Who Was Victor Banjo And What Landed Him In Prison?
Lt. Colonel Victor Banjo was a gallant Nigerian military officer who was active from 1953 till his death in 1967 during the Nigerian civil war. Lt. Colonel Banjo’s name found its way into the history of Nigerian military through his involvement and mentions in some chains of events that happened shortly after the independence of Nigeria.
One of these events was the first military coup in Nigeria. OldNaija.com gathered that on the fourth day of Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi as the first Nigerian military head of state, he summoned Lt. Colonel Victor Banjo to his office. While waiting for the Head of State, Victor Banjo was arrested on the count that he was planning to kill Aguiyi-Ironsi because he entered the office of the Supreme Commander with a pistol in his pocket.
However, it was believed and confirmed by several sources that Banjo was arrested and detained simply because he was believed to have been involved in the planning and execution of the January 15 1966 coup which nearly took Ironsi’s life. Adewale Ademoyega, a core member of the coup plotters, claimed in his book, WHY WE STRUCK, that Lt. Col. Banjo did not take part in the coup. He wrote, “Our detention was for taking part in the revolution. Also in detention were Lieutenant-Colonel Banjo and Major Aghanya both of whom had not taken part in the revolution“.
Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Banjo was sent to the same prison where many of the coup plotters were detained. It was while in prison that Lt. Colonel Victor Banjo wrote the below letter to Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi on the 1st of June, 1966.
Letter From Victor Banjo To Aguiyi-Ironsi
From: Lt. Colonel V.A. Banjo, B. Sc. Director of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Nigerian Army.
To: Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi M.V.O.Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Head of the National Military Government.
My dear General,
Thank you for your letter of the 14th February. This will be my last letter to you, while I remain in detention. I wrote to you from Kirikiri Prisons on the 31st January 1966 and your reply of the 14th February referred to my petition being under consideration. I am not aware of having written a petition to you. I wrote to you as my general, my leader, and my fellow officer-in-arms; as one whom I should expect justice, fairness and loyalty, in the like measure as I have had to give you, my colleagues and my soldiers during my years of service; and in the like measure as is obligatory between gentlemen-officers of a responsible army, to maintain the highest traditions of our profession. I informed you that a grievous crime had been committed against my person and my liberty at a time of crisis in our country, when I was busy giving my most loyal service. I pointed out certain facts to you, which I felt you ought to have known about. Essentially these were:
(a) that on the morning of Monday 17th January 1966 I was arrested by Lt. Colonel G. T. Kurubo and Major P. A. Anwuna in the anteroom of the I. G. P’s office for no ostensible reason while I was waiting to see you.
(b) that during the period of my close arrest, I had been shamefully mishandled by soldiers in the presence of my arrestors at Federal guard, that I had subsequently been confined in the guardroom of the 2nd Battalion NA Ikeja, in the wardroom of a naval base Apapa, and in the defaulters cell on board H.M.S. Nigeria in turn. I need hardly point out this act was in itself illegal and a flagrant disregard of army regulations covering the manner of an officer of my rank.
(c) that I had since then been detained at Federal Prisons at Kirikiri and lately at Aba and at Ikot-Ekpene for no reason whatsoever.
(d) that some two weeks after my arrest, I was informed by Major Ude at the Kirikiri Prisons that a signal had been sent out to all units that I had been arrested for my attempting the life of the Supreme Commander, which signal if existent must by its gross falsehood constitute a serious offence in law against its originator.
(e) that subsequent to my arrest one of my officers Major E. O. Aghanya Commanding Base Workshop Yaba was invited to your headquarters and arrested on 18th January 1966, for no reason at all. I believe he is still in detention.
(f) that the driver of my Land-Rover, and the five soldiers who were my personal guard on the morning of Monday 17th January 1966 were also arrested, brutally beaten at Federal guard for some days, and subsequently detained at Kirikiri Prisons. I believe they are still in detention, and all this for no apparent reason.
(g) that prior to my arrest I had spent a considerable time with you in the attempt to persuade you that in order to save Nigeria from the awful event of a civil war, the army should take over government under yourself.
(h) that further during this period, I had by word and deed rallied support for yourself and a military take-over of government among a large number of officers all over Nigeria.
(i) that I was present at the meeting of senior officers of the army with yourself at noon on Sunday 16th January at which I spoke first and spoke for a Military Government under yourself.
3. In the face of these facts and as a Lt. Colonel under your command, it was my place to expect certain actions from you. Such as:
(a) an immediate investigation of the facts of my arrest, and that of my officer and soldiers;
(b) The immediate release of myself, my officer and my soldiers as soon as the facts are proved to have been false; and
(c) The immediate arrest of the officers responsible for my arrest and their subsequent trial on charge of false arrest of an officer and bearing false evidence against a fellow officer.
