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Igbo genocide:Political economy of conquest and occupation – and genocide

Author:  Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe. Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is visiting professor at Universidade de Fortaleza and specialist on the state and on genocide and wars in Africa in the post-1966 epoch – beginning with the Igbo genocide, 29 May 1966-12 Jan 1970

Continued from  Why Britain is opposed to Freedom of Biafra

Biafra genocide: Political economy of conquest and occupation – and genocide

Whenever it occurred, Africa’s independence, or more historically correct, the re-establishment of African independence after centuries of the European conquest and occupation, was sure to be the turning point in the history of African peoples. It would be the beginning of an extensive re-construction process for a continent that had for the greater part of one-half of a millennium, starting from the 15th century CE, been the target of a devastating trail of invasions, murders, mass exportations and enslavement of its peoples (chiefly in the Americas and the Caribbean), occupations and subjugations by a constellation of European World states (Herbert Ekwe-EkweAfrican Literature in Defence of History: An Essay on Chinua Achebe, 2001: 1-54). Ultimately, Britain emerges as the lead conqueror-state-beneficiary of the occupation of Africa, having particularly seized lands with major population centres and vast and multiple natural resource emplacements across the regions of the continent: South Africa, Namibia (proxy control, post-1918 – after the defeat of Germany in World War I), Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania (post-1918, after the defeat of Germany in World War I), the Sudan, south Cameroon (post-1918, after the defeat of Germany in World War I), Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, and Nigeria (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2011: 4-6).

Apart from South Africa, Nigeria’s is Britain’s most “diversified” occupied economy in Africa. This is indeed the British “most-prized land” of west Africa whose fortunes it is prepared to hold onto with or without the restoration of African independence. It is indeed to hold onto these fortunes that Britain becomes fully involved in the perpetration of the Igbo genocide – to “punish” the Igbo for daring to spearhead the termination of the British occupation, begun in the 1930s, and further consolidate the envisaged overseeing role of its Hausa-Fulani north region allies in this evolving dispensation of the age. It is therefore important to highlight the empirical nature and range of this Nigerian “prized land” as these provide an invaluable context within which the catastrophe of the Igbo genocide is executed.

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the following commodities account for nearly 90 per cent of Nigeria’s “diversified” export products: rubber, cocoa, cotton, groundnuts, tin ore and columbite, beniseeds, palm-oil and palm-kernels (Bade OnimodeImperialism and Underdevelopment in Nigeria: The Dialectic of Mass Poverty, 1982: 47-55). This “diversification” occurs as a result of the size of the country, stretching from the south on the Atlantic Ocean shorelines of southwestcentral Africa to the deciduous/savannah vegetation belt of the north hinterland bordering on the Sahel, which ensures that the conquest regime can maximally exploit the varying climatic zones across the territory in its choice of which agricultural products it wishes to grow. Expectedly, such choices are dictated fundamentally by the imperatives of the British economy and not Nigeria’s. In this regard, the immediate post-war British reconstruction programme is highly illustrative. The occupied Nigerian economy responds to this emergency, 3500 miles away, by embarking on the intensification of the production of both the country’s agricultural and mineralogical commodities listed above. In 1946, the value of Nigerian exports to Britain is £23.7 million (R Olufemi Ekundare, An Economic History of Nigeria: 1860-1960, 1973: 225). By 1955, it is £129.8 million and in 1960, the year of the supposed restoration of independence, it is £165.5 million (Ekundare: 225). There is a distinct growth in Nigeria’s gross domestic product during the period, an annual rate of 4.1 per cent in 1950/51-1957/58 (Onimode: 48). Indeed, not since 1916 had Nigeria enjoyed a favourable net-barter terms of trade with Britain as recorded between 1951-1958, and 1958-1960 (Onimode: 48). Consequently, the huge sum of £276.8 million, the preponderant chunk of the surpluses that accumulated from this unprecedented boom is transferred from Nigeria to Britain between 1947 and 1960 (Ekundare: 226). This is not to mention British surpluses enjoyed by the corresponding increases in the value of Nigerian imports from mainly Britain at the time: £19.8 million in 1946, £136.1 million in 1955, and £215.9 million in 1960 (Ekundare: 226).

