On Ghana & Iwu: Why Would Anybody Take Gowon Seriously
By: Wale Odusote
Some Nigerian newspapers of December 9 - 10, 2008 reported widely and loudly on Yakubu Gowon’s scathing attacks on Maurice Iwu and Nigeria after he returned from ‘observing’ the presidential election in Ghana. The kernel of Gowon’s see-no-good utterances was that Nigeria (and Professor Maurice Iwu’s 2007 election) pales in comparism to the ‘free and fair’ one he witnessed in Ghana; and because of this, Gowon went on to imply that Ghana is better than Nigeria. He didn’t say from where he did the observing: stationary in Accra or booth to booth.
Before going into whether Ghana has suddenly become more advanced than Nigeria just because someone did not like the outcome of Nigeria’s 2007 elections (or Maurice Iwu), let us examine the antecedents of the man – Gowon - to see whether we should even take his public utterances seriously. First was in 1966, during the second and bloodiest coup Nigeria ever witnessed. When Nigerians feared for what may have happened to their Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi, Gowon told the nation that the ‘whereabouts of the Head of State is unknown’ when he knew the General was already murdered in cold blood on his own plot. Then, a few hours later, he said that the Head of State was ‘arrested’ by rebellious soldiers in Ibadan. Since when did it become norm for ‘rebels’ to ‘arrest’ a de facto Head of State? Ask Gowon, not me. When the nation discovered that the Head of State has been brutally murdered, Gowon refused to officially and publicly acknowledge that. And when all his flip flops finally caught up with him, he then denied that he had any hand in the coup that brought him to power. And till this day, he has never even fully acknowledged it as a coup. Puzzling and bizarre.
As the nation was about to burn in the wake of an unrelenting ethnic cleansing of his fellow Nigerians, Gowon was gain at his best (or worst) elements. The only thing he could say as ‘Head of State’ sworn to protect the lives of his fellow citizens was to tell the Northerners to ‘calm down’ because power has returned back to the North. No arrests, no law enforcement; just some heady talk about ‘power returning back’. Then when it appeared that the nation was about to come around to some calm, it was vintage Gowon again that stated emphatically that: “There was no basis for Nigerian unity”. It was on the strength of this statement and others like it that Ojukwu went to Aburi and demanded confederation and got it, only for Gowon to return to Nigeria and repudiate the pact. That was not surprising because that was Gowon - wishy-washy, half-believing in Nigeria, half-fighting for Nigeria. In one breathe, there was ‘no basis for unity’. In another breathe, he translated his name to “get on with one Nigeria’. Today, Ghana is better than Nigeria. Yesterday, ‘ Ghana Must Go’. Tomorrow, let us defame Nigeria. Count me out. Call in your Gowons.
Then the war came – the mother of all civil wars, an act of tremendous violence and aggression, but which Gowon called ‘police action’. The whole world called it war because there was real war raging on the trenches but Gowon denied it all and still called it ‘police action’. Police action indeed, with all the starvation of children, economic blockade, Russian Migs and pilots, jailing of Wole Soyinka and the Asaba Massacres. That’s Gowon for you, prevarications personified.
After the civil war, Gowon declared: ‘no victor, no vanquished’. As if that was not enough Gowonism already, he stated again that he would pursue his three famed Rs – reconciliation, reconstruction, rehabilitation. In reality, Gowon appointed a civilian, Upkabi Asika as administrator of East Central State, meaning that it was a territory ‘vanquished’ in war. He vigorously pursued abandoned property policy against his fellow Nigerians, down on their luck. Where is the ‘reconciliation’ in that. He gave every Igbo-Nigerian who had deposits in Nigerian banks Twenty Nigerian pounds, regardless of whether you had millions in deposits, ante bellum. That, again, was clearly in opposite to ‘rehabilitation’. Then he began his massive highway constructions and white elephants, and saw fit to exclude the East Central State that needed the ‘reconstruction’ most.
Gowon was at it again when he promised to return the nation to civil rule three times, and three times, he reneged until his fellow 1966 coupists got tired of his flip-fops and gave him a taste of the same medicine he gave to Ironsi in 1966, only this time he was lucky to be out of the country. But before then, it was a Yakubu Gowon who had said that Nigeria had so much money that it didn’t know what to do with it. Then he began to give the money away in the millions and in hard currency, including to Jamaicans when he took on the enormous responsibility of paying their entire civil service salaries. Why didn’t Gowon conduct his own elections when he had all the chance and then compare? Obasanjo conducted three elections to Gowon’s zero. That’s statesmanlike. And the Maurice Iwu Gowon wishes to vilify conducted one that produced a landmark transition without being a ‘General’ which Gowon was while he was in-charge.
