Monday 30 December 2019

Bashorun Gaha - Revising the Legacy of the "Tyranical" Prime Minister of the Oyo Empire

If "Nollywood" makes engaging and intelligent films with attention to historical accuracy and high production values, I can't think of a better epic than one involving this longstanding and notorious 18th century Prime Minster of the Oyo Empire, Bashorun Gaha (or Gaa).

His story is replete with so many components: the competition for power and influence, murder and empire building. Among the chroniclers of Yoruba history, his name is synonymous with authoritarian rule and cruelty.

He held his position (Bashorun) during the tenure of four Ala'afins (kings) of Oyo, bearing responsibility for the deaths of three of them, until Ala'afin Abiodun outmanouevred him.

Gaha was burned to death because it was felt that this would prevent his spirit from being resurrected.

The Reverend Samuel Johnson gives a good account of his reign in his landmark book "The History of the Yorubas" which was first published in 1921.

Johnson's tome presents Gaha in all his infamy. But even this orthodox assessment of a man consumed by personal ambition and a wielder of arbitrary power gives an alternate view; namely that Gaha rose to power as a man of the people and not solely by the permission of the aristocracy. The people had begun to tire of the tyranny of previous Ala'afins:

As Johnson put it in in Chapter V, Page 178:

"Gaha had great influence with the people and a great many followers who considered themselves safe under his protection from the dread in which they stood of kings because of their cruel and despotic rule."

So while it may be overly presumptious to consider him to have been at the helm of an attempted political reformation based on republican sentiment, it may simply be a case of Gaha's legacy being fashioned by the aristocratic establishment which having overcome him, "wrote", or more accurately, saw fit to pass down their biased version of history. in other words, they were no better than Gaha but as victors in a power struggle, had the power to write down their version of history.

As Johnson put it:

"Gaha the Basorun had by this time attained to great power and influence. He made himself the King maker and King destroyer. He did not aspire to the throne, for that was impossible of attainment, but he demanded the homage of all the Kings he raised to the throne."

Bashorun Gaha continues polarises opinion to this day and will do so perhaps until the end of history.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. He has a keen interest in history.

Sunday 29 December 2019

The Beauty of Lake Geneva

View of Lake Geneva from Barton Park. (PHOTO: Adeyinka Makinde, December 2019)

The Beauty of Lake Geneva captured by my camera and the words of Keats.

“I should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva, and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.”

- John Keats (1795-1821), English Romantic lyric poet, referring to Geneva in a letter, 1819.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Sunday 22 December 2019

Pen Pal request by my Father published in a Canadian Newspaper 65 Years Ago

Pen Pal request by my Father published in the Vancouver Province newspaper of British Columbia, on Wednesday, December 22nd 1954 - 65 years ago today!


© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Victimhood and the Nigerian Civil War

Map produced in the Friday February 16th 1968 edition of the Canadian newspaper, the Windsor Star 

The concatenation of violence in Nigeria from 1966 to 1970, a train of events which involved communal fighting, army mutinies and a civil war, is correctly viewed as a period during which the ethnic Igbos of the country’s south east bore the overwhelming brunt of the suffering. They died at the hands of rampaging mobs of their fellow citizens, as well as through the munitions employed by the Federal armed forces. They were also the victims of mass starvation. This suffering was of course a focus of Western news reporting of the conflict and of the machinery of propaganda employed by the secessionist state of Biafra. Today, their plight is still referred to by pro-secessionist Igbo activists, as well as by the wider community of Igbos through the commemoration of events such as the Asaba Massacre of October 1967. But there is another often neglected side to the story, that is, of those Nigerian civilians, including non-Igbo minority communities, who were co-opted into the Biafran project and who suffered at the hands of Biafran troops and paramilitary organisations. The reasons for this neglect is multifaceted, but it is one which is documented and in need of acknowledgement if Nigeria is to come to terms with the terrible human rights abuses of that dark chapter in its history.

The enduring image of the Nigerian Civil War for many around the world was perhaps the sight of naked Kwashiorkor-ridden children wracked by the pain of starvation. They were Igbo children caught up in a war in which the secessionist state of Biafra had been quickly encircled and an air and sea blockade instituted by the Federal Military Government. The brutality of the conflict was encapsulated by the filming of a British television company of the execution of a captured Biafran man by an officer of the Federal army who had promised to spare his life. That incident provided a living, breathing image to go along with the reports of atrocities which had preceded the civil war and which were apparently continuing.

But the story of innocents suffering was not a totally one-sided one. A forgotten aspect of the civil war concerns the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Igbo-dominated Biafran side against minority groups within what had been the former Eastern Region of Nigeria, as well as against other Nigerian ethnic groups in the Mid-Western State when it was temporarily occupied by Biafran forces.

A missing aspect of the narrative concerns the ill-treatment meted out to minority groups within secessionist Biafra such as the Efik, Ijaw, Ogoja and Ibibio. It would be remiss not to remind that these groups were targeted along with Igbos in the northern part of the country during the explosions of communal violence in May 1966, as well as between September and October of that year. But they would later suffer persecution and human rights abuses at the hands of the largely Igbo Biafran Army.

Much of this stemmed from real and imagined sympathy on the part of members of these communities for the Federal cause. The minority communities of the old Eastern Region had after all campaigned for the creation of more states; something which the Nigerian Head of State, Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon had done in May 1967.  And while some non-Igbo officers such as Lt. Colonel Phillip Effiong, an Ibibio, served in the Biafran armed forces, others such as Colonel George Kurobo had defected to the Federal side.

An example of abuses against Biafran minorities concerns that of the Ikun people, who were suspected of collaboration. This led to detentions, looting and raping by Biafran troops in Ikunland. Many males were rounded up and ‘disappeared’, while others were shot to death.

The Ikun are minuscule in numbers and the Biafran felt particularly threatened by the larger ethnic groups from Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers provinces where the pre-war agitation for states of their own to be carved out of the Eastern Region had been particularly strong. Many communities within these areas received the attention of the Biafran security apparatus. They were subjected to constant surveillance and some were imprisoned and subjected to torture. They were also frequently subjected to accusations of being ‘saboteurs’. And when the Federal armies encroached further into Biafran-held territory, the fear of minority fifth-columnists led to the wholesale eviction of communities such as the Kalabaris from their homelands. They were relocated to Igbo towns and cities to live in refugee camps.

Another example of this anti-minority sentiment was reflected by the activities of the Biafran Organisation of Freedom Fighters (BOFF), a paramilitary organisation created to protect Biafran communities, but which used operations to turn on minority groups.

One of the most publicised war crimes committed by the Biafrans occurred when Federal troops landed in Calabar in October 1967. About 167 civilians in detention were lined up and executed by Biafran soldiers. The Nigerian Consulate in New York published details of this atrocity as an informational advertisement in the New York Times as part of the propaganda war with the Biafrans, whose own propaganda machinery at home, and operating internationally under the auspices of the Geneva-based Markpress public relations firm, always had the edge over the Federal side.

The propaganda war also included several false claims made by the Biafran side about massacres said to have been perpetrated by the Federal army including one in Urua Inyang. This was noted in the December 6th 1968 edition of the Ottawa Citizen. That same article, one syndicated by the Toronto Star, also recorded the direct testimony of a Red Cross worker in the Calabar sector of the war in which he stated that Biafran soldiers shot civilians when retreating. This was an often repeated modus operandi.

Biafran Army atrocities in another theatre of war, namely that of the Mid-Western part of the country, also needs recounting. For it was here that the infamous massacre by Federal troops of civilians in the Igbo-town of Asaba took place. The Asaba Massacre, which occurred between October 5 and 7 in 1967, is seen as a continuum of the anti-Igbo pogroms of 1966. Other opinion contextualises it in relation to the ill-treatment meted out to non-Igbo communities in the Mid-West State during its occupation by Biafran forces.

During the Biafran invasion in August of 1967, some soldiers had paused to kill northerners who lived in the Hausa Quarter of Asaba; this in apparent revenge for the aforementioned anti-Igbo attacks in the Northern Region. And in other parts of the temporarily conquered Mid-West, non-Igbos were subjected to torture, imprisonment and death on suspicion of having sympathy for the Federal cause. Rape, extortion and seizure of property were common. The conduct of Biafran troops, who were styled as a liberation army, was marked by acts of indiscipline particularly in the urban centres of Benin, Sapele and Warri. In Warri, the men of the 18th Battalion went on looting sprees, searching for anything that they could convert into cash.

The Biafran side had taken the Mid-West’s neutral position, or at least, its refusal to support the Eastern Region’s secession as an effectively anti-Igbo stance. The relationship between the Igbo military administrators and the non-Igbo Mid-West populace was from the outset an antagonistic one. For instance, one E.K. Iseru, a lawyer of Rivers origin who was based in Warri would testify at a tribunal hearing that he was once stripped naked and detained for three days without food because he was on record as having agitated for the creation of Rivers State. When he protested about his hunger, one of his captors retorted that “there is no food for Hausa friends.”

When the Biafran occupiers began to lose ground, their paranoia increased. Each set back on the battlefield was blamed on saboteurs, and in the desperate circumstances of continual retreat, the policies of the Biafrans turned to draconian, inhumane solutions. The murder of non-Igbos intensified. In Abudu, over 300 bodies were found in the Ossiomo River and on 20 September 1967, many non-Igbos were slaughtered at Boji-Boji Agbor. And at Asaba, Ibusa and Agbor non-Igbos were taken into custody by Biafran soldiers and transported in two lorries to a rubber plantation along the Uromi-Agbor Road where they were put to death.

In the tit-for-tat atmosphere of war, it is perhaps no surprise that an estimated 200 Igbos lost their lives when the Federal takeover of Benin City began on September 21st. Later, mobs in places such as Warri and Sapele would turn on the Igbos. Many Igbos, including the erstwhile administrator, Major Albert Okonkwo who had declared the Mid-West to be the “autonomous independent sovereign republic of Benin”, fled eastwards for their lives.

That the suffering of non-Igbo minorities became something of a forgotten history is not in question. It is also not unique. Most people are likely more familiar with the Jewish Shoah of the mid-20th century than they are with the Armenian genocide earlier on in that century. Fewer still are aware that the first genocide of the 20th century took place in South West Africa (present day Namibia) where Kaiser-era German colonists sought the extermination of the Herero and the Nama peoples.

Nigeria is of course not the only nation to have lingering wounds over a civil war as recent events in both the United States and Spain remind. Much of the discourse remains venomous and resolutely uncomprehending of an understanding of the position of both sides in the war. Many prefer to take a particularistic view with a tendency on the part of Biafran diehards to deny the occurrence of these events and insist on the primacy of Igbo victimhood.

It is an extremely unsatisfactory state of affairs that is part and parcel of an often banal, yet poisonous, tribally-motivated discourse. This only serves to polarise attitudes and perpetuate enmities from one generation to the other.

When referring to the toxic exercise of apportioning ethnic responsibility for the murderous revolution in the Russian empire in 1917 and the ensuing bloody civil war, the Russian Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once spoke of the need to avoid “scorekeeping” and comparisons of moral responsibility. He said, “Every people must answer morally for all of its past - including that past that is shameful. Answer by what means? Where in all this did we go wrong? And could it happen again?” These words speak to the spirit in which Nigerians ought to engage in when examining their past. The fact that minorities of the former Eastern region suffered brutal ill-treatment at the hands of both Federal and secessionist forces gives their plight an added poignancy. History owes it to them that their suffering also be acknowledged.

Anything else would be an abrogation of our basic humanity.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Further reading:

Orobator S.E. (1987). “The Biafran Crisis and the MidWest”. African Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 344, pp. 367-383.

Omaka A.O. (2014). “The Forgotten Victims: Ethnic Minorities in the Nigeria-Biafra War, 1967-1970”. Journal of Retracing Africa Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 25-40.

Bird S.E. and Ottanelli (2014). “The Asaba Massacre and the Nigerian Civil War: Reclaiming Hidden History”. Journal of Genocide Research Vol. 16 (2-3), pp. 379-399.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Floyd Mayweather: Retirement and the Boxer

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has not fought a competitive boxing match since August 2017 when he defeated mixed martial artist Conor McGregor in Nevada, Las Vegas. Since then, he has fought an exhibition bout in Japan against Tenshin Nasukawa, but otherwise has remained inactive. However, last month, he announced that he was coming out of retirement in 2020. A deal appears to have been struck with Dana White, the president of the UFC. Could Mayweather be fighting in a competitive, sanctioned bout in the boxing ring after professing to have hung up his gloves a final time after retiring undefeated in 50 bouts?

Floyd Mayweather Jr. achieved the enviable feat of bowing out of the sport with a perfect record and a healthy bank balance and investment portfolio. The inevitable question that follows the announced intention of staging a comeback is ‘Why’?

Is it related to a condition of unadulterated egotism? Or is there a financial motive? Knowing Mayweather, it is likely a combination of both. Boxers tend to be imbued with a peculiar mindset. They continually seek to challenge themselves and draw from the mountain well knowing very well that they will be pitting themselves not only against an opponent, but will also have to contend with the degenerative factors of the ageing process, as well as the accumulated wear and tear of years of combat.

For most, although by no means all, the boxer, whether supremely gifted or modestly endowed, champion or journeyman, the difficulty of keeping to a promise of retirement is seemingly an ineradicable flaw. If ego is the issue, then Mayweather has an abundance of it. Boxing kept his name in the limelight in a manner like no other endeavour he is presently undertaking can ever do. There is no indication that he is financially strapped, yet money would be a large factor: He will enjoy the prospect of setting some form of a record or another in regard to box office takings.

There is however a more mundane explanation. Retirement of any form places a huge psychological burden on the average and not-so-average human. The everyday routine which encouraged discipline and concentration is lost and as a result a restlessness and a lack of focus may take root. Thus, from the retiree’s perspective, coming out of retirement may serve as a sort of panacea to such malady.

Boxing is replete with boxers either prolonging a career or coming out of retirement due to financial problems. However, in Mayweather’s case it will be about substantially increasing his financial portfolio. The chances of him lacing the gloves to face a challenging boxer such as the welterweight champion Terence Crawford are slim to none. Instead, he will likely be matched against a star from the sport of mixed martial arts but fight under the Marquis of Queensberry Rules. And in doing this, he will also adhere to his tried and tested modus operandi of seeking maximum reward from a minimal risk enterprise.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of the books Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula and Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. He is also a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing (Part of the Cambrigde Companions to Literature Series) with the following essays: “The Africans: Boxing and Africa” and “Jose Torres: The Boxer as Writer”.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

A Brief Note About Jochen Peiper

Jochen Peiper, the Waffen-SS officer chosen to spearhead the German incursion in the Ardennes. 

It was quite a serious gaffe for the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps to post a photo of Jochen Peiper, the Waffen-SS tank commander whose troops carried out the Malmedy Massacre which involved the slaughter of American troops during the “Battle of the Bulge” in 1944. And it was almost criminally irresponsible for the U.S. Department of Defence to share the post.

It reminds me of the gaffe made by ex-Fox News presenter Bill O’Reilly who claimed that the Malmedy Massacre was perpetrated by American soldiers -not once, but twice! On the second occasion, his back-to-front facts were spoken to none other than Wesley Clarke, a retired 4-star general who was first in his class at West Point.

While Peiper, like his contemporary Max Wunsche came to be considered as something of a dashing Nazi poster boy, it is worth noting that the intelligence which he displayed as a battle commander has come to warrant the serious attention of scholars in major military colleges. For instance, some years ago, I came across a 2004 thesis written by a Dutch army major entitled “Beginning of the End: The Leadership of SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Jochen Peiper” at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth.

While members of the Waffen-SS were universally acknowledged as being the most tenacious of German troops in battle due to the high-level of indoctrination with Nazi values, fanaticism and valour often exceeded the level of professional skill and competence instilled into those who trained at the staff colleges of the Wehrmacht. Peiper’s leadership skills encompassed more than charisma and loyalty to his men, and this is why he was chosen to lead the German spearhead unit, the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler during the Battle of the Bulge.

Peiper was condemned to death by an Allied military tribunal for war crimes. But this was later commuted to life imprisonment. A number of death sentences such as that handed down to him were not carried out because of the backdrop of the descent into a Cold War between the American-led Western alliance and the Soviet-led alliance. Executing former German soldiers -even those who belonged to the SS which had been declared a criminal organisation- was considered to be not in the best interests of the nascent alliance which had West Germany in its camp.

Peiper was later released and eventually took up residence in France where he was murdered, it is believed, by communist militants.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde has an interest in military history.

Friday 13 December 2019

Tchaikovsky, Napoleon and the 1812 Overture

God Preserve Thy People, the opening of Pytor Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Symphony, must surely be one of the greatest in all of European Classical Music.

