Thursday, 25 July 2013

The child and the political association

The main Igbo strategic goal currently is freedom from the Nigerian occupation. This freedom will be achieved soon. If this were not the overriding consideration for the Igbo, especially in the wake of the news of the Nigerian senate’s “legalisation” of “marriage” to a child, we mustn’t ever forget that in any 
political association particularly that has a multinational/multicultural/multiracial character, each and 
every constituent public brings to this shared space those core precepts that have defined their history and culture and broadly map out their life’s quest. 

It is overwhelmingly fascinating how much for the Igbo, nwa, the child, the child’s well-being, is embedded in every facet, every strand of these core precepts as evidenced in the root of the following names, mostly family-names, each of which is indeed the subject of theses on life, living and choices: Nwaoyiri, Nwabuisi … Nwabundu … Nwabuchi … Nwabuikwu … Nwakaku … Nwabuaku … Nwajiaku ... Nwabuike … Nwakamma … Nwabuzo … Nwaka … Nwaedozie … Nwanne … Nwanneka … Nwabueze … Nwakaeze … Nwabudike … Nwangwu ...  Nwachieze ... Nwakaego …Nwabuego ...  Nwadiba ... Nwadike … Nwabuife … Nwanna … Nwachi … Nwanka … Nwadiuto … Nwauwa … Nwadi … Nwankwo … Nwajulu ... Nwabuuwa … Nwaobodo ... Nwando … Nwandu ... Nwagazie … Nwachukwu … Nwakaeme … Nwadimkpa ...

The child is therefore so central to the Igbo worldview that the Igbo couldn’t coexist with any agency that threatens the child or their well-being.

Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe


Friday, 19 July 2013

Britain and the Igbo genocide – now for the pertinent questions *Updated!




(Uzo EgonuExodus, 1970) 

On 6 July 2013, I published an article commemorating the 47th anniversary of the launch of the largely British-orchestrated and managed Nigerian-state military invasion of Igboland, Biafra (“Britain, Aburi and the Igbo genocide”, http://re-thinkingafrica.blogspot.com.br/2013/07/britain-aburi-and-igbo-genocide_14.html). The invasion is phase-III of the Igbo genocide in which 3 million Igbo people are murdered between 6 July 1967 and 12 January 1970. Earlier on, in phases-I and II of the genocide, beginning 29 May 1966 to 5 July 1967, 100,000 Igbo were murdered by their fellow compatriots in premeditated attacks on Igbo residences, businesses, places of worship, schools, hospitals, parks, private and public transport, everywhere, in towns and villages across most of north Nigeria and in parts of the country’s Lagos, west and midwest regions. The Igbo genocide is the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa and inaugurated Africa’s current age of pestilence. Precisely because the world failed to stop this genocide and punish those responsible for carrying it out, the killing fields of Igboland soon extended almost inexorably across AfricaDuring the period, since January 1970, 12 million additional Africans have been murdered in further genocide in Rwanda (1994), Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo (variously, since the late 1990s) and in Darfur/Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan (all in the Sudan since 2003) and in other wars and conflicts in  Liberia, Ethiopia, Congo Republic, Somalia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Mozambique, Algeria, Libya, Kenya, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Angola, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Mali.

I should qualify my earlier assertion on the world’s attitude to the Igbo genocide because there was, indeed, a rare but robust African diplomatic initiative to halt the genocide after the end of its first phase in January 1967 – i.e., after 100,000 Igbo had already been murdered during the previous seven months. As I show in “Britain, Aburi and the Igbo genocide”, the remarkable Joseph Ankrah’s government in Ghana offered its good offices to mediate in the catastrophe that engulfed its neighbour and end the slaughtering. Ankrah succeeded in inviting all the eight members of the pre-genocide Nigeria’s governing supreme military council to Ghana for two days of talks which ended extraordinarily with a successful confederal political agreement for Nigeria’s future. All the eight signed the agreement including, spectacularly, Yakubu Gowon, head of the genocidist forces that had spearheaded the campaign since 29 July 1966, and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, leader of the east region resistance government.

“Punish”

Britain, the hitherto conqueror/occupying state in Nigeria but which still exercised a hegemonic control over the country’s politico-economic and strategic affairs despite seven years of so-called restoration of independence, rejected the outcome of these Ghana talks and immediately embarked on pressuring Gowon and its agelong north region clients to renege on implementing the accords and instead expand the territorial reach of the genocide by attacking Igboland itself. It was not therefore just to preserve its vast interests in Nigeria that Britain found the Ghana discussions and outcome objectionable, but London had since sought to “punish” the Igbo for being in the vanguard, since the 1930s, to terminate the British occupation of Nigeria. In June 1945, the British occupation regime openly accused Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Igbo academic and journalist and leading restoration-of-independence politician, in addition to other Igbo leaders, for organising the 6-week pro-restoration of independence countrywide strike that had virtually paralysed the country’s economic activity. The regime’s inflammatory propaganda on Igbo “responsibility” for the event was an instigator prop to the Hausa-Fulani/north’s organised massacres of hundreds of Igbo immigrant populations in the northcentral city of Jos and the looting and/or destruction of their property worth tens of thousands of pounds. No one was ever prosecuted by the regime for planning or participating in those massacres. Another anti-Igbo pogrom was again staged under the watch of the British occupation in 1953 by Hausa-Fulani/north leaders in Kano, 185 miles further north of Jos. This time, the issue focused on the controversial question of a timetable to end the British occupation which Britain’s north allies were opposed to. Hundreds of Igbo were again murdered in Kano and tens of thousands of pounds worth of their property looted and/or destroyed.  As in Jos, no one was prosecuted by the regime for planning or participating in this pogrom and no such censures would occur during the 1966-1970 Igbo genocide, subsequently, to which these pogroms are dreadful “dress rehearsals”.
 The world has recently followed with admiration the ways and means the British security and justice services have apprehended Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, the two Nigerian-Britons accused of the reprehensible murder of fusilier Lee Rigby outside a southeast London military barracks earlier on in the year. Ironically, if these accused had allegedly committed a similar murder in contemporary Nigeria, the duo would have, thanks to the British-supervised precedent in the country going back to the 1945 Igbo pogrom in Jos, “unlikely been arrested”/“not be arrested” but would instead be “prime candidates” awaiting a regime-commissioned amnesty for those who have committed such heinous crimes – the latter process is in fact the case for members of  the Boko Haram islamic insurgent organisation as these lines are written.
“Centre”

Back to the Igbo genocide, it must be stated, clearly, that Harold Wilson, the British prime minister of the day, knew precisely the nature or the character of the campaign that his government was involved in Igboland, Biafra, beginning from 6 July 1967. During the course of the 1968/69 gruesomely catastrophic apogee of the campaign, Wilson informed C. Clyde Ferguson, the US state department special coordinator for relief to Biafra, that he, Harold Wilson, “would accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took” Nigeria to destroy the Igbo resistance to the genocide (Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy [London and New York: Quartet Books, 1977]: 122). For the records, Wilson’s “a half a million dead Biafrans” represented 4.2 per cent of the Igbo population then; by the time that that phase of the genocide came to an end, 6-9 months after Wilson’s wish-declaration, 25 per cent of this nation’s population or 3.1 million Igbo people had been murdered by the genocidists.

