Guest ColumnistInside Nigeria

GOWON’S WAR MEMOIRS (3): Awo Managed War Money Like Ijebu, By Mike Awoyinfa

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Mike Awoyinfa
Mike Awoyinfa

The political situation was so muddled up and we wanted to see if we could put it right.  One of the things we had to do at the time was the release of all political prisoners.  Certainly the biggest of them was Awolowo in Calabar.  And of course, there was Chief Enahoro and many others.  So we thought one of the best ways of dealing with the problem was to allow all these political prisoners out.  Not to go and start politicking but at least to have a rest with the hope that in the near future, we would give them the opportunity to start playing their game of politics.  So that was how it came.  It was part of our decision to lower the political temperature and tension, which certainly became part of our advantage.

I remember there was jubilation in the West by all Yorubas, especially the supporters of Chief Awolowo.  There was for me therefore more or less acceptance of my government by the West.  There was an acceptance by the pro-Akintola group earlier on because Fanikayode, who was then deputy to Akintola during that coup, was brought to Lagos.  He nearly missed being killed.  Because he was brought here by some of the coup plotters to the officers’ mess and I got information and I went there and I gave him an opportunity to come out with his hands up or else they would do anything to him.  So at least we gave him the opportunity and he came out with his hands up.  He was quite bloodied.  I don’t know how he got so.  Probably he must have been either mishandled by those who did the coup.  I don’t know why he was brought here but probably he must have been brought here for a purpose.  We got him out at least safe and sound.  Later on, one of the officers, Banjo, came and took him away somewhere even though I had given instructions that he should stay there and he cannot be removed from there.  And of course, the soldiers who were in charge there were in serious trouble because they allowed him to leave the place.  Because we needed to find out how he came about being brought there and why he was brought there.  It would have given us clues as to who were the coup plotters and why they plotted.  From the beginning, we had the support of the Akintola group and now of course we got the bigger Yoruba group that was pro-Awolowo to support us by the release of their leader.  That was done sincerely to reduce political tension.  So, that was how my very close association with Chief Awolowo started.

Then when I came into power in July, 1966, one of the things we had to do was getting civilians to help us run the government.  This was in June 1967.  One of the things we had to do was to choose most of the political leaders from the various parties and some senior public servants such as Dr. Dikko and Yahaya Gusau and mixed them up with the top political leaders like Chief Awolowo from the Action Group, Chief Enahoro, J.S. Tarka, Aminu Kano and people like Briggs from Cross Rivers all representing various shades of opinions as well as the states we had newly created in the country.  The idea was for them to help us politically, to talk on behalf of the government and on behalf of the nation to their people.  And also for them to gain experience on how the government is run the military way, the discipline that we imposed on ourselves.  Otherwise what are you going to teach Chief Awolowo about running government?  But at least, I brought him in.  I sent a request to him if he would help us.  We were requesting them to come to help us so that we can be able to really deal with this situation also politically.  And you needed their political sagacity and experience which certainly became very helpful to the government.

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

And when I appointed him as Commissioner for Finance, it was because of his experience in economics.  That is what he studied before he studied law.  So he was a very good man for the job.  I remember some of the things he had done in the West, all the industries, the various things he did.  Is it education?  Is it finance in the West?  Certainly, his experience, I thought, would be useful.  And let me say this:  Because he is an Ijebu man, I know how frugal he is with money.  I say that with regret because it got to the time when the vote for looking after me in the State House got exhausted and this was all for some of the entertainment I do to members of council when they came to meeting and to have breakfast or lunch, refreshment and so on, a lot of it went there.  Not only for my own feeding, which would have been sufficient, but this we did not take into consideration in asking for the votes.  And when the money finished and we requested for more money, the old man said “No, there is no vote.  You expended your votes and you should not have done that.”  I told him: “It is because of the feeding I am feeding you.”  And of course, he would not have anything.  He would only have his bottle of water and may not take anything at all.  So we had to beg him for me to be able to survive as Head of state.  When it comes to that, I can assure you he was very frugal and very, very careful with finances.  We had to live within our means.  Every kobo was accounted for.  He really kept a meticulous attention to details as far as finances were concerned.  He would not brook any break from the correct procedure as far as our finance was concerned.  As a result of that, we were able to carry out little developments that we could carry out at that time.  Particularly we were able to prosecute the Nigeria’s Civil War without borrowing a kobo from anywhere.  He left Nigeria in very good financial health.  He ensured that we didn’t leave the next generation with unnecessary debt.  He made sure that sufficient money was provided for all sections of the government activities, for the various ministries.  We discussed our budget usually within the council, with every member of the council—both military and civilian as well as the permanent secretaries that were there.  And we argued those issues in a way that you would never believe.  You would come and you would think it was a debating society.  You do not know who is the leader and who is the led, because everybody in that council could express honest and sincere views on the issue being discussed.  And we listened just to the best advice.  We listened to all the debates and in the end I sifted all the advice and suggestions given.  I was given that right to decide which of the various options I should recommend for the acceptance of the government.  By the time one had done that and you had the good old man’s full support of that particular financial decision, then of course it is carried out.  As a result, we were able to live within our means when he was part of my government until he decided to return to politics after I had announced that we were going to return to politics in 1974 or 76.  So he wanted to go and have a bit of a rest and start organizing for his future political activity.  But he was really a man of great experience and great wisdom.  And he gave us certainly his total loyalty and support and advice in order to get it right in many areas.  And for which I would remain ever grateful.

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