Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (retd), yesterday berated those agitating for the sovereign state of Biafra, reminding them of the unifying role the late first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, played during the civil war, despite hailing from the secessionist side.
He particularly fumed that the youths, who are in the vanguard of the clamour, are ignorant of Nigeria’s history, noting that Igbo youths at the end of the civil war prayed never to experience the kind of suffering occasioned by the war. Gowon, who said this in the light of the agitation by the Independent People of Biafra, IPOB, noted that what Nigeria needed now is the right political perspective and not self-determination sentiments.
The former leader said these in Lagos at the public presentation of a book entitled: Zik: Testimonies To A Great African, which was edited by Mr. Henry Onukwuba to mark the 20th anniversary of the demise of the late first President of Nigeria, Dr Azikiwe.
At the event which was attended by Senate President; Senator Ike Ekweremadu, represented by Dr. Okorie Uchenna; Lagos State governor, represented by Alhaji Abdulhakeem; First Republic politician, Mazi Mbazulike Amaechi; Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe; Prof Pat Utomi and Dr. Augustine Obiora, among others, Gowon said Nigeria needs leaders, who would priortize the country’s unity like Azikiwe.
How Zik worked to preserve Nigeria’s unity
Gowon, in his capacity as chairman of the event, also explained how the late President, who was the Owelle of Onitsha, passionately worked to preserve Nigeria’s unity during the Biafran secession, irrespective of the fact that he (Zik) was instrumental to the diplomatic recognition of the then Biafran Republic by some countries.
Speakers at the event were also unanimous in their calls on the need to place Nigeria’s unity above personal interests, as Azikiwe did. Gowon said: “I am particularly touched by the reason the author of the book wrote it at this point of our national history. Now that the revised edition of the book is being presented at a time our youths seem to have forgotten our recent history and the labour of our heroes past, this, for me, is commendable.
“I think the point that he is making here is seen as the recent hype of the pro-Biafran spirit. I remember visiting the East Central State at the time, from Enugu, Nsukka, Owerri, Umuahia, Abakaliki and then to Onitsha and being met by children at that time who welcomed us so sincerely and they addressed me to say you are our leaders, we pray that no Nigerian child should one day suffer what they went through during that civil war.
“Such call should make any Nigerian leader to provide for their children and make them loyal to their country. That touched me so dearly to think of the suffering that these children went through. What can I say to them? I am sorry for the things that they went through. It is not by design that these things happened and so, I want to assure you that we will do our best for the future.”
Nigerians never learned from history
“Unfortunately, it seems as if we Nigerians never learned from history. How many children suffer today throughout the country? Honestly, something has to be done by Nigerians and I think that is one of the reasons this call by these young people trying to say they want to fight again should be discouraged.
“Do they realize what it takes? If I have anything to do with Nigeria, as I have said, I will implore all of you to really bring peace to bear by correcting the young people if they are going astray. At this time, therefore, I think the youths seem to have forgotten our chequered history and labour of our heroes past.
“I can assure you that anything that has to do with Zik, is something that all of us must join hands and celebrate. Celebrating involves his life-time and his service to Nigeria.
“Nnamdi Azikiwe was one of Nigeria’s greatest statesmen and a true son of Africa. Today’s event can, therefore, very well be described as the extension of the unending celebration of a great man.”
In his remarks, the author of the book, Mr. Henry Onukwuba, said: “Today, 20 years after, I wonder how Zik will be feeling in his grave. I wonder if Zik will not feel betrayed and abandoned by a nation he gave so much to.” (Vanguard)