At half past one in the afternoon of September 24th, 1967, four men were lined up for execution in the full glare of the city of Enugu, Nigeria. The men had been tried and condemned by a military tribunal under the then Biafran Government headed by Col. Odumegwu Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. The men were Samuel Agbam, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Philip Alale, and Victor Banjo. Their executioners lined up before them and in a matter of minutes, all four men were dead. Victor Banjo was the last to die. As the bullets tore through his chest, he kept screaming “I’m not dead yet... I’m not dead yet...”, as if taunting his executioners who could only kill the body, daring them to kill his soul too. These four men were the first set of military men and civilians to be executed by a government on the Nigerian soil. September 24th, 2017 marked fifty years after their execution and Deji Yesufu has written the book, Victor Banjo, in honour of one of them.
In his short review published in the book, Okey Ndibe says of Victor Banjo: “...the story of this officer’s life and tragic death often reads like the stuff of legends. That story also contains enduring lessons for Nigerians as they wrestle with the paradox of a country that should attain greatness, but frequently takes paths that undermine its best dreams...”
It is this “stuff of legends” that Deji has dared to write about in this interesting and provocative book of his. This book is provocative because the name “Victor Banjo” conjures unpleasant memories for the Nigerian nation and of a wasteful war that should never have been fought fifty years ago. Regardless of what memories we have of the days gone by, blood has been shed on the Nigerian soil and whenever the blood of the innocent is shed, it continues to cry until it is appeased.
Many books have been written on Victor Banjo. There is no account of the civil war that does not bring up his name. Deji Yesufu has, however, written this book not just to recount the story of the life of Victor Banjo but to particularly remind a nation not to take the same path that its forbears took which led to the loss of the lives of over a million people. In this book, Deji tells the story of how the first experimentation with democracy in Nigeria failed. Reading this book today, one appreciates how far we have come since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999. The book also warns of pitfalls that we as a nation must avoid. People learn history in order to imitate the good works of the heroes past as well as to avoid repeating the mistakes that had been made in that past.
In contrast to many narratives on Victor Banjo that a lot of ill-informed people peddle today, Deji Yesufu has painted Victor Banjo as a hero in this book. He recalls many of the ideals of this great military officer whose life was cut short in its prime – Banjo was only 37 at his death. Deji believes that if the story of Banjo is better known in our body polity, our nation will have the capacity to avoid many of the mistakes it often finds itself making. I agree with Deji on this and I heartily recommend this book to all, particularly to our young people in Secondary Schools so they could read and learn about an aspect of our nation’s history.
The challenge with Deji’s book, however, is that in telling the Victor Banjo story, Deji may have painted Banjo as a saint. The fact is that there are no saints on this earth. Victor Banjo had his faults; still, one cannot blame Deji too much for the view he has taken. Those who wish to cast Victor Banjo in the wrong side of history have succeeded in blowing his faults out of proportion. Most of the narratives on Victor Banjo, particularly by the Yorubas whom he actually sought to help in August 1967 when he invaded Midwestern Nigeria with troops borrowed from Ojukwu, state that Banjo betrayed the West and fought against Nigeria. Deji needed to state the facts around what really happened in that thirty-day period in Benin City. The long and short of his narration is that Victor Banjo was not to blame. That is why this review has been titled “Deji Yesufu’s VICTOR BANJO”. If anyone does not agree with the author’s narrative, he or she has the right to write a different account as inspired. Those who care to read Victor Banjo may obtain the first 20% of Deji Yesufu’s book for free from the Smashwords website.
Victor Banjo is a concise and well-written book. The publishers, Joe-Tolalu & Associates, did a great job editing the book. In reading the book again after it was published, I did not encounter any typographical errors.
To those who prefer to think that enough material has been written on the Nigerian civil war, I wish to point out that nations take centuries to get over the pains and losses of wars. Even if you disagree with Deji on all his conclusions in this book, you should agree that Nigeria cannot afford to undergo another civil war.
Lucky James is the author of “Tales from Our Past”. He lives with his family in Ibadan.