The Truth Behind General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Crocodile Swagger Stick

The late Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was Nigeria’s first military head of state and he ruled as the Supreme Military Commander till the day he was murdered on the 29th of July 1966 by a group of soldiers who rebelled against his government. When Ironsi was alive, he was known for carrying a crocodile-shaped swagger stick around

Some believed the swagger stick had magical powers and Ironsi was overpowered and killed that day because he did not have his swagger stick with him (the truth of the matter is that the day Theophilus Danjuma led other rampaging soldiers to kill Ironsi, he was with his swagger stick which was the first thing that they grabbed and the soldiers even demanded that Danjuma break the stick as they feared Ironsi would disappear but he refused). Is it true that the stick was an embodiment of earth-ripping supernatural powers or a load of superstitious flap doodle?

The stick was named ‘Charlie’ and it was also referred to as ‘Aguiyi’ which means ‘crocodile’ or ‘beast of the water’ in General Ironsi’s native Igbo language. It was a kind of small stuffed crocodile mascot and the widespread belief then was that it helped make Ironsi bulletproof or even deflect bullets when he served in Congo where he was the Force Commander of the United Nations Operation in Congo on a peacekeeping mission. It is quite amazing how a tiny mascot will deflect bullets wheezing around with full velocities.

But his aide-de-camp, Senator Andrew Nwankwo (retired as a captain in the Nigerian Air Force), has dismissed such beliefs as crap. He said of the stick:

‘It was a swagger stick, which he made after his name Aguiyi (crocodile). It was in the Congo, when he was commanding the United Nations Forces, the Indian troops were to land at the Lumumbashi Airport but the Cameroon gendarmes went and blocked the place with trucks, so that the Indian soldiers will not land, so, he used a Land Rover and with the stagger stick waved as they were shouting, he was eventually able to convince them to remove the trucks. Many attributed that feat to extraordinary powers in his swagger stick. But there was nothing in it, it was just a stick. Ironsi was not fetish; he was a devoted Catholic and attended mass every morning, even the day he was killed.’

By the way, please note that carrying swagger sticks as a symbol of pride and authority was customary with high-ranking military officers of that time.


Written by PH

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