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My father Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, was captured and killed by people I don’t want to reveal – Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi

Lt. General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi, the second Nigerian Head of State

Read this interview between Ambassador Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, the son of Nigeria’s first military Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi, with Daily Trust Newspaper.

He noted that he was with his father when he was taken away and he remembered his father telling him not to seek vengeance as vengeance is of the Lord’s.

DT: It is 51 years since your father died in a coup, what were the activities to mark the event?

Ambassador Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi: There was a church service to honour the statesman at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Afara, Umuahia. Also, to ask God to save the souls of those who lost their lives especially, military officers who were felled in the 1966 coup. I also recall that earlier in the year, the Oyo State government inaugurated a ‘Peace Garden’ at Lalupion, Ibadan. That is the spot where my father and the gallant Fajuiyi were killed in the village just outside Ibadan. There is a tree where they were held. The bullet holes are still there.

DT: Can you recall the incidents leading to your father’s death being only a child then? 

Amb. Aguiyi Ironsi: Of course, I have always recounted that. It is still very painful till today. As a 12-year-old boy I was staying with my father when he was taken away by people I don’t want to name. A lot has been written, a lot has been said, but of course you should understand that it was a very trying and traumatic period. But the word my father gave me before he was taken away is what has been my guiding philosophy that I should not seek vengeance, that vengeance is of the Lord’s.

Standing by the palm tree from left are, Chairman, Oyo State House of Assembly Committee on Information, Mr Joshua Oyebanji; Oyo State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Prince Toye Arulogun; Chief Lekan Alabi; representative of Fajuyi Foundation, Ambassador Thomas Aguyi-Ironsi and others, at Lalupon.

Standing by the palm tree from left are, Chairman, Oyo State House of Assembly Committee on Information, Mr Joshua Oyebanji; Oyo State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Prince Toye Arulogun; Chief Lekan Alabi; representative of Fajuyi Foundation, Ambassador Thomas Aguyi-Ironsi and others, at Lalupon.

DT: What other incidents have affected you as an adult?

Amb. Aguiyi Ironsi: Well, as a Christian, we know that life is full of challenges. And they say that everybody has their cross to carry. Even our Lord Jesus Christ had to carry his own cross. So life is not a bed of roses. It is the experience you encounter in life which helps to shape you. Of course, there were lots of traumatic incidents. My first son, who would have been 40 years next year dying in a car accident 10 years ago in Australia was something that affected me deeply. My sister, Jennifer, a lawyer, dying of cancer a couple of years ago even though she went to the best hospital in US for cancer treatment. Of course, losses of friends have all been traumatic incidents. 

DT: Which of the deaths-your father or son, was more traumatic for you?

Amb. Aguiyi Ironsi: Well, anybody that has a child, you don’t want to bury your child. What happened to my father, whom I didn’t see up to my early childhood and when you bring up your own child up to 30 and he lives you I think that is also traumatic.

Ambassador Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, the son of Nigeria’s first military Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi

Ambassador Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, the son of Nigeria’s first military Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi

DT: Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the IPOB, is calling for a referendum for Biafra, and there have been other agitations across the country. Don’t you think this is a playback of the country’s tragic past?

Amb. Aguiyi Ironsi: I want to stress this as my own personal view as a Nigerian. We are looking for peace in the land and I know that General Gowon is going around praying for peace. General Abdulsalami Abubakar also has a peace committee. The most important thing is that the youths of Nigeria are not happy with the present state of affairs. This is our own time bomb, the large population of youths from 18 to 35 years that have no direction. As I said, my own son would have been 40 next year and old enough to be president going by the new constitutional amendment. What I can only advise is that negotiation is what is necessary. The government should find out the grievances of people who are aggrieved. The English would say, ‘jaw, jaw, jaw, not war, war, war.’ You can take the example of what happened in the Niger Delta until President Yar’Adua decided to engage them to try to find the masterplan to try and address their grievances. You can see that since after the civil war, things have not gone well for the Southsouth and the Southeast. These need to be examined.

As far as Nnamdi Kanu is concerned he is a junior brother. I give him kudos for being courageous to come out and complain. I am not going to vilify him, but it is one thing to complain and another to engage in a constructive, non-violent manner to put your case forward. For him to do that he has to consult with different aspects of the Igbo elite, organisations and professionals. Yes, he is moving with the youths but they need advice. And eventually the governors too have a very big role to play. The most important thing I am stressing is that violence will not win the day.

The Igbo in diaspora also have an important role to play in helping to ensure that the youth have access to technological education. This is the only way we can move. The curricula have to be one that can give jobs and assist with farming and industry. I am not looking at Biafra as a country but the geographical region or Southeast, however they want to restructure it too. The most important thing is that the youths have to be engaged. I don’t think that something like the Peace Corps will get the youths engaged. We have to get them involved in the ECOWAS market and security of the borders, etc.

DT: You served as an ambassador and had a stint as Minister of Defence. What was your experience?

Amb. Aguiyi Ironsi: Well, from an early age I had always been in diplomatic service. I thank God for being able to serve my country and be an ambassador. It is well documented that I went to Togo when there was going to be a new power, one of the longest serving Heads of State in Africa died and there was a transition crisis. We led the population of Nigerians in Togo that none of them died in the crisis that ensued and we thank God for all his guidance during that episode. I was also a minister under President Obasanjo. It was recorded how there had never been somebody from the East as a defence minister, I don’t know about that. But I was minister of state before becoming defence minister. It is immaterial, as far as I am concerned, I was called to do a job to ensure that democracy was allowed to continue. We did our bit to ensure that it continued. Some people argued that the election was flawed, we had the judiciary to determine that. The most important thing is that the military did not come back.

DT: What role have you played since leaving public service?

Amb. Aguiyi Ironsi: All I know is that I am now a grandfather and the head of the family and extended family. I am not resting because I am not tired. As many people are aware, I took an early retirement because of the health complications due to certain private matters we have already alluded to. I am engaged in election monitoring in Africa.

DT: Do you have any advice for Nigerians?

Amb. Aguiyi Ironsi: There is a lot of ethnic jingoism going on. But I stress that Naija, I like to call it that because it is a country of youths, is well blessed and only needs to be well managed. It is a failing state but it is not failed. I still believe that we are lucky to have the moral guidance of somebody like President Buhari but he cannot do it alone. Everybody else must also take up the flag. I don’t think the National Assembly and the governors would want Nigeria to fail. There may be powers in the international community that may want to see Naija debt-ridden, crisis-ridden and in hunger. But we know our role in the world and cannot let the black man down, in Africa, the Caribbean and America. Like Ahmadu Bello, said we must respect our differences.

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