He hid my son in the wardrobe when his killers came
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 deserve.
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 uniform.