STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER OF STATE (FOREIGN AFFAIRS) MR. C. Y. MGONJA AT STATE HOUSE ON TANZANIA’S RECOGNITION OF BIAFRA.
On behalf of the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania, I have the following statement to make:-
The declaration of independence by Biafra on the 30th May 1967, came after two military coups d’etat – in January and July 1966 – and two major pogroms against the Ibo people. These pogroms, which also took place in 1966, resulted in the death of about 30,000 men, women and children, and made two million people flee from their homes in other parts of Nigeria to the tribal homeland in Eastern Nigeria. These events had been interspersed and followed by official discussion about a new constitution for Nigeria, and also by continued personal attacks on individual Ibos who had remained outside the Eastern Region.
The basic case for Biafra’s secession from the Nigerian Federation is that people from the Eastern Region can no longer feel safe in other parts of the Federation. They are not accepted as citizens of Nigeria by the other citizens of Nigeria. Not only is it impossible for Ibos and people of related tribes to live in an assurance of personal safety if they work outside Biafra; it would also be impossible for any representative of these people to move freely and without fear in any other part of the Federation of Nigeria.
These fears are genuine and deep-seated, nor can anyone say they are groundless. The rights and wrongs of the original coup d’etat, the rights and wrongs of the attitudes taken by different groups in the politics of pre and post coup Nigeria, are all irrelevant to the fear which Ibo people feel. And the peoples of Eastern Nigeria can point to too many bereaved homes, too many maimed people, for anyone to deny the reasonable grounds for their fears. It is these fears which are the root cause both for the secession, and for the fanaticism with which the people of Eastern Nigeria have defend the country they have declared to be independent.
Fears such as now exist among the Ibo peoples do not disappear because someone says they are unjustified, or says that the rest of Nigeria does not want to exterminate the Ibos. Such words have even less effect when the speakers have made no attempt to bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice and when troops under the control of the Federal Nigerian Authorities continue to ill-treat, or to allow others to ill-treat, any Ibos who come within their power, The only way to remove the Easterners’ fear is for the Nigerian Authorities to accept its existence, to acknowledge the reason for it, and then to talk on terms of equality with those involved about the way forward.
When people have reason to be afraid you cannot reassure them through the barrel of a gun; your only hope is to talk as one man to another, or as one group to another. It is no use the Federal Authorities demanding that the persecuted should come as a supplicant for mercy, by first renouncing their secession from the political unit. For the secession was declared because the Ibo people felt it to be their only defence against extermination. In their mind, therefore, a demand that they should renounce secession before talks are begun, is equivalent to a demand that they should announce their willingness to be exterminated. If they are wrong in this belief they have to be convinced. And they can only be convinced by talks leading to new constitutional arrangements which take account of their fears.
The people of Biafra have announced their willingness to talk to the Nigerian Authorities without any condition. They cannot renounce their secession before talks, but they do not demand that the Nigerians should recognise it; they ask for talks without conditions. But the federal authorities have refused to talk except on the basis of Biafran surrender. And as the Biafrans believe they will be massacred if they surrender, the Federal Authorities are really refusing to talk at all. For human being do not voluntarily walk towards what they believe to be certain death.
The Federal Government argues that in demanding the renunciation of secession before talks, and indeed in its entire ‘Police Action’, it is defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria. On this ground it argues also that it has a right to demand support from all other governments, and especially other African governments, for every state, and every state authority, has a duty to defend the sovereignty and integrity of its nation. This is a central part of the function of a national government.
Africa accepts the validity of this point, for African States have more reason than most to fear the effects of disintegration. It is on these grounds that Africa has watched the massacre of tens of thousands of people, has watched the employment of mercenaries by both sides in the current civil war, and has accepted repeated rebuffs of its offers to help by mediation or conciliation.
But for how long should this continue? Africa fought for freedom on the grounds of individual liberty and equality, and on the grounds that every people must have the right to determine for themselves the conditions under which they would be governed. We accept the boundaries we inherited from colonialism, and within them we each worked out for ourselves the constitutional and other arrangements which we felt to be appropriate to the most essential function of a state – that is the safe guarding of life and liberty for its inhabitants.
When the Federation of Nigeria became independent n 1960, the same policy was adopted by all its people. They accepted the federal structure which had been established under the colonial system, and declared their intention to work together. Indeed, the Southern States of the Federation – which includes Biafra – delayed their own demands for independence until the North was ready to join them. At the insistence of the North also, the original suggestion of the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (the political party which had its centre in the South) that Nigeria should be broken up into many small states with a strong centre, was abandoned. The South accepted a structure which virtually allowed the more populous North to dominate the rest.
But the constitution of the Federation of Nigeria was broken in January, 1966, by the first military coup. All hope of its resuscitation was removed by the second coup, and even more by the pogroms of September and October 1966. These events altered the whole basis of the society: after them it was impossible for political and economic relations between the different parts of the old Federation to be restored. They meant that Nigerian unity could only be salvaged for the wreck of inter-tribal violence and of fear by a constitution drawn up in the light of what had happened, and which was generally acceptable to all major elements of the society under the new circumstances. A completely new start had to be made, for the basis of the State had been dissolved in the complete break-down of law and order, and the inter-tribal violence which existed.
The necessity for a new start by agreement was accepted by a conference of military leaders from all parts of the Federation, in Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967. There is a certain difference of opinion about some of the things which were agreed at that conference. But there is no dispute about the fact that everyone joined in a declaration renouncing the use of force as a means of settling the crisis in Nigeria. Nor does anyone dispute that it was greed that a new constitution was to be worked out by agreement, and that in the meantime there would be a repeal of all military decrees issued since January 1966 which reduced the powers of the regions. There was also agreement about rehabilitation payments for those who had been forced to flee from their homes, and about members of the armed forces being stationed in their home regions.
