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”, 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.


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.

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 ).


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.

No comments:

Post a Comment