Speaking on the selfishness of politicians, Col Dangiwa Umar asked them to learn from the former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon’s case.
Gowon’s nine-year regime was toppled in a military coup on July 29, 1975, while he was attending the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Kampala, Uganda. Soon after a world press conference during which he magnanimously accepted his ouster and wished his successor, General Murtala Muhammed success, he called our High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alhaji Sule Kolo, with a request.
His wife, Mrs Victoria Gowon, was in London to shop during the seasonal summer sales when prices of items are reduced. Some believed that he got her out of the way since he had security reports about the likelihood of a coup against his regime.
His Chief of Staff, General David Ejoor, left the country on vacation after failing to convince the C-in-C to pre-empt the coupists. He asked the high commissioner to check his wife out of her hotel because he couldn’t pay her hotel bills.
The high commissioner was taken aback and sympathetic. He immediately called Dodan Barracks to relay Gowon’s request to him. When General Murtala was informed, he instructed the high commissioner to pay all her hotel bills for as long as she stayed. Gowon requested our Embassy in Kampala to book him on a commercial flight to the United Kingdom.
Word on Gowon’s travel plan reached heads of state attending the OAU meeting. One of them volunteered to lend him his presidential plane to fly him to the United Kingdom. Gowon had sent back his presidential plane, since according to him; he was no more entitled to its use as a former head of state.
Those heads of state gave him monetary contributions to start life in the United Kingdom when they discovered that he could not even pay his wife’s hotel bill. A few months later, Gowon shocked the world when he appeared in a queue at a Warwick University students’ cafeteria trying to buy food. General Murtala was so shocked and decided to despatch a delegation to meet with Gowon and convince him to return home with the guarantee that he would be treated as a former head of state entitled to benefits befitting his status.
He apologised to the delegation for refusing the offer as he had already enrolled for undergraduate studies and would prefer to continue his studies.
Besides, returning home was not a good option since he did not own a house anywhere in the world, including in Nigeria. When as Governor of Kaduna State, I visited Gowon’s family house in Wusasa, Zaria, in 1987 in the company of the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Gambo Jimeta, we met Gowon’s mother in the same mud building where he was born.
Her room furniture comprised a Vono bed, a wooden chair on which IGP Gambo sat, while I sat on a bag of grains. Gowon’s sister took her position on a straw mat, while the mother sat on her bed. Her other daughter was making haste to fry bean cake for us, of course, using a firewood stove. Leadership self-abnegation in a glaring display! This is who we are.
This generation of ‘leaders,’ at least, most of them, have strayed. I used to encourage my subordinate officers to follow me on pilgrimage to Wusasa where I conducted them around the Gowon’s family compound.
They saw those relics of saints. I am happy to report that the Gowon family church is still the old mud building. I encourage our current leaders to visit and be guided on the right path.”
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