By Joseph Erunke and Gabriel Ewepu
A former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, yesterday, revealed that he was not ready to become the Nigerian leader after the July 1966 coup d’etat that caused the death of his predecessor, General Aguiyi Ironsi.
Gowon stated this during an interactive session on mentorship with youths, organised by Stand Up Nigeria to celebrate his 80th birthday.
The former military ruler also stated that the decision to become Head of State was made by junior military officers who had mistrust about senior officers, and he rejected the offer.
He, however, added that he was bent on discharging his constitutional role as an officer to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Nigeria, and also to maintain law and order at that time.
He narrated: “Honestly, it was not my intention to be a Head of State. It was by providence. I never planned to be Head of State. If there was anything I planned to be, it was to rise to be General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army but not becoming the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian armed forces.
“The next six months was a period of anxiety after the coup that took place in Lagos and Kaduna, and we did everything to hold back that reaction, but, unfortunately, that reaction could not be kept back. In July, we had another crisis that took the life of the GOC and for two days there was no Head of State.
“In the midst of all these, there was so much mistrust between the senior officers and junior officers, and they said they wanted me, but I told them I did not want that; let them give it to any other officer that was interested and disciplined to restore law and order in the country, but they insisted it should be me.
“The civil servants demanded who was now the person they should take instructions from, and, in consultation with senior army officers, endorsed me to take over as Head of State. I must tell you the fear that came over me at that time. I was not trained to be in government. I had to go on my knees and prayed to God, because it was never my intention, and I asked God who protected me from being killed in the coup to give me the courage of David and wisdom of Solomon to do what was right. After the prayer, that fear vapourised.”
Meanwhile, the octogenarian was against the creation of additional 19 states as part of the resolutions reached at recent National Conference, describing the decision as destructive to the nation.
“At the moment, states are demanded based on ethnic groups. The 36 states are reasonable but creating states to take care ethnic nationalities is destructive,” he said.
Gowon, defending his administration’s decision to balkanise the then four regions into 12 states, said it was to remove the fear of political domination that was threatening the unity of the country.
The celebrant, who received an award as Grand Custodian, Nigeria Unity Football Tournament from Youth for Unity for Peace Sport Development Initiative, said he welcomed the negotiation between the Federal Government and Boko Haram. He expressed optimism on the release of the kidnapped of the Chibok school girls.