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Yakubu Gowon

Yakubu Gowon




The Legacy of Yakubu Gowon in Nigeria's Turbulent History

Yakubu Dan-Yumma "Jack" Gowon, born on October 19, 1934, is a retired Nigerian army general and military leader who played a significant role in the country's history. Hailing from a minority Ngas family in Northern Nigeria, specifically from the small village of Lur in the present Kanke Local Government Area of Plateau State, Gowon's parents were missionaries. Growing up in Zaria, he demonstrated exceptional athletic abilities during his school years, excelling in football, pole vaulting, long-distance running, and boxing.

Gowon joined the Nigerian Army in 1954, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant on his 21st birthday in 1955. His military training included prestigious institutions like the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK. He participated in UN peacekeeping missions in the Congo in 1960–61 and 1963, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1966.

In January 1966, at the age of 31, Gowon became Nigeria's youngest military chief of staff following a coup that overthrew the civilian government. The coup resulted in the deaths of political leaders, escalating tensions and unrest. Gowon, having narrowly escaped being targeted by the coup plotters, rose to power and became the head of state in 1966. Although initially a career soldier with no political involvement, his background as a Northerner without specific ethnic or religious affiliations made him a perceived safe choice during a period of ethnic tension.

During Gowon's tenure as head of state, he faced the challenging Nigerian Civil War, listed as one of the deadliest in modern history. Accusations of crimes against humanity and genocide have been leveled against him, but Gowon maintains that his leadership saved the country. Notably, he delivered the famous "no victor, no vanquished" speech at the end of the war to promote healing and reconciliation.

To weaken support for eastern secession during the war, Gowon implemented strategies such as the creation of twelve new states and recruiting federal troops from minority groups. The conflict lasted thirty months, ending in January 1970 with Gowon declaring a policy of reconciliation and reconstruction.

Gowon's post-war administration faced economic challenges during the oil boom, marked by policies like the 1972 indigenization decree restricting foreign investment. Rampant corruption and allegations of postponing civilian rule added to the difficulties. In July 1975, Gowon was overthrown by a group of officers led by Colonel Joe Nanven Garba, leading to his exile in the UK.

During his exile, Gowon pursued a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Warwick, eventually becoming a professor at the University of Jos in the mid-1980s. In 1992, he founded the Yakubu Gowon Centre, focusing on issues such as good governance and infectious disease control.

Gowon's return to Nigeria was marred by accusations, including involvement in the 1976 assassination attempt on Murtala Mohammed. He was eventually pardoned during the Second Republic under President Shehu Shagari, and his rank of general was restored in 1987 by General Ibrahim Babangida.

In recent times, Gowon has remained active in diplomatic efforts. In November 2020, he called for the lifting of sanctions against Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, countries that had left the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in response to the sanctions.

Gowon married Victoria Zakari in 1969, and they exchanged vows at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos. Despite challenges and controversies, Yakubu Gowon's life has been intertwined with Nigeria's complex political history, leaving a lasting impact on the nation.


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Place of Birth: Kanke



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Date of Birth: October 19, 1934

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