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The last I heard of Ironsi’: Ex-ADC narrates how Nigeria’s 1st military ruler was killed in the bush
The former aide-de-camp to ex-military head of state, Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi, Sani Bello, has revealed the specifics of how his principal was murdered in the July 1966 coup.
Bello described the events that happened on the coup’s day in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday.
After Tafawa Balewa’s civilian administration was violently overthrown on January 15, 1966, Aguiyi-Ironsi became Nigeria’s first military ruler.
He was also deposed in the countercoup, which culminated on July 29, 1966, after only six months in power.
Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed along with Adekule Fajuyi, the military ruler of Western Nigeria at the time.
Bello recalled being there at the government residence in Ibadan during the coup, where he was accompanied by the former military head of state.
He asserted that Theophilus Danjuma, a former chief of the army staff, forced him into a convoy going to Owo LGA in Ondo State alongside Agunyi-Ironsi and Fajuyi.
All of the leaders on that convoy, according to Bello, were non-commissioned officers (NCOs).
NCOs are the Nigerian army’s entry-level officers, who are primarily enlisted soldiers.
“About that time, something extraordinary happened. After some time there was a Land Rover coming in, but because of where the two superiors were sitting, they could see it,” the ex-ADC said.
“Fajuyi called his ADC, A B Umaru, to see who was coming in because it was late in the night, and he quickly did that.
“We couldn’t see Ironsi and Fajuyi, but we could talk to them because we were in separate wings.
“After some time, Fajuyi said we should send for vehicles. We started sending orderlies to bring the vehicles, but unfortunately, the Government House in Ibadan was very badly constructed. All the services were outside the Government House. So, we sent the orderlies, including a very old sergeant-major who was very close to Ironsi, and they never came back.
“Finally, I decided to go and see what was happening. It was around 7am and I was very unlucky. As I was going out, on reaching the gate, the police that would take us to Mapo Hall, where the address of the Obis, Obas and Emirs would take place, were coming in as our escort. The coupists assumed that I called them to come and give us support, and I came to receive them, so they arrested them with all the dignitaries, including the press secretary.
“I was arrested with them and pushed to the guardroom. It was when I got into the guardroom that I knew what had happened. Everybody we sent was captured and detained there, and that was why they never came back. So we completely lost information.
“We drove some distance. In those days, there used to be a small forest along the Owo road on the left. Unfortunately, all the leaders on that convoy were NCOs, no single officer.”
Bello claimed that when the convoy suddenly stopped, one of the cops took a machine gun, “cocked it, took a step back, and put his fingers on the trigger,” but he begged that the killing be carried out in the bush.
He continued by saying that although his pleading gave one “Lieutenant Dada” time to catch up with the convoy and demand his release, it did not guarantee the safety of Aguiyi-Ironsi and Fajuyi.
Gunshots, according to Bello, could be heard as he was being transported away from the scene, and “that was the last I heard of Ironsi.”
“Suddenly, the staff officer holding a machine gun took initiative. He cocked it and took a step backwards, and put his hand on the trigger. I pleaded that he should not do it there; instead, let’s go into the bush. The sergeant-major saw the danger he was facing and said we should go into the bush. We were ushered into the Land Rover again and drove off,” he said.
“We drove for some time until we reached a level crossing. We were still moving. I didn’t know whether it was a flyover. When we reached there, we turned right into the bush as was demanded by the staff-sergeant. We drove for some distance and stopped.
“As we were stopping, as God would have it, Lieutenant Dada, the adjutant of first battalion who I spoke to earlier and who told me to locate Mogoro, decided to come and see what was happening at the Government House.
“He went to the Government House and found that it was empty. He asked what happened, and I think somebody told him we followed Owo road, so he decided to follow the road and came after us. That delay at the small forest gave him time to cover the distance.
“As we were stopping at the execution point, Dada was there. We were the same intake and took the same courses in military college. He ordered Andrew (Nwankwo) and me to jump into his Land Rover, and of course, the sergeant- major started murmuring and trying to disobey, but Dada was a very influential and strong officer.
“Specifically, Dada told them to keep the two senior officers and await further instructions, and said we should jump into the Land Rover.
“As we were jumping into the Land Rover, we heard a machine gun fire. Dada rushed back. The sergeant-major said, “He was trying to run away, and we shot him. They killed Fajuyi while we were there. I did not see the body, but we heard the shot, and they told Dada that they had killed him. That was the last I heard of Ironsi.”