Gowon, Obasanjo Express Regret over Military’s Incursion in Politics


• Say Nigeria has shed enough blood
• Osinbajo laments poor leadership

Bolaji Adebiyi and
Paul Obi in Abuja
Sad memories of the bloodbath during the January and July 1966 coups resurfaced Tuesday in Abuja, with two former military Heads of State, General Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo expressing regret over the military’s incursion into politics.

They also warned against the recurrence of coup d’etats in the country, saying enough blood had been shed.
“Nigeria has had enough bloodshed and enough sacrifices by those victims (of the coups and violence)… Nigeria deserves peace, unity and progress,” Obasanjo said in Abuja at the presentation of a book, “The First Regular Combatant: Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari.”

The two former helmsmen of the nation regretted the coups that heralded the military into politics, saying they did not only violate the military but also retarded the growth of democracy in the country.
“I hope we have seen the last of any military involvement in governance today,” Gowon said, adding that the military’s incursion into politics “poisoned the lifeblood of the army and left a dysfunctional system that has left the country, military and the people all the poorer”.

The book, whose excerpts were reported exclusively by THISDAY on Tuesday, is a biography of Maimalari, the first Nigerian regular combatant to be enlisted into the officer corps of the Nigerian Army, who was killed during the January 15, 1966 coup. It was written by an academic, Dr. Haruna Poloma.

Its presentation came against the background of separatist agitations in the South-east, the religious insurgency in the North-east, militancy in the South-south, and the deafening clamour for the restructuring of the federation in South-west, a dire situation Acting President Yemi Osinbajo said at the occasion was precipitated by poor leadership and bad governance.

Gowon, who was the chairman of the book presentation, reflected on the January 15, 1966 coup that led to the assassination of Nigeria’s post-independence Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Premiers of the defunct Northern and Western Regions, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Maimalari and other senior officers of northern descent, saying the killings were unnecessary and unfortunate.

He said: “For some of us, the greatest tragedy of the gruesome night was not only that it took the lives of many innocent Nigerians, including that of Brigadier Maimalari, but that it also took the life of the Nigerian Army and violated its political innocence.”

He paid glowing tributes to the slain senior officer, testifying that he was a thoroughbred professional and apolitical officer, who wanted the best for Nigeria and the army.

Saying Maimalari did not deserve to die violently, Gowon observed that had the first regular combatant officer survived the coup, he would have prevented the bloodbath that followed in July 1966 and the Nigerian Civil War.

“To my mind, Maimalari would perhaps have used his huge influence to re-establish civic order and governance,” he said, stressing: “Perhaps, there might have been no further killings.”

Gowon said Maimalari influenced his choice of soldiering as a career, explaining that but for providence, he too might have been killed, as he lost all his classmates at Barewa College, Zaria, who were also his course mates in the military during the January coup.
Obasanjo, who was a junior officer in the army during Nigeria’s first coup and the July counter-coup, also paid glowing tributes to Maimalari, saying he had a first hand experience of the late officer’s sterling professional and leadership qualities.

Maimalari, according to Obasanjo, was the Commander of his 5th Battalion that was put together as Nigeria’s first contingent that participated in the United Nations peace-keeping force in the Congo.

“He was a particularly good officer, who cared greatly about the welfare of his officers and men,” Obasanjo testified, adding: “The Nigerian Army would have been the better for it if he (Maimalari) had led the army.”
He lamented the grievous harm the incursion into politics had caused the military and the nation.
He explained: “Many military officers who had been highly trained at enormous cost to the nation were cut off in the prime of their lives.”

This, he further explained, was why upon his ascendancy to the presidency in 1999, he retired all military officers who had participated in politics as governors or held any other political position during military rule.

Asking Abubakar Sadiq, the son of Maimalari, who was a former military administrator of Jigawa State and was retired at the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel during the purge to raise his hand, Obasanjo said: “I have no apology, but I have an explanation.

“It’s because it was necessary to stop this sort of thing that took the life of your father prematurely that we had to take the decision that all those who had tasted political power that they should never have tasted, should be eased out of the army so that we can have an army that is free from political aberration.”

He added: “So far, since 1999, it seems that we have got it right. Let us hope that we continue to get it right and learn that Nigeria has had enough bloodshed, enough sacrifices by those victims; that Nigeria deserve peace, unity and progress.”

Osinbajo, who was represented by the Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu, lamented the paucity of good leadership in the country, contending that it was at the root of the prevailing strife in the country.

“Often, the Nigerian landscape has been disfigured by appalling examples of poor leadership and bad governance,” the acting president said, stressing: “So dominant has this been that our youths can be misled into feeling that there is a total absence of idealism and heroism in our society.”
But Osinbajo explained that bad leadership was not really the hallmark of Nigeria since some past leaders had exhibited the capacity for selfless service.

He blamed the relegation of History as subject to the background of the nation’s education curriculum for the growing perception that Nigeria was a cesspool of directionless leaders.
According to him: “Nothing can be further from the truth, in our past and in our present, we can find exceptional examples of selfless service and notable deeds with which we can inspire our youths.”

He added: “The example of Maimalari, particularly his growth from humble beginnings, through diligence and hard work, to the dizzying heights of public service is worthy of sharing. History can thus be a useful tool in the propagation of good examples.”

Osinbajo regretted that History as a subject in the nation’s schools had become fairly infamous, with students often feeling that the subject had no practical value.
But he asked: “Without a grounding in History, how do we know we who we are, where we come from, and more importantly, as a people, where we are going to?”

For this reason, the acting president said the Muhammadu Buhari administration had decided to return History as a core subject in the nation’s education curriculum.
The Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd.), who was the chairman of the presentation organising committee, in his welcome address extolled the virtues of Maimalari, saying he was an iconic figure in Nigerian history whose memory had for too long been unjustly confined to the fringes of the nation’s memory.

“This book is thus a long expected effort of historical reclamation and rehabilitation, such that Brigadier Maimalari, unremembered in many of our monuments, will now continue to be acknowledged in our national discourse,” he said.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai, used the opportunity of the book presentation to announce that Maimalari’s military rank had been re-designated Brigadier-General.
Reviewer of the biography, General Ike Nwachukwu (Rtd), heaped praise on Maimalari’s enormous contributions to the nation’s military.
Other dignitaries that attended the book launch included General Aliyu Gusau (rtd.), Senator Ben Obi, Major Al Mustapha, Muhammed Abacha, Ibrahim Bunu and Aminu Dantata.