By Igboeli Arinze
Last year, for a period of 31 days in th month of July, i ran what a friend later termed as the Ironsi Dialogues, where i analyzed the six months of his administration in Nigeria as well as dispelling the canards sold against one of Nigeria’s finest soldiers, this was of course on the platform of facebook and did attract many contributions from most Nigerian youths at home and abroad. On the 29th of July , 2011 i also penned an article with the title ” Aguiyi Ironsi A Life for all Times” which was subsequently published in a host of Nigerian newspapers and on the internet.
This year i have not shirked from what i have come to see as my duty, for i am at home with it as it is with me, i am immersed into it, i have taken this stand and cannot but on the pain of dishonour contemplate a withdrawal, which will be to ensure that General Ironsi takes his rightful place in the annals of Nigerian history or is accorded such by the Nigerian authorities.
I state this owing to the fact that many a friend and associate have questioned my passion for Ironsi, even amongst my fellow Igbos. Many a times the question “Why Ironsi?” has arisen to which i have responded in a typical Nigerian fashion “why not Ironsi?” Followed by an adhoc lecture on reasons why in spite of the falsehood sold by those who killed him and his dim like status even amongst his own people, i still carry a personal conviction that the man Ironsi was quite noble and possessed the best of intentions for the Nigerian nation.
Was Ironsi involved in the coup of Jan.the 15th 1966? Although most books on the coup have argued against such a notion, the group of dissidents that plotted his overthrow and death, having no germane excuse to justify the senseless slaughter of July 29 and September 1966 like the Sanheredin’s counter-reaction to the resurrection of Jesus tabled one monstrous fable after the other about Ironsi, amongst these stories is that of his killing Zakari Maimalari. Awkward isn’t it? Since the same Maimalari was killed by Ifeajuna. Furthermore if Ironsi was part of the coup then how come about the North/South divide days after the coup where an Nzeogwu firmly in control of the whole North threatened to march on Ironsi’s South to finish his revolution? Why then was Nzeogwu and his comrade in arms arrested? Surely they would have spilt the beans on who was who in the coup plot, like some generals did kneeling and weeping during the Abacha days.
On the allegation that Ironsi’s Decree no 34 was simply a plot to entrench an Igbo hegemony upon the Nigerian nation, subsequent events and the present state of Nigeria suggests otherwise. Ironsi largely sought to end tribalism, his first statement as Supreme Leader announced that all Nigerians wanted an end to regionalism and tribalism, twin evils which did contribute to the many flaws of the First Republic and has continued to dog this country’s march to progress, despite its great potentials and prospects. Nigerians had all witnessed the regional struggles, the Western Region’s crisis, the rigged elections and the unhealthy political practices of the regionally dominated political parties, no sane leader nor citizen would have been comfortable with such, Nigeria obviously needed a melting point where Nigeria and her interests would supercede ethnic affiliations and tribal loyalties, Ironsi felt that the melting point was Decree No 34, which in all sought to make the Nigerian Civil Service as one institution, Ironsi’s train of thought was simply moving in the direction where every Nigerian was or would be free to work and live where he wanted or where duty called. Thus a Tiv man could work in Enugu and discharge his duties to the nation as a true Nigerian, while a Yoruba man would not feel out of place working in Maiduguri.
It is important to bring to our knowledge that General Ironsi tabled this matter before the Supreme Military Council which was made up of more Northerners than Southerners, with Igbos being the least in the Council. The likes of Gowon, Kam Salem, hassan Kastina and Alhaji yesufu naturally hummed in agreement when the issue was raised, not one of them had the courage, honour or honesty required of men to disagree, but when they struck against Ironsi, they then offered Decree 34 as another excuse for the coup, but to think that subsequent Nigerian leaders, particularly Gowon practically ran this country on a “wonderful model of true federalism” so different from what Ironsi had in mind will be to delude oneself. Gen Ironsi was accused of seeking Igbo hegemony but Gowon ensured a Northern hegemony, one that has surely backfired.
Today’s Nigeria largely reveals that we are not a nation. In Borno, Niger, Taraba, Gombe, Yobe, Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi and Plateau over 4500 people have been killed while hundreds of thousands have been displaced. In Plateau, a state once renowned for its peace and tranquility, the struggle has been over whether the Fulani people are indigenes or not indigenes in a state where they have lived for years. Should such a dichotomy exist? In a nation where its citizens are free to live work and settle in any part of the country as they choose, is it then right to exclude any citizen from full participation in any community within Nigeria due to the fact that he may be a citizen but a non native? I hold not forth for the violence in Plateau, it is not justified and will not be sanctioned by my pen, yet the simple solution to this upheavals and unnecessary bloodletting did lie at some point in time in Ironsi’s Decree 34 and i make no mistake about saying such.
In concluding, it is my belief that the Nigerian nation and Igbos in particular have a lot to learn from Gen.Ironsi, his forthrightness, courage and patriotism, i feel angered when i read demonized reports about him, about his being a desk clerk Head of State, a drunk, etc, but I will not fail to ask the likes of Gowon, Danjuma, Shagari, Babaginda and Abacha how this nation fared under their leadership? I recall Danjuma recently complaining that Nigeria was fast becoming a Somalia, to tell the truth i am quite surprised at his statements for with his antecedents and role he played in the July 29th coup does he expect anything better? This Boko Haram people are simply emulating a past trend and that trend began on the 29th of July 1966.
I thank God that for all the canards sold against Ironsi, cowardice isn’t one of them. We see this in many of his gallant efforts as a peace keeper and Head of State. Today my President cannot travel to certain areas in the country owing to the Boko Haram scare, but an Ironsi known not to shirk from his responsibilities insisted on carrying out a tour to sell the advantages of Decree No 34. Unfortunately for us he was to meet his death, but were we to have leaders in this mold, i make bold to say that Nigeria would have been a much better place than it is now.
General Ironsi remains a hero, this I know.
Igboeli Arinze writes from Awka