Thursday, 11 December 2014

Elvis: Ruminations on Elvis Presley and Black America

Elvis

The thing about Elvis is that any misgivings about him as a man who 'copied' or 'stole' Afro-American music is that it has to be understood that he came from the dominant culture who would only accept one who was of them as number one.

There was an aesthetic aspect as well because there were talented white artists who could not be promoted in the manner that he was because they did not have the 'looks'.

He definitely adapted a great degree of his overall style and packaging: singing, moving (apart from the later karate stuff) and clothing from observing and imbibing the cultural impulse of black America.

One huge strike against him was his Southern roots and the whole negativity of the black experience in that part of the United States under the respective regimes of slave society and later, ‘Jim Crow’ Apartheid.

There were always all sorts of rumours about his racial attitudes. “I could never kiss a Mexican (or black) woman”, “Niggers are only good for shining my shoes” and so on. I don’t think they were definitively corroborated.

He was however constricted by the racial mores of the time. His friend Sammy Davis Jr said Elvis told him that he wished they could both make a movie together but that his audience base (meaning whites and particularly those from below the ‘Mason-Dixon Line’) would not accept it.

Did this demonstrate a certain spinelessness and lack of moral courage on his part? Or was he just being pragmatic?

There are those who feel that he could and should have done more to break down racial barriers. Others feel that just the way he expressed his music and his giving credit to those blacks who had influenced him was enough.

He fell in to self parody and despite his amazing ‘comeback’ show on TV and a revival of sorts in Las Vegas, the case can be forcefully made that his best and most essential work was in the two or three year period that followed the inception of his career.

He stands accused of wasting his talent on terrible Hollywood movies, wearing tacky stage attires, and not attempting to write his own songs and push the boundaries of his creativity in the age of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and later of the introspective singer-songwriters.

Many of his fans are just content that he was what he was regardless. A guy who could sing a many styles with great aplomb and who paved the way for countless black and white musicians.

That may be cold comfort for the militant black school of thought that postulates him as a "straight-up racist" who was “simple and plain”. His pelvic gyrations; a pale imitation of more ‘robustly’ physical and sensual movements by a multitude of earlier R & B performers mark him down for ridicule and even disdain:

“If Elvis is King, who is James Brown; God?” wrote Amiri Baraka.

But it should not be forgotten that Elvis took risks by being a pioneer in his adaptation of black culture. He received huge stick for perpetuating what some of his Southern brethren were referring to as “degenerate nigger music” and the threat it posed to the social order by the fact that blacks and whites were digging his music whether listening to it on the radio or live at (segregated) venues.

He was odd in many ways. Much has been made of the way in which he conducted his private life. But this had a lot to do with his living within a kind of fame that few humans could comprehend. So many people often remember how well mannered and humble he appeared to be in his interactions.

He may not be ‘The King’ to all, and the devotion shown to him by many of his fans may appear over the top and devoid of rationality, but his impact on the course of music history cannot be denied and should not be denigrated.

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)


Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer.


Monday, 8 December 2014

Stephen King’s ‘11/22/63’: A Cogitation on Dick Tiger, Boxing and President Kennedy


The genius of Stephen King’s engaging dramas of popular literature has consistently involved the author’s adeptness at creating a narrative full of complex backgrounds that are inhabited by characters possessing the ineluctable quality of drawing upon the reservoir of empathetic responses from his readers.

These fictional characters often represent credible composites of the spectrum of the human psychological condition: from the characterisations of supernaturally directed protagonists to the ordinary ones, they have proved memorable because of the realism with which they are imbued.

The challenge for King in ‘11/22/63’ was to realistically portray historical figures in his foray into the genre of historical fiction. However, the international bestselling novelist left many of his fans who are boxing followers rather peeved at his representation of Dick Tiger in the book which was published back in November 2011.

It is the story of a man named Jake Epping, a high school teacher from Maine, who is transported back in time in order to try to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

He’s actually transported to 1958 and has to live for five more years in order to achieve his task. So Epping sustains himself by placing bets on major sporting events - the final one of which involves Tiger, and which he watches via close circuit television at the Dallas Civic Auditorium.

Thus, Tiger enters the story in August of 1963 when he suffers an upset fifth round defeat to an ‘older’ fictional journeyman Texan named Tom ‘The Hammer’ Case at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

The scenario is implausible; even shocking for historically-minded boxing fans. And while King’s storytelling style has not required him to be a stickler for detailed facts in the mould of an Arthur Hailey or James Michener, the decision to portray Tiger in these circumstances does not seemingly tally with that of a writer whose research for this novel encompassed “a six-foot high stack of books.”

Whereas King presents Tiger as a rising title contender, Tiger was in fact at the time the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. In August of 1963, he had successfully defended the crown he had won from Gene Fullmer the previous year against Fullmer in the Nigerian city of Ibadan in what had been Black Africa’s first staged world title bout – fully eleven years before the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

Tiger did lose a fight in 1963. His defeat in December of that year at the Atlantic City Convention Hall came against Joey Giardello.

But Giardello was a ‘real’ enough boxer; a talented box-puncher who had been a perennial contender for the world middleweight title which some observers felt had been denied him in a foul-filled contest against Fullmer in 1960.

Tiger did not lose by knockout to over-the-hill challengers in the early 1960s, or, come to think of it, in the latter part of his career when his sole knockout loss came by way of the incendiary fists of the legendary Bob Foster.

In 1968, Tiger was an ageing world light heavyweight champion who gave away a great deal of height, weight and reach to the almost decade younger Foster who at the time was already being acknowledged as an all-time division great.

‘Tom Case’s' defeat of Dick Tiger is puzzling.

Tiger was extremely durable. He had a formidable ‘chin’; boxing parlance for a pugilist apt at absorbing punches that would knockout or at least knockdown conventional foes. How else would he have survived two knockdowns against the paralyzing shots he had to absorb from the hard-hitting light heavyweight contender, Frankie DePaula?

How could he successfully neutralise many of a generation of the middleweight division’s all-time finest who included the powerful punchers: Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, Jose ‘Monon’ Gonzalez and Henry Hank?

And it wasn’t as if he designed a style which involved absorbing a lot of punches as was the approach of Joe Frazier. Tiger aptly evaded punches by a deft combination of head movement and footwork. His noble countenance captured in the aftermath of his retirement; bereft of lumps or scars, testified to this.

Interestingly enough given King’s book’s portrayal of the outcome of Tiger’s fictional bout as having some bearing on the protagonist’s objective in regard to Kennedy, it is worth noting that the late president did have some awareness of Dick Tiger’s career.   

In a satellite telephone conversation with the Nigerian Prime Minister Abubaker Tafawa Balewa in August of 1963, Kennedy had light-heartedly interjected that “we look forward to having Dick Tiger come over here”

Perhaps he had been briefed beforehand by a member of staff to mention Tiger’s name as part of a charm offensive in a brief conversation with another world leader. But then again JFK had some credentials as a bona fide boxing fan.

He had watched heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson defend his title against Tom McNeely by close circuit feed at the White House in December of 1961. One month after the bout, he met Patterson at the White House in between his Oval Office meetings with the ambassadors from Ireland and China. Patterson had found Kennedy’s knowledge of boxing to be a “pleasant revelation”.

The president had also taken the trouble to respond to Joey Giardello’s invitation to watch his challenge to Dick Tiger’s crown in December of 1963. Kennedy responded that his busy schedule would not allow for that.

Giardello received the reply the day after the president’s assassination.

In his heyday Tiger’s accomplishments as a pugilist were of such substance that his name was on the lips of political leaders such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah as well as on the Honours List of Queen Elizabeth of Britain.

He lent his great name and the weight of his reputation to the cause of Biafran separation.

But it was in the last halcyon era of boxing at Madison Square Garden; the Mecca of the sport where the fans worshipped this granite hewn, down-to-earth and humble practitioner of the manly art plying his trade on the squared ring canvas below the brilliant glare of klieg lights that Tiger’s name was most assuredly spoken and his craft adoringly appreciated.

They had seen him lose; invariably on points to fleet-footed practitioners who could contrive to evade his great strength, but the thought to them of an over-the-hill journeyman knocking out one of the most resilient fighters in middleweight history would have been almost beyond the limits of their collective imagination.

But then again King’s novel is about ‘alternative history’. It is fiction.

It is pure fantasy.

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal..

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Citations of the Writings of Adeyinka Makinde


CITATIONS OF MY WORKS - SUMMARY

Books

The Commonwealth Games: Extraordinary Stories Behind the Medals
Oliver, Brian
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sport
Date: May 2014

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005


I Pugni Degli Eroi
Torromeo, Dario; Esposito, Franco
Publisher: Absolutely Free Editore
Date: Dec 2013

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005


A Constitutional Journey
Paterson, Graham L.
Publisher: Xlibris
Date: Feb. 2013

Work cited: ‘Democracy, Terrorism and the Secret State’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: GlobalResearch.ca
Year: 2013

There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra
Achebe, Chinua
Publisher: Allen Lane
Date: Sept. 2012

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005

Strong and Smart – Towards a Pedagogy for Emancipation: Education for First Peoples (Part of New Studies in Critical Realism and Education Series)
Sarra, Chris
Publisher: Routledge
Date: August 2012

Work cited: ‘The Politics of Anthony Mundine’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: eastsideboxing.com
Year: 2001

Game Plan: A Social History of Sport in Alberta
Hall, Karen L.
Publisher: University of Alberta Press
Date: June 2012

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005

Boxing in America: An Autopsy
Hudson, David L.
Publisher: Praeger Publishers
Date: June 2012

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005

Down But Never Out
Redner, Charles
Publisher: Open Books Press
Date: Feb. 2010

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005

Academic Journals

The Whole Place is in Pandemonium: Dick Tiger versus Gene Fullmer III and the Consumption of Boxing in Nigeria
Gennaro, Michael
Journal: The International Journal of the History of Sport
Year: 2013
Publisher: Taylor & Francis

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005

In This Corner: An Analysis of Federal Boxing Legislation
Ehrlichman, Brad
34 Colum. JL & the Arts 421 (2010-2011)
Journal: Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts
Date: 2011

Work cited: ‘Retreading Hagler Versus Hearns’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publication: eastsideboxing.com
Year: 2002

Academic Textbooks

Writing the Synthesis Essay
Brassil, John et al
Publisher: Peoples Education
Year: 2007

Work Reproduced: ‘Pug of Ages: Weep For Me’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: cyberboxingzone.com
Year: 2002

Reference Books

Great Athletes – Boxing & Soccer (Volume 1 of a 12-Volume set)
The Editors of Salem Press
Publisher: Salem Press
Date: Sept. 2014

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005

Historical Dictionary of Boxing
Grasso, John
Publisher: Scarecrow Press
Date: Jan. 2014

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005

Dictionary of African Biography
Editors: Akyeampong, Emmanuel K.; Gates, Henry Louis
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date: Dec. 2011


Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005


The African-American National Biography 
Editors: Gates, Henry Louis; Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks 
Publisher: Oxford University Press 
Date: Mar. 2008

Work cited: ‘Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’
Author: Adeyinka Makinde
Publisher: Word Association
Year: 2005

CITATIONS OF MY WORKS - NOTES

My writing has been cited by a range of researchers –scholars, a world renowned literary figure, an activist for constitutional reform in Australia and established writers for trade published books.

This has encompassed the following:

• Books 
• Academic Journals
• an Academic Textbook
• Reference Books

My most referenced work is that of my first book, DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal which placed the life and career of a world champion pugilist in the context of the political, social and cultural history of Nigeria as well as elements of these factors as related to his sojourns in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Several essays and commentaries of mine have also been referenced.

The stature of the authors who have referenced my work as well as the subject matter and themes of the works they have respectively undertaken, I would aver, vindicate the value of my writing in terms of the depth of research, the quality of writing as well as my analytical perspectives.

Books

My work has been cited in the following books:

• The Commonwealth Games: Extraordinary Stories Behind the Medals

• I Pugni degli Eroi (Fist of Heroes)
• A Constitutional Journey
• There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra
• Strong and Smart – Towards a Pedagogy for Emancipation: Education for First Peoples (Part of New Studies in Critical Realism and Education Series)
• Boxing in America: An Autopsy
• Game Plan: A Social History of Sport in Alberta
• Down But Never Out

The Commonwealth Games: Extraordinary Stories Behind the Medals (Bloomsbury Sport) 2014

In this selected history of the Commonwealth Games, my book, ‘DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’ is cited and my personal comments are quoted by the author in the context of the story of Emmanuel Ifeajuna, the first black African to win a gold medal in any sport in any international event. Ifeajuna became a national hero in Nigeria in the 1950s but during the 1960s, as an army officer, became embroiled in a military coup and the ensuing Nigerian Civil War during which he was executed by firing squad by the government of the secessionist republic of Biafra for high treason.

My book is used as a source for this segment of the book as the author, Brian Oliver, used the subject of my book, Dick Tiger, as a point of comparison. Both men were members of the ethnic Igbo group who became heroes to the Nigerian public in the pre- and post-independence period. However, both fell in the esteem of the public for supporting the Biafran project with the attendant cost to the legacy of each man.

