COUP! Nigeria’s Head of State Assassinated

50 YEARS AGO –The head of state and commander-in-chief of the Nigerian armed forces, Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, has been assassinated in Ibadan, Western Region.  He was arrested, kidnapped and later assassinated by northern military officers.

Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi , who had been on a nationwide tour to sell his government’s policies, especially Decree No. 34 that was meant to forge Nigerian unity, was in Ibadan to open a conference of traditional rulers. In the evening, he was dining with his host, the Western Region military governor, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, at the Government House, Ibadan. With them was Colonel Hilary Njoku, the Igbo commander of the Second Battalion in Ikeja. A few hours later, the coup started with a mutiny in Abeokuta barracks.
A Hausa captain led some soldiers into the officers’ mess around 11pm and shot three Eastern officers, a Lt. Col, a major and a lieutenant. The armoury was seized. Southern officers and senior non-commissioned officers were rounded up and shot around 5am on July 29. Same happened at the Second Battalion in Ikeja and Fourth Battalion in Ibadan.

When Aguiyi-Ironsi heard about the mutiny, he dispatched Njoku to Ikeja to counter it but Njoku was lucky to have escaped as he was shot and wounded on his way. The Ibadan end of the mutiny was co-ordinated by Major Theophilus Danjuma, with assistance coming from majors Adamu Martins and Murtala Muhammed.
Earlier, in a deft move, Northern officers led by the adjutant, Second Lieutenant Garba Paiko disarmed Aguiyi-Ironsi’s southern bodyguards. The death squad was later strengthened by 30 more troops led by Danjuma from the Fourth Battalion in Ibadan. The battalion was under the command of Colonel J. Akahan, a Tiv, from the North.

When the Danjuma team arrived the Government House, the detained Southern bodyguards of Aguiyi-Ironsi were shot. Aguiyi-Ironsi sent his Air Force ADC, Lt. Nwankwo, to find out what was going on. He was arrested by the Danjuma group. The head of state and Fajuyi were eventually arrested. The duo and Nwankwo were tortured and taken to a bush part on the road leading to Oyo town.

Nwankwo was younger than Aguiyi- Ironsi and Fajuyi. Although tortured badly, he seized the opportunity of a lapse and escaped into the bush. Aguiyi-Ironsi and Fajuyi did not have the strength to do this. Magazines of Sten guns were emptied into them. The police later found their bodies and buried them at the Ibadan cemetery.

The coup succeeded. Nigerians awaited the next head of state.


…Gowon Government Overthrown

41 YEARS AGO – Nigeria’s second military head of state Gen. Yakubu Gowon has been overthrown in a bloodless coup. Gowon was attending a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Kampalla, Uganda. Col. Joe Garba announced the government’s overthrow in a radio broadcast.

Brigadier Murtala Muhammed became head of state.

with reporting by Gabriel Akinadewo

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