Sunday, 19 October 2014
My Head Of State Story – Gowon
My Head Of State Story – Gowon
— Oct 19, 2014 | 10 Comments
Former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, has revealed how 46 hours after his arrival in Nigeria in 1966 from a course in the United Kingdom, providence and insistence by junior military officers led to him reluctantly becoming the head of state at the age of 32 years old.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday ahead of his 80th birthday today, Gowon said he didn’t even want to be the head of state, but the love for his country and the confidence that his fellow officers had in him, influenced him to change his mind. He added that the decision became one of the biggest challenges in his life.
“I never had any question of being a head of state, but as it happened, I am a soldier, I love my country, and I want to do whatever I can in my profession for the country. I was out of the country and when I came back in early January from abroad and arrived home in Nigeria, within 46 hours of my arrival, there was unfortunately a coup, and all my colleagues from the same school, from the same area, were killed. I was the only one of that particular group that is alive today,” the general said.
Speaking further on how he became head of state, Gowon said, “If you remember, there was about 48 hours when nobody was head of state and the permanent secretaries wanted somebody to be head of state from whom they could receive orders to carry out their duties.”
He said it was then the young military officers decided that they wanted him to become the head of state. “It was the young officers that more or less put me there. But it was approved by senior officers,” he said.
Introspectively looking at the 30-month civil war of 1967, Gowon said it remains another big challenge he faced to ensure Nigeria remained united.
According to him, they did their best then to stop the riots in the north and return the country to normalcy, peace and progress, but the civil war became unavoidable when the independence of Biafra was declared by Ojukwu.
In addition, General Gowon said he initially wanted to use only police action to restore order in the east. “You can be sure that the civil war was a result of the declaration of independence by Ojukwu. If there was no declaration, or him saying they had broken up from the country, honestly, there would not be civil war. There would probably have been only police action to restore law and order, and that was what I tried to do before the civil war.
“There would have been police action, so that we can bring back the break-away into the fold. But when it went beyond that, with the invasion of the Mid-West and that they wanted to come to Lagos and probable divide the rest of the country from the central government, it was at that stage that I changed and said it should be full military action.”
Speaking further on some of the greatest challenges he had to face as Nigeria’s head of state, Gowon revealed that he never really wanted to be Nigeria’s leader when he was called upon to become one.
“I didn’t want to be head of state, I just wanted to be left with the Army so that I could restore the discipline, the loyalty, the love of the country that we had before. The younger officers said no, they didn’t want anybody else to give them leadership but me, because they knew the sort of officer I was as the adjutant in one of the battalions and later Adjutant-General of the Nigerian Army, who was in charge of their wellbeing.
“They respected me so much and out of that, they said I would be the one. So, that was how I became the head of state, not that I wanted it, but since the junior officers would not accept any other senior officer from any part of the country except me,” he said, adding that he agreed to their demand because he has been trained to face any situation and deal with it.
According to him, the civil war was not a total war against a total enemy, but against only those who were against the unity of Nigeria. He further explained that, that was why the civil war was fought in such a way to ensure minimal damage and hurt.
The end of the civil war, according to the former head of state with a PhD in Political Science, was one of his happiest day, and the fact that the end of the civil war didn’t see the emergence of guerrilla warfare.