Brian Oliver was the Sports Editor of The Observer from 1998 to 2011 where he was the co-inventor of the Observer Sport Monthly.

I Pugni degli Eroi (Absolutely Free Editore) 2013

This Italian language book, the title of which translates as 'Fists of Heroes', cites my book, ‘DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’. 'I Pugni degli Eroi', covers the stories of a selection of 46 champion boxers all of whom had a common denominator: that of rousing the passions of fans and non-aficionados as national and trans-national heroes. The relevant chapter, 'Tiger: Piedone l'Africano', specifically acknowledges my presentation of the life story of this boxer as bearing the "characteristics of an extraordinary adventure novel." 


Dario Torromeo is an award-winning Italian sports journalist who writes for Corriere dello Sport - Stato, one of the three major Italian sports daily newspapers. His co-writer, Franco Esposito is a veteran sports journalist of over half a century's experience. 

A Constitutional Journey (Xlibris) 2013

An essay of mine entitled ‘Democracy, Terrorism and the Secret State: From the Era of Gladio to the War on Terror’; published via globalresearch.ca is cited and a segment of my prose quoted in the context of a philosophical discourse by the author on the role of government.

The author, Brian L. Paterson is a retired Australian businessman who has been involved in constitutional issues related to his country for almost three decades during which time he has made submissions to Constitutional Conventions, given speeches to groups and developed a Constitutional Review System.

There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra (Allen Lane) 2012

‘DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’ is cited by the late literary figure Chinua Achebe in his memoir of the Nigerian Civil War which lasted from 1967 to 1970. The protagonist in my book, as was the case with Achebe himself, became a propagandist for the cause of Biafran secession. The memoir refers to the segment in my book when the world champion boxer enlists into the Biafra Army and is commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Morale Corps of the rebel army.

Achebe’s memoir also references the career record of Dick Tiger that I produced after the research for my book was completed. The revised record provided boxing historians and record keepers clarification on the early part of the fighter’s career in Nigeria.

Strong and Smart – Towards a Pedagogy for Emancipation: Education for First Peoples (Part of New Studies in Critical Realism and Education Series) (Routledge) 2012

A 2001 commentary of mine, ‘The Politics of Anthony Mundine’ is cited in this work by an Australian Aboriginal academic Dr. Chris Sarra. The book is partly biographical but also utilises the ‘critical realism’ theory of Roy Bhaskar as a template for Aboriginal Australians to transform their social condition.

My commentary was a critical appraisal of a famous Australian boxer of Aboriginal descent, Anthony Mundine, and the fall out created by remarks he made after the September 11th attacks in America. Sarra cites my work in the context of a discourse on contemporary Aboriginal heroes including Mundine who he argues is a positive role model despite the opprobrium often heaped upon this outspoken figure by white Australians.

Boxing in America: An Autopsy (Praeger Publishers) 2012

My work ‘DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’ is referenced in this book, a critique of boxing as a force in the cultural and sporting history of the United States.

The author David L. Hudson is an adjunct professor of law at Vanderbilt University who is a First Amendment scholar as well as a sports writer.

Game Plan: A Social History of Sports in Alberta (University of Alberta Press) 2012

‘Not a Visiting Apprentice’; chapter 6 of my book ‘DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’ is cited in Game Plan, a book which examines the social and cultural importance of sports in the Canadian state of Alberta from the 1880s to the present.

The area culled by Karen L. Wall relates to the Commonwealth middleweight title bouts fought respectively in 1960 and 1961 between the subject of my book and Wilf Greaves, a Canadian boxing champion.

The author holds a Phd and is an Associate Professor in the Communications Studies Program at Athabasca University, Alberta.

Down But Never Out (Open Books Press) 2010

‘DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’ is cited and text reproduced by the author Charles Redner in this book which serves as a parallel biography of a former world middleweight boxing champion, Joey Giardello –who was an opponent of the subject of my book- and his mentally handicapped son Carmine. After a narrative on his career, the book focuses on Giardello’s role in charities associated with aiding children with special needs as well as his part in the creation of the Special Olympics.

Academic Journals

My work has been cited in the following journals:

• The International Journal of the History of Sport
• Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts

International Journal of the History of Sport

‘The Whole Place is in Pandemonium: Dick Tiger versus Gene Fullmer III and the Consumption of Boxing in Nigeria’ which appeared in a 2013 edition of the International Journal of the History of Sport references a great deal of DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’, my biography of this pioneer African fighter and its coverage of the first ever world boxing championship fight in Black Africa – a bout which occurred more than a decade before the famous title bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire.

