Yakubu Gowon At 70


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Yakubu Gowon At 70:

This General Is An Incorruptible Leader




Paul Mamza



October 15, 2004


The name General Yakubu Gowon - former Head of State and Commander in Chief of the armed forces of Nigeria, first bachelor - Head of State, International Statesman of high repute, soldier-turned-academic, guinea-worm eradication crusader, a national prayer organiser, a highly detribalised compatriot and the most senior general Elderstateman - had offered an empowering inherent undercurrents that galvanises the revolutionary avouchment of the corporate existence of the Nigerian state and like a colossus, altering the microsm of its internal contradictions with a flavour of nationalistic mien.

Born on 19th October in a village of Tuwannear Kabwir in Pankshin Local Government Area of Plateau State of Nigeria , General Gowon’s parents came to reside in Wusasa,Zaria when he was only two years old. The Charismatic General attended Government College (now Barewa College), Zaria (1947 - 1953), regular officers Special Training School in Teshie, Ghana (1954) he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant after a military course in Sandhurst, Britain (1956), the young Gowon also attended young officers’ course at Hythe (1957), "3 inch mortar course", Teshie, Ghana (1958), support arms wing at Netheranew, Britain (1959), He was also platoon commander, Southern Cameroon campaign (1960), staff officer, Army headquarters, Lagos (1961), He attended staff college at Camberley, Britain (1962), He was promoted as captain in the same year. Gowon became brigade major of the third Nigerian Brigade, Luluaborg (1963). He was promoted Lt. colonel in 1963 and was made the adjutant general of the Nigerian army - being the first Nigerian to hold the post. Lt. Col. Gowon later attended the joint service staff college at Lartimer, Chesham, Buckinghamshire, U.K in 1965. He was appointed commander of the second battalion of the Nigerian army based at Ikeja in 1966. After the major Kaduna Nzeogwu’s coup of 1966, Major - General Aguiyi - Ironsi appointed Gowon as the army chief of staff in 1966 and with the collapse of the General Aguiyi - Ironsi government, Gowon was made the Head of the federal military government and commander - in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria (1966 - 1975) until he was overthrown by the Col. Joe Garba led coup that installed Brigadier Murtala Ramat Mohammed as Head of State. Who was later assassinated in a counter - coup plot of February, 1976. General Olusegun Obasanjo - the man that succeeded Mohammed under tensed succumb linked Gowon with the aborted coup and declared him a wanted person. Gowon was pardoned by the civilian regime of Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari. While in the United Kingdom, General Gowon engaged in studies at the University of Warwick where he bagged a Ph. D in political science.

A fine gentleman with immense heroic exploits, God must have sent General Gowon to Nigeria as a divine thread that binds the fragile morbidity of a fractious nation like Nigeria - a nation state balefully assembled with a bleak of fate. To him power means service and sacrifice; "Those of us who have the privilege to serve this country must always bear in mind that we are only trustees for a limited time for our children and their offspring" said Gowon in one of his famous speeches. He had every opportunity more than others to enrich himself while in power but General Gowon left power as a poor man who relied on support from friends and well-wishers to pay school fees for his children abroad!. General Gowon is a radiating example of a selfless leader. He ruled Nigeriaduring the oil-boom era when money was not Nigerian’s problem but how to spend it yet did not as others after him show any penchant for self-enrichment. Out of office, General Gowon is at home with all shades of breed; the liberal protagonists, radical antagonists, conservative radicals, radical conservatives, sullen progressives, embittered clerics, uncompromising firebrands, arrant exuberant, acute delinquents and a host of them, to him cream and ideological learning is a matter of faith engraved into natural existence. He had symbolised hope during sober moments, maintained sealed lips amidst provocations, exhibit love under moments of hatred, extended large hearts at periods of want and humility in an era of ego - massage.

