general_yakubu_gowon
The name Mallam Yahaya Gusau in the public service stands for integrity, virtue, honesty and humility.

He was a school teacher, politician, scholar and the Shettima of Sokoto till he died on December 12, 2008 at the age of 94 in Kaduna. His entrance number at Barewa College in Zaria was B207. He along with Mallam Muhammadu Aminu Kano (1920-1983), Dr. Russel Barau Dikko (1912-1977) and Mallam Sa’adu Zungur (1915-1958) formed the Jami’yyar Mutanen Arewa, which was later transformed into the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) on August 8, 1950.

Mallam Yahaya Gusau was a confidant of the Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello and also a teacher colleague of the late Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. I met him while he was a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1977 and from that time, I became associated with him. It is not my friendship with him that is the subject matter of this piece, but the bold action he took.

On assumption of power in July 1966, General Yakubu Cinwa Dan Yuma Gowon was not in haste to form a cabinet. He relied on the super permanent secretaries for guidance. I like to mention in particular Mr. A.A. Adeniran, who was then the Solicitor-General, Alhaji Baba Gana, Mr. I.J. Ebong, Mr. C.O. Lawson, Alhaji Tatari Alli, Chief Allison Ayida, Chief Phillip Asiodu, Mr. M.A. Tokunbo, Mallam Ahmed Joda, Mr. S.B. Akande, Mr. Ade John, Mr. G.O. Ujwah, Mr. Gray Longe, Dr. S. Shiab and of course the Secretary to the Federal Government at that time, Mr. H.A. Ejueyitchie, an Itsekiri man from the present Delta State.

After much persuasion, he later brought in eminent politicians into his cabinet; and they included the Attorney General of the Federation, Chief T.O. Elias, Dr. Okoi Arikpo, Alhaji Aminu Kano, Dr. J.E. Adetoro, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Alhaji Lateef Olufemi Okunnu (SAN), Chief Wenike Briggs, Chief Dan Ibekwe, Dr. R.B. Dikkio, Alhaji Shettima Ali Mugunnu and of course Chief Obafemi Awolowo (SAN).

At that time military governors were members of the Supreme Military Council and also members of the Federal Executive Council.

General Gowon adopted a style which made it possible for permanent secretaries to attend the meetings of the Supreme Military Council and the Federal Executive council. Because of his fondness for permanent secretaries, Gowon made it possible for permanent secretaries to bypass their ministers and send memoranda through him to the Supreme Military Council and the Federal Executive council.

For example, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had to ignore his then permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Alhaji Abdul Aziz Atta (1920-1972) to get General Gowon’s approval to change Nigeria’ currency to naira. When Mallam Yahaya Gusau was appointed the Minister of Economy, Development and Reconstruction, he had a running battle with his permanent secretary, Chief Allison Akene Ayida. He could not see a situation where the permanent secretary had the last say in the affairs of the Ministry. He had to personally appeal to General Gowon that such an arrangement was not tidy for proper administration. When General Gowon failed to heed his calls, he resigned his appointment as a minister and went back to his farm in Gusau.

In 1979, I asked why he took such a decision. His reply was that “it’s the most sensible thing to do”. Throughout his life he exhibited this discipline that is uncommon in the public service of today.

On April 1, 1971, Brigadier General Christopher Oluwole Rotimi was appointed the military governor of the then Western State to succeed Major General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo. General Rotimi was one of the first set of graduates commissioned directly into the Nigeria Army. Others were Lt. Col. Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu, Lt. Col. Victor Banjo, Major Olufemi Olutoye, Major Adewale Ademoyega and Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna. Without consultation, Governor Rotimi announced Chief Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide (SAN) as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice for the Western State. A few hours after the announcement, Chief Akinjide declined the appointment through the radio and television. After that Governor Rotimi was able to bring some of his friends into the cabinet, including Mrs Olufolake Solanke (SAN), Chief Gabriel Adebayo Fagbure, Dr. Adedewe Aderemi, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, Chief Bayo Akinola, Canon J. A. Akinyemi (father of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi) and Chief Olanihun Ajayi.

The other resignation was that of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The resignation letter speaks for itself.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Resignation Letter from the Federal Executive Council, Dated June 13, 1971, and Addressed to General Yakubu Gowon

My dear Commander-in-Chief,

You will recall that in a statement made by me and published in the SUNDAY TIMES of March 30, 1969, I declared, among other things, as follows:

“Even at the federal level, I have no desire whatsoever, and I certainly cannot be tempted or induced to develop one, to head, or participate in an unelected or even an electoral college elected civil administration in a military or any setting. At the moment, I am participating in the activities of the military government because I have been invited, and I also think it is right, so to do.

I am, therefore, obliged, morally and for the purpose of keeping Nigeria united, to take part, as fully as I can, in any measure designed, in particular, to keep the Ibos as a constituent ethnic unit in the federation of Nigeria, enjoying equal and identical status and benefits with other ethnic units, and in general, to preserve Nigeria as an economic and political entity.”

I should have, in accordance with this declaration, relinquished my present offices soon after the end of the civil war in January last year. But one main matter decided me against such an immediate course of action. As you know, before January 1970, the four-year development and reconstruction plan had been under active preparation, and it had been hoped that it would be launched early in the 1970/71 fiscal year. It was my strong desire to participate in the consideration of this plan. As it turned out, however, the plan was not actually considered until August 1970.

By that time, three other factors had supervened. First, the capital estimates for 1970/71 had been delayed until the launching of the four-year development plan, which did not take place until November last year. At this late stage, I decided that the capital estimates of 1970/71 should be incorporated into those of 1971/72.

Second, by November 1970, the time for the introduction of the 1971/72 budget was only some four months away.

Third, as from September 1970, our foreign exchange position had started to undergo an unusual rapid deterioration. It occurred to me, in all these circumstances:

– that it would be untidy for me to leave without completing the budget for 1970/71;

– that it would be hardly fair to my successor for me to leave at a time when preparations for the 1970/71 budget had actively begun under my direction, and;

– that it might be interpreted in some circles as an act of bad faith for me to leave at a time when our foreign exchange was in such a bad state, and no sensible formula had been found for arresting its deterioration.

Now with the peace and unity of our great country fully restored and firmly re-established; with the four-year development plan already considered and launched and the capital estimates for 1970/71 completed; with the 1971/72 budget done and a reasonable solution devised for our acute foreign exchange, I feel free to act in accordance with one of my fundamental beliefs, referred to in paragraph 1 above, and publicly declared on March 10, 1969 – EIGHTEEN CLEAR MONTHS before the military government’s political programme was announced by you on October 1, 1970.

I would, therefore, like to notify you that, with effect from July 1, 1971, I am no longer willing to continue in the offices of federal commissioner for Finance and vice-president of the Federal Executive Council.

Supplementary to the forgoing, there is another important reason for my present action. After four truly (I hesitate to say exceedingly) exacting (though thoroughly stimulating and educative) years in the Federal Ministry of Finance which, throughout the period, was incessantly beset with fiscal and monetary problems of unprecedented dimensions, and of peculiarly complex and tantalising nature, I deem it to be in the interest of my continued good health to have a complete change of full-time occupation.

As to my future plan, I have decided to go back to legal practice. I also want to seize the opportunity, which the military government’s six-year political programme provides, to write, if my professional engagement permit, three books which have always been very much on my mind.

The research connected with two of these books will take me to selected developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as well to ECA and OAU secretariats in Addis Ababa, the offices of some United Nations agencies in New York, and London University.

I would like to state that though, by this resignation, I am leaving your government and literary activities as mentioned above, it does not mean that I am completely relinquishing all public services to our country and people. On the contrary, it is my resolve to continue, in all circumstances and until my life’s end, to see the best interests of our fatherland, and promote the welfare and happiness of our people, in every way possible.

In this connection, I would like to assure you that I shall always be willing, on a purely AD HOC basis and providing my professional commitments permit, to render, at your request and without any remuneration whatsoever, any particular service which is within my competence to give.

After my appointment in 1967, I submitted to you a STATEMENT OF AFFAIRS (i.e. OF MY ASSETS AND LIABILITIES) as at June 30, 1967. In keeping with the code of conduct to which I subscribed, I am obliged to send you my statement of affairs as at June 30, 1971. It is, however, not possible to send the statement along with this letter. But my accountants are already working on it and as soon as it is finalised up to June 30, 1971, I shall forward it to you.

In closing, I would like, in all sincerity, to say two things: Firstly, I have tremendously enjoyed working with you; and it is not without considerable reluctance, therefore, that I have to take this step. Secondly, I will always remember with deep gratitude, your kindness to me in releasing me from prison, and in giving me, within a year of my release, an opportunity to serve our people of Nigeria once again in a ministerial capacity, and at a time when the very existence of our fatherland was in grave peril.

With best wishes to Victoria and your good self, and love to Ibrahim.

Yours very sincerely,

OBAFEMI AWOLOWO.

General Yakubu Gowon’s Reply:

My dear Chief,

I wish to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated June 3, 1971, intimating me of your decision to relinquish your appointments as the vice-president of the Federal Executive Council and Federal Commissioner for Finance with effect from July 1, 1971.

For some time, there have been rumours about your leaving the government, but I was sure, however, that if there was such an intention you would have not hesitated to notify me.

Since I know that you must have taken your decision after the most careful consideration, no useful purpose would be served by any attempt to make change your mind. It is, therefore, with the greatest regret and reluctance that I have to concede to your request.

In accepting your decision, I would like to place on record my personal appreciation of your most valuable contribution to our achievements during the last four years.

You have earned for yourself respect from all of us who have seen you at close quarters, for your patriotism, coupled with a strong well-meaning conviction on issues of national importance.

I respect your maturity, objectivity, and sagacity, all of which you placed at my disposal; above all, for your advice and co-operation at all times.

Your outstanding performance as this government’s Commissioner for Finance during one of the most critical and turbulent periods of our history will always be remembered. You demonstrated, consistently, great courage, forthrightness, leadership, and a spirit of understanding which helped us to get out of our financial disaster.

That we did not succumb to the temptation to devalue our currency during the crisis and were able to win the war entirely out of our own resources and face resolutely the immediate post-war problems of rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation was due, in no small measures, to your skill in the management of our finances.

I am aware that your position in this government, particularly as Commissioner for Finance, will be difficult to fill. However, I have a consolation in the fact that during your tenure of office, you laid a sound foundation on which your successors could build and carry on the good work.

I have no doubt that, at this moment, you will have the feeling that you have done your best. I share your feelings, too; and wish to extend my appreciation of the contribution of your dear wife who had had to bear more than her share of domestic burdens as a result of your public assignment.

I am glad to note and to accept your offer to hold yourself in readiness for assignment which the Federal Government may consider necessary to give you even when you will no longer be directly associated with public life. Since there will be occasions soon for me and your colleagues in government to state our assessment of your contribution to the service of this nation in the last four years, I now merely wish to say how sorry I am to lose your services. We will miss your great sense of humour, your debating ability and useful suggestions at all times.

On behalf of myself, your colleagues on the Federal Executive Council, and the people of our great country, I wish you many more years of useful life.

My wife and Ibrahim join me in wishing you every success in your next sphere of life.
Yours most sincerely,

MAJOR-GENERAL YAKUBU GOWON
Head of the Federal Military Government.

Eric Teniola, a former Director in the Presidency, Writes from Lagos.