The author Michael Gennaro, a history lecturer, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida. Its ‘Center for African Studies’ is by a reliable estimation one of the best funded of its kind in the United States.

Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts

A product of the Law School of Ivy Leagued Columbia University, the journal is a quarterly publication which covers “all aspects of law and the arts, entertainment, media and intellectual property, both domestic and international”.

‘In This Corner: An Analysis of Federal Boxing Legislation’ which appeared in the spring 2011 edition of the Columbia Journal of the Law & the Arts was an article appraising the record of Congress’s legislative intervention in the corrupt and brutal world of boxing. The writer references a work of mine entitled ‘Retreading Hagler versus Hearns’; a commentary that analysed an excitingly brutal world middleweight title confrontation which, from the writer’s perspective, formed the often two-sided coin that permeates boxing’s folklore; that is the tales of great fights, indomitable courage etcetera on the one side and on the other darker side, the tales of exploitation and unethical business practices.

The author Brad Ehrlichman is a New York City trial lawyer earned the accolade of James Kent Scholar and Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar at Columbia Law School.

Academic Textbooks

My work has been cited in the following academic textbook:

• Writing the Synthesis Essay

Writing the Synthesis Essay

My commentary ‘Pug of Ages: Weep for Me’ was reproduced in its entirety for a segment in an English language textbook geared towards developing the critical thinking skills of senior high school students preparing to enter higher education institutions in America.

The articles selected by the editors revolved around an exploration of a range of contentious issues: genetics, boxing, beauty and war. Each of the articles contained within the ‘cluster’ of themed sections is followed by a series of questions.

‘Pug of Ages: Weep for Me’ explores the economic, social and cultural issues historically and contemporarily associated with professional boxing including racism, financial exploitation, unethical business practices and the involvement of organised crime.

My work appears alongside reproductions of works by Joyce Carol Oates; the distinguished American author/novelist and English language professor, and William Hazlitt, famed for his humanistic essays and literary criticism: in Oates’s case an excerpt from her seminal book ‘On Boxing’ and Hazlitt, his famed 1822 essay, ‘The Fight’. Another contributor Gordon Marino of Saint Olaf College in Minnesota, a philosophy professor, is the Curator of the Hong Kierkegaard Library.

Reference Books

My work has been cited in the following reference books:

• Great Athletes – Boxing & Soccer
• Historical Dictionary of Boxing
• Dictionary of African Biography

• The African-American National Biography

Great Athletes – Boxing & Soccer (Volume 1 of a 12-Volume set)

My book ‘DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’ is referenced in this, the “largest and most comprehensive collection of sports biographies published in a single reference work”.

Historical Dictionary of Boxing

My biography on Dick Tiger is referenced in this undertaking which covers boxing’s history from 688 B.C. to 2012 AD. It is published under the auspices of Scarecrow Press an American publisher best-known for “providing quality scholarly, general interest and reference works for the patrons of Public Schools and Academic libraries, as well as professional books for the librarians that serve them.”

Dictionary of African Biography (6-Volume set)

Again, my book on Dick Tiger was relied on for source information in constructing a profile of the pugilist in this “major biographical dictionary covering the lives and legacies of notable men and women from all eras and walks of life".


Both editors are Harvard University academics; Emmanuel Akyeampong being a Professor of History of History and of African and African-American Studies and Henry Louis Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American-American Research.

The African-American National Biography (8-Volume set)

The Dick Tiger biography is referenced in an eight-volume reference set containing over 4,000 entries "written and signed by distinguished scholars" under the direction of Editors in Chief Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. Higginbotham, like Gates, is a Harvard scholar where she is a professor of History and African American Studies. These volumes are touted as "the most significant and expansive compilation of black lives in print today".

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre (2014)

Another year of fraternizing among boxing aficionados amid the convivial setting of the Dick Collins Hall in North West London. Chas Taylor’s Annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre run for more than a decade and a half now, brought out boxing figures such as John H. Stracey, Britain’s former world welterweight champion; Sylvester Mittee, former British Commonwealth welterweight champion; Winston Spencer, former British Southern Area champion at lightweight and welterweight divisions and Rocky Kelly, former British Southern Area welterweight champion.

