50 years after… remembering Ironsi, Fajuyi

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Maj-Gen JTU Aguiyi Ironsi
Maj-Gen JTU Aguiyi Ironsi

This day, July 29 1966, the former Head of State, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi and the former Military Administrator for Western Region, Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi were killed by mutineers. LAWRENCE NJOKU (Southeast Bureau Chief, Enugu) and IYABO LAWAL (Ibadan) who spoke with their families report.

Fifty years after they were killed in the second military coup on July 29, 1966 in Ibadan, Nigerians have stressed the need to turn the spot where the then Head of State, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi and erstwhile Military Administrator for Western Region, Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi were killed into a recognized national monument.

Ironsi took over after the Nigerian Army overthrew the civilian government of Chief Nnamdi Azikwe and Sir AbubakarTafawa Balewa who was Prime Minister on January 15 1966 in a bloody coup believed to be ethnic in nature.

Prominent Nigerian civilians including, Balewa, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, who was Premier of the Western Region, Chief Okotie Eboh, the Federal Minister of Finance, Ahmadu Bello Premier of Northern Region as well as soldiers were killed during the first military coup.

Ironsi who was six months old in office was rounding up his national tour in the western region under the military Governor, Fajuyi before the duo were assassinated in the counter-coup on July 29, 1966.

They were earlier abducted at Government House Agodi and were later killed at Lalupon, in present day Lagelu Local Council of Oyo State.

Fajuyi, 41, an indigene of the present Ekiti State, who just came back from a war front in Congo before he was announced as first military governor of the Western Region volunteered to be killed alongside his boss.

They were both buried in the dark forest, which was later discovered through a hunter on expedition who saw an unusual movement of soldiers on the day they were gruesomely murdered by junior officers in the army.

Today, Friday, all roads would lead to the Ndume, Ibeku, UmuahiaNorth,Abia State country home of Nigeria’s first military Head of State,
Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi who was killed in Ibadan on July 29, 1966.

The gathering at Umuahia will be to mark the 50th anniversary of the death Ironsi, who was abducted and killed six months after he became head of state on January 15, 1966.

Although, it may not be an elaborate ceremony, sources said that the event would begin with a Thanksgiving Mass at the St. Finbars Catholic Church, Umuahia, and to be presided over by Bishop Lucius Ugorji, while a reception will hold at the family compound. It promises to attract some dignitaries across board.

Already the family compound is wearing a new look with what used to be Aguiyi’s modest bungalow, re-modelled to a storey building.

A family member said there was no better way to immortalize him than “being and living together in peace as a family. We are proud of him.”

Speaking to The Guardian recently on the 50 years memorial anniversary, his widow, Victoria had noted: “I owe a lot to God. My tribute will be to God almighty and some people whom I really pray that the Almighty God will reward for their encouragement, their assistance and goodwill. People like the first major of Portharcourt
–Nzemiro. I knew him when we went to London. When they heard that the Supreme Commander was killed, they came to Umuahia and it is only those in Umuahia that can tell you the kind of things they brought to my house.

“Then there is this man, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. You know he lost his first wife. His first wife Eudora never joked with anything
concerning me. When you go to our house in the village, you will discover that the chairs in the sitting room and dining section were built by Iwuanyanwu and his late wife. They did it and there are so many of them like that. So I think that any opportunity we find in life to help others, we should not allow anything to prevent us from doing so.

So, basically, that is what we will use this anniversary to achieve, to thank those who have supported us all these years.”

On why the family has decided to mark the event with a Thanksgiving Mass and dedicating it to those that had supported the family, Mrs. Aguiyi, told The Guardian on phone on Tuesday: “I recall my earlier interview with you. I reminisced on what we have passed through these 50 years. I have seen hell and at the same time, I have seen heaven.

“But my gratitude today is mainly to God because I know how I started my life. Right from my elementary school, when I passed Standard Six
those days and when we got married, I never regretted any moment with him. It was a very good experience when we started and very sad
experience when the Supreme Commander was killed. However, my only problem was how to train all my eight children, but God has been on my side.

“Last year brought another sorrow for me. I lost one of my daughters after obtaining her doctorate degree in law in the USA.

“She was trying to come home to take up an appointment. She was not married. We buried her in first week of May last year. It was devastating but I have come out of it.”

She further recalled: “You know before they killed the Supreme Commander, we hadn’t a hut. We hadn’t anything. Ojukwu moved us to Enugu later and gave us Numbers Two and Three Mount Street. He wanted to get a house in Umuahia here for me but the war did not allow that.

“Today, the house we stay in here in Umuahia at 71 Nkwere Street, is our own.

“That is my official residence. It is still
here. It was a beautiful bungalow before but has now been rebuilt to a storey building.

“I bought the land with some money I made so the children can find a place to put their heads and call their own. It was very important to me. I
became a contractor doing all kinds of business to see the children through. I am happy that they have been trained. If you go to Ajaokuta, some of those buildings there were built by me.

“So you see why I told you that God has been my strength in anything that I do. I have held office at the Local Government Service Commission for eight years. It is not as if I cannot sit in the house but I am not that type.

“I survived through the support of people and I have vowed that as long as God gives me life, I will do my very best to help people and that is what I do at the moment. That is all about life. I am helping my relations here and there. Nigeria is a difficult place to handle but we are doing our best.”

Perhaps, a worrying dimension in the entire thing is the disdain governments, especially, from the Southeast have continued to show since the death of Ironsi.

Feelers from the family indicate that plans for the 50thanniversary are the sole responsibility of the family, which may have informed its being held in the family compound.

This is unlike in the Southwest where a Yoruba think-tank is planning a ‘Golden remembrance” lecture in honour of Fajuyi, who died alongside
Aguiyi on July 29, 1966.

The event, which will attract the high and mighty in Yoruba land and holding at the International Conference Centre, Ibadan with the topic; “Fajuyi and the politics of remembrance” will see the distinguished Professor Niyi Osundare delivering the lecture.

A group, Igbo Renaissance in a statement in Enugu, said: “Time has come when Ndigbo should remember their own, especially their fallen
heroes who struggled to give us a name, those who by their attitude ensured that the Igbo have a pride of place in history, those who by their contributions gave us an edge over others.”

The statement signed by the president of the group, Chief Ogbonna Ukoha added: “I think Ironsi played his role well. After 50 years, it cannot be said that any government in the southeast has remembered J.T.U Aguiyi Ironsi.

“I think it is time we did so and accorded him the recognition someone who served the country with all he had deserves. If the Federal Government has abandoned him, it should not be in our place to do so. I want to see a time when our socio-cultural groups, our religious, traditional and political leaders can spend a little of their time to honour this hero. If we had not done so before, I think this 50th memorial anniversary is one good time to show him the love that we are known for.”

Beyond the disdain however, notable Igbo leaders have continued to pour encomiums on Aguiyi Ironsi, insisting that his memory would live
forever.

They said that the supreme price which he paid serving the country was not in vain, stressing that the unfortunate incident that resulted in his killing and that of his host, Fajuyi should bind the country more closely.

Former Chairman of the Justice Party, Chief Ralph Obioha said what was needed to restore the country’s pride of place was the spirit of brotherhood shown by AdekunleFajuiyi the day Ironsi was killed.

“He sacrificed his own life to save Aguiyi. Unfortunately, those who senselessly came to kill him cut the duo down without a genuine cause. General Ironsi of blessed memory was a victim of senseless action of military adventurers, which he had no hand in or involvement in but had to pay with his life. No one had accused him of any involvement in the unfortunate military coup of 1966.

In fact he risked his life to abort that coup executed by misguided officer of the Nigerian army who carried out an unbalanced waste of precious lives of Nigerian leaders and fellow officers based on unjustifiable and reckless beliefs that they had the answers to all the ills of Nigeria,” he said.
Obioha continued: “No one has ever accused Ironsi of having anything to do with that coup. I repeat that he was the unfortunate victim of
the actions of others. I salute the former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the symbolic atonement of what the Nigerian army visited on the late Gen Aguiyi Ironsi by appointing his son, first,as an ambassador and later a Minister of Defence, a gesture that was not lost to fair-minded Nigerians.

“I reproach the former governor of Abia State, Senator T.A Orji, who incidentally is the kinsman of late Ironsi as they both hail from Ibeku. Orji could not honour a distinguished officer who reached the pinnacle of his profession by even naming the Abia State University after him. As the saying goes charity begins at home and Abians should take note.”

