Victor Banjo

Colonel Victor Banjo
Lt. Col. Victor Banjo Photo: Twitter (TOLU OGUNLESI)

Victor Banjo, born in 1930, was a soldier who, caught in the middle of an ideological complexity during the Nigerian Civil War, was executed by separatist army in 1967. In 1953, Victor Banjo joined the Royal West African Frontier force, training in Teshi, Ghana, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, England, and then the Military College of Science where he obtained a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He was believed to have participated in a plot against Agunyi Ironsi, the first Nigerian military Head of State, and for brandishing a loaded pistol in Ironsi’s presence, was arrested and detained. His plea to Ironsi, though considered, never got him freedom till a counter coup brought in Yakwubu Gowon who he attested in his letter, was “Christianly,” but undermined by powerful influence. He was released from the prison in May 1967 by Odumegwu Ojukwu, military administrator of the Eastern state where he had been moved to continue his imprisonment who by then had rebelled against the federal government following the killings of Ibos as a result of the ill feelings generated by the coup of January 1966, which marked the beginning of Banjo’s own ordeal.

Having failed in convincing separatist leader, Ojukwu to enlarge the base of the struggle beyond the sufferings of the Ibos, Banjo accepted to lead an offensive in the Mid-Western states on behalf of separatist authority. As written by Chinua Achebe, he was not in favour of secessionist aspirations but preferred a solution to Nigeria’s problems that would undo the amalgamation of 1914 which united Northern and the Southern Nigeria in the first place.

Victor Banjo and wife on wedding day
Victor Banjo and wife at home, 1957. Source:

The Battle of Ore, 1967

On August 9 1967, Victor Banjo led separatist forces into the Mid-West, causing panic in parts of the Western state. The sentiment he feared will be rife among people of his home state began to be voiced in the radio; that the West must not be used as a battle ground in the contest between the North and the East. Certain elements in Ibadan however prepared to welcome Banjo’s army as liberators. In Benin, Banjo communicated with playwright, Wole Soyinka, who connected him with important military officers in the West. Banjo needed to know the manner of reception he should be expecting on his way to Lagos. Olusegun Obasanjo, the most important of the Generals in the West, who Soyinka had contacted for this purpose reported the hatching plot to the Head of State, Yakwubu Gowon. Banjo’s indecision and his placative radio messages to the people of the Mid-West who he briefly conquered for the separatists unnerved his commander in Enugu. He was recalled  and his army was finally repelled from occupied areas by September 20 1967. Accused of intentionally discontinuing the offensive when in Ore on course to Lagos, Victor Banjo was executed along with three other leaders of the defeated army for unsubstantiated charges of plotting against Ojukwu. When hit by the bullet, he shouted “I am not dead yet,” till he was silenced by the fourth.

It may never be known, given the many contradictory versions, the real intentions of Banjo in Ore, but his brilliance, and commitment to his family is radiant. Letters of the loving husband to his young wife at the time of his incarceration has been compiled in a book, A Gift of Sequins, published under an Ibadan imprint through his daughter. The book has been so named because of the gift of expensive textile he sent to his wife to cheer her after the lost of a baby.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer