Victor Banjo

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Victor Banjo (April 1, 1930 – September 22, 1967) was a Colonel in the Nigerian Army. He ended up in the Biafran Army during the struggles between Nigeria and Biafra. Victor Banjo was mistaken for a coup plotter against the Nigerian Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, by the Government of Aguyi Ironsi (according with the book "Why we struck" by Adewale Ademoyega) He was alleged to have staged a coup plot against Biafran President Odumegwu Ojukwu.[1] and was executed as a result. It took a second military tribunal judge to sentence Victor Banjo, because Odumegwu Ojukwu's first military judge stated that there were not enough evidence to convict Victor Banjo of coup charges. There has been no third party verification of Victor Banjo's involvement in the Nigerian Coup nor Biafran Coup. His alleged involvement in both coup plots has been based on unsubstantiated hearsay.

Career[edit]

Lt Col Victor Adebukunola Banjo, was the first Nigerian Director of the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Corps of the Nigerian Army. He joined the Army in 1953 as Warrant Officer 52 and he was the sixteenth Nigerian to be commissioned as an officer. (NA 16). A product of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he also obtained a B Sc. in Mechanical Engineering. His travails began immediately after the January 15, 1966 coup, which brought Major-General Thomas Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to power.[2]

1966 Coup[edit]

Three days after Aguiyi-Ironsi came to power, Banjo was summoned to the office of the Supreme Military Commander and was arrested while he was still waiting to see the Head of State. He was accused of planning to kill the Head of State and detained. It is however believed and this much has been suggested in other writings on that tumultuous moment in Nigerian history that Banjo was detained because it was thought that he had a hand in the January 15, 1966 coup. It was a difficult moment for Nigeria as the January 15 coup had inflamed tribal passions and divided the military, and Aguiyi-Ironsi more or less did not know what to do.

Banjo was detained in various prisons between January 1966 and May 1967. He had a young family of four children, and a young wife, his incarceration expectedly destabilized his family life. In A Gift of Sequins, we see how through letter writing, he tried his best to keep in touch with his wife and children, playing the dutiful husband and father by correspondence. Banjo's letters reveal much about his character and personality and his views about the circumstances of his time. He was a doting father and an affectionate husband. His letters to his wife drip with love and care. He was a well-read man of ideas, a lover of books and a frank, forthright intellect. He understood both English and French and communicated with his wife in both languages, not hiding his preference for the latter, which he considered far more flexible and romantic. Through a period of one year and half, we are taken through Banjo's life in prison and how he tried to cope with the ordeal of incarceration. His letters are shot through with anger and disappointment.

Northern Army leaders successfully carried out a counter coup against the incumbent Nigerian president Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo. Along with Ironsi many Yorubas were killed. Banjo, a Yoruba,[3] attempted to defend a Yoruba officer but was arrested and thrown in prison by Olusegun Obasanjo. Banjo proclaimed his innocence but he was refused a trial.

Biafra and Death[edit]

