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.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

The Siege of Mecca 40 Years Ago

Juhayman al-Utayibi in captivity after the ending of the siege

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the “Siege of Mecca”. This involved the seizing of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the holiest shrine in Islam, on the first day of a new Muslim Century by a group of zealots led by Juhayman al-Utaybi.

The insurgents declared that the Mahdi or “Redeemer of Islam” had arrived in the form of one Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani. They also had the objective of overthrowing the House of Saud on the grounds that they had compromised the strict tenets of the Wahhabi creed originally imposed on the country after it had been formed by Muhammad Ibn Saud.

The grievance stemmed largely from the policy of Westernization and amongst several demands, Uteybi’s insurgents called for the expulsion of Westerners, the abolition of television and the ending of education for women.

The two-week siege was ended after the Saudis obtained the blessing of Wahhabi clerics to storm the Mosque with the aid of French Special Forces and flush out the rebels.

But this came at a price.

The Saudis clamped down in areas where ‘liberalisation’ had strayed such as the media and the school curriculum. The decision was also made at the behest of the powerful fundamentalist clerics for the Saudis to pump money into the coffers of Sunni missionary organisations to spread the ideas of the Wahhabi strain in Islamic universities and madrassas around the Muslim world.

Thus, this event, alongside the formation of al-Qaeda from the remnants of the U.S.-backed anti-Soviet Mujahideen in Afghanistan, can be said to have been pivotal in the development of the global Islamist movements of the present age such as ISIS, al-Nusra, Boko Haram and others.


1. “Saudi Arabia and the Doctrine of Global Islamist Terror” (2017)

Pdf download:

2. “The Crisis of ISIS: A Debacle of a Great Game in Iraq and Syria” (2014)

Pdf download:

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

The Death of Alexander the Great

Alexander depicted during the Battle of Issus, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Napoli

The enthralling denouement of a six-part BBC Radio Drama series of Alexander the Great, which was produced in 1993.

In Babylon, Alexander is lying in the throes of death at the end of a short but spectacular life-span predicted at the time of his birth by the Morai -alternatively known as the Fates- who are a trio of white-robed female incarnations of destiny.

Half in the physical world and half in the spirit world, he ruminates over his life, his conquests and the succession with the ever guiding spirit of Achilles of Troy, the father of his “yearning soul” in contrast to his earthly father and competitor, King Phillip of Macedon.

In this drama, Alexander is sympathetically portrayed as the quintessential Philosopher-King and his fixation with Achilles is a component of the “mythic consciousness” that has driven him to avenge an earlier defeat of the Greeks by the Persians and to conquer almost all of the known world.

And it is Achilles with whom he has communed since childhood, along with Patroculus who tell the story of what happened after Alexander’s death: an orgy of suicides, revenge murders and in-fighting among his generals.

“Who will rule after you?” asks Achilles.
“The best?” responds Alexander.
“There is none”, the spirits of Achilles and Patroclus reply in unison.

Fittingly, Alexander, the King of the Macedons, Leader of the Greeks, Pharaoh of All Egypt, Lord of Persia, and King of Kings, expires smelling of “thyme and roses” and “his flesh does not corrupt”.

No one was able to rule the empire he had built.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Alexander's Letter to Darius III After the Battle of Issus

Battle of Issus mosaic, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Napoli

After Alexander’s defeat of Darius III at the Battle of Issus which took place on November 5th 333 B.C., Darius wrote a letter to Alexander which offered to surrender half of his empire. Alexander considered this as not enough. The following is likely inauthentic but conveys the general thrust of how Alexander responded.

Your ancestors invaded Macedonia and the rest of Greece and did us harm although we had not done you any previous injury. I have been appointed commander-in-chief of the Greeks and it is with the aim of punishing the Persians that I have crossed into Asia, since you are the aggressors.

