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Gowon: The Man of All Moments Turns 80

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IMAGE: General Yakubu Gowon, Former Military head of State »


Of all former presidents and Heads of State of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon seems to be the one that has made the most impact on successive administrations since independence in 1960.

Born on October 19, 1934, Gowon became Nigeria’s youngest military Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria on August 1, 1966 at the age of 32. He ruled till 1975.

Gowon’s regime had opened a new chapter in the Nigerian political crisis after a military coup d’état by a group of junior officers under Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu had led to the overthrow of Nigeria’s civilian government. In the course of the coup, mostly northern and western leaders were killed, including Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello; and the Premier of the Western Region, Samuel Akintola, and Lt Col Arthur Unegbe, and many more.

During his rule, the Gowon government successfully prevented the Biafran secession during the 1967-1970 civil war.
Gowon has since then remained a relevant figure in the Nigerian space across successive administrations.
His maiden broadcast the morning he took over government showed the difficulties in which the young officer found himself. He told the nation: “I had been brought to the position today of having to shoulder the responsibilities of this country and the Armed Forces with the consent of the majority of the members of the Supreme Military Council, as a result of the unfortunate incident that occurred on the early morning of July 29, 1966.”

As a young man, Gowon had to take very decisive actions to keep the nation together, the first casualty being the unitary system of government. Indeed, the heading of Gowon’s speech was: No Trust or Confidence in a Unitary System of Government. His decision to revert the country to a federal system of government must have come as a big relief to the North, the only region that was openly and violently opposed to the unitary system of government.

Clearly, if Gowon had not become Head of State of Nigeria the entire story of the country would have taken a different shape. Unmistakable was the voice of that young head of state, urging patriots and secessionists alike to “Go on with one Nigeria.” It is a refrain patriotic Nigerians have continued till today. And even at the end of the war, Gowon declared that there was “no victor and no vanquished.” His joy was that he had been able to keep Nigeria as one nation. His vision to keep Nigeria more integrated as one united nation even after the civil war gave birth to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme that has been sustained till date.

As the country continues to grapple with its public infrastructure deficit, many Nigerians often become nostalgic at the thought of the rapid progress made in this area under Gowon through his National Development Plan. Many development experts still trace Nigeria’s infrastructure collapse to the abandonment of Gowon’s blueprint, especially the Third National Development Plan, which would have placed Nigeria on the same pedestal with the Asian Tigers of today.

Gowon is a study in humility and how to be a true statesman. He lives above the fray of partisan politics and inordinate chase after pecuniary gain, which appears to have become a national rat race. Although his graceful bearing as an elder statesman is rarely rewarded in the country, his very modest lifestyle as a former Head of State is exemplary.
Given the rampant corruption associated with public offices today, many Nigerians hold Gowon in high esteem for, among other reasons, not enriching himself in office at a time the country was brimming with funds of the oil boom.

That Gowon did not help himself with the public treasury became evident soon after his ouster from office. Living in London as an exile and attending the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, he was alleged at a point to have almost defaulted in the payment of his house rent and school fees, only to be helped out by General Muhammadu Buhari. He is a model father of the nation.
Through these years, Gowon has remained relevant in the country, turning around the fortunes of the people, especially the less privileged in the society.

On the spiritual aspect, Gowon’s Nigeria Prays initiative erases denominational lines; it has continued to unite all religions in the country. And through the Yakubu Gowon Centre for National Unity and International Cooperation, he has continued to offer vital interventions for good governance purposes and the wellbeing of the Nigerian masses, by helping in efforts to combat infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, guinea worm and malaria, in many states.
His Yakubu Gowon Foundation (YGF) has given hope to the girl-child, whose education is often clashing with the African tradition. The down-trodden have found solace and hope in the foundation.

Gowon is an Ngas from Lur, a small village in the present Kanke Local Government Area of Plateau State whose parents, Nde Yohanna and Matwok Kurnyang, left for Wusasa, Zaria, Kaduna State as Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries in the early days of Gowon’s life. He passed through the struggles that every Nigerian child went through in those days.

The former Head of State was the fifth of 11 children. He grew up in Zaria and had his early education there. At school, Gowon proved to be a very good athlete: he was the school football goalkeeper, pole vaulter, and long distance runner. He broke the school mile record in his first year. He was also the boxing captain.
Gowon joined the Nigerian Army in 1954, receiving a commission as a Second Lieutenant on October 19, 1955, his 21st birthday. He became Head of State 10 years later.

Gowon also attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK (1955–56); Staff College, Camberley, UK (1962); as well as the Joint Staff College, Latimer, 1965. He saw action in the Congo (Zaire) as part of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force, both in 1960–61 and in 1963. He advanced to battalion commander rank by 1966, at which time he was still a Lieutenant Colonel. Up until that year, Gowon remained strictly a career soldier with no involvement whatsoever in politics. This was until the tumultuous events of the year suddenly thrust him into a leadership role, when his unusual background as a northerner who was neither of Hausa nor Fulani ancestry nor of the Islamic faith made him a particularly safe choice to lead a nation whose population was seething with ethnic tension.

As he turns 80 today, every Plateau man is proud of their son. Indeed, every Nigerian holds his head high to have had a Head of State that made the nation proud, even beyond the shores of Nigeria.

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 2 Years ago

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