government. But that notwithstanding, the state government has not relented in its continuous attempts at maintaining the publicly-built places, for his name. If the Federal Government can add a helping hand to this, this nation will be better for it."

Contacted on phone, the Chief Press Secretary to Abia State Governor, Mr. Onuoha Udeala said that it was not true that the state had joined others not to rehabilitate Aguiyi-Ironsi he described as the "Head of Nigerian Unity."

According for him, there is a cordial relationship between the immediate family of the late Head of State and the Governor Orji Uzor Kalu administration and "we have been associated with the good performance of the first son of the General, as an Ambassador of this country."

But on the question of rehabilitating Ironsi, a cross section of the indigenes of the community maintained that the poor condition of his family could be improved if the National Assembly passed a motion, compelling the executive to compensate the family for sacrificing their breadwinner, for the existence of the country.

Mr. Peter Ibezim, an Umuahia-based legal practitioner said: "So long as there was a successful swearing ceremony performed on a person and he promulgated and signs a law or decree, he automatically is recongnised as either Head of State or a President, depending on the prevailing circumstances. Therefore, since Ironsi is said to have signed into law, Decree One of 1966 and other subsequent ones, he is to be treated as a Head of Government and what rights accrue to other heads of state, dead or alive should not be denied him."

Ibezim contended that by right, the federal government ought to accord Ironsi's immediate family and the extended ones proper recognition, in line with what obtains for other past and present heads of government in this country.

A member of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Gabriel Achonam, said that his party was about to take up the issue with the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which, he said, "remembered the Aguiyi-Ironsi family during electioneering campaigns."

I bet you, when election is around the corner, you will see all the political parties' campaign machinery invoking the name of the 'General' when in a visit to Umuahia and after that, everything about him will be forgotten," Achonam said.

He advised that the Aguiyi-Ironsi family should institute court action against the Federal Government and demand reparation over the killing of their son.

As he noted: "He (Ironsi) did not plan coup and so why should he be sacrificed for what others did just because he as the most senior Army General took up the mantle to keep the country united."

But good as this suggestion may sound, indications are that the Ironsi family would not press for any compensation. Both the slain Head of State's wife, Victoria and Chief Aguiyi-Ironsi would not broach such an idea.

This invariably leaves the question of how to rehabilitate General Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi pending, perhaps, when answers emerged naturally.

 

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'Those Who Chose To Forget Ironsi, Should Remember
He Was Once Their Master'

Chief Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi, wife of the late Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, spoke to GORDI UDEAJAH on her life without the man she married at a "very tender" at age. Excerpts:

My marred life to Ironsi
I married at a very tender age and we lived for 20 years before his sudden death. The 20 years was nothing but happiness all the way. He was a good Christian, a good husband, a good father, a good family man, a patriot, a community man, a good friend, a kind, generous and lovely man. If there is reincarnation, I would pray that I have such a man again as my husband.

How I met Ironsi
It was my parent that recommended or forced me. It was a miracle. I attribute it to God. I wanted to be a nun - a reverend sister of the Catholic Church but my mother said she would not be alive to hear that. I loved my mother so much that I did not want to offend her and she insisted she would commit suicide if I stuck to my ambition. So, I was forced to change my mind.

How we met was God's doing. One day, I was going to the market with my friend to buy our needle in 1953. We saw a soldier on the way and started laughing at him. The next morning, on my way to school, I saw the same soldier in our house and I ran away to that my friend's house and told her that that man (soldier) we were laughing at yesterday was now in our house with his parents. After school that day, I did not go back to our house; I followed my friend - Miss Philomena Ibeakanma (she is still alive and married but now a widow to their house and my people were looking for me everywhere. Ultimately, he (soldier) told his father that this was the girl he would marry. So, we married the same year, 1953.

Managing the children's inquiry after death of Ironsi
Though they were little and young they were used to him. They did not ask me many questions because though he used to have crowded duties, he still found time to stay and play with his children. They still remember how they used to swim, when we where in Congo, etc., when we travelled from London to Leopoldville for holidays. It is good for children to stay around their parents, to learn from them, not just what they are taught.

Has been adequately honoured by his country
If our rulers re-examine themselves they will know they have not been fair to him. If they recall that 20 years that we were together with them, they would know they have not done anything for him. They have not given him the honour due him. May be because he came from a poor family and no more around.

What did you expect them to do for him
Take a look at what has been happening. Some past leaders had their portraits in Nigerian naira notes. Would doing so for him be too much considering what he did for Nigeria

" They also know what befits him. I pray that one day somebody will emerge and redress these deprivations.

Did the government assist in the upbringing of your children "

I do not want to go into this here.

What about paying his benefits as a soldier and former head of state

I believe you might have read about these not long ago as published in the newspapers. People read it in black and white. We believe that what is due us will be given us when they want to give it to us.