You gave support to the people of Perinthus, who had done my father harm, and Ochus sent a force to Thrace, which was done under our rule. My father died at the hands of conspirators instigated by you as you yourself boasted to everyone in your letters, you killed Arses with the help of Bagoas and gained your throne through unjust means, in defiance of Persian custom and doing wrong to the Persians. You sent unfriendly letters to the Greeks about me, to push them to war against me, and sent money to the Spartans and some other Greeks, which none of the other cities would accept apart from the Spartans. Your envoys corrupted my friends and sought to destroy the peace which I established among the Greeks. I therefore led an expedition against you, and you started the quarrel.

But now I have defeated in battle first your generals and satraps, and now you in person and your army, and by the grace of the gods I control the country. All those who fought on your side and did not die in battle but came over to me, I hold myself responsible for them; they are not on my sided under duress but are taking part in the expedition at their own free will.

Approach me therefore as the lord of all Asia. If you are afraid of suffering harm at my hands by coming in person, send some of your friends to receive proper assurances. Come to me to ask and receive your mother, your children and anything else you wish. Whatever you can persuade me to give shall be yours.

In future whenever you communicate with me, send to me as king of Asia; do not write to me as an equal, but state your demands to the master of all your possessions. If not, I shall deal with you as a wrongdoer. If you wish to lay claim to the title of king, then stand your ground and fight for it; you do not take to flight, as I shall pursue you wherever you may be.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Sunday 3 November 2019

Afrifa: An Appraisal of Ghana's One Time Military Ruler

Brigadier Akwasi Afrifa (1936-1979), Chairman of the National Liberation Council (NLC) of Ghana, seated in Osu Castle, Accra, during the swearing-in ceremony of government ministers of the in-coming civilian administration headed by Dr. Kofi Busia on Friday, September 12th 1969. Source of Photo Still: Reuters News.

Akwasi Afrifa, military officer and political leader of Ghana, is a man whose legacy still polarises his countrymen to this day. Should he be remembered as a principled believer in democratic values who helped rescue Ghana from a “dictator” leading his nation to ruin? Or was he an unscrupulous and ambitious opportunist whose participation in Ghana’s first military coup set a precedent for political instability and corruption?

Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa was born into humble origins in the Ashanti region to a cobbler father he referred to as “a cowardly man” who was “short, bulky and ugly”, and a mother he remembered as a “tall, black and extremely beautiful woman.” He often wondered why his mother had married his father. A bright student, he received a scholarship to attend Adisadel College, an Anglican boys boarding school in the Cape Coast. He excelled academically, and in 1955, collected seven prizes in Latin, Greek, Religious Knowledge, History, English Language and Geography. On hand to present the tall, gangling 19-year-old with his prizes was none other than Kwame Nkrumah, the Prime Minister of the then Gold Coast (as pre-independent Ghana was named), the man who he would help overthrow in a military coup eleven years later.

Afrifa’s choice of a career in the military was not his first. He had intended to be trained in the law, but his expulsion from Adisadel put paid to those aspirations. In The Ghana Coup: 24th February 1966, a part memoir that served as his justification for the anti-Nkrumah coup, Afrifa claimed that his expulsion was for failing to take Religious Knowledge among the minimum six academic subjects in his final examinations. But the true reason was that Afrifa had led a student protest which had led to riotous acts including vandalism.

Afrifa entered the military and received training at Sandhurst Military Academy in England where the Adisadel website records that “he was listed among the best three of those cadets (drawn from various parts of the Commonwealth and other countries) who graduated and passed out as Second-Lieutenant(s) after the course.”

Afrifa was undoubtedly a bright and engaging individual, but at Sandhurst, as had occurred at Adisadel, there was a dark side to his personality; one which revealed his tendency to arrogance and resistance to authority. In The Ghana Coup, he candidly revealed his time at Sandhurst was consistently punctuated by punishment drills for various disciplinary infractions. He wrote:

I was always in trouble for breach of discipline. Almost every Wednesday I had an extra drill. Because I had so many punishment drills, I made my study timetable larger than usual in order to enter my defaulter drills into blank spaces. My punishment parades thus became a normal routine every morning.

His last punishment drill as a senior cadet was, he admitted “a very unusual occurrence.”

