Thirty-eighty after he served as a military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon yesterday in Lagos, said all the wrongs done under both military and civilian authorities as a result of abuse of power should be reopened and investigated in order to do justice to the aggrieved.
Gowon, who said this during the book presentation “The Tragedy of Victory”, written by Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama (rtd), said: “The book appears to be the author’s loud statement of the need to rectify what appears to smack of injustice perpetrated against the otherwise innocent.
“This is not just an army problem. It is national malaise that causes people in authority to use the weight of their office and authority to hurt perceived personal ‘enemies’. With the firm establishment of democratic governance in Nigeria, wrongs done under both the military and civilian authorities as a result of abuse of power can and should be reopened and investigated to do justice to the aggrieved.
“With this work, Godwin Alabi-Isama, has made an invaluable contribution to understanding our nation’s history and our national aspiration to build a just and egalitarian society. He has unobtrusively posed the question whether anyone, however highly place, should get away with injustice deliberately perpetrated against innocent even under cover of national security.”
In his forward to the book, Gowon, who was represented by Ambassador Moses Iheonde, said as the Commander-in-Chief, he never ordered that Alabi-Isama be summoned from the war front, a development which he regretted led to his incarceration.
“As Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, I had no recollection of asking that Alabi-Isama be recalled from the war front to see me in Lagos. Even today, I still do not have any recollection of having given any such order. It is not in my character and leadership style to destroy officers and men but rather to reform them for ultimately greater service to the nation. It is highly probable that Army Headquarters might have acted on some intelligence report based on his capture and his forced enlistment in the Biafran Army.
“At any rate, that unexplained ‘invitation’ supposedly by the Head of State became the unknown factor that obviously saved him from being among the precious souls that perished in the 2nd Division’s attempt to cross the River Niger to Onitsha at Asaba; which I had strongly objected to and had ordered the Divisional Commander not to undertake, but did at heavy cost of lives.
“On learning about the tragic occurrence at Asaba, I had lamented the sad loss of so many fine officers like Alabi-Isama and Alani Akinrinade. Even at that, no one told me that Alabi-Isama was in Lagos and under some ‘protective’ custody in Kirikiri Maximum Prison! This book, therefore, has thrown into relief the fact that unknown to the Commander-in-Chief, some of his aides did use his name to do what he never authorised. This fact could only have explained Alabi-Isama’s incarceration in Kirikiri Maximun Prison without my knowledge!
Gowon, who commended Alabi-Isama’s ability to keep records even to the minutest details, said the author, who was at one-time in charge of the 3rd Marine Commando deserved commendation for his bravery and gallantry.
Having thoroughly read the book, Gowon said: “One got a feeling that it was time to draw the curtain on the theatre of war, the more so as the military objective of keeping Nigeria one had been achieved with the Biafran Surrender to the authority of the federal government. This was not to be as the author felt that he owed a duty to posterity to keep the records of the war straight, particularly in respect of the area over which he was one of the principal actors.
“This is against the backdrop of the account of the war by the last Commander of the Third Marine Commando, General Olusegun Obasanjo, in his book, “My Command” which, according to Alabi-Isama, contained some serious and historical errors. Part of this book, therefore, is essentially his critique of Obasanjo’s published work on his (Obasanjo’s) role in the Civil War. Whilst it is true that Obasanjo was not physically present in the war front, especially at the time of the routing of the Biafran Army, yet as the Commanding Officer assigned to command the Division that received the instrument of surrender from Biafra, Obasanjo rightly was positioned to claim victory on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces,” Gowon said.
Former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Danjuma, who was the book presenter as well as chairman of the occasion, defended the disciplinary action he took against Alabi-Isama, saying: “There was no conspiracy, we followed due process and fortunately for me I still have in my cupboard some of materials used in taking that decision. I have no apologies for my decision.
Danjuma, who commended Alabi-Isama for a “well written book” said he was surprised that the author of “The Tragedy of Victory”, could recollect all that happened in his sector during the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War.
The former minister, who said he and the author joined the army at the same time, said Alasi-Isama never resigned from the army, noting that he only retired.
Earlier, Alabi-Isama had claimed that his budding career in the military was terminated on “tendentious and fallacious grounds.”
He also alleged that Obasanjo in his book “My Command”, lied in his accounts of what actually transpired during the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War.
“Sheer providence brought Nigeria together”, adding: “God has never made a mistake North and East nobody will leave this country. It is better we have democracy instead of murdering ourselves. The elders will cause trouble and the youths will be called to suffer for it.”
On the war, he said: “We neglected those who fought the war and Obasanjo wrote about himself in his book “My Command” and every other person was demonised.
Alabi-Isama, who denied that they never raped young girls during the war as suggested by Obasanjo, said there are women who witnessed the war that will tell the truth on what took place. He also denied stealing money belonging to the army saying the whole thing was cooked up to destroy his reputation.
According to him, “This country will outlive all of us and why and why should we not live together. The author who dedicated the book to his mother, said the 661-page book the first part is an account of his early live and his encounter with the army. The second part is about the real combat while the third is “an expose on Obasanjo’s book, My Command. The author claimed that the real fighters of the war for the unity of Nigeria have not been acknowledged to date.
As if to accord credence to Alabi-Isama’s claims in his book, “The Tragedy of Victory”, General Mobloji Johnson, Air Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe and many others were present at the book presentation.