Harold Wilson’s “[W]ould accept a half a million dead Biafrans”-wish is not a declaration made by some dictator, some leader of a loony party, a fascist party or anything of that ilk; on the contrary, this is a declaration made by an elected politician, a politician in an advanced western democracy – the leader of the British Labour party, a party that prides itself for having attracted leading thinkers to its ranks in the post-World War II era. “[W]ould accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took”-declaration is made by the prime minister of Britain; not the prime minister of some “peripheral”, inconsequential country but the prime minister of a “centre” state and power that was part of the victorious alliance that defeated a fascist global amalgam in a global war that ended barely 23 years earlier. This is a prime minister of a “centre” state and power, the sixth to occupy this exalted position since the end of the war, that was one of the key countries that worked on the panel that drafted the historic 1948 United Nations “Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide”, in the wake of the 1930s/1940s deplorable perpetration of the Jewish genocide in Europe. 6 million Jews were murdered then by Nazi Germany. It is to ensure that no human beings are ever subjected to what the Jews went through in central Europe and elsewhere that this genocide convention is rated as one of the key international documents of the new age. Britain is a signatory to the convention.

Surely, Harold Wilson’s “[W]ould accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took”-declaration cannot fit into the hallowed pages of the 1948 United Nations “Convention on the prevention of the Crime of Genocide”. Absolutely not! On the contrary, Wilson’s is a mid-1960s declaration to wage a genocide on a people, the Igbo people, 3150 miles away in southwestcentral Africa, just 20 years after the Jewish genocide in Europe. In the end, rather than Wilson’s 500,000 “dead Biafrans”-wish, there were 3.1 million murdered Biafrans... How many others in Wilson’s cabinet identified with this genocidal position and policy on the Igbo? What was the nature of the debates on this subject? Were there voices of opposition within cabinet? Who were these voices and how did they try to alter both position and policy? An official in the foreign office in London at the time does acknowledge, without any ambiguity, the genocidal plank of this administration’s policy especially on the issue of the dispatch of urgent relief to the encircled, blockaded and bombarded Igbo: “[my government’s position was designed to] show conspicuous zeal in relief while in fact letting the little buggers starve out” (Morris: 122. See also Michael Leapman, While the Biafrans starved, the FO moaned about hacks”, The Independent on Sunday [London], 3 January 1999). How widespread did people in the broader Labour party know of Harold Wilson’s genocidal policy on the Igbo? How much of Wilson’s Igbo genocide drive did the official British Conservative party opposition aware of?

The unrelentingly brazen impunity displayed by Nigeria’s genocidist “theorists” and operators on the ground, during the three phases and 44 months of the genocide, was anchored on the confidence that they had the British government’s back and were pointedly a variation on the theme spun by Wilson and the foreign office official. Benjamin Adekunle, one of the most notorious of Nigeria’s field commanders in southern Igboland, makes the following statement to the media, including foreign representatives, in an August 1968 press conference, almost about the same time as Wilson’s declaration to Ferguson: “I want to prevent even one I[g]bo having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces march into the centre of I[g]bo territory, we shoot at everything, even at things that don’t move” (The Economist [London], 24 August 1968). To fuse Wilson’s declaration to the London foreign office spokesperson’s to Adekunle’s is to produce a lethal genocidal juggernaut  that incorporates the conceptualisation, testing and implementation of like-minded operatives who just see the wholescale murder of Igbo people as the foreseeable outcome, “solution” of their strategic goal(s). Nothing else… When in June 1969, Olusegun Obasanjo, another fiendish genocidist commander, again in the south of Igboland, orders his airforce to shoot down an ICRC relief plane bringing in urgent supplies to the Igbo (note, once again, the symbolism of food and life!), it is to Harold Wilson that Obasanjo beckons for help to “sort out” the outraged international response to this atrocity as the latter, himself, points out in his memoirs, aptly entitled My Command (Ibadan and London: Heinemann, 1980: 165 ).

Revisit

It is now incumbent on the current David Cameron British government to revisit the Harold Wilson administration’s 1966-1970 genocidal campaign against Igbo people and make urgent amends. It should seek to effectuate some measure of closure to Wilson’s sordid programme of genocide against one of humanity’s most industrious and peaceful of peoples. Indeed, Cameron has no greater opportunity, presently, to permanently erase these “scars of Africa” from Britain’s “conscience”, to quote the sentiment severally made by Tony Blair, a former prime minister. Britain should now unreservedly apologise to Igbo people for its cardinal role in the genocide of 29 May 1966-12 January 1970 that cost the lives of 3.1 million Igbo children, women and men. It should follow up this apology by paying reparations to the survivors and support ongoing efforts to bring to trial all those involved in perpetrating the genocide. Thankfully, the crime of genocide has no statute of limitations in international law. No other African peoples have suffered such an extensive and gruesome genocide and incalculable impoverishment in a century as the Igbo.

Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe



Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Wednesday night prayer meeting*



It is no mean achievement that Charles Mingus’s music encapsulates all the critical junctures of jazz. His work with the pioneering geniuses of Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Art Tatum in New York of the early 1950s gives Mingus the compositional and arranging insights that would soon be the bassist’s forte.

Few jazz scholars would now disagree that the success of that much discussed May 1953 concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall featuring the Parker Quintet (Parker, alto; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Bud Powell, piano; Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums) is not just a Parkerian triumph but equally that of the iconoclastic bassist from Los Angeles. Beginning with Mingus, the bass ceases to be merely an “accompanying” time-keeping, harmonic instrument in jazz. It still has to contend with “time-keeping”, but it has entered into the interplay as a polyphonic participant. The work of subsequent bassists particularly Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Jimmy Garrison, Scott La Faro, Charles Haden and Dave Holland attest to this Mingusian redesignation

In 1954, Mingus launched his Jazz Workshop experimentation which was to emphasise more of “group” or “collective” improvisation in jazz, away from what was then increasingly becoming the tedious and formularised “theme-solo-theme” structures of the bebop revolution that had been launched in the 1940s by the Parker-Gillespie-Thelonious Monk troika. As a critic once observed, it was not that Mingus was “avoiding Bebop, he straddled it”. He still had to absorb the great jazz heritage to move the music forward to wrestle with the new possibilities.

Rehearsals of creativity

It is therefore the case of Mingus trying to return jazz to the “group feeling” of those years of its early development in the closing decades of the 1800s. The soloist still has a great deal of space in Mingus’s thinking but their musical concepts have to develop in anticipation and in response to the polyphony of collective interaction; there are now multisided and multiple centres of creativity soon after that infectious bass intro! The act of creativity is no longer dependent on some space and time limitation. The Workshops could not distinguish between rehearsals, for instance, and real performances! Creativity during rehearsals becomes rehearsals of creativity occurring at bandstands with or without an audience (for the latter, listen to the 1962 album Mingus Presents Mingus, featuring multiinstrumentalist Eric Dolphy). The music is always in a state of flux: evolving, developing, maturing, breaking up, only to form the nucleus of another centre of activity, itself interacting with other centres of the medley.

With the classic Pithecanthropus Erectus album (1956), Mingus gives notice to this sense of continuous creativity – after all, this composition is his portrait of the formulaic development of a cataclysmic human form and the (predictable?) resultant chaos that this produces in the world by the end of the 20th century. Using distinct but unusual forms of squeals, grunts, duets and harmony, the composition exacts a coherent understanding of this tragic travelogue that a 1996 earth inhabitant would perhaps be familiar with (exhaustion/appropriation/destruction of the world’s limited resources, rupture of the ozone layer) than their counterpart 40 years before. The impassioned crystalline-striking lyricism of altoist Jackie McLean, the Rollinsesque rebuttals of tenorist J R Monterose and the plodding, haunting echoes of pianist Mal Waldron strokes keep the narrative of the age on course and there is relief, at the final movement, when the pulverising destroyer falls, is destroyed.

In Blues and Roots album that follows suit, Mingus pays homage to the sacred music of his roots. The rhythmic tension at play by soloists McLean, Booker Ervin (tenor), John Handy (alto) and Jimmy Knepper (trombone) over such compositions as “Tensions”, “Moanin’”, “Cryin’ Blues” and “E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too” always calls for new insights, ever more challenging interpretations on replays. “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” is predictably such a joy and by the time this composition is confronted yet again by a new Mingus personnel line up live in Antibes (France) in 1960, detailing Ervin, Dolphy (alto, bass clarinet, flute), Ted Curson (trumpet), Mingus himself and Danny Richmond (drums), it has become the launching pad for intuitive flights and virtuosity.

Mingus’s vivid commentaries on contemporary American life and worldwide developments are prolific. These samples range from ballads (“Sue’s Changes”, “1 X-Love”, “Bemoanable Lady”, “Celia”) to the very humorous (“Eat that Chicken”, “Hog Callin Blues”, “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am”, “Old’ Blues for Walt’s Torin”, “My Jelly Roll Soul”), sentimental (“Portrait of Jackie”, “Love Chant”, “Orange was the Color of her Dress, then Blue Silk”, “Peggy’s Blue Skylight”) to outright, politically serious (“Pithecanthropus Erectus”, “Ecclusiastics”, “Passions of a Man”, “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting”,“Letter to Duke”, “MDM – Monk, Duke, Mingus”, “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me”, “Meditations on Integration”, “All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother”, “Fables of Faubus”, “Haitian Fight Song”, “Weird Nightmare”, “So Long Eric”) and dirge – “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, Mingus’s salute to tenorist Lester Young, and of course Epitaph, his 127-minute long composition which was performed posthumously by a 30-piece orchestra at the New York’s Lincoln Centre in 1989.

Nearly a decade before critics would use the term “free jazz” to describe the music of revolutionaries such as Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, etc., etc., the Mingus Workshops were already redefining and laying the foundation of new points of departure for jazz. Names of Workshops’ alumni read like the priority core zone of the restless and most adventurous innovators of the jazz directory of the era: drummers Willie Jones and Danny Richmond; trumpeters Clarence Shaw, Richard Williams, Ted Curson and Johnny Coles; altoists Jackie McLean, Charlie Mariano, John Handy, Eric Dolphy (also flute and bass clarinet virtuoso), Charles McPherson; tenorists Teo Marcero, J R Monterose, Roland Kirk, Booker Ervin and Clifford Jordan; trombonist Jimmy Knepper; pianists Mal Waldron, Jaki Byard, Horace Parlan and Roland Hanna.

*This essay was first published in the African Peoples Review (September-December 1996, Vol V, No. 3, p. 22) under the signature of Nnamdi Nzegwu. It is reissued here in the original – HE-E

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Britain and the Igbo genocide – now for the pertinent questions *Updated!

Last Saturday (6 July 2013), I published an article commemorating the 47th anniversary of the launch of the largely British-orchestrated and managed Nigerian-state military invasion of Igboland, Biafra (“Britain, Aburi and the Igbo genocide”, http://re-thinkingafrica.blogspot.com.br/2013/07/britain-aburi-and-igbo-genocide_14.html). The invasion is phase-III of the Igbo genocide in which 3 million Igbo people are murdered between 6 July 1967 and 12 January 1970. Earlier on, in phases-I and II of the genocide, beginning 29 May 1966 to 5 July 1967, 100,000 Igbo were murdered by their fellow compatriots in premeditated attacks on Igbo residences, businesses, places of worship, schools, hospitals, parks, private and public transport, everywhere, in towns and villages across most of north Nigeria and in parts of the country’s Lagos, west and midwest regions. The Igbo genocide is the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa and inaugurated Africa’s current age of pestilence. Precisely because the world failed to stop this genocide and punish those responsible for carrying it out, the killing fields of Igboland soon extended almost inexorably across AfricaDuring the period, since January 1970, 12 million additional Africans have been murdered in further genocide in Rwanda (1994), Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo (variously, since the late 1990s) and in Darfur/Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan (all in the Sudan since 2003) and in other wars and conflicts in  Liberia, Ethiopia, Congo Republic, Somalia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Mozambique, Algeria, Libya, Kenya, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Angola, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Mali.

