By JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, ABUJA
President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday said he borrowed a leaf from former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon‘s principle of not crushing his enemies during the civil war, in his administration’s fight against insurgency.
The President made the disclosure during the service to commemorate Gowon’s 80th birthday at the National Christian Centre, Abuja. The President described the former military ruler as a great example of a genuine elder statesman who was accommodating of even his enemies in the interest of peace and unity of the country.
He also lauded the former head of state’s commitment to Nigeria and his disposition during and after the Nigerian civil war especially with his pursuit of the three Rs, reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.
According to him, “As a patriot and head of government then, prosecuting the civil war, he did not see the Biafran side as a thing that must be crushed. He saw the war as the struggle of Nigerians and his emphasis was ‘how do we keep Nigeria together?
“It was not ‘we must crush them or we must defeat them’. Of course, that was why the slogan, ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done,’ came up and of course, ‘Go on with one Nigeria’.
“That is, his commitment is to unite this country, to keep Nigeria one. Not to win a war, not to defeat an opponent, not to crush a rebellion but how do we bring this nation as indivisible body,” Jonathan said.
The President also noted Gowon’s efforts at galvanising Nigerians to pray for unity and his cooperation with succeeding administrations to develop the country.
“He hardly misses Council of State meetings. If we call for Council of State and Gowon is not there, it must be for something inevitable,” he said.
The President congratulated Gowon on his birthday and thanked God for keeping him young and active at 80 years. He specifically thanked his wife Victoria, for supporting her spouse to achieve what he has in life.
In his response, Gowon thanked Nigerians for the encomiums poured on him and advised that they call on God in times of need and would never been disappointed. He said without the cooperation, prayers and advice of Nigerians, he would never have been able to achieve what he achieved in life.
In his tribute, the Catholic Archbishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah, described Gowon as “indeed a good man” and thanked God for his life.
He said Gowon had demonstrated unequivocally, his love for peace and hope that he served as an inspiration for all in the country.
Bishop Kukah prayed that children misled by Boko Haram would be touched and very soon, peace would return to the country.
The Archbishop of Jos, Anglican Communion, Dr. Ben Kwashi, in his sermon also referred to Gowon as a complete gentlemen with amiable disposition.
He observed that the former Head of State supported by his wife, Victoria, meant well for Nigeria and did his best to make life easy for Nigerians.
According to him, Gowon was a man with a forgiving heart, he led with a sense of justice, sincerity and honestly and never loses hope. Kwashi recalled Gowon’s mantra “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done” during the civil war and his effort at national integration at the end of the war. He observed that God would never punish the righteous but would judge and punish the wicked even as he warned that the day of judgment was very near when all would account for their deeds.
Bishop Kwashi also warned that all should fear the Lord, do what he says and love their neighbours and the country shall be great again.
In his remarks, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejajor, noted that the gathering was to celebrate Gowon’s humility, Nigerianess and what he has done for the country.
Among prominent personalities at the occasion were Senate President David Mark, Governors Jonah Jang (Plateau) , Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo) and Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa); Dr. Alex Ekwueme and wife, Beatrice ; Lt.Gen. Theophilus Danjuma; General Oladipo Diya, Brig-Gen. Jones Arogbofa (Chief of Staff to the President) and ministers. The roll call also has Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Obong Ufot Ekaette, Professor Jerry Gana, Archbishop John Onaiyekan, Bishop Nicholas Okoh, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade; Chief Edwin Clark, Obong Victor Attah, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, among others.