AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS
15 East 84th St. , New York , N. Y. 10028 TR 9-4500
December 27, 1968
To: Chapter and Division Presidents Chapter and Division CIA Chairmen CRC’s Field Staff From: Phil Baum, Director Commission on International Affairs
I am pleased to enclose a comprehensive memorandum outlining the background and present status in Nigeria/Biafra. This memorandum was prepared by the staff of the Commission on International Affairs because of numerous requests for information about the origin, extent and implications of the Biafran conflict. We hope this document will provide some insight both into the beginnings of the present war and of the feasibility of community action to help bring about its resolution.
Jewish community relations councils have participated in some measure in various relief activities designed to provide food and medical supplies to Biafra despite the fact that such relief activities are not usually within the purview of community relations councils. However, private relief endeavors by themselves are proving woefully inadequate and of diminishing value in effectively preserving life. New initiatives including some going beyond relief may now be necessary. Our memorandum is intended to help clarify the propriety of Jewish communal participation in these activities. The scope of Jewish community relations work is always difficult to define. A tragedy of this scale requires us to reconsider our opportunities and obligations in the midst of vast human travail.
THE TRAGEDY OF BIAFRA COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS
15 East 84th Street New York, N. Y. December 15, 1968
THE TRAGEDY OF BIAFRA
Why This War? 3
A. Indigenous Differences Among the Peoples of Nigeria 3
B. Conflicts During the Colonial Era 6
C. Conflicts Since Independence 8
D. The Ironsi Take-Over 11
E. The Counter-Coup and the Mass Killings 13 Biafran Secession and the Beginning of the Military
Phase 15 The Progress of the Campaign 16 The Conflicting Claims 18
A, The Case for Nigeria 18
B. The Case for Biafra 20
Is There Genocide? 22 The Position of the Major Powers 25
A. Great Britain 25
B. Soviet Union 26
C. he United States 27
D. France 29 E. China 30 The Position of African States 31 OAU Attempts to Resolve the Conflict
31 The Attitudes of Private American Groups 33
A. The American Left 33
B. American Negro Organizations 33
C. Statements by Jewish Groups 36 Efforts of Church, Religious and Relief Organizations 38 Further Steps 40 THE TRAGEDY OF BIAFRA
For more than a year, a little noticed but nonetheless savage and tragic war has been going on between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the former Eastern Region of that country which, in May 1967, proclaimed its independence as the Republic of Biafra. Until recent months this conflict has commanded little public attention. This is despite the fact that this war is already responsible for more deaths than have occurred in Vietnam and is now causing the death of thousands of people each day through starvation. Although death through starvation is not uncommon in many areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the dimensions of the Nigeria/Biafra tragedy are far greater than the “ordinary” famines in under-developed areas. Moreover, the mass deaths now occurring result in part from political and military factors that prevent the distribution even of food which is presently available. In September of this year, the International Committee of the Bed Cross reported that 8-10,000 people were starving to death each day as the result of this war, and. that the situation was rapidly deteriorating. ( N.Y. Post, Sept. 28, 1968) On October 31, a relief worker for the World Council of Churches reported that 25,000 people would die each day if the war continued for another month. This means that if the present situation is allowed to continue, 6,000,000 people will have died by next summer. ( N.Y. Times, Oct. 31, 1968)
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The self-evident humanitarian concerns are reason enough to compel our attention. But there are other reasons as well. The war in Biafra exemplifies in microcosm areas of stress that continue to agitate relations between states in many parts of the world. They include—the demands of competing nationalisms; the ambiguities of the principle of self-determination and the lack of clarity as to its limits; the continuing influence of religious considerations in contemporary politics; the tentative character of ideological groupings; the uncertainty by governments as to their own national self-interest and the emergence of incongruous and improbable alliances. Similarly, the Biafran case demonstrates the paralysis of existing international institutions when it comes to mobilizing effective and swift relief. It is evident that the international community still has not forged mechanisms adequately responsive to imperative human need. Finally, the absence of sustained protest over the immense loss of life in Biafra indicates the urgent necessity for broadening the base of public interest. There has been an almost palpable public silence on this issue. This silence has characterized even some who in other circumstances have paraded a seeming concern over any spilling of blood and any taking of life. There apparently exists, in many places, an occasional and opportunistic sense of compassion, allowed to be expressed only when consonant with some overriding political purpose. Left to itself this intermittent sentiment clearly will not do much to prevent the genocide which is imminent in Biafra. Mobilization of public opinion in part has been impeded by a lack of readily available information about the details of the conflict and its background. This memorandum is prepared in the hope of providing
