General Yakubu Gowon: A patriot @ 77

6 mins read

SOON after the Nigerian civil war in 1970, General Yakubu Gowon, as Nigerian Head of State, commenced a nation-wide visit of the then 12 states of the Nigerian federation. As a 10-year- old, primary five kid in Ilorin, I was very active in the scouting movement.

So it was that I was chosen along with several other children of my generation, to help arrange the Banquet Hall at the Ilorin Government House, during his visit to Kwara State.

Gowon had a very direct impact on our lives as children growing into consciousness in the context of the crisis of the 1960s: The coup and counter-coup and the events which led to the commencement of the hostilities of the tragic Nigerian civil war. The slogans of those times have remained etched on my memory: “GO ON WITH ONE NIGERIA” (coined from the name GOWON); “TO KEEP NIGERIA ONE IS A TASK THAT MUST BE DONE”!

The handsome and apparently humane officer looked very much the part as Nigerian leader in my very young but ever-searching mind. And there was a sense in which those years defined the professional choice I made later in life as a broadcaster and journalist.

I was farmed out to live with my great uncle at eight and every night, he listened to the Hausa Service of the BBC, which gave what he always described as the most accurate reports from the Nigerian warfront.

The drama of each evening was that a group of old men huddled together around Baba and his old GRUNDIG radio. They did not understand Hausa, so at the end of the news bulletin, he would translate into Yoruba the major items of what had been read in Hausa. I mischievously listened for the omissions and then interjected to point out mistakes in his account.

At the beginning I got a sharp disagreeing glance which over weeks and months mellowed as I was allowed to add to the translations. I think it was from that experience that my love of broadcasting grew.

An encounter: But I have diverted slightly from the Yakubu Gowon narrative. All Nigerians are privy to the sequence of events that led to his ouster from power in July 1975 and the subsequent years of exile, study to a doctorate level in Political Science and his return to a country he had given so much to, in the years of its tragic crises!

I was to eventually encounter the man for the first time in 2005. The American National Democratic Institute had organised an African statesmen initiative which brought ex-heads of state from all over the continent to Bamako, Mali. Yakubu Gowon was the only ex-Nigerian leader invited to the forum.

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