The national political atmosphere is beginning to bubble once again and characteristically all kinds of issues are coming up and the question of governance is gradually receding to the background. I find some aspects of the developments very comical. Suddenly, leaders who have spent nearly three years wandering in the thick bush, without a compass, have come to a quick realization that they needed that equipment even before they began the journey into the forest. Now lost in the bush and unable to find the right direction, they are now on top of their voices, shouting for help and even ready to offer the whole of the state treasure just to find a bearing and an anchor. The scene is proving to be very interesting indeed. For the public analysts there is a lot to write on. There is the APC NEC meeting, South East governors meeting and many others.
But before all these our former military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon (retd) had clocked 85. By any standard it is a big occasion. Reaching 85 in our kind of environment with all the discomfort is no joke. Besides, Gowon is no ordinary person. By providence he has led Nigeria, which is often described as the giant of Africa. The occasion was however not as elaborate as those of his other colleagues and the cheer party was very minimal. Gowon we know is a humble man and if he were to be properly situated, he has never been a deep political player. I have just read that he has promised to publish his autobiography very soon; I want to believe the book will be very interesting and instructive. I for one would like to read his account of how Muslim soldiers who staged the Hausa/Fulani coup erroneously dubbed ‘revenge coup’ found him, a Christian Middle Belt officer suitable as the head of state at that critical time.
During his celebration period, Gowon had made statements on two key areas of national developments at different fora and those issues inspired today’s write-up. In the first exercise, Gowon went on a historical voyage and his focus was the Aburi Peace Accord mediated by the Ghanaian leader, Gen. Ankrah. Gowon said the peace move failed because he couldn’t execute the mandate to be the first to make public the resolutions reached because of sudden illness and Ojukwu who cashed in on the vacuum to make a disclosure, gave a distorted version of what transpired. He said he got the information from Gen. David Ejoor who was the military governor of the Mid-Western region and had to order a military action and not a civil war against the Eastern region to forestall a breakup.
The other matter was on restructuring. Gowon said he is opposed to restructuring and his reasons were that the nation has over 350 ethnic groups to which restructuring means different things and the existence of states makes a redrawing of the political architecture a difficult one since he was sure no state would want to be merged with another. He rather called for new ideas without presenting any position. I would begin my examination of Gowon’s stand points with a disclosure. I like history; it helps society understand their strength and weakness.
It can also be misused by small minds through the art of revisionism to justify a decadent process and order to sustain it. I don’t know where Gowon is coming from, but if I were to do a critical examination of his outburst and the timing, I would have no difficulty to reach the conclusion that his intention is not very noble. It might well be to show loyalty to his benefactors.
Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu, who led the Biafra break away had been alive until recently, and for those periods Gowon who led the other side tacitly refrained from making deep references to cardinal aspects of that civil war, one of which is why the Aburi peace initiative failed. Now he has spoken and made it look as if the blame should be on Ojukwu and unfortunately, the man is no longer alive to give his own version of what happened. This is unfair. If Gowon’s position is taken as the truth we would see that he cannot escape blame and that in fact he and his collaborators caused Nigeria to fight an avoidable civil war in which over 2 million lives were lost. Gowon admitted himself and his team went to the meeting without preparation or position and confirmed that Ojukwu and his team came with a written position on what he referred to as pink paper which he confirmed to mean seriousness going by what they were taught in Military College in London.
Now if his team was not prepared, as we say, was that not a preparation for big failure? Would it be out of place to say he went to that meeting and perhaps lost out since he admitted he had no position? Gowon disclosed it was agreed he be the first but not the only one to announce the resolution of the meeting. He said he couldn’t do so because he fell ill immediately he arrived the country. My friend asked jocularly: how many hours flight and how come he became so sick to the point that he couldn’t mandate any other senior officer to execute such a crucial task at a very inauspicious moment in the life of this nation? Yet, the illness allowed him to get a message from a governor and to act on it. Curious, not so? Bob Marley said in one of his songs, to tell the children the truth because they would ask you someday.
Gowon’s reasons for rejecting restructuring is too simplistic and very baffling, especially when you consider that he is a PhD holder in Political Science. The more plural a society is, the greater the need for acceptable restructuring and in our case we so created states and local governments in such a reckless manner that instead of being tools for progressive development, they have become instruments for injustice, tension, conflicts, corruption and general retrogression. States do not have to merge to achieve restructuring; they can operate under a zonal arrangement. Our political culture and set up, economy and socials require restructuring. This is a simple fact hindsight should have taught someone of Gowon’s caliber. A friend said something that I like. He said that given where we are now it is dangerous for our leaders to mix “new wine of humility and old wine of deceit.” He said it would burst and great shall be the explosion. I agree.
We need statesmen and not politicians. We lack them because those who would have stepped into that shoe pre-occupy themselves playing politics. Those who have ruled this nation should be able to live above forces that produced them and their mistakes and live the rest of their lives for the good of the nation. This is what is called the benefit of hindsight. On Gowon’s return from Aburi he failed to make the announcement he agreed to make and while that lasted, pogrom started in the North still under his watch and at a time he should be begging for forgiveness he is giving a perverted history. This is unfair to the new generation. I still wish him happy birthday and many happy returns!