Nigeria’s Soldiers of Fortune
The Abacha and Obasanjo Years
The renowned chronicler of Nigerian praetorianism returns with an unsparing account of the country’s fortunes in the 1990s.
A Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2020.
In the cataclysmic decade that is the focus of this book, Nigeria was subject to several near-death experiences. These began when the country nearly tore itself apart after the northern-led military government annulled the results of a 1993 presidential election won by the southerner Moshood Abiola, and ended with former military ruler General Olusegun Obasanjo being the unlikely conduit of democracy.
This mini-history of a nation’s life also reflects on three mesmerising protagonists who personified that era. First up is Abiola: the multi-billionaire businessman who had his election victory voided by the generals who made him rich, and who was later assassinated. General Sani Abacha was the mysterious, reclusive ruler under whose watch Abiola was arrested and pro-democracy activists (including Abiola’s wife) were murdered. He also oversaw a terrifying Orwellian state security operation. Although Abacha is today reviled as a tyrant, the author eschews selective amnesia, reminding Nigerians that they goaded him into seizing power. The third protagonist is Obasanjo, who emerged from prison to return to power as an elected civilian leader.
The penumbra of military rule still looms over Nigeria nearly twenty years after the soldiers departed, and key personalities featured in this book remain in government, including the current president.
Max Siollun is a historian and author who specialises in Nigeria's history. He has written some of the most acclaimed books on Nigeria's history, and has been described as standing 'unchallenged, in contemporary times, as the Chronicler-in-Chief of the Nigerian military' by the Special Assistant on New Media to Nigeria's President Buhari, Tolu Ogunlesi.
‘Sharply written and well-informed.’ — Foreign Affairs
‘Riveting, [with] crisp, disciplined sentences and an engaging pace plus expert descriptions of colourful characters. This is how history should be written. [Each chapter] is virtually a stand-alone booklet offering entertaining and informative insights.’ — Ikhide R. Ikheloa in Brittle Paper
‘Writing on Nigerian politics is treacherous: rumours replace data, anecdotes are treated as history, and personal beliefs are stronger than reality. Siollun’s fascinating stories overcome this, revealing a dynamic country full of surprises. This book is a great accomplishment, and millions of Nigerians will connect with it.’ — Toyin Falola, Professor of African Studies and Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, University of Texas at Austin
‘Rich in biographical details and elegantly written, Siollun brings to life the key political actors in this transformational period of Nigerian history. He reveals the complex web of civil—military relations in Nigeria and vividly demonstrates the immediate and long-term consequences of military rule.’ — Maggie Dwyer, Lecturer in Africa and International Development, Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh
‘In Nigeria’s Soldiers of Fortune, Max Siollun has succeeded remarkably in accomplishing what many have failed to achieve. Disentangles in a lively yet dispassionate style, the web of intrigue, brinkmanship, patriotism, nepotism, ethno-regionalism, courage, and flamboyance associated with post-colonial Nigeria.’ — Gloria Emeagwali, Professor of History and African Studies, Central Connecticut State University