The Authority Icon: YAKUBU GOWON
For his broad, remarkable vision of life, consistent statesmanship and humanitarian interventions that have impacted Nigeria and Africa in various important ways, General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR, is The AUTHORITY Icon.
He was born on 19 October, 1934, the fifth child from a brood of eleven, of stern missionary parents. He hails from Lur, a small village in Ngas (Angas), in the present Kanke Local Government Area of Plateau State. Nde Yohanna his father and mother Matwok Kurnyang left for Wusasa, Zaria as Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries in his infancy. His father took pride in the fact that he married the same day as the future British Queen Mother Elizabeth married the future King George VI.
Growing up in Zaria meant his early life and education were shaped there. At school he 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. Meet General Yakubu “Jack” Dan-Yumma Gowon, GCFR, former head of state from August 1, 1966 - 29 July 29, 1975.
Gowon joined the Nigerian Army in 1954 and was commissioned Second Lieutenant on 19 October, 1955, incidentally his 21st birthday. He also attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, UK (1955-56), 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.
In January 1966, he became Nigeria’s youngest military chief of staff at the age of 32, after a military coup d’état overthrew the civilian government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa.
Up until that year he had 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.
He oversaw a three-year long, bloody Nigerian-Biafran Civil War which ended in 1970. In accepting Biafra’s unconditional cease-fire in January 1970, Gowon famously declared that there would be no victor and no vanquished. In this spirit, the years afterward were declared to be a period of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and reconciliation. This was widely seen as a statesman-like footing although its actualization remains a chimera.
Gowon was later overthrown in a military coup d’état led by led by Colonel Joe Nanven Garba, in July 29,1975, while attending an OAU summit in Kampala. The coup plotters appointed Brigadier Murtala Muhammad as head of the new government, and Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo as his deputy.
In February 1976, he was implicated in the coup d’état led by Lt. Col Buka Suka Dimka. As a result of the coup tribunal findings, he was declared wanted by the Nigerian government but eventually pardoned by former President Shehu Shagari. He returned to Nigeria in the 1983, and in the 1990s he formed a non-denominational religious group, Nigeria Prays.
He is also involved in the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme as well as the HIV Programme with Global Fund of Geneva and founded his own organization in 1992, called the Yakubu Gowon Centre. The organization focuses on issues in Nigeria such as good governance as well as infectious disease control including HIV/AIDS, guinea worm, and malaria.