The Aburi conference could have provided the new start which was necessary if the unity of Nigeria was to be maintained. But before the end of the same month, General Gowon was restating his commitment to the creation of new States, and his determination to oppose any form of confederation. And on the last day of January, the Federal Military Authorities were already giving administrative reasons for delay in the implementation the agreements reached at Aburi, It was the middle of March before a constitutional decree was issue which was supposed to regularise the position in accordance with the decisions taken there. But unfortunately this decree also included a new clause – which had not been agreed – and which gave the Federal Authorities a reserve power over the Regions, and this completely nullified the whole operation. Nor had any payment been made by the Federal Government to back up the monetary commitment for rehabilitation which it had accepted in the Ghana meeting.
In short, the necessity for an arrangement which would take account of the fears created during 1966 was accepted at Aburi, and renounced thereafter by the Federal Authorities. Yet they are now claim to be defending the integrity of the country in which they failed to guarantee the most elementary safety of the twelve million peoples of Eastern Nigeria. These people had been massacred in other parts of Nigeria without the Federal Authorities apparently having either the will or the power to protect hem. When they retreated to their tribal homeland they were expected to accept the domination of the same peoples who instigated, or allowed, the persecution in the country which they are being told is theirs – i.e. Nigeria.
Surely when a whole people is rejected by the majority of the state in which they live, they must have the right to life under a different kind of arrangement which does secure their existence.
States are made to serve people; governments are established to protect the citizen of a state against external enemies and internal wrong-doers. It is on these grounds that people surrender their right and power of self-defence to the government of the state in which they live. But when the machinery of the State, and the powers of the Government, are turned against a whole group of the society on the grounds of racial, tribal or religious
prejudice, then the victims have the right to take back the powers they have surrendered, and to defend themselves.
For while people have a duty to defend the integrity of their state, and even to die in its defence this duty stems from the fact that it is theirs, and that it is important to their well-being and to the future of their children. When the sate ceases to stand for the honour, the protection, and the well-being of all its citizens, then it is no longer the instrument of those it has rejected. In such a case the people have the right to create another instrument for their protection – in other words, to create another state.
This right cannot be abrogated by constitution, nor by outsiders. The basis of statehood, and of unity can only be general acceptance by the participants. When more than twelve million people have become convinced that they are rejected, and that there is no longer any basis for unity between them and other groups of people, then that unity has already ceased to exist. You cannot kill thousands of people, and keep killing more, in the name of unity. There is no unity between the dead and those who killed them; and there is no unity in slavery or domination.
Africa needs unity. We need unity over the whole continent, and in the meantime we need unity within the existing states of Africa. It is a tragedy when we experience a setback to our goal of unity. But the basis of our need for unity, and the reason for our desire for it, is the greater well being, and the greater security, of the people of Africa. Unity by conquest is impossible. It is not practicable; and even if military might could force the acceptance of a particular authority, the purpose of unity would have been destroyed. For the purpose of unity, its justification, is the service of all peoples who are united together. The general consent of all the people involved is the only basis on which unity in Africa can be maintained or extended.
The fact that the Federation of Nigeria was created in 1960 with the consent of all the peoples does not alter that fact. That Federation, and that basis of consent, has since been destroyed. Nor is this the first time the world had seen a reduction in political unity. We have seen the creation of the Mali Federation, the creation of a Union between Egypt and Syria, and the establishment of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. And we have also seen the dissolution of all these attempts at unity, and the consequent recognition of the separate nations which were once involved. The world has also seen the creation of India and Pakistan out of what was once the Indian Empire. We have all recognised both these nation states and done our best to help them deal with the millions of people made homeless by the conflict and division. None of these things mean that we have liked these examples of greater disunity. They mean that we recognise that in all these cases the people are unwilling to remain in one political unit.
We recognise Mali, Egypt, Syria, Malawi, Zambia, Pakistan and India, What right have we to refuse, in the name of unity, to recognise the fact of Biafra? For years the people of that State struggled to maintain unity with the other peoples in the Federation of Nigeria; even after the pogroms of 1966 they tried to work out a new form of unity which would guarantee their safety; they have demonstrated by ten months of bitter fighting that they have decided upon a new political organisation and are willing to defend it.
The world has taken it upon itself to utter many ill-informed criticisms of the Jews of Europe for going to their deaths without any concerted struggle. But out of sympathy for the suffering of these people, and in recognition of the world’s failure to take action at the appropriate time, the United Nations established the State of Israel in territory which had belonged to the Arabs for thousands of years. It was felt that only by the establishment of a Jewish homeland, and Jewish national state, could Jews be expected to live in the world under conditions of human security. Tanzania has recognised the State of Israel and will continue to do so because of its belief that every people must have some place in the world where they are not liable to be rejected by their fellow citizens.
But the Biafrans have now suffered the same kind of rejection within their state that the Jews of Germany experienced. Fortunately they already had a homeland. They have retreated to it for their own protection, and for the same reason – after all other efforts had failed – they have declared it to be an independent state.
In the light of these circumstances, Tanzania feels obliged to recognise the setback to African Unity which has occurred.
We therefore recognise the State of Biafra as an independent sovereign entity, and as a member of the community of nations. Only by this act of recognition can we remain true to our conviction that the purpose of society and of all political organisation, is the service of man.
13th April, 1968.