Have his benefits not been released or paid to the family

I do not know, let the government answer this, not myself.

How about any form of compensation or benefits

I do not know what you call compensation. But you know that when they do something the whole world normally hears about it. When the late General Abacha was there, his wife did not allow me to starve; that is between them and myself. But on the part of government is it a house that they built for me that you would not have heard it

Did they not build for officers in GRAs because I know where they all live

Please, I do not want to be talking about these compensations because doing so gave me headache in the past.

There is no free medicare, too

No free medical service. The last medical check abroad was borne by the late Abacha himself. Now, I am due to travel abroad for checks but I can't go because I do not have dollars. Medical bills are very high abroad and it is there that they have my medical records but I cannot go for lack of funds.

If the government did not assist you, who of your husband's friends did

Chief Emeka Ojukwu did. Even in my dark days, he never allowed me to rust. Apart from the Civil War, he was prepared to do everything for me. He knew we had no house and he pledged to build one for us. He gave us accommodation at Enugu when we returned from Lagos. He took up our feeding and others. Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo and his family were very helpful. He it was that even took my children to Oke-Ado and put them in schools and paid their first-year fees. He has remained a friend of the family.

There was none from Generals Yakubu Gowon and Theophilus Danjuma

I have told you what I have told you. I have forgiven Gowon; I have nothing against him. Whoever did what he did, let them be judged by their conscience.

Till date, your husband's killers or the suspects have not apologised to you

I do not know his killers; I do not know them. Nobody has come to tell me that he killed my husband, nobody. Vengeance is for the Lord. I do not also want to know his killers.

Is it by their own making or yours that none of your eight children is in the military

I must be frank. I was in the army when it was one family. My working past was for everybody. I grew up with them like that. But seeing the same people you grew up with as their mother abandoning me is regrettable. I represented them creditably all over the world. I formed the Army Wives Association in Nigeria. The same people I gave my life to were the same people who stabbed me in the back. So, I did not allow my children to join the military.

How are the children doing

I thank God that he gave me wonderful children; they are sources of joy. They have not given me any headache to remind me of Johnny's absence. God has been guiding them; they have been struggling on their own. They do not feel at all that they were once children of ex-head of state. I am from the same Umuahia Ibeku with my late husband; his village is Umuana, Nine Afara Ukwu both in Umuahia North Council. Our parents are late. My husband's elder brother, James Kanu died last week; his burial and funeral is being planned.

How rewarding is it being a politician

It depends on what you mean by reward. I just belong to a political party at one point in time. I knew Dr. Orji Kalu before he became Abia governor. He has been helping this family and has remained our friend. We are grateful to him.

What do you expect from President Obasanjo and his government

It is funny that people keep asking me about President Obasanjo; I always laugh because I was in the army with Obasanjo (and), he did not know me. (Is it) now that he is President

He is somebody I had known, whom my late husband cared for. My husband cared for every officer; I am sure they cannot deny that, each and every one of them. Now that he is the President, I expected him to be a father, too, to my children and me. During his campaigns, I went out and campaigned with him flying in the same aircraft. I expected that they would remember me. I cannot be going to Abuja to be asking for one thing or the other. He ought not to forget his mother in the army or the role I played. I have always been victim of not being remembered; I leave everything to God.

If you were asked to name what you want what would you ask for

See me, I have no house or plot of land at Abuja. Can't they make one possible for me

You see I find it difficult to go to Abuja because I have to stay in hotels and you know how expensive it is. So, I tanda (remain) in Umuahia, in my one-room apartment. They know I do not have money to build, so can't they allocate a built one to me as they did to other people

Don't I deserve such a thing

I am a PDP member. Do you know that even at the national level, (there is no recognition). Look at Anenih, when Yar'Adua was alive, it was me Yar'Adua, Anenih, Kingibe and Atiku - these were my mates in politics. They have not now considered that Lady Aguiyi-Ironsi was with us, here in PDP, let's give her something/appointment.

But your son, Thomas, was recently appointed Ambassador

He merited it being a career Diplomat. However, I thank them for that, but if they did not give him, we would not have done anything.

As an experienced widow, what's your advice to windows

Good question. People have learnt a lot from me. First, if one loses her husband either killed or otherwise, both are deaths, one should then know that the job previously meant for the two now rests on her alone. They should not expect much help from outside unless God brings somebody. So, widows must turn to God and always take their problems to God and trust Him also. As God of the widows, He will never let them down. Do not lay blame on anybody but trust your God.

Why did you not re-marry all these years especially as among the military where soldiers re-marry their friends' widows

That's one of my life secrets. I agree many late army men's wives re-married. A lot depends on how one attached oneself to one's husband. In my own case, I was very young with eight children when Johnny (Ironsi) was killed on July 29, 1966. I remember my parent, in-laws came to me after Johnny's death and said our dear daughter, we know how much you were attached to your late husband but you are young to remain a widow; you must try and get married again. I looked at them and laughed. I said I thought you would come to suggest to me how to bring up these children and thanked them. But I knew decidedly that I would never change Johnny's name.

Overall, how would describe life with you and your children these 38 years without Ironsi

Thanks for coming and remembering us. These 38 years have not been rosy. But I thank God for his protection and guidance. We still pray that He (God) continues to shower us his blessings, both Nigeria and Abia State. I would also urge Nigerians to continue to pray to the heavenly Father, who knows everything to look after each of us, give wisdom to our rulers and we will continue to pray for the wisdom because that is what we need to survive.

 

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'They Shot Him In The Chest'
AROUND 5.30, we heard gunfire. By then, Ironsi had called Col. Njoku to tell him about the coup. As Njoku was going out, he was shot at. But he escaped with bullet wounds. It was Njoku, who was the commander of Lagos Garrison that alerted others outside the Government House, Ibadan.

Fajuyi later sent me outside the Government House to find out what was happening. I met Danjuma, who was then a Major and he was my friend. He pretended he didn't know what was happening, he was asking me, and I said I didn't know. While I was trying to go back, one sergeant from Benue almost shot me, but Danjuma stopped him and spoke to him in Hausa. Danjuma later told me that he would like to see Ironsi, so that he could tell them what to do.

It was then that Fajuyi came out to find out what was holding me, and there inside the Government House, Danjuma ordered for his arrest and mine too. That was when I saw Walbe. Then Fajuyi asked me to take him to Ironsi so that they will obey him, that there should be only one person in charge. So, I took them to Ironsi, and major Newman, immediately he saw Ironsi, he seized his crocodile swagger stick, and then they started asking him about the January coup, he said he didn't know about it; that he only agreed to be Head of State, so that he can restore confidence and normalcy. It was immediately they arrested Ironsi that they turned violent...

The head of state, Ironsi, could have escaped if not that he wanted to make sure that there was no bloodshed. He said if he sacrificed his life and prevented bloodshed in Nigeria, it's better for him. Even his chaplain urged him to escape but he said no. Also many of his officers who were contacted instead of taking action, ran away.

They marched us down, Ironsi and myself, to where Fajuyi was. They used telephone cable to tie my hands behind and my legs, with a little space to walk. Same they did to Ironsi, but they removed his shirt, he wore only trousers, they also tied Fajuyi. Ironsi was in a Land Rover, Fajuyi in a mini bus and myself in another bus. They drove us towards Iwo Road, 10 km from Ibadan, there was a small forest were they stopped, marched us to the right hand side of the bush, Fajuyi was leading and as he tried to cross a small stream, he fell down, the soldiers were unruly, it appeared some of them had for the first time taken Indian hemp, so when he fell down some of them started beating him...

They shot Ironsi on the chest and it was a burst, so he would have died after the first shot.

- This was an account by Andrew Okonkwo, Ironsi's ADC on how Nigeria's first military Head of State, major General J.T.U Aguiyi Ironsi and his bosom friend Brigadier Adekunle Fajuyi, who was then governor of Western State were arrested and killed by soldiers during the 1966 coup. A former senator in the Third Republic, Nwankwo hails from the Izzi clan in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State and was a captain in the Nigeria Air Force before the January 1966 coup that installed Ironsi as first Head of State. Nwankwo later became Ironsi's Aide-De-Camp.

 

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'As A Family, We Are Through With Anything Military'
Chief Lazarus Nochiri Aguiyi-Ironsi, 65, the younger brother of the late General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, spoke to EMMA EKE on the influence of the former Aide-de-camp to the Queen on her first visit to Nigeria. Excerpts:

WHERE were you when your brother was killed
Before the pogrom, I was in Kaduna, working with the UAC at its spinning industry in 1963. I was transferred to Kano by the same UAC and to another subsidiary company but I had to go home when the pogrom started.

When was your last meeting with your late brother
I spent my annual vacation with him at the State House in Lagos. He was about to commence his tour of the Northern Region to be followed by e visit to the Western Region. And he did not have much time with anybody other than the problem facing the nation and how to bring about peace. I left for my base with the news that he would be embanking on Western Region tour. Unfortunately, he never survived that. But he never hid it from anybody, who was around him, that he wanted peace back in the country at all cost. He believed that by holding meetings with the traditional rulers and all that influence decision at various regions the unity of the country would be restored. He was a true Nigerian, who sacrificed his life for the unity of this nation, even though the nation is yet to appreciate this fact.

Could you confirm that he was warned by some soldiers not to embank on the Ibadan tour
That is part of the rumour mill. Who can come out and say that he warned him against the tour Can you go to President (Olusegun) Obasanjo and warn him not to execute what his cabinet had resolved to carry out

We have been hearing that and even read it, but I knew Johnson very well as one who was well focused and did not have anything to hide from people. Look, if you check the list of his personal staff they were made up of people outside the Southeastern Region, let alone Umuahia, his hometown. Nobody warned him; rather the very people that he trusted so much hid the conspiracy from him.

