Many of you have been posting images of yourselves with your copy of my book Soldiers of Fortune. To say thanks to you, I will be posting “shout outs” to say thanks to you for buying and reading the book.
The tenth shout out goes to Olajide Adesanya. See him above with his copy of Soldiers of Fortune which he bought from the Nigerian Nostalgia group on Facebook.
Many thanks for buying the book Olajide.
You can also buy an autographed copy from the Nigerian Nostalgia Project group on Facebook at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151630836522572&set=gm.547047158687760&type=1&relevant_count=1&ref=nf
The Nigerian Nostalgia Project group on Facebook is running a promotion whereby people can buy an autographed copy of my latest book “Soldiers of Fortune”. In the picture above is Nigerian Nostalgia Project member Abi Sonubi with eight (yes EIGHT!) copies of Soldiers of Fortune that he bought. Good man!
Click this link to get your autographed copy: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NN6080.CWC/547047158687760/?comment_id=570551396337336&ref=notif¬if_t=like
User Rating: / 0
FOURTEEN 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 firsthand 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.
My new book “Soldiers of Fortune: Nigerian Politics From Buhari to Babangida (1983-1993)” was released last week. The book is a sequel to my other book “Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)”. It continues where Oil, Politics and Violence stopped, and chronicles the Buhari and Babangida years in Nigeria.
I gave an interview last week to Anthea Gordon of the Africa is a Country website. In the interview, I answered questions and talked emotively about my motivations for writing the book, the challenges I faced, and what the book seeks to achieve. You can read the full interview at: http://africasacountry.com/nigerias-soldiers-of-fortune/
KEY EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
“I want to present Nigerian history as something more than a mechanical rendering of dates and facts.”
“My books have the feel of a fly on the wall reconstruction, or an action packed thriller. I do not just want the reader to know what happened. I also want to take the reader on a journey through the dizzying twists and turns, and cast of characters in Nigeria’s history: Ibrahim Babangida, Mamman Jiya Vatsa, Muhammedu Buhari, MKO Abiola, Dele Giwa, Gideon Orkar, Gani Fawehinmi, Ebitu Ukiwe, Sani Abacha etcetera. Many people also do not know the exploits of some of these familiar names before they entered the national limelight. There are also other people who are not as famous as them, but who the public do not realize made pivotal contributions to Nigeria’s history.
I want readers to feel as if they personally met these people, were physically present when crucial decisions and conversations took place, and experienced all of it.”
“Nigeria’s history reminds one of a Greek or Roman tragedy in multiple acts, with a revolving cast of characters. There is a lot of Caesar like back-stabbing.”
“The origins of, and answers to, many of Nigeria’s problems are buried in the graveyard of its past. Only by digging up those buried secrets can the country learn lessons from them, heal, and move on.”
“My intention is for Soldiers of Fortune to become a “one stop shop” compendium and ultimate reference point for Nigeria between 1984 and 1993. That is why I dotted the book with several tables and a massive “library” in the Appendices. For example, the Appendices contain an itemization of every single cabinet minister, military governor, and AFRC member that served in the Babangida government. I want Soldiers of Fortune to be the “go to” place for anyone that wants to check any prominent controversy, fact, event, person or date in Nigeria between 1984 and 1993.”
“Nigeria’s young generation did not create most of Nigeria’s problems, but they inherited them, and have to deal with them. “
“It is rare for Nigeria to go more than a few years without a “near death experience”. Most countries go through cliff-hanging and tense crises every decade or so. In contrast, Nigeria has cataclysmic hold your breath and close your eyes dramas every few years.”
“I am not sure that young Nigerians appreciate just how drama filled their history is. Hollywood script writers could not have written a more conspiratorial thriller with as many plot twists, friends turning on each other, corruption, gun battles in city centers, dazzling women, and rags to riches billionaires.”
Interview with Cassava Republic Press’ Bibi Bakare-Yusuf on getting Nigerians interested in literature/getting a national reading culture (which Nigeria currently lacks!).
By Maggie of Sociolingo. Maggie is a sociolinguist with a PhD in education and a keen interest in African affairs.