I should qualify my earlier assertion on the world’s attitude to the Igbo genocide because there was, indeed, a rare but robust African diplomatic initiative to halt the genocide after the end of its first phase in January 1967 – i.e., after 100,000 Igbo had already been murdered during the previous seven months. As I show in “Britain, Aburi and the Igbo genocide”, the remarkable Joseph Ankrah’s government in Ghana offered its good offices to mediate in the catastrophe that engulfed its neighbour and end the slaughtering. Ankrah succeeded in inviting all the eight members of the pre-genocide Nigeria’s governing supreme military council to Ghana for two days of talks which ended extraordinarily with a successful confederal political agreement for Nigeria’s future. All the eight signed the agreement including, spectacularly, Yakubu Gowon, head of the genocidist forces that had spearheaded the campaign since 29 July 1966, and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, leader of the east region resistant government.

“Punish”

Britain, the hitherto conqueror/occupying state in Nigeria but which still exercised a hegemonic control over the country’s politico-economic and strategic affairs despite seven years of so-called restoration of independence, rejected the outcome of these Ghana talks and immediately embarked on pressuring Gowon and its agelong north region clients to renege on implementing the accords and instead expand the territorial reach of the genocide by attacking Igboland itself. It was not therefore just to preserve its vast interests in Nigeria that Britain found the Ghana discussions and outcome objectionable, but London had since sought to “punish” the Igbo for being in the vanguard, since the 1930s, to terminate the British occupation of Nigeria. In June 1945, the British occupation regime openly accused Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Igbo academic and journalist and leading restoration-of-independence politician, in addition to other Igbo leaders, for organising the 6-week pro-restoration of independence countrywide strike that had virtually paralysed the country’s economic activity. The regime’s inflammatory propaganda on Igbo “responsibility” for the event was an instigator prop to the Hausa-Fulani/north’s organised massacres of hundreds of Igbo immigrant populations in the northcentral city of Jos and the looting and/or destruction of their property worth tens of thousands of pounds. No one was ever prosecuted by the regime for planning or participating in those massacres. Another anti-Igbo pogrom was again staged under the watch of the British occupation in 1953 by Hausa-Fulani/north leaders in Kano, 185 miles further north of Jos. This time, the issue focused on the controversial question of a timetable to end the British occupation which Britain’s north allies were opposed to. Hundreds of Igbo were again murdered in Kano and tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of their property looted and/or destroyed.  As in Jos, no one was prosecuted by the regime for planning or participating in this pogrom and no such censures would occur during the 1966-1970 Igbo genocide, subsequently, to which these pogroms are dreadful “dress rehearsals”.
 The world has recently followed with admiration the ways and means the British security and justice services have apprehended Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, the two Nigerian-Britons accused of the reprehensible murder of fusilier Lee Rigby outside a southeast London military barracks earlier on in the year. Ironically, if these accused had allegedly committed a similar murder in contemporary Nigeria, the duo would have, thanks to the British-supervised precedent in the country going back to the 1945 Igbo pogrom in Jos, “unlikely been arrested”/“not be arrested” but would instead be “prime candidates” awaiting a regime-commissioned amnesty for those who have committed such heinous crimes – the latter process is in fact the case for members of  the Boko Haram islamic insurgent organisation as these lines are written.
“Centre”

Back to the Igbo genocide, it must be stated, clearly, that Harold Wilson, the British prime minister of the day, knew precisely the nature or the character of the campaign that his government was involved in Igboland, Biafra, beginning from 6 July 1967. During the course of the 1968/69 gruesomely catastrophic apogee of the campaign, Wilson informed C. Clyde Ferguson, the US state department special coordinator for relief to Biafra, that he, Harold Wilson, “would accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took” Nigeria to destroy the Igbo resistance to the genocide (Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy [London and New York: Quartet Books, 1977]: 122). For the records, Wilson’s “a half a million dead Biafrans” represented 4.2 per cent of the Igbo population then; by the time that that phase of the genocide came to an end, 6-9 months after Wilson’s wish-declaration, 25 per cent of this nation’s population or 3.1 million Igbo people had been murdered by the genocidists.

Harold Wilson’s “[W]ould accept a half a million dead Biafrans”-wish is not a declaration made by some dictator, some leader of a loony party, a fascist party or anything of that ilk; on the contrary, this is a declaration made by an elected politician, a politician in an advanced western democracy – the leader of the British Labour party, a party that prides itself for having attracted leading thinkers to its ranks in the post-World War II era. “[W]ould accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took”-declaration is made by the prime minister of Britain; not the prime minister of some “peripheral”, inconsequential country but the prime minister of a “centre” state and power that was part of the victorious alliance that defeated a fascist global amalgam in a global war that ended barely 23 years earlier. This is a prime minister of a “centre” state and power, the sixth to occupy this exalted position since the end of the war, that was one of the key countries that worked on the panel that drafted the historic 1948 United Nations “Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide”, in the wake of the 1930s/1940s deplorable perpetration of the Jewish genocide in Europe. 6 million Jews were murdered then by Nazi Germany. It is to ensure that no human beings are ever subjected to what the Jews went through in central Europe and elsewhere that this genocide convention is rated as one of the key international documents of the new age. Britain is a signatory to the convention.

Surely, Harold Wilson’s “[W]ould accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took”-declaration cannot fit into the hallowed pages of the 1948 United Nations “Convention on the prevention of the Crime of Genocide”. Absolutely not! On the contrary, Wilson’s is a mid-1960s declaration to wage a genocide on a people, the Igbo people, 3150 miles away in southwestcentral Africa, just 20 years after the Jewish genocide in Europe. In the end, rather than Wilson’s 500,000 “dead Biafrans”-wish, there were 3.1 million murdered Biafrans... How many others in Wilson’s cabinet identified with this genocidal position and policy on the Igbo? What was the nature of the debates on this subject? Were there voices of opposition within cabinet? Who were these voices and how did they try to alter both position and policy? An official in the foreign office in London at the time does acknowledge, without any ambiguity, the genocidal plank of this administration’s policy especially on the issue of the dispatch of urgent relief to the encircled, blockaded and bombarded Igbo: “[my government’s position was designed to] show conspicuous zeal in relief while in fact letting the little buggers starve out” (Morris: 122). How widespread did people in the broader Labour party know of Harold Wilson’s genocidal policy on the Igbo? How much of Wilson’s Igbo genocide drive did the official British Conservative party opposition aware of?

