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The Gowon Regime and The Nigerian Civil War, 1966 - 1975

Today:Friday, December 19, 2014


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The new Federal Government was headed by Lt. Colonel (later General) Yakubu Gowon, a minority Northerner.

From the onset, it was treated with defiance and threats of secession by the Eastern Military Governor, Lt. Colonel 0. Ojukwu, an lgbo, smarting under the Northern killings. Not surprisingly, therefore, negotiations including a rancorous one at Aburi, Ghana, intended to resolve the issues in dispute failed. In the circumstances, Gowon decided to cut the Gordian knot of the political imbroglio; on May 27, 1967, the Federal Government declared a state of emergency throughout the Federation and split the country into twelve states, two of which were for the minority ethnic groups in Eastern Nigeria. Judged from hind-sight, this move dealt a decisive blow to the attempt by the Eastern Region to secede from Nigeria which Ojukwu sought to effect by proclaiming the Region an independent Republic of Biafra.

For the states' creation, the Eastern minorities chose to back the Federal Government and to remain in the Nigerian Federation, and disavowed Biafra (Lukman, 1971:64).

The civil war that followed the creation of States by the Federal Government lasted for thirty months. Slowly but surely and amid some resistance, Federal troops overran Biafra. On January 15, 1970 after Ojukwu had left to Cote d'lvoire, the secessionist, regime under Biafran General Philip Effiong, formally surrendered to the Federal Government and renounced secession. As the war ended, the Gowon Administration set about to restore national social harmony, establish a strong centralised Federal government, revamp the economy and enhance Nigeria's position in the international community.

First, Gowon proclaimed that there were "no victors and no vanquished'" which prepared Nigerian minds for reconciliation and allayed lgbo fears of possible persecution and victimisation by federal authorities and other Nigerians. On January 15,1970 Gowon proclaimed a general amnesty. In the following months, thousands of lgbo and other Easterners regained their former jobs in government and the private sector. Many went back to their former businesses, including those in the North.

Government's magnanimity was but an aspect of a wider post-war policy of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction implemented by the Gowon regime through the Second National Development Plan (1970 - 1974). The plan aimed to serve largely as "a means of reconstructing the facilities damaged by war and promoting economic and social development throughout the Nation" (Tomori and Fajana, 1984: 140).

With phenomenally increased government revenue from petroleum exports and foreign aid, the Gowon administration rebuilt schools, secured and distributed relief materials, constructed new airports, new oil refineries and thousands of kilometres of tarred roads, and promoted sports and culture. It also inaugurated a housing programme in all Nigeria's states and expanded education at all levels. The expansion included the creation of six new Federal Universities in April 1975, the takeover of four existing State Universities, and plans to introduce free, compulsory primary education throughout Nigeria. To mobilise young graduates for national service and inculcate or promote patriotism, government introduced a National Youth Service Corps in 1973. Similarly, to combat social ills like crime and unemployment, government established a National Advisory Committee for Social Development in 1974 which later grew into the Ministry of Labour and Social Development. ! Plans were also made to host a World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture.

Despite these achievements and Nigeria's impressive economic growth rate, several grave maladies afflicted the body politic. These included the economy's over-dependence on oil, food shortages, biting inflation partly fuelled by new salary awards to workers and mounting unemployment.

Others were the low productivity of the public sector and rampant corruption. A crushed strike by the nation's university teachers for improved service conditions partly demonstrated the Government's anti-intellectualism. A controversial national census conducted at great expense was later cancelled.

Massive importation of cement mostly by Government for military infrastructure led to serious port congestion and heavy government expenditure on demurrage.

Corrupt officials went unpunished particularly as the State Governors and Federal Commissioners seemed beyond the pale of justice and the law. The last straw was Gowon's reneging on his earlier promise to relinquish power to civilians in 1976. On July 29, 1975 Gowon was overthrown in a peaceful military coup and was succeeded by Brigadier Murtala Mohammed, a Division Commander during the Nigerian Civil War.