Yakubu Gowon Should Write His Memoirs

By: Deji Yesufu

Seun Akinola of Splash FM, Ibadan, had me at their station last weekend for a recorded interview on my book Victor Banjo. Our discussions quite naturally veered to retired General Yakubu Gowon’s role in the Nigerian Civil War. It was during the preparation for the interview that Seun told me that Gowon had collapsed during the burial ceremony of David Ejoor just this last Friday. Ejoor was the Governor of Midwestern Nigeria when Gowon was head of state of Nigeria. While we discussed, I made the point that it was necessary for Gowon to write his memoirs and give answers to the litany of questions that has come out of his time in government and even after it. Gowon is in his late 80s and if he goes to his grave, like Emeka Ojukwu did, without writing his memoirs, some information on a vital aspect of the Nigerian history may die with him.

I told Seun that when Gowon does write his memoirs, I would like to see a whole chapter of the book dedicated to Victor Banjo. While researching for information for the book I wrote on Banjo, Prof. Olayinka Omigbodun, Banjo’s third child, told me that the Banjo family had invited Gowon and Ojukwu to the dedication of the book A Gift of Sequin: Letters to My Wife. That book was published in 2007, exactly forty years after the death of Victor Banjo. The family felt it was time for the world to catch a glimpse into the mindset of their father and they published all the letters he wrote to their mother wife while he was in prison in Ikot-Epene, present day Akwa Ibom, from March 1966 to July 1967. Yakubu Gowon featured prominently in those letters and the family were hoping that he could come to the book dedication. Ojokwu and Gowon never came.

The questions that remain unanswered, and that Gowon may take to his grave concerning Victor Banjo, will include why Gowon left Banjo in prison when a police report had acquitted Banjo of involvement in the January 15th, 1966 coup in the second half of 1966. Banjo was Gowon’s close friend in the Nigerian army. It was Yakubu Gowon that first informed Banjo of the January 15th coup. They were such pals that when Banjo married in 1957, Gowon was one of the distinguished army officers that attended. One would think that old comradeship would have spurred Gowon to bringing Banjo back into the supreme military council in those dicey months in 1967 before the war. A Banjo mind might have helped quell the eventually resort to war as the nation did in June 1967. Even as late as July 1967, Banjo had still written Gowon and requested that he be released.

Another question that remain unanswered concerning Victor Banjo would be regarding what happened to Banjo’s properties, money and land documents that the army took from his home in the morning of 17th January, 1966, following Banjo’s arrest. Family sources say that Gowon had led a detachment of soldiers to Banjo’s house and these men made away with a family cabinet that housed Banjo’s important documents. Banjo had written to Gowon in 1967, requesting that that cabinet be returned but it was never returned. Following Banjo’s death, his wife learnt that the documents to Banjo’s landed properties, insurance policies and children’s birth certificates were in that cabinet. If the family had had access to those documents, the Banjo family would not have suffered as much as they did when the children were growing up.

I am not saying that Gowon stole those documents. He surely would not have done that. But he certainly should know those who had those documents and should have had them released to the family, especially after Banjo’s wife had written him in 1971 requesting for them.

Yakubu Gowon has other unanswered questions on his plate. The question of his involvement in the killing of General Muritala Mohammed still remains a mystery till today. Lt. Col. Bukar Dimka had stated, after he was arrested in the failed coup of 1976, that he had been in discussions with Gowon at his home London, while he was in exile. Dimka said that Gowon had urged them to go on with the coup. Gowon issued a statement during that period where he denied meeting with Dimka and he stated he never collaborated with any of the coup plotters to overthrow the government of that day. Many fingers were however still pointed at Gowon. Most of the officers that led that coup came from Plateau State, where Gowon hails from. At the time, and because of the pain of the loss of Muritala, the army authorities arrested many officers that had any link with the coup. In fact most of them were executed on barely flimsy charges. Nigeria instituted extradition order on Gowon but the British government rejected it. It became a source of diplomatic row between Nigeria and Britain, with the two countries withdrawing their high commissioners back home. Till this moment, Gowon has not stated in clear terms his involvement with that coup.

Yakubu Gowon is the son of a Northern missionary. He comes from a stock of Christians in Northern Nigeria who had encountered the Christian faith in clearly providential manners. Gowon’s tribe descends from a group called the Isawas. They were an Islamic sect in Kano whose leader, in the mid 19th century, had become a follower of Jesus Christ by merely reading the Bible. Because his preaching were so Christ centered, he suffered martyrdom. But before he was killed, he had told his followers that some people would come from a far country and make his message clearer to them. Many years later, these people met white missionaries. Gowon descends from these gospel centered folks.

This might inform Gowon’s involvement with evangelical works today, especially his Pray Nigeria project. Gowon used to be called a son of a Catechist because his father was a devout Christian and had raised Gowon in that environment. To his credit, Gowon did warn his colleagues in the army against coups. He made it clear to them sometimes in 1954 that if a coup was to occur in Nigeria, there would be no end to coups in the country. It happened just as he said.

It is important that our elder statement document their life history. People like Muhammadu Buhari and Yakubu Gowon are repository of the history of this country and whatever they may have to say about critical moments in our national life is bound to help latter generation make better decisions that could propel this country in the right direction.

First published this day 8th May, 2019 on mouthpiece.com.ng

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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