''Why We Killed Aguiyi-Ironsi And Installed Gowon'' — Jeremiah Useni
Lt. General Jeremiah Useni needs no introduction. The prominent role he played during the reign of late Head of State, Sani Abacha, as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is well known. However, there are two things about Jeremiah Useni, who was referred to as ‘Jerry Boy’ at the time. He was indeed a Boy, because he joined the Army at the age of 14. Firstly, he was one of the soldiers who fired shots during the coup against General Ironsi in which the General was killed in Ibadan. Mr. Useni was also the closest person to General Abacha up to his last moments.
This interview, conducted in Hausa by the Hausa language newspaper, Rariya, and translated to English by PREMIUM TIMES’ reveals a lot of things many of us didn’t know, including the conspiracies that denied him the opportunity of succeeding Mr. Abacha after he died. This is an excerpts from the interview…
After your return from England, Sardauna , Tafawa Balewa and others were killed in 1966. Where were you at the time?
I was with 4th Battalion Ibadan. The coup came to us as a surprise, like a thief in the night. We just heard in the morning that Sardauna and the rest were killed. In fact, we did not get the news on time. Where was our C.O Lt. Col. Largema? And Brig. Maimalari and Col Kur Mohammed? We learnt they were all killed. And we asked, what type of coup was that? At the time, we were not concerned with where you came from or what your religion was. As long as you were from the north, we cherish each other so much.
So we organised ourselves and agreed that what happened was very dangerous. We also learnt later that a broad government was being formed. A northerner will be transferred to the South, while a Southerner will be transferred to the north. General Hassan katsina was the governor of the north at the time. People like Kashim Ibrahim were also gone. So those of us, Army officers from the north were very angry really..
When Ironsi was arrested, T.Y. Danjuma was said to be in Ibadan, and there were reports that you, Duba and Remawa were the ones who arrested him?
It was Garba Dada, the guy from Niger state, the one I was telling you was a Senator recently. He was the Adjutant General at the time, and he was our co-ordinator. We did not stay in one place to meet. We used to drive up to beyond Ijebu-Ode meeting inside the car and then turn back.
After Ironsi was killed, the country was plunged into a civil war. You were heading the logistics and in charge of most war equipment. What were the challenges you faced during the war?
At times, it is good to be in the forefront in battle, instead of nominating someone. Facing the enemy is a difficult task that requires effective strategy. You need to put in place how to effectively block the supply of enough ammunitions and back up to them. If you do that, it will not be difficult to finish them off. That is the role I played, I ensured that our troops get enough ammunitions and logistic support all the time.
We started with General Danjuma, he was the C.O. and then Mamman Shuwa, who was later transferred to Kaduna as the GOC. So also was Martins Adamu. Adamu was leading Ogoja troop, Danjuma was in Nsukka, and I was in Abakaliki.
When Murtala was killed, it was observed that most of the perpetrators were from Plateau, such as Dimka and Bisalla; how did you feel?
Honestly, I was really surprised. We were honest and cordial with each other, not knowing that some people had sinister motive. When we did our own, it was revenge against the Igbos, but people we don’t understand did this one. But we thank God that they were identified after investigations. It was Dimka and his people that were planning to return Gowon to power. But Bisalla, was saying ‘I am here, why should you go looking for someone outside’? This country is lucky to have people like General T.Y. Danjuma. When Obasanjo became the Head of State, he was supposed to be the second in command, but Danjuma said no, there was no need for Murtala to be killed, and an Obasanjo was made the head of State, with a T.Y. Danjuma second in command. Then Shehu Yar’adua was brought in when he was a Lieutenant Colonel but he was doubly promoted to a Brigadier General and made the second in command to Obasanjo. Yar’adua was a gentleman, and that decision was taken to promote peace in the land.
Just like you said, you, General Abacha and Duba were like triplets. There were reports that you were together the night he died. How did you receive the news of his death the following morning?
I was very sad, despite the fact that I was not told in time. It was much later that I was told I was needed urgently at the villa. In fact, at first, I was even denied entry. One of my boys became angry and corked his gun and said ‘was he not here last night’? Before they allowed us to get in. I got there almost 11am. I met IGP Coomasie and other top government dignitaries there, those that were informed before me, in spite of the fact that his family knew I was his best friend. At first, I thought the family was informed that I had a hand in his death. They started asking me questions about what I knew about the death. We were together since we were junior officers, is it now that I would kill him? After their investigations, they realised that I had no hand in his dead.
After Abacha’s death, many thought you would be the next Head of State, and there were some arguments. Why did you not succeed him?
There was politics in the whole thing. There were several meetings, but no unified decision was reached despite the fact that I was the most senior officer of the lot. In the end, they said Abdulsalami had been selected, because he was the most senior in terms of office. I left without taking any appointment that is why up till today, no one is accusing me of anything. That was what happened.
How did you feel when that happened? Did you feel cheated or not?