By 1967, Africa had sorely disappointed the West. Instead of parliamentary democracies, single-party systems and military regimes had arisen; instead of becoming black Englishmen and Frenchmen, Africans had been talking stridently about the "African personality" or negritude; instead of peace, there had been war in Algeria, the Congo, and now Nigeria. The West was fed up with African antics.
Nigeria was the West's last straw in Africa. Nigeria had been built up as the most promising of the new nations, the greatest success story of Western colonialism. But here she was, yet another victim of the African virus of political instability. Conservatives were gleeful. It reinforced what they had been trying to tell the world for such a long time: these black Africans were savages; they should not have become independent; they were incapable of governing themselves; order could only be maintained in these barbarous areas of the world by benign white rule. Liberals were pained. Their hopes of altering white attitudes about Africa finally evaporated.
THE FOREIGN PRESS: JOURNALISTS
A more dramatic event preceded the Nigerian civil war and all but drove it from the world's headlines: the six-day war in the Middle East. The drama of the Arab humiliation and the Israeli triumph was trumpeted to the ends of the earth and Nigeria was spared the attention that could eventually have internationalized her civil war. The new state of Biafra, in a lightning move in August 1967, seized control of the entire onshore fields of Nigeria for six weeks. But Nigeria was bound to receive renewed attention. She _ was an important producer of relatively sulphur-free oil and not too distant from European and American markets. The effective Federal blockade cutting off this vital source of energy from the yawning mouths of European factories, coupled with the closure of the Suez canal and the gradual strangulation of the European petroleum line consequent on this was bound to put her in the centre of the picture.
At the start of the war and throughout its course the New York Times research section had no up-to-date books on Nigeria in its library. At the beginning of the war the New York Times correspondents were Alfred Friendly in Lagos, and Lloyd Garrison in the East. It is interesting to compare their respective reports. On July 13th, Friendly reported the claims of both Lagos and Biafran radio, while Garrison stated categorically that the Federal claim to be surrounding Nsukka was false, as he was writing from Nsukka. Friendly reported the capture of Nsukka on the 16th of July. Garrison refuted this on the 17th, and on the 18th, said that "the Ibos have recaptured Nsukka."
By July 21, the first atrocity stories were filed by Garrison from Enugu: "Gabriel Asogwu said that when the Hausas came (to Nsukka) they lined up about 10 civilians and shot them up in his presence... Alia Orufiwa said the Nigerians killed both her husband and mother-in-law." 4 Police reports state that about 5,000 people were killed in the North. At Aburi, the exchange between Commodore Wey and Ojukwu went like this:
Ojukwu: "Centralization is a word that stinks in Nigeria today. For that 10,000 people have been killed."
Wey: "I am sure you do not know the number. You imagine it is 10,000."
Ojukwu: "I do not imagine. It is 10,000."
The international press however arrived at its own figure of 30,000 and used that figure throughout the war. Lloyd Garrison put his own figure as high as 200,000 and it was sufficiently respectable a figure to have gone into serious academic writing by the summer of 1968 in an article by Ross K. Baker. 6 As the noose tightened, and as the facts regularly contradicted Garrison's reports, he was withdrawn from Biafra. He had already been expelled from Nigeria by the Federal Government. He set up shop himself and wrote a number of virulent, statistically incorrect articles for the New York Times Magazine and other U.S. papers. Garrison was the first to see the potential for journalistic success in the urderdog status of Biafra and to exploit it shamelessly for his own advantage.
In an article for the New Yorker, Renata Adler was guilty of similar distortion and inaccuracy: "By secession in 1967, Biafra had more doctors, lawyers and engineers than any other country in Black Africa. Of six hundred Nigerian doctors before the war began, five hundred were Biafrans."
The Economist like most of the British papers had started writing off the Nigerian Federation by the beginning of June 1967. Headlines like the following appeared:- "That's Nigeria That Was", Dissolution of Nigeria", "Nigeria's Suicide", "Colonel Ojukwu's Secession Raises Dilemma for the Government over the Recognition Issue". In the hurry to rush into print nobody was ready to listen to what the Nigerians were saying about themselves, or even to cross-check their facts and figures from the Nigerian abstracts of statistics. Eventually, the international papers had built up the Ibos so much that the Ibos themselves began to believe that they were a race apart like the Jews, and were ready for the "final solution."
