Some eminent Igbo leaders have faulted revelations by Lt. General Jeremiah Useni, former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, on how northern military officers killed Nigeria’s first military head of state, late General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi in Ibadan. He was killed in a bloody counter-coup in July 1966.
Useni, in a recent interview conducted in Hausa by Rariya Newspaper, claimed that he was one of the soldiers, who fired shots during the coup in which Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed.
In the interview, Jerry Boy, as he is fondly called by his peers, spoke of how the plot to topple the military government was hatched and executed by mainly northern military officers seeking revenge against the Igbo.
The first coup in Nigeria which toppled the civilian government in which the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; Premier of the Northern Region and Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello; Premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and several northern military leaders were killed in January 1966, was perceived as a coup against the North.
But Colonel Joe Achuzia, former Biafran army commander, dismissed Useni’s accounts as unreliable.
According to him, the former minister was not relevant in the scheme of things during the Aguiyi-Ironsi era.
He said, “I don’t react to such nonsense as the one you said came from Jerry Useni. It is not in my character to make statements on documents or statements I have not seen or read as the case may be.
“However, people like Useni are not in any position to give any reliable account. He was a junior officer, who was not in reckoning in the army until the mass recruitment done in preparation for the Nigerian civil war. His account can never be anything reliable. It cannot be correct. At most, it will be very, very wrong,” Achuzia said.
In his own reaction, leader of the separatist group, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazurike, accused Useni of deliberately stoking the flame of anger ahead of the 2015 presidential election.
“I like what Jerry Useni has said. It is a good revelation that reinforces the fact that Nigeria was built on distrust right from the word go. The whole polity called Nigeria was conceived and delivered on distrust between the north and the south. We know this all the while but Useni’s confession merely confirms our fears over how our brother was murdered.”
According to him, contrary to the general perception that the North-South dichotomy was based on religious sentiments, Useni’s revelations have shown that the northerners are instead united as brothers against the south.
“They conspired and murdered Aguiyi-Ironsi simply because he was an Igbo man who rose to become the Head of State. That is why MASSOB is saying there is no basis for us to remain in the entrapment called Nigeria. With this kind of revelation, what is the basis for our remaining in the country called Nigeria? We want to be allowed to go our separate way because Nigeria is built on distrust.”
He accused Useni of fanning the embers of discord at all cost saying “They want the country to erupt in chaos ahead of 2015. He is reminding us of how they murdered our brother in cold blood based on distrust. He expects us to be happy reading all he said. Boko Haram is killing our brothers even now, based on the same distrust. Yet they want a united Nigeria.”
For former Anambra State governor, Dr. Chinweoke Mbadinuju, Useni should be cautioned against resurrecting an inglorious past. Doing this, he warned could re-open old wounds that are better left to heal.
“I don’t know what he wants to achieve by all he said. The statements were very unfortunate and unnecessary. We need peace in this country. No need to wake up the past that is not very glorious.
“I would have said more, but the truth of the matter is that it is not good to ascribe too much to inglorious past especially now that Nigeria is at the stage it is now politically. It is bad now that seven (actually six and one South-south) northern governors are looking for trouble in the PDP.”