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better understanding of the nature and scope of the present war and. of some of the possibilities for alleviating the attendant suffering. Much of the information deriving from Nigeria is contradictory and incomplete and access to objective first-hand sources is difficult. We do not therefore purport to prescribe solutions or to forecast the eventual outcome. Our only intention is to help improve public understanding of what is taking place. Our hope is that this will evoke a more concerted and urgent sense of concern both within and outside the Jewish community than has thus far been forthcoming. Why This War? A. Indigenous differences among the peoples of Nigeria The causes of the Nigerian Biafran war—which Nigerians describe as a civil war and Biafrans, a war between two nations—are exceedingly complex. More than fifty years ago, Great Britain artificially carved an area out of West Africa containing hundreds of different groups and arbitrarily unified it, calling it Nigeria. Although the area contained many different groups, three were predominant: the Hausa-Fulani, which formed about 65% of the peoples in the northern part of the territory; the Yoruba, which formed about 75% of the population in the southwestern part; and the Ibo, which formed between 60-65% of the population in the southeast Each of these groups was so distinctive politically, religiously, culturally, and socially, as to constitute what in Europe in most circumstances would be thought of as a separate nation. The profound differences between them account, in a large sense, for the disintegration of the Nigerian Federation during the past several years. The semi-feudal and Islamic Hausa-Fulani in the North were traditionally ruled by an autocratic, conservative Islamic hierarchy
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consisting of some thirty-odd Emirs who, in turn, owed their allegiance to a supreme Sultan. This Sultan was regarded as the source of all political power and religious authority. The Yoruba political system in the southwest, like that of the Hausa-Fulani, also consisted of a series of monarchs. The Yoruba monarchs, however, were less autocratic than those in the North, and the political and social system of the Yoruba accordingly allowed for greater upward mobility based on acquired rather than inherited wealth and title. The Ibo in the southeast, in contrast to the two other groups, lived in some six hundred autonomous, democratically-organized vi1lages. Decisions among the Ibo were made by a general assembly in which every man could participate. The different political systems among these three peoples produced highly divergent sets of customs and values. The Hausa-Fulani commoners, having contact with the political system only through their village head who was designated by the Emir or one of his subordinates, did not view political leaders as amenable to influence. Political decisions were to be obeyed without question. This highly centralized and authoritarian political system elevated to positions of leadership persons willing to be subservient and loyal to superiors—the same virtues required by Islam for eternal salvation. One of the chief functions of the traditional political system was to maintain the Islamic religion. Hostility to economic and social innovation was therefore deeply rooted. In contrast to the Hausa-Fulani, the Ibo often participated directly in the decisions which affected their lives. They had a lively awareness of the political system and regarded it as an instrument for
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achieving their own personal goals. Status was acquired through the ability to arbitrate disputes that might arise in the village, and through acquiring rather than inheriting wealth. With their emphasis upon achievement, individual choice, and democratic decision-making, the challenges of modernization for the Ibos entailed responding to new opportunities in traditional ways. For the Hausa-Fulani, however, modernization required and still does, a complete change in values and ways of life. The Yoruba were somewhere between the Hausa-Fulani and the Ibos regarding their need for achievement and emphasis upon individual choice. These tradition-derived differences were perpetuated and, perhaps, even enhanced by the British system of colonial rule in Nigeria. In the North, the British found it convenient to rule indirectly through the Emirs, thus perpetuating rather than changing the indigenous authoritarian political system. As a concomitant of this system, Christian missionaries were excluded from the North, and the area thus remained virtually closed to Western education and influence. During the ensuing years, the Northern Emirs, thus were able to maintain traditional political and religious institutions, while limiting social change. As a result, the North, at the time of independence in 1960, was by far the most underdeveloped area in Nigeria with a literacy rate of 2% as compared to 16% in the East and 18% in the West (literacy in Arabic script, learned in connection with religious education, was higher). In the South, and particularly in the Yoruba areas, the British were able to establish themselves more firmly and Christian missionaries rapidly introduced Western forms of education. Consequently, the Yoruba were the first group in Nigeria to become significantly modernized and they provided the first African civil servants, doctors, lawyers, and other technicians and professionals.
