In this interview first published by Sunday Guardian of February 17, 2008, Lt-General T.Y. Danjuma, who led the troops that killed then Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi, who was visiting Ibadan, and his host, speaks on the events of that day.
You know; there are so many versions of some the critical events that took place over the years in which I was involved. Some of the versions are sanitized; some of them are slightly inaccurate, which I will endeavour to correct. And in correcting them, there will be a few explosions. You know what a grenade is- it explodes. Unfortunately, for me, each time I pick up my notes and try to write, I have to relive some of those very tense periods and I am so worked up. So, what I have decided to do is oral history- tell the story to a writer who’ll record, transcribe and so on and the book will bear his name and mine. Will you, in the book correct, for example, the many stories around the coup in Ibadan in 1966 and your alleged role in the killing of Aguiyi-Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi? The interesting thing about the Ibadan coup where Ironsi was arrested is that the full story is already in print. If you take the book written on me by Lindsay Barrett, the account given there with General (Yakubu ) Gowon’s biography written by Professor Isawa Eliaugu – if you read that part of the book, the account thereof what happened – if you put them together, a lot of the grey areas will be clear. Well, you still have to clear some speculations here concerning your role. It is said that you broke Ironsi’s famous swagger stick, which was thought to be his magic wand. Did you? Did your people drag Ironsi on the road? Did you take him to Iwo road and shoot him? No, it is not true. What happened was that after we arrested him, I lost control. Remember that I was a complete stranger. I came from Lagos with Ironsi as a staff in the Army Headquarters attached to him. I stayed in the barracks with the Adjutant (the Chief of Staff of the Commanding Officer). I stayed with him in his single officer quarters. And it was there, that at one or two o’clock in the morning – I was in bed – when he came and knocked at my door. He said, “sir, do you know what has happened.” I said, “no”. He said there was some trouble in Abeokuta. He said there was an Igbo officer holding a secret meeting with all the Igbo officers in the Officers’ Mess and our boys went and shot all of them. Who are the “our boys?” Northern soldiers! Remember, Igbos did the killings that took place in January (1966). They killed non-Igbo senior Army officers. Only one Igbo officer was killed but Igbo wiped out almost all the senior non –Igbo officers. We rounded up all the people, who did the killings because we all helped Ironsi to abort the January coup. They were rounded up and put in jail, where they were being paid their full salary.
They had television, they had everything there despite being detained and nobody was talking about court marshalling them. Instead, the newspapers including the Daily Times wrote to the effect that the boys being detained were national heroes. National heroes because they killed corrupt politicians! He didn’t say anything about Army officers…” they killed corrupt politicians and replaced them with lronsi whom we would call Iron-side”. Very insulting and, in my own opinion, provocative! They were saying that those boys should be freed. Tension started building. Riots broke out in the North and it was because of the riots that broke out in the North that Ironsi started going round to talk to traditional rulers and the Army leaders. I was in his convoy. We got to Ibadan. We had a meeting with traditional rulers and leaders of thought at the end of which everybody was asked to sing the National Anthem. We all sang the National Anthem. In the night, we had dinner and we came back. We dropped him (Ironsi) at Government House, and then went to the barracks to stay with the Adjutant. Then, at one o’clock in the night (there was) gbam, gbam, gbam on my door. I said what happened. He (Adjutant) said there was some trouble in Abeokuta. I said what was it? He said the man on duty – duty officer – saw the Commanding Officer holding meetings in the officers’ mess … all the officer that attended that meeting were Igbos. They left out non-Igbo officers. The duty officer called one or two soldiers; they cocked their guns, went there and rounded up everybody. They thought it was a joke. One of them had his staff machine gun by his side and he bent down and attempted to pick it up; they opened up on him and shot him down. They sprayed everybody, killed everybody there and started telephoning. They rang Ibadan. It was then that this boy woke me up. This was what happened. The press had been calling for the release of the January coup plotters. Now, our boys had created an excuse for the release. After killing these people, it is a draw – they killed Army officers in Lagos and all over Nigeria. Igbos did it. Now, Igbos had been killed in Abeokuta; that’d be the end of it. I said no. I asked the Adjutant, who was in a position to know if the Supreme Commander – at that time lronsi was known as Supreme Commander – had been told? He said, no; he didn’t think so. I said okay; he should get me some soldiers. He brought soldiers. I didn’t come to Ibadan with combat dress. I had to borrow the combat dress of an officer about my size. It was an American combat dress. This officer had just come back from the US. You know, when you travel with the Head of State you have to dress decently, wear service dress and so on. So, I borrowed fatigue, wore it. In fact, I wore it over my pyjamas and left with the Adjutant. I said, “Take me to Government House”. We got there. We asked soldiers who were on duty to ground arms. They all grounded their arms. I told the Adjutant what to do. Soldiers grounded their arms; we disarmed them and armed the soldiers that we brought. Meanwhile, the anti-tank gun (lronsi convoy) was there, the commander was there. The commander was from the garrison in Ibadan. We knew him; we told him. He said we should use the gun to blow down the building. I said no. There’s no need; the Head of State was there; we had to arrest him. We were there and waited. Any time anybody came out from the building, we arrested him. They removed their shoes and we asked them to sit down. Why were you doing this? We didn’t want any violence. we wanted to arrest him (Ironsi ) alive and go and lock him up, we wanted to interrogate him, to find out the role he played in the coup (January 1966 ); his stories didn’t add up about how he escaped from Flagstaff House where he was staying at No.1, Glover (Ikoyi), and ended up in Ikeja. How it came about that Njoku, who was supposed to have handed over the command of the largest garrison in Lagos, which was then the Ikeja Garison, did not handover. Njoku was still in command and he (Ironsi) went to join him. We were going to interrogate him about all those, or at least, that was what I thought we were going to do. So, everything I told the soldiers to do or not to do, they obeyed until, eventually, first, (Adekunle) Fajuyi (Military Governor of Western Region) came out of the building after he waited… every time they sent somebody out of the building, nobody went back. So, Fajuyi came down. As he came down the steps, I saluted-him – and said, “Sir, you are under arrest; hands”. He looked at me and called me, “Danjuma?” I said, “Sir, you are under arrest.” He raised his hands, and came down. He said, “What do you want?” I said, “We want to arrest you and we want to arrest the Head of State.” He said, “And you are going out with him?” I said, “yes…” And you were supposed to be on the Supreme Commander’s entourage? I was; I was there. I went to Ibadan with him. What do you mean by, “supposed to?” Because you were now arresting… Yes, I was arresting. He (Fajuyi) pleaded with me not to go up with armed men; that he was going to go up and call him (Ironsi) provided I guaranteed his safety. I gave him my guarantee: I said, “I guarantee your safety.” He went there and didn’t come down. So, I decided to climb up. As I climbed up the steps, armed soldiers followed me. I had a grenade in my hand. I didn’t have any arm. As I came, lronsi was seated; Fajuyi was by his side. I said, “Sir, you are under arrest.” And I gave him the order to stand up. Reluctantly, Ironsi stood up. He used to carry a staff crocodile. He had it in his hand. They both came down. Fajuyi was still asking me about guaranteeing safety. I guaranteed his safety absolutely. So, we came out of the building down toward the car. One of the soldiers said we shouldn’t allow him to carry his crocodile, that there’s juju. I said no; there’s nothing in it. He said he’d disappear if we allowed him to carry it. He started to stop and I told him to shut up. That was the time I lost control. The soldier batoned me and pushed me aside and took charge. To my greatest surprise, the Adjutant, who was, you know, these were his troops – I was a stranger, they were obeying me because everything I did they liked; they liked what I was doing, but the moment I told them not to do something they didn’t like, they rejected – I expected the Adjutant, who was there, to