How close were you to him and what is your impression about him
As his immediate younger brother, I was very close to him and he was fond of me. But when you said without sentiment, I wonder how I can talk about my brother without hearing some feelings about him more so given the loss and method that he met his death

One thing that is clear is that when I wanted to join the military, I approached him for advice, and he said blindly no to it. His reason being the ups and downs and that since he was already there, let the family not have the misfortune of adding another risk over its head. I saw reasons with him and started going about making a career in the public service.

He was a unique person, a leader whose domain (Nigeria) did not value. This was a man, who was so enmeshed with the affairs of country that he spared none of his time for pleasure or for amassing wealth, as is the case of those who came after him. A detribalised Nigerian, who could churn out proverbs in all the major languages in the country - Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo; name them.

The only fault I can say of him - if at all it is a fault - is that he did not have special room for anybody, who would approach him for a favour, weeping up primordial sentiment like tribe, religion or class. He treated his blood brothers and sisters, the same way he would treat any other person. Go and read the former military governor of Lagos State, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson's comments on Ironsi. He summarised Ironsi as a man after peace, not knowing that he (Ironsi) was ridding on the back of a lion and ended in the mouth of a lion. He so trusted the Hausas, that even if anybody had suggested any abnormal thing to him coming from that angle, he would not have believed it.

But we have allowed the sleeping dog to lie. After all, he was not the person that plotted the (January 1966) coup nor did he execute any of the northern leaders. Major Nzeogwu did but failed to balance the equation because those he (Nzeogwu) sent to the Eastern and Mid Western Regions did not kill the political leaders of those regions. Then tribal meanings were read into the coup and my brother's blood was shed for an error that he never participated in.

Could you recollect a few personal discussions you had when you visited him at the State House, Lagos
It is difficult to recollect all our discussions but like I said, he was too engaged with meetings on state affairs that he hardly had time for his family. But on one of the few moments he was free to discuses the homefront with me, he merely asked after everyone in the family. He then told me that he would want to start to mold blocks for a house in the village. He asked now late Dr. J.O.J. Okezie, a senior civil servant from our area, to help him to arrange for the process of accomplishing the task, by clearing a piece of land he (Ironsi) had acquired at home. But he never molded the blocks nor do any other thing for the family before he was murdered.

As a family, what were you told happened at Ibadan before and during the killing of your brother
The military did not brief us officially. You know the country was passing through a trying time but we heard the news flash like every other Nigerian, through the radio, that the whereabouts of the Head of State was unknown. Even those who claimed that they warned him against the trip how could he be warned not to make the trip that he wanted even with his son, the Ambassador, as a small boy from England on a holiday. I told you, my brother was such a busy man. He had to go on the tour with this young boy, to have a fatherly interaction with him outside the State House busy area. It was when he sensed danger that night of his abduction that he woke the young boy up and asked him to find his escape route back to Lagos. He was a brave man. Despite the danger looming and while Fajuyi was still discussing with the abductors, he called his son and kissed him goodbye. That moment he made for the insurgent soldiers and the rest is now history.

How would you assess the late Adekunle Fajuyi, who was also killed while trying to save Ironsi
Fajuyi is a brave man; not many of them can be found in Nigeria of today. This was a man, who because of his integrity lost his life. He was not an Igbo man. Even if he had not insisted nobody would have hold it against him but he said no to evil. We cherish him in our hearts.

Is there any contact with his family since then
Unfortunately, the two families have not been having closer rapport. We would have sent a delegation to Fajuyi family at that time that the wounds were still fresh but the war period created another loophole for things not to be handled in a proper way. Any time we trying to do something in that regard it would seem as if we are trying to open an old wound.

How true is the notion that the crocodile totem Ironsi carried was the source of his power
That is not true. He deliberately had that as a symbol of his surname, which represents crocodile, being the real meaning of the name, Aguiyi, in Igbo parlance. But the public was looking at the walking stick carved in the shape of crocodile, to say all sorts of things about the man. He died a Christian.

Can you describe Ironsi for those who did not know him
He was huge, tall man and black in complexion. He was always cheerful and fond of churning out jokes to anybody around him. He would not want you to look moody before him. In our family, he and the first sister took after our mother, who was black while the rest us three took after our father. He was a sportsman in the army, he played polo and hockey and from there he developed his talent and luck was on his side.

He was sent to Ghana first for training, from there to Sierra Leone at Foray Bay College and was promoted to lieutenant in 1949 and was commissioned. Then he left for the School of Infantry in Wilmington, England. He also went for a Staff College in one of the highest military universities in Britain that existed then. After this, the colonial administration chose him as the number one soldier in Nigeria. And this was after 1956 when the Queen of England paid her first visit to Nigeria. Indeed, he served as the Queen's consul in Nigeria, overseeing to the security of the Queen and her entourage.

