In This Review

Nigeria’s Soldiers of Fortune: The Abacha and Obasanjo Years
Nigeria’s Soldiers of Fortune: The Abacha and Obasanjo Years
By Max Siollun
325 pp, Hurst, 2019

Siollun, a Nigerian journalist and historian, is the premier expert on the role of the military in Nigeria since the country won independence, in 1960. This sharply written and well-informed book is the third in his series on military rule in the country and focuses on the period between the end of General Ibrahim Babangida’s presidency, in 1993, and the return to power of General Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999, through relatively free and fair elections. Those six years saw the rise of a particularly toxic politics, in which senior military officers constantly maneuvered and conspired to maintain their power. Siollun ably steers the reader through the events surrounding the businessman Mashood Abiola’s election to the presidency in 1993, the military’s refusal to allow him to assume office, and his subsequent arrest and death in custody; General Sani Abacha’s paranoid and violent presidency, from 1993 to 1998; and the trial and execution of the activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995. Siollun argues that by the end of the twentieth century, the military had ruled Nigeria so badly that citizens were finally convinced of the superiority of civilian rule. This kind of judgment is rare in a narrative that is studiously dispassionate and entirely focused on the personalities and networks that shaped elite politics during this period, to the detriment of assessing the consequences of military rule.