Why the Orkar Coup Failed, and How Col UK Bello was Killed

Max Siollun:

Since today is the 24th anniversary of the abortive coup by Major Gideon Orkar, Major Saliba Mukoro and others, I am reposting this post from a few years ago which chronicled the coup in detail…

Originally posted on Max Siollun's Website:

This is an interesting series of interviews. The first one is with Major Abubakar Adamu Mohammed, former Chief Security Officer to former President, General Ibrahim Babangida. The second one is a rebuttal interview with Lt-Col Tony Nyiam, one of the surviving executors of the Orkar coup. Intrigues…read on…

From the Sun.

The coup plotters at their trial in 1990: L to R - Capt Harley Empere, Major Gideon Orkar, Capt Perebo Dakolo, Lt Cyril Ozoalor, Lt Nicholas Odeh

The coup plotters at their trial in 1990: L to R - Capt Harley Empere, Major Gideon Orkar, Capt Perebo Dakolo, Lt Cyril Ozoalor, Lt Nicholas Odeh

Why Orkar coup failed
From Dennis Mernyi, Abuja
Monday, May 11, 2009

•Major Mohammed
Photo: Sun News Publishing

Major Abubakar Adamu Mohammed, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to erstwhile military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, has given an insight into why the bloody Orkar coup of April 1990 failed.

Major Mohammed in an exclusive interview with Daily Sun in Abuja on the coup, which almost terminated the Babangida regime cited confusion among the coup leaders, Major Gideon Orkar and Lt Col. Tony Nyiam over the killing of the Aide-de-camp (ADC) of the president…

View original 7,495 more words

APC, PDP and Nigeria’s Election Process


A lively debate in Washington DC in the USA between members of the APC and PDP about the electoral process in Nigeria ahead of the 2015 federal elections. There were some innovative suggestions by the panelists such as allowing Nigerians in Diaspora to vote, and filming the counting of votes at all polling stations as a way of preventing election rigging and fraud.


Doyin Okupe was in combative mood!


The participants were:

Victor Ndoma-Egba (invited)
Senate Leader, Cross River State, People’s Democratic Party (PDP)

Dr. Doyin Okupe
Senior Special Assistant for Public Affairs, Government of Nigeria, PDP

Babafemi Ojudu
Senator, Ekiti State, All Progressives Congress (APC)

Sanya Awosan
Senior Special Assistant to the President

Fred Majemite
Political Adviserto Governor Uduaghan

Lai Mohammed
National Publicity Secretary, APC

Nigeria’s political leaders, candidates, and party supporters in laying the foundations for peaceful, credible elections in 2015. We hear from the leaders of the two main parties about their plans for the primary contests, and their strategies for enforcing good conduct among candidates, promoting issue-based rather than personality-driven campaigning, ensuring a tone of moderation in the debates, and encouraging respect for the election outcome. This conference is part of an ongoing series, supported by the Ford Foundation, bringing Nigerian officials, civil society activists, and opinion leaders to Washington, D.C. to engage with U.S. policymakers and Africa experts on how best to ensure that Nigeria’s 2015 elections are free, fair, and peaceful.


“He Walks you like a friend to a logical conclusion” – Reader Thoughts on Soldiers of Fortune

SOF Book Cover


I am letting readers tell the story of their “experience” with Soldiers of Fortune in their own words. Some readers have been kindly submitting reviews of their emotions and thoughts after reading the book. Here is the latest review, written kindly by reader Nnenna Muo:


Soldiers of Fortune, My Personal Journey, by Nnenna Muo



“This book is the story of Nigeria’s political journey between January 1, 1984 and August 27, 1993. This is the story of how things fell apart”


For most of us who were born after the defining  military regimes of Major-General Mohammadu Buhari and Major-General Ibrahim Babangida, it could be a little sketchy separating facts from fiction, as everybody seems to be biased in their analysis of both regimes. So, we take what we can and try to imagine what it must have been like. Time and time again however, we fail. Simply because we cannot imagine that which we have no concrete idea of… And so, we yearn to have a truthful, unbiased, creditable account of what our joint history must have looked like. Well, we would have to look further, but, Soldiers of Fortune is a good place to start.


You can not fully understand the simplicity that draws one to this book, until you have done it justice by reading it. There is no grandiose attempt to sound overly scholastic. It is an easy read, gets its points across without being unnecessarily verbose.


“He Walks you like a friend to a logical conclusion”


With research and facts from about 125 publications covering books, articles and legislation (yes, I counted), I dare say Mazi Max Siollun was very thorough with his research. He presents facts from different sources, and walks you like a friend, to a logical conclusion of the gray areas in Nigeria’s government from 1983 – 1993.


There are little facts in the book however, that would make one realise on reading, that oral literature also plays a huge role in getting acquainted with history, and Mr Siollun does not overlook this aspect at all.

How else would he have known that Maryam Babangida held her 6 month old daughter in her hands while IBB’s living quarters was attacked in 1990? How else would he have known that we had a Mary Antoinette-esque  “leader” in Dikko back in the days? These little seemingly unimportant facts helps one understand the quality of work one has on a platter.


This book simply exposes the nitty-gritty of the workings of governance in the time it covered, analyses these critically, fairly points out the failures and successes of those regimes and most importantly, piques your interest in Nigerian history. It just leaves in you a desire to start by reading all the books in the bibliography, to be very honest.


“You definitely can’t go wrong with SOF.”

Are you interested in the History of Nigeria? This is a good place to start right. Are you reading for pleasure? This is a good piece for your reading pleasure. Are you a curious mind? Just reading to gain some understanding? You definitely can’t go wrong with SOF.


The book comes packaged in a lovely shade of golden-yellow containing 3 newspaper clips of Babangida, Buhari and Abiola as its front cover. Its writing is very catchy as well, and its extensive use of dates cannot be faulted. It treats its topics profoundly and has very cohesive maps of the country. It comes with some picture spreads of the key players of the polity at the time, which is a very thoughtful addition (I must say).


In spite of the simple, factual approach to this work nonetheless, not all truths are pleasant, and one is bound to  realise this. There was obviously no other way to paint some of the pictures this book presented on a lighter note. I found a few truths rather depressing but educational. This is what the book offers. No beautified, white-washed facts. What the country saw in those years is what you get. Really.



Sadly, being a very critical reader/eye myself, I discovered that the 336 paged book has a single editorial mistake which could easily have been overlooked (but I can’t) on page 150. I do hope future editions correct this dot of imperfection on an otherwise perfectly, deeply satisfying read.


Finally, if the aim of Soldiers of Fortune by Max Siollun was to fill the void that our renewed interest in history has created as it postulates, then I must say this is a very good job, and I look forward to reading more works from this author.






Nigeria’s Fight With Boko Haram – “Getting Worse and Worse”


Economist article on the latest government and army proposals to fight Boko Haram. The government seems to be trying everything: military force, negotiations with Boko Haram, an amnesty, and finally – a long overdue campaign to provide counselling to Boko Haram members and get Imams to give them non-violent interpretations of the Koran.



The Countries That Block Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Turkey, Vietnam:



“He Proved to be a Master of His Brief” – Reader Thoughts on Soldiers of Fortune


SOF Book Cover


Reviewed by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema




History is not popular in Nigeria. Rare is the Nigerian youth who chooses History as a course of first choice in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board entrance examination. The systematic onslaught on the Arts by the planners of our education curriculum is not helping matters.


But professional historians must also bear a large portion of the blame for the position of History in today’s Nigeria. They are unwilling or unable to take History out of the cloister of dusty, tome-clustered Ivory Towers to the streets in the form of accessible and highly readable books that portray the facts of History in a manner the average Obi, Sule and Ademola can identify with. Our jet-world needs a fast-paced History that will also abide by the time-honoured canons of historical research which the likes of E.H. Carr, Professor Kenneth Dike and the ancient masters like Herodotus and Thucydides laid down for anyone who would pursue a professional study of the past. Anyone who can marry such scholarship with the literary mass appeal of, say, Frederick Forsyth, deserves to be a master of the pen, oops, keyboard.


Max Siollun is one of the few contemporary Nigerian historians who has, to a great extent, satisfied the requirements of the ancients in an astonishingly modern manner. His second book ‘Soldiers of Fortune’ can comfortably sit beside anything Forsyth or Chimamanda Adichie has to offer for sheer readability and escapism.


But Siollun is not a dealer in fantasy, though his writing is fantastic. The years 1983 to 1993, covered by his book, continue to reverberate in 21stcentury Nigeria . The military elite, Nigeria ’s equivalent of the Praetorian Guard, occupied our national space in a manner rivaled only by the first set of the uniformed adventurers who altered Nigeria ’s political dynamic between 1966 and 1979. Most of the actors in that first act of the khaki drama are also the lead cast of the second act covered by Siollun’s book.


The book gives us insight into the likes of General Buhari, the current leader of opposition democratic politics who, at the height of his glory as military ruler threw suggestions of restoration of civilian rule out of the window; how power-plays by the genial professional coupist Ibrahim Babangida and his men took Nigeria to the brink; how MKO Abiola ended up in the belly of the military tiger he nurtured; how General Sani Abacha emerged to set the stage for his reign of terror.


Siollun is worth reading because he writes about these lords of the Nigerian clan and their deeds with the right combination of detachment and involvement. Reading through the chapter on the Vatsa coup, I developed goose pimples as I followed Vatsa and Company on their journey to the stakes. Yet the pro and con arguments raised by the author about the possibility of the coup the Federal Capital Territory Minister was supposed to have sponsored left me wondering if those men had died just deaths.






Given the sensitive nature of some of the subjects raised in the book and the significant positions most of the living characters of that period still occupy in Nigeria , Siollun should not be over-criticized for merely whetting our appetites with painstaking but limited research in some chapters. An example is the chapter on Dele Giwa. I looked forward to more details on developments just before, during and after Giwa’s death. For example, just how close were IBB and Dele Giwa? Outside the Gloria Okon angle, what other concrete theories can be posited about that letter bomb that disfigured Nigeria on October 19 1986? Clearly there is only so far Siollun can go. Let ‘Honour for Sale ,’ the recent release by ex-Major Debo Bashorun, IBB’s former press aide, fill in the gaps. Interestingly Siollun’s book is silent about the adventures of the Major who ran into rough waters in 1989 or thereabouts with the government.


On a personal note the period covered by the book was a coming of age period for me. I was in my teens then. Events depicted in the book flashed across my mind; SAP (we called it Stomach Adjustment Programme); that Sunday in April 1990 when my family visited my mother’s eldest sister in the village only to find everyone huddled over the radio listening to Major Gideon Orkar; the buses bringing back Igbo people from the West following the annulment of June 12 presidential election. Many of the seekers of safety across the Niger told their bemused neighbours they were travelling for the New Yam Festival with all their worldly goods!


IBB became hard to define as I perused the chapters. Love, loathing and pity fought in my head as I watched him struggle to rein in the wild military horses he had unleashed on Nigerians, especially as June 12 took shape. Characters like Ebitu Ukiwe, Domkat Bali, Ike Nwachukwu, Salihu Ibrahim, Colonel Umar, and even Admiral ‘DO-NOT-ROCK-THE-BOAT’ Aikhomu stood out in sharp relief.


While this book revealed the bizarre and Byzantine paths our military travelled within this period, it also forcefully brought home to me the fact that the gun-wielders committed their sins with the support of the political class. Nothing new, you may say. But in case we have forgotten how and why we sank so low in those years; and why these fibreless men continue to dominate our national space in our democracy, Siollun reminds us vividly, especially in the last two chapters.


The photographs in the book are a collector’s item. The endnotes and bibliography are useful for the academic. Siollun’s book helps us to understand a decade that shaped Nigeria down to our slang – for example ‘Ghana must go’. I wish the author beamed his searchlight on the Abacha years but that might have led to the type of fat book that frightens the average Nigerian reader. Cassava Republic’s production processes are worthy of emulation.  Although the author’s analyses in some chapters were not in-depth, overall, he proved to be a master of his brief. Any study of Nigeria’s history between 1983 and 1993 that excludes this book is incomplete.




Number of pages: 336


Soldiers of Fortune can be pourchased from:

Autographed copies available here:


Regular non-autographed copies can be bought from:

  • The Hub Media Stores in Shoprite, The Palms Shopping Mall, Lekki
  • Jazzhole in Lagos, at 168 Awolowo Road, Lagos, Nigeria
    +234 1 480 5222


Henry C. Onyema is an author and historian. He can be reached at henrykd2009@yahoo.com



Readers with their Copy of Soldiers of Fortune – Number 19 – #Maxsiollun

Many of you have been posting images of yourselves with your copy of my book Soldiers of Fortune. To say thanks to you, I have been posting “shout outs” to say thanks to you for  buying and reading the book.

The 19th shout out goes to Mr Aye Dee (@MrAyeDee on Twitter).



There are also autographed copies for sale. Available here:


Regular non-autographed copies can be bought from:

  • The Hub Media Stores in Shoprite, The Palms Shopping Mall, Lekki
  • Jazzhole in Lagos, at 168 Awolowo Road, Lagos, Nigeria
    +234 1 480 5222


Nigeria’s New Strategy for Tackling Boko Haram

Nigeria’s National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki outlines the government’s new ideas for combating Boko Haram. The plan focuses on economic development and job creation, as a means of drying up poverty and recruits for Boko Haram.





“Soldiers of Fortune Reads Like a Novel, Like a Thriller”



Soldiers of Fortune – A review

Author(s): Sylva Ifedigbo

March 20, 2014

History matters. It matters even more when it is about Africa’s most populous country- Nigeria, which celebrates the centenary of her existence this year, 2015. At this point when the younger crop of her over 160million strong population are 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. And when history is well told, in an engaging manner devoid of academic encumbrance, it makes for a truly engaging read. Such are the accomplishments of the book ‘Soldiers of Fortune by brilliant historian, Max Siollun.

Siollun satisfies in this book, the yearning of Nigerians and non Nigerians alike who have long sought an insight into what really went down during what were undoubtedly Nigerians most important years. The 300 page book captures essentially, the major political events in the country from 1983 to 1993, an uninterrupted period of military rule characterized by coups, rumours of coups and reckless 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 followed the same year and a series of events that led to a bitter civil war (1967-1970) in which over a million people mostly Igbo’s 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 politicized 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 accompanied by 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. General Babangida is quoted in the book to have claimed that every coup fed on the frustration of the people with the current government. His claims find merit in the events of 31 December 1983 when following the nationwide disquiet evoked by the general elections that held earlier that year, the Military staged a comeback bringing in General Muhammadu Buhari and later Ibrahim Babangida (who ousted Buhari from power in 1985 and ruled until 1993.) They would remain in control until 1999 when a conclusive democratic transition to civilian rule was effected.

This book, a sequel to his ‘Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)’ by the same author captures the downward slide Nigeria witnessed in all spheres of her national life under the leadership of the duo of Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida. The book captured on the one hand, 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 reign 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. The way Siollun builds his plot and narrative, unraveling the intrigues associated with coups and the tensed drama that defines the success or failures of same, leaves you feeling as though you had a Robert Ludlum or a David Baldacci book in your hand. Readers are sure to pause and wonder at various points at how a handful of gun toting rascals to whom not much intelligence can be credited to, held and decided the fate of an entire country for so long a period, with very little resistance.

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. This combines to make 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 confirms what undoubtedly is an accepted fact, that military rule in Nigeria embodied everything that is antithetical to development and should never be allowed to happen again. A renewed appreciation of this fact I hope, will ensure that the younger generation who are today aspiring to positions of leadership, will guard her 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 and can be purchased from:






There are also autographed copies for sale. Available here:




Regular non-autographed copies can be bought from:


  • The Hub Media Stores in Shoprite, The Palms Shopping Mall, Lekki


  • Patabah Bookstore, Shop B18, Adeniran Ogunsanya mall, Surulere




Readers with their Copy of Soldiers of Fortune – Number 18

Many of you have been posting images of yourselves with your copy of my book Soldiers of Fortune. To say thanks to you, I have been posting “shout outs” to say thanks to you for  buying and reading the book.

The 18th shout out goes to Foghi Batarhe (@batarhe on Twitter).


There are also autographed copies for sale. Available here:


Regular non-autographed copies can be bought from:

  • The Hub Media Stores in Shoprite, The Palms Shopping Mall, Lekki



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