Yakubu Gowon was born on October 1934 and would become the head of state of
Nigeria from 1966 until 1975. Yakubu Gowon was a graduate of the University
of Warwick and was also known as Jack. Gowon took the head of state position
after a coup d’etat in 1966 and would eventually be overthrown in a similar
situation. Yakubu Gowon is best known for his “no victor, no vanquished”
policy that helped to restore the relationship that had been lost between the
Igbo and the rest of Nigeria during a four year period from 1966 until 1970.
Yakubu joined the Nigerian army in 1954 and was made a Second Lieutenant in 1955 on his 21st birthday. By 1966 Gown was battalion commander as well as a Lieutentant Colonel. During these years Gowon was simply a career soldier and took no part in politics, but he would soon be thrust into a position of political leadership. In 1966 a particularly lethal coup lead to the death of Sir Abukar Tafawa Balewa, who was Nigeria’s Prime Minister as well as many other men of political importance. These killings created tension between the Notherners and the Igbo and many men were tortured and killed. The intention of those that planned the coup seemed to have been to allow of seccession of the Nothern regions of Nigeria, but they were told to back down by several high ranking officials. It was at that time that those that planned the coup named the uninvolved Gowon Nigerian Head of State. Gowon wasn’t of Igbo or Nothern descent, so he was able to look at things differently than anyone else could, perhaps that is what made the others choose him for the head of state position.
During this time there were mass murders of Igbo people all over the land, and this just served to build tensions between the Eastern regions and Gowon’s federal government. In January of 1967 there was a summit that Gowon and Ojukwu and other members of the Supreme Military Council at Aburi that was meant to resolve the conflicts and establish Nigeria as a confederation of regions so that the battles would cease. The outcome of this two day summit was the Aburi Accord, would would eventually lead to the Nigerian civil war because of a difference in interpretation. Much of the tension was fueled by Ojukwu, who wanted to sieze land that was rich in oil, and Gowon’s refusal to simply hand the land over to him.
On May 30, 1967 Ojukuwu declared a formal secession of the Eastern Region and
let it be known that the region would be known as the Republic of Biafra from
there on out. This declaration would be the start to a civil war that would
last more than 30 months and would cause the death of over 100,000 soliders
and more than a million civilians that had joined the war. The war would end
on January 12, 1970 which is when Gowon made his famous “no victor, no
vanquished” speech as well as a declaration of amnesty for those that
had participated in the Biafran uprising. Gowon also created a program he named
Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilition which was meant to repair the
terrible damage that had been done to the economy of the Eastern Region in the
years that led up to the war and during the war itself.
After the war the Nigerian federal government grew, and the economy was on the upswing thanks in large part to the oil that could be found in the country. The oil-fueled economic improvements allowed Gowon to easily carry out much of his program to reconstruct the Eastern Region. Though things seemed to be going well, Gowon made a career threatening decision by announcing in October of 1974 that Nigeria would not be ready for civilian rule by 1976 as he had promised since he had taken the head of state role some eight years eariler. This announcement caused tensions and anger within the army as Gowon was going back on his promises. The army made its move in July of 1975 when Gowon was attending a summit in Kampala. Led by Brigadier Murtala Mohammaed, a group of officers announced that Gowon had been overthrown. Yakubu Gowon fled to the United Kingdom where he would go on to receive a Ph.D. in political science at the Warwick University, making his time in exile well spent. Yakubu Gowon woud eventually return to Nigeria during the Third Republic and has been a member of the Senate.