Furthermore, polarisation on religious and economic lines became easy. The argument ran: the Christian East was being subjugated by Moslem Nigeria in a final jihad; or, the Ibos who built up Nigeria were being persecuted by the rest of Nigeria because they were so much ahead of the other groups in the country; or, in 1967, there were (in the East) 500 doctors, 600 engineers, 700 lawyers, 6,000 railway workers, 2,500 post office, employees, 20,000 government functionaries, 12 while even the Western Region, inhabited by the less military Muslim Yorubas, was ruled through local tribal chieftans and remained underdeveloped too (like the North). That was the type of gross simplification of a highly complex problem that dominated the overseas press. The crude view persisted that there cannot be a complex African problem because they are in the main simple people.
News reports were sensational and often racist. The Sunday Times printed these unabashedly racist lines: "There are forces let loose in Biafra that white men cannot understard-gutted hamlets, rotting corpsesthis is genocide." A Newsweek report started- "Unburied corpses rot swiftly in the tropics. Flesh putrefies in the steamy heat, dark skin turns pasty white and pungent, the sickly sweet odour of decomposition soon fills the air. Today, that smell is allpervasive in South Eastern Nigeria." This type of "yellow paper" journalism has been especially reserved for reporting African events.
Frederick Forsythe, a Biafran sympathizer wrote a book, The Biafra Story, and several articles in which he hardly disguised his contempt for the black man. "After the Hausa come the Gwodo-Gwodo, giant black mercenaries from Chad. ...These Chads are of very animal-like intelligence, and will shoot anyone on order. Behind the Gwodo-Gwodo, one can hear British screaming, "Come on you black bastards-move." Describing the Nigerian war itself, Forsythe believed that "Complete co-ordinated manoeuvres previously beyond the scope of the Nigerians became the order of the day, because British mercenaries were being used": that, "building Bailey bridges at that speed was beyond the capabilities of the Nigerian alone"; that the attacking Nigerians "are doped to the eyeballs". Like his articles the book was full of factual inaccuracies: "Dissenting intellectuals like Tai Solarin, are in exile." But this book was widely quoted in the foreign press. Forsythe became one of the "instant" experts on African problems.
ACADEMICS AND THE WAR
What about that group of dedicated Africa hands in the academic world such as Connor Cruise O'Brien, Colin Legum, Margery Perham, John Hatch, Basil Davidson, F. A. Baptiste, Walter Schwartz. Ken Post, Richard L. Sklar, Susan Cronje, Hugh Hanning, Martin Dent, David Williams Vernon Mackay and so on? Their writings always reflect their particular backgrounds. Basil Davidson, one of the most sympathetic Africanists, in a public lecture in Stockholm in 1966, stated his belief that "Nigeria is not likely to go to war, as everybody knows, that the small federal army will get completely lost in the Eastern jungles." First, like many liberals he believed that Nigeria would get to the brink and retreat. Secondly, because of his European background, he forgot that the Federal army trained in the same terrain as the Eastern army, and that the Yoruba and Ibo soldiers are as much at home in "jungles" as they are not in the desert.
Connor Cruise O'Brien, who saw action in the Congo and wrote a book advocating a unified Congo, argued that Biafra was not to be compared to Katanga, because secession in the latter was engineered by foreigners, whereas in the former it was indigenous and so should not be supported. The very real African fear of balkanisation, despite the fact that they were appalled by the massacres in the North and were concerned over the tragedies of the Ibos, he dismissed: "Other Africans were never so impressed by the `great Nigerian experiment' as Western opinion was encouraged to be and it is not probable that the breakdown of that experiment suggests to them quite such a pressing danger of their own disintegration as some of the `domino' commentary would imply." He forgot that an indeperdent Katanga would have given all the support possible to Biafra right from the beginning and the success of Biafra would of course have encouraged Eritrea ... etc.
