The last Nigerian.

Author:Ezeh, Peter
Position:Review
 
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Ironside. Chuks Ileogbunam. Published by Alliance Network Ltd, London.

One of the useful occurrences in Nigeria this year must be the launch of the biography of Major-Gen Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, the country's unsung first indigenous chief of the armed forces who was murdered on 29 July 1966 in a coup d'etat by Northern officers fired by tribal considerations and greed for power -- a proclivity which, like a pathogenic bacterium has continued to spawn since then.

African soldiers need to take a leaf from the career of this extremely chivalrous general, but a strange conspiracy of silence has reigned in Nigeria since 1966 when the Nigerian military establishment sacrificed Ironsi to fertilise the seed of anti-democracy newly sown at the time.

Sad to say, but the only objective accounts, however incomplete, on Ironsi before now had come mainly from foreign writers -- to name a few, Fredrick Forsyth's The Biafra Story, Suzanne Cronje's The World and Nigeria, Ruth First's The Politics of Coup d'etats in Africa, and Remy Butet's L'Effroyable Guerre du Biafra.

In contrast, what Nigerian bookshops are replete with are sponsored panegyrics on arch-conspirators who shot their way to the highest offices in the land, or drove out their own superiors in palace coups. They are put up as the ultimate heroes.

Ironside stands alone in its category. The story of a general of domestic and international acclaim who stakes his life to save democracy in his country, very nearly succeeded, but like the quintessential classical tragic hero, ends up being crushed all the same by the same anti-civilisation forces he is up against. To achieve this, they use, Brutus-like, friends whom he so trusts and has assembled irrespective of their origins to help cement the unity of the made-in-England geopolitical hodgepodge called Nigeria.

The title of the book is taken from its hero's nickname given him by his colleagues in a Brutus military school dazzled by his prowess.

Ironsi was the last Nigerian leader to shun nepotism and to be truly detribalised. Which is why it seems apt that this book whose journalist-author had been looking for a publisher since 1988, was published 12 years after; and in a year in which ethno-sectarian bloodbath has rampaged through the country, leaving thousands of fatalities in its trail.

The chapter recounting speakers' views during the 20th anniversary of Ironsi's death in 1986 is headed The Last Nigerian. After Ironsi, what predominate are...

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