Besides, Britain’s more advantageous trade relations with Nigeria is further consolidated in 1955 when Europe slumps into an economic recession. The prices that Europeans are prepared to pay for imports of agricultural and mineral products from abroad fall considerably resulting in an instant blow to the Nigerian economy. Even though its export trade that year increases by 7000 tons in volume, the value falls by £17 million (Okwudiba Nnoli, “A Short History of Nigerian Underdevelopment”, Okwudiba Nnoli, ed., Path to Nigerian Development, 1981: 124). The result is a further increase in Nigeria’s import bills. While a “buoyant” Nigerian economy with its dominant reliance on the British economy for imports is clearly an advantage for Britain, especially at a time of recession at home, the enormous strain on Nigeria’s own accounting is becoming severe. Not only does the country incur deficits in its balance of payments position, it also draws heavily from its external reserves (Nnoli: 124). Such is the situation that Nigeria allocates at least one-fifth of the total investment bill earmarked for the 1955/56-1961/62 development plan to be financed from abroad (Nnoli: 124). While the total investment by leading Western companies (predominately British) in Nigeria stands at about £11.7 million in 1954, the figure for 1959/1960 is £20.5 million (Nnoli: 124).

Twenty years later, on the eve of the Igbo genocide in 1966, the “diversification” character of the Nigerian economy virtually comes to an end. Even though Nigeria had since become “independent”, it is acutely significant that the prevailing export product, petroleum, which has now displaced the basket of commodities of economic “diversification” enumerated above, shares an equivalent quota of the country’s export trade (90 per cent) as the latter did in the 1940s/early 1950s. As should be expected, the production and marketing of petroleum, this commodity now central in the Nigerian economy, are dictated principally by the needs of the British economy. Whether as “monocultural” or “dualcultural”, formally occupied or technically “independent”, the essential logic and character of this Nigeria economy remains to serve the interests of Britain. Apart from South Africa, Nigeria is now the site of Britain’s highest economic and industrial investment in Africa with the total worth of £1.5 billion. The British success story is phenomenal. The British government controls a near-50 per cent shares in Shell-BP (the predominant oil prospecting company in Nigeria) and 60 per cent shares in Amalgamated Tin Mining, a major prospecting tin, cobalt and iron ore mining company (William Freund, “Theft and social protest among tin miners in northern Nigeria”, Donal Crummey, ed, Banditry, Rebellion and Social Protest in Africa, 1986: 49-63). In the non-mining sector of the economy, John Holt, owned by a British family, is one of the two largest in the country with branches located in the principal towns and cities. The United Africa Company (UAC), another British enterprise, accounts for about 40 per cent of Nigeria’s entire import and export trade. The UAC is the major African subsidiary of Unilever, the British transnational corporation. It developed from the Royal Niger Company, which, in association with Taubman Goldie, the entrepreneur, and Frederick Lugard, the first British occupation governor, harnessed the British conquest of the number of states in this southwestcentral territorial stretch of West Africa between 1886 and 1941, and converted them into the amorphous political entity called Nigeria (Ikenna Nzimiro, “The political implications of multinational corporations in Nigeria”, Carl Widstrand, ed., Multi-National Firms in Africa, 1975: 210-243). The UAC, for its part, has wholesale and retailing enterprises run in most parts of Nigeria by its numerous subsidiaries, among which the following three are most prominent: Kingsway Chemist, G.B. Ollivant, and African Timber and Plywood (Nzimiro: 212-214). In addition, the UAC has part interest in other well-established companies in the country such as Gulf Oil of Nigeria, Nigerian Prestressed Concrete, Nigerian Breweries, Taylor Woodrow, and Nigelec.  Ikenna Nzimiro’s often-quoted aphorism, “UAC was Nigeria and Nigeria was UAC”, does not therefore exaggerate UAC’s effective control of Nigeria’s economy at the time (Nzimiro: 217). Finally, in the finance sector, Barclays Nigeria (subsidiary of the British Barclays Bank) and Standard Bank Nigeria (owned largely by the British Lloyds Bank and Westminster Bank) control 90 per cent of Nigeria’s effective banking system. Once again, these institutions have branches across the country. The 25,000 Britons resident in Nigeria are employed in this extensive network of businesses and related services in the economy.



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