A trending story is about the postponement of a ‘Banquet of Honor’ billed to be hosted by Nigeria’s former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, at which some dignitaries serving in the present Federal Government shall be honored. Billed to be hosted and honoured are the Secretary to the Federal Government Mr George Akume, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Mr Nyesom Wike, and others in the same fold. As at last count, the banquet has been postponed – reportedly due to the pendency of several cases in the appellate courts in which some of the potential honorees could be implicated.
Put in context, the mere spectacle of a former Head of State in the calibre of General Yakubu Gowon, hosting younger and latter-day politicians, is a commendable turn of events, which constitutes a point of reference. The Kalabari have a saying that the ‘first person to enter a fishing or hunting ground is an elder in that terrain’. Hence for a former Head of State like Gowon – who is credited with several positives in the country’s history, to confer honours to anybody, elevates such a beneficiary to the status of an icon.
For the benefit of younger generations of Nigerians, Gowon it was who was saddled with the testy job of administering the country at its darkest hour in 1966, as a military Head of State. As is common place in several weak states, unscrupulous politicians create the problems, and the military is drafted in to solve the mess – often at a high cost. As for Gowon, he was drafted to serve as Head of State, following a sequence of developments which led to the assassination of Nigeria’s first military Head of State, Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, along with then military governor of Western Nigeria, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, under circumstances that are better left for another day.
He was later to lead the country through series of negotiations on keeping Nigeria as one unit: the failure of which led to the unfortunate Nigerian Civil War of 1967 – 1970. His enterprise in peacemaking was accentuated by his policy of ‘No Victor No Vanquished’ after the civil war in 1970, which helped in no small measure to keep Nigeria as one country today.
Soon after, he was overthrown in the 1975 coup detat which was led by late General Murtala Mohamed while he (Gowon) was representing Nigerian at an OAU conference in Addis Ababa. Taking his misfortune with equanimity, he simply went back to school at the University of Warwick in England, where he bagged a doctorate degree in Political Science. His travails trailed him even at Warwick as he was accused of complicity in the 1976 coup which claimed the life of Head of State Murtala Mohamed.
His saviour from the gullotine was the reluctance of the British Government to release him to Nigeria for obvious execution. Ever since his return to Nigeria through a pardon granted him during the Second Republic by President Shehu Shagari, much of what has been heard of him was to organise prayer sessions for the good of the country. Most Nigerians easily associate him with a low political profile, and active engagement in promoting charitable courses and Christian evangelism. A typical instance is the ‘Nigeria Prays’ programme, which enjoys a significant following across the country.
In the context of associating the now trending ‘Banquet of Honor’ with such a personage who remains a national icon of statesmanship, there are several reasons for not allowing the event to be contemplated in the first place, and even if it has been planned in error, to be cancelled outright. It can be understandable that General Yakubu Gowon is honoring military officers with distinguished service records, as they belong to his primary constituency. And that tradition remains regular in the military.
The problem of extending the gesture to the political terrain is what rankles the mind. That is due to the challenges associated with rating quality of performance of individuals outside the terrain of subjectivity. An immediate question is whether there are precedents where former Nigerian Heads of State cherry-pick politicians and confer honours to such. It also needs to be stated here that this ‘Banquet of Honor’, remains perhaps the first significant political outing for the elder statesman, and it is ostensibly coming simply to massage the ego of a few politicians, through the instrumentality of propaganda taken too far.
Among the inherent incongruities are the following. First is the issue of role reversal in the process. The tradition is for the new administration to honor past heroes, not the old recognizing the new leaders, who they hardly know. After all, as it may be asked, on what basis do the would-be beneficiaries qualify for recognition by old-school Gowon?
Second is the issue of disrupting the long standing good image of the statesman by casting him in borrowed robes, on the grounds on which he becomes vulnerable to be subjected to undeserved, pejorative brick-batting and mud-slinging, by new found detractors and political jobbers. The question here is whether he is deserving of such imposition of tacit conscription into a political terrain which he had labored over the years to distance himself from.
Third is the suspicion that this turn of events may not have originated from him as he has nothing conceivably positive to gain from it. In that case it must have been imposed on him by some unscrupulous elements in his precincts. This makes his handlers eligible for indictment as being willing to sell their principal for filthy lucre.
Beyond the foregoing, is the reality that this is hardly a time to celebrate any official in the present administration, given the prevailing state of affairs in the country, with most Nigerians going to sleep on empty stomachs, for days on end.
Hence, while the postponement of the ‘Banquet of Honour’ may have been spawned by the pendency of appeal cases in the courts there, is also the rising incidence of street rage over the hardship unleashed on the country by the woeful performance of the Tinubu administration. Nigerians are unhappy at the Tinubu administration, over astronomical rises in prices of food and daily essentials. This therefore is hardly a time to celebrate any government official, especially those in office whose responsibility is to solve the extant problems in the first place.
In the same vein, the ‘Banquet of Honour’ should tarry awhile – at least until the end of Tinubu’s first term, when the good, the bad and the ugly elements in government should have been fully identifiable to be apportioned deserving honour or blame, as is appropriate.