In 1960, he was taken to Congo, to serve in a peacekeeping force. He saved so many lives in Congo that the Australian Government bestowed on him a national honour. From there they wanted to give him a permanent job with the United Nations but the Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said no. Instead, he said Ironsi should serve as military attachZ to the Nigerian High Commission. The British people awarded him Member of the British Empire (MBE). He is a member of the Victoria Order. He was later recalled to the country and little after, the war crisis started.

Didn't any member of the family gain from all these exploits
First and foremost, I was a young boy in school at that time and when I wanted to join the army, he said no and I started finding another way of life. But that does not mean that he stopped us; the answer is that our family is so humble right from time that we don't go about showing off. And you have to know that his position was not such that he could start doing anything for you because you are his brother. He hated favoritism. Even some people have said he didn't use his position to help any Igboman. He would rather say that hard work makes a man. His style is not like present-day military man, who has fallen on the nation's fortune and exploited it to their advantage and those of their relations. There were people in his time that rendered selfless service. He had not even a hut.

What has the government done to rehabilitate Ironsi as a former Head of State
Nothing is being done; and we don't believe that the government rehabilitating Aguiyi-Ironsi can do anything. See how poor our compound looks! We had hoped that with him as the senior, he would help but the reverse was the case. Even his widowed wife, Victoria, is not being taken care of, not to talk of us, his brothers. Our most elderly sister is still alive though very old, at her late eighties. If not for her daughter, she would have died out of poverty. Everyday, she still remembers her late brother, as if the event happened yesterday.

But have you, as a family, asked for anything from the government
It is not in our family to go about begging for favour. Some people have come up with so many options to us but we said no. Even the appointment of the late General's son as an ambassador was through merit, having been employed in the Foreign Service. Nobody has approached us for recognition of the sacrifices that the family had made to this nation. But I must say that some people have been asking me to go to the Government House in Umuahia with my credentials for contracts and I told them no, it is not in our blood.

Would you allow any of your children to be a soldier
No. We as a family are through with anything military. There was a time people rumoured that my brother's son (Ambassador Ironsi) had joined the army. We were startled but only to find out that it was not true. No members of this family will have anything to do with the military as long as an elderly person remains in the family.

Is there any sour relationship between your late brother's wife and the Aguiyi-Ironsi family
That is incorrect. She relates very well with all of us and so do her children, eight of them. There is no problem apart from the loss of our brother, which came in different shapes. They are still members of this family.

Why is General Ironsi's tomb outside his compound
I don't really remember why. But you know, at that time, it was (Colonel) Odumegwu Ojukwu that was the military administrator of the Eastern Region and it was he who decided where his (Ironsi's) remains would be laid. As a family, we were not consulted and of course, the shock at the time would not perhaps allow us to demand for any change.

Aren't you worried that his tomb and cenotaph are left in the bush
Well, the tomb at the Aguiyi-Ironsi Conference Centre is relatively maintained but the cenotaph, which serves as the parade ground, is not maintained and I think the government can explain the reason better.

 

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Crash Of The Elephant

JULY 29, 1966, Government House, Ibadan. 0030 hours. The telephone rang. Lieutenant Andrew Nwankwo, the Supreme Commander's Air Force ADC, picked up the receiver instantly. Bad news he tautened his physique. The voice at the other end of the line belonged to Police Superintendent Joseph Adeola. His message was that the much-feared and much-rumoured counter-coup had indeed started. By way of expatiation, Mr. Adeola revealed that Captain Rowland Ogbonna had telephoned him with the news that Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Okonweze, Major John Obienu and Captain E. B. Orok, all of the Abeokuta Garrison, had already been shot dead. Only thirty minutes earlier, Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi had gone to bed, as had lieutenant colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, his host. They had to be informed immediately. Nwankwo told lieutenant Sanni Bello, the Head of State's Army ADC, what he had heard. The information was passed to Lieutenant William Walbe, the Commander of General Aguiyis-Ironsi's security convoy. The three of them slept in the same room, but Walbe lay across the door in such a way that he had to remove himself for it to be opened. He cleared the door as Nwankwo took the terrible new to the Lieutenant Umar, Colonel Fajuyi's ADC.

