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YAKUBU GOWON


Full Name: Yakubu Gowon
Title/Job: Ex Military Ruler of Nigeria
Profile:

General Yakubu 'Jack' Dan-Yumma Gowon (born 19 October 1934) was the head of state (Head of the Federal Military Government) of Nigeria from 1966 to 1975. He took power after one military coup d'etat and was overthrown in another. During his rule, the Nigerian government successfully prevented Biafran secession during the 19661970 Nigerian Civil War.

Early life
Yakubu is an Ngas (Angas) from Lur, a small village in the present Kanke Local Government Area of Plateau State. His parents, Nde Yohanna and Matwok Kurnyang, left for Wusasa, Zaria as Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries in the early days of Yakubu's life. His father took pride in the fact that he married the same day as the future Queen Mother Elizabeth married the future King George VI. Yakubu was the fifth of eleven children. He grew up in Zaria and had his early life and education there. At school Yakubu proved to be a very good athlete: he was the school football goalkeeper, pole vaulter, and long distance runner. He broke the school mile record in his first year. He was also the boxing captain.

Early career and political ascent
Yakubu Gowon joined the Nigerian army in 1954, receiving a commission as a Second Lieutenant on 19 October 1955, his 21st birthday.

He also attended both the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK (195556), Staff College, Camberley, UK (1962) as well as the Joint Staff College, Latimer, 1965. He saw action in the Congo (Zaire) as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, both in 1960-61 and in 1963. He advanced to battalion commander rank by 1966, at which time he was still a Lieutenant Colonel.

Up until that year Gowon remained strictly a career soldier with no involvement whatsoever in politics, until the tumultuous events of the year suddenly thrust him into a leadership role, when his unusual background as a Northerner who was neither of Hausa or Fulani ancestry nor of the Islamic faith made him a particularly safe choice to lead a nation whose population were seething with ethnic tension.

In January 1966, he became Nigeria's youngest military chief of staff at the age of 32, because a military coup d'etat by a group of mostly Igbo junior officers under Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu led to the overthrow of Nigeria's civilian government. In the course of this coup, mostly northern and western leaders were killed, including Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria's Prime Minister; Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region; and Samuel Akintola, Premier of the Western Region, as well as several high ranking Northern army officers. The then Lieutenant Colonel Gowon returned back from his course at the Joint Staff College, Latimer UK two days before the coup - a late arrival that possibly exempted him from the coupist hit list. In contrast, only a single Igbo officer lost his life. This gave the coup an ethnocentric cast that aroused the suspicions of Northerners, and the subsequent failure by Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (who was the head of state following the January 1966 coup-with Gowon his Chief of Staff) to meet Northern demands for the prosecution of the coup plotters further inflamed Northern anger. It should be noted that there was significant support for the coup plotters from both the Eastern Region as well as the mostly left-wing 'Lagos-Ibadan' press.

Then came Ironsi's Decree Number 34, which proposed the abolition of the federal system of government in favor of a unitary state, a position which had long been championed by the Southern parties - the NCNC and the AG. This was perhaps wrongly interpreted by Northerners as a Southern (Eastern, Midwestern and Western Regions) attempt at a takeover of all levers of power in the country. The North lagged badly behind the Western and Eastern regions in terms of education due to their religious related unacceptance of western education early, while the mostly-Igbo Easterners were already present in the federal civil service. On 29 July 1966, while Ironsi was staying at Government House in Ibadan, northern troops led by Major Theophilus Danjuma and Captain Martin Adamu stormed the building, seized Ironsi and his host, Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, and subsequently had the two men stripped naked, flogged and beaten, and finally shot. Other northern troops, led by Lieutenant Colonel Murtala Mohammed, the real leader of the counter-coup and who later succeeded Yakubu Gowon as head of state, then seized the Ikeja airport in Lagos. Several Igbo and Eastern minority officers were killed during the counter-coup.

The original intention of Murtala Mohammed and his fellow coup-plotters seems to have been to engineer the secession of the Northern region from Nigeria as a whole, but they were subsequently dissuaded of their plans by several advisors, amongst which included a number of high ranking civil servants and judges, and importantly emissaries of the British and American governments who had interests in the Nigerian polity. The young officers then decided to name Lieutenant Colonel Gowon, who apparently had not been actively involved in events until that point, as Nigerian Head of State. On ascent to power Gowon reversed Ironsi's abrogation of the federal principle.

