Category Archives: Africa

African Churches and British Christianity


A look at the rise of pentecostal African churches in England such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God and Kingsway International Christian Centre.

Christine Amanpour Interviews Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on #BringBackOurGirls

Photographing Northern Nigeria


This is an excellent interview with Glenna Gordon who has spent much time in Kano in northern Nigeria taking photos of the locals, weddings, and other settings. Glenna is an American who takes it upon herself to photograph “ordinary” people in their local communities, away from the more sensationalist discourse about Nigeria such as Boko Haram, corruption, the Niger Delta etc.

The interview can be accessed at the link below:

Nigerian Government Ready to Negotiate with Boko Haram


Inside “Boko Haram Territory”

Making Sense of President Jonathan’s New Military Appointments




Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim Air Marshal Alex Badeh
Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Azubike Ihejirika Major-General Kenneth Tobiah Jacob Minimah
Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh Air Vice Marshal Adesola Nunayon Amosu
Chief of Naval Staff Vice-Admiral Dele Ezeoba Rear-Admiral Usman Jibrin


There has been a lot of “noise” in the Nigerian media about President Goodluck Jonathan’s supposedly controversial appointment of new military service chiefs for the army, air force, and navy.

To cut a long story short the main talking points are:

  • The new heads of the army, air force, and navy appointed by President Jonathan are (respectively): Major-General Kenneth Minimah, Air-Vice Marshal Adesola Amosu, and Rear-Admiral Usman Jibrin. They replaced Lt-General Azubuike Ihejirika, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, and Vice-Admiral Dele Ezeoba (respectively). Badeh is actually still employed though. Although he was replaced as Chief of Air Staff, he was promoted to replace Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim who was also retired. Net effect = one promotion and three retirements.
  • Expect the following rank promotions shortly: Badeh to Air Chief Marshal, Minimah to Lt-General, Amosu to Air Marshal, and Jibrin to Vice-Admiral. Promotions at this level of the armed forces usually require the heads of the army, air force, and navy to be three star generals (or equivalent), and the chief of defence staff to be a four star general (or equivalent). Badeh is currently equivalent to a three star general, and Minimah, Amosu, and Jibrin have two stars. Those ranks will probably change shortly.

Prior to the current appointments, the new men held the following posts:

Air Vice-Marshal Badeh – Chief of Air Staff

Major-General Minimah – Commander of the Nigerian Army Infantry Corps, Jaji.

Rear-Admiral Jibrin – Director of Training at Defence Headquarters.

Air Vice Marshal Amosu – Air Officer Commanding Tactical Air Command, Makurdi.*

*The statement announcing the new appointments by President Jonathan’s spokesman Reuben Abati actually messed up Amosu’s post by simultaneously claiming he was the head of the presidential air fleet, AND Air Officer Commanding, Tactical Air Command of the air force! Obviously Amosu could not have been in two different posts simultaneously.

People are literally foaming at the mouth with rage for a number of reasons. Namely:

  • The new Chief of Army Staff Major-General Minimah is from the Niger Delta, like President Jonathan.  Minimah is from Rivers State – right “next door” to the President’s home state of Bayelsa. The President is being accused of ethnic favouritism.
  • Apparently over 30 (or 50 depending on who you believe) senior officers were bypassed in order to appoint Minimah. These officers will now be retired as they cannot serve under Minimah, who is junior to them.

Minimah graduated from the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in 1981 as a member of the NDA’s 25th regular combatant course. Amosu is also a graduate of course 25, while Jibrin is slightly senior to Minimah and Amosu, and is a graduate of course 24. The new Chief of Defence Staff Badeh was a graduate of course 21.

What do all these references to various courses mean? The military is a hierarchical institution. It is not a hospital or manufacturing plant. When people get promoted, life does not just go on as normal. In a country like Nigeria which was under military rule for 28 years, military promotions have national security AND political implications. Heads of state have been assassinated and coups staged as a result of the mismanagement of military promotions. Therefore there is a well-established tradition that when a military officer is promoted to head any of the armed services, any officers who are senior to him are retired or removed from his operational command. This nips potential disaffection (and political crises) in the bud. It has been happening for several decades.

We do not know why President Jonathan appointed Minimah (maybe because he is a star, the best, he’s comfortable with him, he trusts him, because he’s from the Delta…). Whatever the reason, once Minimah (an officer from NDA regular course 25) got appointed to replace Ihejirika (an officer from course 18) – lots of officers from courses 19-24 had to go.

This has happened lots of times before. Several senior officers were retired to make way for Minimah’s predecessor Ihejirika!  When former President Obasanjo retired Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Victor Malu (a course 3 graduate) in 2001, Obasanjo retired a lot of officers to make way for Major-General Alexander Ogomudia (also from the Delta – and four intakes below Malu) to become the new chief of army Staff.  As far back as 1990 President Babangida also ignored lots of senior officers like Major-Generals Nasko, Duba, Useni, Nwachukwu, Haladu etc in order to make way for Salihu Ibrahim (who was junior to all of them) as the new chief of army staff. Lots of fine officers had to retire to make way for Ibrahim.

Military appointments in the General ranks are effectively political appointments because of the visibility and political sensitivity of such appointments. President Jonathan is currently embattled and is facing attacks on multiple fronts from his political opponents. Senior members of his political party are defecting and next year he is facing a mammoth presidential election against an opposition that is resolutely determined to get rid of him.  However these overarching political events should not overstate the significance of what in most other countries would be routine military postings.

Are we really surprised that the President retired men who have been in service for over 35 years, some of whom are close to 60 years old? They had already passed the mandatory service limit of 35 years for military officers and were due for retirement any day. Their continued presence in service was at the prerogative of the President (AKA the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces). What President Jonathan has done with these military appointments is not remarkable and is no different to what his predecessors have been doing for four decades.

Max Siollun

The Myth of Ethnicity in Africa

You are Not Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba

Most of you reading this identify yourselves as members of an ethnic group that your great-grandparents did not. It is very unlikely that your great-grandparents regarded themselves as Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Efik, Ogoni, Tiv, Kanuri or [insert name of applicable ethnic group from the list of 250+] in the manner than you do today. When Nigerians engage each other in bitter ethnic battle, the extent to which the effects of colonialism still holds them captive becomes apparent.


Until the 19th and 20th centuries, many African ‘races’, ‘tribes’, or ethnicities such as the Yoruba, Shona, Igbo, Hutu, Tutsi and Ogoni did not exist in their modern form. Many African ethnic groups are fictional social constructs created by the departed colonial masters. Colonial authorities did not just create the nation called Nigeria, they also “created” many of the ethnic groups inside its borders.

The existence of Igbos, Yorubas, Ogonis, Hausas etc as centuries old, ancient, stable, ethnic groups, each with their own homogeneous culture and unambiguous identity, is nothing but a myth. Nigeria’s governments have also bought this colonial lie of ethnicity hook, line, and sinker. Today ethnic riots often break out over “ethnic groups”, “indigenes”, and “settlers” that did not exist before 1900. Prior to colonialism, there were numerous groups of people with cultural and linguistic links who later became Ogoni, Yoruba, Igbo etc. However 200 years ago, people from Ogbomosho and Abeokuta did not regard themselves as part of the same ethnic group. Neither did people from Owerri and Onitsha.


People who currently self identify as “Yoruba” did not do so until around approximately 110-115 years ago. The Yoruba phrase originally applied only to the group of people in modern day Oyo. Even the famed Oyo Empire was not a Yoruba empire as such. It incorporated areas of modern day locations that are regarded as Nupe-land or Ebira-land (as well as modern day Benin Republic). Even Transatlantic slaves taken from (modern day) Yorubaland and emancipated by the British in the early 19th century did not identify themselves as Yoruba.

Pan Yoruba consciousness grew in the early 1900s when trading, migration, religious conversion and education drew various related groups in modern day south-western Nigeria into contact with each other. Neighbouring groups who are today regarded as Yoruba (such as Ekiti, Ondo, Ilesha, Ijebu etc) subsequently adopted Yoruba identity. These groups thus acquired collective identity and designation under a common name.

The pre-independence nationalist agitation for independence, and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s pre-eminence in the Igbo State Union and National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) amplified pan-Yoruba identity. This encouraged the creation of a pan-Yoruba movement to compete against other ethnic groups (especially Igbos). This phenomenon later manifested itself in political form via the NCNC/Action Group political party rivalry.


Early European arrivals in Africa had a tendency to observe their African hosts through European tinted binoculars, that automatically correlated geographic location with language, identity and race (as is the case in Europe). Colonial authorities’ use of maps and geography assigned unique ethnic or tribal identities to Africans living within a certain area – where no such identities had existed before.


The myth of large African ethnic groups compartmentalised within neat geographic boundaries, was reinforced by colonial bureaucracy’s arbitrary use of borders and maps to demarcate and classify where one ethnic group’s ‘turf’ ended, and another group’s began. Remember the British division of Nigeria into three regions? Is it not odd that such geographic division just happened to coincide with the notion of a country dominated by ‘three major ethnic groups’ (whose geographical boundaries just happened to coincide with the intra-country regional borders created by the British?).


Colonialism was not the exclusive vehicle for the creation of ethnic identity. Religious missionaries also unwittingly contributed. Lost in a breath-taking matrix of African languages, and eager to communicate with, and spread the word of the Judeo-Christian God to newly ‘discovered’ populations, Christian missionaries were prone to compiling ‘standardised’ versions of several local dialects they encountered. They thereby transformed these standardised versions into ‘authorized’ or ‘official’ versions of the other/related languages spoken nearby. For example, Christian missionaries translated the bible into the Oyo/Egba dialects and designated the dialect of the Oyo kingdom as ‘standard Yoruba’. These translations and their teaching in schools also perpetuated pan-Yoruba identity. The same phenomenon was observed among the Igbos with missionaries’ translation of a “Union Igbo” bible.

By compiling and translating new grammars from one among a diversity of variant local dialects (usually that spoken around the mission station), missionaries frequently transformed a local dialect they encountered into the ‘authoritative’ version of the language of a whole ‘tribe’ and propagated it through their schools.

Lazy European anthropology also played its part. Anthropological observers would often spend time researching an isolated group, then issue ‘authoritative’ academic treatises identifying that group’s customs and culture as emblematic of a much larger group of people in that area. This is turn encouraged the lopsided recording and standardisation of local histories and customs. The practices of a group near a mission station or anthropologist’s base, would often be incorrectly propagated as being the customs of an entire region or ethnic group.


Since religious conversion often came with the added bonus of literacy attached, various sub-groups had an added impetus to attach themselves to, and identify with, the modified ethnic identities that were being created by the Europeans in their midst.

Education, literacy and the recording of religious texts into local languages added to this pattern of ‘standardised’ grammar and language. Since the “standard Yoruba” and “Union Igbo” came wrapped with the enticing benefits of education and literacy, it became first a social, then an ethno-linguistic group. The demarcation of Nigeria into federal units also accorded political benefits and relevance to those who ‘belonged’ to this Yoruba group (and encouraged such belonging).

A modern example of constructed ethnic identity are the Ogoni. The people who today identify as Ogoni originally spoke what one academic described as a ‘cluster’ of languages (such as Khana, Gokana and Eleme), one of which could be further sub-divided into different dialects. As recently as the 1930s, there was no great pan-Ogoni consciousness. The efforts of colonial and post-independence governments to create states for minority ethnicities, encouraged pan Ogoni nationalism and identity. This was motivated by a desire to form a new state separate from the Eastern Region, which minorities wanted to leave in order to rid themselves of Igbo domination.

So before the next time you suggest breaking up Nigeria into its “component ethnic nations”, or express frustration at your inability to understand or get along with your “Aboki”, “Ngbati”, or “Nyamiri” neighbour, or your “Mai Guard”, consider that you are playing a game created by a colonial referee that has long since left the playing field…

Max Siollun

A Nigerian Book Review by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo


An author’s peep into Nigeria’s military years

A review of Max Siollun’s book, Soldiers of Fortune by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo.

HISTORY matters and history well told, in an engaging manner devoid of academic encumbrance, matters even more, especially when it is about Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, which is set to celebrate the centenary of its existence next year, 2014. At this point when the younger generation of her over 160 million large population is contemplating the future of their country, a proper knowledge of the past, where the rain began to beat, as a popular Igbo adage will say, is imperative to ensure that the future is a different story, for as George Santayana once noted, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Brilliant historian, Max Siollun, satisfies the yearning of many, Nigerians and non Nigerians alike, who have long sought an insight into what really went wrong during what was undoubtedly Nigerias most important years in his book, ‘Soldiers of Fortune,’ which captures the major political events in the country from 1983 to 1993, an uninterrupted period of military rule characterised by coups, rumours of coups and draconian decisions, some of whose consequences the country still grapples with.

As many historians have identified, the foundation for Nigeria’s under-development was laid in its colonial history. What the British handed over at independence was an administrative liability, a country which was expected to fail. After the euphoria of independence had died down, the task of fostering development in the country fell squarely on the shoulders of leaders who were in many ways representatives of regional interests. The internal disarticulation and disunity which colonial rule promoted created problematic imbalances and engendered a situation where ethnic domination became an obsession, even from the very inception of the country.

It was not long before the young nation came crashing with the 1966 coup, a counter coup same year and a bitter civil war (1967-1970) in which over a million people, mostly Igbos from the South-East of the country, are said to have lost their lives. A brief period of democracy was experienced between 1979 and 1983, a period during which Siollun noted, the military essentially acted as a government-in-waiting. Populated at its top echelon by the same persons who had been members of the last military government and indeed, the core team of officers mostly of northern Nigerian origin, who had executed the counter-coup of 1966 and fought the civil war. The military was already too politicised that it found it difficult to stay away from civil affairs. For example, Siollun noted that during this period, some senior military officers drafted a list of government ministers they wanted President Shagari to sack and presented a list of their own as replacement.

The politicians on their part helped create an atmosphere that justified the return of the military to power for the ten years stretch of military dictatorship that ‘Soldiers of Fortune’ covers. As General Babangida was quoted in the book to have claimed, every coup feeds on the frustration of the people with the current government and following the nationwide disquiet evoked by the 1983 elections, the military staged a comeback, bringing in General Muhammadu Buhari and they would remain in control until 1999, when a conclusive democratic transition to civilian rule was effected.

Siollun in this book, a sequel to his Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) captures the downward slide Nigeria witnessed in all spheres of her national life under the leadership of Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida (who ousted Buhari from power in 1985 and ruled until 1993.) The book captures the defining element of Buhari’s regime, a draconian approach to anti-corruption, which in the process muzzled the press, promoted inhuman decrees and failed ultimately in bettering the economy which was the most important yearning of the people. Babangida’s stay on the other hand witnessed the glorification of corruption which reached a level Siollun described as ‘spectacular’; the creation of a power cartel some of who continue to enjoy massive influence even in retirement today and a long expensive but inconclusive transition programme.

Soldiers of Fortune reads like a novel, like a thriller with familiar characters some of whose actions you are already familiar with and others which you might scream out in disbelief about.

Readers are sure to pause and wonder at various points while reading this book at how a handful of gun toting rascals with an exaggerated image of themselves held and decided the fate of an entire country. While the narration is not academic, there is no doubt a scholarly attention to the detail and judicious backing up of claims with verifiable facts, making the book a refreshing and engaging read. Siollun’s well researched analysis provides interesting details on the inside story behind most of the critical happenings during the period under review including many of which the absence of information over the years have made to appear like myth. Among this is the way Babangida quelled the Dimka coup, the Diplomatic Baggage story involving ex Minister Umaru Dikko, the Vatsa coup story and the circumstances surrounding the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections.  

Soldiers of Fortune reveals that the Nigerian military was not as united as most of the people assumed, that the actors were not as powerful as we believed they were, that they had their moments of fear and insecurity like other mortals, that the people, the media and notable personalities alike were accomplices in whatever harm the military succeeded in imparting on the country during their reign.

Importantly, Siollun, in this book, shows explicitly that military rule in Nigeria embodied everything that is antithetical to development and should never be allowed to happen again in the country. An understanding of this, I hope, will ensure that the younger generation, who are today aspiring to positions of leadership, will guard the nation’s democracy jealously and lead the country back to the prosperity envisioned by her founding fathers at independence. The book is thus a recommended read for every Nigerian and all those who love Nigeria.

Soldiers of Fortune is published by Cassava Republic Press.


Nigeria’s Lost Election – “International Thief Thief”


Click any of the links above to listen an excellent BBC programme about the annulled June 12, 1993 election in Nigeria. It also shows Abiola’s travails as he went from being a confident philanthropist who would host and entertain several hundred guests a day to “losing his confidence” as he became increasingly isolated and no one would ring him for hours.


This programme also has an audio recording of the dramatic moment when he was arrested on live radio while on the phone with the BBC. He told the BBC reporter (live on worldwide radio) “Please leave me. I am delaying them.” (the dozens of police officers who came to arrest him after he declared himself President)


