This past Saturday, October 19, 2019 morning I sat on my reading sofa, as I always do on my dear Saturdays and Sundays, when I am not out of town, wading through some of my weekend newspapers – The Guardian, Saturday Punch, Saturday Sun, Saturday Vanguard, and The Nation (I couldn’t get Saturday Tribune) – when I saw a couple of narratives by way of advertorials on His Excellency General Yakubu Gowon, our military Head of State from 1966 to 1975. The first two mentioned newspapers had no narratives of advertorial content on Gowon, our Gowon, who clocked eighty-five years on earth on the aforesaid Saturday. Were the advertorials in the newspapers that published them good and effective enough for the purpose they were meant to serve? Yes, is my answer and I hereby proclaim and proclaim it loudly and loudly.
In their respective ways they wished General Gowon a “Happy Birthday” in narratives that went beyond wishing His Excellency a mere “Happy Birthday! In varying degrees, the advertorials in their various messages and stylistic content rightly placed our former Head of State, the longest one so far in office in our land in his well-earned historical context. The persons and institutions who felicitated with him numbered less than a handful, but I was more than satisfied with their loyalty to friendship and what the man that is more than a man meant (and still means) to them and our country. Because the man is no longer in a position to exercise maximum political/military power that would give him the dignity to dispense patronages to sycophants, there was no deluge of birthday advertorials for him. But, I say it again, slightly differently, the less than a handful of personages who remembered him on his eighty-five years birthday are persons (and institutions) that will always remain persons (and institutions) in the annals of our country’s historical remembrance. They are gems whose loyalty to our country’s history shall never be forgotten. This is my own historical opinion that shall remain my own historical opinion.
My memory raced to the then years of General Gowon’s regime. “Go on with one Nigeria” (which was what “Gowon,” that was creatively turned into an acronym befitting to him) which meant to us as our civil war of three years (1967 to 1970) combatants and heroes fought and fought to keep Nigeria one. And after our civil war ended his “No Victor, No Vanquished” song resonated in the hearts and ears of many of us in the same way that we refrained “Go on with one Nigeria” until his overthrow in 1975 through the under-ground activities of some of his trusted officers and guards who were his brothers. I remember vividly my Benue-Plateau friends, seniors and juniors when we were under-graduates at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I can still see the gloom on their faces. I can still picture one of my Gomwalk friends – where is he now? – at the time when what happened occurred when Gowon our Gowon was away in Kampala. Before then we argued ceaselessly on his style of military and bureaucratic governance even though we were not military personages and bureaucrats. We Mid-Westerners in my ABU circle thought well and highly of him even though I, in particular, fiercely criticized him for dropping our “W.S our W.S.” in a dungeon. But now on hindsight I can thank His Excellency profusely without end.
If Wole Soyinka was not in Gowon’s “gulag” we would not have had The Man Died, one of the greatest prison autobiographies that the literary world has seen. Of course, in our political science and radical literature courses we lambasted Gowon even when he gave our civil servants and workers “Udoji” bounteous salary arrears named after Chief Jerome Udoji, a top civil servant of East Central State origin. (How many Nigerians of that high-life generation still remember the late iconic civil servant who chaired the commission that gave the fabulous salary arrears that some economists, (till date), blamed, ironically, for the collapse of our economy? Of course, Gowon’s workers-friendly generosity then was one very good intention that miscarried. And when the late Tai Solarin the “gadfly” wrote his “The Beginning of the End” profoundly prophetic piece after His Excellency walked back his promise to restore civilian administration the end truly came for the general and his regime. I don’t need to prolong my reverie into other aspects of our great personage’s military rule, but he stands and lives tall in my estimation of him as a Nigerian leader in comparison with others who will ever remain shorter than dwarfs in my scale. I affirm this despite our birthday personage’s flaws. As one from a micro ethnic minority in the Nigerian firmament, I will always applaud General Gowon. He did wonderfully well in giving faith, belief, courage, love, protection, justice and feeling of acceptance to my people in his endeavor to make Nigerians co-exist as peoples of one nation despite our differences.
I salute Chief E.K. Clark, General I.B. Babangida, Architect Darius Dickson Ishaku, Executive Governor of Taraba State, Comrade Williams Akporeha and Comrade Afolabi Olawale (National President and General Secretary respectively of NUPENG), Dr. Ayodele and Mrs. Ajoke Ogunsan (Chairman and CEO – Executive Group) and Boss Mustapha (Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the Presidency) for their birthday narratives that remind us of General Gowon’s “landmark contributions to the development of our Nation.”
Gowon, our Gowon, “leader of leaders,” “detribalized Nigerian with a cosmopolitan outlook and urbane orientation,” the military artist of the “3R Policy of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction,” who truly fostered “peace and unity in Nigeria,” constant preacher of the “message of peaceful co-existence and national cohesion without bias or prejudice,” may “God lift you…higher and enlarge your coast beyond your imagination.” O “moral icon,” enjoy well “this auspicious moment of your life.” And may our present leaders copy your worthy examples, O Gowon, our Gowon! But will they? I anticipate negative nods from their direction. You better agree with me until events prove wrong my anticipatory spirit.
By Tony Afejuku.