An unflinching advocate of one Nigeria, General Gowon presided over the extinguish of the firepower of the secessionist forces led by Col. Ojukwu and declared "No victor no vanquished" at the end of the war in January, 1970. Thirty two years after the war, General Gowon allayed these fears as recurring decimals even under democratic rule and proffered solutions to subvert the threats building-up. At a seminar organise by the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) on "Management of Social Conflict in a Plural Society" in March 2002. He contended that "the reaction coming from several quarters to what, it must be said are serious difficulties being experienced in Nigeria, must be of concern to every patriot… most of the agitators are often misguided, a few are plainly dubious" he said "one group, for example, is agitating for the abrogation of the 1999 constitution, arguing that it gave far too much powers and resources to the centre, a situation they blame for the endemic corruption and political instability in the country. These groups consist mostly of idealists who cannot wait to see a perfect Nigeria. A second group however wants the country broken up entirely into small, autonomous "ethnic" territories, each to be handed over to tribal leaders with minimal relationship with the rest of the country. Among them are demagogues and other anarchists who will sooner take Nigeria back to the chaos of the 18th century. Yet another splinter group wants the country broken up not into ethnic enclaves but "geo-political" territories, only a shade different from the former but one in which big tribes may swallow up small ones without a challenge. Those promoting this framework are mostly former secessionists who seek to achieve by agitation what they failed to get through war". Proffering solutions, Gowon said, "I must mention a few conditions necessary to keep Nigeriaone now or in the future Nigeriamust be governed on the basis of fairness, justice and the transparent rule of law. Without it, Nigeria stands no chance of surviving even the next general elections". However, General Gowon maintained that, "Nigeria is a living reality. What’s more, the will to keep Nigeria one is as strong as it is unshakeable; a task that must be done by this and succeeding generations".

As the Chairman, Board of Patrons of the ACF, many commentators had labelled him as a regional leader but Gowon viewed his many roles as part of a national duty. As I have opined several times "For Nigeria to be stabilised, Northern Nigeria must be stabilised", "No North, No Nigeria". The complex configurations in the north can result to serious consequences of the emblematic lamentations and ethnocidal echoes of the nation. North’s anarchy can translate into chronic symptoms of the acute disease of the Nigerian state. As a member of the Central Working Committee of ACF, I have viewed his sense of patriotism, humility, diligence and devotion with a wincing envy. When some prominent figures spend much energy in balkanising and fractionalising the North for personal political gains, General Gowon the most prominent, not only in the North but in Nigeria maintained an elegant resolve amidst pressures and blackmail by politicians who thinks he is defaulting.

His humble nature is unprecedented in the history of the nation. Even as the most senior living General he respects even his juniors in the military. In his traditional home-state (Plateau) where the present democratic model was born, democracy was slaughtered on a platter of ethnocide rage through the declaration of a state of emergency. People expected General Gowon to openly challenge the government’s action or make alloyed remarks but Gowon was taciturn throughout the recuperations in the political system whenever he is to talk or act it is always accompanied by good will, joy, happiness, compassion and love. When General Gowon was overthrown in 1975 it was reported that Col. Ojukwu jubilated but when the Shagari’s Government pardoned Gowon, Gowon pleaded with the then President (Shagari) to extend same pardon to his arch-rival (Ojukwu). This is Gowon for you. At the launching of the book "Muhammadu Buhari: the spirit of a man", Gowon, who was the chairman of the occasion engaged Ojukwu in some jokes that had his time moved with new events and trends he would have exploited the technology Americans used to capture Saddam Hussein of Iraq on the rebel leader, Ojukwu - who was in the hall, venue of the launching and the hall went trimmed with laughter. His simplicity is second to none and vital output unendly monumental; General Yakubu Gowon remains the undaunted emancipator of the people from the clutches of disunity, disease, illiteracy and tribalism. At the moment of political crisis, the nation always remember Gowon, typical is the executive - legislature fall-out in which himself and Alhaji Shehu Shagari had to intervene in order to avoid the lingering discord between the Obasanjo-led executive and Anyim-Na’Abba-led legislature. A man known at the international circles as liberal statesman, highly regarded at the national level as a patriot of unimpeachable character, in the North as a bridge - builder along centrifugal forces and at his home state as a custodian of cultures, General Yakubu Gowon’s Sojourn in Wusasa, Zaria has provided a rallying point for differing shades of opinion leaders and academics.

I got close to the family through Chief Daniel Gowon, the late Chief of Wusasa, Zaria(May his soul rest in perfect peace, amen) Daniel Gowon is so fond of me that he likened me to Martin Luther King Jr. The Chief never missed my articles in the national dailies especially my Serious thoughts column of the Hotline Magazine published by Alhaji Hassan Sani Kontagora, Magajin Rafi. Chief Daniel Gowon popularly known as the Garkuwan Gamji introduced me to most members of the Gowon family. It is a family of humble and religious background. That is the family that produced General Yakubu Gowon, the Nigerian’s longest serving military Head of State and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, an international statesman, Chief Executive of the Yakubu Gowon foundation, a national patriot and a distinguished academic whose sobriquet is ‘Go On With One Nigeria’. Happy birthday to you General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR, Ph. D. May God continue to guide you and protect you for greater challenges in future.

Mamza lectures at the

Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria



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