Nigeria: Documents contradict Achebe’s book on facts of Biafra Genocide
NewsRescue- In a recent book stoking up huge controversy, ‘there was a country’, written by Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe; popular Yoruba leader, Awolowo and the Middle Belt General Gowon government as a whole, was accused of orchestrating a systematic genocide, via starvation of millions of Biafra civilians. However recent documents from a Biafra public relations representative and United States accounts on the events appear to refute Achebe’s accusations. Two of these articles brought up recently in Nigerian media are posted below:
Open Letter Of Resignation To Odumegwu Ojukwu
FROM Robert S. Goldstein (Public Relations Representative of Biafra in the United States) (Published in the Morning Post, Lagos, August 17, 1968)
As your Public Relation’s Representative in the United States, it is my distasteful duty to tender my resignation based on the following points:
POINT 1 – In November of 1967 when we met in Umuahia, you and your Cabinet were very impressive. You told me of the woes of your little Republic, that thousands of people had died, were dying and more were prepared to die for freedom’s sake.
You and your Cabinet told me you believed world opinion would help your cause if you could get your story across.
You expressed the opinion that very few if any people in the United States knew of the plight of the Biafrans.
You asked me to tell the world that Britain had teamed up with Russia in a conspiracy with the Federal Government of Nigeria to murder every Ibo in Biafra. You suggested I use my talents to induce the Press to write about the Biafran side of the war, as at that time all news came out of Lagos.
You will recall I did not take the assignment that day but stayed on several days before deciding to take that job.
To help win the peace
At that time I stated to you and your cabinet that I was taking the assignment making it crystal clear I would try my best to help win the peace not the war.
POINT TWO – I immediately arranged the first world Press conference in Biafra inviting the US Press as well as journalists and television people from England, France, Switzerland, Africa and other parts of the Globe. This was the first news break through. I arranged regular trips into Biafra for the world Press, helped set up stringers, etc., so that your statements and the statements of your Cabinet would be heard.
At that time, I was absolutely positive you were right and your cause was a just one in the best interests of the free world and your countrymen.
POINT THREE – Finally the Republic of Biafra was recognized first by Tanzania, then quickly followed by Gabon, the Ivory Coast and Zambia. Our public relations work was paying off, world opinion was starting to side with us.
Peace talks were arranged at Kampala. I thought that if anyone walked away from the table it would be the Federal Government. But to my dismay it was Biafra that left the Conference. After all the fighting and killing, I knew that peace would not come easy but I could not understand leaving the Peace Conference until the last point was negotiated and the avenue explored.
POINT FOUR – Then urgent telex messages were received from ‘Biafra’ telling of tens of thousands of people starving in the refugee camps, the villages, the bush country – stating if something weren’t done in the next few months over a million women, children and aged would be starved to death. I immediately contacted the Press, urgently petitioned the State Department for action on their part. Food, medicine and milk were sent to the only available ports open for immediate shipment to ‘Biafra’ via land routes through Federal and Biafra territory, under the auspices of world organizations such as the International Red Cross among others.
You then appeared before the various Heads of State and representatives of the OAU at Niamey in Niger. I fully expected you to at least accept the world help that was offered your starving throngs. However, you delayed, hoping to use these unfortunates with world sympathy on their side as a tool to further your ambition to achieve war concessions at the upcoming peace talks in Addis Ababa. Thus innocent victims continue to perish needlessly of starvation, the most agonising death that can befall any living creature.
POINT FIVE – This was incredible to me. I am now convinced that I have been used by you and your cabinet to help in military adventures of your origin….using your starving hordes as hostages to negotiate a victory.
If at some later date, following the isuance of this letter, you do concede to allow a mercy land corridor…would you expect me to agree to espouse before the world Press the incredible delay of your decision. What explanation could I honestly give for the needless prolongation of this horror.
I pray this communication may in some small way influence you to move affirmatively, allowing the mercy land corridor to be born.
It is inconceivable to me that you would stop the feeding of thousands of your countrymen (under auspicies of world organizations such as the International Red Cross, World Council of Churches and many more) via a land corridor which is the only practical way to bring in food to help at this time. It is inconcivable to me that men of good faith would try to twist world opinion in such a manner as to deceive people into believing that the starvation and hunger that is consuming ‘Biafra’ is a plot of Britian, Nigeria and others to commit genocide.
POINT SIX – I cannot in all conscience serve you any longer. Nor can I be a party to suppressing the fact that your starving thousands have the food, medicine and milk available to them…..it can and is ready to be delivered through international organizations to you. Only your constant refusal has stopped its delivery.
I am this date, tendering my resignation and am returning to Mr. Collins Obih of the African Continental Bank all the fees you have given me (Letter of Credit No. 354 $400,000 US.)
I have sent your representative in New York a Bond in the amount of 800.000 pounds that I was holding in your behalf. I have also this date, sent the Bond of 200,000 pounds issues by the Central Bankl of Nigeria back to them for disposal.
POINT SEVEN – I am now convinced that one Nigeria is the only solution to peace. I also call upon you Mr. Ojukwu to allow your starving people to be fed. Their well-being is of deep concern to me as well as other right thinking people of the world. Your acting in the utmost haste in this matter is in my opinion the first step toward any lasting peace in your country.” -NVS
Related: NewsRescue- Post-Colonial Nigeria: Did Igbo’s Draw First Blood? Another Lekan Explosive!
