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Garlands for Nigerias living legend

Published by The Nation on Wed, 10 Dec 2014

Wartime Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon celebrated his 80th birthday on Sunday. Encomiums were poured on the man who had to do what he did, to keep Nigeria one. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDIprofiles the iconic Nigerian.Nigerias quintessential elder statesman and former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (retired) was the cynosure of all eyes last Sunday, when he clocked 80 and joined the eminent class of octogenarians. Given the way he acquitted himself as Nigerias third Head of State and as an exemplary statesman in recent times, Gowon has come to be recognized over the years as a living legend.At 80, Gowon has no regrets about prosecuting the Nigerian civil war. I can assure you, theres no regret. I have always believed in one Nigeria, he said in a recent interview. He is convinced that the Lord has been directing his footsteps and therefore he is full of gratitude to Him. His words: I think when God is there for you to be able to live up to 80 and above, its nothing but gratitude to God for everythingHis grace, mercy, protection of life. So, there is nothing one can say, when you look back at your life from childhood, than to bow. I find that practically every stretch of my life, its not me who really was controlling it, but certainly, I would say that its God that really dictates your steps.Jack, as he is fondly referred to by friends and close associates, is a detribalized Nigerian, noted for his humility, simplicity and dedication to national cause. He gave his all in terms of leadership to the preservation of the countrys unity during the Nigerian civil war. Today, he is a symbol of Nigerias unity. There are few Nigerian leaders, living and dead, which fall into the category of being iconic features of Nigerian history; in the sense of not just being in the right place at the right time, but fulfilling ones duty to ones nation as conscientiously as possible. Gowon is probably the only one that enjoys this distinction.Gowon was reluctant to go to war against the secessionist state of Biafra because he regarded the rebel leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and his compatriots as brothers and sisters. That was why at the initial stage, he regarded it as a police action. He resolved to go into full scale war as a last resort, to keep Nigeria one. That was after the so-called Biafran authorities overrun the Mid-West and threatened to attack Lagos. His words: It was at that time that the police action was changed to full military action, not war, because I knew I was not fighting against a total enemy. It was only a family quarrel. We were fighting brothers and sisters.Unlike many former military Heads of State, Gowons lifestyle is a study in humility, simplicity and how to be a true statesman. He pursues and leads a life of moderation and modesty, while selflessly engaging in genuine pursuit of the common good. He lives above the fray of partisan politics and inordinate chase after pecuniary gains, which appear the major reason why people go into politics today. His Nigeria Prays initiative assists in uniting all religions in the country, while through the Yakubu Gowon Centre for National Unity and International Cooperation, the octogenarian intervenes for the purpose of good governance and the wellbeing of ordinary Nigerians via programmes to combat such diseases as HIV/AIDS, guinea worm and malaria, etc., in many states.While in power, Gowons regime was criticised for the flawed implementation of the National Development Plan put in place; as well as lapses in giving effect to the Indigenisation Decree of 1972 meant to ease the vice grip of foreigners on the nations economy at the time. As was the practice in Africa during the post-independence period, Gowon also courted the sit-tight syndrome. This was demonstrated by his failed transition to civil rule project in 1976, which was the major reason why he was overthrown in a military coup. His lax leadership style led to the notorious cement armada of the 1970s; when 20 million tonnes of cement were imported in one year, while the ports had the capacity to handle only one million tonnes. He was toppled on July 29, 1975 by his closest subordinates. Gowon then proceeded on exile to the UK, where he acquired a Ph.D in political science at the University of Warwick. He returned to Nigeria in 1983; and formed his non-denominational religious groupNigeria Praysin the 1990s.The fifth of 11 children, Gowon, originally an Ngas from the village of Lur in present Kanke Local Government of Plateau State, was born on October 19, 1934. Shortly after his birth, his parents, who were missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) left for Wusasa, Zaria in present Kaduna State. It was in Zaria, his new hometown that he grew up and had his early education.After his secondary education, Gowon, who initially wanted to become a teacher, was lured into the army through peer influence: he had joined 12 others for the interview, and came out as the only one from that bunch that was accepted for military training. He got enlisted in the Nigerian Army in 1954, and a