MONDAY, October 19, 2021 marked the 87th birthday of one of Nigeria’s surviving historical personalities – General Yakubu Gowon. He was the second military Head of State who ruled Nigeria between August 1, 1967 and July 29, 1975.
He also led the country through the crises that followed the overthrow of the Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa government on January 15, 1966, and the Biafra-Nigeria war (the Civil War), which ended with the restoration of Nigeria’s unity.
Gowon will forever be remembered for his patriotic disposition which ensured that the War ended with minimal bloodshed. His declaration of “No Victor, No Vanquished” and policy of “Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation” helped in restoring trust and faith in our nation, especially by the returnee ex-Biafrans.
It is so unfortunate that Gowon’s patriotic mindset was not shared by some of his comrades-at-arms who till today continue to project cynical governance attitudes that negate the spirit of reconciliation and national unity. This is why the “rising sun” of Biafra which supposedly “set forever” 51 years ago, has risen again.
This recently manifested in the mobilisation of the armed forces to enforce peace in the South East after an upsurge of violence by elements suspected to belong to the neo-secessionist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
General Gowon and his surviving comrades must feel a sense of failed mission because of the mismanagement of the post-war challenges of the nation. Had the situation been different, Nigeria would be a very happy place for all its citizens, neighbours and all of Africa by now.
Gowon ran an administration that experienced the nation’s first oil boom. The country became rich overnight, and Gowon deployed much of the resources to develop Lagos (the then federal capital) into the economic capital of Nigeria that it still is – the ports, highways, flyover bridges, causeways and military/security infrastructure.
Gowon and his successor, the late General Murtala Muhammed, were easily the last set of military officers who were not wealthy when they were no longer in office. Subsequent military rulers and officers probably felt entitled to reward themselves with public resources at their disposal for fighting the Civil War.
This is why public office is now seen as a criminal enterprise, the gateway to quick wealth. This is also why Nigeria remains poor despite our huge potentials.
Unlike General Olusegun Obasanjo who has continued to boldly engage sitting presidents through his oft-explosive “letters”, Gowon, the first military officer to bag a Doctorate Degree, leads “Nigeria Prays”, a group that believes that prayer is capable of rescuing Nigeria.
While we urge him to be more assertive, as father of the nation, in getting our leaders that are negating the spirit of genuine “One Nigeria” to mend their ways, we pray that he continues to age gracefully.