Gen. Yakubu Gowon, former head of state and an advocate of peace, has assumed the position of a respected patriot and an accomplished statesman. He is hailed in Nigeria and internationally for his relentless commitment to the unity and indivisibility of the Nigerian nation. Having fought a civil war to defend that commitment and maintained that position from his active years in government until now as an elder statesman, Gowon has become an acclaimed symbol of Nigeria’s national unity.
Gowon was at the helm of affairs when the greatest threat to Nigeria’s unity reared its head in 1967. He fought and worked for the preservation of the nation’s unity by taking steps that gave a sense of belonging to the constituent parts of the country. His era was when statesmanship mattered more than money and when personal enrichment hadn’t become the central goal in the political office.
He came with a vision of a united Nigerian society, which he drove with a strategy that worked to galvanize the broad spectrum of society. Well before the civil war broke out, Gowon believed that the solution to the country’s crisis situation lay in the Willink Commission. The commission had after an inquiry, published a series of recommendations in 1958 aimed at correcting the imbalance in the Nigerian federal structure.
Specifically, the commission recommended the demarcation of the existing north, east and west regions into smaller states. The arrangement was aimed at allaying the fears of minority ethnic groups about the dominance of the majority groups and thus providing a firm foundation for the nation state.
Agitation for state creation, as a basis for coexistence had been on since the inception of the Nigerian nation in 1914, even taking violent forms at several points in history. Minority ethnic groups, to which Gowon himself belongs, had agitated for the creation of an autonomous region in the north and the demarcation of the country into smaller states.
Willink’s recommendation was not implemented by the colonial government despite that Nigeria’s independence was postponed for two years for the recommended state creation and to allow the new states to take roots. A major roadblock was that the dominant group in the north was not in support of the idea.
Gowon’s vision of a strengthened basis for uniting Nigeria’s component parts met with necessity while he was prosecuting the civil war. State creation becamea double barrel strategy aimed directly at undermining the political strength of secessionist Biafra – for which the dominant group in the north now gave its nod to an idea it earlier opposed.
To Gowon, the real victory of state creation then was indirect – the empowering of Nigeria’s ethnic minorities in the federal structure and thus correcting the relationship imbalances spotted by the Willink Commission. State creation pacified agitating groups and provided a strong platform that Nigeria has used to foster national unity for several decades. It is the supporting strategy for Gowon for accomplishing his defined task to keep Nigeria one.
At the end of the civil war, Gowon paved the way for national reconciliation and reintegration by declaring ‘no victor, no vanquished’ outcome of the conflict. This is the recognized spirit of peacemakers. Armed conflict hardly produces a winner, as suppression of people’s demands does not rightly count as victory. Gowon seeks better means of obtaining peace and unity of the nation than deploying soldiers and commanding armory.
For over six decades and counting, Gowon has continued to sing a chorus of peace and unity for Nigeria. At any moment and at any opportunity, he stands ready to encourage, solicit and persuade every Nigerian to join the crusade for one indivisible nation and to defend the course at all cost.
Nigeria’s oneness is not only a danceable melodious tune to Gowon; it is to him like a gospel message that needs to be preached daily to all and sundry and a life-involving faith matter for the nation in which to believe is to live in the present and in the future. “I am of the belief that for the future of our nation to be assured, we must strive to build legacies of peace and unity,” he said.
Gowon readily joins his voice to calls for peace and national unity, particularly in the security challenges the nation has faced in recent years. He has vowed to continue to work towards achieving the much-desired peace and unity that well-meaning Nigerians crave for their nation.
He is not only advising, suggesting, admonishing and recommending the way forward for peace; he is praying for it. That is a case of leaving no stone unturned to deliver peace and unity to the nation. The former army general is counting on prayers more than weapons of warfare. Prayers, he said, are imperative to ensuring peace and harmonious coexistence in the face of social and economic problems bedeviling the country.