Umar went and informed Ironsi who immediately put on his uniform. "Get me the hot line!" he ordered Nwankwo. The General tried to contact Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon, his royal Chief of Army staff, who was holding fort in Lagos. But he could not reach Gowon either in his residence or at the Army head quarters. By this time Fajuyi was by his side. He was worried at the turn things had taken and he kept suggesting respectfully to Ironsi that they should hurriedly leave the Government lodge, but his Supreme commander would not hear of it. Many more attempts at reaching Gowon on the phone prove abortive. It was imperative that the rebellion be put down. But where was help gong to come from

Almost reduced to telephone operator, Ironsi dialled Government House, Kaduna. Lieutenant colonel Hassan Usman Katsina, the military governor, was out of the city. Upon inquiries a reply came that he was in Kano in fulfilment of a tour of parts of the Northern Region. Another try at Kaduna linked up with Lieutenant colonel Philip Effiong, the acting Commander of the 1 Brigade. There was hardly much that he could do, given the distance between Ibadan and Kaduna. Thomas, Ironsi's 12-year-old son, home on holiday from England where he attended a public school, was now awake. He could not quite understand why a Colonel and four ADC's, all looking worried, stopped intently over his father who singled -mindedly focused his attention on the telephone. Another attempt at contacting Gowon prove abortive. Ironsi contemplated the situation. Then he issued another order: "Fetch Njoku!"

Lieutenant Colonel Hilary Njoku, the Commander of the 2 Brigade, was in the Head of State's entourage. He was summoned on telephone. He immediately moved from the Government house guest house in which he was staying and walked straight to where Ironsi and Fajuyi and their ADCs were. He found Fajuyi in mufti, pacing up and down. They briefed Njoku on the state of things and added ominously that word had come in to the effect that the soldiers who struck at the Abeokuta Garrison were even at that moment on their way to Ibadan. It was now Njoku's turn to see what miracle the telephone would perform. He dialled the number of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Igboba, the commander of the 2nd Battalion, Ikeja. Not getting through, Njoku called his own home and told Rose, his wife, to ask Igboba to give him a ring. Before long the telephone rang and it was Igboba calling. He had noticed unusual developments, he told his Brigade Commander, and was taking necessary precautions. Next Njoku called Lieutenant Colonel Ojukwu in Enugu. The military governor had already been told of the rebellion. Then Lieutenant colonel David Ejoor telephoned from Benin City. He too had a learnt that something was amiss. Yet, there was, up till this moment, not a word, not whisper, from colonel Yakubu Gowon, the chief of Army Staff. Yet again, the telephones were in perfect working condition, not having been tampered with by the counter-coup makers.

A little after her sleep shattered by the urgent telephone call from her husband, Mrs Rose Njoku went beyond her brief which was simply to ask Colonel Henry Ighoba to contact her husband in Ibadan. The news from Ibadan left her restless. So, picking up the restricted telephone directory from her bedside, she dialled Government House, Ibadan. Ironsi himself answered. The situation was desperate, she gathered. Next, she telephone Mrs Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi who instantly got through to her husband. When hysteria threatened to envelope the other end of the line, the head of State calmly put down his own receiver. Mrs Ironsi then returned to Mrs Njoku. "Rose", she called out, and then spoke in Igbo. "Ihuna na Johnny ga nwu onwu mu agaghi ahu ya anya." (Rose, can you imagine that Johnny is to end in a way that I will not even be able to set eyes on his corpse.) Every word was laden with emotion. But Mrs Njoku was determined to find out what was going on. So, once she was through I what the First Lady, she tried elsewhere. "I rang the Brigade Headquarters and the telephone was replaced when my voice was heard", she wrote later. "I called Jack Gowon next for enlightenment on the situation but there was no reply either from his office or his House." Back inside the Government House in Ibadan, it was decided s that Njoku should return to Lagos to take control of the situation. As he strode out of the premises, he was shot in the thigh. Valiantly he fled into the darkness and escaped first to the University College Hospital, Ibadan, where he was treated before being smuggled to the refuge of the Eastern Region much later.

In another government guest house in Ibadan, the telephone rang. Mr. S. O. Wey, the Secretary to the military government, took it. He was told by Mr. Peter Odumosu, the secretary to the West Regional government, that his attention was required early that morning at government house. Wey quickly prepared and left to answer the summons. As his chauffeur negotiated the driveway into government house, it became obvious that there was trouble. Soldiers ostensibly on guard duty, Wey noticed, stood facing the building with their rifles at the ready. Normally, they faced outwards. It would be risky to beat a retreat as they were clearly within firing range. So, Wey instructed his chauffeur to drive on. Once they reached the gates, they were arrested. Wey soon found out that he in the great company of the assorted arrested, including ordinary level government House assistants, domestic house helps, civilian drivers attached to the Government car pool, washer men, gardeners and the arrested soldiers of the genuine security detail. He atmosphere was tense. It was daybreak.

One by one, the Head of State and Colonel Fajuyi started to send out their aides to approach the gates and determine the position of things. Lieutenant Umar, Fajuyi's ADC went out first and returned moments later to report that everything was fine. A party to the plot to topple Ironsi, he was the mole in Government house, Ibadan. This explains why soldiers who had already surrounded the building allowed him to return to the beleaguered Ironsi team and file a misleading report. Lieutenant William Walbe, the commander of the head of State security convoy went also to "see" what was going on. He simply joined his co-conspirators. All the others who went to the gates were arrested until it remained Lieutenant Nwankwo. His own instruction was slightly different and somewhat curious. It was very clear at this stage that the place had been besieged. But Nwankwo was told to go and clear the gates so that both Ironsi and Fajuyi could drive out.

