No single Igbo political leader was present in Umuahia, at the weekend, at the two main events marking the 50th memorial anniversary of General Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s first military Head of State, who was slain on July 29, 1966.
Neither the Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, nor any other governor of the South East, was present at the events.
The two key delegations that represented the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari and the military high command were visibly surprised that a ceremony which was supposed to be a major occasion did not have even a single member of the Igbo political leadership to welcome the august delegations.
Hajiya Aisha Buhari was represented by Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano, the wife of the Anambra State Governor and delivered a very touching message from the Mrs Buhari who extolled the virtues of the widow of the fallen Head of State as well as the tenacity of the family which has been without their head for 50 years.
The Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Gabriel Olonishakin, was represented by Major General Edward Nze of the Defence Headquarters, who was accompanied by the Garrison Commander of the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu and other officers and men of the military.
Indeed, the delegation from the military high command added colour and pomp to the ceremony which was shunned by the political class of the South East.
The occasion started with an episcopal concelebrated Mass led by the Bishop of Umuahia Catholic Diocese, the Right Reverend Dr Lucious Ugorji, who was accompanied by several priests, at St Finbarr’s Cathedral, Umuahia. At the end of the church service, Major General Nze presented the goodwill message from his boss, General Olonishakin, who regretted his inability to come in person, due to other urgent military matters. The CDS’s address was followed by that of the Mrs Buhari, which was read by Mrs Obiano.
In his own vote of thanks on behalf of the Aguiyi-Ironsi family, Ambassador Tom Aguiyi-Ironsi thanked the President’s Wife and the CDS as well as all those that took out time to come and honour their late father.
He also paid tribute to the late Lt Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, who had, out of loyalty and the call to duty, opted to follow his Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Ironsi, to his death. Ambassador Ironsi called on the Almighty to continue to grant repose to the soul of the slain loyal soldier, Col. Fajuyi.
After the ceremonies in the church, the train moved to the Aguiyi-Ironsi cenotaph where the officiating Bishop led the other members of the clergy at a very solemn ceremony of the blessing of the tomb.
The ceremony at the tomb also involved the laying of the wreath by Mrs Obiano on behalf of the President’s Wife, Mrs Buhari. The other wreath was laid by Deaconess Nkechi Ikpeazu, the wife of the Abia State Governor, who was also at the ceremonies in the church and was said to be representing her husband who kept away from the ceremonies.
Amidst eyebrows and wagging tongues as to why no political leader was present at such a significant ceremony, Governor Okezie was being represented by his wife, he was in fact, hosting the executive members of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo at the Government House, Umuahia. He never appeared at any of the ceremonies.
The only political leader that put up an appearance was Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology, who was the first executive governor of the state during the short-lived civilian administration in the states under President Ibrahim Babangida. Onu was, however, unable to attend the main activities and was only able to be present at the house.
However, the executives of the Ohanaeze belatedly arrived at the modest family home of the Aguiyi-Ironsis, well after the main events had taken place and the key guests had departed. They were received by Noble Lady Victoria Aguiyi-Ironsi. Explaining later, the Secretary General of the Ohanaeze, Dr Joe Nwaorgu, said that the Aguiyi-Ironsi family had indicated that they wanted a low-key ceremony.
An aide of Governor Ikpeazu also explained to this reporter that the governor kept away because “he was not invited”, and refused to accept the argument being made by many observers that the even should have been organised by his office in conjunction with the Ironsi family and Igbo political and socio-cultural interests.
Significantly, too, the immediate-past governor of the state, Senator Theodore Orji, who is said to hail from the same clan as the late General Aguiyi-Ironsi, was also absent at the occasion.