BY Charles Ndubueze Akuneme,
World Unsuccessful Conspiracy To Wipe Biafrans (Part 1):
The Nigerian Civil War was also known as the Biafran War. It came up at a critical time in world history or international affairs. It was, so to speak, a victim of the Cold War that raged between the United States and the Soviet Union, or Russia. And to a great extent, it was a melting pot of wars and conflicts in renascent Africa , as it reflected or rather featured, even if infinitesimally, events, issues and attitudes that were prevalent in those dark days of Nigerian existence and political experience.
A lot was responsible for the showdown and it led to cracks in the body politic of the nation and also a pointless grounding to the amount of progress and development in the country at that time. But in terms of the war, we have to insist on an analysis of the various facets of the conflict, with especial regard to the roles played by certain super powers, in regard of their diplomatic, political and military involvement, respectively . Essentially, the super powers made a political engagement with various reasons, ranging from humanitarian assistance and support to economic interests, inter alia. First, the Soviet Union, as it was known at that time ( 1967-1970 ), engaged political, as well as military assistance to the Federal Government. It came mostly in the form of military reinforcement to Nigeria, by way of arms sales, human / personnel and logistical support, respectively. In plain terms, too, Russian pilots and aircraft were equally deployed in strategic areas to help with launching forays into the Eastern interior.
Ostensibly, the home government was keen to establish a political foothold in the country, but with a special intention to participate in or rather harness the economic potential of the country, especially in terms of the oil and gas deposits. Britain was already in touch, in her capacity as the former colonial force . And in this regard, the underlining reason for the Russian involvement or desperation seems to be chiefly opportunistic.
On the other hand, the American government accorded the Federalists unflinching support and this was strictly limited to political and diplomatic aspects. As of policy thrust, they denied both warring sides military and logistics support. But the American people gave massive emotional and moral support to Biafra , which was co-ordinated by a Congressional committee, public spirited efforts and some humanitarian organisations. The British government, for obvious reasons, gave military political and diplomatic support to Nigeria. America, operating from a neutral position, offered relief assistance to the victims of both sides, and this gesture was mostly or rather strictly channelled through the International Relief Agencies, until the election of Richard Nixon (1968_1970). From then on, the effort was co-ordinated by an official organ headed by a co-ordinator resident in Lagos. This official co-ordinator was called Professor C Clydes Ferguesson.
Suffice it to say that the said official thrust stood in favour of a quick end to or cessation of hostilities, an extension of the various humanitarian assistance and support ventures to the said victims and also a non military or aggressive intervention. There was a long term insistence on only political and diplomatic support cum involvement. This was in view of the long term and continued existence/unity of the country, under the aegis of the Federal Government.
At first, the American government was keen to respect the idea of a united country of Nigeria as a British heritage, or rather a part of its own sphere of influence, as it were, in Africa and according to the Berlin Conference Charter (concerning the scramble for, as well as partitioning of Africa).To this end, America pledged to allign with its policy initiatives, regardless of content. But continued Russian partisan support for the Federal Government, especially in regard of its constant arms supplies to Nigeria, infuriated the United States greatly. This wide condemnation of arms sales by a fellow super power was viewed by America as a hidden intent or interest in the economic resources of the West African country. In a diplomatic, as well as political twist, however, the military junta in Lagos roundly condemned the posture of the United States,which appeared to it like a tacit support for the Biafran cause .
In any case, the historical context of the Anglo (British)/American ties kept things in check. Richard Nixon’s Administration, therefore began to make concerted efforts to pressurize the Gowon Administration into accepting a Negotiated , as well as an early end of the war. Tactically, this move was aimed at achieving some Post-War concessions. Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister at the time, vehemently opposed the diplomatic initiative of the US government and expanded its logistical support to the Federal Government. Britain also declared full support for the Federal Government in both political and diplomatic terms. Initially, America, especially under the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration, recorded its displeasure with the series of events that brought in the Gowon Administration. Right from Nigeria’s Independence, the American leadership had taken greatly to the charismatic touch of Balewa, who won them over during his historic visits with series of stirring speeches on a potential collaboration for the promotion of world peace and progress.
In the meantime, and also given America’s stance of Neutrality, the robust assistance to the Federal Government by the Harold Wilson Administration gradually forced the Biafran leadership of the enigmatic Odumegwu-Ojukwu into a Dictated Peace/Re-Integration. However, these talks were under the aegis of the United States, which slightly ordered it, with the Implied Condition of reducing the International Monetary Fund’s loan facility advanced by Nigeria. (Until the fall of Port Harcourt, later in 1968, Oil and Gas facilities were still under the control of the Biafran Authorities).Nigeria was in dire need of the approval of the said loan, without further stringent requirements. And so, the US Government instigated the Kampala Talks. The United States Assistant Secretary of State at the time, Joseph Palmer 11, induced the Organisation for African Unity (AU) to take up clear initiatives in regard of the Peace Talks. Until then the regional group had made an insistence on a retention of colonial boundaries and status, as a deterrent to any future bids for self determination. Nothing significant, in terms of implications for the Biafran cause, was achieved. But still, the OAU, at its Algiers Summit of September 16, 1968, voted massively by 33 to 4 ,to refuse even a United Nations involvement in the resolution of the political crisis ,popularly known as the Nigeria/Biafra War. This was chiefly because of the precedent of the Katanga Crisis in Zaire/Congo, which understandably raised potent fears of a repeat set of events, as well as a possible threat of self determination moves by other respective African nationalists, if the Biafran Cause succeeded.
Thus, whilst the American public called for spirited efforts to actualize the Biafran bid, the US Government failed to instigate the process of bringing it about. It could only string up excuses, along with its Think Tank, such as citing Africa’s secession euphoria, or phobia, with regards to the African Union. This seemed to be the sole cause of America’s opposition to Biafran Independence, or rather political aspirations. But also, together with the European imperialist powers, America did not accept the idea of political independence implying economic control for the African States, as she was diametrically opposed to the move by Patrice Lumumba. America would also fault the tone of Ojukwu’s world famous Ahiara Declaration. Related: Ahiara Declaration.
US tested technocrats reasoned that its political, diplomatic, economic, as well as military interests, and as equally dictated by her Viet Nam experience, should reside in, or identify with the obnoxious British policy initiatives in Nigeria. But in response to, or rather respect of her people’s wishes, America intensified its relief aid to Biafra, a move which continually frustrated the military junta in Lagos.
For one thing, the Gowon Administration was short of asking whether America was still hoping for Biafra’s eventual demise by increasing its humanitarian aid to the population. However, by official position, America still resisted calls for arms sales to Nigeria, in aid of a quick end to the ugly developments. She really rejected the groundswell of opinion that accelerating Biafra’s disintegration would only come about by an arms deal with the Federal Government. It was also argued that this would be the only way that increased humanitarian assistance would make sense. Thus, isolated, especially with the stringent Nigerian policy of Blockade, and by the abandonment by as well as denial of any meaningful form of international military reinforcements/assistance, the gallant Biafran Authorities and Think Tank, rallied their own local or home-made arsenal and staged such a formidable fight, until 27 months later, when they caved in to all kinds of vicissitudes, including sabotage, isolation, hunger, arms blockade, conspiracy, a last ditch superior combination of firepower by Britain, Russia, Egypt and others. It was difficult to not succumb to such a high octane international military and diplomatic isolation. (To be continued)
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