The Biafra Story - Page 42

cannot be known to the peacemakers, who must be content to talk with a small régime of men who are more interested in their personal careers than in the welfare of their people. The recent open invitation to the Russians to play a big role in the future of Nigeria indicates that this may well be so.

So far this régime has maintained its position that a military solution is not only feasible but imminent, and that a return to normality would be just around the corner after final victory. But the record of Enugu, captured over a year ago and still a smashed ghost town, does not give credence to this theory. On this position the Nigerian Government has stipulated that any termination of hostilities must be dependent on a number of conditions to be agreed by the Biafrans as a basis for negotiations. But the conditions themselves are so sweeping that they represent in fact all the points that the negotiations would have to be about, i.e., future nature of Biafra, terms of association with Biafra, permissibility of a potential for self-defence, etc.

The terms of their ceasefire are effectively the total and unconditional surrender of Biafra, to be delivered bound hand and foot into the hands of the Nigerian Government to do with as it wishes. It must be presumed that the Gowon régime has not abandoned its policy of believing a totally military solution can offer the final answer.

But in the face of this the danger grows. None of the policies hitherto adopted by the governments of the Western world has been successful in promoting peace. Most governments appear to have accepted British requests for a ‘hands off attitude, reminders that the Commonwealth is habitually Britain’s sphere of influence, and assurances that it would all soon be over.

The British Government’s policies are in ruins; all the explanations and the justifications have been proved to have been based on false premisses. Even the assurance that these policies would bring to Britain great influence with the Nigerian Government, which could then be used to bring peace, has fallen on its face. Far from having gained in influence, Britain, once a powerful adviser in Nigerian affairs, has been shown to be now quite impotent. Ironically the war hawks whom British arms made powerful now feel strong enough to seek new friends while the Wilson Government, unwilling to admit this, has the courage neither to do something positive itself nor to withdraw its caveat to the other major powers.

Only the Russians have gained from the present mess, being now in a position to move ever more strongly into Nigerian life. It cannot be presumed that they have the interests of the people of Nigeria at heart, for a continuation of the war is in their interest, putting the Nigerian régime ever more deeply in their debt.

In essence, nothing is likely to break the present stalemate until the Nigerian Government has been brought to the view that its own personal interests and those of an undelayed ceasefire have become synonymous. This conversion of view can only be brought about by the sort of diplomatic initiatives that alone the Big Powers can make effective.

In the event of the desire for an early ceasefire becoming mutual, it would probably be necessary for the ceasefire to be supervised by a peace-keeping force, either a body of international composition, or preferably that of a Protecting Power agreeable to both sides. On this basis alone can humanitarian aid of sufficient scope to even dent the problem have a chance of success.

Once a return to normality had begun, protracted negotiations would be necessary to find a formula capable of bringing lasting peace. At present it appears impossible that any such formula could have a chance of success that is not based on the will of the people. This presumes some form of a plebiscite, at least among the minority groups, whose destiny has become one of the key features in the present war.

Few seriously think that a Biafran state confined to the Iboland now called by Nigeria the East Central State, cut off from the sea and surrounded on all sides by Nigeria, could have much chance of viability. And the Nigerians have made one of the pillars of their case the supposition that the non-Ibo groups, inhabiting what Nigeria now calls the Southeastern and the Rivers States, were dragged into partition against their will by the Ibos. The issue having become so crucial, it must be tested.

So far it is General Gowon alone who declines to put the matter to the test, though it should be admitted that circumstances at present are hardly apposite to the holding of a plebiscite. Yet if one were held now, the advantage would lie with Nigeria, for her army occupies the area, and millions of minority people supporting Biafra have become refugees in the unoccupied zone. All the same, conditions for a plebiscite would have to be created before it could be conducted in a manner other than one calculated to bring protests from one side or the other. Ideally such an operation would be supervised by the Protecting Power, with Federal Army garrisons quarantined in their barracks for the hours necessary.

Whatever the permutations and combinations, they are at the moment purely speculative and must remain so pending a ceasefire. But it is no speculation to assert that the way things stand at the end of 1968 the degree of incompatibility between the peoples east and west of the Niger has become so absolute that for the immediate future at least some form of partition will be necessary to prevent further bloodshed.

The longer this is delayed the worse becomes the situation, the deeper the hate, the more intractable the tempers and the darker the portents.


The preceding chapter, the Conclusion, alone dates back to January 1969. All the other chapters in the second part have been brought up to December of that year.

It was allowed to stand because even in December, with no end to the war, the points it made remained valid in part. By late December the Nigerians’ fourth ‘final assault’ had made little headway. Lord Carrington, the British Conservative (Opposition) spokesman on defence matters, had spent a week inside Biafra, the first Conservative factfinder to be sent there in two and a half years. On his return on 22 December he said no end to the war was in sight.

Then in the second week of January 1970 Biafra collapsed. It came quite suddenly. A unit on the southern front, exhausted beyond caring and out of ammunition, quietly stripped off its uniforms and faded into the bush. There was no response from the Nigerians, and the rot could have been stopped by a competent commander. The Biafran officer concerned was incompetent and failed to notice the gap in his line. Units on either side of the missing men took fright and followed suit. Soon a gaping hole ran along the entire defence line from Aba city to Okpuala Bridge.

A Nigerian armoured-car patrol, probing north, met no opposition and rolled forward. Within a day the front was breached. The remainder of the Twelfth Division ran off into the bush. Between Okpuala Bridge and the River Niger to the west the Fourteenth Division was outflanked. Here too, exhausted troops faded into the bush. Colonel Obasanjo’s Third Nigerian Division rolled forward into the heart of the Biafran enclave, heading for the airstrip at Uli.

There was no opposition; men who had not eaten for weeks had no strength left to go on fighting.

In a last cabinet meeting on 10 January General Ojukwu (he had been elevated in rank during 1969) listened to his advisers for the last time. Their advise was almost unanimous. To stay and die would be futile; to stay and be hunted through the bush would bring further misery to the entire population.

That evening, after darkness had fallen, he drove to Uli as the Nigerian guns rumbled on the southern front. With a small group of colleagues he boarded the Biafran Super Constellation, the Grey Ghost, and flew out into a lonely exile. Brigadier-General Effiong, taking over as acting head of state, sought surrender terms twenty-four hours later. The long struggle was over.

East of the Niger the former Eastern Region, Biafra, was split into three states in accordance with Gowon’s decree of May 1967 which had triggered the secession in the first place. In the south the Rivers State was formed under a military governor called Diete-Spiff. In the extreme south-east the South-Eastern state came into being under a certain Colonel Essuene. The Ibos, the predominant force of Biafra, were allocated their postage

-stampsized East Central State. Here Ibo Ukpabi Asika stayed on as governor, to run an administration that became a byword for corruption. He was finally removed and required to hold himself available for public inquiry in August 1975.

Following the war, Nigeria seemed to prosper, at least on the surface. The oil revenues increased year by year; then in 1973 the world price for oil doubled, and doubled again as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) struck at the oil-consuming West. The fact of the Nigerian regime’s oil production, and the vast amounts it was spending in Britain, made it very popular in London. The British Press, eternally following London’s Establishment thinking, almost elevated Yakubu Gowon to sainthood. Not a contrary word could be said or written about him or Nigeria.

Towards the end of Gowon’s reign the mismanagement finally came home to roost. The Port of Lagos was jammed with over 400 ships unable to discharge; the telephones ceased to function; the public services were in chaos; the roads had not been maintained in years; communications became almost impossible. Eventually even the British Press began to publish articles critical of the Gowon regime.

On 29 July 1975, nine years to the day after he came to power over Ironsi’s body, Gowon was attending the summit of the Organization of African Unity in Kampala, Uganda, when he was toppled. The man who took over, with a pledge to eradicate corruption, was General Murtala Mohammed, who sacked all twelve State governors and appointed new ones. Gowon went into exile in Britain and soon joined the pupils at Warwick University, announcing that he intended to study politics because he felt it was time to learn something about them.

To give credit where it is undoubtedly due, there was, after the Nigerian victory, no ethnic cleansing, no massacres, no genocide. And this was surely due in large part to the policy of reconciliation personally endorsed by Yakubu Gowon. But he never had a chance of bringing good government to Nigeria. At best he was a well-meaning front man to a junta of Northern military men, and after he went Nigeria entered into a long night of military dictator after dictator, a night only lightened by two remarkable interventions from General Obasanjo.

In early February 1976 a junior officer walked calmly up to General Mohammed’s car as it sat in a traffic jam and emptied two magazines of sub-machine carbine ammunition into it. Mohammed died instantly. The attempted coup aborted, nevertheless, and General Obasanjo, formerly commander in succession to Adekunle of the Nigerian Third Division in the war, took over.

Meanwhile General Emeka Ojukwu remained in exile in the Ivory Coast. He had arrived there with precisely one 100-dollar bill in his possession.

He was perhaps the only man who had ever held power in West Africa who came out without a private nest-egg of money embezzled from public funds. Not only had he not milked the till, he had spent every penny of his private fortune on his people. He was penniless.

Tags: Frederick Forsyth Historical
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