Jan 18, 2011
In the year that many Nigerians celebrate their 50th Anniversary of Independence, it is also an opportunity to reflect on all that has happened since 1960. If you do a search on Amazon you’ll find quite a number of Nigeria books published around this anniversary.
One of these books, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture 1966-1976, is by Max Siollun, a well respected Nigerian historian, who has a gift of making the history of this complex country clearer to non-specialists.
In his book Siollun opens up one of the most troublesome and distressing periods in Nigeria’s history and introduces us to the mindset of the Nigerian military which has so influenced the turmoil that ensued following independence. Although the book is a historical narrative, it goes beyond ‘dry’ dates and events to take the reader on a journey. The author does this by utilising recently de-classified material and old intelligence reports together with personal knowledge and in depth analysis .
I like the way this book sets the scene by presenting us with a series of maps at the beginning. Before the opening pages we are presented with a map of the major ethnic groups, although I’m not quite sure why that map was not included with the other maps in the preface as it would go better with the map of major Nigerian languages and the more general map locating Nigeria in Africa would have been better in its place, but that is just my preference. The series of historical maps in the preface cover the political development from the four regions of 1966 to the present 36 States and are worth referring back to from time to time.
It is impossible to appreciate the political complexity of Nigeria without a passing understanding of how the country came into being, its ethnic complexity and its mineral wealth and this book provides good background material in the preface and the opening chapter for those who are not so familiar with Nigeria. The writer introduces us to these issues in the opening chapters by describing the situation leading up to independence and introducing us to several strands - political and military – which culminate in the post-independence turmoil of 1966 which was a pivotal and dreadful year.
It is important to understand that like many African countries ‘Nigeria’ was an artificial construct.
The country was artificially constructed by a colonial power without the consent of its citizens. Over 250 ethnic groups were arbitrarily herded together into an unwieldy and non-consensual union by the UK. Nigeria was so ethnically, religiously and linguistically complex that even some of its leading politicians initially doubted it could constitute a real country.
The division of the huge area called Nigeria into the original 3 Regions by the British in the earlier part of the 20th century was largely pragmatic. The very large Northern Region was predominantly Muslim and dominated by the Hausa and Fulani, while the predominantly Christian south was dominated by two competing groups, the Yoruba and the Igbo. Among these main groups were 250 other ethnic groups of varying size. Most ethnic groups had little in common, and Siollun says that ‘The cultural differences between the ethnic groups made it virtually impossible for Nigerians to have any commonality of purpose’. It was within this artificially constructed maelstrom that political divides took on the identity and ideology of the these three geo-political regions. The Western Region in the south was further divided into a Mid-Western region in 1963 after rising tensions and what could almost be considered the first coup plot. The antagonism between the north and south continued after independence and was further exacerbated by the fragmentation in the more numerous south and the uneven distribution of mineral wealth.
It is as a military historian that Siollun has his strength and this shows in his masterly analysis in the chapters that introduce the military background to the coups and the detailed description and analysis of the coups themselves. In some ways, although this is devastatingly real, I was reminded of a detective novel as the protagonists are revealed and their motives and actions analysed.
It would be tempting to give you a chapter by chapter summary of how the coup culture developed, but you’ll just have to read the book to understand the depth of detail that gives a fascinating insight into the way that friends can become rivals and enemies, and to see how Siollun answers the question of ‘how an apolitical professional army with less than fifty indigenous officers at independence in 1960 became politicized and overthrew its country’s government less than six years later’.
The lessons to be learnt from the critical analysis in this book are grim but necessary reading. Siollun’s final points are that ‘most of the coups …. were carried out by the same cabal of officers, and that ‘an unpunished coup will be followed by a bloodier coup’. It is also significant that it was only after 1999 when ‘all the serving army officers who had held political office for 6 months or more were compulsorily retired’ that the events set in motion in 1966 that lead to the military coups and military rule were able to be put to rest.
I think this book will become a seminal source for Nigerian historians and will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in Nigeria and in how coups develop.
Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) by Max Siollun, Algora Publishing, New York. 2009 ISBN: 9780875867083