The experts tended to be polarised on regional or ethnic lines. Those who had worked say at the University of lbadan or who were still working in Nigeria during the war tended to be pro-Biafan. Yet whatever their sympathies they were uniformly pessimistic. James O'Connell, one of the best writers on the Nigerian crisis, a pro-Nigerian political scientist, was in the North (Ahmadu Bello University) throughout the war. He believed that "the longer the war lasts, the more the economy is damaged, and the more bitterness accumulates on both sides, the more difficult reconstruction will be." Hugh Hanning believed that "the rebellion could never be stamped out by military means." An Africa Report panel of experts "can't see any likehood the Biafrans would surrender ahead of total military defeat ... can't see how the Federal Military Government will be able to control the area ... (because) it is going to be conquered enemy territory ... or the UPC in Cameroun. There would be areas uncontrolled by the Federal Military Government, there might be rebel bands exacting retribution on Ibos who collaborate." Here it was forgotten that because the war lasted long, Ibo pride may have had the chance to be assuaged, that both sides became heartily sick of fighting, and in the African spirit, became ready to let bygones be bygones. If the short surgical police operation at the start of the war had been successful, the Ibo bitterness could have known no bounds, and the Yorubas could have been jealous of the Northern success, and possibly thrown their weight in with the consequent Ibo underground. The type of moving reconciliation scenes enacted in Lagos at the end of the war is really only possible in Africa, and no "expert" came near to predicting it.
Some writing was objective but fundamentally misjudged. Stanley Diamond, who did research in the North in 1958-59 and had since visited Biafra, wrote of the "Biafra possibility" for "politically, economically and socially, Biafra has the potential to become the first viable state in Black Africa and the crystallizing centre around which a modern Africa could build itself." S. K. Panter-Brick who spent two years in Nigeria as Professor of Government and Administration at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, declared that the original colonial framework was unacceptable because "it brings together a variety of peoples who cannot and will not live together peacefully under one government. They must therefore separate." Ken Post, who did research in Nigeria in 1958-60,'61263. and came back for visits in 1964, 1965, and 1966, made a case for Biafra on the negative ground that "Nigeria's biggest problem is the extremely heterogeneous nature of the population," and that "in evaluating the capacities of a country size must be balanced against the ability to mobilize resources and that given the present size and population, the political wherewithal to do this just does not exist." In the case of a Federal victory, he believed that "there will be a fantastic residue of bitterness bred of the massacres and of defeat in battle and that the new state will probably have to be put under military occupation, which with a Federal Army which cannot number more than 30,000 men seems impossible28"
The trouble with the suppositions of Diamond, PanterBrick and Ken Post is in the implications of their analysis. Biafra mirrors Nigeria's heterogeneity and most of Nigeria's problems in microcosm. The richest part of Biafra will not have the political power that goes with this wealth, any more than other rich parts of Nigeria. The boundaries of Eastern Nigeria like those of Nigeria are artificial. Self-determination pursued to its logical conclusion, would not stop at a sovereign Biafra, but a sovereign Benin state or Rivers state, as the latter would feel themselves more persecuted in a Biafran nation than in a Nigerian one. The Nigerian knows moreover that a sovereign Ibo or Yoruba state will most likely not be content until it has been subdivided into a sovereign Nnewi and Onitsha Ibo states and sovereign Oyo, Egba, Ekiti, Ijebu states respectively. Self-determination thoroughly carried out in Africa would end in each household or clan having its own separate flag. Margery Perham, an old Africa hand. stressed her personal connections: "I have a very large number of Ibo friends, I have invited leading Ibos to meet people in Oxford and I have studied the really immense volume of literature in which the lbos have put their case"... and this had led her to put forward the point that "if the Federal Government could not offer a secure and viable existence for the Ibos within the Nigerian state, then this peoplehadalegitimate case foropting out of the state." The Federal Government invited her to see for herself. Shecometo Nigeria and went back advocating peace: "For myself, I cannot believe that those whose first care is for the future of the Ibo can want to encourage them in a resistance which seems now to be beyond hope of suss." Her advocacy of Ibo sovereignty was on humanitarian grounds as was her volte-face.