An elder statesman and first Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, told The Guardian: “It was not a justiciable action by the people who carried it out the killing of Ironsi and his host Fajuiyi.

Ironsi was not part of the first coup; he was only drafted to lead a government when there was a vacuum. To kill Ironsi is to unjustly kill
somebody who had no hands in the coup. Although they justified that by saying that he did not kill all the people who carried out the coup and all these people who killed Ironsi are the people today who have stolen the country dry and making billions from oil”.

Amaechi said however that the killing of Ironsi has not ended the marginalisation and rampant killings of Igbo in the various parts of the country:

“Since the end of the Civil War, we the Igbo have been at the receiving end. The worst situation is what we are having now and I don’t think it will be worse than what we are having now. This time around, the Igbo are not even regarded as partners in the enterprise called Nigeria. Our people are treated as slaves who should be run over by the rest of the country. In my old age, I feel unhappy that the present Igbo leaders are not living up to expectations.

“Each governor is concerned with his own state, with his own money and money they make against the overall dreams of the people of the Southeast.

“Our youths under Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) assembled in a primary school in Aba recently and soldiers went there and killed many of them. The leaders are not saying anything. They killed those Igbo and took their bodies away. That is the greatest humiliation because in Igboland, if an Igbo man dies anywhere; their bodies are brought home for burial. It is the greatest insult thatcould be meted to us. I am very uncomfortable with the situation because this kind of issue never happened in our time “Ironsi died a hero and like a typical Igbo who would not succumb to a weakling.

“His host Fajuyi, who was killed alongside died like a greater hero because, he said, “you cannot kill my guest in my house unless you kill me too’ and they wickedly and foolishly killed him with Ironsi.

“The Igbo need to come together and decide what actions to take in the face of the circumstances that we are in. This is a time when Igbo leaders, religious leaders, traditional and political leaders should come together and decide what to do in the face of the present circumstances.”

For Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president general of an Igbo group, Aka Ikenga: “Aguiyi Ironsi still remains the ideal man, the man who believed he wanted to right whatever wrong was in the country.

“Ironsi believed in the rule of law. When he was in power, he was more interested in fertilising relationship between people, across ethnic divides, ensuring the overall peace of the country.

“Aka Ikenga marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Ironsi, Nigeria’s Head of State of Nigeria and Fajuyi, Governor of Western Region. The Federal Government is hereby called upon to honour them because they have been neglected for so long that younger generationsmay not realise that they were truly Nigerians, highly detribalised and principled.”

Speaking on the virtues of the late Fajuyi during a visit to the site where the duo were killed, the first son of the gallant soldier, Donald Fajuyi said Nigeria would have been better than its present state if his father and his contemporaries were allowed to live longer.

“When he became the governor, he just came back from Congo and started construction work in his homestead of Ekiti, but immediately he was named as a military administrator, he stopped the construction saying he would not want to mix public funds with his personal money. That was the standard in those days. If such people have been allowed to lead Nigeria on that path, can you imagine what the country would have been today?

“What happened to our moral accountability between 1966 and today, these are the things Nigerians have to sit down and decide.”

In his own submission, the Head of Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Professor O. B. C. Nwolise said though a military cantonment has been named after him, there is a need to further honour the deceased officer.

“There is a military cantonment in Ibadan, that is not enough. Where they were killed should be turned to a national monument, there should be films and books on him and the government should raise more monuments especially these days that we are talking about corruption and trying to promote integrity.

“It is important that his death, the sacrifices should be raised a symbol of integrity and national unity because nobody knew what would have happened particularly between the Igbo and Yoruba if Fajuyi had betrayed his commander-in-chief. That singular action prevented the hatred between the Igbo and Yoruba and this is the type of love to be encouraged in this country, between states and religious groups.

The Chairman of the planning committee, Chief Lekan Alabi also re-echoed the need for the recognition of the site.

He said the two gentlemen would forever be remembered for they made a great sacrifice to ensure the sustainability of the unity of the country.

Alabi said: “On July 29, 1966, the late Aguiyi Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi were assassinated on this spot… during a counter-military coup… Nigerians especially, the league of veteran journalists in Oyo State salute the exemplary values of loyalty, bravery and honor in keeping with the military ethics of the late Adekunle Fajuyi who chose to die with his guest and senior in the Nigerian army at this spot. (The Guardian)

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