Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) Paperback – Mar 15 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
This is the number one resource on the true, balanced and non-biased book on the history of Nigeria within the period in review.
I have one request Max, there has to be a part two from 1983 to 1999. This is a must!!!
Well done for the good job!!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Devoid of any hints of propagandist material, Mr Siollun has given us an incisive and impartial account of the events of those years with copious cross references to authoritative and classified material which the author relied on through out the book. An added advantage is the fact that the "characters" current location and professional circumstances are dutifully and meticulously presented to the reader well into the present day. For instance, we were able to note that the erstwhile post failed 1976 coup Murtala successor General Obasanjo came back as a Civillian President much later on.
Mr Siollun has the unique advantage of being born in Nigeria but not natively belonging to any of the main tribes in Nigeria hence could not be seen or accused of being "Hausa centric", "igbo centric" or "Yoruba centric" in what has been an objective and well researched book.
The book itself is invariably a culmination of several decades of painstaking researched articles and materials written and published by the author over the years - already available in the public domain. What this book has done is to cleverly weave these together and provide the avid reader/follower of Nigerian History with a comprehensive harness of updated material hitherto unseen until now.
I was born around mid 1967 in the UK but returned with my parents to Nigeria late the same year when the Civil War was already in "full swing". We lived at GRA Ikeja (a few hundred meters to the Military Cantonment in Ikeja). Indeed at a point in time Babangida was our next door neighbour for several years when he was a junior "unknown" officer! I recall my parents (Who were federal civil servants based in Lagos) much later on recounting the dreadful events of that period. Though I did recall vividly the abortive Dimka coup of barely a decade later and the Udoji award and the attendant inflation that occured shortly afterwards. Indeed I recalled going to the Museum at Onikan in Lagos with my parents to view the bullet ridden Mercedes in which General Murtala met his untimely death. I was barely 13 years old then but ever since that visit, I made up my mind to hunt down as much information as possible with regards to the chequered history of our beloved nation.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the author's "first installment" of the 1966 to 1976 period, I cannot wait for the next installment covering the period December 1983 to October 1999. Indeed as fate would have it, My late Dad was the Territorial Manager at the Post and Telecoms(later renamed to NITEL) Ikeja Telephone Exchange which was walking distance from the Ikeja Military barracks. I do recall a very interesting encounter during the 1983 coup when soldiers came knocking on our door in the wee hours of the morning. As was customary in those days, the soldiers would generally take over the radio station and deactivate the local exchange at ikeja which my Dad headed at the time. On getting to the exchange on the fateful night, they ordered the technicians to switch off the power to deactive all local and international line in/out of the Exchange but the techician panicked and was not able to do so especially whilst under pressure from gun totting and fierce looking soldiers from the Ikeja cantonment. The technician was thereafter escorted under armed guard to our residence which was around half a mile down the road. My dad was politely roused from bed at around 2AM and taken to the exchange under armed guard whereupon he dutifully deactivated the relevant equipment; was told to go back home and "we were all sworn to secrecy". Of course we could not sleep a wink and welcomed the new year with martial music on the airwave.
Indeed unbeknown to us at the time, we were unwitting accessories to the commencement of almost two decades of military rule starting with the Buhari/Idiagbon regime and ending with the brutal dictatorial military regimes of Babangida/Abacha. With a number of real and phantom coups also thrown in somewhere in between for "good measures".
Once again Max, we doff out hats to you and really do appreciate your kind efforts at taking the time to provide Nigerians with a well written and incisive account of those years. A benchmark has been set and we fervently hope your next account will be equally as exhilarating.
Max Siollun, has produced such a wonder in Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)
Right out the gates the English born Nigerian but US based Professor, separates himself from the rest of the pack of historians that have feebly tackled early Nigerian Politics with his pronounced objectivity and absolutely impeccable research. In a detailed chronological sequence of events he locks the door on many a propagated myth and exposes among others how for instance the Igbo's became political scapegoats not by choice but by default. He also amazingly shows how for the better part of 3 decades it was pretty much "old wine in new bottles" as the same vagabonds in power continued -just like some morbid spoke of a wheel- to keep in place Nigeria's wobbly and corrupt coup culture.
Each of the 268 pages is saturated with such intricate fact that you often have to pinch yourself back into reality to realize again that all this stuff really did occur, and is not the draft of an up till now unknown Shakespearean tragedy. The man really names names and one has to virtually munch on a mint to supress the subsequent but delicious bite.
However while his book will serve hopefully as salve on the deep festering wound inflicted on Nigeria, it does not address the more dangerous and ever present infection that lingers on still robbing her of her full potential; because it summates just ten years out of almost 45 years. Since there is an undeniable thread linking the past to the present and vice versa ; we salivate at the possibility......NO I take that back ....." we implore" the absolute need of a part 2 that will continue to explore the murky dysfunctional rot that is Nigerian Politics. The story after 1976 must also be examined with as equal objectivity and openness and till then we will remain hungry at the table like guests denied of a spectacular entrée after being treaded to array of amazing hors d'oeuvres.....pounding our forks and just like Twist - asking for more.
Perhaps the title of the book should be 'politics, violence and regionalism' in the military ( the oil only becomes a serious factor later).Much of what drives the politics of Military rule is the need to control executive power, the use of violence and region( and tribe).
Unlike many more recent accounts Mr Siolluns account of the collapse of the First Republic and crisis does not seem to have any discernible axe to grind or hurt to nurse, which helps to make this account more readable, authoritative and 'balanced'. It overturns a few myths and offers what feels like a final and credible last word on a few controversies. lt is interested in people and follows a few careers from one crisis to the next, and beyond, describing the character and possible motives of key individuals.
It is both an exhilarating and sad read; 'all the best lack conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity' as Yeats would say. Good guys hardly ever win in Nigerian history and often their actions make matters worse.
I cannot wait to read the sequel.
Such questions loom large in Nigeria's violent political history of the first two decades after independence. The most problematic have been, what really happened during the first two coups and the resultant civil war? It is here that Nigerians need to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because such reliable knowledge has proved useful in the past. But most Nigerian histories of those turbulent times, are often clouded by the malodorous presence of ethnic chauvinism and hatred of the Other, and the need for self-aggrandizement. Many readers despaired of ever seeing an unbiased history from Nigerians themselves, and sought such objectivity from outsiders who often had little understanding of the subtleties of the Nigerian political milieu.
Thus Mr. Siollun's book about the first four coups (1966-1976) must be considered something of a miracle. Unlike prior writers on the topic from that country, the Nigerian-born historian successfully checked at the door the ethnic biases he surely must have, in order to combine the dispassionate objectivity of the outsider with the nuanced knowledge of the insider. The result is a truly insightful book that is highly accessible to the general reader. The book also has enough new information to serve as a starting point for future investigators who wish to tackle some of the issues in greater detail.
Mr Siollun, whose essays about the first two coups are familiar to those who visit Nigerian websites, has tackled the four coups sequentially, and shown how they are related in terms of personnel involved and lessons to be learned. For instance, some of the participants in the second coup--such as Babangida, Abacha, Yaradua, and Buhari--dominated Nigerian coup-making culture for thirty years. Mr. Siollun shows how failing to punish murderous putschists can and did come back to bite coup beneficiaries in the arse, since "unpunished coup plotters will re-offend. The coup plotters behind Nigeria's military regimes were repeat offenders--often with fatal consequences for themselves. They were men who lived life on the edge, snacked on danger and dined on death. For them, coup plotting was in the blood."
Mr. Siollun's summary of the pre-coup political situation is concise and lucid, and looks at the events in new ways. For instance, most people probably do not see the Nzeogwu coup as the second attempt at overthrowing the Balewa government by force. While many followers of Nigerian history may know that Awolowo--leader of the Action Group, one of the opposition parties in the First Republic--was jailed for treason in 1964, few are aware that it was not a trumped up charge, and that three decades later, Action Group General Secretary, S.G. Ikoku, confirmed that there was a genuine AG plot to topple the federal government.
Mr. Siollun is at his strongest where he skillfully cuts away the myths that have grown weed-like around the more controversial of those 1966 events. One of the more pernicious of these is the lie that the January 15 1966 coup was an effort at Igbo domination organized by the Igbos. Mr. Siollun demonstrates that there is a very strong case for seeing January 15 as an UPGA (United Progressive Grand Alliance) coup, or in other words, a second attempt by the South or southern political parties to wrest power from the North. By examining the national character of the Igbos, and the stereotypes that grew around their business activities, he carefully shows us the historical process via which the Igbos became the national scapegoat; we see how one section of the country practiced what he calls "transferred malice," where the Igbos were singled out for punishment during troubles in which they only played a bit part.
In this absorbing and fascinating work, there is a good deal of new and startling information: who knew that in private moments, the genial Ironsi, first military ruler, liked to refer jokingly to his fellow Igbos by the pejorative Northern term "Nyamiri?" We learn of the enormous family pressures on Northern officers and men after January 15 demanding vengeance for the Northern officers killed. The blood relationships between Northern People's Congress (NPC) politicians, and some of the July 1966 plotters are revealed--Inua Wada, defence minister in the Balewa government during the First Republic, was Murtala Muhammed's cousin, for example. We begin to understand the Machiavellian Ibrahim Babangida--military president from 1985 to 1993--better when we find out his closest friends were among the Dimka coup plotters of Feb 1976, a coup in which those very friends marked him for liquidation. We learn that Gen. Obasanjo wept when the poisonous chalice of leadership would not pass him by. Such brief character and biographical sketches of principal players inject life into the narrative, and make the historical protagonists more than just names on a paper.
The book of course has its flaws, some quite minor and perhaps fixable in later editions. The footnoting seems somewhat haphazard and sparse. To some, this may be considered a benefit, but it could be frustrating to the reader or researcher who wants to learn more by exploring sources. And one of the more vexatious things is that the footnoting, like Carlyle's History, "is silent where you most wish her to speak."
More egregious are the omissions and failures to explore some controversial areas. We do not know the extent of Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi's involvement in January 15 even though Mr. Siollun was involved a few years back in a debate about it with someone on the Internet who went by the moniker "Arthur Unegbe". Perhaps there is nothing to know or find out, but Mr. Siollun's complete silence--no discussion of rumours, or analysis of possibilities--is troubling. Also surely we could learn from a brief exploration of the contradictions in the public statements of Gowon's apologists and the actions of the man that suggest some foreknowledge of the July horrors? However, in light of the importance and intelligence of this work, it would be churlish to carp about these matters.
I admit to being skeptical before reading this work, expecting the typical tendentious and ethnically jaundiced approach that colours most Nigerian commentaries on the coups of 1966. What Mr. Siollun has given us rather is a deft, measured, and just examination of those tragic events, all done in very accessible prose. All Nigerians owe him a debt of gratitude. I wish I could find a way to get a copy into the hands of every educated Nigerian.
He also does an extremely good job of setting the atmosphere, the expectations and grievances of various groups and interest, and also getting into the minds of the numerous "principals". So, as a reader, you now have a very intimate understanding of who shaped and influenced the various coups, and counter-coups; and why.
The ingredients for the "Nigerian" problem is transparent and well laid out in the pages of the book. However, my only disappointment is that Max Siollun does not offer a solution. I guess he can't do it all, that is left for the readers to figure out from being familiar with the causes.