 




 
Book I purchased on the tragic Freddie Mills
And another; the autobiography of Henry Cooper, Britain’s much loved heavyweight

Nice photo of a young Smokin Joe Frazier which I purchased from Chas
 
With the man who makes it all possible, Chas Taylor

Sunday, 12 October 2014

About Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle

Benjamin Adekunle as a colonel during the Nigerian Civil War (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, the 'Black Scorpion' of Nigerian Civil War fame was a man of great complexity and as a military leader he generated fierce, polarized controversy among both his federal army colleagues and the Biafran opposition which included the European mercenaries who came up against him in the battles which raged among the creeks and mangrove forests of the southern Nigerian terrain with his Third Marine Commando Division.

He provided a lot of ‘copy’ for the foreign journalists who covered the conflict which officially endured from July of 1967 to January 1970, but which was an extension of the concatenation of violence which had racked the former British colony in 1966. Two army mutinies and a succession of pogroms against mainly members of the Igbo ethnic group led to the declaration of an independent state of Biafra by Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu.

Adekunle was the commander of a Garrison at the time of the onset of the troubles.

Born in the largely Muslim northern Nigerian city of Kaduna to a bi-ethnic marriage –his father, Thomas Adekunle was a Christian from the Yoruba Western Region while his mother, Theodora, also a Christian, was from the northern Bachama group –the 22-year-old Benjamin Adekunle enlisted into the colonial administered Nigerian Army in 1958.


He was trained in England at Mons Officer Cadet School and at the prestigious Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and after graduating was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

His early army career included stints in the troubled central African republic of the Congo where as part of a United Nations peace-keeping mission, he served as a platoon commander in the Queen’s Own Nigeria Regiment. In 1962, he served as the aide-de-camp to Sir Francis Akanu-Ibiam, the governor of the Eastern Region.


Back in the Congo in 1963, and newly promoted to the rank of captain, he was appointed as the staff captain of the Nigerian Brigade Headquarters.

He returned home where he was posted to Army Headquarters to serve briefly as Adjutant General until his appointment on the eve of war at the Lagos Garrison.

The expansion of what was a small garrison of troops into two battalions to form the Third Infantry Division under Adekunle’s command, was due to the prevailing political circumstances of the day.

The fractures in the Nigerian Army had occurred along ethnic lines; this, the result of a wider rivalry between the Hausa and Igbo tribes. As events shaped into a confrontation between the Igbo-dominated Eastern Region and the rest of the federation, it was felt necessary to establish a larger presence of the Yoruba group in the army, an institution within which they were underrepresented.

The great level of personal drive and single-mindedness that were his signature traits played a significant part in the successful exploits during the war of this military group which would later be dubbed the ‘Third Marine Commando.’

But first he effectively built up the division from scratch by actively involving himself in the recruitment of a largely Yoruba pool of infantrymen from a range of civilian backgrounds: tradesmen, students, street thugs and even former prisoners.

It was this division which was charged with the seaborne assault of the town of Bonny in July of 1967; a strategic necessity in the overall federal objective of encircling Biafra.

The significance of this operation cannot be underestimated. As the Nigerian political scientist, B.J. Dudley wrote in his book Instability and Political Order: Politics and Crisis in Nigeria (1974):

After Nsukka, the only other notable success of the federal troops in July was the capture, on the 26th, of the oil terminal in Bonny in an amphibious landing which was described as “brilliantly planned and executed” and the first of its kind ever to be attempted by African troops. The fall of Bonny to federal forces commanded by Lt. Col. Benjamin Adekunle was important. It not only gave the Federal Government control of the main river leading to Port Harcourt, but it also deprived the rebels of one of their principal counters in any bargaining with the oil companies that they might have envisaged.

Adekunle proved himself to be a talented and quick-thinking battle commander who combined imaginative planning with a boldness of execution.

The success at Bonny was repeated three months later with the capture of the city of Calabar. The liberation of the whole of the south eastern area was completed by April of the following year and in May of 1968, the fall of Port Harcourt, a coastal city in the delta area effectively cut Biafra from any access to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Adekunle’s management of the war was accompanied by much commentary in the media. His conduct as head of Three Marine Commando typified the belief held by those covering the war that the divisional commanders wielded absolute power and authority in their prosecution of the war; much to the extent that the man who was nominally their supreme commander, General Yakubu Gowon had enormous difficulty in controlling them.

The extent of such autonomy was illustrated by the fact that each division had its own international arms buying representative. Adekunle himself was consistent in his quest to secure the best in terms of materiale for his troops; tenaciously overseeing acquisition and payment to the minutest detail.

His commitment to the welfare of the men under his command was also matched by an almost tyrannical form of leadership. He inspired both fear and respect from his troops.

His detractors have continually alleged that Adekunle bore responsibility for the commission of war crimes and point to his now notorious comments to a Dutch correspondent in 1968 as evidence that he sanctioned indiscriminate killing and genocide:

I don’t want to see no Red Cross, No Caritas Aid, no World Council of Churches, no pope, no missionary and no United Nations delegation. I want to prevent even one Ibo from having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything; even at things that don’t move.

They were words which were redolent of the harsh invective frequently employed by military leaders such as U.S. Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey’s famous wartime exhortation to “Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs. You will help to kill the yellow bastards if you do your job well.”

They were also suggestive of a mean-spirited relish at the brutal subjugation of an enemy on its knees as was Air Force General Curtis LeMay’s recollection of having “scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night of March 9-10 (1945) than went up in vapor at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.”

Yet, there is much evidence that Adekunle acted humanely and with gallantness when dealing with the populaces of the territories that he had conquered as well as with the treatment of Biafran prisoners of war.

Markets, hospitals and schools were re-opened and orphans taken into care. And the fate of many captured Biafran soldiers was not that of the firing squad or the kerosene-drenched pit but absorption into the ranks of Three Marine Commando.

After he had secured the southern and eastern borders of the secessionist state, his division began moving into the Igbo heartland with the capture of the cities of Aba and Owerri.

His battle-field successes accompanied by his media relations management turned him into something approaching a national hero. Both man and exploits became mythologized.

However, Adekunle’s feisty character which accommodated much in the manner of braggadocios statements and other ill-considered comments before the international press did not bode well for his future.

A remark to a foreign correspondent about how he expected one day to fill the mantle of (supreme) army commander alerted Gowon, whose tenure at the top was consistently threatened by his rivalry with another divisional commander Colonel Murtala Muhammad, to the possibility that the mercurial Adekunle, who as leader of Three Marine Commando controlled a great swathe of Nigerian territory might attempt to overthrow him.

This, along with the general difficulty Gowon had in keeping his main commanders in order, were the underlying reasons why on May 12th 1969 he removed Adekunle and Colonels Ibrahim Haruna and Mohammed Shuwa from their command posts. The re-capture of Aba by Biafran forces was ostensibly part of the reason for his redeployment.

However, it is likely that Adekunle was the main target and that the two others were sacrificed so as not to make it appear to be a tribally motivated act against a soldier who was enjoying an unprecedented level of popularity among his Yoruba kith and kin.

Gowon replaced him with another officer of Yoruba origin, Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo, a future Nigerian ruler as military head of state and civilian president. It was Obasanjo who accepted the instrument of surrender from Colonel Phillip Effiong, the soldier who succeeded Ojukwu as Biafran head of state after Ojukwu fled into exile, in January of 1970.

Adekunle’s division had been responsible for the capture of an estimated 70% of Biafran territory and had he remained in his post would almost certainly have overseen its eventual capitulation. It was a blow from which many insist he never recovered. 

In 1972, Adekunle was promoted to the rank of Brigadier. His problem-solving skills were put to good use by the military regime who appointed him as the administrative czar tasked with relieving Lagos port of appalling levels of congestion; a mission at which, according to John de St. Jorre, he was “immensely successful”.

He nonetheless continued to have problems in the army where he was impeded, Adekunle claimed, by “rivals”. This alluded to a group of officers who laid the basis for the future domination of the higher echelons of the Nigerian Army by those of northern Muslim heritage.

In any case, his penchant for stepping on toes and according to a declassified U.S. State Department dispatch from 1976, his tendency to “excesses that have turned many against him” led to his compulsory retirement from the army in 1974.

Adekunle’s name had been mentioned in the London trial of a Nigerian society woman, Iyabo Olorunkoya, who had been tried and convicted for smuggling marijuana into the United Kingdom.

Adekunle, who had been suspended prior to his retirement, claimed that he had been set up and not given a fair hearing by the army authorities who were influenced by an “Adekunle must go” campaign orchestrated by his rivals in the service.

In later years, he privately admitted to a journalist that he had been involved in a plot to overthrow the government of General Gowon. This claim has not been corroborated.

However, it is accurate enough to state that rumours of anti-Gowon coup conspiracies involving Adekunle were common at the time and the ‘Iyabo Scandal’ provided an effective route by which his enemies could effect his downfall.

Adekunle drifted from the spotlight, only coming into public view when the ever thorny subject of the Nigerian Civil War was debated in the national media.

He did continue to maintain high-level contacts in the military regime which succeeded Gowon. In February of 1976, he appears to have played a part in negotiating the sale of jet aircraft, military equipment and also massive quantities of food to the MPLA faction in Angola.

