•He hid my son in the wardrobe when his killers
By Anayo Okoli
For Lady Victoria Aguiyi Ironsi, the shock of the
news of the tragic death of her husband, the late
former Head of State, Lt. General Johnson Aguiyi
Ironsi can never go away. She described the day
and entire period as shocking and terrible dark
days. But she remains grateful to God that she
weathered it all.
In this interview in Umuahia, Lady Aguiyi Ironsi
laments that both the Federal and State Government
do not accord the nation’s heroes the respect they
Today is 50 years of the tragic death of your
husband. How did you receive the news?
Well, it is 50 years now, I am happy that God has
kept us alive till today. And today, one can look
back to those dark days. It is not a day one can
forget in life, we keep remembering it. The shock
can never go away.
How did you feel when the news came? As the
wife at home, all of a sudden the news came that
your husband, the Head of State, has been killed.
How did you receive the news?
Shocking, it was a terrible thing. But usually when a
soldier marries a woman, he always tries to bring
her up to his standard, that is to be brave and
courageous. Time without number, they go out and
they don’t return. They tell us as wives, ‘as a
soldier, I can die any day.’ They don’t hesitate to
tell us something like that. And when they tell us
things like that, we always think they are just
talking, but they are teaching us something serious,
really. In my case, when I got worried, he would
advise me not to be worried. He would tell me,
‘don’t be worried, I am a soldier, I can die any day.’
So on this fateful day, it happened. Where did he go
to, a meeting in Ibadan; Fujuyi was hosting him at
the State House, Ibadan. From a meeting you don’t
see your husband again; he was not sick, nothing.
What you do, nothing, you wouldn’t even know what
to do, you are just empty. It is only God that can
console you, that time you need God most. That
was what happened to me, it was shocking. You
don’t even know the true situation of things.
Nobody told me whether he was dead or alive. For
so many months, no information on whether he was
killed. People just kept trooping in [to the State
House], saying this and saying that, then you are
dumb, you can’t even talk. I just kept looking at
thousands of people that came to see me. Who
were you going to talk to? Some people said they
saw him in Umuahia, his home town, some said
they saw him in other places, I was just looking at
people talking, I did not know what to contribute. I
was just confused, looking at them.
But being the wife of a general, and going by what
he used to tell you about the risk in his
profession, were you able to put one and two
together to sense that he was dead?
Oh yes. That was why I called Emeka [Col. Emeka
Odimegwu Ojukwu, the Governor of Eastern Region]
and told him to take me down to the East, that I
didn’t think I would continue to remain here [State
House], Lagos. I called him to make arrangement
to move me down, and he did that immediately.
Were you with the children then?
Of course, even my first son who came from
London on holidays followed him [Gen Ironsi] to
Ibadan for the meeting. I did not even remember
that he was there with him, he followed his father to
Ibadan for a meeting; he said he wanted to have a
sight-seeing. A young boy, who had been in London
all his life, just came home on holidays. I didn’t
even remember again that he was with his father
because my brain was off.
How did your son feel the tragic incident?
He was with his father in the State House, Ibadan,
when the soldiers came [to arrest his father]. His
father put him in the wardrobe and went down stairs
to meet the soldiers who came for him. He warned
his son, ‘don’t enter any car, just take train and go
back to Lagos.’ A very clever boy, he did as
instructed and came back to Lagos on train.
Was he the person who eventually told you what
actually happened to your husband?
No, he did not even talk. He just entered and said,
‘oh, I have a brave father. I have a brave father, he
didn’t allow them to touch him; he followed them to
wherever they were going.’ He said he looked
through the window, that his father just entered his
car and followed them. And Fujuyi, (who was his
host])insisted that he must go with them where they
were going. He said he was looking at them as they
left. He told me, ‘mummy, dad said I should tell
you not to cry.’
How are you planning the memorial service?
The church service will hold Friday, 29th July, at the
Martha Day Catholic Cathedral, Umuahia, and
reception will hold here in the house. The memorial
service is to thank God for keeping us alive. He,
himself, being a man of God would be happy where
ever he is now. So we have to thank God. Members
of the Legions have indicated interest to come and
they will go to his burial site to pay him respect.
What of the Military authority, did you extend
invitations to them?
My dear, only members of the Legion have said
they would come. But the Military know about it. 50
years anniversary is a national thing. Even the
Federal and State Governments ought to take it
serious, but they are busy doing their politics. It is
their responsibility to do everything I am doing now
about this programme, but they don’t care, the
Government, both Federal and State, are busy doing
politics, and the past heroes they don’t recognize
them. It is a major event in the nation’s history, but
look at how they are handling it. The man who just
phoned me is the chairman of the Legions in the
State, informing me that they are coming in their