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Letter to General Yakubu Gowon

By Yinka Odumakin

MY dear General,

I bring you greetings in the name of Jesus Christ whom you serve and your motivation for leading prayers across Nigeria.

I remember clearly today my first “encounter” with you in 1971 during your tour of Western Nigeria. You can see that the encounter was in invited comas. I borrowed that from my taxi man in Dubai. He drove me to the residence of the King of Dubai one day and told me: “This is my friend’s house. But I must tell you that I know him but he doesn’t know me”. In like manner, I  “encountered” you in 1971 and you did not notice me as I was just one of the school children who lined up the streets to receive a visiting Head of state.

As you drove past in your Peugeot pick-up van(policemen in the convoy of a local government chairman today will not ride the type you rode ) we were singing and I still recall clearly :

General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd)

Kabo o(2ce), General Yakubu Gowon kabo o

(Welcome (2ce) General Yakuku Gowon welcome)

Mo ri moto kan pick-up lo n nje

(I see one vehicle which is a pick-up)

Yago fun mi lona ki nlo pade re

(Leave the road for me let me meet it)

General Yakubu Gowon kabo

(General Yakubu Gowon welcome)

If anyone had told me that day that I would be sending a memo to you later in life on issue of public concern, I would probably have said “impossible”. I am sure you would have said the same  if anyone had told you shortly after the assassination of Ironsi on July 29. 1966 that you would be the next Head of state. And it was truly not possible by military tradition. You were a Lt Col with so many officers senior ahead of you. But for three days there was no government in the land as the Military high command gathered in Ikeja cantonment joined by top bureaucracy and the British and American envoys.

There were  ferocious argument over  the soul of Nigeria as northern officers were set to pull the North out of Nigeria. The revenge coup was code named Araba(let us divide it anyway). The civilians tried hard to convince the soldiers that the North had everything to lose if it should secede as it would be landlocked between the South and the sea. It was a cul-de-sac as the coup was not planned with any objective for Nigeria as a whole but a mere revenge against the Igbo and to move the North out of Nigeria. After they failed to convince the meeting on secession and with the country without a government for three days, the Northern officers agreed to drop their plan to secede but only on the condition that the most senior officer among them who happened to be you must  be appointed the Head of State.This was done for  you at 32 in spite of the presence of more senior officers in the chain of command (all Southerners) like Brigadier Ogundipe, Commodore Wey, Col. Robert Adebayo,  Lt -Cols Nwawi,  Imo Kurubo, Effiong, Njoku and several other Lt-Colonels who were commissioned before you.

As a Christian you must be aware of the story of that Harvard -trained  Professor of Economics  in the Bible who was with the King of Israel when Elisha prophesied that famine would end in 24 hours. It looked impossible to the economist because great hunger had ravaged the land. The king swore to severe Elisha’s head when he was approached by a woman who was short changed by another woman. Their agreement was to donate their children in turn for barbecue to ward off hunger and she made the first move. But when it was the turn of the other woman she reneged.

Before the King could reach for Elisha’s head he prophesied

“Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of  the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

The Professor reasoned that this was impossible by the law of demand and supply and declared that it cannot happen even if the gates of heaven were opened. The Prophet told him he would see it but he would not taste of it. He died in the stampede as people rushed for the “Udoji award” within 24 hours Elisha prophesied .

I have given this background to encourage you to rethink your intervention on the restructuring debate where you spoke in absolute terms. Speaking at Minna, Niger State you said :

“Nigeria is made up of over 500 ethnic groups, languages and dialects and so many various groups called nationalities and they want restructuring. This restructuring everybody is asking for, we will have about 500 different ideas of restructuring. There is call for restructuring to reduce the number of states to only a few either back to the old region or to the zones.”

The need for restructuring

Dear General,the very reason you gave for the impossibility of restructuring is the very reason why restructuring is desirable and possible. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country that cannot be run successfully along the current unitary lines. It can only function well under a federal culture. Our diversity must reflect in our governance architecture. That rainbow of nationalities should become a ‘salad bowl” in which tomato, lettuce, carrot, egg et al mix to give a delicacy without any losing its identity.

And the whole argument about 500 ethnic groups having 500 ideas about restructuring is a red herring. I speak with the benefit of interaction with diverse segments of the country and all those advocating for federalism want the same thing: dispersal of powers to the locals and enthronement of justice, equity and fair play in our national affairs. The only issue where there are divergent views is whether states or regions should be the federating units. And that is just a matter of detail.

Silence is golden

Your siding with the opponents of restructuring Nigeria to a functional federalism came days after I met a group of focussed, brilliant and articulate younger generations of Middle Belters, a region where you are from. My heart bled as they catalogued the woes of the people of the area under the present unjust arrangement. They had figures, datas and maps to show systemic rigging that enslave. But here is their foremost leader missing their hope for survival in an equitable Nigeria in the order of high priest who cannot be touched by the infirmities of his people.

If people like General Ibrahim Babangida and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who ordinarily should be defending the status quo are waxing lyrical about restructuring , you should have maintained dignified silence if you cannot lend your voice to the restoration of Nigeria instead of giving back hand service to those driving Nigeria to the edge of the precipice. Or do you in your heart of hearts believe we can Go On With One Nigeria as it is for much longer?

Restructuring agenda

Dear General, I do not know whether you read the proposals by Friends of Democracy which included Alhaji Bashir Tofa, Dr. Usman Bugaje and other northern opinion leaders recently. I reproduce their conclusions which I think point to the conversation we should be having now :

“i. A return to the 12-state federal structure of 1967. The 12-states would be the federating units of the country;

  1. States shall have full control of their resources and pay appropriate taxes to the federal government;

iii. States shall have the powers to create and maintain local governments as they desire;

  1. Overhaul the Legislative Lists and reassign agriculture, education and health to the Residual List in which states alone would have competence but the federal government would share a regulatory role with the States;
  2. Mining should be reassigned to the concurrent list with on-land mining under the federating units and off-land mining under the control of the government of the federation;
  3. The power of taxation should remain concurrent;

vii. The Federal Character principle should be retained and strictly and universally observed;

viii. The Senate should be abolished and we should have a unicameral legislature.”

With God ALL things are possible!


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.