intervene. He probably incited them. He said, “Yes, the soldier is right. This thing here (Ironsi’s crocodile) is his Zasa; it’s juju that will make him disappear.” So, they took the thing from him, pushed me aside and bundled him and Fajuyi in a vehicle and drove away. It was six o’clock in the morning. The front of the Government House was littered with people without shoes; people who had come to get ready to go. They asked every one of them to sit on the floor and they removed their shoes. They all sat, including then-Head of Service (Chief P Odumosu). I came down. They (soldiers) drove away. There was nobody to tell these people to go; so they all sat there. It was I who said, “What are you people still doing here?”. Quietly, they realized they were free to go. They (soldiers) had driven away Fajuyi and Ironsi. What of you? I had to hitch a ride to go to the barracks. They left; there was no vehicle even for me to leave that place; they just drove away, taking them away. So, I had to make my way back to the barracks. If you read General Gowon’s book, it’s there. They named names of the people who actually took Ironsi away. Now, there are a lot of lies. I read some very funny lies told by Ironsi’s ADC whose life I saved. He was an Igbo officer from Abakaliki area, tall, a good-looking chap. After the war he came back, I saw him, we shook hands and I gave him some money. I read his account. You know we captured a lot of literature in Enugu. The Igbos named his account, including what happened in Ibadan, and what happened in the North – as pogrom. I read all the accounts there. It was there that I saw the evidence given by this man in order to … he must have felt guilty, when his boss was arrested and taken away and he went away and he went home empty-handed, without anything even though he was his ADC and nothing happened to him. He had to tell a lie to justify how he came out with his limbs intact. He gave a long story of how he escaped, what happened and so on. That man told a lot of the lies that gained currency. Ironsi had two ADCs. One of them was Col. Sani Bello and the other was this man. I prevailed on the soldiers not to do anything to anybody. We arranged even for him to escape, and go away. He went home and started telling lies. He told a lot of lies, which I read in the account he gave in Biafra. We had an inquiry. People came to give account and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it, but I remember that the stories that gained currency were from that man. The Adjutant created the problem? He didn’t create the prob1em. The Igbos who killed our senior officers all over the place created the problem; they created the problem. They sowed the wind and reaped the problem; it wasn’t him (the Adjutant). They were reacting; they were avenging what happened in January. The July coup was a revenge coup. What’s the name of the Adjutant? Garba Paiko! Was he a Major? Major! He was a Second Lieutenant. You were his senior? Oh yes! But when it comes to coup-making, there’s no rank. The coup is a bandwagon of hierarchy. This was his unit. He knew the boys; I didn’t know them. But he knew me. He used me… You’re lucky they didn’t mistake you for an Igbo. Oh, easily! I was lighter in complexion than I am now. Many times, they took me for an Igbo. So, he (Adjutant) didn’t create the problem? I don’t think you people know what happened. What would you do when you went to bed and woke up and found that all the people from your area in the Army, innocent people were killed in their beds, some of them even with their wives – all done by Igbo officers? We bottled up this for six months from January to July. Then, the opportunity came for revenge. In the Army, you are taught that when you are fired upon, you take cover and return fire. We didn’t return fire immediately. We gave Ironsi a chance to deal with the people who killed our seniors. He did not. We couldn’t understand! If politicians were corrupt, why didn’t you confine yourself to killing politicians? If it was necessary that the Army should take over, why was it that this same Army should eliminate the cream of that Army and leave us with absolutely useless people, like Ironsi who was a desk-clerk Head of State? We couldn’t understand it. But we bottled this up till July and when the opportunity came, we decided to revenge. This is what happened… People blame you for what happened in Ibadan, but as it is, the Adjutant more or less, instigated the soldiers… Yes, this is what I suspect. My suspicion is borne out by the fact that he did not do what I would do if I were in his position. He (Adjutant) approved of what the boys did.