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5O Years After: Gowon’s War Memoirs, By Mike Awoyinfa

Before my “twin brother” and co-author Dimgba Igwe met his untimely brutal death in the blood-filled hands of a killer hit-and-run driver still on the run, part of our big dream was to write a book on Nigeria’s war-time leader General Yakubu Gowon.  We met him and he gave us an explosive interview which made headlines in Sunday Express, the sister paper to Entertainment Express which had to be rested shortly after Dimgba’s unfortunate death on the sad, sad, Saturday morning of September 6, 2014.  This is our own small version of “General Gowon’s War Memoirs.”  You never can tell, Gowon may still invite me to write his full biography after reading this.  It’s one of our best interviews and probably our biggest scoop outside my Nelson Mandela interview in Johannesburg published in the Sun on August 23, 2003.


After my overthrow in a coup in faraway Kampala where I had gone to attend the summit of the Organization of African Unity, a journalist, the late Yakubu Abdulazeez, the then editor of Nigerian Herald was crying and I was consoling him, but to my surprise, I read his report where he said I was crying.

Honestly, I wasn’t crying.  He was the one crying.  I was looking forward to seeing him and reprimanding him but I later learnt that he had died.  May his soul rest in peace.  The truth is that I never cried or shed tears over my overthrow.  I had accepted it as the will of God and even quoted William Shakespeare, who said in one of his plays that the world is a stage and we are all players, we have our exits and entrances.  And one man in his time plays many parts.  At that stage, I said: “This is my exit.  Ladies and gentlemen, give support to the new government for the sake of Nigeria.”

For me, there was the temptation to come back to Nigeria, but I did not.  It wasn’t because one was afraid but I thought if I came back, there might be another round of bloodshed which was unnecessary because Nigeria had had enough of bloodshed and we should give the country a chance.  Let’s hope that they would do better than I did.  And if they did, then it would be Nigeria that would be the beneficiary and Nigerians would enjoy the progress and development.

Gen. Yakubu Gowon
Gen. Yakubu Gowon

But unfortunately, they did not continue with the development plan which we had from 1975 to 1980 which would have changed the story of this country development-wise, security-wise, financial-wise.  All this problems we are having about fuel shortage, fuel importation and fuel subsidy payments, we had plans to build five export-oriented refineries in addition to the three that were meant for domestic use in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna.  And with that one, we would have had no fuel problem in this country.  And if those three cannot satisfy Nigeria’s internal consumption need, then of course, we can divert from the export-oriented refineries for our internal consumption.  Then there would have been nothing like fuel subsidy as far as we are concerned.  The subsidy that we were dealing with at the time was to ensure that there was price equalization of the product throughout the country.  If anything at all, that was where we were putting money for subsidy so that we have same price as we get in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Maiduguri, Sokoto, Daura, Bayelsa and every part of Nigeria.

Back to school

After my overthrow, I decided to go back to school.  The decision to go back to school was actually taken after the event.  Finding myself out of office, I asked myself:  What am I to do now?  Naturally, I was reflecting on what next to do with my life.  Yes, there was an agreement between me and the government of the day that I could return to the country when it was mutually acceptable.  But I didn’t want to sit down idle, doing nothing.  I needed to occupy myself with something.  I couldn’t have gone into business at that time because that is not my line of interest.  Probably if I was the type who liked money a lot, at that time, I would have gotten money from the government, but for me money is immaterial.  Once I am able to live reasonably within my salary, I am satisfied.  That for me is OK.

The idea of going to school was to give me time to be able to change from the lifestyle that I was used to—a secure life of being a public figure.  Now, I was leaving the military.  I was having a transition from an old lifestyle to a new one.  Not as a soldier anymore but as a civilian.  As an ordinary person.  Like everyone else.  To be able to relate to people from the standpoint of the ordinariness.  Not as a head of state any longer.  That was the motivation.

Gen. Gowon with MIke Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe during the interview foto
Gen. Gowon with MIke Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe during the interview foto

Interestingly enough, even before these changes, when I was a Visitor to most of the universities in Nigeria, I used to tell the students how lucky they were to go through university education where they would have big letters after their names: B.A., BSc, MSc, MA, PhD and whatnot.  And I said to them: “Me. Yakubu Gowon.  For all my hard work and studies, I only have military qualifications and letters after my name.  And they are all written in very small letters.  So small that you will need a magnifying glass to see or read them.  Letters like: Psc (Passed Staff College), Jssc (Joint Services Staff College), Jfsc (Joint Forces Staff College), IDC (Imperial Defence College) and things like.  I told the students how I wished I could have such big letters after my name like BA, MA, PhD, and so on.  So, there was this desire to seek further education and to broaden my intellectual horizon.  And as they say, every disappointment is a blessing.  With the change of government and not knowing what the future would be for me, I wanted this transition from military and from this secure life that I was used to before to ordinary life.  So, the best place to do it was to go to school.  And interestingly enough, after going back to school, the press started writing that the reason I was overthrown was that I did not know politics, that I did not study politics at the university level, that the reason things didn’t go right was because I didn’t have education in courses like economics and politics.  So, I decided to go seek knowledge in these areas of studies.  I was eager to know something about politics, about economics and about law, because these were the areas people said I was weak.  That if I had known them, it would have helped me when I found myself in leadership position.  I wanted to study those three at the university.  Only to be told by the vice chancellor of Warwick University and his team of academics that interviewed me that even a genius cannot do these three disciplines at a go.  I had to choose only one or two.  What they did was to fashion a course of study that would give me some insight at the university level into all these three: politics, economics and law.  So I read politics with international relations.  At the university, we call it “Polint.”  So, I had BA (Polint).  And then later on, I did my masters and then converted it to PhD.

Next week: ‘I came to Aburi with Malaria’




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