In the military, you simply are expected to obey lawful instructions. So, Nwankwo walked down the stairs, entered the courtyard and continued towards the gates. He saw a smiling Major Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma. Danjuma was a friend of his. He wore a smile, but Nwankwo thought the Major looked confused. Suddenly a soldier came out of nowhere and trained his rifle on Nwankwo, shouting at him to hands up. But Danjuma told the soldier to lower his rifle and back off, which he did.

Major Danjuma now spoke to Lieutenant Nwankwo. He confessed to being confused. News had got to them that another coup d'etat had started and they did not want to be slaughtered again as happened during the January coup. Was it possible for the Head of State to come down stairs and lead them to the safety of the 4th Battalion, and if possible, give them instructions on what their next line of action should be

Danjuma wanted to know. At this stage, Nwankwo led Danjuma and his men. All armed, into the compound and into the main building where Ironsi and Fajuyi were.

As they entered, they met Fajuyi on the stairs and promptly arrested him. Running up the stairs, they saw Ironsi standing in the living room. He had his pistol. The weapon was instantly removed. Some accounts of what followed next claim that after Danjuma had saluted the Supreme Commander, "a painful dialogue" ensued between the two of them. Some other accounts insist that any hand that went up before Ironsi then did not do so in salutation, but was like the racket of a Wimbledon star before prime serve; it came down as a thunderous blow. On the Nigerian Head of State. And this tallies with the recollection of Lieutenant Nwankwo who says that, "immediately they got to the Supreme Commander, they started asking him about the Sardauna, Maimalari and all those people who were killed in the first coup and started beating him up." Lieutenant Titus Numan, the non-commissioned officer whom the Head of State had promoted to full lieutenant, confiscated the stuffed crocodile. Which the Supreme Commander used in place of regulation swagger stick. He also tore off his pips. And the beating of Ironsi and Fajuyi continued unabated.

At length, they were dragged downstairs, their hands tied behind their backs with cut telephone wires. In the courtyard the beating spread to Nwankwo, Lieutenant Bello, and all the others earlier on arrested. And what did Ironsi do in the face of this sadistic development

He simply denied being a part of the bloody January coup and warned the rebels not to perpetrate and an act which they would regret for the rest of their lives. After saying this he just switched off and took the scourge. The merciless walloping continued.

Then Ironsi, Fajuyi, Nwankwo, Bello and the other arrested were pushed into a Land Rover and two minibuses. The convoy took off but Danjuma did not get to the execution ground with it. He only left his instructions and returned to the Letmauk Barracks, Ibadan, from where he hurried back to Lagos, mission accomplished. Those who took the Head of State to his death were Lieutenant Walbe. Lieutenant Garba Paiko, Lieutenant Numan and other soldiers , mostly of lower rank. Inside the vehicles the beating continued. When the convoy got to the Iwo Road junction, it veered into an earth road which cut through a palm bush. The convoy stopped. The journey resumed on foot almost immediately and the beating continued. Every one of those held was to be shot. But an argument ensued between two of the officers. As Colonel Bello recollects, one of the officers maintained that the instruction was not to kill every arrested person. Mercifully, he carried the day. And that was how people like Mr. S.O. Wey escaped an appointment with the firing squad. They were all driven back to Ibadan and thrown into the detention inside the Letmauk Barracks. But Ironsi, Fajuyi, Nwankwo, Bello were not released. Their castigation continued but the animus was mostly against Ironsi and Fajuyi who were now all blood and gore. The thud of gun butts, the swipe of metal -ended belts, the kick from jungle boots. "Revenge" was on. He blows descended on the unfortunate whose hand remained tied to their backs. It was that sort of day.

The road to Golgotha soon got to a stream, a little stream in fact, which Ironsi and Fajuyi, since inebriated with blows and punches, no longer had the strength to cross. Bello and Nwankwo did, being very much younger and not having been subjected to the same overdose of punishment as the General and the Colonel. It was here that something dramatic happened just as the soldiers conferred on what to do next. Bello pushed Nwankwo with the plea that he made a dash for it. The twenty-one year old six-footer fled into the bushes, moving away as fast as he could until he hid in a large hole covered by undergrowth from there he heard the burst of rapid gunfire as General Aguiyi Ironsi and Lieutenant Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi were finished off. The execution took place at around 1040 hours...

It would take another six months before it was officially announced that both General Aguiyi-Ironsi and Lieutenant Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, the governor of Western Nigeria, had been murdered. As Nidgbo would metaphorically talk of an act that they abominate, those who killed Ironside and his host had, in fact, defecated inside the place of worship and used the very pages of the holy writ of wipe their rears.

