Friday, January 25, 2008

Nigeria, Biafra and Oil

Nigeria is a country that was created artificially by British colonialism. It has a complex ethnic mixture of groups, with a division between the North, inhabited by Muslim Fulani Hausas with a rigid feudal system, and the South where the a number of different ethnic groups co-existed loosely, the largest of these groups being the Christian Igbos and Yorubas. The trick of British colonialism was the divide and rule system. They knew the nature of Nigeria; it is a country that doesn’t have the same climate, not the same religion, not the same mentality, not the same food, not the same dress, not the same dialect, and not the same culture. They used their military might to force Nigeria to be one by the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates of Nigeria. They gave the Fulani emirs political prominence at the expense of the Southern population and left a time bomb with the fuse burning.

Prior to independence, and afterwards, many threats of a Northern secession were made by the Northern politicians because they did not want to be part of Nigeria. But in realty these Northern political kangaroos called leaders did not want to lose the benefit of Southern oil and industries. Nigeria was supposed to get her independence before the Gold Coast (now Ghana) did in 1957 but, because of the Northerners were not prepared to be part of the new country, Nigeria lost many years in debate and compromise until the North agreed to be part of it.

But the new Nigerian constitutional framework did not resolve everything, it being clear that Nigeria was sitting on a time bomb that would explode and cause real dangerous harm to all Nigerians.

The constitution did not change the relative cultural backwardness of the North compared to the South. What the Northern leaders wanted was a guarantee that they would retain their dominant political position after independence. If not, they would pull out and form an "Arewa Republic" for the interest of the Fulani – Hausa. British imperialists taught that the North were fools to be used and stole the resources from the South. But, the North got their way in political domination in Nigeria.

In the mid-60s, the South had more doctors, lawyers and engineers than most other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. There were 1.3m Igbos from the South East working in the northern region, many of them in skilled positions, particularly in the civil service. The Northern leaders were jealous of Igbos and other Southerners, accusing the Igbos of depriving northerners of good jobs due to their better education.

Military rule

In 1966, a group of young officers assassinated the Northern leader Bello, the federal Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and the Western leader Akintola who had become discredited in the eyes of the population. The coup leader, Major Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu (now dead) broadcast the following reasons for the coup on radio:

"Our enemies are the political profiteers, swindlers, men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten percent, those that seek to keep the country permanently divided so that they can remain in office as Ministers and VIP’s of waste, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles".

In the North, jubilant masses ransacked the governor’s palace and cheered the coup leader, despite his Igbo origin.

The coup did not succeed. In Lagos, General Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi had restored peace and order in the name of the old government with British backing. He placed himself as the first army general at the head of the federation and declared Nigeria under military rule.

Despite opposition from Northern politicians, General Ironsi announced his "Unification Decree" which although it changed little but names – regions became provinces, the federation became a Republic – caused a series of the most violent massacres of Southerners yet seen in the North.

"Armed thugs moved across the space between the city walls of Kano and the Sabon Garis where the Easterners lived, broke into ghetto and started burning, raping looting and killing as many men, women and children from the East as the could lay their hands on".

It is without doubt that these massacres were deliberately planned by Northern politicians using their own armed gangs to whip up local feelings against the Igbos and other Southerners.

General Ironsi then went on a tour to Ibadan, Western region, to promote "One Nigeria" ideal. While he was on this tour another coup was staged, by Northern army officers. General Ironsi and two of his commanding officers were stripped, beaten, tortured and then shot. With taking over command, the coup leader, led by a young British trained officer, General Gowon, issued instructions for Igbos in the army – many off them formed the majority of the technical corps – to be rounded up and imprisoned. And Gowon declared himself the supreme commander of the Nigerian armed forces.

The British High Commission in Lagos after meeting with the coup leaders came out in their full support – including their demand for recognition of the dominance of the North in any political process. All the regions except the South Eastern region – where the former governor, colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, remained in command with his troops and refused to recognized the new dictatorship. This Ojukwu, son of a millionaire who had been knighted by the British, had been educated in Oxford Universty and Sandhurst college, saw the atrocities of Gowon and decided to lead the South-East to secession and war.

