Using state archival material, Paxman presents the crux of the panoramic conversation on the subject in Lagos (Nigeria’s then capital), in January 1960, between James Robertson, the outgoing occupation governor, and visiting British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (Paxman, 2011: 272):
MACMILLAN: Are the people fit for self-government?
ROBERTSON: No, of course not.
According to Paxman, James Robertson reckons that it would take “another 20 or 25 years” for Nigeria to be “fit for self-government” (Paxman: 272; added emphasis). Instructively, this is the same Robertson who had, prior to his Lagos meeting with Macmillan, “concluded” the “terms” of the British “exit” from Nigeria in “negotiations” with the country’s restoration-of-independence movement – begun 15 years earlier and had been chaired successively by two previous occupation governors including sessions scheduled and held in England (Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, Biafra Revisited, 2006: 27-43, 121). This is the same Robertson who had just rigged the December 1959 countrywide elections in Nigeria (part of the restoration-of-independence “package”) in favour of the Hausa-Fulani north region, as Harold Smith, a member of the occupation regime in Lagos at the time, would recall years later (Harold Smith, “A squalid end to empire”, The Free Library, 1 November 2008; Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “Elections in Africa – the voter, the court, the outcome”, 2013: 810-811). Furthermore, this is the same Robertson whose predecessor, in Lagos, had earlier rigged the countrywide census results – again, in favour of Britain’s Hausa-Fulani north regional clients (Smith, “A squalid end of empire”), aimed at ensuring that the latter, with a fabricated population majority in the country, has the “electoral clout” to safeguard for the (British)conqueror-state the vast arena of its strategic and economic assets in Nigeria in perpetuity (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2006: 18-114; Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature, 2011: 1-6). As this study will demonstrate, this north region constitutes the core of Britain’s local clients in Nigeria, vehemently opposed to African independence – and, therefore, the British exit! Consequently, it would play a key role in the perpetration of the Igbo genocide which it undertakes in concert with Britain. Pointedly, on the broader stretch of the politics of liberation of the Southern World, during this post-Second World War epoch, the north Nigeria region has the unenviable accolade across this hemisphere of being home to one of the few peoples who wanted the continuing occupation of their lands by one of the pan-European powers of global conquest since the 15th century CE (Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “Léopold Senghor”, The Literary Encyclopedia, 30 June 2002).
So, given James Robertson’s apparent “unfavourable prognosis” on Nigeria illustrated in Empire, Prime Minister Macmillan asks his governor for advice on the way forward for the British continuing occupation of Nigeria (Paxman: 272): “What do you recommend me to do?”
ROBERTSON: I recommend you give it to them at once.
Really? Why? Doesn’t Robertson’s suggestion to his boss sound wholly contradictory to the tract that this conclave had trodden so far? Well, no, not really… Both prime minister and governor have no disagreement, whatsoever, on holding onto British “interests” in Nigeria in perpetuity; they do not believe that they are necessarily bound by the “terms” of the envisaged British “exit” from Nigeria “negotiated” since 1945 even though, ironically, these had largely preserved British “interests”, thanks to the veto-power that its Hausa-Fulani north region subalterns would exercise in the “new” dispensation (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2006: 40-43, 121); most crucially, both men do not subscribe to the inalienable rights of Africans to recover their conquered lands.
It is the case, though, that if the British officials were to renege on their “exit” from Nigeria at this 11th hour, they would have to contend with a serious crisis – at least in the short/medium term – right there on the ground in Nigeria: “The alternative [is] that most talented people [read: the Igbo and those others elsewhere in south Nigeria who demanded and supported the drive towards unfettered restoration-of-independence for the peoples during these past 30 years] would become rebels and the British would spend the next two decades fighting to stave off what [is] inevitable, while incurring the opprobrium of the world” (Paxman: 272).
As the Lagos deliberations end, nine months before the designated British departure date (1 October 1960), both prime minister and governor needn’t agonise, too much, over the future prospects of their country’s Nigeria stranglehold. After all, despite the “talented people”, Britain is aware that it holds the trump card to defend this stranglehold via its Hausa-Fulani clients. Twice in the previous 15 years (significantly, it should be noted, during those crucial years of British “negotiations” of its “exit” from Nigeria with the “talented people”), the clients organised and unleashed pogroms against Igbo people in the northcentral town of Jos (1945) and north city of Kano (1953). Hundreds of Igbo were murdered during these massacres and tens of thousands of pounds sterling worth of their property looted or destroyed (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2006: 8, 19-20). No perpetrators of these murders were ever apprehended or punished by the occupation regime.
Six and one-half years hence, from Sunday 29 May 1966, these same British clients would unleash the genocide against the Igbo people. During the course of 44 months, 3.1 million Igbo children, women and men are murdered in this foundational and most gruesome genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. The Igbo and the world suddenly realise that those anti-Igbo pogroms, carried out during the years of the Anglo-“talented people”-in-Nigeria doubtful restoration-of-independence negotiations, were indeed “dress rehearsals” for the 29 May 1966-12 January 1970 Igbo genocide.
Britain plays an instrumental role in the perpetration of the genocide – politically, diplomatically and militarily, and its closest international ally, the United States, as we will soon elaborate, is fully aware of its mission. Now, a new Harold-the-prime minister, this time Harold Wilson, beginning in 1964, has no qualms about the “opprobrium of the world” considered by the other Harold during those January 1960 talks with governor Robertson. Wilson’s reasons are obvious: the architecture of control and execution of mass violence in Nigeria have altered, somehow, since January 1960, and the forces on the ground spearheading the Igbo genocide are the trusted Hausa-Fulani subalterns of old in addition to their since locally expanded allies in Yoruba, Edo and Urhobo west Nigeria – not Britain, directly; precisely, what Macmillan and Robertson had sought to avoid during that Lagos summit! Declassified British state papers indicate the monstrous disposition by the Wilson government, right from the outset, to saturate the Nigerian genocidist armoury on the ground with a wide range of British weapons to ensure that the murder of the Igbo is effected most comprehensively:
In December 1967 … [British Foreign] Secretary George Thomson said that “ [the Nigerians] are most impressed with the Saladins and Ferrets” previously supplied by Britain. As a result Britain supplied six Saladin armoured personnel carriers (APCs), 30 Saracen APCs along with 2,000 machine guns for them, anti-tank guns and 9 million rounds of ammunition. Denis Healey, the Defence Secretary, wrote that he hoped these supplies will encourage the Nigerians “to look to the United Kingdom for their future purchases of defence equipment”. By the end of the year  Britain had also approved the export of 1,050 bayonets, 700 grenades, 1,950 rifles with grenade launchers, 15,000 lbs of explosives and two helicopters … In the first half of the following year,1968, Britain approved the export of 15 million rounds of ammunition, 21,000 mortar bombs, 42,500 Howitzer rounds, 12 Oerlikon guns, 3 Bofors guns, 500 submachine guns, 12 Saladins with guns and spare parts, 30 Saracens and spare parts, 800 bayonets, 4,000 rifles and two other helicopters. At the same time Wilson was constantly reassuring Gowon of British support for a United Nigeria, saying in April 1968 that “I think we can fairly claim that we have not wavered in this support throughout …”. British arms supplies were stepped up again in November . Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart said the Nigerians could have 5 million more rounds of ammunition, 40,000 more mortar bombs and 2,000 rifles. “You may tell Gowon”, Stewart instructed High Commissioner Hunt in Lagos, “that we are certainly ready to consider a further application” to supply similar arms in the future as well. He concluded: “if there is anything else for ground warfare which you… think they need and which would help speed up the end of the fighting, please let us know and we will consider urgently whether we can supply it”. Other supplies agreed in November , following meetings with the Nigerians included six Saladins and 20,000 rounds of ammunition for them, and stepped up monthly supplies of ammunition, amounting to a total of 15 million rounds additional to those already agreed. It was recognised by the Defence Minister that “the scale of the UK supply of small arms ammunition to Nigeria in recent months has been and will continue to be on a vast scale”. The recent deal meant that Britain was supplying 36 million rounds of ammunition in the last few months alone. Britain’s “willingness to supply very large quantities of ammunition”, Lord Shepherd [minister of state, foreign office] noted, “meant drawing on the British army’s own supplies”. By the end of 1968 Britain had sold Nigeria £9 million worth of arms, £6 million of which was spent on small arms … In March 1969 the government approved the export of 19 million rounds of ammunition, 10,000 grenades and 39,000 mortar bombs … Two senior British RAF officers secretly visited Nigeria in August 1969 to advise the Nigerians on “how they could better prosecute the air war” … [I]n December 1969 … Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart was calling for stepping up military assistance including the supply of more armoured cars. These supplies by Britain, he wrote, “have undoubtedly been the most effective weapons in the ground war and have spear-headed all the major [Nigerian] advances”. (Mark Curtis, “Nigeria’s war over Biafra, 1967-70”)
Believing our country is rightfully entitled to liberty and prosperous life … and determined to work in unity for the realisation of ultimate goal of self-government … (part of conference communique at the formal launch of Nigeria’s lead restoration-of-independence party, the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons [NCNC], Lagos, 26 August 1944: quoted. in James Coleman, Nigeria, 1958 :264)
[I]t wasn’t on the face of it easy to get the (the North) to change, but I managed to do it overnight. I drafted letters to the British Prime Minister, to send to Gowon [genocidist commander] … and for my secretary of state (Michael Stewart) to send letters to each of the Emirs. I wrote an accompanying letter to each of them because I knew them personally. I drafted all these and they came back to me duly authorised to push at once. The whole thing was done overnight and it did the trick of stopping them (the North) dividing Nigeria up (Gould: 23; added emphasis).
If ever there were any doubts about British intentions on this genocide, since its outbreak in May (1966), it was now clear that the architect of what scholars of the genocide describe as its “phase-III” (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2011: 86-91) or the invasion of Igboland or Biafra was essentially none other than Britain. Yet again, on the African scene, as history has shown so catastrophically since the early 1900s, the European conqueror-power on the continent can also double up as a genocide-power. In centrally initiating this follow-up phase of the Igbo genocide after August 1966 which would result in the slaughter of 3 million Igbo people, one-quarter of this nation’s population, Britain joins Belgium (1878-1908) and Germany (1904-1907) in perpetrating a state-organised genocide against a constituent nation in its occupied African country. In the case of Belgium, during the period, King Leopold II-led Belgian monarchy/state forces organised the genocide of African constituent nations in the Congo basin (central Africa) in which a total of 13 million Africans were murdered (Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem, Histoire générale du Congo: De l'héritage ancien à la République Démocratique, 1998: 344). Between 1904 and 1907, Germany carried out the genocide of the Herero, Nama and Berg Damara peoples as it sought to “consolidate” its conquest and occupation of contemporary Namibia. The Germans murdered 65,000 Herero or 80 per cent of the population, 10,000 Nama or 50 per cent of the population, and approximately 30 per cent of Berg Damara people at the time (Horst Drechsler, “Let Us Die Fighting”: The Struggle of the Herero and Nama against German Imperialism, 1884-1915, 1980). In April 1994, France, another leading European conqueror power in Africa would join this league of genocide-powers of Africa in the complicity of its military forces based in Rwanda in the genocide against the Tutsi people organised by the country’s central government, a close ally of the French government (Linda Melvern, Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide, 2006).
Britain is so determined to pursue phase-III of the Igbo genocide, in the wake of the Cumming-Bruce-north emirs accord, that it flagrantly intervenes to scotch a last minute west African regional peace mediatory initiative, led by neighbouring Ghana, to halt any further territorial expansion of the ongoing slaughter. In January 1967, Ghana’s head of state invited both the genocidist leadership in Lagos and the Biafran resistance leadership in Igboland to a 2-day closed-door emergency summit in Accra to discuss the tragedy. The outcome of the meeting is extraordinary, the likes of which have not been 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. They inaugurated a confederal, extensively decentralised constitutional framework solution as basis for the future direction of the country (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2011: 79-86). In effect, the regions, including, especially, the east region, acquired more enhanced powers vis-à-vis the centre in Lagos, foreclosing any “legal grounds” for that British plot, hammered out by ambassador Cumming-Bruce, to extend the Igbo killing fields to Igboland. In addition, the delegates unanimously endorsed two areas of agreement that were particularly important to the pressing question of halting the genocide: (1) “renounce the use of force as a means of settling the present crisis in Nigeria” and (2) “agree that there should be no more importation of arms and ammunition until normalcy [is] restored” (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2011: 82). All the eight delegates in attendance to these talks, including genocidist commander Yakubu Gowon and Biafra’s Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, signed this historic outcome which was duly witnessed by Ghana’s President Joseph Ankrah.
Suddenly, for the first time since 29 May 1966, the agreement reached in the Ghana summit radically altered the contours of the political landscape of Nigeria. But Britain rejected the agreement outright and embarked on pressurising Gowon (and other segments of the north leadership), 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 Gowon and the north scuttled the agreement just a few days after. Gowon’s ultimate renegation of an accord that he signed, willingly, in Ghana, in the presence of all the other seven conferees, their five secretaries, and President 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.
Additionally, Britain must have felt most delighted at this stage of this increasingly deteriorating tragedy that its uncompromisingly steadfast position to safeguard its interests in Nigeria, even at the cost of the continuing genocide of the Igbo people, received a decisive boost from one of its closest allies – the United States. Elbert Matthews, the US ambassador in Nigeria, publicly supported the Cummings-Bruce initiative with the north emirs, indicating, quite bluntly, albeit prosaically, that the conflict was “essentially a Nigerian, African and (British) Commonwealth matter” (Confidential US State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: v). Even though the US would hence claim a position of “neutrality” (Confidential US State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: v) as this tragedy intensified, such a disposition ideally suited the British government. But what does US “neutrality” over an ongoing genocide, the first since the Jewish genocide of the 1930s-1940s in Europe and the first since the historic 1948 UN genocide Convention really mean? Some background analysis of the overarching US policy direction towards Africa, especially since the end of the Second World War, is important to answer this question.
The US: European-occupied Africa, “grand area” planners, genocide
In the early 1940s, as the war raged, two important institutions of the United States government, the Council on Foreign Relations and the War-Peace Study Group, embarked on an extensive study to examine the nature and possibilities of exponentially enhancing US interests in the emergent, post-war global political economy. The bodies conceived of “Grand Area” planning (Noam Chomsky, “The United States: From Greece to El Salvador”, in Chomsky, et al, Superpowers in Collision, 1982: 20-42) within which parts of the world deemed “strategically necessary for [US’s] world control” – i.e., “open to investment, the repatriation of profits, access to resources and so on – and dominated by the United States” (Chomsky: 21) were mapped out. Crucially, it should be noted, this “Grand Area” envisaged by the Americans included the entire Southern World in its geographical spread (Chomsky: 21) – in effect, incorporating all countries and peoples that made up the European “empires”. Furthermore, the public rhetoric under which US state officials and publicists pursued the implementation of the “new order” was the “right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live” (quoted in AN Porter and AA Stockwell, British Imperial Policy and Decolonisation, 1938-1964, Vol I: 1938-51, 1987: 103), a formulation contained in the “Atlantic Charter” and which had caused too much dissension in Britain soon after the August 1941 Franklin Roosevelt-Winston Churchill summit because it expressed without any ambiguity: “all people had a right to self-determination”. Churchill was distinctly outraged by the historic implications of the “Atlantic Charter” for British fortunes across the world. In a speech in London in November 1942, Churchill was adamant: “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire” (“From our archive: Mr Churchill on our one aim”, The Guardian, London, 11 November 2009). In similar vein, Charles de Gaulle, even though leader of the “Free French Forces” who had been on exile in England since Germany overran France in 1940, rejected African “self-determination” or restoration-of-independence in the post-war era during a 1944 conference of global French occupation-governors in Brazzaville, Congo. De Gaulle was emphatic: “[African] Self-government must be rejected – even in the more distant future” (Christopher Hill, “Lies about crimes”, The Guardian, London, 29 May 1989).
Mu je mu kashe nyamiri
Mu chi mata su da yan mata su
Mu kwashe kaya su
(English translation: Let’s go kill the damned Igbo/Kill off their men and boys/Rape their wives and daughters/Cart off their property)
Yesterday evening while eating dinner and watching the news I was unable to finish eating upon seeing the faces of starving children, babies, men, and women in Biafra. I felt nauseated because of having so much when these people were in obvious pain and in dire need of food. I cannot bear to see anyone in need when I have something to share. Though it is not possible for me to go to Biafra at this time, I felt the least I could do was write to you and express my concern for these people and ask that the U.S. and other concerned governments and the United Nations press for a cease fire. I am sending a check to the World Church Service today to help the starving Biafrans. (US Department of State, Confidential State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: vi)
U.S. Army Specialist John G. Moss wrote from Vietnam, enclosing a check for $10 “to help these desperate people”. Petitions, resolutions, and appeals with dozens (and often hundreds) of signatures came from groups such as the Oregon State Legislature, the Ithaca, New York, Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Washington and Northern Idaho Council of Churches, the Catholic War Veterans of Ohio, the editorial staff of Doubleday publishers in New York, and residents of Ottawa, Kansas, Dayton, Ohio, and Hanover and Lebanon, New Hampshire, and White River Junction, Vermont. (US Department of State, Confidential State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: vi)Pressure was now beginning to mount on the outgoing President Johnson administration, especially by mid-1968, to respond to this catastrophe boldly rather than the very unconvincing declarations of “neutrality”, “Nigerian internal affair” and “British responsibility”. Johnson was struck by the outpouring of American public revulsion to the events in Biafra but felt unwilling to engage with an additional “crisis” at a time he was deeply mired in the war in Vietnam. Personally “troubled” by the television pictures on the genocide but without much empathy, Johnson reportedly asked the state department to “get those n***** babies off my TV set” (Terrence Lyons, “Keeping Africa off the Agenda”, in Warren Cohen and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World: American Foreign Policy, 1963-1968, 1994: 275). The administration nonetheless indicated that it was stepping up “humanitarian relief for the Biafran people” (US Department of State, Confidential State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: vi) even whilst acknowledging practical difficulties on the ground in distributing relief supplies that would need approval of both Nigeria and the Biafran resistance government (NSC Interdepartmental Group, “Background Discussion Paper on Nigeria/Biafra”, 10 February 1969: 7).
Official United States never condemned the Igbo genocide unambiguously despite the comprehensive information at its disposal right from the outset. To describe the US position as “neutral” was in fact part of the tragedy. One couldn’t be “neutral” in face of evil. Besides, the US was fully aware that Britain, its closest ally, was spearheading this genocide in Africa just 21 years after the end of the Jewish genocide in Europe. To also categorise the conflict as a “British responsibility” (Confidential US State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: v and Lyons, 1994: 274), given the US’s full knowledge of British involvement in the ongoing crime, amounts to Washington’s tacit support for the genocide. Finally, for the US to also describe the tragedy as a “Nigerian internal affair” underscores how little the world appears to have learned from the enduring lessons of the Jewish genocide: genocide cannot be an internal affair.
*****Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is the author of Longest genocide – Since 29 May 1966 (forthcoming, 2015)
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