Open letter to General Yakubu Gowon
It is with deep sense of respect and appreciation of your patriotism that I write to you. I was compelled as a young man who knew nothing about what happened between 1966 and 1970 ( but who suffered and still suffering the effect of that period) after reading your response to the interview you granted to pressmen, as published in Thisday Newspaper of August 4, 2016.
Sir, I have devoted time and energy to study the chronicle of Nigerian leaders before and after you and among those who have served Nigeria, I admire you most. I admire your commitment to the unity of Nigeria, even when Nigeria is not united. I admire your magnanimity in victory when you created an atmosphere for the Biafrans especially the Igbos, to come back into the country of which they were at the vanguard of her fight for independence. You declared the ‘‘NO VICTOR, NO VANQUISHED’’. You followed it with the Reconciliatiation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction policy, even when it was not properly implemented. Your choice of great minds made up of politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and specialists who helped you to succeed in administering Nigeria during the war without a single kobo loan proved your administrative ingenuity. This was also evident in the Nigerian Naira, being stronger than the American Dollar during your period of leadership.
In the cause of my study of leadership in Nigeria, I have gathered facts (which according to philosophers are sacred), and have made inferences and informed opinions which contradicted your positions in the said interview. During the interview, you said and I quote, ‘‘I was lucky enough within the military at that time and all the officers knew me by reputation. I had no intention of becoming Head of State but it was an opportunity. If the opportunity presents itself and people ask you to do it, then you do it. What I have achieved is because of God. I never thought of becoming Head of State, but there was a coup and all my colleagues were killed and I was the only one that survived.’’
Sir, I so much appreciate your humility being the only living former Head of State that is playing the role of a bridge builder, unlike others who will sell their goat and still hold the rope. I am not worthy to question your sincerity, but history has it that during that period, the then Lt Colonel Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (who was on the same rank with you) told you and I quote, ‘‘any break at this time from our normal line would write in something into the Nigerian army which is bigger than all of us and that thing is indiscipline. How can you ride above people’s heads purely because you are at the head of a group who have their fingers poised on the trigger? If you do it, you remain forever a living example of that indiscipline which we want to get rid of because tomorrow, a corporal will think he could just take over the company from the major commanding the company…’’ You ascended the highest office in the land despite the presence of several other officers who were senior to you (Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, Commodore J.E.A Wey, Colonel Adebayo, Lt Colonels Hillary Njoku, Phillip Effiong, George Kurubo, Ime Imo, Conrad Nwawo), against military command structure.
A school of thought has it that the indiscipline, coup and counter-coup, ethnic/sectional biases in the Nigerian armed forces today, that has made it difficult for the Nigerian armed forces to suppress internal insurrections like Boko Haram and militancy has its root in that singular decision to ride above your superiors. This legacy according to the school of thought resulted in leadership failures, and indeed the failure of the Nigerian State. It is the reason why in almost 50 years, Nigeria as a country cannot boast of a working system (epileptic power, crawling economy, inability to refine the God-given crude, unemployment etc).
The creation of the 12 states from the former regional structure was the masterstroke that your administration used to break up the old Eastern Region that was threatening to secede in 1967. According to you, ‘‘so we decided overnight to break the fear through the creation of states. If we had to save the country, that was the only way to do it.’’ Yes the people of the then Rivers and South Eastern states were too happy; they thought it was to their own advantage. Today, even with the addition of more states (Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Delta and Edo), militancy / agitations is on the increase. The state structure has only succeeded in sustaining poverty and corruption. Regional structure was destroyed and states that sustain consumption without production was introduced. Federating units that supposed to be wealth creation units were turned into beggar units good only in sharing allocation from the monster that was created called the Federal Government.
You said: ‘‘We had to do something to ensure the fear of their secession did not exist- a serious issue of a part of the country wanting to break away when we already lost part to Cameroun. If we had allowed the Eastern Region to go away, the map of Nigeria would have looked funny, it would have been tilted one way.’’
Many disagree with you that creating states was the only way to save the country. Today, the only way that saved the country has destroyed the people of the country. Today Nigerians are leaving in fear and mutual suspicion (the vices that destroy both the people and the country). The best option would have been to sacrifice the country and save the people.
We are now perishing in the collision (Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery, unemployment, excruciating poverty, economic hopelessness, not forgetting the genocidal civil war of 1967 to 1970). In 1967 at Aburi, Nigeria was given a choice between greatness and failure, between wealth and poverty, between peace and war. Nigeria chose failure, poverty and war. Aburi accord that would have placed Nigeria in the global map of greatness and economic development was truncated just to maintain a beautiful map (what a choice).
Sir, my heart rejoiced when I read a newspaper of August 4, 2016 with a heading: ‘‘Gowon backs Nigeria’s restructuring, says he did same in 1967.’’ Perhaps, it is for this reason that God gave you long life among your contemporaries. This is a divine call to correct the mistake of 1967 by ensuring that we move slightly apart and survive, that we save the people and not the country, that we dust the 1967 Aburi accord and implement it, that we create federating units that are wealth creation units.