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July 29: The Day Aguiyi-Ironsi, Gowon, Nzeogwu met their doom

Image of Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi

Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was 41 years, 10 months and 13 days old when he became Nigeria’s first military Head-of-State on January 16, 1966, having been born on March 3, 1924, in Umuahia, Abia State.

General Yakubu ‘Jack’ Dan-Yumma Gowon was 31 years, 10 months and 18 days old when he became the Head-of-State of Nigeria on August 1, 1966, having been born on October 19, 1934, in Kanke, Plateau State.

Image of July 29, Aguiyi-Ironsi, Gowon and Nzeogwu
Clockwise: Aguiyi-Ironsi, Gowon, and Nzeogwu

Major Kaduna Patrick Chukwuma Nzeogwu was born in 1937 to his Igbo immigrant parents in Kaduna, Kaduna State. He was an ambitious young military officer and a Roman Catholic. He was a rebellious military officer and the forerunner of the Nigerian Army Intelligence Corps. He was in charge of counterintelligence; the first Nigerian to hold the post.

One interesting thing is that Nzeogwu “the rebel” changed the history of the country that brought the two generals into power. 

One unified the country with a decree; the other unified the country with a bloody civil war which lasted for 30 months.

Of the two generals, as military Heads-of-States, one ruled Nigeria the shortest (164 days) while the other ruled Nigeria the longest (3284 days).

But there are unanswered questions by historians; what led to this? Are these men to be celebrated, castigated or forgotten in the annals of Nigerian history? For the sake of posterity, let’s go back to the beginning.

Independent Nigeria

When Chief Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010) moved the motion for independence in 1953, Northern lawmakers kicked against it. Eventually, it was ratified and April 2, 1960, was announced as Independence Day but Prime Minister Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966) ‘begged’ for it to be postponed till October 1 of that year.

In 1963, Nigeria became a republic and all ties with Britain were cut off. Uniforms and insignia changed to reflect sovereignty. As expected, Nigerianisation of all posts began earnestly which led the then British GOC (General Officer Commanding) of the Nigerian Army, Major-General