During September and October 1966, three months after Gowon’s takeover a large scale massacre of Southerners was reported again from the Northern region. To quote the Observer (17 October 1966):

"The Hausas in each town and village in the North know what happened in their own localities, only the Igbos know the whole terrible story from the 600,000 or so refugees who have fled to the safety of the Eastern Region – hacked, slashed, mangled, striped naked and robbed of their possessions; the orphan, the widows, and the traumatized. A woman, mute and dazed arrived back in her village after travelling for days with a bowl in her lap. She held her child’s head, which was killed before her eyes….after a fortnight the scene in the Eastern Region continues to be visible of the ingathering of exiles into Israel after the end of the last holocaust."

The killing of Igbos in the North was no more a joking matter.

General Gowon was an inexperienced army officer with no knowledge of leadership. Gowon was a school certificate holder and was power hungry. While, Colonel Ojukwu held a master’s degree holder in modern History. The difference between Ojukwu and Gowon was quite enormous in terms of reasoning on international politics.

Gowon taught that British imperialism liked him and that was why they would support him to fight a war against Ojukwu. But he failed to understand that Britain and America were only interested in stealing Nigerian oil.

There was a great negotiation between the different regional politicians and Gowon that ended up in a conference hosted in Aburi, Ghana, in order to bring Colonel Ojukwu to recognize the Gowon government.

Agreements were also made to pay salaries of displaced Southerners, to provide a subsidy for refugees, making total of £1.8 million, and to give a certain amount of autonomy to the region. Under pressure from the British and US governments, fearing at this point the loss of control of their oil concession, Gowon quickly agreed and signed these concessions.

But Gowon did not stick to the agreement. Because of his myopic ambition to remain in power, he took the resources of the Southerners and gave them to imperialism at no cost. The South-Eastern region felt that they were no longer protected under the umbrella of the Nigerian federation.

The Biafra War

On 30 May 1967, Colonel Ojukwu proclaimed the independent Republic of Biafra. The government and the economy of Biafra was among the best in the whole of Africa for three good months of peaceful existence.

Biafra fought a war against Britain, the United States of America, the Nigerian federal army and the River State militia. The actual fighting lasted for 24 months and took the form of an initial conquest of towns and a whole region to the west of Biafra by the Biafran Army and then the slow re-conquest of this region and Biafra itself, town by town, with the Nigerian Federal Army with its imperialist backers pushing the Biafran troops further back.

The Biafran army was never short of soldiers. There was a short supply of weaponry and the total blockade implemented after the first 16 months of heavy fighting. Biafrans are talented and creative people and Biafra was the only State in history to start a war without arms. The first weapons used to defend Biafraland are sticks, machetes, double-barrel guns for hunting. But, 40 percent of the Biafran soldiers came to be equipped with weapons captured from the Nigerian federal army. In addition, Biafra lacked air power, possessing a single B26 bomber dating back to World War Two and six old French Alouette helicopters.

The fact that it was the Igbos who developed the technical and engineering corps of the Nigeria Federal army, meant that they had a certain knowledge of expertise which the Federal troops lacked until their Western backers, finally realising that they were facing a severe resistance and a prolonged war, started providing direct heavy weapons to Gowon.

The first gunshots were fired on the 6 July, 1967 over the Northern Biafran town of Ogoja by Federal Nigerian troops. It was a diversionary attack and on the 8 July, 6,000 federal troops captured the town of Nsukka, the border town with the North. Another surprise attack was via the sea on the island Port Bonny, where the Shell and BP oil terminal was located. The Nigerian federal troops were unable to enter Port Harcourt, the main oil town of the region, as Ojukwu responded by putting a strong Biafran army and sending patrols to defend the coast at all cost.