These brief glimpses into his formative years provide clues as to how Afrifa was able to rise to the pinnacle of political power, as well as offer some explanation as to why his life was prematurely ended on a military firing range.

A brief summary of his life and career after Sandhurst goes like this: As a young officer, he served several tours of duty as part of the Ghanaian Army’s peacekeeping contribution to the Congo. He grew disenchanted with the left-wing policies of the Nkrumah government, which he posited as being antithetical to the (British) values with which he had been inculcated.

As a major, he was a key participant in the anti-Nkrumah putsch of 1966 which was led by Colonel Emmanuel Kotoka. He consolidated his positions in both the military and the National Liberation Council (NLC) as the ruling junta styled itself, after the assassination of Kotoka in April 1967 during an abortive coup, and after the resignation of Lt. General Joseph Ankrah in April 1969, he became the Head of State.

He completed the NLC’s programme of transferring power to an elected civilian government led by Dr. Kofi Busia, during which for about a year, he served as one of a three-man Presidential Commission in lieu of a civilian president before the commission’s dissolution and his retirement from the military a year later. On his retirement he received the title of Okatakyie, a rarely bestowed award to a member of the Ashanti people who has demonstrated an exceptional level of bravery from the Ashantehene, Opoku Ware II.

In the days following Busia’s overthrow in January 1972 by Lt. Colonel Ignatius Acheampong, Afrifa attempted to mount a counter-coup to restore Busia, but was foiled and jailed by Acheampong.

Afrifa was subsequently released by Acheampong in December 1972, but appears to have been restricted to the vicinity of his hometown of Mampong-Ashanti where he farmed and involved himself in rural development projects. At some point his army pension appears to have been suspended by the Acheampong regime and in an article in the Tampa Bay Times of July 1st 1979, his brother-in-law, John Addaquay, claimed that Afrifa, together with his family, had gone into exile in London.  Afrifa, Addaqay continued, returned after Acheampong’s overthrow in July 1978 by a palace coup led by Lt. General Frederick Akuffo. Afrifa contested a seat and won it in parliamentary elections held in June 1979, but was executed along with two other Heads of State, Acheampong and Akuffo that month by edict of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which had come to power after an uprising by junior personnel within the Ghanaian military. Each had been found guilty of “corruption, embezzlement and using their positions to amass wealth.”

In a letter written to Acheampong while Acheampong was campaigning for UNIGOV, a form of government involving a combination of military and civilian rule, Afrifa had prophesied his own demise when in a letter to Acheampong, he had remarked on the levels of indiscipline and corruption among Ghana’s military rulers, and expressed a fear that he and other military rulers would be lined up and shot as a warning to others not to stage coups. “I feel greatly disturbed about the future,” Afrifa wrote. “In order to discourage the military from staging coups in the future, how about if they line all of us up and shot us one by one?”

What then to make of the legacy of this man whose life and eventual fate serves as a point of polarising contention?

After his death, the New York Times reported that he was “highly regarded among Western diplomats for his dynamism, his political skills, and his democratic views”. A good case can be made for Afrifa as a “democrat”, if one is prepared to accept his argument that he only helped to overthrow the government led by Kwame Nkrumah as a last resort. Here Afrifa could point to a drift towards authoritarianism by Dr. Nkrumah by referring to a series of developments such as the passage of the Preventative Detention Act, the One-Party State referendum, the dismissal of Ghana’s Chief Justice and other judges, as well as the apparent interference with judicial decisions. There were also issues to do with academic freedom in the universities.

Moreover, Afrifa presided over the return to civilian rule after spearheading a nationwide campaign to inform Ghanaians of their rights as citizens. Even the failed counter-coup he mounted against Acheampong could be interpreted as a measure attempting to restore democratic rule and not to usurp power for himself.

