Former Military Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, has given insight into how he became Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces at the age of 31.
Giving a breakdown of events that led to his emergence as the Head of State, Gowon disclosed that coup and counter coup led him to power.
He disclosed that his then superior, Zakariya Maimalari, would have been the Head of State in July 1966 “after the convolutions” that followed the Kaduna Nzeogwu-led coup early in the year but could not as he, Maimalari. was killed in a counter coup.
Gowon made the revelation in a book titled, “The First Regular Combatant: Brigadier General Zakariya Maimalari,” which will be launched today in Abuja.
He said Maimalri would have been the “natural choice” after the so-called counter coup.
Giving a breakdown of the coup and counter coup, the book recalled that Nzeogwu, a Major at that time, had executed a failed coup on January 15, 1966 which led to the assassination of the prime minister, Abubakar Balewa, the premier of the northern region, Ahmadu Bello, and the premier of the western region, Samuel Akintola.
As a result of the coup, key officers from the Northern part of the country were also killed, including Maimalari, a brigadier General at the time.
Following the execution of the coup, Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, who was the most senior military officer assumed power but his failure to prosecute those behind the coup led to his overthrow and subsequent death in a counter-coup by officers from the North.
Against this backdrop, Gowon, who was a lieutenant Colonel and Chief of Staff to Aguiyi-Ironsi, became Nigeria’s Head of State at 31.
In the book, Gowon said had Maimalari survived the January 1966 coup, “the convolutions in Nigeria that followed might have been averted, and Maimalari would have eventually taken his rightful place in the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army, following the appointment of General Aguiyi Ironsi as GOC of the Nigerian Army after Sir Christopher Welby-Everard, the last British GOC.
“He would have been a natural choice for leadership after the event of that day. I do not see how I could have become commander-in-chief, if Maimalari or any of those senior ones above me from the same school were alive.”