BY FESTUS AHON
THIRTY-eight years after he left office as head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, last week described the Urhobo as one of the most patriotic ethnic nationalities in the country.
Gowon was in Delta State, on August 9, to honour the invitation of the Sapele Diocese, Anglican Communion, to its 2013 synod.
Received by a retinue of clergies and former Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, at the Osubi Airstrip, he said the Urhobo gave him tremendous support during the Nigeria civil war.
He said the support that the Urhobo gave him during his fight for the unity of the country was unequalled.
His arrival: The retired Army General, whose aircraft landed at the rich oil city of Warri at about 1:15 pm was ushered into a black Mercedez C class belonging to Olorogun Gbagi after holding about 15 minutes closed-door meeting with some his hosts in one of the rooms at the airstrip.
He was driven amid tight security provided by the Army and men of the Department of State Security Service, DSS, to the Warri residence of Gbagi, for lunch.
He was later driven to the State Government lodge in Warri, where he spent the night. At about 9am, the following day, General Yakubu Gowon proceeded to Sapele to attend the second synod of the Sapele Anglican Communion, tagged, ‘the Covenant Keeping God’.
Tasks religious on truthfulness: Speaking at the synod, General Yakubu Gowon told religious leaders in the country to always speak the truth while admonishing those in Government to ensure consistent improvement in the leadership of Nigeria.
Gowon, who served the country for nine years as military head of state, insisted that speaking the truth was the surest way to ensure national unity and development. He said the church must reinforce the teaching of moral instruction from the cradle.
We need God-fearing leaders to develop: Gowon held that unless Nigerian leaders imbibe the doctrine and principles of God, the country would not experience economic, social and political development, adding that “respect for the dignity of fellow humans was the practice in the Bible era when theocracy was the order of the day, when Priests and judges ruled based on instruction and laws received directly from God.”
He maintained that their authority was largely unquestioned as the people saw that they led by examples because they lived according to the laws handed down by God.
Gowon added that “in colonial times, one of the key requirements was that the churches as well as the citizens must continually pray for her Majesty, the Governor General and the Regional Governors and the Traditional Rulers of the Area, like, the Emir of Zaria (Zazzau) and all other political leaders.
“That was in realization of the fact that all power belongs to God, who needs to be beseeched to guide leaders aright for the good of the people and the development of society.”
He pointed out that only a conceited leader would discountenance the place and power of God as well the wisdom and understanding that could only come from Him (God) alone.
His words: “If we look all round us, we will see land mark achievements of the church in all areas of life in Nigeria.
In the field of education, the church realized quite early that literacy was an important key to understanding the scriptures. For that reason, there was a strong interest in promoting the teaching of indigenous languages as a strong vehicle to deliver the word.
“Schools were established at all levels to teach people to read and write local languages and dialect as well as the English language and to meet the spiritual needs of all followers of Christ and later converts. In Nigeria, the CMS built renowned schools like CMS Grammar School in Lagos.
It established the St. Andrew Teacher Training College in Oyo, Oyo State and St. John’s College in Owo, Ondo State as well as other teachers’ training institutions. “For as the Bible has enjoined us, we should teach our children the way they should go so that they will not depart from it in adulthood. Moral re-armament remain the best guarantee in this regard, we need not re-invent the wheel; we only need to obey the 10 commandments and all good moral teachings so that our nation will be healed of the legion of malaise that plagues our society.”
General Yakubu Gowon, accompanied by Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi and his political associates, left Sapele at about 3pm for the palace of the Ovie of Ughelli Kingdom, HRM Oharisi III on a courtesy visit to the monarch.
During the visit, the former head of state, got the palace ground at about 4pm, was welcomed with the Ughelli traditional ‘ema’ dance led by Mr Joseph Orekereke, popularly known as Jorek.
The elated king, after presentation of kola, lunch and other welcome niceties, led Gowon to the ‘Ogwan’ after he was dressed with the Urhobo traditional wrapper. Sitting on his throne, HRM Oharisi III in the full glare of cameras and in the presence of his chiefs conferred General Gowon with the title of ‘ekue Nigeria gbe re’ovie’ of Ughelli kingdom.
Conferring the title on Gowon, the monarch said the Ovie of Ughelli Kingdom, HRM Oharisi III, said Gowon laid the foundation for the unity of Nigeria.
Speaking at the open palace, which was filled to capacity with Urhobo sons and daughters who came to welcome him, General Yakubu Gowon thanked the Urhobo, whom he described as very hospitable, for their support during his administration’s insistence on keeping Nigeria one.
How Urhobo helped to keep Nigeria one
Flanked by Gbagi and other members of his entourage, he said the Urhobo were very close to him when he was military Head of State, adding that they contributed greatly towards keeping Nigeria united during the Nigerian civil war. He said the success of keeping the country one was not his personal achievement but collective achievement of all Nigerians.
He said: “I am most grateful for the honour done me by HRM Oharisi III, on behalf of the Urhobo people, Ughelli kingdom and for all the support I have received from them during that traumatic period of my administration in trying to keep Nigeria as one.
”I am very grateful because I could not have done it alone. I asked for the assistance and help of the people and all Nigerians and your people here gave me that support. And so I will say it is not my achievement alone but the achievement of all the people of Nigeria and your people contributed tremendously towards that. So thank you very much and God bless the good people of Ughelli kingdom and the Urhobo nation.”
On his relationship with Gbagi, he said: “I have known Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi for quite some time and he is a very patriotic fellow and very kind to me. I never knew before now his love and commitment for me and Nigeria for which I really value him. He is a man of great potentials and I wish him well in his career, although he is also into politics. I wish him well in all his future assignments.”