A Commander In Chief Missing In Action – By Nsikak Essien

University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) was the hotbed of Biafran rebellion. In April 1970 General Gowon, Nigerian military leader approved the reopening of UNN against all advice. UNN was then owned by the governments of East Central state and South Eastern state, courtesy of assets and liabilities sharing by ESIALA.

The university reopened, thoroughly looted and vandalised during Army occupation with the students listing General Gowon as their topmost enemy.

Against all advice General Gowon decided to visit UNN in early 1971. The security was something else. I was one of the students. Over 1,000 soldiers were deployed throughout the university to protect their Commander in Chief. The floor of every hostel was guarded by at least 10 soldiers, armed to the teeth.

General Gowon arrived escorted by at least five armoured tanks and many armoured personnel carriers.

Margaret Ekpo Refectory was filled completely with students even without body search apart from metal detectors.

After all pleasantries General Gowon was called to address us, the students. It was pin drop silence, face to face with the man we hated most. But wait for this.

A few minutes into the address by Gowon, the applause was deafening, unbelievable. He granted us all we asked for. The federal government took over the payment of the school fees for every student for that session. The federal government took over ownership of UNN from South Eastern state and East Central state.

If not for the presence of soldiers the students would have carried Gowon shoulder high. He instantly became the most loved human being among his worst enemies, the students. We saw a charismatic and humane person in General Gowon.

The General went to the lion’s den and the lions ended up protecting him. The soldiers had no work to do.

Fast forward to May 22, 2021. The Commander in Chief was missing in action when the fear of his “enemies” kept him from attending the burial of his Army Chief of Staff. General Buhari lost four Generals in one air accident and could not come out to encourage his troops, the bereaved families and a nation held prostrate by a band of terrorists.

Another record of cowardice.

Nsikak Essien is a veteran journalist and former Editor of National Concord Newspaper

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