by Emeka Obasi
LAGOS, NIGERIA -Fifty seven years after his assassination, the departure of General Johnson Aguiyi – Ironsi continues to be engulfed in mystery. Even those closest to him came out with different versions of what transpired in Ibadan, on July 29, 1966.
In all accounts, it is impossible to name who really shot the first African to command United Nations forces and the first Nigerian general. What is certain is that the trigger was pulled by a Non Commissioned Officer ( NCO) after commissioned officers lost control of the rabid situation.
Recently, Col. Sani Bello, then a Second Lieutenant and Ironsi’s Army Aide de Camp ( ADC) debunked claims that he made a deal with the Air Force ADC, Lt. Andrew Nwankwo. The supposed agreement benefitted the duo who escaped as their boss faced imminent death.
It is curious that it took 57 years for Bello to come out with this version. Nwankwo is late now, so it is difficult to get his reaction. However, I find it odd that a brave officer would agree to run away instead of defending his principal even if death was the price.
Lt. Akintunde Akinsehinwa died defending Gen. Murtala Mohammed in 1976. Maj. Usman Bello was killed as he tried to fight for Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, in 1990. From Sani Bello’s account, he was arrested and detained when he went to ascertain what had become of those who were sent to find out what went wrong at Government House, Ibadan.
While Nwankwo announced to Biafrans that Bello saved him, the latter credits Garba Dada Paiko as their saviour who ordered them into a Land Rover as the killer gang got really blood thirsty. This account makes some sense since Bello and the Ironsi family have continued to relate.
I tend to agree with Bello that he was going to be gunned down, like Ironsi and Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, until Dada Paiko intervened. What I do not know is what happened to Adamu Umoru, Fajuyi’s ADC who was with the other subalterns at Government House Ibadan during the coup.
Paiko and Bello hailed from Bida Province, that could have worked. If Paiko desired, he would have left Nwankwo with the assassins instead of taking him away with Bello. The moment he was about to drive off, Sgt. Tijanni Maiduguri fired the shot that killed the military governor of Western Region.
It is almost certain that no commissioned officer was there when Ironsi died. That explains the different names being bandied about since 1966. Yakubu Danjuma, Dada Paiko, William Walbe, Nuhu Nathan, Clement Dabang, Musa Bitiyong, Ibrahim Rabo, Bako Wali, all these names keep popping up.
Dada Paiko played a major role in the abduction of Ironsi and Fajuyi but denied killing the general. He came out with another puzzle. The name Sgt. Bakari Baba Lapai should interest everyone. He was alleged to have hit Danjuma’s shoulders for wasting time with the Head of State.
According to Paiko, while Nuhu Nathan snatched Ironsi’s crocodile swagger stick called Charlie, Baba Lapai disappeared with it. Till date, there is no trace of Bakari Baba Lapai in Nigeria Army records, so said Paiko who unfortunately, is not alive today to repeat himself.
Paiko further explained that while in the United States in 1963, he came across one Vararo Segura, an Ifa high priest, also known as Obafemi. The story was that supreme power in the world was with Orisha, and it was believed that Chief Ladoke Akintola, governor of Western Region, before Fajuyi possessed such power.
Segura tried to convince Dada Paiko that someone snatched the power from Akintola after his assassination in January 1966. And the verdict was that Ironsi had it in his crocodile swagger stick. A funny tale because the general was in Lagos at the time Emma
Nwobosi led troops to kill Akintola in Ibadan.
The fear of Ironsi was real. As a United Nations Peace keeper in the Congo, he braved Katanga rebels to rescue an Austrian medical team and some Nigerian soldiers. That act earned him the Ritter Kruez ( First Class) medal.
The Congolese rebels under Moise Tshombe were dreaded as cannibals. The killing of Lt. G. Ezeugbana confirmed it. Lt. Olusegun Obasanjo was lucky. He cheated death after being dumped in a vehicle booth. That Ironsi dared them made headlines.
The second Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, did not survive the Katanga crisis. His aircraft was blown up near Ndola, Zambia, on his way to negotiate a ceasefire between UN troops and Tshombe’s soldiers.
Those who took Ironsi and Fajuyi away, knew they returned from Congo with medals. What they did not know was that the crocodile swagger stick was bought in Lubumbashi as souvenir. It possessed no power from Orisha. Apparently, Baba Lapai was a ghost sent from the spirit world.
The mystery is endless. Stories continue to fly. Some said Ironsi and Fajuyi were tied to a Land Rover and driven to Olodo village along Ibadan – Iwo Road, tied to palm trees and executed. Another account said they were buried in a shallow grave around Lalupon. However, their bodies were exhumed from the Military Cemetery, Jericho, Ibadan.
How strange that some of the names associated with Ironsi’s death in 1966 were killed much later over coup plots. Dabang, Rabo, Umoru died in 1976. Bitiyong was executed in 1986. Others who were part of the Second Coup of 1966, died following a Third Coup in 1976. Murtala, Isa Bukar, Abdul Wya, Bukar Dimka, MacDonald Gotipb, Sabo Kwale, all lost their lives.
Bello was commissioned on July 29, 1965. Hammarskjold was born on July 29, 1905. Ironsi died on July 29, 1966. His successor, Yakubu Gowon, was overthrown on July 29, 1975. Murtala who led the coup against Ironsi, became Head of State on July 29, 1975.