But as time went on, his contacts within successive civilian and military administrations diminished. He did not enter the political arena and was not appointed to any prominent public position, instead he lived quietly dividing his time between homes in the Surulere district of Lagos and in his hometown, the northern Yoruba city of Ogbomosho.

Many continue to vehemently insist that he was a “hater” of the Igbos. An interview conducted by Randolph Baumann for the German Stern magazine which was published in August of 1968 put his infamous wartime comments into context:

I don’t dislike Igbos. But I learnt one word from the British and that is “sorry.” I did not want this war. I did not start this war-Ojukwu did. But I want to win this war. So I must kill Igbos. Sorry!

To the best of anyone’s recollections, Adekunle had not betrayed any hint of an antipathy towards Igbos. In fact he put himself in danger when during the brutal purges of Igbo soldiers by their Hausa counterparts in the counter-coup of July 1966 he promised safe passage to a group of Igbo army officers.

An ambush had already been set for these unfortunates, several of whom were eventually murdered, and the then Major Adekunle was himself saved only by the intervention of a northern officer, Captain Gibson Jalo.

Ever candid and forthright in his views, Adekunle surveying the contemporary circumstances of a perpetually dysfunctional and corrupt state, and doubtless ruing the manner in which he had been continually marginalised during and after his army career, opined that he regretted fighting to keep Nigeria together as one nation:

Personally, now and for some time, I feel so ashamed to have killed people to sustain the unity of Nigeria. I feel so sad to have shed blood for the unity of Nigeria. While some of us were dying in the battlefield for the restoration of one country, some people have their eagle eyes on one particular subject: oil; the livewire of the economy; the new fulcrum or pendulum of power. While we fought for one country, some people have been reaping where they did not sow. They have been reaping from bogus population figures fashioned to suit their selfish purposes.

This thinly veiled attack on northern Muslim domination, albeit vastly reduced since the return to civilian rule in 1999, did not win him many friends. Not from the north and certainly not from many Igbos who like the late Chinua Achebe, whose reminiscences in the civil war memoir published shortly before his death, remain hardened in their views on the man.

It was typical Adekunle, although whether representing a final, settled view on the matter of Nigerian unity is debatable. He was from all accounts as ever the provocative, cynical and impulsive man in his later years as he had been as a young man.

At Sandhurst where he admitted to making only one close friendship among the three hundred cadets during his two year stay, his debates with the officer-instructor of the political science module; based on Adekunle’s objections at what he felt was the over glorification of Western culture and the denigration of Africa, were considered acts of insubordination.

They led to him receiving sixty four days of restrictions with hard labour, a punishment record he continued to believe for second year cadets.

Adekunle was on many occasions the epitome of cheekiness and effrontery. When after the first military mutiny, the Nigerian ruler, Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi who had been targeted by the mutineers had called him to his office to enquire whether he had been among the plotters, Adekunle had replied: “Sir, if I were part of the coup, you would not be seating where you are seated now, because I don’t like you.”

While on a visit to Nigeria in March of 1969, Prime Minister Harold Wilson made a request to visit Adekunle at his headquarters in Port Harcourt, and true to form, the ‘Black Scorpion’ took the opportunity to reproach Wilson for not having sent British troops to the then Rhodesia to crush the rebellious government of Ian Smith.

His cynical and biting wit was often on display. Adorning the walls of the offices which he inhabited during the war years was a quotation from Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

His hard-as-nails demeanour was broken only a few times. He once offered the revelation of having cried for the last time in his life at the funeral of a young officer who he had been mentoring in his division during the civil war.

The young man had been buried in a coffin which up until his death had accompanied Adekunle while executing his duties on the frontlines; it being earmarked for his own use in the event of his demise.

But aside from the complex and eccentrical behaviour of the man was the soldier. The memoirs of many of his colleagues, even those who did not claim any fondness for him, acknowledged his vast level of competence as a battlefield commander and his rightful mantle as the best army leader during the civil war.

His opponents said no less.

Rolf Steiner, the German mercenary who commanded the Fourth Commando Brigade of the rebel army, admired his “quick mind” and wished that he could have faced him at the helm of equally matched armies, while Ojukwu himself paid him the ultimate compliment when stating that he wished that he had "an Adekunle” on the Biafran side.

Benjamin Adekunle died on September 13th 2014. He was born on 26th June in 1936. He was married to Folake Adekunle by whom he is survived along with their children.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer and law lecturer with a research interest in intelligence and security matters.