Well, since that is a largely subjective and contentious assertion, let me qualify it by stating that it must be one of the greatest hymns of national patriotism. I can think only of Finlandia Hymni, Jean Sibelius. Both, of course, were soulful, erudite expressions of national resolve and resistance to foreign invasion.

God Preserve Thy People was an old Russian hymn that Tchaikovsky incorporated into his powerful music. It goes:

Grant salvation to Thy people, Lord,
and we pray The bless thine inheritance, O God.
Grant vict’ry to those who fight to save our righteous faith and our dear sacred land,
and from all evil deliver us.
Then the guardian of perfect grace, the cross will forever be.
The Cross will forever be
The cross will be, the cross.

While the use of a choir is an understandably popular choice for orchestras, I prefer the solemn strains of string instruments which to me evoke mournful contemplation of the assault that is to come, as well as the expansive Russian landscape which during the forthcoming winter would play a decisive part in inflicting a colossal defeat on Napoleon’s Grand Armee.

The war, which was about enforcing the Emperor’s “Continental System”; the anti-British blockade which aimed to destroy British commerce began on June 24th 1812 when the Grand Armee crossed the Neman River. After the engagements with Russian forces at Smolensk and Borodino, the occupation and burning of Moscow by the French did not bring the expected capitulation by Tsar Alexander I. The Russians who had withdrawn bided their time while the Grand Armee bore the burdens of a harsh Winter.

The campaign officially ended on December 14th 1812 when the last French troops left Russian soil.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Thursday 12 December 2019

Piazza Fontana Bomb Attack of December 12th 1969: The Start of Italy's Years of Lead

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, unknown people far from any political game. The reason was quite simple - force the people to turn to the state for greater security.”

- Vincenzio Vinciguerra, former member of the neo-Fascist group Ordine Nuovo.

Today, December 12th is the 50th anniversary of the bomb attack at the headquarters of Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura (National Agrarian Bank) in Piazza Fontana, Italy.

This act of terror, which killed 17 people and wounded 88, is seen as the inauguration of what is referred to as the Anni di Piombo (“Years of Lead”): a time of bullets and bombs during which violence between the extreme Left and extreme Right was rife. It was also the beginning of what came to be known as La Strategia della Tensione (Strategy of Tension”). This was a Cold War-era policy engineered by NATO and components of Italian military intelligence and the secret service who aided neo-Fascist terrorists in murdering innocents with the intention of blaming and discrediting the political Left. The idea was that the people would turn to Right-wing authoritarian governments.

This was the intention behind the bombings in Milan (1969), Peteano (1972) and Bologna (1980). The kidnapping and murder in 1978 of Aldo Moro, a former Italian Prime Minister by the Left-wing Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) is perceived by many to have been actually orchestrated by the Italian “Deep State”, as it was consistent with the objective of preventing a grand coalition among Italy’s political parties which would have brought the Italian Communist Party into a national government of unity -something the United States and Right-wing forces in Italy including Propaganda Due (P2), the pseudo-masocnic lodge led by Lucio Gelli which effectively functioned as a state within a state.

A key element driving the Strategy of Tension was a then unknown military organisation tied to NATO. NATO’s stay-behind militias, which were developed to fight as guerrillas in the event of Western Europe being overrun by the armies of the Warsaw Pact, morphed into something sinister. These stay-behinds went by different names in many Western European countries, including a number who were not NATO-members. For instance, in Greece it was known as Lochoi Oreinon Katadromon (LOK) and in Turkey as Counter-Guerrilla. But the generic name by which they are often referred to is derived from the Italian version of the stay-behind network: Gladio.

Over the years, Operation Gladio facilitated a range of terror attacks, assassinations and military coups.

When Italian Prime Minister Guillio Andreotti revealed the existence of the network of stay-behind secret armies, he only did so under pressure from the Italian Senate enquiring into the possible hand of state agencies on fomenting terrorism during the Anni di Piombo. Italy, Belgium and Switzerland are the only countries who mounted parliamentary investigations into the existence of these secret armies.

The Years of Lead endured until the mid-1980s. But the scars remain as does the modus operandi of the “False Flag” operation which is designed to manipulate public emotions so as to justify military interventions and the implementation of laws that give more power to the state.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde has an interest in intelligence and secret warfare.

Saturday 7 December 2019

Playing By The Hama Rules - Rolling Stone Article From December 1984

Beginning of an extensive article on the Syrian regime led by Hafez al-Assad, the father of the present president Bashar, in which its author, British journalist William Shawcross, continually referred to the “Hama Rules” as a guiding ethos of Syrian government policy at home and abroad.

I lost my Rolling Stone magazine collection back in the 1990s while moving homes, but thankfully have got a hold of the December 6th 1984 issue which contained one of my favourite articles of the publication which I bought religiously from the middle 1980s to the early 1990s.

William Shawcross’ “Playing by the Hama Rules” covered geo-political machinations alongside family intrigue with a detailed reference to the brutal suppression by President Hafez Assad of an insurrection by the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama in 1982. Assad entrusted his younger brother Rifaat, an army general, with the task of purging Hama of the insurgents. The story relates that Rifaat’s ambitions got the better of him and he was later forced into exile. A Ba’athist by ideology and an Alawite by religious denomination, Hafez Assad ascended to power by means of a military coup facilitated while he was the country’s minister of defence.

A riveting read!

Reference: Shawcross, William. “Playing by the Hama Rules”, Rolling Stone, December 6 1984, pps 33-36 and 64-69.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Sowore versus Buhari: A Question of Revolution and Treason

The impending trial in Nigeria of Omoleye Sowore on charges including treason is promising to stir a hornet’s nest. Sowore, a high-profile media publisher, was arrested in August of this year because he called for a revolution after the February elections which he claimed were not credible. Himself a contestant, Sowore’s seven-count indictment also includes the charge of harassing President Muhammadu Buhari, the former military ruler who secured a second term in office. Speculation is brewing as to what the strategy of the defence team will be: should it adopt one that aggressively asserts that Nigeria is indeed in need of revolutionary change? Or will it argue that Sowore’s words were mere rhetoric. The charge that Sowore was harassing Buhari, an ex-military strongman now elderly and frail adds a personal dimension; revealing an animus towards the defendant which has seen him being held in defiance of a court’s grant of bail. It should also bring into focus and public debate the irony of Buhari having been the leader of a military regime that overthrew a constitutionally elected government, an act of treason, that led to a hardline government which purposely operated beyond the rule of law. 

Nigeria’s political history is replete with treason trials. The trial, during the First Republic, of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and other members of the now defunct Action Group party in the 1960s was the first of its kind and led to convictions for treasonable felony. In 1982, a businessman named Zanna Bukar Mandara was found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari, the man whose government Buhari would depose. Unlike Awolowo, Sowore is not being accused of attempting to import weapons into the country to seize power. Neither, as was the case with Mandara is Sowore being accused of soliciting the help of members of the Nigeria armed forces to aid in a takeover of the government. The trials of military men for abortive enterprises such as occured in 1976, 1986 and 1990 were of course noted for their secrecy, as well as the executions by firing squad that followed. Sowore is not going to be put on trial for his life, but can expect a stiff sentence like those incurred by his civilian predecessors: Awolowo was sentenced to a 10-year term of imprisonment and Mandara to 15.

So how should Sowore and his defence team approach the trial? A strategy which indicts the political system and its leaders would be a risky one, but one which could generate widespread sympathy from the masses. In 1953, Fidel Castro’s four-hour speech in court when defending himself after the failed attack on Moncada Barracks ended with the famous words “La historia me absolvera”. And Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, a young Ghanaian airman arrested after an abortive coup in May 1979 put on a defiant performance at his court martial where his powerful criticism of the military regime generated such sympathy from the public and empathy from the ranks of the military that an uprising of junior members of the armed forces sprung him from his prison cell and overthrew the ruling junta.

Sowore possesses none of the oratorical skills of a Castro or Rawlings. And he does not have a substantive political movement behind him or armed supporters who could threaten the Nigerian state.

But the yearning for a Nigerian revolution is not a misplaced one. Plummeting living standards, mass unemployment among the young, including graduates, poor roads and the rationing of electricity supplies continue to consign minerally and human resource-rich Nigeria to the status of a failed state.

Further than this is the irony of the present Nigerian government prosecuting a citizen for treason when the man at its helm, Muhammadu Buhari was himself an accessory, an instigator and a beneficiary of treason at various points in history. It was Buhari himself who overthrew the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari and brought to an end the Second Republic. Section 1(2) Chapter I and Part I of the 1979 constitution provided that “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.” Under that constitution, the role of the armed forces was prescribed as “defending Nigeria from external aggression”, “suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly”.

The action on New Year's Eve in 1983 was in contravention of the constitution.

Buhari had earlier shown contempt for constituted authority when as the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Division, he had cut off food and fuel supplies to neighbouring Chad during a border dispute that also saw him pursue Chadian intruders deep into Chadian territory. His entrance into Chadian territory had been in express contravention of Shagari’s order not to do so.

If an analogy is made with the uprising of junior officers of the Ghana armed forces in 1979, then Buhari’s actions in overthrowing a constitutionally elected government were tantamount to a capital offence, for which he should have ended on the gallows. In Ghana, a number of senior military officers, including three former heads of state, who had served in three military regimes were executed by order of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council for breaching Ghana’s Criminal Code of 1960, the Armed Forces Act (1962) and the Superior Order Rule attendant to the Armed Forces Regulation.

Certainly under the Criminal Code existing at the time of the Buhari-led coup, the combination of actions inherent within a coup d’etat: conspiracy to overthrow the government (s.41), incitement to mutiny (s.44b), causing disaffection among members of the armed forces (s.46a) and concealment of treason (s.40) warranted the death penalty (s.49a).

It would be remiss not to mention Buhari’s role in the tragic fate of a young Nigerian army officer named Daniel Bamidele. In October 1983, Bamidele heard rumours of a coup plot against President Shagari and promptly reported this to his commanding officer, the then Major General Buhari. Unbeknownst to Bamidele, Buhari was at the heart of the plot and a week later was detained at a military barracks under the auspices of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. He was released towards the end of November in a state of bewilderment until on News Year’s Day, he learnt that Buhari had emerged as Nigeria’s military head of state.

Bamidele was earmarked for retirement in the early part of 1984, but Buhari, whose consent was needed to confirm the laying off of those officers who were on the list, crossed out Bamidele’s name. In 1986, Bamidele was arrested by the regime led by General Ibrahim Babangida -the man who overthrew Buhari in a palace coup- for concealing his knowledge of an alleged coup plot. Given his previous experience, he had remained silent when criticisms were voiced by fellow officers of the policies of the Babangida regime.

He was executed by firing squad in March of that year.

Buhari, steeped in treason, did try to effect a revolution of sorts in Nigeria as a military rule. He won praise, not only for insisting in an attempt to chart a course which was independent from foreign control, but also one which aimed to change the negative habits of Nigerians. This came through the “War on Indiscipline” spearheaded by his co-ruler Major General Tunde Idiagbon.

But his rule, initially well-received for its anti-corruption stance, was mired by breaches in civil rights. Then as now, the Nigerian character in so far as pertains to discipline is still lacking. Nigeria’s social and economic problems have arguably worsened. Today, the insecurity caused by kidnapping gangs, the Boko Haram insurgency, as well as clashes between Fulani Herdsmen and farming communities around the country has endured despite Buhari’s consecutive election pledges to bring order to the country. The economy is stagnating, and just as was the case during his time as a military leader, his respect for human rights has come under question given the brutal suppression of a now proscribed Shi’ite group and pro-secessionist movements among ethnic igbos.

Given these conditions, Nigeria is certainly ripe for revolution. But the permutations of Sowore’s perceived revolution such as transferring Nigeria’s leadership to a younger generation, the redistribution of national wealth and the tackling of corruption, while laudable, fall short of the sort of revolution which offers Nigeria a salvation from the bondage of the past. Genuine change can only come from a reformation of the mind and culture of its people; something hardly addressed in a substantive manner by Nigerian intellectuals and politicians.

There are no indications that his counsel, Femi Falana, a presumed heir to the legacies of radical lawyers Gani Fawehinmi and Tunji Braithwaite, will proceed with a bold strategy of justifying the grounds for a Nigerian revolution. It seems unlikely that this will be the case. And if so, it would be less a case of a shortcoming on the part of the defendant and his lawyer than it is of the Nigerian public, a long-suffering and insouciant species forever content to complain, but perennially inactive at combating the incompetence, the corruption and the brutality of its political representatives.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Sunday 24 November 2019

"Prognosis: Comatose." A Dialogue about Nigeria between Femi Ijebu-Ode and Adeyinka Makinde in March 2019

Adeyinka Makinde

“Prognosis: Comatose.”  A Dialogue on Nigeria between Femi Ijebu-Ode and Adeyinka Makinde in March 2019

A wide-ranging discussion between Femi Ijebu-Ode and Adeyinka Makinde about the problems related to the development of Nigeria and what things need to be done to enable the country to unleash its full potential.

[Nigeria, Ba’athism; Negritude; Pan-Africanism; Kodo-ha; Tosei-ha; Obafemi Awolowo; Nnamdi Azikiwe; Kwame Nkrumah; “Man Know Thyself”; Malcolm X; Boko Haram; Fulani Herdsmen; Insurgency & Counterinsurgency; CIA; AFRICOM; United States; France; Scramble for Africa; Sekou Toure; Houphouet-Boingy; ECOMOG; Brookings Institute; Africa-America Institute; George Bush; Africa Crisis Response Initiative; History not taught in Nigerian Schools; Oyo Empire; Benin Empire; Kanem-Bornu; Idris Alooma; Lake Chad Basin; Oil; Yakubu Gowon; Benevolent Dictatorship; Goethe; Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; Hanseatic League; Ebonics]

FIO: My brother, let me just go back to the tweet you sent me, where you were commenting about the elections in Nigeria, and you had said something to the effect that you were “more depressed than impressed about the whole scenario”; that we still “need substantive intellectual movements developed in Nigeria” and for “politicians to embrace them and offer the people a vision”. What exactly did you mean by that brother? Could you add some more detail; add some more flesh to that skeleton?

AM: I think it’s so important the way ideas feature in man’s development; man’s understanding of his nature, and how he can calibrate himself. He can sense his past, his present and the future. And I think that is what is missing in Nigerian politics and probably the wider politics of Africa. What I mean by that is it’s not enough to adapt the mechanisms and the verbiages associated with what the colonisers have implanted in African societies. It’s very important for people to develop themselves as a people from within, and relying on their resources, you know, the ability to deconstruct their psyche in order to make progress. So in other words, what I mean is that it is not enough just to get an education, stand on a soap box -if that’s what they do in Nigeria- and engage in sloganeering, and even say positive things like “I want us to have a minimum wage”; “I believe in workers’ rights” etcetera. I am thinking of underpinnings. That people need to be more than card-carrying members of a body that has a name -fanciful or not. What passes as political thought and the mechanism of politics, needs, in Nigeria, an identifiable intellectual foundation. It needs an ideological underpinning. And that ideology needs to be capable of being transmitted to the masses so that the average man has an idea where he fits into his society, as well as (an idea of) where his country fits into the larger world. I don’t believe we have that. I think in a previous correspondence with you, I gave examples from the Arab world and Japan. For instance, in the Arab world, you had Ba’athism as a political movement, a secular political movement which obviously became rather perverted under the authoritarian regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the al-Assad family in Syria. Nonetheless, Ba’athism was an intellectual movement which was created, yes, by Western-educated people, but people with a strong sense of what their traditions were and where they felt the Arab people as a whole should be headed in the world. I mentioned that as well as the militarist movements in pre-World War (Two) Japan: the Kodo-ha and Tosei-ha movements. And by saying this, I’m not saying that Africa or Nigeria hasn’t had thinkers. I think Obafemi Awolowo was a deep thinker, as was “Zik”; Doctor Nnamdi Azikiwe. And of course Kwame Nkrumah with regard to Pan-Africanism. We’ve also had the Negritude Movement with people like Sedar Senghor and other people from the Black Atlantic. But I think what is missing is something underlying; something fundamental. And it’s something that can be difficult to explain because it may be couched in some instances in abstract terms, but obviously the end result is that we abide by the first maxim of human existence, which is “Man know thy self”. You can add your observations to that.

FIO: Thank you very much my dear brother for that very clear exposition. I was listening very attentively to you and to what you were saying, and in my own mind I kind of have a phrase for what you are saying to mean that Nigerians don’t have situational awareness. They have no real awareness of their situation. That seems to me to be the purpose of what you are saying. When you were talking about the lack of an ideological base to anything in Nigeria. The politics in Nigeria, the social development as you pointed out, we lack a basic guiding ideology. I heard what you just said about Zik and Awo, and how they were champions of nationalism; African nationalism. With respect my dear brother I would disagree. I think, yes, the Arabs did very well with their Ba’athism and that basically formed a platform for Arab nationalism, and I think everyone knows how far Arab nationalism has taken the Arabs. It took them quite far. Iraq was a quite developed country before the 2003 invasion, as was Syria before the Western instigated war seven years ago. The point I’m making, what I think, my own conclusion is our primary problem, or fundamental problem a very important word you just used, is our lack of awareness. We are totally ignorant of our true condition. I think that Nigerians, the intellectuals, as well as the man-on-the-street, have no awareness of the fact that Nigeria isn’t an independent sovereign country; has never been an independent sovereign country. Nigeria has always being a colony. It was established as a colony and it has remained a colony all through its life span ever since it was created in 1901. I think this is a fundamental problem, and until we understand that that is the cause of our problem, we won’t be able to solve it. You cannot solve a problem you that don’t know or you haven’t identified. You were speaking earlier about knowing your place in your society and your country’s place in the world and it seemed to me, my brother, that as you said that, you were almost paraphrasing Malcolm X who once said that God would bless Black people and everything they did, and that  he hoped that we would grow to understand the problem of the world and where we fit into the world picture. Now, that awareness of where we fit into that world picture is lacking; is missing from the psychology of the Nigerian intellectual, much less from the man-on-the-street who is very ignorant. So that’s my own view of the situation of the fundamental problem confronting us as a people. You are a geopolitical analyst my brother, and you analyse situations in more developed countries like Russia. I’ve seen some articles that you’ve written about Russia. And I think you’ve also written about some other European country, I don’t remember which one now, but the point is that you are dealing with more advanced countries. Now, when you turn the spotlight of your experience, of your intellect based on your experience of analysing other parts of the world, apart from this lack of an ideological basis for national development, have you identified any other problems that you think to be a national priority; that we need to be grappling with?

AM: Well, if you reduce things to what should be done, if we just push back a little bit before I answer that, in regard to our level of awareness; I think we need to be nuanced in terms of developing or defining what that sort of awareness is. The average person knows that the African mind is colonised and African institutions are neo-colonised whether by previous colonial powers or by international institutions which have been set up to perform that task, whether it is the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or even agencies of the United Nations. Even on a mundane level, the fact that people are aware, and they do appear to react in disgust (and) in angst when they hear of a particular Nigerian politician or wealthy people who go over to Europe or North America for medical treatment. Or send their children to school in those countries. Or those who follow football can note that Nigeria, like the rest of Africa, has such a tremendous potential in terms of developing football, yet people are fixated on what is going on in the European Champions League, something which those of us who grew up as children in the 1970s: the rivalries we had between Nigerian football teams, where we thought the Green Eagles, as they were known as then, were heading to; the amount of people who went into stadiums: that is not the case today. So they do have a conception about this. And they might bellyache, but unfortunately nobody appears to have set a blueprint that enables people as a whole to galvanise them and to reform their thinking to obviate that (lack of awareness). So that’s that point as a comeback to your response to my introduction. Back to what you’ve just said about what other problems are facing Nigeria. I think it’s just fairly obvious. It’s obviously to do with the economy, and the ability of government and individual initiative to create the conditions whereby we can fulfil the potential: the human potential, as well as the material potential and resources with which Nigeria is blessed on both accounts. Secondly, obviously, is the security situation with this insurgency by Boko Haram, and the secessionist movements in the Niger Delta area and among those from the Igbo ethnic group, And of course we have to mention that battle between pastoralists and-

FIO: -herdsmen…

AM: - cattle-rearers.

FIO:  -yes, the Fulani herdsmen.

AM: That’s right. The farmer-pastoralist conflicts. I think those four are obviously the biggest problems that are faced. And I guess the problem here is -going back to what we were saying about understanding the African psyche, a means by which the intellectuals can find a link between those achievements; those developments that were made in Nigeria up to medieval times by kingdoms such as Benin, Oyo, the Hausa-Fulani states and modernity, and to bring the African man and the mind of the African into the 21st century. That is very crucial, because I could use my book knowledge of how to combat counter-insurgencies; counter-insurgency cultures that have developed say in Latin America, Europe and Asia. But how does one stop Boko Haram? I have not seen anybody from the intellectual class (or) from the Nigerian military who seems to have taken ownership or control of how this insurgency can be sorted out. It is obviously something which can’t be sorted out (solely) by brute force. You can’t look and say this is how the British operated in Northern Ireland. Or this is how the Russians operated in Chechnya and say that you want to apply that to Nigeria, because the end result is just a mess. We are merely, as has been the case, appropriating what has been dispensed from other parts of the world and purporting to apply it to our own circumstances. This is not acceptable. To say it in simple terms, we need originality in terms of how we meet these threats. You know, the (challenge) of consolidating democracy, of combating Islamist terrorism, of trying to solve issues to do with discontentment and marginalisation from certain regions of the country and also the matter of solving the farmer-pastoralist conflict.

FIO: Brother, my appraisal of what you’ve just said is that it coincides with the main points on which Buhari based his recent presidential campaign i.e. the economy, security and fighting corruption. I think the problem of the Fulani herdsmen; the pastoralists versus the cattle rearers that you mentioned, can be subsumed under the rubric of security, as can the Boko Haram problem. If I may just share a few of my views with you in terms of Boko Haram. You mentioned the Russians and how they dealt with the insurgency in Chechnya. And you also mentioned the British and how they dealt with the insurgency in Northern Ireland. But the difference between those situations and our situation is in regards to those two countries; (Britain) and Russia: we are talking about capable countries; countries that have some kind of effective intelligence service to detect terrorists, to detect those who are funding them, who are training them, where they are based; those who are supplying them with arms. Those countries have those capabilities. Nigeria doesn’t have this capability in terms of identifying the people who are behind Boko Haram, funding Boko Haram, providing them with training, providing them with military intelligence with which they can then launch attacks on the UN or the Nigerian military. The point I’m making my brother and this is a point that has been widely disseminated, is that Nigeria cannot cope with the Boko Haram phenomenon for the simple reason that those behind Boko Haram are more powerful than the Nigerian state. Obviously, we have state actors involved here, and if you also consider the fact that Boko Haram is an extra-territorial problem; this is a problem that is affecting the Cameroonians. The Cameroonians are contending with Boko Haram. That would go to show that this problem is beyond the scope of Nigeria in terms of managing the Boko Haram phenomenon...

AM: Femi, if I can just briefly interject there...

FIO: Yes sir.

AM: If I could just add to that. Yes, you are correct about that extra-territorial (dimension). There is obviously the Maghreb and the other regions in West Africa that are closer that are also involved some of which was exacerbated by the American intervention in Libya. That’s true. I thought that I’d just add that.

FIO: Thank you. I am very grateful my brother. And the reason I’m grateful is because you mentioned America just now, and there have been a lot of commentators and observers of Nigeria, and Nigerian society and Nigerian politics who have advanced the view that Boko Haram is a CIA operation that is designed to destabilise Nigeria; gain access to the oil resources in the Niger Delta, as well as newly discovered resources in the Lake Chad Basin. And that this Boko Haram phenomenon started after the inauguration of AFRICOM, the African Command of the US Army in 2007. The first terrorist attacks that happened in Nigeria, took place after 2007. And as I said, there are a lot of people who suggest, with some evidence to back up their suggestion that Boko Haram is a Western intelligence designed to destabilise Nigeria and justify the intervention of the US military in that part of Africa. A key point that some commentators have made is the fact that the capital of Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria is in Maiduguri in Borno State, which is a border area. Now that border region region abuts Cameroon, Niger, and -I think they’re three separate countries around that Bornu area that adjoin Nigeria...

AM: That’s Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon...

FIO: That’s the one. Niger, Chad and Cameroon. You’re absolutely correct my brother. Absolutely correct. Those three countries my dear brother, as you know, are (former) French colonies. Now, it is absolutely impossible. I repeat: absolutely impossible for Boko Haram to be running guns and arms and training bases in that part of Nigeria without the knowledge of the French. Absolutely impossible, given the location of Bornu State, it should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention that the French are heavily involved in Boko Haram by virtue of the fact that the hotbed of terrorism is in an area that adjoins French territories. And you and I know my dear brother that all these so-called Francophone countries are French colonies. They have always been French colonies. They were created as French colonies (and) they have remained French colonies since so-called independence in the 1960s. All of these territories are controlled by the French. And I think that actually feeds into this popular view that has been expressed by very knowledgeable commentators that there is an ongoing ‘Scramble for Africa’ right now; a modern 21st century ‘Scramble for Africa’ where imperialist powers, particularly the US, France and the UK are deliberately destabilising parts of Africa in order to gain more control to achieve a greater sense of control over these countries. And of course, with Nigeria being the largest market, as one would expect, a lot of attention is focused on Nigeria. Speaking of markets, you mentioned the economy earlier. Brother, I have often thought we Nigerians don’t have what can properly be described as an economy. I think that it would be more accurate what is called the Nigerian economy as the Nigerian market. An economy presupposes a manufacturing base. We have no such thing in Nigeria. Nigeria is a nation of consumers. We consume everything right down to the fuel in our cars which is imported. The food we eat. The clothes we wear. The cars we drive. All of these things are imported. So, I was wondering, do you have any comments to make in terms of how you see this question of a Nigerian economy?

AM: Yes, I’ll gladly do so, but again I’d like to push back a little to what you mentioned about Boko Haram, because I wrote an essay about that particular issue back in 2013. I’m not sure if you’ve read it, did I ever send you (a link to it?)

FIO: I think you might have actually.

AM: It is titled “Nigeria: Candidate for Destabilisation and Regime Change”. I have heard from Cameroonian media reports about these suspicious activities of the French military. And of course when you look at these issues and people say, “America is behind this, the CIA”, you know what the immediate response is: It is to pathologise such a view, and to call it a conspiracy theory.

FIO: Absolutely…

AM: But of course we know that there’s been so much as far as Western machinations as far as Africa is concerned. France, for instance, was not pleased with the way Sekou Toure wanted to manage the post-independence situation. Unlike other leaders like Sedar Senghor in Senegal and Houphouet-Boigny in Ivory Coast, Sekou Toure wanted to pursue a more independent course and for doing that, the French made sure to do as much as they could to wreck his economy before they withdrew. In the essay I wrote on Nigeria and possible American and Western intervention in terms of facilitating this insurgency, I have certainly examined that possibility. I think that for all the grief we give Nigeria as a country, we must give credit where credit is due. I think one issue which may lend credence to American intervention -and I did write about the creation of Africom on October 1st 2008, the (anniversary) date of Nigeria’s independence- I think Nigeria did perform a quite creditable peacekeeping role in terms of policing the West African region and effecting a peace settlement in the Liberian Civil War in the 1990s. The CIA actually commissioned reports by the Brookings Institute and they have another institute known as the Africa-American Institute, which reported that the success of these peace missions in Liberia threatened to eclipse both Britain and France, the former colonial powers, in terms of West African influence. So it’s obvious that given the responses, first by George Bush -he created something called the Africa Crisis Response Initiative that was intended to serve as a counterweight to the Nigerian-led ECOMOG. And so this idea of ‘divide and conquer’; (of) keeping Nigeria in effectively a retarded position fits in well in terms of this covert support of an insurgency. We’ve seen this time and again, and so that does not surprise me in the slightest. I have examined that and I think that there is some logic and there is some evidence to back that up in terms of CIA, and particularly in regard to French intervention. Also, before I answer your question on the economics of Nigeria, just to mention the fact having outlined the security problem posed by Boko Haram, I think that the divisions within Nigeria; religiously -ethnically also- have had these implications in terms of how the intelligence services and the military can act in a cohesive fashion. I think it is similar to the Pakistani intelligence service, some of whom are hand-in-glove with Islamic radicals and others who are, perhaps, of a more secular bent and who are more Western-orientated, or under the control of the CIA. But in the same way in Nigeria with Nigeria, apart from the ethnic divisions which can lead frankly to incompetence, and a malnourishment in terms of the growth of vital institutions of the state for its benefit, the disease of corruption is something we have to admit covers all parts of the society, and one of the difficulties of the Nigerian Army -because I believe they are some brave and well-meaning people who have joined that army and who are fighting and dying on the frontlines- is the incompetent leadership, which has meant that funds which are supposed to go towards the purchase of materiel have been diverted. I mean it’s incredible, it’s absolutely astounding, it’s disgusting that that should happen. But I would put it to you before we leave this point by saying well, let’s think of practicalities. Anybody who accumulates knowledge from all parts of the world; (who) understands human nature will look at that problem of Boko Haram and think to themselves “we have an insurgency here; if we have a unified army, a unified and competent intelligence service and a purposeful political class and administrative set up in the civil service to back it up then what Nigeria should have is a counter-insurgency strategy. Some of these strategies could be ‘messy’ because they may involve duplicitous methods of infiltrating Boko Haram and of eliminating members of Boko Haram in a manner which would strike people as being extra-judicial. But for some people both in democracies and authoritarian regimes who’ve combated insurgencies, that may be part of the solution. But also what I’m saying is that overall, I have not seen any Nigerian military officer -and I have read a few academic papers (on the issue- or interested academic who has provided a kind of a blueprint (or) template as to how one should combat the Boko Haram insurgency. But I can tell you that such a plan should be composed and developed on different fronts. There should be an economic angle. One of the things which is fuelling this Boko Haram crisis is economic deprivation and marginalisation. So the Nigerian state needs to be doing things to bolster the economy (in the area where the insurgency is concentrated) to prevent people being used as cannon fodder for these heretical -I’m not a scholar in Islam, but I believe these people are heretical, backward-thinking, medieval barbarians. You want to win over the dispossessed, the disillusioned youth by trying to provide economic initiatives for their betterment and for the betterment of that sub-region of Nigeria. So you need something that is geographical. You need an element of the counterinsurgency which is based on ‘propaganda’. And with the use of propaganda, some of it may sound negative, but it’s also about positive things and highlighting whatever successes the Nigerian state can muster out of that situation. So the way you handle the media and the way you trumpet successes in for instance economic initiatives and foiling Boko Haram should be part and parcel of this counterinsurgency doctrine. I could go on but those are two examples I will give you. It’s interesting that you mention Bornu State and it got me thinking about the mentality of people; of the African. Much to my shock, apparently history was removed from the syllabus in Nigeria…

FIO: Excellent point…

AM: ...and when you mentioned Bornu, I remember studying history -my favourite subject. We learnt about the kingdoms of Ancient Ghana, which is further inland than present day Ghana which appropriated that name; Ghana which metamorphosed into Mali, which was transformed into Songhai. We knew about the Hausa City States, the Oyo, the Benin Empire; all of these things and in the north east of what is modern day Nigeria -around that Lake Chad Basin was this empire of Kanem-Bornu. Their most famous leader was Idris Alooma. When you look back at that and look at what Boko Haram is offering. They are not offering anything to you. They’re just offering you an Arabised, sterile backward-looking vision. Whereas if you think about what Idris Alooma and other leaders of Kanem-Bornu achieved and think about that; this is where the link comes in that people living in the modern world in Bornu State and modern Nigeria can then think about what we can extract from that glorious era into the modern world. Lake Chad is a dying basin area, but think about other parts of the world where you’ve had regions that are composed of swamp or where like in Holland, the sea was eating into the soil and the Dutch have reclaimed quite a lot of land, and why cannot the same be applied among those people who live in the Borno area. It is so shocking that people cannot have this sort of positive outlook to life. This outlook that is about developing the mental and material resources of your environment. And even when you are beset by disadvantages of not having an abundance of gold in the ground or oil in the ground, that you can nonetheless overcome these topographical and these geographical disadvantages. After all in Libya, before it was destroyed by Western action in concert with Islamists who are their claimed enemies to overthrow the secular regime of Gaddafi, had that Great (Man) River Project, which is about getting water to permeate desertified land. Why is that not within the consciousness of the people? You would not have this tragedy, this distraction if the mindset of the people: the common man and the intellectual classes were attuned to studying and planning how to combat the disadvantages of the landscape. You think about your past, you think about your present and you look around the world and borrow ideas and put it together in your unique manner to suit your circumstances. So I just thought that I would add that and you can come back on that before I answer your other question.

FIO: Yes, brother. Thank you. I think I will. Yes, it is a very knotty ideal to expect that the African will look back on his glorious past and try to recreate that in the present. But the difference between then and now. The time of Idris Alooma and the situation we’re dealing with in Nigeria today. Idris Alooma wasn’t a captive and Nigerians are captives; they are Western captives. We’ve been captives for the last 400 hundred, 500 years? Nigeria was created as a captive territory and has remained a captive territory up until now, as I am speaking to you. Up until this very moment. So in a situation where people are active, where all their political institutions and leaders have been co-opted, where the common man is more concerned with getting a meal to eat on a daily basis than he is about the future of the country, I don’t think that it is very realistic under these circumstances to expect the Nigerian to be anything other than what he is: a docile, passive, long-suffering human being. Slave. I’m sorry. I think that that is the best description. The Nigerian today is the closest thing to a 21st century slave. You talk about a Nigerian political class developing an ideology or the media propagating the successes of the military in combating Boko Haram, but the point that I would like to make to our listeners, my dear brother, is the fact that all institutions in Nigeria have been co-opted. All of them. Whether it is academia, the media, the military, the politicians: everybody! And that is a function of poverty. Now in a situation where the whole country is poor and grasping for whatever they can get. Or for their next meal, I don’t think it’s very realistic to expect such people to be designing blueprints for national development. Obviously not. And that is why corruption is such a cancer in Nigerian society; it’s a function of poverty. And again on this subject of corruption, I would like to share with you my dear brother and our listeners that the main purveyors of corruption in Africa and in Nigeria in particular are Western countries, Western organisations. We’ve had a series of scandals in Nigeria; all of them featuring the corruption of Nigerian state officials have involved Western companies. I’m talking of Siemens or Julius Berger or Haliburton. The list is endless. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work that one out. If you consider that Nigeria is a country which that doesn’t produce anything and as such is a consumer nation. So all our revenues are derived from oil. We don’t produce anything. Of course the people are going to be poor. Because all the jobs that would have gone into manufacturing all the things we need are here in Europe, Asia and America. So we have a situation where a Nigeria doesn’t have the prospect of a manufacturing job until the day he dies. He will never be employed in a factory. He will never be employed in anything remotely industrial or the production of goods on an industrial basis. Now, in a situation where everybody is poor, of course corruption will be an industry. Of course the institutions of the state will not work properly, and that is the primary point about the situation in Nigeria today: nothing is working properly. The whole society is totally dysfunctional. Nothing. Nothing, I repeat, is working in Nigeria. We have a country where as you mentioned the civil service, the army, the judiciary, the media, all of these institutions are comatose. They are corrupt and dysfunctional. All of them, without exception. There is no sphere, no area of Nigerian life which isn’t corrupted. And as I said that is a function of poverty, the condition of the country. My dear brother, you used an interesting term in describing Nigeria; that we have been locked in a state of arrested retardation. I think is what you were suggesting. That we have been locked in a place where we are eternally retarded, and where our progress, our development has been arrested, and has been held in check. And this has been the reality. The reality from day one. Nigeria was created in 1901. From 1901 up until today, a period of 118 years, I would go so far as to say that we are going to have 10 or so months of genuine independence. Back in the 70s that you mentioned when Murtala Muhammed came to power. He only ruled for 6 months. And then the first intervention by Buhari when he came on the stage in 1984, he ruled for 14 months, I think it was, and that was the only time in our history when we had genuine independent leaders who ruled Nigeria as a sovereign nation as opposed to a colony, which is how Nigeria has been perceived and how it has been portrayed by every other leader since independence. So the point that I’m trying to make my dear brother is that, again, I think it feeds into that question I asked you about the economy. If we don’t have an economy, what hope is there for progress? How can you ever hope to develop or to introduce poverty ameliorating schemes or projects in a place like Bornu for instance? If the country is economically comatose. If the country is economically dead. As I say Nigerians don’t produce anything. The only source of revenue in Nigeria today is what we earn from oil, which is a natural resource. That is not something we have manufactured or made happen. No, it was there. And we don’t even have the equipment or technical know-how or the knowledge to get this all out of the ground. We have to rely on external parties, the Western oil companies: Shell in this case. And they are raping us blind. So under those circumstances, would it not be more correct, or more accurate to describe Nigeria as something very similar to a slave plantation back in America 200 years or so ago? In so far as we have a body of Black people whose only function is to consume, never to produce. So we are talking of a captive audience right there. Captives. Economic captives.

AM: Well, the assessment you give is obviously very sobering. Some people might see it as being negative although it is based on absolute realism. I think the question is you need inspired and creative leadership. The question is can Nigeria supply the sort of people who can break this spell and bring, as Zik (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe) once put it “to lead the Blackman out of the bondage of the ages”. There are one or two things that I want to say about the economy randomly before proceeding. The first thing is for us to recognise that Nigeria, being an oil producer, in some ways is reflecting what has occurred in other countries that are dependent on oil. You have situations majority populations to one degree or another; ruthlessly acquire that wealth at the expense of people who live in areas that produce quantities of this oil. But also these countries develop this oil dependency syndrome and seem to lack the means of diversifying their economies. So in that regard, Nigeria is not that different. It’s not offering excuses, but you have to put all these things on the table to be balanced and to have as wide a view as possible before you can suggest and implement improvement or courses of development. I would say, “yes”, I agree Nigeria is a consumer nation. I think that was developed in the 1970s after the oil boom years with (General Yakubu) Gowon who somewhat unwisely stated that the problem with Nigeria is not money but “how to spend it”. And Gowon did do his best. I mean some of it might have been wasteful and misguided. For instance, I’m aware through family connections -because I come partly from the island State of Grenada in the Caribbean- that the prime minister, a guy named Eric Gairy mentioned to a relative of mine who worked there that at one time Gowon was paying for all the salaries of the Grenadian Civil Service because they were going through some economic difficulties. So I think that apart from the Murtala government and the Buhari-Idiagbon duo, there were attempts at instituting positive things in Nigeria, but this dependency took root in the 1970s as a result of the oil boom. And I think that part of this matter of creating a consumer-dependent society and one that is not creating out of the raw materials that are in that country and the vast human potential that is going to waste through unemployment, lack of unemployment opportunities and the overall corruption, we have to be balanced about it. Obviously part of this is caused by Western (financial) institutions who effectively profit from enslaving parts of the world economically. But also we have to look at ourselves and say we can arise from this, but it is about the way we approach the development of our human resources and capabilities. People will often, I think, mention the development of South Korea, Malaysia (and) Singapore. You may come back and say, particularly in the case of South Korea and Singapore that you had a racially and culturally cohesive group that created the conditions for developing their national economies whereas the strife inherent in a multi-ethnic, artificial state put together by imperial draughtsmen; it takes quite a lot to overcome that. And people should really think about -although I don’t agree with the methods that are used by the various pro-secessionist movements in the south eastern part of Nigeria, people need to think carefully about how Nigeria can continue, if parts of Nigeria are culturally divorced from the (each) other; whether it is between Muslim and Christian or secular and religious. That will not be the be all and end all, because my argument is that even if you created independent oil rich delta state, if you go into that having a mentality which frankly is generally the same among other Nigerians, that state is doomed to fail. Like Equatorial Guinea, with all the wealth that it has, but is being mis-managed by a family of corrupt profiteers and rather gruesome rulers. So that consumer dependency culture needs to be overcome. And again, this is where it comes to developing the mind. This is where you need the creation of movements that create a foundation. No one is saying that the ordinary man is the one who will be at the vanguard of this sort of thing. The leadership must come from the top, from those who are intellectually capable of providing such leadership and creating the conditions for raising up the levels of the mass of the people. And I think that one other point that should be made apart from working on developing the mind and this is very important not just the artificial importation of colonial institutions or copying the institutions from other parts of the world is the form of governance that Nigeria may need: Is there a case for a kind of a benevolent rulership. It may sound anti-democratic, but within a benevolent dictatorship, there can be democracy. It is just that we are presuming, we are presupposing that such leadership would not be based on naked violence, or threats of violence or of the sort of unimaginative leadership that means that like a Sani Abacha you loot the resources of your country. No, it’s a creative kind of a leadership which I think some countries in Europe were fortunate to have. It brought them into the modern world. The structure of Nigeria, as well as the means by which it is governed by competent and well-meaning and purposeful and resourceful people should be a priority. And this is where the political scientists and historians need to go to work. So far they have not done that.  The other point that I would also say is that part of this idea of deconstructing the psyche of the Nigerian and of the Black African is about going back to that point about “Man Know Thyself”. It may sound abstract on a particular level, but it really is the beginning of all. And it is either that or a sense of decrepitude; a sense of stagnation and enslavement which you’ve mentioned. That is going to be the prevailing pattern unless these ideas can be brought to the fore and can then be implemented through people who can infiltrate the state and get a hold of the levers of power. I would also like to add the aspect not just of intellectuals, but also of culture. We’ve had many capable writers and novelists in Nigeria, but I don’t think any of them whether it is Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (Kenyan), Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, they’ve been good at criticising. They’ve been good at describing the past, and the clashes between the past and the present. But I don’t think any of them have successfully deconstructed the mind of the Nigerian or the ethnic groups that compose Nigeria in the way, say, writers in Russia like Dostoevsky or Goethe in Germany have done. I think that is a very, very important thing because deconstructing your national character: your strengths, your weaknesses, is a very, very important thing that artists can do, which can permeate into other levels in society for the benefit of that society. I’ll give you an example of Germany. Goethe, the famous German playwright and philosopher lived at a time when Europe was coming out of the idea of the rightness of the divine right of kings. The French Revolution had happened and Napoleon, before he became consumed with the grandeur, he was somebody with a vision. He was republican. He was progressive thinking, and artists like Beethoven and Goethe were very comprehending of Napoleon. Now with Goethe, the way he understood it was that...This is where you can draw analogies with whoever you want to draw among the names that I’ve mentioned about Nigerian artists whether they are writers, whether they are sculptors and musicians, of which I’m sure you would give credit to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. What Goethe did was that when the French Empire was being defeated in Russia and Napoleon was on the retreat, there was a surge of German nationalism. Germany has been composed of all these different principalities and this surge of nationalism arose when they had the opportunity to dispose of the occupying French. But Goethe -this is the thing about moral courage, far-sightedness and the ability to deconstruct the psyche of your people- was very worried about this because he felt that nationalist Germany could not handle what they wanted. He felt nationalism would destroy Germany. He based this not just on his observations of the German mentality. He thought about Germany and its geographical location; that it was an inland territory and it had no sea borders, to the north was a calm Baltic Sea. He felt that if these people succumbed to militarism that was the natural counterpart of nationalism, it would lead to disaster. And of course he was proved right. You had the rise of Prussia and you had the rise of the Third Reich under Hitler and Germany was involved in two World Wars which brought national catastrophe. What Goethe suggested at the time to the extreme displeasure of his countrymen who thought that he was unpatriotic: “Why would you not want to overthrow the French?” He felt that if you gave the German a gun and a nationalist creed, he would go haywire. He would want to conquer his neighbours by force of arms, and he would lead himself to disaster. What did Goethe suggest as the alternative? He said Germany should invest in the culture, and what he meant by the culture was that Germany could inspire the world, and in a sense conquer the world through its talents in culture like music, in commerce, you know, going back to the Hanseatic League from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance era. These areas that the Germans could focus their talents on. I don’t want to go into how Dostoevsky deconstructed the Russians, but if you see my point, and anyone listening to this, I haven’t seen a Nigerian writer do something similar. To effectively point out the strengths and weaknesses of the psyche and how it can be used and developed in a productive manner. It may be abstract. It is something I myself would need to research and really start from scratch by studying philosophies from Africa and around the world, because if nobody picks up this baton, I think that anybody else with literacy skills can do their best to point the way to others to develop on this. I think that at the end of the day reforming the mind, the mentality, the psyche is of absolute importance, is of preeminent importance and it is not just a question of us doing well by legitimately acquiring academic qualifications, being successful in what we do outside of Nigeria’s borders; sometimes in Nigeria without being burdened by being referred to as a corrupt person. I think that this is the be all and end all of the solution to Nigeria’s woes. A reformation of the mentality. 

FIO: Ade, you make a very solid point, and number one, I’m going to go away and think about that; this project, this task that you’ve just set about deconstructing the Nigerian psyche, analysing the Nigerian psyche with a view to determining the weaknesses so that we can make an effective change in those conditions in Nigeria. It’s an excellent point. You know, I really need to go and think about this one. Now that you’ve mentioned it I know that yes, with the possible exception of Fela, I don’t think that any contemporary Nigerian writer or intellectual has undertaken such a project as that. I think it is required where someone needs to study the Nigerian psyche and put it down in black and white. Just write it, describe it, outline it, define it as you said. I would agree one hundred percent with your judgement, with your assessment that our culture has a role to play. And I would go so far as to say that it has played a very retrogressive role in our development. The most immediate example that comes to mind is the deference that the young are expected to pay to older Nigerians; where you can’t criticise an older person -no matter how stupid that older person may be. Just because that person is older. That encourages a level of subservience in the thinking; the minds of the youth, which is why I would argue that we remain stagnant. Another reason why our culture has had a stagnating effect on us. Apart from all the other problems we are contending with; number one, the lack of education and then of course our culture. You were going to say?

AM: Nothing at all, but I would say that there is a lot to draw from the past. One thing that people from other parts of the world, the so-called orient and certainly from the Western world are ignorant about Africa, is that Africa was this undeveloped place with people living in the dusty land or jungle terrain with no distinct forms of governance. I mean, you would think that, wouldn’t you if you were brought up watching movies to do with Tarzan in the jungle..

FIO: Yes…

AM: ...very skewered views of Africa looking just at poverty-stricken places. They cannot comprehend the Ashanti Kingdom, the Benin Kingdom, the Oyo Empire as being these sophisticated states which ruled over expansive tracts of land; that had institutions, you know, from Oyo, the Prime Minister or Bashorun, the Oyo Mesi (State Council), the Alaafin (King); there was logos, a sense of the universe. There was cosmology and there was in the affairs of governance a constitutional set-up. There was a system of finance and trading. Yorubas formed towns -they weren’t just in villages. So that past, without necessarily going on to these contentious issues of “Were the ancient Egyptians black?”, look to the backdoor of your history as to what you as a people accomplished. When the Portuguese came to West Africa, they came as co-equals to the Kingdom of Benin. They were enchanted by the order of the society they found, the splendour of the Oba of Benin. Portugal and Benin exchanged ambassadors. This is the pre-colonial era, the era before colonialism and imperialism. How is all this transmitted? You’re not going to transmit this to your people if you don’t teach history in school. And if so-called Nollywood is not doing the business of exploring the past in an intelligent way and marketing that to not just to Nigeria (but to) other parts of Africa and other parts of the world, imagine how the view, by a process of osmosis would change the image of the African. Let’s face it, there is quite a lot that can be done in terms of (retuning) the African mind, so that Africa, Nigeria can find its place in the post-colonial society. It is something that should be fought on all fronts; you know culturally et cetera. But we need to look at the weaknesses because a lot of these kingdoms, they were eventually defeated by Western armies. The Ashanti Empire, Benin were conquered and this was done by supposedly enlightened European nations who were just doing that to dominate and to exploit. Things like language need to be explored. You have to look at a language and you have to say to yourself: That language, if it cannot incorporate philosophy and be scientificated, what purpose is it doing in the world? These kind of decisions need to be made. I recall this argument in America, do you recall in the 1990s, whether black Americans or African-Americans…

FIO: ...the Bell Curve...

AM: ...No, no,no. Not that. We can talk about that (later) but what I’m saying is they said the teaching of African-Americans that they should use, what’s the phrase...

FIO: ...Ebonics…

AM: ...Ebonics, that’s right. And my argument was that Ebonics was just like a dialect. Just like a person from ordinary origins in Northern England can speak their dialect, they’ll continue using it, but when they are in the workplace, they will use something different. Ebonics has its usages in terms of expressions of culture and artistry but is it capable of … can you write a book on physics using Ebonics? If you can, fine. But if not, let us not push this retrogressive issue of saying that black kids can only be educated by using Ebonics in class. And maybe an analogy can be made with some African languages; that that can be holding us back even though we’ve had these (European) languages imposed on us. And also for better or for worse the greater world has to use English and to a lesser degree French and Spanish. So I think that is an important factor that needs to be explored if we are going to develop ourselves. Just to sum up, it is about people arising from the intellectual classes to try to erect new philosophies that develop upon Negritude and Pan-Africanism and provide some ideological; some cultural basis for creating the conditions that Africa can now have its own renaissance, develop itself and take its rightful place in the world, and basically call in this history of being the willing dupes of colonisers.

FIO: “The willing dupes of colonisers”; now that’s a phrase, which I am going to get you to explain at a later date my dear brother.

© Adeyinka Makinde & Femi Ijebu-Ode (2019).

Adeyinka Makinde trained for the law as a barrister. He lectures in criminal law and public law at a university in London, and has an academic research interest in intelligence & security matters. He is a contributor to a number of websites for which he has written essays and commentaries on international relations, politics and military history. He has served as a programme consultant and provided expert commentary for BBC World Service Radio, China Radio International and the Voice of Russia.