But the negative side is worth noting. To some he appears to have been an inveterate schemer from his youth and a manipulator whose machinations came to haunt him. He was undoubtedly an ambitious man, although some are keen to invest him with Machiavellian-like powers for intrigue that lack proof in a number of events. For instance, the frequently bandied allegation that he was the author of the abortive coup led by Lt. Samuel Arthur deliberately set up to fail after the elimination of his NLC colleagues, Kotoka and Ankrah seems rather fanciful. While Kotoka was assassinated by Lt. Moses Yeboah, Ankrah succeeded in escaping death at Castle Osu by jumping into the Atlantic Ocean. But even if the case can be made that Afrifa consolidated his power base and profited from Kotoka’s death and Ankrah’s later resignation, hard evidence available in the public domain is lacking which points to his having engineered both outcomes. 

The contention that Afrifa was personally corrupt is not conclusive. He was after all cleared by the Sowah Assets Commission which reported in April 1979 prior to the parliamentary elections in which he was a contestant. But uncertainty as to whether he enriched himself while in power does not diminish what Afrifa’s critics claim to be his cardinal sin; that of participating in the overthrow of the constitutional government of Ghana, an action which established a dangerous precedent which was followed by other coups including those that led to an extended period of incompetent military rule in the 1970s which created unbearable living conditions for many Ghanaians.

John Stockwell, the CIA Station Chief in Accra at the time of the anti-Nkrumah coup specifically stated that the leaders of the coup were not only given “encouragement” once their plot was discovered by the Americans, but that they were paid in compensation for their efforts.

While his execution may have had much to do with the fear or apprehension junior officers had of him, Afrifa’s detractors hold that it was legally justified on the grounds that overthrowing a government, an act of high treason, was a capital offence by virtue of the Ghana Criminal Code of 1960. The Armed Forces Act of 1962, which was in operation at the time of the coup, also provided the basis for punishing by death those who acted treasonably. In his aforementioned book on the coup, Afrifa acknowledged this by writing that he would have been prepared to hang by the neck if the putsch had failed.

Apart from this legal rationale, Afrifa’s execution, some contend, was also morally justifiable because it served as a precedent for establishing or attempting to establish illegal, unconstitutional regimes. The abortive coup led by Lt. Arthur, who resented the profligacy of the senior officers after they overthrew Nkrumah, was an enterprise of emulation backed by the rationale of “If it is proper for you to seize power by the gun, why is it wrong for me, with my gun to overthrow you?” Afrifa was certainly conscious of the precedent that he had helped set when in the chapter of his book entitled “The Ghana Condition”, he asserted that “a corporal with the necessary courage and belief and love of his country can topple corrupt leaders and lead a coup in a just cause.” But he failed to acknowledge or even comprehend that corporals, subalterns and officers could have amoral reasons for staging a coup. Arthur’s coup, which Arthur dubbed “Operation Guitar Boy” appears to have been bereft of any ideological motivation, (it did not aim to bring Dr. Nkrumah back to power or establish a particular form of governance) instead it was an ego-driven enterprise that aimed not only to settle his grievance against the senior officers, but also to earn the accolade of being the first subaltern to successfully lead a coup.

And even where the soldier with a gun perceives his moral right to seize power, there is an inherent contradiction. Thus, Afrifa’s simultaneous acknowledgement of the coup d’├ętat as a bad thing, while considering it as an effective mechanism for restoring the constitutional rights of citizens can be viewed as fundamentally flawed.

While Afrifa’s role in steering Ghana back to a constitutional democracy is rightly lauded, the argument that the NLC put the country back on a solid economic footing is a hugely contentious one. A key aspect toward remedying what they asserted was the economic mess into which Nkrumah had plunged Ghana was to seek closer relations with the United States and the rest of the Western world.

Afrifa was key to this strategy. His book, which the journalist R.Y. Adu-Asare claimed was ghost-written by Kofi Awoonor, the author, who started it, and Kofi Busia who completed it, was an exercise in unrestrained pro-Western sentiment. Afrifa’s strategy of consistently waxing lyrical about his love of British values alongside his constant ridiculing and demonising of Nkrumah, for whom the West had no love, arguably strays into the obsequious.

