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.