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


 

http://telegraphng.com/2014/03/soldiers-fortune-review/

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:

http://www.buyam.com.ng/catalog/soldiers-of-fortune-nigerian-politics-from-buhari-to-babangida-1983-1993

 

http://www.konga.com/soldiers-of-fortune-1

 

http://www.fortunesoldiers.com/where-to-buy/

There are also autographed copies for sale. Available here:

 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151630836522572&set=gm.547047158687760&type=1&relevant_count=1&ref=nf

 

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

 

http://www.konga.com/soldiers-of-fortune-1

 

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).

https://twitter.com/batarhe/status/375273901615771649/photo/1

There are also autographed copies for sale. Available here:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151630836522572&set=gm.547047158687760&type=1&relevant_count=1&ref=nf

Regular non-autographed copies can be bought from:

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

 

Readers with Their Copy of #SoldiersofFortune – Number 10: Olajide Adesanya


 

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

“Riding the Tiger” – Kingsley Ewetuya’s Thoughts on #SoldiersofFortune


 

Image

http://theswordofdamocles.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/soldiers-of-fortune-riding-the-tiger/

Soldiers of Fortune- Riding the Tiger.

Kingsley Ewetuya read Soldiers of Fortune and was kind enough to write this review of it. Read the full review below…

During his inaugural speech in January 1961, barely  three months after Nigeria attained independence from Britain, President John Kennedy said “To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom—and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.“ That quote, particularly the highlighted portion kept running through my mind as I read Max Siollun’s latest opus, “Soldiers of Fortune”.

Soldiers of Fortune (SOF) picks up from where Siollun’s prequel “Oil Politics and Violence (OPV)” leaves off. It is a very revealing account of Nigeria’s junta dominated polity from 1983 when the government of an unpopular President Shehu Shagari was truncated via a coup, to 1993 when General Babangida ignominiously “stepped aside”.

SOF is quite well written and I cannot but repeat my comments in a thread discussing OPV after its release as they similarly apply. I noted then that “Mr. Siollun took great pains to be objective, quite a feat considering the sensitive nature of the Nigerian polity. A man once said “I have never traveled to Venice, but I have been there, many times” Mr. Siollun provides a LOT of researched backing in presenting his “fly on the wall” accounts, that for a brief moment, the reader feels like he/she was there when it all happened. Upon finishing the book, I could not but ask myself what details in the name of discretion Mr. Siollun consciously chose to leave out.”

Siollun’s ability to take the average reader on a guided tour of the corridors of power and reveal once esoteric account of events without much overwhelming the reader is particularly commendable. Indeed when one  takes in these events as they are revealed page after page, one cannot but ask “What isn’t Siollun telling us? Surely there has got to be more. “

When I read OPV, what I loved the most about it was that it challenged, nay changed previous views I once strongly held on Nigerian politics. SOF in no small part does the same. The major takeaway of the book for me was Siollun’s account of the June 12 election annulment debacle. I, like many Nigerians I know once held the view that General Babangida in typical “evil genius Maradona” fashion did a bait and switch on Nigerians by annulling the elections to perpetuate himself in power despite promising a transition to democracy. Siollun very systematically purges me of that point of view by accounting how Babangida faced enormous, even life threatening pressure from some of his high ranking military cabinet not to allow the election results stand. It is to Siollun’s literary credit that SOF which appropriately is heavily focused on Babangida’s tenure, leaves the reader simultaneously critical (or even hateful) of and yet, slightly sympathetic to Babangida. I found myself saying “Stop it Siollun, don’t let me spread the blame around, I want to exclusively hate this man.” That the very senior military officers whom Babangida “charmed and settled” to place him in power, were the same ones who prevailed upon him to annul the 93 elections and left him open to the ubiquitous hate of Nigerians, thus making his exit from power inevitable was eye opening.

The reader will likewise have a more nuanced view of Nigeria’s military and no longer view them as a monolith. Siollun very well educates the uninitiated that even within the despotic military junta were the dichotomic power struggles of “professional” and “politicized” officers. While Nigeria’s history clearly shows that the latter faction prevailed, it is quite educative, if not comforting to know that such a dynamic struggle existed at all!

Reading SOF also successfully challenged my previous opinion that had Abiola been sworn in to power, perhaps the trajectory of Nigeria would have changed. It was a complete revelation to me that Abiola  was a financier of two coups which brought the military to power. In so doing, he unwittingly financed his own misfortunes. Even if Abiola was sworn into power, Siollun essentially notes that such was the antipathy of a huge portion of the military command to him, that his Presidency would have been short lived.  In the end, both Babangida and Abiola metaphorically ended up in the belly of Kennedy’s proverbial Tiger.

The Nigerian public is not spared as well and are also given their fair share of the blame for Nigeria’s state of affairs. Our gullibility fueled by tribalism and hypocrisy never did us any favours.

I wish I could close this on a happy note of hope, but I just cannot in good conscience do so. When I finished reading SOF, my first thoughts were “Good God, we never had a snowball’s chance in hell.” As we have now made the transition to “democracy”, I cannot but wonder if we are simply repeating the same vicious cycle that Siollun writes about. When General Buhari took over from President Shagari in 1983, he said among other things, “The last general election was anything but free and fair. The only political parties that could complain of election rigging are those parties that lacked the resources to rig. There is ample evidence that rigging and thuggery were relative to the resources available to the parties. This conclusively proved to us that the parties have not developed confidence in the presidential system of government on which the nation invested so much material and human resources.While corruption and indiscipline have been associated with our state of under-development, these two evils in our body politic have attained unprecedented height in the past few years. The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society. Since what happens in any society is largely a reflection of the leadership of that society, we deplore corruption in all its facets.”  

Buhari too was removed in a coup, by the same officers who brought him to power via a coup. Buhari, Babangida, Abiola all entered in the belly of the tiger they tried to ride. As Nigeria trudges along, I am not entirely sure this tiger is fully satiated

Readers with Their Copy of #SoldiersofFortune – Number 3: Amanda Kirby Okoli


Many of you have been posting images of yourselves with your copy of 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 third shout out goes to Ms Amanda Kirby Okoli.

Excellent Review of “Oil, Politics and Violence”


http://sentinelnigeria.org/online/issue4/max-siolluns-oil-politics-violence-nigeria%E2%80%99s-military-coup-culture-1966-1976/

Here is another excellent review of “Oil, Politics and Violence”. This review was written by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo and was pubished in Issue 4 of Sentinel magazine.

 

Max Siollun’s Oil Politics & Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)

Book Review

By Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

In a recent piece in NEXT ‘Making the Next 50 Count’ (http://bit.ly/bThmiw) I noted a seemingly conscious effort to erase parts of our national history by making it seem like they never happened, letting them fizzle out of memory. In that piece, I argued; for us to make the most of the next fifty years of Nigeria’s life as a nation, we must go back to our history and for once take seriously the lessons of the past. If we accept that the last fifty years of nationhood has been more or less wasted, then, we must make a conscious effort to appreciate what made it a waste so we can understand how to correct the wrongs. All this is a function of history and that is what Max Siollun offers us in his book “Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)”.

Besides the dearth of books on our national history and the near complete erosion of History as a subject of importance in our universities, it is saddening to note that most of the few materials available are mediocre and poorly researched, often betraying either an academic seeking to move up the ranks or a roadside hustler eager to make a quick buck selling books to “History students” equally eager to pass exams. It is in these two respects, standing against them, that Max Siollun establishes the credence of his work.

With evident objectivity, every page of the 268-page book exudes detailed research and is presented as a free flowing blow-by-blow account of events; Siollun carefully separates speculation from fact and myth from actual happenings. This book, a detailed expose on the first four coups and the Nigerian civil war, helps bring to fore what really happened in those years, who were involved and why they did what they did. Siollun packs his work with dates and names – all easily verifiable.

Popular for his many history laced political essays in Nigerian news forums both online and off, Siollun, who writes Nigerian history almost from an outsiders point of view, comes across as free from the ethnic chauvinism which limits the work of other Nigerian Historians. Siollun traces the history of the Nation before independence, particularly that of the military, and sequentially leads the reader on to the events leading up to the first coup, the counter coup, the Civil War and then traces the discussion further on to the two post-Civil War coups. The writer shows the relationship between all four coups. He highlights, in particular, the recurrent involvement of certain names, such as Babangida, Abacha, Yaradua and Buhari, in Nigeria’s coup plotting history and touches on the fact that for many years, coup plotting seemed to be the main agenda in the country’s military, quite like a culture, and how the failure to punish coup plotters helped to sustain the tradition and how this, in turn, led to instability in the polity and attendant underdevelopment which still stares Nigeria in the face today.

Siollun’s book presents new insights into widely held opinions, revealing what was hitherto not known in the public space about the working of the military and the inner happenings within its ranks, especially as they concerned the coups. It reveals that the January 15th 1966 coup, seen largely as an “Igbo Coup”, was essentially instigated by southern politicians working behind the curtain to unseat their Northern rivals and change the power equation. It also reveals the personal emotions, reactions and idiosyncrasies of the popular officers of the time and helps us understand them better, shedding light on why they did what they did then as well as their contemporary posturing.

It is generally held that there is always more than one angle to a story; therefore, many people would disagree with Siollun’s arguments or explanations on some of the events discussed in the book. This is expected and indeed the author does not pretend to have written an infallible history but has rather, simply, opened an avenue for reflection and knowledge sharing on our history. Another obvious inadequacy of the book is the fact that it covers just ten of our fifty years of national existence, this again highlights the need for other historians to rise to the challenge and tell the story after 1976.

This book is a good read, made even more easily readable by Max Siollun’s fantastic prose and use of simple language in a manner which takes away the oft complained at drabness of history books. I would recommend this to all writers, political commentators and indeed all persons who love Nigeria. We can not make the next fifty years of our life as a nation worth the while if we don’t appreciate where we are coming from.
____________________________________________________________
Ifedigbo, an award winning writer, is the ‘Features and Reviews’ editor for the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine
____________________________________________________________

Oil Politics & Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)
Max Siollun
Algora Publishing, New York; 2009
268pp

http://www.amazon.com/Oil-Politics-Violence-Nigerias-1966-1976/dp/0875867081/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1286780632&sr=8-2

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Oil-Politics-Violence-Nigerias-1966-1976/dp/0875867081/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1291582807&sr=8-1

Another Great Book Review


I want to say another big thank you for a marvellous review. This time to Vera Ezimora. That’s two great book reviews this week. Last week I was thanking Anote Ajeluorou and the Guardian newspapers.   Today I am thanking Vera. Her full review is below:

http://www.verastic.com/2010/09/book-review-oil-politics-and-violence.html

Book Review: Oil, Politics and Violence by Max Siollun

When I got this book, I was terrified. The two hundred and fifty-five pages, the title of the book (Oil, Politics, and Violence), and what seemed like a smaller than normal font that hugged the white pages, it all terrified me. When will I finish this book? The book wasn’t about fictional characters with dynamic personalities. It wasn’t a book with a plot full of suspense or drama. It was a book based on facts. Political facts. Nigerian political facts. Nigerian political facts on its military coups. Great. Could it get any worse?

But then I convinced myself that perhaps, I needed to read such a book. Maybe I needed to learn a bit about this beloved country of mine. Maybe I did need to know just a bit about the military coup culture. That’s what I told myself. I don’t know how much of it I believed, but I managed to convince myself that believed what I told myself.  And so, the reading the began.
To say that this book is like nothing I have ever read would be a gross understatement. Everything I sought in a fiction novel – the drama, suspense, etc – were in this book, too. The only difference is that this was a true account. What was it, if not drama, when Mr. E. O. Oke shamelessly flung a chair during the Region House of Assembly meeting? And Mr. F. Ebubeduike, God bless him, followed suit by grabbing the speaker’s mace AND trying to club the speaker with it. This was in 1962 (two years after our independence). Clearly, our problems started a long time ago.
In Nigeria, it turns out that the best way our leaders could think of dealing with a coup – whether it succeeded or failed – was to plan a counter coup. Yes, and look what mighty favor it has done us. Did you know that before the British people decided to “form” Nigeria, we (the people of Nigeria) couldn’t be any more different from each other? We were a ticking time bomb, and I don’t know if we have gone off yet. Culturally and religiously, we couldn’t be more different.
From the distrust among the Igbos, Yorubas, and Hausas for one another, it is evident that the issues we have today started a long, long time ago. But I did not know this prior to reading this book. For someone who almost did not give a hoot about Nigerian politics (or the coups that preceded it), this book has had quite an effect on me. It left me with a strange feeling of nostalgia, irritation, regret, anger, and enlightenment. I’ve even secretly pictured myself running for office! Sure, I’m pissed at the things that have happened, how they happened, why the happened, and the fact that they would have been avoided. But I now know more than I did.
I’ll sum it up: Max Siollun did an excellent job of delivering the happenings of Nigeria’s infancy in my mind’s eye and in my heart’s head.  He has written the book in such a way that you cannot help but be flooded with some type of emotion, wishing and hoping that you were there because maybe, you would have made a difference. This book exposes our primitive thinking way(s). While we have evolved, started having better cell phone reception and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Lagos, we’re still just that – primitive.
Get the book. Read it. You’re going to love it.

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