Yakubu Gowon recently celebrated his 80th birthday and used the opportunity together with his dubious cheerleaders (same people who ruined Nigeria) to wax in the usual deceitful adulation of claiming to have fought to keep Nigeria one. One Nigeria indeed! This false glorification premised on keeping a disharmonious failed state that is yet again engaged in a 2nd civil war with Boko Haram united is at best laughable. It smacks of deceit and denial at its height. That Nigeria is a scam that exists only in name is perhaps too hard for Yakubu Gowon and his cheerleaders to concede publicly having invested so much in advancing the fairy tale of fighting to keep Nigeria one.
I am personally happy to see Yakubu Gowon live long enough to see the myth and scam of his one Nigeria shattered undeniably and the irony of his erstwhile foe Odimegwu Ojukwu buried like no president has ever been buried in Nigeria. He has also lived long enough to bear the ignoble burden of genocide on his shrivelling shoulders; an undeniable historical fact that stands as testament for all time. During the course of a research on genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries Yakubu Gowon featured prominently in historical archives for genocide. Not only was he inducted into the halls of infamy amongst those guilty of genocide in the 20th century by several historical archives he was also credited with being the pioneer of genocide in Africa which is aptly captured in the article titled “Biafra was the beginning” by Hugh McCullum where he declared that “ thirty- five years ago the world was forced to deal for the first time with the brutal realities of mass genocide when the people of Eastern Nigeria opted for self determination.”
Olajide O. Akanji also concluded in his peer reviewed academic publication that “a systematic pattern of cruelty in violation of established human rights and international law was perpetrated by Nigerian troops. Owing to the scorched earth policy distinction between non-combatant and combatants were totally ignored contrary to international law. Given the extent of the violation of human rights and humanitarian law, the civil war was a form of genocide.” Akanji’s conclusion is no different from that of various academics and historical institutions. Yakubu Gowon is thus a man who like it or not carries the burden of genocide for a war he caused and chose to fight by choice. History and Nigeria would have been much different if Yakubu Gowon as Head of State had acted responsibly and fulfilled his most sacred constitutional mandate of protecting the lives and property of innocent civilians when thousands of Eastern civilians were being massacred in the North by groups that included the military and police that were supposed to protect life and property. Fundamental questions that need to be asked are; does a head of state have constitutional responsibility to protect lives and property? Did Yakubu Gowon as head of state fulfil that responsibility when thousands were being slaughtered in Africa’s first genocide that preceded Rwanda in the North?
Gowon had after all been part of the General Aguiyi Ironsi team that came to power to solve the problems arising from the excesses of the defunct civilian regime and January 1966 coup that was occasioned by election rigging in the Western region in 1964 and unrelenting violence, mass murders and arson (wetie) that continued unabated from 1964 until 1966 when the military struck. An earlier riot in May under General Ironsi had been crushed and a commission of enquiry set-up to investigate the causes and sponsors of the riots. But surprisingly, once General Aguiyi Ironsi was killed in the July 1966 counter-coup Yakubu Gowon took power and changed face from a man who was hitherto part of a problem solving team to a bigot. One of the first things he did on coming to power was to scrap the commission of enquiry earlier created by General Aguiyi Ironsi to probe the May riots and then refused to act when nearly 50,000 Eastern civilians were being slaughtered in Africa’s first genocide that later inspired other genocides in Rwanda and elsewhere.
Nothing and no grievance can justify the wanton massacre of civilians for even in war where the business is to kill; the killing of civilians and of soldiers who have surrendered constitutes a war crime under the Geneva Convention. Strangely, the officers and men of the Nigerian army who participated in the genocide were rewarded by promotions. It became obvious at that stage that Yakubu Gowon was implicated in the genocide which in turn created the scenario of distrust that led to Aburi accord holding in Ghana because Yakubu Gowon’s failure to act and partisanship in the genocide had made Nigeria unsafe for Easterners.
Aburi Accord presented yet another opportunity for reconciliation and a process of confidence building. It practically constituted the supreme military council with all the regional military governors and Yakubu Gowon together with their secretaries in attendance. It held between the 4th and 5th of January 1967 reached agreement on a confederate structure which should have appeased the Northern coupists and leaders who claimed General Aguiyi was killed because he introduced the unitary system. Agreements were also reached to repatriate the properties of Easterners who fled other parts of Nigeria due to no fault of theirs and to pay their salaries for an interim period. An implementation of these measures would have begun the process of reconciliation and confidence building and given Nigeria a progressive federal structure that would have ensured prosperity.