 

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'Ironsi's Death Retards Us 100 Years'
His Royal Highness, Eze Ephraim Meregini, the Ofondu 1 of Ibeku Autonomous Community, is the paramount ruler of the Ndume Community, the country home of the late Aguiyi-Ironsi. He explained to EMMA EKE way his community will not go to govern killing of his subject. Excerpts:

On the community's loss of Aguiyi-Ironsi in the past 38 years
WORDS cannot express our feelings. We have told ourselves and anybody, who had come to ask that his death sent us 100 years backward as a community, as a state and as a race. If you take a look at the entire community, especially Aguiyi-Ironsi's immediate village Ndume, you will notice state of abandonment, decay and frustration. Do you think that if he were alive, not even as a head of state that our fate would have been this bad? No! We are rather sentenced into this situation of fate though made possible through the handiwork of these who hatched the plan, executed and still coerced us to remain like this. But they forget that it is not every silence that is interrupted as a weakness.

On the kind of person Ironsi was
We were even close cousins. So the question of whether I knew him closely does not arise. I was way much close to him, though I was not occupying any traditional position or titled seat at the time; two of us were closely related. I knew him as a man who would not discriminate against mankind. He was so simple, so jovial that any time he touched home, the whole community would know he was around. Perhaps, it is this simplicity that made him trust so much the people that eventually eliminated him. He was simply a light of our community, not only his immediate family. So, the people feel the impact of his killing much more in the kingdom than those outside it.

He was such a selfless human being that the problem of this country disturbed him more than those of his. He loved everybody who had cause to approach him. The British brought him up and he adapted their lifestyle and for this reason, he did not have a single room built in his name. He throughout the six months of being in power was never planning for anything that would benefit him or his relations. Others like him he would have acquired at once pieces of land any where in the country, but such an idea never crossed his mind and this made it also impossible to build his personal house.

How many leaders of today will hold on to power without improving on his lifestyle first

On the last time the Eze had contact with Ironsi
You know as a soldier, he was never seen just like that. So when that situation brought him up into national focus, it became more difficult to reach him. But before he became the Head of State, his visit home was always heralded by the expression of his good intention to continue to represent us as a community well wherever he was posted. He did that excellently well right from his international and local assignments.

A courageous soldier he was. The British

Army, which enlisted him, also rated him so high. At that time, it was a pride to say that you are from Ibeku, Umuahia. Even those not from here used to identify with the community. All these have changed with the losing of this great man. Our patience has been so stretched that we are at a loss as to what to do next. The politics being played in the country is not helping issues. You want to tell me that if Ironsi were from another part of the country, he would have been so treated like this

On what to do to rehabilitate Ironsi
We have a way of doing things in this community. Nowhere has someone's son, daughter, brother or sister been killed and he turns around to beg for compensation for that killing. It is a taboo here. What can you equate life to

But in this case, a Head of State was brutally murdered and the people who did the killing are walking about freehand, happy, while the relations, his immediate family members are left to suffer the effect of that act. Go to the older and the younger Ironsis and, you will ask yourself if the man were alive, even without being a head of state, whether things could have been like that

No house, no road to the village leading to his compound; erosion has eaten up every where.

In other words, the family has been abandoned to rot away. Why

The question is: are there no friends of Ironsi who are in good positions to ask what would have been the fate of his children, brothers and sisters and even the community he hailed from

We are all aware of how some rural areas have become urban towns simply because one person who occupies position in the society hails from there whether dead or alive. Why should our own be different

But take it from me, we are not going to ask government for anything through a third party. If those in authority have conscience, they will know that this man sacrificed for this country. But for him, this one Nigeria would not have been there.

If they realised this, then they should send some officials to come here and ask us what our needs are. And I as, a traditional ruler of this community will summon all the elders, to liaise first of all with Ironsi's family at large and his immediate family, to let them know what should be done to help reduce the poverty status in that family before talking of the community. Here is the road (pointing) to his country home. Is there any single house, which a visiting personality trying to locate the home of a former head of state of this country can enter on reaching the compound

These are some of the cries.

On failure of the community to demand that something be done for him

Who asked for the rehabilitation of the Sardauna of Sokoto, the Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Muhammed and others

We have always been hoping that one of the colleagues of the slain Head of State would have, without prompting come to our rescue. Sincerely speaking, it is the condition of his family that is worrying me as a traditional ruler of this community. At least something should have been done to rehabilitate those old men and women, whose lives had depended on Ironsi.

On the community's effort to remember Ironsi

What can a poor community like us, whose only eye to see had been plucked, do

We have been building a community hall, which perhaps we will name it after him. But there is no money to accomplish this. If we were given anything since, we would have been able to reflect it one way or the other.

* Ironsi - Sources: The Guardian, Sunday Magazine, 25th July 2004

 

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