Category Archives: Nigerian History

The Man Who Designed #Nigeria’s Flag

Great story about Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed Nigeria’s iconic green-white-green flag.

What Really Happend to Abacha and Abiola?

The Death of MKO Abiola:

The Death of General Abacha:

How quickly we forget. Almost exactly 17 years ago, the political situation was as follows:

  • Nigeria was being ruled by a ruthless and reclusive military dictator called General Sani Abacha.
  • General Olusegun Obasanjo was in prison, along with over 50 other army officers were in jail (some awaiting execution) on charges of coup plotting.
  • Nigeria had become a pariah nation after being expelled from the Commonwealth for executing Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists who were campaigning for a fairer share of Nigerian oil revenues and against the environmental damage caused to their lands by the drilling and spills of big oil companies.
  • Lt-General Oladipo Diya, Major-Generals Abdulkareem Adisa and Tajudeen Olanrewaju, and several other officers were on death row awaiting execution for their role in another coup plot.
  • The winner of the acclaimed June 12 1993 election Chief MKO Abiola had been in jail for 4 years, kept incommunicado from the outside world.
  • General Abacha was on the verge of transforming himself from a military ruler to civilian President having strong armed all the 5 political parties (“five fingers of the same leprous hand”) into adopting him as their presidential candidate.
  • Genuine democracy seemed far, far away.


Plus a lot of the “pro democracy” activists shamelessly abandoned Abiola to join Abacha (Olu Onagoruwa, Baba Gana Kingibe). Even ministers in Abacha’s regime were not safe. The Guardian Newspapers (owned by Abacha’s minister Ibru) was proscribed by a newspaper proscription Decree and shut down after it criticised the government. It was the paper’s continual criticism of Abacha’s regime that led to the near fatal assassination attempt on Ibru.

The Abacha -v- Abiola power struggle was holding the entire country hostage (Abacha’s desire to remain in power and Abiola’s unrealised mandate). Even if Abacha was removed, what would the country do about Abiola who won a credible election five years earlier?

Then the following cataclysmic events happened in the space of 30 days:

  • On June 8 1998 Abacha dies of a heart attack and is hurriedly buried without an autopsy by the time the news filters through to most Nigerians. Nigerians publicly celebrate the death of a reviled leader with wild jubilation. General Abdulsalam Abubakar quickly replaces Abacha and announces that Abiola will be released but that he had to realise that his mandate had expired. A lot of chicanery was used to get Abiola to renounce but he refused. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sent to talk to him and explain that his “term of office” had expired since 5 years had passed since the June 12 1993 election. All to no avail.
  • Exactly one month after the death of Abacha, Abiola suddenly dies of a heart attack on July 7 1998.
  • With Abacha, Abiola and the June 12 issue out of the way, General Abubakar announces a swift 10 month programme for a return to civilian democratic rule. Just 10 months after Nigeria seemed doomed to perpetual military rule under General Abacha, the military steps down and a new democratic government is elected under President Obasanjo.
  • The speed with which Abacha’s infrastructure was dismantled just seemed too contrived. With Abacha alive and Abiola incarcerated, most people thought democracy was years away in Nigeria. Just 10 months after his death everything he did was undone: his killer squad was dismantled, coup convicts and pro democracy activists released, Nigeria back in the Commonwealth, democracy restored, and the army back in the barracks. Note that a lot of Abacha’s supporters survived in office and resurfaced in subsequent dispensations (Sarki Mukhtar – NSA, Jerry Gana etc).

Somehow exactly 30 days apart, both men die of heart attacks. Abacha is prevented from becoming a civilian ruler, from executing the condemned men like Diya, Adisa and Olanrewaju, and a recalcitrant Abiola (who refuses to renounce his mandate) also dies. Problem gone, debate over, fresh start. All rather convenient isn’t it?…. How easily we forget….