While Nigerian federal troops were looking for a way to enter Port Harcourt, the Biafran army marched into the Midwest and took town after town without gunshots until they had enlarged the territory under Biafran control to encompass the whole of the oil producing area of the country. The Governor of the Mid-western region, Major General David Ejoor ran away by bicycle into hiding because the strength of Biafran army was beyond his control. This movement took Gowon and his imperialists backers by surprise.

Another system that Gowon and his crooks used was the food and supplies blockade of Biafra. Milk and meat, and other sources of protein had to be brought in from other regions and though chicken farming was started intensively once the war was under way it was not sufficient to feed the starving children of Biafra. The deficiency in dietary protein led to the slow death of almost a million civilians, most of them were children.

What the Nigeria and Biafra civil war did achieve was hatred, tribalism, nepotism, marginalization, ethnic inquisition, killings of 2 million innocent Nigerians who did not know anything about politics nor the oil in their region by Gowon and his capitalists backers, i.e. Britain and US. It also resulted in the reinforcement of the Gowon regime as the military dictatorship was to remain in power for a further six years before being kicked out of power by another brutal military dictator Major General Murtala Mohammed in 1976.

Rivalries for Oil

The BBC journalist Frederick Forsyth, who reported from Biafra during the war, later highlighted a major factor precipitating the war.

"It has been postulated that if the Biafrans had had their way as a republic of semi-desert and was allowed to separate from Nigeria, there would have cries of ‘Good Riddance’ in their ears. One foreign businessman said that ‘it’s an oil war’ and felt obliged to say no more."

Biafra was not a semi-desert. Beneath it lies an ocean oil. Approximately one tenth of this field lies in neighbouring Cameroon, three tenths in Nigeria. The remaining six tenths lies under Biafra.

Gowon and his ruling bandits and Ojukwu’s Eastern interest group had attempted to make an agreement over the terms of their relationship with the British and US oil companies in New York in June 1967. Ojukwu claimed the right to the royalties paid in Lagos by Shell/BP. Up until June 1967, £7 million due to Nigeria in oil royalties had not yet been paid. It was discussed that Biafra should receive 57.7 percent of the royalties and the rest be put aside until there was a political settlement. Gowon vehemently refused to pay and threatened to extend the anti-Biafra blockade to the Bonny Island oil terminal. Without respecting the agreement, Gowon’s troops launched their attack and captured the terminal at Port Bonny.

Biafra received nothing at all in promised royalties and all negotiations after this were done only with Gowon. By September 1967, the £7 million in oil royalties had been paid to Gowon because Britain fully expected that Ojukwu would be assassinated and a coup d’etat perpetrated in the next few weeks. This plot to kill Ojukwu failed, and the war became inconvenient for them but continued for another 18 months.

However, as soon as the Nigerian army took the oil terminal, the British and US oil companies arrived behind them building new oil installations as fast as they could while war was still raging a few kilometres away.

The Gowon regime represented by proxy the interests of Britain, the US and Muslim countries including Egypt whose pilots flew the Ilyushin jets provided by the USSR. The important imperialist interests at work were those of the oil companies owned by the British, Americans and French and backed by their respective governments in the way they lined up for and against Biafra.

The British Labour Prime Minister Wilson declared his support for Gowon against Biafra. Government spokesmen publicly announced in both Houses of Parliament that no military aid was going to Nigeria and that Britain’s stance was entirely neutral. Eventually, the truth came out – not only was Wilson totally supportive of Gowon’s regime, but Britain was totally up to its neck in supplying arms, personnel and support for the war against Biafra and had been in the forefront from the beginning.

Shell/BP was the biggest exploiter of Nigerian oil. This Anglo-Dutch consortium held the major concessions for oil in both the Biafran and Niger delta region where oil had more recently begun to be pumped. When Biafra was blockaded all oil ceased to flow – because the oil from outside of Biafra, from the Niger Delta’ was conveyed to Port Harcourt, now in Biafra, via a large pipeline. The US companies were also exploiting Nigerian oil but their interests were mainly in the Niger Delta region.

