Colonel Sani Bello, Aide-De-Camp (ADC) to General Johnson Aguiyi- Ironsi, first Military Head of State of Nigeria, has narrated how he escaped death on July 29, 1966, the day of the bloody counter-coup that overthrew the government of Aguiyi- Ironsi.
At the time of the coup, the military head of state was in Ibadan and was hosted by the Western region military administrator, Lt Col. Adekunle Fajuyi.
Speaking on Reminiscence, a special programme on Trust TV, Bello explained how both Ironsi and Fajuyi were murdered as he was rescued by an officer.
The 80-year-old former military governor of Kano State, said: “About that time, something extraordinary happened. After some time there was a Land Rover coming in but because of where the two superiors were sitting, they could see it.
“Fajuyi called his ADC, A B Umaru, to see who was coming in because it was late in the night; and he quickly did that.
“A.B. Umaru asked me and Timothy Pam to go with him. As we were going, there was a telephone ringing, so he said we should go back to answer. We allowed him to go because he was used to the house; we were guests. As we were going to answer the phone, there were shots from a submachine gun. Then there was a return of pistol fire. We didn’t know that A.B. Umaru had a pistol in his pocket; then there was a rapid shot of a submachine gun.
“We assumed that A.B. Umaru was dead. By now, everybody knew that something was happening.
“We were inside the Government House. After sometime we felt like going to see if we could rescue A.B. Umaru in case he had not died.
“We went out and met one officer who said they had him. But we did not know what that meant – were they holding him or they had killed him?
“We couldn’t see Ironsi and Fajuyi, but we could talk to them because we were at separate wings.
“After some time Fajuyi said we should send for vehicles. We started sending orderlies to bring the vehicles, but unfortunately, the Government House in Ibadan was very badly constructed. All the services were outside the Government House. So, we sent the orderlies, including a very old sergeant- major who was very close to Ironsi, and they never came back.
“Finally, I decided to go and see what was happening. It was around 7am and I was very unlucky. As I was going out, on reaching the gate, the police that would take us to Mapo Hall where the address of the Obis, Obas and Emirs would take place were coming in as our escort. The coupists assumed that I called them to come and give us support and I came to receive them, so they arrested them with all the dignitaries, including the press secretary.
“I was arrested with them and pushed to the guardroom. It was when I got into the guardroom that I knew what happened. Everybody we sent was captured and detained there, that was why they never came back. So we completely lost information
“I called a friend and classmate, the late Ibrahim Umaru, a lieutenant who was in Abeokuta. He was in armoured corp and a very good officer. I told him that it was hot in Ibadan but he said it was hotter there. I told him that I was not likely to stay alive and he said if I could stay alive for the next two hours he would come with his armoured vehicle to rescue me. But I told him that it was too late as I would soon be dead.
“We drove some distance. In those days there used to be a small forest along the Owo road on the left. Unfortunately, all the leaders on that convoy were NCOs, no single officer.
“Suddenly, the staff officer who was holding a machine gun took initiative. He cocked it and took a step backwards and put his hand on the trigger. I pleaded that he should not do it there; instead let’s go into the bush. The sergeant-major saw the danger he was facing and said we should go into the bush. We were ushered into the Land Rover again and drove off.
“We drove for some time until we reached a level crossing. We were still moving. I didn’t know whether it was a flyover. When we reached there we turned right into the bush as was demanded by the staff-sergeant. We drove for some distance and stopped.
‘As we were stopping, as God would have it, Lieutenant Dada, the adjutant of first battalion who I spoke to earlier and who told me to locate Mogoro, decided to come and see what was happening at the Government House.
“He went to the Government House and found that it was empty. He asked what happened and I think somebody told him we followed Owo road, so he decided to follow the road and came after us. That delay at the small forest gave him time to cover the distance.
“As we were stopping at the execution point, Dada was there. We were the same intake and took the same courses in military college. He ordered Andrew (Nwankwo) and I to jump into his Land Rover, and of course, the sergeant- major started murmuring and trying to disobey, but Dada was a very influential and strong officer.
“Specifically, Dada told them to keep the two senior officers and await further instructions, and said we should jump into the Land Rover.
“As we were jumping into the Land Rover, we heard a machine gun fire. Dada rushed back. The sergeant-major said “he was trying to run away and we shot him. They killed Fajuyi while we were there. I did not see the body but we heard the shot and they told Dada that they killed him. That was the last I heard of Ironsi.”