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JOHNSON AGUIYI-IRONSI


Full Name: Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi
Title/Job: Ex Military Ruler of Nigeria
Profile:

Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (March 3, 1924, Umuahia - July 29, 1966, Lalupon, Oyo State) was a Nigerian soldier. He served as the Head of State of Nigeria from January 16, 1966 until he was overthrown and killed on July 29, 1966 by a group of northern army officers who revolted against the government.

Early life
Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was born to Mazi Ezeugo Aguiyi's Ohuhu-Igbo family on March 3, 1924, in Umuahia-Ibeku, present day Abia State, Nigeria. When he was eight years old, Ironsi moved in with his older sister Anyamma, who was married to Theophilius Johnson, a Sierra Leonean diplomat in Umuahia. Ironsi subsequently took the last name of his brother-in-law, who became his father figure. At the age of 18, Ironsi joined the Nigerian Army against the wishes of his sister.

Military career
Aguiyi-Ironsi enlisted into the Nigerian Army on 2 February 1942 and was admitted and excelled in military training at Eaton Hall, England and also attended Royal Army Ordnance Corps before he was later commissioned officer as an infantry officer in the rank of Lieutenant on 12 Jun 1949. He soon returned to Nigeria to serve as the Aide de camp to John Macpherson, Governor General of Nigeria and he was assigned the equerry to Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Nigeria in 1956, assignment for which he was sent to the Buckingham Palace to trained for. During the Congo Crisis of the 1960s, the United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, appealed to the Nigerian government to send troops to Congo. Lieutenant Colonel Ironsi led the 5th battalion to the Kivu and Leopoldville provinces of Congo. His unit proved integral to the peacekeeping effort, and he was soon appointed the Force Commander of the United Nations Operation in the Congo.

Congo
In 1960 he led the Nigerian contingent in Congo.There he single-handedly negotiated the release of Austrian medical personnel and Nigerian troops when they were ambushed by Katangese rebels. For this he was awarded the 1st class Ritta Kreuz Award. He also single-handedly confronted an angry mob in Leopoldville, disbanding them. This and many other exploits earned him the name \'Johnny Ironside\', a corruption of his name \'Ironsi\' with reference to various British military historical parallels.

Ironsi returned from Congo in 1964 during the post-independence \'Nigerianization\' of the country's institutions of government. It was decided that the British General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army, Major General Welby-Everard , would step down to allow the government to appoint an indigenous GOC. Ironsi led the pack of candidates jostling for the coveted position. A consensus was reached by the ruling Northern People's Congress (NPC) and National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) coalition government, and Ironsi became General Officer Commanding of the Nigerian Army on February 9, 1965.

Politics
Fall of the First Republic

Ironsi addresses the nation in his first press conference as Head of State. Sitting from left are Hassan Katsina, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, David Ejoor, J.E.A. Wey and Yakubu GowonThe political crisis in post-colonial Nigeria precipitated into a breakdown of law and order in some of the country's provinces. The inability of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa to quell the situation incited the military to terminate civilian rule in a bloody coup d\'etat on January 14, 1966. The revolutionary soldiers, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, an Igbo from Okpanam near Asaba, present day Delta state, eradicated the uppermost echelon of politicians from the Northern and Western provinces. Though Ironsi, an Igbo, was originally slated for assassination, he was able to outmanoeuvre the rebellious soldiers in Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory. Ironsi then rose from the ashes of the First Republic to become the country's first military Head of State when Acting President Nwafor Orizu officially surrendered power to the military.

194 days in office
Ironsi inherited a Nigeria deeply fractured by its ethnic and religious cleavages. The fact that none of the high-profile victims of the 1966 coup were of Igbo extraction, and also that the main beneficiaries of the coup were Igbo, led the Northern part of the country to believe that it was an Igbo conspiracy. Though Ironsi moved swiftly to dispel this notion by courting the aggrieved ethnic groups through political appointments and patronage, his failure to punish the coup plotters and the promulgation of the now infamous \'Decree No. 34\' which abrogated the country's federal structure in exchange for a unitary one-crystallized this conspiracy theory.

During his short regime Aguiyi-Ironsi promulgated lots of decrees among them the Emergency Decree known as the Constitution Suspension and Amendment Decree No.1 suspending the Constitution even though he left intact those sections of the constitution that dealt with fundamental human rights, freedom of expression and conscience. Also the Circulation of Newspaper Decree No.2 which removed the restriction to press freedom put in place by the preceding civilian administration. According to Ndayo Uko, the Decree no.2 was to serve \'as a kind gesture to the press..\' to safeguard himself when he went on later to promulgate the Defamatory and Offensive Decree No.44 of 1966 which made it an \'offense to display or pass on pictorial representation, sing songs, or play instruments the words of which are likely to provoke any section of the country.\' Also the controversial Unification Decree No. 34 which aimed to unify Nigeria into a unitary state. Even though this decree was abolished when Aguiyi-Ironsi was deposed and killed, the decree was to affect the Nigerian foreign policy decision making system in a significant way: the abolition of \'independence\' of the regions in foreign policy. Until then the Nigerian regional governments could make their own foreign relation policies independent of the federal government. This decree removed Nigeria's many contradictory tunes on foreign policy and various \'mini-embassies\' abroad were closed down. This tidiness and wisdom of not allowing the state governments to compete with the federal government in foreign affairs continue till today.

Counter coup and assassination
On July 29, 1966, Ironsi spent the night at the Government House Ibadan as part of a nation-wide tour. His host, Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, Military Governor of Western Nigeria, alerted him to a possible mutiny within the army. Ironsi desperately tried to contact his Army Chief of Staff, Yakubu Gowon, but he was unreachable. In the early hours of the morning, the Government House Ibadan was surrounded by soldiers led by Theophilus Danjuma. Danjuma arrested Ironsi and questioned him about his alleged complicity in the coup which saw the demise of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello. Although some have argued that Fajuyi was not a target in this counter-coup, Danjuma, Walbe and others have gone on record to say that they probably wanted him \'for questioning\' as much as they did his boss, Aguiyi-Ironsi. Fajuyi was seen as a so-called progressive, who had supported the Nzeogwu coup in January of that year. The bullet-riddled bodies of Ironsi and Fajuyi were later found in a nearby forest, and Yakubu Gowon became the new Military Head of State.





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