And now we have a Gowon who said nothing when Jos was burning just days ago. His own Jos, his own Plateau state was burning because of an election, and all he could do as a former ‘Head of State’ was to travel to Ghana to observe another election. Jos burned because of a local election and one that should have been more important to Gowon because it was being held in his own State, in his own country, and most importantly, in his own immediate neighborhood – Jos. Gowon kept silent while over 400 of his fellow citizens were butchered for something they had nothing to do with. He kept silent while Muslims killed Christians and Christians retaliated, and this is while he still prances around the country claiming to be heading an organization that calls itself ‘Nigeria Prays’. Haba Gowon: What went wrong with you in 1966 that you still can’t get over today in 2008? Is it Banquo’s ghost or Aguiyi’s ghost? What is so special about Ghana that would have driven you to ignore the problems of your homeland to go elsewhere and wax statesmanlike?
Now this: Any reasonable person in Gowon’s position should be comparing Maurice Iwu’s 2007 election with what went down in Jos, circa 2008. That is apt; that is comparing oranges with oranges because it is the same Nigeria, to be judged by the same standards. Comparing Ghana and Nigeria is like comparing apples and oranges because the conditions are not the same. First, Nigeria is large and federalist; Ghana is small and unitary. Second, Rawlings killed all the military politicians to pave way for a better Ghana; Gowon spared them all in 1966 and they are still lurking around causing troubles especially of the Lantang, Jos and Zaki Biam genres. Third, Ghana has fewer and well organized parties primed to fight and win elections; Nigeria has over fifty political parties dwarfed by one giant one called the PDP. Fourth, Ghana has principled opposition party leaders that cross no carpets; Nigeria has opposition folks like Atiku who is rumored to be angling to return to PDP; and now an ANPP Governor in the far North who just recently decamped to PDP. Fifth, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence; and a few Nigerians like Gowon always felt inferior before Ghanaians just because Ghana gained independence before Nigeria did and that is part of the reason Nigerian military followed suit with several coups after Ghana.
Most importantly, the issue of endorsing or censuring elections in emerging democracies has since become a matter of national security, foreign investments and diplomatic stature. Let me explain this to Gowon and others that are continuing to defame Nigeria. First, a lot of nations feared that Nigeria will garner all the foreign investments from the West unless someone discredits her electoral democracy. So, somewhere in some smoky rooms of the counterintelligence hideouts in the West, some guys, versed in strategic public information management, got retained to discredit Nigeria’s make-or-break 2007 elections. They are not mere spin doctors, not propagandists; they are worse. They figured that the most effective means to begin to chip away at Nigeria was to first discredit the umpire, Maurice Iwu. So, Iwu’s hithertofore unchallenged works in neo-pharmacology began to be questioned for the first time; and then they began to intimidate him to turn over the biometrics of Nigerian citizens to Western nations. Iwu waxed patriotic and fought back. That was when the battle line was drawn in the sand to totally diminish Nigeria, her umpire and electoral regime at such an important moment in our transitional democracy that also held the key to how our growing foreign reserves would be spent (or unspent). Under settled public international law, your foreign reserves escheats to the Western nations that held them in their vaults once you become a failed state – like Somalia or even post-Shah Iran, even not failed but nearly failed. Gowon missed that totally, and he still doesn’t get it, ‘statesman’, ex-this, ex-that, warts and all.
Second, Nigeria is in competition with the rest of the powers in Africa for a greater space in the world diplomatic community. With our oil, we attract a lot of envy and fear but with our elections and pesky politicians with a bad attitude, we remain vulnerable. So, something gotta give; someone gotta find a way to discredit Nigerian elections. Someone, well-honed in the cannons of counterintelligence by public (mis)information, went for the jugular, and that jugular is Professor Maurice Iwu, the gutsy umpire for Africa’s most populous and complicated electorate. You couldn’t do that to Ghana, not with people like Rawlings that have understudied these techniques and work from behind the scenes to keep their country insulated. Post-Rawlings Ghana knows too well how to keep its military at bay; and they know how to compete for FDI. Check out their fine statistics.
Therefore, it is a matter of national security for Ghana to get the word out in real time that her elections were credible, her umpires saints. The military would then have no reason to strike. It does not matter that they got some busy-body ‘foreign’ (read: white and assumedly counterintelligence) election monitors or some naïve Yakubu Gowon to do ‘counterintelligence information management’ for them. All in all and in ‘comparism’, Nigeria suffers for it because a helluva of foreign investors get scared away, our diplomatic stature suffers setbacks, and our President keeps looking behind his back for some military opportunists (of the Gowon genre) that are wont to capitalize on discredited elections to seize power. That explains some harried deployments of security brass that happen like a thief in the night, if not stoking the notion of institutional gridlock in government. Discredited elections encourage frivolous legal challenges that constitute a drag on an emerging nation’s quest for stability. That’s Nigeria’s present lot. Sad.
Considering all these, why would anybody then take Gowon and his ilk seriously on this boring ‘ Ghana’s election is better than Nigeria’s Maurice Iwu 2007 election’. Blah blah blah. My mum’s soup is better than your mum’s soup. Boring old tales by the moonlight. Please let us get serious and patriotic for once and talk about Jos (or even Kano) and how that compares to the near-zero violence Nigeria experienced in her 2007 general elections. Poser: In 2007, was it that Nigeria just got lucky or was it because of a smart and gifted professor of world renown named: Maurice Maduakolam Iwu - the Gutsy Umpire?
Wale contributes from USA firstname.lastname@example.org