Yakubu Gowon was a Nigerian military leader who served as Head of State from 1966 until 1975, during a period of political instability, ethnic tensions, and civil war. Gowon was born on October 19, 1934, in Pankshin, Plateau State, Nigeria, to a Christian family of Angas ethnicity. Gowon attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna and later the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England, where he graduated with honors.
After returning to Nigeria, Gowon was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Nigerian Army in 1962 and rose through the ranks to become a colonel in 1966. That same year, Gowon was appointed as the Head of State of Nigeria, following a military coup that overthrew the civilian government of Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Gowon was only 31 years old at the time, making him the youngest Head of State in Nigeria’s history.
As Head of State, Gowon faced various challenges, such as the secession of Biafra, a predominantly Igbo region in southeastern Nigeria, which declared independence in 1967 and sparked a civil war that lasted until 1970. Gowon also had to deal with the aftermath of the first coup, which had killed many political and military leaders from different ethnic groups, and the subsequent counter-coup, which had led to the massacre of thousands of Igbo civilians in northern Nigeria, StechiteGist Media reports.
During his tenure, Gowon initiated various policies and programs, such as the 12-state structure, which aimed to reduce ethnic tensions and promote national unity by dividing Nigeria into 12 states based on geographical and cultural factors. Gowon also established the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which required all graduates of tertiary institutions to serve their country for one year, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Gowon also launched the Green Revolution, which aimed to boost agriculture and food production in Nigeria through modernization and mechanization.
Military Career and Rise to Power
Gowon commenced his military journey by joining the Nigerian Army in 1954. He steadily climbed the ranks and played pivotal roles in UN Peacekeeping missions in the Congo. His career saw rapid advancement, and in January 1966, following a military coup, he became Nigeria’s youngest military Chief of Staff at the age of 31.
The events surrounding the coup propelled him into a leadership role, eventually leading to his ascendancy as the Head of State on August 1, 1966. Gowon played a critical role in maintaining Nigeria’s unity during the Nigerian Civil War, famously declaring a “no victor, no vanquished” policy at the war’s end.
Nigerian Civil War and Leadership
The Nigerian Civil War began in response to the secession of the Eastern Region, which became the Republic of Biafra. Gowon’s administration focused on weakening the support base of the secessionist movement, ultimately leading to a thirty-month-long war. The war ended in January 1970 with Gowon’s declaration of reconciliation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation.
Post-Leadership and Exile
Following his overthrow in a coup in 1975, Gowon sought exile in the United Kingdom. During his time in the UK, he pursued higher education, earning a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Warwick. He remained actively involved in various organizations and became a professor of political science at the University of Jos.
Gowon’s commitment to Nigeria’s development continued through his founding of the Yakubu Gowon Centre, focusing on governance and healthcare issues, including infectious disease control. Despite facing allegations and political challenges, Gowon’s dedication to Nigeria’s well-being and unity remains an essential aspect of his legacy.
Yakubu Gowon is a devout Anglican Christian. Over the years, he has been a committed public servant and an influential figure in Nigeria’s history, leaving a lasting impact through his leadership, reconciliatory efforts, and dedication to the country’s development.
However, Gowon’s tenure was also marked by allegations of corruption, nepotism, and human rights abuses, such as the detention and torture of political opponents, journalists, and activists, and the use of force against protesting students and workers. Gowon was also criticized for his handling of the civil war, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated