By Victor Oladokun |
A firestorm storm seems to be brewing over the AfDB President’s tweet in defense of former Nigerian President General Yakubu ‘Jack’ Gowon. The context is that a few days ago, a member of the British Parliament, Tom Tugendhat, falsely accused Gowon of carting off half of the Nigerian Central Bank when he was deposed in 1975.
I expect quite a bit of backlash myself for commenting, but then again, that’s life. There are some things worth standing up for and egregious lies that must be corrected. This just happens to be one of them. Was Gowon corrupt? Only an imbecile would make such a statement.
How would Tom Tugendhat know? He was still in diapers when Gowon was deposed in 1975 while attending the OAU Summit. Following his overthrow, Gowon was not allowed back into Nigeria. So, how in the world could he have left with half of the money in the Central Bank of Nigeria as falsely alleged by the ill- informed British Parliamentarian?
Gowon humbled himself and shortly after, enrolled at Warwick University, where he insisted fellow students refer to him as ‘Jack’ rather than as ‘General.’ The fact is Gowon was broke in exile. Several close friends and associates helped defray his family’s living expenses at the time. I know this for a fact. I will, however, not go into details in deference to the General, his family and those who rallied to support him during his time of need.
I can understand the angst of some of my Igbo brothers and sisters against Gowon. Decades later, many are still angry that the then Federal Government reneged on the Aburi Agreement between Ojukwu and Gowon; the prosecution of a war that tragically claimed the lives of more than a million Nigerians; and an aftermath that left many Igbos destitute and needing to start life off from scratch.
The Nigeria civil war broke out barely seven years after Independence from Great Britain. History must, therefore, be understood within context.
Gowon was only 32 years old when the responsibility of leadership was thrust on his shoulders. He was a minority from the Middle Belt and not from the dominant Hausa-Fulani North that was still smarting over the assasination of Tafawa Balewa and the Sardauna of Sokoto by the Nzeogu-led coupists.
Pre-Gowon, hundreds of thousands of Igbos fled persecution and ethnic pogroms in Northern Nigeria, following the death of Tafawa Balewa and the Sardauna, the two most revered figures in Northern Nigeria. The young nation was literally on fire.
Fast forward 53 years later. My question is, how many 30-something year-olds today have even 1/1000th of the weight of responsibility that the young Gowon and his equally young colleagues were saddled with at the time? Even though Biafra was defeated, Gowon insisted on a ‘No Victor. No Vanquished’ policy. Personally, he seemed to take no pleasure in humiliation.
The fact is that with relatively few financial resources from crude oil at the time, Gowon helped put in place pretty much every major infrastructure you see in Lagos, which was then the Federal Capital. Everything from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, the iconic National Theater, FESTAC Village, the National Stadium, Mainland Bridge, and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, just to mention a few.
Outside of Lagos, significant progress was also made in the provision of quality education and healthcare and in setting up major agriculture institutions and Basin Authorities all across Nigeria. May I add to the list, the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) which was instituted in 1973 as a diversity strengthening initiative and which continues to function till today. I could go on and on.
Unfortunately, the member of the British Parliament, Tom Tugendhat, conflated two issues. While addressing the actions of the Nigerian government against the EndSARS protests movement and the possibility of sanctions, he also flippantly and erroneously made an allegation against General Gowon that no one in over 50 years has ever made. Let’s stick to the facts.
For some who want to re-write history, peddle false accusations and continually create division, I say good luck to you. The fact is, Gowon was not corrupt and history attests to that.
–Oladokun is a communication and media consultant.
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