There arose tension between the Eastern region and the northern controlled federal government lead by Gowon. On 45 January 1967, in line with Ojukwu's demand to meet for talks only on neutral soil, a summit attended by Gowon, Ojukwu and other members of the Supreme Military Council was held at Aburi in Ghana, the stated purpose of which was to resolve all outstanding conflicts and establish Nigeria as a confederation of regions. The outcome of this summit was the Aburi Accord.

The Aburi Accord did not see the light of the day, as the Gowon led government had huge consideration for the possible revenues, especially oil revenues which were expected to increase given that reserves having been discovered in the area in the mid-1960s. It has been said without confirmation that both Gowon and Ojukwu had knowledge of the huge oil reserves in the Niger Delta area, which today has grown to be the mainstay of the Nigerian economy.

In a move to check the influence of Ojukwu's government in the East, Gowon announced on 5 May 1967 the division of the 3 Nigerian regions into 12 states - North-Western State, North-Eastern state, Kano State, North-Central State, Benue-Plateau State, Western State, Lagos State, Mid-Western State, and, from Ojukwu's Eastern Region, a Rivers State, a South-Eastern State, and an East-Central State. The non-Igbo South-Eastern and Rivers states which had the oil reserves and access to the sea, were carved out to isolate the Igbo areas as East-Central state.

One controversial aspect of this move was Gowon's annexing of Port Harcourt, a large city in the Niger Delta, in the South of Nigeria comprising of the Ikwerres, sitting on some of Nigeria's largest reserves, into the new Rivers State, emasculating the migrant Igbo population of traders there. The flight of many of them back to their villages in the 'Igbo heartland' in Eastern Nigeria where they felt safer was alleged to be a contradiction for Gowon's 'no victor, no vanquished' policy, when at the end of the war, the properties they left behind were reclaimed by the rivers state indigenes.

Minority ethnicities of the Eastern Region were rather not sanguine about the prospect of secession, as it would mean living in what they felt would be an Igbo-dominated nation. Some non-Igbos living in the Eastern Region either refrained from offering active support to the Biafran struggle, or actively aided the federal side by enlisting in the Nigerian army and feeding it intelligence about Biafran military activities

However, some did play active roles in the Biafran government, with N.U. Akpan serving as Secretary to the Government, Lt. Col (later Major-General) Philip Effiong, serving as Biafra's Chief of Defence Staff and others like Chiefs Bassey and Graham-Douglas serving in other significant roles.

Later life
Gowon subsequently went into exile in the United Kingdom, where he acquired a Ph.D. in political science as a student at the University of Warwick. He lived in north London / Hertfordshire border, and very much became part the English community in his area, where he served a term as Churchwarden in the local church.

In February 1976, Gowon was implicated in the Coup d'etat led by Lt. Col Buka Suka Dimka, which resulted in the death of the now Gen Murtala Mohammed. According to Dimka's 'confession', he met with Gowon in London, and obtained support from him for the coup. In addition, Dimka mentioned before his execution that the purpose of the Coup d'etat was to re-install Gowon as Head of State. As a result of the coup tribunal findings, Gowon was declared wanted by the Nigerian government, stripped of his rank in absentia and had his pension cut off. Gen Gowon was finally pardoned (along with the ex-Biafran President, Emeka Ojukwu) during the Second Republic under President Shehu Shagari.

He returned to Nigeria in the 1980s, and in the 1990s he formed a non-denominational religious group, Nigeria Prays. Still based in the UK, General Gowon today serves an 'elder statesman' role in African politics, operating (for example) as an official observer at the Ghanaian presidential elections 2008.

Furthermore, Gen. Gowon is also involved in the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme as well as the HIV Programme with Global Fund of Geneva. Gowon founded his own organization in 1992 called the Yakubu Gowon Centre. The organization is said to work on issues in Nigeria such as good governance as well as infectious disease control including HIV/AIDS, guinea worm, and malaria.





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