Revisiting The Dark Days Of Nigeria’s Military Rule

Soldiers of Fortune… Revisiting The Dark Days Of Nigeria’s Military Rule

By Anote Ajeluorou
14 years after, Nigeria still struggles to shake off the incubus of military rule that continues to constitute a blight on the country’s socio-economic and political fortunes. Nigeria’s current effort at democratic rule has a serious handover from prolong military rule, especially with official impunity and corruption at its heart. Also, a sizable number of the current political gladiators are of military stock, individuals who played active and pivotal roles in Nigeria’s political trauma, individuals who stalled all efforts at democratic restoration while they enjoyed the spoils of office.
But how did the military come to wield so much power over Nigeria’s large civil populace so much so that it almost annihilated it? What subterfuge did the military employ to wheedle civil populace into accepting it to its peril? Who were the invincible men in army uniform that warmed their way into the hearts of civilian population and played and manipulated them so well that a militarized ethos became entrenched into a national psyche? What love-hate relationship existed between the military the civil populace while the military ruled? Importantly, who where Muhammadu Buhari, and especially Ibrahim Babangida, and how did they gain notoriety as maximum rulers?
These varied and complex questions are the thrust of a new book, Soldiers of Fortune: Nigerian Politics from Buhari to Babangida(Cassava Republic Press, Abuja; 2013), by unarguably Nigeria’s best known expert in military matters, Max Siollun, who writes about Nigeria’s military, as no insider would be able to write about that establishment that evokes so much mixed feelings.
His first book, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture(1966 -1967) gives such first hand factual account about the coups and counter-coups that ousted the First Republic in 1966, which eventually resulted in a bloody 30-month old civil war.
Indeed, Siollun’s factual, almost eye-witness narrative of the grim events and masterminds of every stage of the coups and the fragile political contexts that provided the impetus cannot be surpassed.
It’s with such eye for details that he has brought to bear on this new book, as he relives and recreates again the tumultuous political years of the 1980s, with an impotent President Shehu Shagari, who could not rein in his powerful cabinet members, who went on corruption spree that brought in the military yet again to power. The military were to stay for the most prolonged and convoluted military-inspired political campaign ever there was in Nigeria.
Gross corruption and poor management of the economy (with hyper, run away inflation in overdrive) in the Shagari government brought back the military, with Buhari as head although the architects of the coup were Babangida, Sanni Abacha and several other well-known coupists from the days of Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s ouster from power way back in 1975. In fact, when the Shagari government was toppled there was widespread jubilation among the civil populace, as indication of its lack of popularity in not being able to deliver the democratic dividends to the citizenry. This wide acceptance of the military, Siollun posits, emboldened Babangida to inflict himself on Nigerians the way he did.
Siollun writes, “Politicians continually fell into every trap set for them by military conspirators. A factor that few Nigerians will admit today is that the military always enjoyed widespread support any time it deposed an elected government. The military were always cajoled into political power and welcomed as heroic redeemers after each coup. Babangida revealed the extent to which civilian preference for military rule over democracy encouraged the military to retake power”.
But the Buhari/Idiagbon’s regime didn’t last either. It turned out to be too draconian, as it curtailed all civil rights enjoyed by Nigerians, especially freedom of expression. It also failed to deal decisively with the economic problems it inherited from Shagari. Once again, entrenched coupists, Babangida, Abacha, Joshua Dogonyaro and their henchmen took over power to usher in the most convoluted political transition campaign that stretched the national imagination to its limits.
It is Babangida’s eight years in office that Siollun’s book concentrates on as marking a watershed in Nigeria’s military intervention in politics. Babangida seemingly reinvented all the known rules as means of entrenching himself indefinitely in power. He wielded the tools of political patronage and settlement to devastating effect. These tools also polarized the military and created dichotomy between political office appointees and professional, careerist soldiers, with the former looking down on the later on account of the stupendous wealth they amassed.
Such rich officers later became Babangidas’s headache, as he could not convince them on the need to leave the political stage having tasted the wealth that came with political power. Senate President, David Mark and Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako (retired as Vice Admiral) were some of these powerful military office holders that partly held Babangida and Nigeria hostage to the evil genius of Babangida.
Siollun does not spare details. His account is a re-enactment of Nigeria’s bitter history in the hands of men employed and paid by Nigerians to protect them, but who turned against them in their self-proclaimed mission of redemption from elected civilian administrations. It was always the same story; elected governments are accused of performing badly in office. That becomes a pretext for staging a coup.
Beyond researching into his material, Siollun has in this book also brought insider witnesses to give immense credibility to the narrative. A principal actor like Domkat Bali speaks on some of the potent issues of the day. In Soldiers of Fortune, every step or missteps taken by Babangida are documented. He gives his convoluted transition train great attention and relives some of the intimate and behind-the-scenes’ maneuverings that shaped Nigeria’s watershed moment at democratic efforts that produced implacable June 12.
Siollun’s narrative of the Gideon Okar coup is reminiscent of his first book, where coup narrative is easily his forte. He brings out the actions in their broad theatre in a gripping, thriller narrative style. He also presents in graphic style how and why the coup failed in spite of its bloody execution.
Siollun paints a grim picture of the military after the annulment of June 12, when he writes, “The annulment polarized the army’s professional and political wings to such an extent that the army factionalised into “little more than an assorted array of conspiratorial groups”. As coup plotting had become some officers’ preferred method of settling differences of opinion, different pro and anti-Babangida forces in the military planned several overlapping coups…
“Colonel Ababukar Umar (Commander of the armoured corps) later admitted that he and other officers (including Gen. Abacha) also planned a different coup… However, Umar told his men to stand down after Gen. Abacha and Brigadier Mark disagreed and favoured the continuation of military rule under a new regime not led by Babangida”.
Siollun’s book indicts the likes of Senate President, Mark and Governor Nyako, who vehemently opposed restoring June 12 while they enjoyed political offices as soldiers, but who eventually became its biggest beneficiary at the inception of the current democratic dispensation. They were also the ones whose action led to the spilling of innocent blood of Nigerians on the streets while protesting their continued stay in office after June 12 expired their illegally appropriated mandate.
This is the chief aim of Siollun’s Soldiers of Fortune: Never to forget. With Nigerians often falling into collective amnesia, Siollun’s book will continually nudge them awake and never to forget what had gone before. Mark and Nyako and others of their ilk are now not only beneficiaries, but champions of the democracy they once worked so hard to scuttle!
Soldiers of Fortune is Nigeria’s recent history rewritten with a keen eagle-eye. Its fast narrative pace makes it a delightful and a must read.


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