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 were quoted as saying that your memoirs would be one grenade of a book, why?
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.