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968 Volume XXIV, Africa, Document 398
398. Memorandum From Edward Hamilton of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1 (#fn1)
Washington, August 12, 1968. WWR:
Status Report on Nigeria
I thought it might be useful if I elaborated on the points I was making this morning. The Nigerian problem has not changed much in your absence, except to get progressively worse. It now stands as follows:
1. The two sides are in conference in Addis under the auspices of the OAU and the Chairmanship of Haile Selassie. The Feds have tabled a 9-point peace plan which, though still demanding that the Biafrans renounce secession, is by far the most realistic proposal yet offered. The proposal promises outside truce supervision by a neutral force (perhaps composed of Indians, Canadians and Ethiopians) an Ibo-dominated government for the Ibo heartland, a largely Ibo police force in Ibo areas, guarantee against a flood of Federal troops into Iboland, and a somewhat qualified promise of amnesty for the rebels. The Biafrans have flatly and publicly rejected this scheme, because it would require them to give up secession. As of Friday night, our people in Addis thought there was little hope that the talks would survive this week.
2. However, H.I.M. took things in hand and made it very difficult for either side to walk out. They are meeting again today on the basis of his secret proposals (to which we are not privy). Our betting is that Selassie is trying to get agreement on relief as a separate matter from the political settlement, which apparently is not yet possible.
3. We are doing everything we can—which is really very little—to help the Addis talks along. The President approved and sent a public message to H.I.M. before the start of the talks, as well as a confidential message to Houphouet-Boigny, who is likely to be the strongest influence on the rebels. We also made a demarche with Gowon in Lagos. We have now sent contingency messages from Rusk to H.I.M., to be delivered if the talks break down, which press for agreement on relief whatever the status of the political issues.
4. On the relief front, there has been little but frustration. Estimates of the extent of suffering vary, but the range (e.g., 400– 600 per day passing the point of no return of protein starvation) are sufficiently horrible to make the differences
The Red Cross has been flying 16–20 tons of food a night in its lone DC–4 (3 more DC–4’s are due soon). Even these flights have now been stopped, however, because Biafran arms planes have taken advantage of the reduced flak Gowon puts up against mercy flights, so that Gowon has stopped making any special provisions and the Red Cross has had some near misses. Thus, at the moment there is no relief food at all getting into Biafra.
5. Nor, I am afraid, is there a dependable mechanism for getting food in if the political settlement came tomorrow. The Red Cross has been woefully slow and ineffective in arranging the logistics, and I am afraid our Mission in Lagos is too sensitive to the feelings of the Federal Government to have done much pushing.
6. Today, therefore, we launched Bob Moore, Joe Palmer’s Deputy, to Geneva to try to (a) get the Red Cross thinking in terms of the airlift proposition I mentioned this morning, and (b) get the machine built which could provide the food if the politics will allow. Moore’s dispatch was made with a reasonable fanfare, which should help some at home.
7. The constraints on relief remain unchanged. The Nigerians will allow a land corridor, but not an airlift unless we can guarantee it won’t be used to aid arms shipments to Biafra. Biafrans will accept food by air but not by land, on the ground that any food which passes through Federal territory is likely to be poisoned. The Red Cross will not engage in any relief operation which does not have the explicit approval and full cooperation of both sides.
8. There is one possible break this afternoon. The Red Cross thinks Ojukwu is about to agree to set aside a particular airstrip solely for relief use. The Red Cross has instructed its Lagos man to try that out on Gowon. This may work, although Gowon is under immense pressure from his hawks (which include almost the entire Hausa population) not to allow any relief, particularly any which involved air traffic into Biafra.
9. All of this is happening in the shadow of what is pretty clearly a buildup for a new Federal offensive designed to take the 10,000 square miles still held by the rebels. Joe Palmer, who has just returned from Nigeria, thinks this will happen within the next couple of weeks. There are also mounting reports on increased Biafran military activity, allegedly (though probably falsely) led by French officers. If either or both sides take the offensive, the relief problem becomes almost impossible. We have had a strong go at the Feds on this point, but their answer is a forbidding “The other side has left us little choice.”
10. The public pressure here mounts daily. Biafran starvation has been front page news almost constantly while you were away, and I have learned this afternoon that Time now plans to do next week’s cover story on this problem. American opinion is heavily pro-Biafran, though without much knowledge of the facts. Both the Vice President and Senator McCarthy have issued very strong statements urging that we “cut red tape” and “do more than futile gestures.”
Unless Haile Selassie can bring off a miracle, we’re clearly down to the nitty gritty on this one with no solution in sight. Gowon cannot accept Biafran secession and hold his Government and the rest of the Federation together. Ojukwu, bolstered by De Gaulle and Houphouet-Boigny, still believes he is better off holding out than allowing his troops to be disarmed and risking slaughter of the Ibos. The Red Cross is slow, timid and inept. The Brits are acting as though they have decided that the only solution is a military solution imposed by Gowon. The French are actively pro-Biafran. The OAU is pro-Nigerian but split by the fact that four of its members recognize Biafra. The Russians are largely disinterested and identify with the Nigerians to the degree that they are interested. U Thant and the Pope make strong statements but are largely powerless.
Our own approach has been and is to (a) stimulate the Red Cross to serve as the international cover for a relief operation; (b) press, largely confidentially, on both sides to agree to a settlement, or at least to a relief agreement; (c) offer any and all help necessary to make a relief operation work; (d) push particularly hard on Gowon to dramatize the fact that it is not the Federal Government that is keeping the food out of Biafra; and (e) work out the logistics of the relief scheme so that it is ready to move as soon as political arrangements are made.
As I told you this morning, my own view is that our best hope is to persuade Gowon to permit air drops of food from planes departing from Federal territory. This would allow him to inspect cargoes to be sure there are no arms; dramatize the fact that he wants to aid the hungry; and it would actually move sizeable amounts of food into Biafra. From here on in it’s a race between this scheme and the military offensive we think is planned.
See also: NewsRescue- The Forgotten Documents Of The Nigerian Civil War – Odia Ofeimun