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Gowon desecrated history

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General Gowon

Nigeria’s history has been so abused and distorted that there is hardly a consensus on what constitutes a genuine national narrative. Nigerian rulers have had to manipulate the history of their record in office to suit their whim. History ought to be sacred as the ultimate guide of a people. It is the unseen, but powerful propelling force from which a nation derives inspiration in the tortuous odyssey of national evolution. But when the history of a nation is subjected to deliberate distortions then such a nation is bound to be moored to the past with the people as captives. This has been Nigeria’s lot.

Nigeria hosted the 8th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa last week. It was at that forum that Nigeria’s former military ruler, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) did what amounted to a desecration of history. Hear him: “During our time, we did not know anything like corruption”. He went a great length to buttress his assertion. Let us dream up an apotheosis for Gowon so that even in his lifetime he could become Saint Yakubu Gowon! What Gowon told his audience was far from the truth. The government he led from the hurly-burly of 1966 to the sedate ambience of 1975 was one of massive corruption. Those who toppled his government in 1975 did so for two reasons namely; graft and his reneging on the promise to return Nigeria to democracy in 1976. What followed Gowon’s ouster was a massive war against corruption, which culminated in the sack of over ten thousand workers. Gowon’s ministers and governors were highly corrupt. The corruption story involving Joseph Tarka, one of Gowon’s ministers, became a metaphor for corruption. Of the twelve governors under him, only two were cleared of corruption charges!

Yes, it was possible that Gowon was personally not corrupt, but he condoned the plague and created an atmosphere for it to boom. If Gowon did not purloin, it was because he was under the grand illusion that he would rule Nigeria for life. First, he had the feeling that those who put him in office would protect him for as long as he desired. He once made a statement while on a trip to the Caribbean that he would be too old to return to the barracks by the time he was done ruling Nigeria. His mentor in the life presidency school was Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, while his boon companion was Gnasingbe Eyadema of Togo. Both men planned to rule their countries for life. To further buttress his intention to remain in office in perpetuity, he jettisoned an earlier promise to return Nigeria to civil rule in 1976 as unrealistic and went on to recruit a Gowon must rule forever band.

Today, Gowon ranks among the oldest holders of public trust including former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Richard Akinjide. This class, small as it is, owes Nigerians the truth about our past. Distorting our collective narrative for personal gains will do us no good. Gowon is, undoubtedly, a great beneficiary of the Nigerian debacle just like the monumentally ungrateful Olusegun Obasanjo. He is a prime example of the man whose palm kernels were cracked by a benevolent spirit. Gowon should speak the truth, keep quiet or continue his prayers for the remission of his sins against Nigeria. For in truth, Gowon is highly complicit in Nigeria’s cycle of tragedy as evidenced in his complicity in the July 29 1966 mutiny and counter coup to the laisser-faire manner he ran Nigeria. Gowon could have stopped the killing of Nigeria’s first military head of state, General J. T. U Aguiyi-Ironsi, but he encouraged then Major T. Y. Danjuma to kill him. The pogrom and the conflagration that was the civil war followed as a result of Gowon’s complicity.

Naïve, highly deficit in courage and moral conviction, Gowon allowed Nigeria to drift after the civil war. When Singapore, Brazil, India, Indonesia and Malaysia were laying the foundation for their future, Gowon threw up his hand saying Nigeria’s problem was not money, but how to spend it. He went on to pay salaries of workers in the Caribbean and also declared heavy bonus for Nigerian workers, an experience that birthed the metaphor of Udoji after Jerome Udoji who chaired the commission that made the recommendation. Gowon also assaulted the integrity of the university system. He once took the academic hat off the head of the vice chancellor of Nigeria’s premier university and passed it round like a donation bowl to help a financially starved university. He also mulled the ungodly idea of appointing a sole administrator for the same university in 1968, but Chief Simon Adebo advised against it.

After his many sins against Nigeria, the conspirators who enthroned him in 1966 took him out in 1975. He knew about the coup, but he was too afraid to nip it in the bud. As he boarded the plane that took him to Addis Ababa he whispered to his major domo, then Colonel Joe Garba that he was aware of their plot. Nigeria is still suffering from Gowon’s many sins. Gowon is not alone in historical revisionism. All the Generals who took turn to ruin Nigeria are involved. Obasanjo wrote My Command and Not My Will to render a burnished account of his service to Nigeria. But Festus Iyayi’s Heroes exposed the flatulence of Obasanjo’s fibs.

Our rulers are afraid of history. Hence the shameless attempt to distort, muffle or muzzle it. But our collective memory will filter whatever narrative the likes of Gowon want to foist on us. Our memory will not die. Our collective amnesia will someday be jolted into correct remembering.


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