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In Ibo areas, missionaries were introduced at a later date because of British difficulty in establishing firm control over the highly autonomous Ibo villages. (Audrey Chapman, “Civil War in Nigeria,” Midstream, Feb 1968). However, the Ibo people, highly individualistic and achievement-oriented, took to Western education zealously. By the 1940’s they had transformed themselves into one of the most educated, wealthiest, and politically unified groups in Nigeria and presented a serious challenge to Yoruba predominance in the civil service and the professions. Moreover, severe population pressure in the Ibo homeland combined with an intense desire for economic improvement, drove thousands of Ibos to other parts of Nigeria in search of work. Many went to the Northern areas where their entrepreneurial and technical skills were in particular demand among the traditional and generally uneducated population. There they took up positions as merchants, government civil servants, and clerks in private European companies. In time the Ibos came to occupy in Nigeria a position somewhat analogous to that of the Indians in East Africa or the Jews in Eastern Europe. In the North and to a lesser extent in the West they came to be looked upon as alien outsiders occupying positions in the economy that “rightfully” belonged to tile indigenous inhabitants of the area. They were perceived as aggressive and pushy, and were envied and resented because of the rapidity with which they acquired education and wealth. B. Conflicts During the Colonial Era The political division of Nigeria during the colonial period into three regions—North, West and East—exacerbated the already well-developed economic, political, and social competition among
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Nigeria’s different ethnic groups. For the country was divided in such a way that the North had slightly more population than the other two regions combined. On this basis the Northern Region was allocated a majority of the seats in the Federal Legislature established by the colonial authorities. Within each of the three regions the dominant ethnic groups—the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Ibo respectively—formed political parties that were largely regional and tribal in character: the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in the North; the Action Group in the West (AG): and the National Conference of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) in the East. Although these parties were not exclusively homogeneous in terms of their ethnic or regional make-up, the present disintegration of Nigeria results, largely from the fact that these parties were primarily based in one region and one tribe. To simplify matters, we will refer to them here as the Hausa, Yoruba, and Ibo-based; or Northern, Western and Eastern parties. During the 1940’s and 1950’s the Ibo and Yoruba parties were in the forefront of the fight for independence for Britain They also wanted an independent Nigeria to be organized into several small states so that the conservative and backward North could not dominate the country. Northern leaders, however, fearful that independence would mean political and economic domination by the more Westernized elites in the South, preferred the perpetuation of British rule. As a condition for accepting independence, they demanded that the country continue to be divided into three regions with the North having a clear majority. Ibo and Yoruba leaders, anxious to obtain an independent country at all cost, accepted the Northern demands.
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C. Conflicts Since Independence Nigeria finally achieved independence in October 1960 and appeared, for a while, to have a bright political and economic future. When no one party received a majority in the pre-independence elections, a Northern-Eastern coalition was formed which afforded the country political stability. Meanwhile the gross national product continued to move steadily upward and soon Nigeria, with some 55 million people constituting the most populous nation in Africa, developed a reputation as the showcase of democracy and economic stability on the continent. This stability was short-lived. Within a few years, explosive forces always present covertly, began to surface. Since 1962, Nigeria has been rocked by widespread violence, internal disorder, and now by a savage civil war,. This violence reflects, in essence, Northern attempts to maintain control of the country in the face of increasingly intense opposition from the South and particularly from the Ibo peoples. Within a period of three years—from 1962-1965—the Northern-dominated Federal Government instigated a split in the Yoruba party which rendered the Action Group virtually ineffective; invalidated a nation-wide census which reportedly showed the two Southern regions to have outstripped the North; and blatantly rigged two elections in order to perpetuate their control of the country and of the Western Region which they gained after rendering the Action Group ineffective. 1 The split of the Yoruba-based party was instigated by the North because its leader, Chief Obofemi Awolowo, favored unremitting ________________________ 1. Audrey R. Chapman, “Civil War in Nigeria ,” Midstream, January, 1968 p. 214; Richard Sklar and C. S. Whitaker, Jr, Federal Republic of Nigeria ,” T in Gwendolen M Carter, ed., National Unity and Regionalism in Eight African States (Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 120.
