FORMER head of state General Yakubu Gowon has thrown his weight behind those clamouring for the restructuring of the country saying there was nothing wrong with it provided it is done within the context of one Nigeria.
General Gowon, a former military ruler who led Nigeria during her most turbulent times, nursing the country through a bitter 30-month civil war, recalled that Nigeria was restructured under his leadership through the creation of 12 states from the regional structure in 1967. Back then, the creation of the 12 states from the former regional structure was the masterstroke that the Nigerian government used to break up the old Eastern Region that was threatening to secede.
Of late, there have been calls for the restructuring of Nigeria, with some agitators calling for a return to the regional structure and other calling for the outright dismemberment of the country. Adding his voice to the debate, General Gowon said he favours restructuring but this should not lead to any part of Nigeria seceding.
General Gowon said: “We can restructure within one Nigeria context. I did it in 1967 as we created states to stop Eastern Nigeria from seceding. We had to do something to ensure the fear of their secession did not exist, as it was a serious issue of a part of the country wanting to breakaway when we already lost a part to Cameroun.
“If we had allowed the Eastern Region to go away, the map of Nigeria would have looked funny, it would have been tilted one way. So we decided overnight to break the fear through the creation of states because if we had to save the country, that was the only way to do it and we also ensured that no state was too big or too small to threaten the unity of the country.”
With the breakup of the Eastern Region, the defunct East Central, Rivers and South Eastern States were created. However, the 12-state structure did not stop then Col Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, from declaring the old region the ill-fated Republic of Biafra, leading to the 30 months Nigerian Civil War.
Little did Col Ojukwu know that by creating Rivers and South Eastern States, he would not get the support of their citizens who were only too happy with the new state structure. Also speaking on being made military head of state, Gowon said he became head of state 31 years ago by an accident of history without nursing the ambition.