As to France, since all oil concessions in the Biafran region were not yet taken by super imperialists, they had been planning to expand their own concession already operating in Biafra in the name of the state-owned company ELF. Because of that they were in direct rivalry with Shell/BP and hope to gain something at their expense.

The President of France, General Charles De Gaulle kept his options open. Though he never formally recognized Biafra, he did support Biafra’s "right to self-determination" and gave aid through France’s colonized states like Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Gabon. Biafra also got support from South Africa, and Israel.

In 1970, after the genocide, a series of peace talks were held and a settlement was reached and Gowon made his famous speech that there were no victors, no vanquish in this war.
Of course, this was true. Both sides had suffered severe losses and part of the country had been devastated. But there was one victor not only in Biafraland but, also in the whole world. Imperialism had established a number of new oil terminals and ensured the stability of its oil profits thanks to Gowon.

The "unity" of Nigeria in reality disappeared because of the mistrust built up during the war and the atrocities perpetrated against Biafrans by Gowon and his imperialist backers.

Double standards

Forty-one years after Gowon committed war crimes against the children of Biafra, he is allowed to move freely both in Nigeria and overseas just because he worked for capitalists at the expense of the blood of his people. The world was happy watching the first genocide committed by Gowon and his allies, in Nsukka, Enugu, Onitsha, Asaba, Agbor, Okigwe, Owerri, Aba, Umuahia, Afikpo, Calabar, Ogoja, Awka, Abagana, Awgu,etc.

Augustus Pinochet of Chile, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Milosevic of former Yugoslavia,
Charles Taylor former President of Liberia, the warlords in the Rwandan genocide, former rebel leader of Sierra Leone, Foday Sonko, were arrested to face trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. A French court is even calling for the arrest of Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, to bring him to trial.

The world is getting legalized, so why is it that no court of law has bothered to call Gowon for questioning 41 years after the Biafran genocide? Is it because Gowon gave Nigerian resources to capitalism at the exchange of the Biafran Blood? Is Gowon above the law as an agent to the capitalist baboons? Were the lives of Biafran children massacred during the genocide of low quality compared to the life of Gowon and his capitalists backers? The money that was to pay Biafrans by the capitalists oil companies was paid to Gowon. And where is the money today ? No accountability from Gowon’s regime.

If 41 years of Biafran massacres, Gowon and his cronies have not faced trial, they should know that Ojukwu’s reason to defend Biafra was to fight against imperialism which he underestimated before declaring the republic of Biafra.

Capitalism is causing a hydra-headed menace in Biafraland and the Niger delta. Every ethnic leader in the southern Nigeria who has been arrested for their role in demanding their regional autonomy has been released by the Nigerian authorities except the MOSOB leader Chief Ralph Uwazuruike who is still languishing in prison. And he has been incarcerated for his believe in the actualization of Biafra.

I implore Biafrans, Nigerians, Africans and the world at large to learn how to use political dialogue in resolving conflicts and avoid war. Every war fought in the world is at the advantage of capitalism.

The Nigerian-Biafran war, Rwandan genocide, Liberia war, Sierra Leone war, Democratic Republic of Congo war, Ivory Coast war, Uganda war, Eritrea-Ethiopia war, Darfur conflict, Angola war, Iraqi war, Palestinian-Israeli war, Afghanistan war, India-Pakistan war, Somali war, Zimbabwe conflict, Senegal-Cassamace war, Guinea Bissau war, Chechnya- Russia war. All wars to the advantage of capitalism. Beware and be warn.

Do not say that you did not know or hear about socialism and what we do. The choice is yours. Enough is enough. We must work together irrespective of our tribe, race or religion and join hands and cast capitalism and imperialism to burn in the abyss of everlasting fire

Comrade Cebiloan HYACINT

1 comment:

blackstone said...

Edit this piece so that everything is the same font. The bottom half is large and bold on my screen. Also, isn't most of the Yoruba muslim? The article made it seem that Yoruba and Igbo are Christian.