Some factors should have been clear to any perceptive observer at the beginning of the conflict. The populations ranged against one another at the end of the civil war favoured one side overwhelmingly as did the GNP. "In 1966 the rebellious territory contributed about onefifthofNigeria's £2 billion GNP. It has about 23 percent of the Nigerian population" . Why then the general international consensus that the combatants were evenly matched at the start of the war? The belief must lie in the idea that the Ibo is the Jew of Africa, and would parallel Israel's feat in the six-day war and smash Federal incompetency to bits because of overwhelming superiority in intellect and technical know-how.
Colin Legum is the Observer's correspondent for Africa, a continent he has known intimately for many years. David Williams, editor of West Africa, has also known West Africa for as many years. The former's stand is typified by an article "When Two Rights Conflict" in which he looked at both sides dispassionately, sympathizing with the Ibo tragedy but keeping a balanced view of the struggle. Williams was at first shocked and disappointed by the "shattering of a Commonwealth ideal" and stuck to the idea of a united Nigeria. These two, along with Stephen Vincent, who taught for two years at the University of Nigeria, in Nsukka, kept most strictly to the data on Nigeria, looked at the humanitarian aspect but left the reckless prediction to the instant experts on Nigeria. Vincent wrote -- "What is probably most clear to all this, if Biafra does survive the present military fighting, is that it will be an unhappy place. The leadership will never be able to quell the suspicions of the minority groups. The Calabar, Ogojo, and Rivers peoples will continue to feel that they are no more than a tool of Ibo survival, and that Biafra exists at the expenses of greater possibilities for self development within a federal state fiamework. And yet if Gowon is finally successful in preventing the East from dropping out of the Federation, the concept of Nigeria is going to have to go through some radical changes." He has been proved right, but then he collaborated with Obiajunwa Wali when at Nsukka. Having a Nigerian mentor might have been responsible for a more perceptive view of the situation.
The experts have generally performed as badly as the journalists, who were not as restrained. Why? Was it that the Biafran propaganda machinery under the direction of Bernhardt, of Markpress, in Geneva, was so efficient that it successfully misled everyone? Or did the gross inefficiency of the Nigerian information service compound the general ignorance about the complexity of the situation? Did the bravery and suffering of this group of people from the East surprise and impress the world so much? Did the threat genocide implied in the Northern massacres arouse the comparison with the Jews and their treatment under the Nazi regime? Or was it as some Black Power groups in the United States asserted a gigantic Western and white plot to split Africa's largest country in order to bring its oil resources under control?
Along with the general prejudgments reserved for African situations are the personal and geopolitical interests of the countries and people who write for their communication media. Added to this is the difficulty of social research in a terrain like Africa's where one is completely alien to the languages, and the cul`ure of the mass. In Africa's case this is compounded by racial arrogance: the belief that what a Western scholar cannot understand about Africa must be primitive; furthermore, that Africa must follow in the footsteps of the West; that directions must be given to Africans about how they ought to organize their way of life, and when there is any straying from the model, then the African shows that he is incapable of moving into the 20th century.
Nothing typifies this attitude of condescension more than a one-day conference held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Georgetown University in Washington D.C. on May 22, 1969. The topic was the Nigeria-Biafra conflict. All the gray eminences of African Studieswere present, giving papers and discussing the Nigerian crisis. There was Ross tsaker, Bernard Coleman of the Bureau of African Affairs, Department of State, Gray Cowan, Director of African Studies Institute of Columbia University, Phillippe Decreane of Le Monde, James Farrell of Africa Report, Wayne Fredericks, Pord Foundation, General Greene, U.S. Army War College, Hugh Harming, Graham Hovey, New York Times, Yves Jaques, French Embassy, Stephen Jervis, Colin Legum, Vernon Mackay, George Orick, Bruce Oudes, Walter Schwartz of the Guardian, Richard Sklai, David Williams and many others. The remarkable thing was that there was no Nigerian and in fact no African present. Those with interests in Nigeria like Standard Oil, were represented. The Second Secretary of the Soviet Embassy was present as well as Michael Crowder, the only one of the assembled company actually working in Nigeria at that time.
