Aguiyi Ironsi

By Emeka Obasi

Beyond hospitality, hosts are supposed to protect their guests in typical African fashion. Father of the Yoruba nation,  Oduduwa, was really challenged on July 29, 1966 when General Johnson Aguiyi- Ironsi was killed in Ibadan alongside the Military governor of Western Region, Col. Adekunle Fajuyi.

Ironsi and Fajuyi were brave men who were decorated as warriors outside Nigeria. The general who was Nigeria’s first military head of state, was also the first African to command United Nations troops. Fajuyi, the first military governor of the West was the first Nigerian to earn the Military Cross[MC]. The officers made their marks in the Congo.

As Head of State, Ironsi tried to be fair to the Western Region. He appointed Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, from Ago Iwoye, Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. The import was that for the first time, a Yoruba man was number two in the country. That made sense because in 1923 when  Nigeria had its first Legislative Council,  the only indigenous group that made it was the Yoruba.

By picking someone from the Western Region as his next in command, Ironsi looked at merit. He had a different way of pacifying the North when Lt. col Yakubu Gowon was made Army Chief. There were a couple of officers senior to Gowon. They included Cols Wellington Bassey, Adeyinka Adebayo, Conrad Nwawo, Lt. cols Hilary Njoku, Ogere Imo, Philip Effiong,and David Ejoor.

Among the Yoruba senior officers, the military leader tried to strike a balance. Although Ogundipe and Adebayo were commissioned in 1953, the former was senior by a rank and older. Fajuyi was like an elder brother to Adebayo and joined the Army in 1943, same year as Ogundipe but four years ahead of Adebayo. His younger brother was commissioned a year ahead of him. It was Fajuyi that attracted Adebayo to the military.

What Ironsi did was to appoint Lt. col Fajuyi governor ahead of the younger but superior Col. Adebayo. The Head of State shared the same birth month of March with Adebayo. As fate played out,  following the death of Fajuyi, his brother, Adebayo came in as replacement.

Lt. col Murtala Mohammed led the coup that toppled Ironsi. The man sent to Ibadan to perfect it was Maj. Yakubu Danjuma. The major beneficiary of that putsch turned out to be Gowon who was made Army Chief by Ironsi. Murtala was elevated from the rank of Substantive captain to Lt. col by the same Ironsi. At the time Danjuma was wearing an Eagle, his mates like Ben Gbulie, Alani Akinrinade and Godwin Alabi-Isama adorned three stars.

Oduduwa must have felt insulted when Ironsi was killed in Yoruba land as Fajuyi’s guest. And it happened in Ibadan, the land of Lagelu. Ibadan was indeed set up as a military cantonment and known as ‘Idi Ibon’. For non-Yoruba officers to dare Oduduwa at home  could have been too much to bear. So the great man went to work and paid back.

One of the officers who plotted against Ironsi, William Walbe, was head of his escorts. When Gowon assumed office, Walbe became his  Aide de Camp [ADC]. On July 29, 1975, exactly nine years after Ironsi was overthrown, Gowon was sacked.

The man who took over was the same Murtala who worked for him in 1966. The announcement was made by Joseph Garba, commander of Gowon’s Brigade of Guards.

READ ALSO: Today In History: Aguiyi-Ironsi seizes power after military coup

Ironsi was from Eastern Region. Gowon was sacked while he was in East Africa. Ironsi’s son was with him shortly before he was killed. Gowon’s younger brothers, Moses and Isaiah, lost their commission after his ouster. His brother-in-law was jailed and the Military coordinator of his wedding, Iliya Bisalla was shot. Gowon lost his rank and was declared wanted.

When Ironsi died , the next in command was Ogundipe. He could not take over. When the Number Two man tried to fight back, his counter force led by Capt. Ephraim Opara was ambushed around the Ile Zik area of Ikeja.

Hundreds were killed including civilians. Oduduwa did not let that pass. Ogundipe had to run to the UK. That was a man that fought in Burma and India  during the Second World War but was humiliated in his country.

When Gowon fell, Murtala ‘s Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, was a Yoruba, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. He shares the same birth month, March, with Ironsi. Obasanjo’s  ADC as Head of State when he succeeded Murtala was Ekpo Archibong whose wife is from Umuahia, like Ironsi. Archibong would later return to Ibadan as a GOC with Ironsi’s ‘sister’.

Those who killed Murtala were among troops who helped him remove Ironsi and Fajuyi. And it is remarkable that a Yoruba man took Murtala’s place. Clement Dabang and Ibrahim Rabo were part of the killer gang in Ibadan.

Dabang was picked from the Military hospital in Lagos tried and shot in 1976 for his role in the coup that brought down Murtala. Rabo pleaded before he was shot for the rope around his neck to be slackened as he was choking before the time. And it should be noted that he was arrested by a Yoruba officer, Yomi Williams.

Murtala’s killers also tried to kill again in Ibadan. They went after Oyo State governor, David Jemibewon. When the soldiers entered the radio station, they scared one of the workers, Tunrayo Adeoye [nee Ajibade].

They never knew she was an Oyo princess. Oduduwa stepped in. No blood was shed in Ibadan and those who were detailed to carry out the execution of Jemibewon ended up at the Bar Beach, Lagos stakes.

Danjuma got a dose of Oduduwa’s spleen. For leading the killers to Ironsi and Fajuyi in 1966, he was well monitored by his course mates, Akinrinade and Alabi-Isama in 1976 after Murtala’s death. Unlike Ogundipe who did not have any senior officer to help him in 1966, Obasanjo received protection from Akinrinade, a son of the source and Alabi-Isama who attended school in Ibadan.

And about 40 years after Ironsi’s demise, that same boy, his son, Thomas Ikeokwuadighim [ I do not want trouble] Ironsi became Defence minister under President Obasanjo. That position was occupied by Danjuma two years earlier before he parted ways with Obasanjo. So Ironsi’s son took Danjuma’s seat.

Joe Akahan, commander 4th brigade, Ibadan that supplied troops that killed Ironsi and Fajuyi became Army Chief after Gowon. Then he went home to Gboko visiting in a chopper. The pilots were friends. Capt. Olawale Idris [233] was Yoruba. George Ozieh [232] was Igbo. The helicopter exploded in the air over Wannunne near Gboko, in 1968. There was no survivor.

Events continued to throw up Garba.  One Garba Dada took Ironsi and Fajuyi away. Joe Garba announced Gowon’s sack. Lawrence Garba died assisting Bukar Dimka to announce Murtala’s ouster. Sunday Garba was used by Danjuma to destroy Fela’s Kalakuta Republic. And the unknown soldiers killed one of Oduduwa’s powerful daughters, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti.

Two Yoruba majors, Ola Ogunmekan and Kola Afolabi, were among those who plotted against Murtala. His wife, Ajoke, is Yoruba. He lived in Ibadan as ADC to Dr. Moses Majekodunmi. Gowon would have been the first ADC of Governor Adesoji Aderemi, the Oni of Ife. As we remember Ironsi and Fajuyi  54 years after, Oduduwa may have forgiven those who painted Ibadan red with blood.



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