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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Aguiyi Ironsi: Nigeria’s First Military Head of State

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In the pursuit for sovereignty and substantial development, Nigeria had a tough leadership transition.

It however began with the seizure of power from its Western warlords “the British”. And finally, from the military to the civilian rule. It must be recalled that this didn’t just happen in a platter of gold but with an ultimate sacrifice which many people paid with their dear lives.

History of this said territory isn’t complete without mentioning foremost statesmen like General Aguiyi Ironsi.

General Johnson Thomas Ummunakwe Aguiyi Ironsi MVO, MVE popularly known as Aguiyi Ironsi was an army General in Nigeria and became the first military Head of state.

He took overpower admist the ensuing chaos following the January 16th, 1966 coup which decapitated the country’s leadership.

Early Life

General Agoyi Ironsi was born on the 3rd of March 1924 in Ibeku Umuhia (Abia State). And was born into the family of Mr Mazi Ezeugo Aguyi.

His primary school was there at Umauhia (Abia state) while his secondary school was in Kano State. At the age of 18, he went against his sister’s wish to join the Nigeria regiment.

He answered the name Johnson as his first name because of the role of father figure the sisters husband (Theophilus Johnson) who was a Sierra Leonean diplomat played in his life when he lived with them.

Military Career

General Aguiyi Ironsi joined the Nigeria regiment in 1942 as a private with the seventh battalion. It means that he became an elite brigade of the Nigeria Army, protecting the President of Nigeria, also perform ceremonial duties.

He was later on promoted to company seagent major in 1946. That same year, he was sent to Camberley, England on a training course in Staff college.

After completing the training course in Camberley England 1949, he was commissioned into the Royal African Frontier Force as a second lieutenant.

HeHe was granted a regular commission on 16th May 1953 and was promoted to the rank of captain with effect from that day.

Aguyi Ironsi served as an equerry for Queen Elizabeth ll for the United Kingdom and Nigeria at the time she visited Nigeria in 1956, this earned him the appointment as the Member of the Victorian Order.

He was also promoted to the rank of a major in 1958.

In 1960, he was promoted to the office of the lieutenant Cornel and appointed to head the fifth battalion in Kano state Nigeria.

In 1964, he was appointed as the commandant in charge of entire United Nations peace keeping in the Republic of Congo and subsequently prompted to the rank of a major general in 1965.

In 1996, some army officers led by major Chukwuma Nzeogu tried to overthrow the central government and take over the government in a failed coup. Nzeogu was captured and imprisoned by major general Aguyi Ironsi.

Aguyi Ironsi was promoted because of his central intelligence. So, he became military head of state in 17th January 1966 a post he held till 29th July 1966 when he was killed.

Personal Life

Major general Aguiyi Ironsi got married in the year 1953 to his wife named Victoria and was blessed with children.


Major general Aguyi ironsi was arrested by Theophilus Danjuma who questioned him about his alleged involvement in the coup which resulted to the death of some northerners including Abubakar Balewa, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello.

However, the circumstances leading to his death still remains a discussion in Nigeria as his lifeless body was later found in a nearby forest with shot on his chest.

General Aguiyi Ironsi, died at the age of 42.

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