Musa Gowon is not my son, so claims General Yakubu Gowon (Jack), the former Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and good husband of the pulchritudinous Victoria, who is the mother of his children. Jack, as he is fondly called is remarkably a thorough breed of a gentleman but another woman has been pursuing through the courts to admit that he fathered her son. You need to meet Jack, to know the person that I am describing.
I do not have his acquaintance but I have met him briefly on two occasions. I waved at him when school children were paraded on the streets, when he received august visitors into the country. An example was the visit of Emperor Haile Salessie of Ethiopia. Along with many other school children, I was sun drenched waiting for the fleeting motorcade of the Emperor and his host to zoom past Ikorodu Road, so that I could perform a civic duty of waving the Nigerian Flag at the visitor and his host. Somewhat, I am grateful for the abrogation of such a time wasting exercise that Gowon subjected children to. Frankly, whoever mandated such a policy needs his head examined.
The first time that I pressed his flesh, was on a London Underground train, when he joined my carriage unexpectedly. The scenery that I created was not far from Eddie Murphy movie titled: ‘Coming to America’. To see the former Head of Nigerian State on the train was a sight. There was no fanfare compared to the motorcade earlier alluded. Of course, at this time, Murtala Mohammed had kicked him out of power and he was possibly not receiving stipends for his past military services, I am uncertain. His public transport journey was symbolic of the man’s humility. Imagine IBB on a London Underground train! That is impossible. I was truly overwhelmed as we exchanged pleasantries. After we parted, I did not consider our trajectories would ever cross again. Several years later, I escorted my friend, the late Mrs Ayo Austen-Peters to his North London residence, but he was not at home by the time we arrived there. The second and last time that I pressed his flesh again was at a function at Oxford University. Every Nigerian at the meeting was pleased to see him. There is an attraction in Jack that has not ebbed with years. The man has a self-preserving streak or an aura about him.
After the first Kaduna riots, I solicited the assistance of Baroness Lynda Chalker, the former Conservative government minister favoured by the Nigerian President, Professor Dent – a former colonial administrator, Professor Mike Ikhariale of Harvard University, Professor Lekan Alli of Clark Atlanta University and Jack, for a seminar on conflict resolution. Whilst others were extremely generous with their time and willingness to assist, Jack was the only one who did not respond to my letter seeking his interest. I could well understand that he saw no reason to respond; even though, his good friend Prof. Dent encouraged me to press further at getting his attention. I chose not to waste further effort on him.
Regardless of that experience, I grant him a supernal obeisance. Needless to say, on approaching a contact within the Nigerian Presidency as provided by Baroness Chalker, I was not too surprised that the contact was unhelpful and neither was I disturbed at the coincidence of staging, what seemingly was the same idea of the seminar that I had intended and broached; even though it was labelled as a seminar by the presidency, it may well have been that at time that I was soliciting assistance for the seminar, there was a ghost in the presidency that had the same dream and presented for sponsorship. I was glad that the presidency sponsored such a seminar because at this stage of our national development, there is no need to hallmark any idea that can save the country. As the contact in the presidency had considered the idea of the seminar as excellent, that was enough for me.
This article is not about Jack and me. It is more serious. It is about the privacy of General Gowon in a family matter that is playing itself out in the public space. If at all you are wondering about the nerve that I have in contributing to a family matter, stop and take a breath. As it is, Jack is not a private person in our country. He is a Nigerian property – whether he likes it or not. He cannot avoid articles of this nature and to the consternation of his foes; I shall be kind to him. What I seek herein is to reason privately with him in a public arena. If that is a contradiction, perhaps, somewhat, the man will lay down his arms and do what is proper.
Michael Jackson, the Black American entertainer in his ‘Billy Jean’ lyrics sang: “People always told me be careful of what you do. And don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts. And mother always told me be careful of who you love. And be careful of what you do ’cause the lie becomes the truth. Billie Jean is not my lover. She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one. But the kid is not my son. She says I am the one, but the kid is not my son.” In the theatre of Edith Ike-Okongwu and Jack, we are to believe that Edith is Billy Jean and Musa Gowon is not Jack’s. In this age of paternity test, why is this mindless theatre playing itself out? Edith may be a Billy Jean but is Jack a saint? The important issue that needs resolving is simple: Did Jack have ‘a sexual relationship with that woman?’ I do not ask this Bill Clinton rhetoric to exonerate Jack. After all, the Supreme Court has extended the law of time limitations as it pertains to this case. I seek to assist Jack in focusing on a fundamental puzzle that his mind may have missed in this jigsaw.
