Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was Nigeria’s first military ruler. He was born in Umuahia, Abia State, on March 3, 1924. When he was eight years old, he moved in with his sister. She was married to Sierra Leonean diplomat Theophilus Johnson.

He looked up to Theophilus Johnson as a father figure. Later, Aguiyi-Ironsi adopted his brother-in-surname law as his first name. In Umuahia and Kano, Aguiyi-Ironsi attended basic and high school. When he turned 18, he went against his biological father’s wishes and joined the Nigerian army.


In 1942, Aguiyi-Ironsi enlisted in the Nigerian Army. He joined the seventh battalion as a private.

In 1946, he was promoted to company sergeant major. Johnson In 1946, Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was assigned to Staff College, Camberley, for officer training. After completing his course, he was elevated to the rank of second lieutenant in the Royal West African Frontier Force. In 1953, Aguiyi-Ironsi was promoted to captain. Major was his rank when he was promoted in 1995. He was one of the officers that accompanied Queen Elizabeth II on her 1956 visit to Nigeria as an equerry. As a lieutenant colonel, he was appointed commandant of the fifth battalion in Kano in 1960.

Aguiyi-Ironsi became head of state at a critical period when ethnic tensions arose as a result of the coup. The coup plotters were thought to have targeted predominantly Northern and Western leaders.

In addition, the majority of the plotters were Igbos. He attempted to persuade Nigerians otherwise by appointing politicians from such regions. However, he did not punish the coup plotters, which angered many Nigerians, particularly in the north. This was a contributing factor in the Nigerian civil war.

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