“The Day the Biafran War Came to My Village”

“It was the first time I saw my dad scared”

The Full Story of the War between #Biafra and #Nigeria

This past weekend was the anniversary of the declaration of the republic of Biafra in May 1967. The surviving actors from the war spoke about the war in this excellent video series:

#Buhari – Soldiers of Fortune Book Reading on Unilorin 89.3FM @IqraBooks @coolgaffi @UNILORIN893FM @bolajibooks

Essential reading for those who want to understand Buhari 1.0.
Unilorin FM 89.3 radio station has been doing readings of Max Siollun’s book on the Buhari and Babangida years called “Soldiers of Fortune: Nigeria From Buhari to Babangida (1983-1993)”.

They are doing the readings every Monday at 5:30pm Nigeria time. You can listen online at  or via their Android and Blackberry apps.

Readers With Their Copy of Soldiers of Fortune: Ayobami Olunloyo (Number 32) #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 32nd shout out goes to Ayobami Olunloyo.

Copies of Soldiers of Fortune can now be downloaded to Amazon Kindle from the Amazon website:

It can also be bought online from Buyam and Cassava Republic who can deliver directly to your front door:

other buying locations: –

  • Glendora, Awolowo Road, South-West Ikoyi, Lagos
  • Patabah Bookstore, Shop B18, Adeniran Ogunsanya mall, Surulere, Lagos
  • Jazzhole in Lagos, at 168 Awolowo Road, Lagos, Nigeria
  • Terrakulture, Plot 1379, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, Lagos

Full list of locations here:


How Well Do you Know #Nigeria? (Part 2)

I am restarting a feature I began (and wisely discontinued) a few years ago:

Do you think you know lots about Nigeria? Well, here is a chance to show off how much you really know about that country.  Take the 10 question quiz below. Answers to the questions will be posted here in due course.

NO CHEATING, no use of Wikipedia or Google (or other web search engines!). ;-)


1)    Who coined the name Nigeria?

2)    In what year was Nigeria’s current national anthem adopted?

3)   Nigeria’s first Prime Minister was Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. What does ‘Tafawa Balewa’ mean in English?

4) What was the last military post held by president-elect Muhammadu Buhari before he became head of state on December 1, 1984?

5)  What was former president General Obasanjo’s career before he joined the army?

6)    Abuja succeeded Lagos as Nigeria’s capital city. Which city was the capital before Lagos?

7) Which school counts among its alumni, four different Nigerian heads of state?

8)   Who is the longest reigning head of state in Nigeria’s history? (single uninterrupted reign)

9)   Who is the only Nigerian to have commanded the air force of two different countries?

10) What was the first political post held by president-elect Muhammadu Buhari?

#Buhari: What Should #Nigeria Expect from Buhari Version 2.0? A Different Man #Nigeriadecides

My Op-Ed article in the New York Times about how Buhari is likely to govern in his second stint in power.

In order to succeed, he must learn from what happened to him in 1985.

In most countries, a 72-year-old retired general who once led a severe military dictatorship that imprisoned its opponents without trial, publicly executed convicts by firing squad, arrested journalists who criticized it, ran an Orwellian intelligence apparatus that bugged the phones of government ministers — a man whose overthrow three decades ago was welcomed with relief by his countrymen, and who lost three consecutive presidential elections in 12 years — would be considered unelectable.

#Nigeriadecides: Is #Buhari a Dictator or a Reformed Democrat?

My interview with National Public Radio’s Melissa Block regarding Buhari’s first sting in power as Nigeria’s military ruler between 1984-1985.

Some excerpts of what I told NPR:

A government in Nigeria today has to behave in a far more benevolent manner…the citizenry has evolved as well and are a lot more sophisticated; a lot more cognizant and aware of their rights, and would not tolerate some of the excesses that the military got away with during the decades of military rule.

January 15: #Nigeria’s Day of Infamy

There are two anniversaries today: (1) the anniversary of Nigeria’s first military coup 49 years ago on January 15, 1966; and (2) the anniversary of the end of the Nigerian civil war 45 years ago on January 15, 1970.


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