4. No one holds rank and authority in any army by divine right. The relationships of rank and authority in armies are based on law and a definite set of rules and regulations, which pre-determine the rights and responsibilities at each rank. It is also based on ageless tradition of honour, integrity and loyalty, which are expected in reciprocal forms from all ranks. There is no provision either in an organised state or in an organised army for relaxation of these principles, for on it rest your command, your stability and your safety; as otherwise there is little to prevent any two officers backed with weapons from arresting any of your officers tomorrow, even your military governors or even yourself. In this issue my general, I beg to submit that you can only have one clear duty; to protect the law, the traditions of the army and the rights of every soldier and officer, who has entrusted his life into your hands.
5. It is now four and half months since I was so treacherously arrested, and since then you have continued to see it fit and just to keep me detained. If I, my family and my friends have been loath to raise issues on this matter in public, it has not been out of fear or out of lack of adequate belief in my innocence. It has been out of consideration for you and a disinclination to embarrass you at this time. It has been out of a deep sense of responsibility in the issues now facing the country and a desire not to aggravate it. It has been out of faith and belief in the loyalty of yourself and those of my colleagues who still remain honest to the traditions of our army. So far, I have counselled patience even in the face of the world-wide publicity given to my supposed attempt and death, which in itself was an act of treachery, which must have emanated from someone in your office; for this however, the World Press and Radio owes me an accounting for which I will proceed to exact payment, when I am free to do so. Out of a firm conviction of my innocence, and faith that you would leave no stone unturned to ensure that justice is done, I have been disposed to wait silently in detention, patient for long enough to seem reasonable and fair to you by the world. If I continue to remain in prison the shame is not mine; but irrespective of what happens to me, by virtue of the inevitability of truth, the world will someday ask you to clear yourself of any involvement in this act of treachery.
6. I am grateful for the arrangements you have made to enable my wife to visit me here on the 14th of May, 1966. She informs me that she visited you on the 5th of May, 1966 to inquire about my crime, and that you informed her that you know nothing about my arrest until after it has been carried out, that then you have found it necessary to keep me in detention to protect my life in view of the rumours. I believe you; but then as I pointed out before, the world conscience is less trusting. It will ask you to vindicate yourself. It will want to know, how it is possible, that one of your most senior officers who was spending his time and energy loyally assisting you to restore order into the country, was treacherously arrested within twenty feet of you; and falsely accused of trying to take your life, and all this was done without your knowledge or approval; it will want to know how it happened that the main perpetrators of this crime were suddenly elevated after my arrest, the one Lt. Colonel G.T. Kurubo appointed Commander of the Air Force and a supreme Councillor, and the other Major P. A. Anwuna promoted substantive Lt. Colonel; the sceptic might unkindly be disposed to feel that they were being recompensed for some good deed; the world will want to know what has been done and what is being done to see that justice is done irrespective of what happens to me.
7. My wife further tells me, that some of my colleagues have been kind enough to congratulate her on the fact of my name having been cleared. I was not aware that my name was in need of being cleared, however, I am grateful for the effort spared to clear it of whatever it is that needs clearing and I hope the privilege has been extended to all the senior army officers who had the honour of assisting you to preserve the country during the crisis.
8. I am glad to note that you and my colleagues arc succeeding restoring the nation unto an even keel in spite of the great difficulties. I am proud of your efforts and of belonging to the service that is accepting so much responsibility. I am also proud to have contributed some small part to starting off the National Military Government. My greatest regret among others, at this moment is that I am denied the opportunity of serving my country during one of its moment of great need in my life time, as a result of the efforts of a few unworthy officers. I hope that success continue to attend your efforts. History abounds of numerous examples of military “coups” some of which have brought in their train, hardship, loss of freedom, injustices, assassinations, bloodshed and chaos as a result of the rapacity jealousy and unbridled ambition of a few army officers. Others have brought stability, prosperity, justice and real freedom as a result of the wisdom, dedication, honesty and discipline of its army officers. It is an inevitable law of nature that the former pattern always only succeeds in destroying itself eventually. After so many years of callous betrayal by its leaders, I believe Nigeria deserves stability for a change.
Yours very sincerely,
(signed ) Lt. Colonel V.A. Banjo
Thanks for reading, OldNaija.com
- Max Siollun (2009). Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976). Algora Publishing
- Segun Toyin Dawodu
- Colonial Rule in Nigeria and Nigeria’s struggle for Independence; Teslim Omipidan; [https://oldnaija.com/2014/11/05/colonial-rule-in-nigeria-and-nigerias-struggle-for-independence/]
- Adewale Ademoyega; Why We Struck: The Story Of The First Nigerian Coup; Evans Brothers; 1981
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