year later on his 21st birthday on October 19, 1955 got commissioned as Second Lieutenant. In the next 11 years, Gowon settled for a strictly professional soldier career that saw him attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, in the United Kingdom from 1955 to 1956; the Staff College, Camberley, also in the UK in 1962; and the Joint Staff College, Latimer, in 1965. Before Staff College, Gowon had taken part in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, both in 1960 to 61 and in 1963. Thereafter, while still a Lieutenant Colonel, he moved on to become battalion commander in 1965.Gowons involvement in the countrys political affairs was fortuitous. The immediate post independence era was enmeshed in serious crisis of confidence and escalating mass discontent among Nigerians, including a section of the military, concerning the management of the country by the ruling political class. Through an act of fate, in 1966, at the age of 31, the mantle of governing the country fell on him, following the military coup and counter coup that displaced the regime of Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, which had taken up the leadership of the country after the bloody coup that terminated the First Republic in January 1966.Gowon wasthen a Lieutenant Colonel.But, it would be a misnomer to classify Gen. Gowon as a military dictator in the strict sense. He was not part of the counter-coup; but was called upon to lead after the coup. Indeed, he was a military leader at a time of war, but he remained a democrat at heart.His conduct as the wartime leader was exemplary. He successfully prosecuted the civil war between 1967 and 1970. It was while attending an Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in Kampala on July 29, 1975, that Gowon was overthrown. He lived in exile in the United Kingdom from 1975, after he was overthrown, till 1983, when he returned home. Since 1990, he has been praying for peace and unity in the country, through his non-denominational religious group, Nigeria Prays. He personally coordinates the national prayer project to promote peace and unity in the land. His abiding faith in the indissolubility and indivisibility of the country was recently underscored at the 17th Wole Soyinka Annual Lecture when he unequivocally stated: No matter what happens, I am confident that this nation will not fall. I have a great belief and faith that the younger ones will do it better.In terms of institution-building, Gowons government initiated infrastructural development and industrialization in Nigeria, for the increased earnings occasioned by the oil-boom of the 70s propelled an unprecedented growth in the socio-economic activities of the Federal Government. To further his philosophy of post-war reconciliation and national re-integration, he established the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) as a platform for youth development; he also established Unity Schools, and gave universality to Nigerias economic image. Unfortunately, this modest achievement as Head of state has been eroded steadily by successive governments.In spite of the hullabaloo over 2015, Gowon is not worried about all the talk about Nigeria breaking-up. He insists that it is either disgruntled politicians or interest groups that are promoting hate among Nigerians. You find that if it does not benefit them, they would not make such statements, he said in an interview to mark his birthday. He says all the country needs is good leadership, which is able to attend to the needs and wishes of every part of the country with justice and fairness.Many eminent Nigerians, including President Goodluck Jonathan, heaped encomiums on the former Head of State, describing him as a study in humility, simplicity and dedication. Jonathan said in a congratulatory letter he wrote to Gowon to celebrate his 80th birthday that Nigeria owes Gowon a huge debt of gratitude, for successfully managing and guiding it through an unfortunate civil war. In the letter, signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, Jonathan described the celebrant as a worthy, steadfast and iconic feature of Nigerian history. He said the country came out of the war even stronger and more united. I also thank Almighty God for the unique and richly fulfilled life He has blessed you with in these past 80 years. Over the years, you have continued to use your exalted position to engender bridges of love and harmony across the country, the President added.The Governor of his home state of Plateau, Jonah Jang, expressed great admiration and respect for Gowon, saying: He symbolises the Nigerian working relentlessly yesterday, today and tomorrow for the unity of our dear nation. Hes Gods gift to us. We celebrate an ever smiling and available vessel of the Almighty, full of wisdom at 80 years. Former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, has equally congratulated General Gowon welcomed him to the club of the oldies. He added: There are not many people whose lives, notwithstanding their share of human frailty, can be truly described as exemplary in as many milieus as that of General Dr Yakubu Gowon, GCFR.The post Garlands for Nigerias living legend appeared first on The Nation.]]>
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