When Biafra was proclaimed on May 30, 1967 Banjo was released from an Eastern Nigerian prison by President Odumegwu Ojukwu and made Colonel. His imprisonment was without trial, due to his alleged involvement in a 1966 coup. When the Nigerian Army invaded Biafra on July 6, 1967 Ojukwu sent Banjo and Major Albert Okonkwo to invade Nigeria. Banjo was able to capture Benin City in less than a day and was able to get within 300 kilometers of the Nigerian capital Lagos. After Banjo was repulsed at the Battle of Ore, he and other officers (Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Phillip Alale, and Sam Agbam) were accused of allegedly plotting a coup against Ojukwu.[4] After a hurried trial,[5] that some authors characterized as biased,[6] Banjo and other alleged plotters were found guilty of treason and were sentenced to death. “My name is Brigadier Victor Banjo. I command the liberation army in Mid-West. Before then, l commanded all the operations in the Northern front. “I know all the other three accused persons fairly well. The second accused, Philip Alale, l met for the first time on July 9, 1967 when there was a collapse of the Nsukka front among our troops. Neither himself nor myself was then an officer in the Biafran Army. “We went to Nsukka together with Brigadier Philip Effiong to assist to watch Philip talk to the troops with vehemence and sincerity. That, to a great extent, helped to rekindle their sagging morale. “His Excellency, Col. Ojukwu, was as well at Nsukka that night. I later found out from the Governor that Philip Alale has been his close friend and that the man was primarily instrumental in organising the support of the masses for the declaration of the Republic of Biafra. “I know that Major Alale has been involved in settling some conflicts in the trade union movements, which might well account for the extraordinary hostility of one of the witnesses for the prosecution. I remember, in fact, that when l was about to return to the Western Command, His Excellency refused to allow Major Alale accompany me because he needed Major Alale for the task of preparing a political programme for the Republic of Biafra. It would be impossible to conceive of Major Alale being tried by this tribunal for the offence in this charge. “I know Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Ifeajuna very well. He had been my colleague in the old Nigerian Army, although a junior colleague. I know about his involvement in the coup of January 1966. He was responsible for the deaths of a few people. He was with me in prison for quite some time. “I have had opportunity of discussing the details of that coup with him. I know he regrets the bloodshed that took place on that occasion in fact, his aversion to bloodshed is in the nature of an obsession, which to a certain extent, militates against his efficiency as a commander of troops in the battlefront. “These considerations were primary in my mind when he was offered to me as a commanding officer for the Western operations. Instead, l chose to make him my Chief of Staff. As Chief of Staff, he discharged himself with such confidence that constituted in no small measure to the success of that operation. “Lt-Col. Ifeajuna joined the group of young men who have been in the habit of giving advice to His Excellency on State matters. During my short disagreement with his Excellency on the MidWest political policy, he was himself personally instrumental in bringing to His Excellency, my point of view on the Mid-West operation. I am aware that he subsequently became a frequent member of this group. “My stay in Biafra, after having been released from prison, has been due to my friendship with Col. Ojukwu. I clearly remember once telling him that l would return to the West. He told me that he needed me here because he felt he needed someone who could ta to hi without ceremony; someone in a position to give blame t him for his mistakes. Most of the political manoeuvres that Col. Ojukwu planned early this year in connection with achieving Southern solidarity against the North, were planned with me. “When he decided to declare an Independent Republic of Biafra, l pleaded with him to postpone it as both the people West and Mid-West wee not ready or at that stage, sufficiently strong militarily to take the same stand, even though they would wish it. “I pointed out to him his declaration of Biafra at the time was not consistent with our plans and agreements. I told him that the people of the West who were acting on the basis of the fact that l would bring assistance to them from here, would consider the decision to declare Biafra at that time a betrayal of our arrangements. I tod the military Governor that l would leave Biafra for the West or for the outside world after his declaration of Independence. “However, when l discovered the emerging trend that followed the declaration of Independence of Biafra, it became clear to me that a war with the North was imminent. I decided to stay behind and assist in the prosecution of the war, both for the sake of my friendship with Colonel Ojukwu and in the hope that having assisted to fight back the Northern threat to Biafra, he would assist me with troops to rid the Mid-West and Lagos of the same menace. “I came into the war at a moment of temporary collapse of the Biafran fighting effort, when it became quite clear to me that the fighting effort of the Biafran Army was not only being incompetently handled, but also being sabotaged. Since then, it has been my fortune to command the Biafran troops on their successfull exploits. “On the whole, l had in private, told Col Ojukwu that l could never be made to stand charged for having plotted against his office and his person. There was no plot against him.” September 22, 1967 Banjo, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, and Philip Alale were marched into the Enugu city center and were tied to a pole. A firing squad of Biafran soldiers fired at them. When Banjo was hit, he reportedly yelled defiantly, "I'm not dead yet!" and he had to be shot multiple times before he died.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Michael Gould (2011). The Struggle for Modern Nigeria: The Biafran War 1967-1970. I.B.Tauris (International Library of African Studies). ISBN 9780857730954. 
  2. ^ "Letter from Colonel Banjo to General Ironsi in 1966". Gongnews. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  3. ^ Max Siollun (2009). Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture (1966-1976). Algora Publishing. ISBN 9780875867106. 
  4. ^ Oliver, Brian. The Commonwealth Games: Extraordinary Stories behind the Medals. A&C Black, 2014. pp. 110–111. ISBN 9781472908438. 
  5. ^ Baxter, Peter. Biafra: The Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970. Helion and Company, 2015. p. 28. ISBN 9781909982369. 
  6. ^ Umweni, Samuel Enadeghe. 888 Days in Biafra. iUniverse, 2007. p. 34. ISBN 9780595425945. 
  7. ^ Tatalo Alamu (September 30, 2012). "Major Triumphant". The Nation. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 

External links[edit]

"Victor Banjo: Family Archives".