Unfortunately, Yakubu Gowon allowed the politicisation of the Aburi Accord as soon as he returned to Nigeria. Not only did he not implement the Accord immediately which would have paved the way for much progress, he waited five months until May before he announced a diluted version of Aburi Accord and in that time frame the Accord had become needlessly so politicised by Yakubu Gowon’s permanent secretaries that the Accord was dead on arrival. Gowon had not only reneged on the Accord as agreed in Ghana by diluting it he also refused to honour agreements reached such as the interim payment of salaries and repatriation of properties of Eastern civil servants who left their abodes in other parts of Nigeria. This measure had it been fulfilled as agreed in Ghana would no doubt have helped in no small measure to demonstrate good faith by Gowon and begin to restore the broken trust and confidence. Aburi Accord was another opportunity to avoid war which Yakubu Gowon sabotaged and thus created the bad faith, distrust and other conditions that led to war. Had Gowon kept his word by respecting the Aburi agreement and avoided war Nigeria would have emerged a more harmonious and prosperous nation.
Outside Aburi Accord other opportunities in line with international law and the right to self determination as enshrined in the United Nations charter existed to resolve the crisis democratically and peacefully through a plebiscite or referendum. In 1961 Northern and Southern Cameroun had exercised this right to choose through a plebiscite that saw Southern Cameroun voting to join Cameroun and Northern Cameroun voting to join Nigeria. Even after Biafra had been declared, there were still opportunities for negotiations and peaceful resolution of the crisis but Yakubu Gowon again prodded by advisers and bigots who were craving for more blood chose war and initiated the war when federal troops of the 1st infantry division attacked Biafra on the 6th of July 1967 thereby opening the theatre of a needless war. Yakubu Gowon failed as leader when he became partisan and joined the murderers and war mongers thereby pushing the nation to war. The opportunity to appraise Nigeria’s fault lines and find lasting solutions to them presented themselves with the crisis but Gowon chose to ignore the underlying contradictions that created the crisis and chose war against peace thereby widening and consolidating Nigeria’s ethno-religious crisis of nationhood that continues to dog the nation.
Little wonder that Nigeria has remained at a cross roads with ever widening divisions and conflicts. Ironically, Yakubu Gowon was one of those who opposed the campaign for a sovereign national conference. If his so called war of unity was worthwhile why Nigeria is perpetually on the edge and why was he opposed to a sovereign national conference for fear that it would break-up the nation? The fact that such a campaign is increasingly virulent decades after his so called war of unity is a clear repudiation of his war. The fact remains that Gowon did not fight for one Nigeria as he claims because the war was not necessary in the first place. He himself caused and chose the war as a continuation of bigotry. If Gowon was truly committed to Nigerian unity there would have been no war, radio Kaduna would not have been broadcasting the genocidal stuff that implored rape, and genocide under his watch that the Rwandans later copied and Nigerian troops would not have engaged in the kind of mass atrocities they committed before, during and after the war. A veritable legacy of impunity the Nigerian army has carried over from Yakubu Gowon to this day with Odi, Zaki Biam and ongoing human rights violations in the conflict with Boko Haram.
It is off course also not possible for Gowon to defend by any human logic or morality the callous, wicked and unconscionable mass slaughter of millions of people in the name of wanting to keep a country one particularly when he failed to earlier protect the same people from organised pogroms. Those killed both in the pogroms and in the war were children, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, cousins etc they were not logs of wood. It was the greatest demonstration of inhumanity on the African continent. Yakubu Gowon can continue parading himself as a unifier even when Nigeria is collapsing around him. A house built on deceit cannot stand the test of time. He can only succeed in deceiving the gullible but he cannot deceive God neither will he be able to stop the further unravelling of his one Nigeria scam. At 80 years, Gowon is definitely not a happy man, burdened as he is with genocide and confronted with the unbundling of his one Nigeria deceit. In the end Nigeria itself has proven that the war and the cost in human lives was not worth it. It was merely a diversion from the real problems that needed to be solved and an advent in bigotry and in the pioneering of genocide in Africa for which the nation continues to pay a price.
Yakubu Gowon would have been better served to admit/apologise for his mistakes and undertake a massive nationwide initiative for nation building in the twilight of his life, but he has chosen to continue the deceit that he fought for one Nigeria even when he himself caused the unnecessary war and when Nigeria is crumbling before his face. In this he finds good company with other deceitful characters, the same characters who looted and totally ruined the same Nigeria they claim to have fought for. Considering the extent to which the so called one Nigeria vandals have wrecked the country, It is obvious they fought for their pockets and not for one Nigeria. Yakubu Gowon can continue his deceitful prance but he cannot deceive God. The greatest consolation is that history has given its verdict and the name Yakubu Gowon will forever be associated with genocide; the worst and most odious crime on the face of the earth. It is a timeless burden for a man who with other bigots pioneered genocide in Africa.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu
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