The final report of the conference is a very good illustration of the Western social scientific mind at work on the subject of Africa. It was generally felt that "An Ibo return could present a serious challenge to the Yoruba who have replaced the Ibos as petty traders and as the major elites of Nigeria. A Nigerian could have pointed out to them that the Ijesas and the Ijebus have been fanatical traders from the beginning of time and that the "Osomalo" will survive any competition. There was a general belief that "there would be no military solution. The problem will remain political and any solution would have to be a political one. The Federal military maintains a poor land position. The Nigerian fighting man may be less than able to handle guerrilla warfare." It was estimated that either side could have won in four months with a professional approach. Not
only were the groups inexperienced, but officers of both sides have been killed in large numbers." Somebody had obviously not heard of the American professional approach in Vietnam and its result. Some contentious statements were put down as fact: "They excised from the East Central State a large portion of oil-rich Ibospeaking territory and inserted this into the mostly non Ibo-speaking Rivers State." Arid there were some factual inaccuracies: "It appeared unlikely that the Mid-West would allow the loss of its oil-rich Ibo areas."
It is this type of lack of African participation in African problems seminars that led to a vitriolic attack on the establishment of Africanists in Montreal at the end of 1969. "African studies in the United States is a child of the American Empire. It was developed to meet the needs of over-expanding U. S. corporate and governmental penetration in Africa. Its complete international network of specialized university centres, research institutes, para-governmental and parauniversity organisations represent a clear and present danger to legitimate African aspirations for freedom, justice and revolutionary change."
It is instructive to note what was written after the civil war: "This time it has been Africa's turn to teach Europe something. The war in Nigeria, it turns out, was not the stalemate it seemed to be. The three propositions - that a clear-cut victory was impossible, that the Lagos Government would therefore have to change its position, and that to bring this about Britain would have to stop sending arms-have for some time been the considered opinion of many people, perhaps most, in Britain and western Europe, including, on the first two points and for the past ten months, The Economist. We were wrong. It is the majority of African governments... whose judgment has proved more accurate."
Jean Herskovits in the Washington Post has summarized her view of present day Nigeria, and about the mass deaths which created the hysteria: "It is not that no one died, the very young, the very old, the very poor surely did. Sometimes whole families died. Any number of deaths is too high but they did not approach wartime estimates, which ranged up to 6 million. One recent educated guess put the total figure at 600,000 (Biafran and Nigerian, civil and military) deaths. There was no genocide, and that fact partially explains the reconciliation." Ibos, we learn from her, are everywhere in the Federation now. "Ibos are in the civil service of the Mid-West, Lagos and South-Eastern States, in all six States of the former North and they are there in hundreds. Some States have sought Ibo teachers; the South East now has Ibo magistrates. The Federal Public Service Commission recently recruited 150 graduates, all Ibos...lbos are back at jobs in Federally-run corporations, (including those in Kaduna and Benin). Ibo engineers and executives have returned to foreign businesses and banks. Ibo-owned transport companies have trucks plying the roads to and from northern cities." Ironically enough, the one exception to this amity is the Rivers State which was formerly part of Biafra. The strength of anti-Ibo feeling there refutes war propaganda to the effect that all Biafrans were behind Ojukwu. The reconciliation is however real. "Americans who remember the photographs and passion of the war have a problem understanding the reconciliation. But Nigerians, including ex-Biafrans know that the causes of the fighting were very complicated...But they have already made extraordinary progress on the problem which in 1970 seemed overwhelming. post-war reconciliation. If they can maintain their understanding of each other, and apply it to their other challenges, they have a better chance than the greatest optimist could have hoped three years ago to create a Nigeria successful in their own eyes, important to Africa and to the world."
The reporting and writing on the Nigerian civil war are an object lesson about the state of studies of Africa. There is no dialogue between Africans and foreigners. It is not intellectual dishonesty that mars most of it, but sloppy research, faulty analysis of data collected, personal and cultural bias. The Economist said, "It used to be a mark of the imperial cast of mind to think that white men were better judges of events in Africa than the Africans themselves."41 The fact is that this attitude still persists today and manifested itself very clearly in the Nigerian situation. Dialogue on Africa, is one in which one side is deaf to all except the accepted mythologies and the other side is rendered dumb by exclusion from the forum of discussion.
Transition, No. 44 (1974)