Gowon says there was no corruption during his time as president, but no one believes him.
Gowon made the comments at the 8th Annual General Meeting and Conference of Heads of Anti-corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa.
Gowon was military president from 1966 to 1975.
On July 29, 1975, Gowon was attending a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) when a group of officers led by Colonel Joe Nanven Garba announced his overthrow.
The coup plotters appointed Brigadier Murtala Muhammad as head of the new government and Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo as his deputy.
Speaking this week, Gowon says he feels really bad whenever anyone says all past Nigerian leaders were corrupt, because he wasn’t.
“It is sad to read reports that all former Heads of State are thieves. During our time, we did not know anything like corruption. Some of my ministers were accused of corruption but we did not allow it to get into the public service. After I left office, apart from my salary, it was the staff that contributed their estacode so that I have something to live on.
“During our time, we did not know that thing (corruption). We were afraid of being exposed”, Gowon said.
But a few Nigerians who saw a bit of the Gowon years or who heard stories of the junta as passed down by parents and extended family relatives, say Gowon is only being economical with the truth.
Professor Itse Sagay who is the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) says corruption was just as pervasive in the Gowon era.
“He is exaggerating”, Sagay told Vanguard. “If I recall, when the Murtala/Obasanjo regime took over government, it was partially based on corruption. Out of the 12 military governors, 10 were found guilty. Maybe corruption was less than it has become, but obviously there was corruption because 10 of the governors had their properties seized. So, I think he exaggerated a little bit”.
Second Republic Governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, says corruption in Nigeria started under Gowon.
Musa says; “when Gowon was overthrown in 1975, late General Murtala Mohammed who overthrew him accused the Gowon government of being corrupt. Murtala Mohammed investigated all the governments under Gowon and all were found guilty of corruption apart from the Lagos State government of General Mobolaji Johnson. So, corruption started under him and has worsened now”.
A former senator, Femi Okurounmu told Vanguard that: “Corruption has always been with us from the first republic only that the scale was very minimal compared to what we have today. Before the first coup, there was corruption in the system but politicians were doing it with timidity because they knew there would be consequences.
“During the Gowon administration, some personalities like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Anthony Enahoro were with him. So, it will not be totally right to say there was no corruption but it was very minimal. However, corruption became institutionalized during the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, it became a norm and open”.
A Wikipedia entry on Yakubu Gowon contained the following words:
“Furthermore, because of the growth in bureaucracy, there were allegations of rise in corruption. Increased wealth in the country resulted in fake import licenses being issued.
“There were stories of tons of stones and sand being imported into the country, and of General Gowon himself saying to a foreign reporter that "the only problem Nigeria has is how to spend the money she has.
“The corruption in Gowon's administration culminated in the notorious "cement armada" in the summer of 1975, when the port of Lagos became jammed with hundreds of ships trying to unload cement”.
Gowon was exiled to the United Kingdom after the 1975 coup. He bagged a PhD in Political Science from the University of Warwick while on exile.
Gowon has been involved in a host of humanitarian and peace projects in his latter life.