While it is understandable that a person like Afrifa by virtue of his Anglican education, British military training and circumstances of living in a British colony would, for better or for worse, be inculcated with a good measure of British culture (his love of Magna Carta and British notions of “fair play”), his assertion that he and other Ghanaians would be minded to fight alongside Britain “as Canadians and Australians have” is striking. One of the grievances members of the Ghanaian Army had against Nkrumah was claimed to be his decision to put them on standby to fight in Rhodesia. Afrifa expressed this view, but conveniently ignored the fact that Britain was operating a “Kith and Kin” policy in relation to the white minority in that country. UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) was after all a rebellion against the authority of the crown. Instead, Afrifa naively expressed his confidence that Britain would find a solution to the issue.

The pivot towards the West thus appeared to be as extreme as Nkrumah’s detractors claimed was his gravitation towards China and the Eastern Communist bloc of nations. As early as March 1966, Robert W. Komer of the United States National Security Council informed President Lyndon Johnson that the NLC was “extremely pro-Western”. This was of course no surprise given the fact that the anti-Nkrumah conspirators who included Afrifa had given the CIA Station in Accra regular updates as to the progress of their enterprise.

But this treasonous conduct (as their critics often point out) and the close relations pursued after their assumption of power, paid little dividend. The NLC slavishly backed the United States in the United Nations over unpopular adventures such as the Vietnam war and received some aid and loans, but was disappointed at the scope of aid requested, particularly that to do with military assistance. Relations with the United States deteriorated because of the differences that materialised over the issue of decolonisation in Portuguese Africa and policy towards Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia. Further, it failed to reach a cocoa agreement with Ghana. Ever dependent on the volatile cocoa market, the Ghanaian economy continued in its parlous state at the time Afrifa handed power over to the civilian government headed by Kofi Busia. Thus, Afrifa and his colleagues arguably only made themselves as subservient to the United States and the West as they claimed Nkrumah made himself subservient to the communist world with little reward.

Afrifa, who pronounced himself as a man committed to social order and who submitted himself to a career that mandated obedience to authority, was also a man with a capacity for rebellion. His expulsion from college, his disciplinary issues at Sandhurst, his facing a court-martial at the time of the February coup, his participation in that coup and his involvement in the attempted counter-coup of 1972 all attest to this. A bright and charismatic man, he also accommodated a healthy ego. Were his rapid promotions from major to colonel and then brigadier merely maintaining a rank in proportion to his burgeoning responsibilities? Or were they an exercise in hubris? He appears to have been a brigadier at the time of the hand over to civilian power, but in retirement was referred to as a lieutenant general - all before he had reached his 35th birthday.

The swiftness by which Afrifa and the others were executed suggests that he was not granted natural justice, albeit that military commissions even when properly constituted are inherently weighted against the defendant. His relative Addaquay recalled in 1979 that he “was arrested on Friday, jailed and shot at dawn on Tuesday morning.”

It has also been suggested that the legal justification for Afrifa’s execution trumpeted by Major Kofi Boakye-Gyan at the National Reconciliation hearings in the early 2000s were merely an afterthought, given that the bulletins issued to the press by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council in 1979 made no explicit references to the Criminal Code (1960), the Armed Forces Act (1962) and the Superior Order Rule attendant to the Armed Forces regulation which Boakye-Gyan insisted were brought to his attention at the time after consulting widely with figures such as Colonel Peter Agbeko, the head of the Armed Forces Legal Services Directorate; Justice Mills Odoi, the Advocate-General of the Armed Forces; and Justice Austin Amissah, an eminent jurist.

Among his admirers, and the critics of the AFRC’s decision to execute him, are those who suspect a tribal motive in targeting Afrifa. Aside from considering Afrifa’s elimination as an insult to the Ashanti nation which had given him one of its highest titles, they see the half-Ewe Jerry Rawlings as being the instrument of vengeance for periodic episodes in Ghana’s history where Ewe power and influence has ebbed. Although Afrifa did not strike many as a man who was overtly tribally motivated -an accusation often leveled at the late Kotoka who was an Ewe- the aftermath of Kotoka’s death during which time Afrifa expanded his power base is perceived by many Ewes as a time when Ewe influence diminished. There had been a resurgence of Ewe’s within the corridors of power while Kotoka was alive after complaints of their marginalisation during the Nkrumah era.

Divisions among the members of the NLC during the transition to civilian government was noted by analysts who observed that Afrifa’s favoured politician was Kofi Busia, like him an Ashanti, while John Harlley, the NLC’s Vice Chairman favoured Komla Gbedemah, a fellow Ewe. The hand of Afrifa in helping engineer the decision to disqualify Gbedemah cannot be dismissed given the assessment of objective analysts that the use of the clause to effect the disqualification (on the grounds that he had misused public funds) was a device employed to neutralise a potential rival to Busia, Afrifa’s preferred candidate. Afrifa, as Suzanne Cronji reminded in an opinion piece in the London Observer in August 1970, had “always been connected with the prosperous Ashanti cocoa farmers –that section of Ghana’s population which most resented Nkrumah’s Socialist rule.”

Akwasi Afrifa died a villain's death, executed like a common criminal at a firing range and buried unceremoniously in a prison cemetery. But while his detractors view him with disdain as a consummate operator in the dark arts of political subterfuge and manipulation, he was clearly not a bloodthirsty Machiavellian who insisted on preserving his power as a head of state by murder and instituting a reign of terror as did Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia and Moussa Traore of Mali.

Claims that Afrifa was a coup-plotter who was essential a democrat do not ring as hollow as those made by the widow of the Chilean Air Force General, Gustavo Leigh Guzman who was a member of the junta which staged the violent overthrow of the Marxist-orientated government of Salvador Allende before inaugurating an era of widespread human rights abuse. But Afrifa did not have ‘clean hands’ in so far as the abuse of human rights is concerned: evidence was given at the National Reconciliation hearings of his supervision of the torture of members of President Nkrumah’s Presidential Detail Department (PDD). Afrifa “could not have been my hero” wrote R.Y. Adu-Asare in 2002 because, Adu-Asare charged, he had sanctioned to killing of one Brigadier Bawah, the commander of Nkrumah’s presidential guard, and, allegedly, members of Bawah’s household.

Moreover, the background to Afrifa’s execution, dominated by a groundswell of public anger and disgust at Ghana’s military rulers cannot be ignored. The executions, which were part of what the AFRC termed a ‘House Cleaning’ operation, were met with popular approval by the media, public organisations and individuals. For instance, the June 24th editorial of the Catholic Standard, which was titled “The Great Lesson” approved of the first batch of executions which it applauded as “a means of instilling discipline and justice” in the country.

Earlier, an editorial in the June 4th edition of the Ghanaian Times urged the AFRC not to limit the scope of its House Cleaning to 1972, the year in which Colonel Acheampong seized power, but to hold to account what it described as “the many rogues who have committed economic crimes against the nation” to an earlier time frame. The editorial made it clear that “in looking behind 1972, we are not interested in picking on any individual or group.” 

The AFRC did cast its net further back, and as a compromise between the opposing views of whether civilian collaborators (and police personnel) should be included among those against whom serious measures should be taken, those senior members who served in Ghana’s first military government came into its crosshairs. Kotoka was dead, General Albert Ocran had fled into exile and Ankrah was excused for not having been a participant in the 1966 coup (he had been invited to head the government before being forced to resign), so Afrifa alone from that era was made to pay the price.  

Afrifa’s participation in the coup against Dr. Nkrumah had opened up a can of worms, and his justifications, no matter how well-meaning and seemingly well-reasoned, essentially posited a counter-intuitive logic that treason could prosper by ceasing to be treason.

It is worth bearing all of this in mind when assessing the legacy of Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa. The truth, as in most cases, lies somewhere in-between the extreme narratives of demonisation and hagiography.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is based in London, England. He has a keen interest in history and geo-politics.