Sani Bello, former aide-de-camp to Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, ex-military head of state, has shared the details of how his principal was killed during the coup d’etat of July 1966.
In an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Bello recounted the incidents that took place on the day of the coup.
Aguiyi-Ironsi was Nigeria’s first military head of state following the forceful ouster of the civilian government led by Tafawa Balewa on January 15, 1966.
After just six months in charge, he was also overthrown in the countercoup, which culminated on July 29, 1966.
Aguiyi-Ironsi was with Adekule Fajuyi, then military governor of Western Nigeria, during the upheaval and both were killed.
Reminiscing about the coup, Bello said he was with the former military head of state at the government house in Ibadan when it began.
He claimed that Theophilus Danjuma, former chief of army staff, dragged him alongside Agunyi-Ironsi and Fajuyi into a convoy headed for Owo LGA, Ondo state.
Bello said all the “leaders on that convoy were non-commissioned officers (NCOs)”.
NCOs are officers in the lowest rung of the Nigerian army, comprising mostly enlisted personnel.
“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.
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“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.”
‘IT WAS THE LAST TIME I HEARD OF AGUIYI-IRONSI’
Bello said the convoy stopped suddenly, and one of the officers “cocked it and took a step backwards and put his hand on the trigger”, but he pleaded that the execution should be done in the bush.
He added that his plea bought time for one “Lieutenant Dada” to catch up with the convoy to demand his release but failed to secure the safety of Aguiyi-Ironsi and Fajuyi also.
Bello said gunshots were heard as he was being ferried from the spot, adding that “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.”