The unrelentingly brazen impunity displayed by Nigeria’s genocidist “theorists” and operators on the ground, during the three phases and 44 months of the genocide, was anchored on the confidence that they had the British government’s back and were pointedly a variation on the theme spun by Wilson and the foreign office official. Benjamin Adekunle, one of the most notorious of Nigeria’s field commanders in southern Igboland, makes the following statement to the media, including foreign representatives, in an August 1968 press conference, almost about the same time as Wilson’s declaration to Ferguson: “I want to prevent even one I[g]bo having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces march into the centre of I[g]bo territory, we shoot at everything, even at things that don’t move” (The Economist [London], 24 August 1968). To fuse Wilson’s declaration to the London foreign office spokesperson’s to Adekunle’s is to produce a lethal genocidal juggernaut  that incorporates the conceptualisation, testing and implementation of like-minded operatives who just see the wholescale murder of Igbo people as the foreseeable outcome, “solution” of their strategic goal(s). Nothing else… When in June 1969, Olusegun Obasanjo, another fiendish genocidist commander, again in the south of Igboland, orders his airforce to shoot down an ICRC relief plane bringing in urgent supplies to the Igbo (note, once again, the symbolism of food and life!), it is to Harold Wilson that Obasanjo beckons for help to “sort out” the outraged international response to this atrocity as the latter, himself, points out in his memoirs, aptly entitled My Command (Ibadan and London: Heinemann, 1980: 165 ).

Revisit

It is now incumbent on the current David Cameron British government to revisit the Harold Wilson administration’s 1966-1970 genocidal campaign against Igbo people and make urgent amends. It should seek to effectuate some measure of closure to Wilson’s sordid programme of genocide against one of humanity’s most industrious and peaceful of peoples. Indeed, Cameron has no greater opportunity, presently, to permanently erase these “scars of Africa” from Britain’s “conscience”, to quote the sentiment severally made by Tony Blair, a former prime minister. Britain should now unreservedly apologise to Igbo people for its cardinal role in the genocide of 29 May 1966-12 January 1970 that cost the lives of 3.1 million Igbo children, women and men. It should follow up this apology by paying reparations to the survivors. No other African people have suffered such an extensive and gruesome genocide and incalculable impoverishment in a century.



Britain, Aburi and the Igbo genocide (Saturday 6 July 2013)

I have argued variously  that without the very determined British military, diplomatic and political support to the Nigerian state right from the outset, the Igbo genocide, this foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa, would probably not have occurred (see, for instance, Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “Rights for Scots, Rights for the Igbo”,
http://re-thinkingafrica.blogspot.com.br/2012/01/rights-for-scots-rights-for-igbo.html). Definitely, the Nigerians would not have embarked on the third phase of the genocide, the direct invasion of Igboland, Biafra, beginning on 6 July 1967, without receiving firm support for the operation from Britain. Colonel Robert Scott, who was a British military advisor on the invasion, later broke ranks with his employer, to acknowledge, gravely, that as the Nigerians unleashed their attacks on Igbo towns and villages, they were the “best defoliant agent known”. 3 million Igbo people were slaughtered during the course of the 30-month stretch of invasion.

Earlier on, 100,000 Igbo had been murdered by the genocidists in waves after waves of meticulously-coordinated savage campaigns across the entire north region of Nigeria as well as in parts of the country’s Yoruba/west, Lagos and midwest regions during phases I and II of the slaughter – 29 May 1966-5 July 1967. Two million Igbo survived and escaped from these killing fields and returned to the east. Such a sudden influx of displaced people was a major task that confronted the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu government in Enuugwu. The resources of the east had been stretched extensively between 29 May 1966 and December 1966 after it allocated £3 million in emergency funding for the expansion of housing units, office space, schools, and recreation facilities to cope with the returnees. Thanks to the region’s booming economy and the remarkable intervention of its extended-family system in “absorbing” a high proportion of the welfare needs of the returnees, the east was able to avert what was potentially a major humanitarian catastrophe. Unlike the distressful imagery often associated with comparable emergencies in contemporary Africa, there was no outside aid involved in this extraordinarily resourceful and successful resettlement programme – not from the Organisation of African Unity, not from the United Nations, and not least from the Yakubu Gowon military junta in Lagos that had itself coordinated the genocide from the end of July 1966. Igbo people and the rest of Africa must be proud of this thrust of resilience.

It was against this background of the brazen brutalisation of Igbo people by fellow compatriots that the head of neighbouring Ghana’s military administration, General Joseph Ankrah, invited Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Gowon and the rest of the members of Nigeria’s pre-genocide governing military council to Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967 to discuss the Nigerian débâcle. Just prior to the Aburi invitation (the previous month, December 1966), Odumegwu-Ojukwu had turned down a British-sponsored “conference of mediation”, that would involve all the members of the same council on board a British naval frigate anchored off Lagos in which the British would chair. The east governor could not accept the presumption of “neutrality” or “even-handedness” inherent in London’s invitation to host such a summit, considering Britain’s activist role in the Igbo genocide since the weeks and months leading to the outbreak in May 1966, especially its work with the Gowon-Muhammed-Danjuma genocidist cells in the military and the north emirs, as well as with staff and students at the Ahmadu Bello University, the epicentre of the planning and execution of the genocide. Furthermore, Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the historian, could not have ignored the lessons of a similar event in the 19th century. Then, King Jaja of Igwe Nga/Opobo, an Igbo nationalist monarch opposed to British territorial aggression and expansionism along the Atlantic coast of Igboland, was kidnapped by the British navy and exiled to the Caribbean (where he eventually died) after accepting, in good faith, a British offer of “peace talks” on board a British vessel berthed off the Igwe Nga shores.

The Aburi African-led and controlled diplomatic initiative and resultant summit are indeed extraordinary, the likes of which we haven’t seen on the African political scene since. After two days of talks, 4-5 January 1967, the delegates achieved an exceptional degree of agreement, in spite of the genocide of the previous seven months. A brief examination of the key points of the agreement underscores our conclusion.   Two areas require comment. First, the resolution that focuses on the renouncement of force and the importation of arms: (1) “renounce the use of force as a means of settling the present crisis in Nigeria” (2) “agree that there should be no more importation of arms and ammunition until normalcy [is] restored”. Second, the provisions that deal with the ruling military council of which Gowon had declared himself “supreme commander” since he seized power (29 July 1966) during the course of the genocide and the reorganisation of the army. Four articles are relevant here: (1) “military is to be governed by the Supreme Military Council” (2) “creation of area command corresponding with the existing region and under the charge of an area commander” (3) “during the period of the military government, military governors will have control over their area commands on matters of internal security” (4) “agree that any decision affecting the whole country must be determined by the Supreme Military Council and where a meeting is not possible such a matter must be referred to military governors for comment and concurrence”.

Peer-review: “Cleverest”, “Compulsive-logic”

In effect, the Aburi decision to transfer the constitutional responsibility of the Nigerian military from the position of the supreme commander to the supreme military council, extensively limited the executive (and legislature) powers of the position of “supreme commander and head of state” which Gowon had exercised since the genocide (these powers were originally contained in General Aguyi-Ironsi’s January 1966 decree no.1 which had made the occupant of that office, and not the SMC, the principal person in charge of decision making in the country). In future, following the Aburi accord, “any decision affecting the whole country must be decided by the Supreme Military Council” (added emphasis) – namely, the eight members that made up the body gathered in Ghana including, pointedly, the military governors of the regions of which Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the only member that had refused to recognise Gowon in that position, was one.

It is of immense significance that this provision on the new powers of the SMC also states that “where a meeting [of the SMC] is not possible such a matter must be referred to military governors for comment and concurrence” (added emphasis). This referral procedure was aimed evidently at meeting Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s contention, repeatedly stated throughout the meeting, that he would not attend any meetings in Nigeria where the Nigerian military, which had played the central role in the prosecution of the Igbo genocide, was positioned and operating. Odumegwu-Ojukwu had in fact converted the Aburi gathering into a peer-review session, unprecedented in recent African history. Here at Aburi, an African leader bluntly told his colleagues, who only 18 months earlier would have all shared the conviviality of an officers’ mess or one of the other’s residence to wine and dine, that he had no confidence in them and the troops they commanded because they had been involved in the perpetration of a genocide that claimed the lives of 100,000 Africans within seven months. This was indeed an historic rendezvous. It would take another 40 years for the world at large to increasingly begin to lecture African leaders to openly condemn crimes committed by one of their own (Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “Nigeria does not deserve UN Security Council”,
Back to Aburi (1967), Odumegwu-Ojukwu had laid bare, for the crucial reckoning of African history, the apposite moral and juridical dilemma surrounding the status of lead-genocidist leader Yakubu Gowon. Odumegwu-Ojukwu had insisted at the talks that Gowon must neither be seen nor aided by his peers to appropriate the position and the powers invested in Nigeria’s top political and military leadership after his perpetration of the mass murder of tens of thousands of Igbo people and the murder of General Aguyi-Ironsi, the commander-in-chief, under whom Gowon served as chief of army staff.  Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s reply to a question about Gowon’s status, posed by Mobalaji Johnson (governor of Lagos), was undoubtedly the turning point at Aburi. It led to the challenge and dramatic reconfiguration of Gowon’s acquired position and powers that he had exercised so ruthlessly since 29 July 1966. Astonishingly, this outcome was approved and signed by all the eight principal participants at the meeting, including Gowon himself! – Colonel* Adebayo, west governor; Colonel Ejoor, midwest governor; Colonel Gowon, head of the genocidist forces in control of Lagos/west/north regions; Major Johnson, Lagos governor; Colonel Katsina, north governor, Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu, east governor; Mr Salem, head of the police, and Commodore Wey, head of navy.

Following objections that Odumegwu-Ojukwu had earlier made during the proceedings to one of the participants who referred to Gowon as “supreme commander”, Johnson had asked: “Is there a government in Nigeria today? Is there a central government in Nigeria today?” Odumegwu-Ojukwu: “That question is such a simple one that anybody who has been listening to what I have been saying would know that I do not see a central government in Nigeria today.  [Following the genocide] Nigeria resolved itself into three areas – Lagos, West and North area; the Mid-West area; and the East area”. Odumegwu-Ojukwu was in effect highlighting the territorial reach and distribution of the Gowon-controlled genocidist forces across the country – Lagos/west-north regions where they occupied, and the east and midwest regions, which were still free of their presence. In the light of Aburi, Gowon’s overall control of the Lagos/west/north regions had in fact come under question. With the newly acquired powers of individual governors on the supreme military council at the expense of those hitherto wielded by Gowon, it followed, for instance, that the governors of Lagos, west and north (where the Gowonist forces were entrenched) would in future be expected to exercise greater powers of control in their respective regions than Gowon.

If an audio-recorded transcript of the entire deliberations of the Aburi conference did not exist today** as a treasured historic document, it would have been extremely difficult to appreciate Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s phenomenal success in persuading the rest of the participants to accept an extensively decentralised structural solution to Nigeria’s crisis, after the devastating first and second phases of genocide, looting, and the displacement of 2 million Igbo people. That Gowon, himself, appended his signature to this Odumegwu-Ojukwu prepared text at a gathering that had, as a result of these developments, clipped his powers so extensively, was not just because the east governor was the “cleverest … the only one who understood the real issues”, as writer Walter Schwarz has observed, or that the rest of the conferees were “too unserious[ly] minded to meet with [Odumegwu-]Ojukwu’s compulsive logic”, as Joe Garba, a leading genocidist officer in the Gowonist forces and Nigeria’s foreign minister in the 1970s, has noted. On the contrary, Gowon and each of the other Nigerian leaders at Aburi (Adebayo, Ejoor, Johnson, Katsina, Salem, Wey – all of whom, bar Odumegwu-Ojukwu, had recognised Gowon as “supreme commander and head of state” since end of July 1966) signed this remarkable document because they were each and collectively in awe of the frankness and rectitude of Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s strictures of them for executing such a despicable act of genocide against Igbo people during the course of 1966.

Britain and them all

Overnight, the outcome of the Aburi discourses radically altered the contours of the political landscape of Nigeria. The centralising features of Aguyi-Ironsi’s decree no. 34 dispensation of the previous year, since adopted by the Gowon junta despite the irony, had been abandoned. More importantly, though, the powers of the regions vis-à-vis the centre had become more enhanced – much more than at any time in Nigeria’s history, even including the epoch of the feverishly-pursued British occupation’s “regionalisation drive” of the 1950s. Aburi had in effect inaugurated a confederal, extensively decentralised constitutional solution to the Nigerian impasse, to the consternation of the British, who had followed the talks with nervousness, the north, the military, and the central, essentially Yoruba(now)-run bureaucratic establishment in Lagos. Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba leader, would later join the opposition to Aburi when offered the princely position of deputy to Gowon’s genocide prosecution-cabinet, effectively regime prime-minister, and head of the powerful finance ministry and “chief theorist” of the genocide campaign.

Britain rejected the Aburi outcome out of hand and began to pressurise Gowon, who for two days during the Ghana conference was out of reach from his British intelligence minders for the first time in almost a year, to renege on it. Britain was therefore pleased when the north and other interest groups in Nigeria joined in the opposition against the accord. Gowon’s ultimate renegation of an accord that he signed, willingly, in Ghana, in the presence of all the other seven members of the Nigerian governing military council, their five secretaries, and General Ankrah, their host, was a reminder, if ever such an evidence was sought, of who, eventually called the shots at the crucial junctures of the course of the Igbo genocide: Britain. Such was the British disappointment of Gowon’s performance in Abuja that they ensured that Gowon would in future no longer be “exposed” to Odumegwu-Ojukwu or any of these Igbo with “compulsive logic”. Subsequently, the often more “coherent” spokespersons who tried to put across some “form of explanation” of the Anglo/Nigerian position on the Igbo genocide, especially in Britain where there was a groundswell popular opposition to the slaughter, were from a hired pool of consultants of ex-British conquest administrators who had served in Nigeria.

So, the Aburi critics launched a chorus of fierce opposition on the accord, forcing the Gowon junta to renege on the agreement a few days after returning to Nigeria from Ghana. The groups felt that Gowon and the rest of the non-east delegation at Aburi had capitulated to Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s uncompromising censure of his former colleagues’ involvement in the Igbo genocide. As a consequence, notes the critics, Odumegwu-Ojukwu had out-manoeuvred fellow conferees in accepting as de jure the increasingly autonomous political direction which the east had embarked upon in the wake of the genocide, in addition to according this same status to the other regions of Nigeria – a move that further eclipsed Gowon’s powers as “head of state”.  But for the east, the implementation of the Aburi agreement was the minimal condition for maintaining further political links with Nigeria: “It was Aburi or a clean break with Nigeria”. In a radio broadcast in Enuugwu in February 1967, Odumegwu-Ojukwu gave notice that the east would begin to implement the Aburi agreement as from the end of March (1967) even if Gowon and the rest of the accord’s signatories did not do so. Gowon responded by threatening to attack the east if it went ahead to implement the agreement. Ironically, Gowon’s threat was itself a clear violation of one of the key articles of the accord, which pronounced unambiguously: “renounce[d] the use of force as a means of settling the Nigerian crisis”. Odumegwu-Ojukwu nonetheless went ahead to implement the Aburi accord after 31 March. This move further enhanced the virtually autonomous position that the east had had in relation to the rest of the country since especially October 1966. For his part, Gowon imposed a total economic blockade of the east. Effectively, this was the prelude to his forces’ invasion, the expansion of the territorial reach of their yearlong genocidal campaign on the Igbo to Igboland, Biafra, itself. This “final solution” of the Igbo Question had become the proffered one sought by the British and their Nigerian allies since. And they soon unleashed a cataclysmic surge of violence in Igboland, Biafra, in which 3 million Igbo children, women and men or one-quarter of this nation’s population were murdered by 12 January 1970.

*All military rank references here to the Aburi conference participants are statuses achieved and recognised prior to the outbreak of the Igbo genocide, 29 May 1966.
**There are persistent indications that the east conference staff may have additionally filmed the Aburi meetings and that the tape(s) are lodged safely in some archives.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Britain and the Igbo genocide – now for the pertinent questions

Last Saturday (6 July 2013), I published an article commemorating the 47th anniversary of the launch of the largely British-orchestrated and managed Nigerian-state military invasion of Igboland, Biafra (“Britain, Aburi and the Igbo genocide”, http://re-thinkingafrica.blogspot.com.br/2013/07/britain-aburi-and-igbo-genocide_14.html). The invasion is phase-III of the Igbo genocide in which 3 million Igbo people are murdered between 6 July 1967 and 12 January 1970. Earlier on, in phases-I and II of the genocide, beginning 29 May 1966 to 5 July 1967, 100,000 Igbo were murdered by their fellow compatriots in premeditated attacks on Igbo residences, businesses, places of worship, schools, hospitals, parks, private and public transport, everywhere, in towns and villages across most of north Nigeria and in parts of the country’s Lagos, west and midwest regions. The Igbo genocide is the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa and inaugurated Africa’s current age of pestilence. Precisely because the world failed to stop this genocide and punish those responsible for carrying it out, the killing fields of Igboland soon extended almost inexorably across Africa. During the period, since January 1970, 12 million additional Africans have been murdered in further genocide in Rwanda (1994), Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo (variously, since the late 1990s) and in Darfur/Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan (all in the Sudan since 2003) and in other wars and conflicts in  Liberia, Ethiopia, Congo Republic, Somalia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Mozambique, Algeria, Libya, Kenya, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Angola, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Mali.

I should qualify my earlier assertion on the world’s attitude to the Igbo genocide because there was, indeed, a rare but robust African diplomatic initiative to halt the genocide after the end of its first phase in January 1967 – i.e., after 100,000 Igbo had already been murdered during the previous seven months. As I show in “Britain, Aburi and the Igbo genocide”, the remarkable Joseph Ankrah’s government in Ghana offered its good offices to mediate in the catastrophe that engulfed its neighbour and end the slaughtering. Ankrah succeeded in inviting all the eight members of the pre-genocide Nigeria’s governing supreme military council to Ghana for two days of talks which ended extraordinarily with a successful confederal political agreement for Nigeria’s future. All the eight signed the agreement including, spectacularly, Yakubu Gowon, head of the genocidist forces that had spearheaded the campaign since 29 July 1966, and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, leader of the east region resistance government.

“Punish”

Britain, the hitherto conqueror/occupying state in Nigeria but which still exercised a hegemonic control over the country’s politico-economic and strategic affairs despite seven years of so-called restoration of independence, rejected the outcome of these Ghana talks and immediately embarked on pressuring Gowon and its agelong north region clients to renege on implementing the accords and instead expand the territorial reach of the genocide by attacking Igboland itself. It was not therefore just to preserve its vast interests in Nigeria that Britain found the Ghana discussions and outcome objectionable, but London had since sought to “punish” the Igbo for being in the vanguard, since the 1930s, to terminate the British occupation of Nigeria. In June 1945, the British occupation regime openly accused Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Igbo academic and journalist and leading restoration-of-independence politician, in addition to other Igbo leaders, for organising the 6-week pro-restoration of independence countrywide strike that had virtually paralysed the country’s economic activity. The regime’s inflammatory propaganda on Igbo “responsibility” for the event was an instigator prop to the Hausa-Fulani/north’s organised massacres of hundreds of Igbo immigrant populations in the northcentral city of Jos and the looting and/or destruction of their property worth tens of thousands of pounds. No one was ever prosecuted by the regime for planning or participating in those massacres. Another anti-Igbo pogrom was again staged under the watch of the British occupation in 1953 by Hausa-Fulani/north leaders in Kano, 185 miles further north of Jos. This time, the issue focused on the controversial question of a timetable to end the British occupation which Britain’s north allies were opposed to. Hundreds of Igbo were again murdered in Kano and tens of thousands of pounds worth of their property looted and/or destroyed.  As in Jos, no one was prosecuted by the regime for planning or participating in this pogrom and no such censures would occur during the 1966-1970 Igbo genocide, subsequently, to which these pogroms are dreadful “dress rehearsals”.
 The world has recently followed with admiration the ways and means the British security and justice services have apprehended Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, the two Nigerian-Britons accused of the reprehensible murder of fusilier Lee Rigby outside a southeast London military barracks earlier on in the year. Ironically, if these accused had allegedly committed a similar murder in contemporary Nigeria, the duo would have, thanks to the British-supervised precedent in the country going back to the 1945 Igbo pogrom in Jos, “unlikely been arrested”/“not be arrested” but would instead be “prime candidates” awaiting a regime-commissioned amnesty for those who have committed such heinous crimes – the latter process is in fact the case for members of  the Boko Haram islamic insurgent organisation as these lines are written.
“Centre”

Back to the Igbo genocide, it must be stated, clearly, that Harold Wilson, the British prime minister of the day, knew precisely the nature or the character of the campaign that his government was involved in Igboland, Biafra, beginning from 6 July 1967. During the course of the 1968/69 gruesomely catastrophic apogee of the campaign, Wilson informed C. Clyde Ferguson, the US state department special coordinator for relief to Biafra, that he, Harold Wilson, “would accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took” Nigeria to destroy the Igbo resistance to the genocide (Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy [London and New York: Quartet Books, 1977]: 122). For the records, Wilson’s “a half a million dead Biafrans” represented 4.2 per cent of the Igbo population then; by the time that that phase of the genocide came to an end, 6-9 months after Wilson’s wish-declaration, 25 per cent of this nation’s population or 3.1 million Igbo people had been murdered by the genocidists.

Harold Wilson’s “[W]ould accept a half a million dead Biafrans”-wish is not a declaration made by some dictator, some leader of a loony party, a fascist party or anything of that ilk; on the contrary, this is a declaration made by an elected politician, a politician in an advanced western democracy – the leader of the British Labour party, a party that prides itself for having attracted leading thinkers to its ranks in the post-World War II era. “[W]ould accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took”-declaration is made by the prime minister of Britain; not the prime minister of some “peripheral”, inconsequential country but the prime minister of a “centre” state and power that was part of the victorious alliance that defeated a fascist global amalgam in a global war that ended barely 23 years earlier. This is a prime minister of a “centre” state and power, the sixth to occupy this exalted position since the end of the war, that was one of the key countries that worked on the panel that drafted the historic 1948 United Nations “Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide”, in the wake of the 1930s/1940s deplorable perpetration of the Jewish genocide in Europe. 6 million Jews were murdered then by Nazi Germany. It is to ensure that no human beings are ever subjected to what the Jews went through in central Europe and elsewhere that this genocide convention is rated as one of the key international documents of the new age. Britain is a signatory to the convention.

Surely, Harold Wilson’s “[W]ould accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took”-declaration cannot fit into the hallowed pages of the 1948 United Nations “Convention on the prevention of the Crime of Genocide”. Absolutely not! On the contrary, Wilson’s is a mid-1960s declaration to wage a genocide on a people, the Igbo people, 3150 miles away in southwestcentral Africa, just 20 years after the Jewish genocide in Europe. In the end, rather than Wilson’s 500,000 “dead Biafrans”-wish, there were 3.1 million murdered Biafrans... How many others in Wilson’s cabinet identified with this genocidal position and policy on the Igbo? What was the nature of the debates on this subject? Were there voices of opposition within cabinet? Who were these voices and how did they try to alter both position and policy? An official in the foreign office in London at the time does acknowledge, without any ambiguity, the genocidal plank of this administration’s policy especially on the issue of the dispatch of urgent relief to the encircled, blockaded and bombarded Igbo: “[my government’s position was designed to] show conspicuous zeal in relief while in fact letting the little buggers starve out” (Morris: 122). How widespread did people in the broader Labour party know of Harold Wilson’s genocidal policy on the Igbo? How much of Wilson’s Igbo genocide drive did the official British Conservative party opposition aware of?

The unrelentingly brazen impunity displayed by Nigeria’s genocidist “theorists” and operators on the ground, during the three phases and 44 months of the genocide, was anchored on the confidence that they had the British government’s back and were pointedly a variation on the theme spun by Wilson and the foreign office official. Benjamin Adekunle, one of the most notorious of Nigeria’s field commanders in southern Igboland, makes the following statement to the media, including foreign representatives, in an August 1968 press conference, almost about the same time as Wilson’s declaration to Ferguson: “I want to prevent even one I[g]bo having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces march into the centre of I[g]bo territory, we shoot at everything, even at things that don’t move” (The Economist [London], 24 August 1968). To fuse Wilson’s declaration to the London foreign office spokesperson’s to Adekunle’s is to produce a lethal genocidal juggernaut  that incorporates the conceptualisation, testing and implementation of like-minded operatives who just see the wholescale murder of Igbo people as the foreseeable outcome, “solution” of their strategic goal(s). Nothing else… When in June 1969, Olusegun Obasanjo, another fiendish genocidist commander, again in the south of Igboland, orders his airforce to shoot down an ICRC relief plane bringing in urgent supplies to the Igbo (note, once again, the symbolism of food and life!), it is to Harold Wilson that Obasanjo beckons for help to “sort out” the outraged international response to this atrocity as the latter, himself, points out in his memoirs, aptly entitled My Command (Ibadan and London: Heinemann, 1980: 165 ).

Revisit

It is now incumbent on the current David Cameron British government to revisit the Harold Wilson administration’s 1966-1970 genocidal campaign against Igbo people and make urgent amends. It should seek to effectuate some measure of closure to Wilson’s sordid programme of genocide against one of humanity’s most industrious and peaceful of peoples. Indeed, Cameron has no greater opportunity, presently, to permanently erase these “scars of Africa” from Britain’s “conscience”, to quote the sentiment severally made by Tony Blair, a former prime minister. Britain should now unreservedly apologise to Igbo people for its cardinal role in the genocide of 29 May 1966-12 January 1970 that cost the lives of 3.1 million Igbo children, women and men.  It should follow up this apology by paying reparations to the survivors and support ongoing efforts to bring to trial all those involved in perpetrating the genocide. Thankfully, the crime of genocide has no statute of limitations in international law. No other African peoples have suffered such an extensive and gruesome genocide and incalculable impoverishment in a century as the Igbo.

Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe