“The story of General Aguiyi Ironsi that Mama told me”- By Caleb Onyeabor

I was in primary school when I developed an interest in reading political stories and when it was too much for me to comprehend, Mama is the only person whose interpretation I believed but Mama was always busy.
Somehow, she found a way to attend to my questions and even extend our talking time by including stories I did not ask for. My first teacher of politics and history is Mama. She was the first person who told me about how the white guys took over and some other pre-independence gists. It was from her I got to know about the civil war. Among her other stories, the story she told me about General Aguiyi Ironsi stands out.
One day, I was reading a page in a current affairs book on past Nigerian Presidents and heads of states. General Ironsi only reigned from January to July. That was too short. I took the book, went to Mama and asked her to explain why.


General Ironsi was an Igbo army general who assumed power after the first unsuccessful military coup in Nigeria. Mama told me that though Ironsi drinks a lot, he was very smart. Being aware of the plot to overthrow him in another coup, General Ironsi went to India and asked them to give him “protection”. He came out of that India temple with this crocodile.
The powers of the crocodile was very potent. Mama said the crocodile can alert him if his enemies are coming and once he touches the crocodile, he disappears into the wall. This made Ironsi invincible and powerful. They tried and tried but the crocodile was smarter than them.
So they hatched a plan. They invited Ironsi for a night party and got him drunk. Meanwhile, they have gone to meet one local carpenter to produce a replica of the crocodile. Once Ironsi was drunk, they replaced the real crocodile with the fake one. Soon, the coup plotters came to arrest him. He touched his crocodile, nothing happened. He touched it again, nothing happened. Then, he realized that his crocodile has been replaced with another crocodile and there was nothing he could do. He was arrested and taken away. Mama said Ironsi’s head was tied to a Jeep and dragged on the road till he died.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. Ironsi can still disappear through the wall of our house. I was scared.
Several years later, I found myself doing some research on Nigerian military history. I read a whole lot about what went on in Nigeria’s military from 1960 to 1999. None of the literature I encountered made mention of Mama’s Crocodile story.
Few days ago, I saw this picture. This looks like General Ironsi. No ! This is General Ironsi. What is he holding ? A crocodile.
My mind went back to Mama’s story.
Caleb the Political Animal writes from Enugu. Connect with him on twitter through this link twitter.com/caleb_onyeabor