That, this case is litigated at all is grave for all concerned. Generally, there is the suspicion that Edith may be a gold digger, wishing to bolt herself on Jack because of his fame or finances. But is that necessarily true? I do not subscribe to that type of reasoning. The woman has brought up her son without assistance from Jack. So, whether she is an opportunist or not, if Jack is the father of the boy, then morally he is a failure at the opprobrium he is attempting to avoid. In truth, the derision, he cares so much about, is not earned by a man who lives up to his errors; the reproach is earned by a man who avoids and would go to court to deny a son that science can prove beyond a doubt belongs to him.
If it is true that Jack sired Musa, this theatre is painful for one reason and for the other reason, it provides a lesson for our society. Firstly, the pains of Musa ought not to be ignored. The boy’s life is made difficult by two parents, whom through their carelessness have created a life that may sometime in the future be proven that one has denied or the other has been untruthful as to his paternity. Musa may one day learn, that is, if he has not been told, of how his Jack’s other children are celebrated and how he takes pride in them, whilst he is prepared to swear to an affidavit to deny him. That of course, assumes that Jack is the biological father that he denies.
Musa would see how the lives of Jack’s other children were planned, so that they can do well in life. He would have seen how Jack cherished them and spent a great deal of money on them, whilst he derides his mother. He would have seen how Jack has provided for and protected the other children. Whereas, the harshness of life will only be too common for him because if proven, then it can only be adduced that Jack consigned the unwanted son to the heap of life to become a scavenger in the midst of plenty.
Musa would by now have learnt the lyrics of ‘Good Mother, I no go forget you’; a song of gratitude for a mother who dreamt for him, to whom he brought the shame of youthful exuberance, which others interpreted and believed in their warped minds that he would never do well in life; he would remember the mother whose cries and prayers would see him through the jungle of life and paid his way through life out of her meagre income, when his father was doing all within his powers to reject him. He would have watched his mother beg for sustenance, if she is unable to provide all the comfort he needs. Possibly, he may have heard how Jack’s older children have derided his mother and possibly insulted her in his presence. He may have heard the older children label him as the black sheep or some stupid labels of that nature. He may have watched their arrogance, as if they had the monopoly of the future. They may have arrogated themselves as if posterity is bound to treat him as they have. So, that they could deny his relationship to them. The memory of all these would certainly result in anger towards Jack and his other children and he had better start preparing for it. That anger, at the twilight of Jack’s life will frighten him, even if Musa does nothing. It is the guilt of the conscience that will parade itself as fear, when Jack is alone to carry that burden.
Here, I provide an analogy and the import of this is from my education from the University of Life. Culturally, we desire to be survived by good children. In another term, we seek that our children would repay our kindness, as we grow weaker and nearer the end of our days. Jack may learn that the daughter he sent to private schools in England and upon whom a lot of money in contrast to Musa was spent, may not necessary do well or better in life than Musa, whom he denies. The same daughter may shamelessly and selfishly pursue her life abroad, when she should return to look after him in repayment of her debts. As Jack may discover, the daughter may send little money from time to time to justify and placate for her absence. Whereas, if Musa keeps away from an unworthy father, the Bible bashers would descend on him to preach forgiveness instead of being candid with Jack to see the error of his ways.
We sustain a peculiar society that avoids the truth where it is relevant. Look, money cannot atone for lost years. Jack should take a DNA test, which conclusively will determine Musa’s fatherhood. If the son is his, he may need to appeal to the boy’s good nature and seek his forgiveness. I believe this is the only honourable path that is left to tread. But, what if Edith is proven as a liar? She would have wronged her own child and that in itself is a very grave matter.
Secondly, the matter between Jack and Edith is common in our country. Ours is country where a man can abandon his paternal responsibility because of his clout or connections and this is often at the disadvantage of wives or girlfriends. Jack may have relied on his clout until the present dispensation. In the past, our justice system had been to the highest bidder. As our judicial system is now purging itself of this ill, power may no longer determine justice and that is commendable. It is too often that the rich and powerful stray and the resultant liaison produces a child that is left to be catered for alone by the mother, while the father is not penalised legally. That is wrong and it is time that we legislate against such bad behaviour.
In this age, such behaviour must not be tolerated any longer. If a man wants to stray outside of his stable relationship, let him do so bearing in mind the penalties attached. There is no need legislating against consensual sex. It makes no sense. However, where children are produced because of this type of relationship, it is only a backward society that allows the men to walk away scot-free. If it bears repeating to Jack, this court action is not dignifying, submit yourself to a paternity test and do so immediately.
Banjo Odutola is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England. Follow me on Twitter: @banjoodutola