In Nigerians’ classic composition of eccentric exclusivity, the quondam military Head of State, retired General Yakubu Gowon, tactlessly espoused sanctimony in his response to the grave accusation of embezzlement levelled against him by British MP, Tom Tugendhat.
Last Tuesday, while deliberating on Nigeria’s situation and the shooting of peaceful EndSARS protesters, Tugendhat, citing bribery and corruption as encumbrances to development, alleged that General Gowon plundered half of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). According to him, Gowon stowed his booty in London.
The Realm News expected the former head of state to resort to the presentation of facts in his response. But he opted for a threadbare cliché, “I served Nigeria with fear of God”, preceded by non-sequiturs “What the MP said was just mere ridicule”, “my achievements during those years are available to everyone”.
From an ethical frame of reference, we consider Gowon’s reply and resolve “not to engage in any form of argument over the matter” a sidestep to delude. The reason is that there were ineluctable facts of criminal offences, corruption and political hurly-burly against his junta. With these blatant infamies, including the genocide that claimed the lives of three million Igbos, his response that he served Nigeria with the fear of God defiled all logical reasoning.
Aside from these obloquies, historians traced the geographical and ethnic imbalance that engendered the dominance of one ethnic group over others to Gowon’s government. They accused it of manipulating the 1973 decennial census by increasing Nigeria’s population by prodigious 44 per cent in 10 years. According to them, the manipulation skyrocketed the north’s population to an exaggerated 64 per cent in 1973 from the 53.7 per cent it was in 1963. The objective is the significant share of oil revenues flowing to the northern states today.
There was also the infamous “cement armada” that led to a clogged port in Lagos State in 1975 which several news reports then attributed to Gowon’s lax. Government agents dubiously signed contracts with 68 different international suppliers for the delivery of 20 million tons of cement in one year to Lagos against its one million tons of cargo capacity per year. Hundreds of these cargos had in them concealed inferior-grade products that led to multiple building collapses including the washing away of newly constructed roads.
It was on record that during Gowon’s junta, Nigeria witnessed an upsurge in crime. Armed gangs, comprised of former military men, raided the landscape robbing, extorting and abducting people with the connivance of the police and moonlighting soldiers. Drug trafficking and smuggling became prevalent and pirates attacked cargo ships awaiting entry to ports. In some cases, they unloaded them at the wharves before the dockworkers.
Under Gowon, Nigeria enjoyed a dazzling, oil-propelled economy resulting in increased revenue earnings, but some of the proceedings ended in private pockets. The increased wealth led to the issuance of fake import licenses and further culminated in the illegal importation of tons of stones and sand into the country. Gowon was said to have maintained a pococurante façade to these activities.
Also, Gowon’s famous “no victor, no vanquished” speech, in which he spoke about “Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation” — a program designed to repair the extensive destruction done to the economy and infrastructure of the Igbos during the pogrom — never left his table until his ouster.
Given these improprieties, therefore, many believe that the Gowon-led military government was a catastrophic yardstick; the catalyst for the present under-the-weather Nigeria than the excellence Gowon is deluding himself into believing. For an average Igbo man, the three years’ genocide was Gowon’s only conspicuous achievement.
The Realm News believes that General Gowon (retired), who ruled Nigeria from 1966 to 1975, should focus on providing detailed accounts of his stewardship as well as publicising fact-based achievements. Doing that is better than living in delusion.