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struggle against the Northern-dominated Government under the banner of “African Socialism.” He also made strenuous efforts to attract to his party minorities and other disaffected groups in the Northern and Eastern Regions, thus violating the tacit agreement to respect existing spheres of influence. Thereafter the Federal government moved more decisively to consolidate its strength. Claiming to have uncovered a plan for a military coup the Northern-dominated Federal government arrested Awolowo and sentenced him to ten years in prison. Similarly in 1962 the Federal government arbitrarily moved to invalidate a national census which in terms of their interests came up with the wrong results. Although the exact findings of the 1962 census never were officially published, its results reportedly demonstrated that the two regions of the South had outstripped the North in total population.2 This was an extremely sensitive matter as the census was to be the basis for apportioning seats in the Federal Parliament. Until then the North had been assigned a sure majority. At any rate, the Federal Government conducted a new census the results of which were predictably favorable to Northern interests, They were announced in early 1964: North, 29.7 million; East, 12.3 million; West, 10.2 million; Mid-West, 2.5 million (this region was newly created in 1963); and the Federal Territory of Lagos, 675,000. The new census, in turn, was challenged by the Ibos as rigged and inaccurate and shattered the Eastern-Northern coalition which until then had managed to maintain some semblance of political _______________ 2. Sklar and Whitaker, loc. Cit.; Audrey R. Chapman, “Civil War in Nigeria,” Midstream, January, 1968.
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stability in the country. This bitter controversy stimulated a rearrangement of political forces in Nigeria. By 1964, only four years after independence, the country was largely split along North-South, conservative-progressive lines. The national elections of December 1964, in which these coalitions were to meet for the first time, was, perhaps, the immediate cause of Nigeria’s disintegration. Basically, it was alleged that the party representing Southern elements was not allowed to compete in the North and the Northern-controlled Western region. According to one report, 4,000 of its members were arrested including 40 nominees for the Federal Parliaments.3 The party thereupon demanded a postponement of the elections and a thorough investigation. Prime Minister Balewa, a Northern Muslim, refused. The party then responded with a boycott of the elections and an announcement that it would not recognize any government based upon its results. Consequently only 20% of the electorate participated in the 1964 vote as opposed to 80% in 1959. In effect, a large segment of the people had withdrawn legitimacy from the government. Nigerian unity appeared to have been shattered. Only intensive negotiations between Federal and regional leaders leading to agreement on a “broadly-based” government averted a crisis—however temporarily. The underlying problem of sectionalism, corruption and illegal practices remained. The following year elections again were blatantly rigged, this time in the Western Region. Thousands of illegal ballots were found in the possession of government officials. Impartial observers ___________ 3. Chapman, op. cit. p. 24.
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widely agreed that the election returns were falsified to give the Northern-controlled party an overwhelming victory4 but one completely lacking in credibility. This time widespread violence followed. Prime Minister Balewa, instead of responding to appeals for a new election to be supervised by the army rather than Western Government-appointed officials, ordered the army to restore law and order. D. The Ironsi Take-Over The idea of a democratic Nigeria had proven to be a myth. Vast numbers of people were disenchanted with the results of independence and the widespread corruption among politicians. Elements among the South, the students, the southern intelligentsia, and the army officer corps were particularly disaffected, In January 1966 a number of young army officers—primarily Ibo—attempted to overthrow the Federal Government. In the process they killed Prime Minister Balewa, Northern Premier Sir: Ahmadu Bello (also the Sardauna of Sokoto—Islam’s highest religious leader in Nigeria), and a number of Northern army officers. Rumors had it that Army Commander Maj.-Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi—also as Ibo–was involved in the coup. In any case, a rump Cabinet invited Ironsi to head a provisional military government. Ironsi “accepted” and two days later the leader of the coup, Major Chukwama Nzeogwu pledged his loyalty to Ironsi. provided there would be no reprisals against him and his followers,. The January coup and the Ironsi take-over were widely supported throughout Nigeria by youth groups, trade unions, businessmen, and even some Northerners. Most young and progressive elements hoped and expected _______________ 4. Sklar and Whitaker, op. cit., p.12
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that the new military government would stop corruption and would institute those reforms necessary to unify the country and organize its economy on terms of national rather than regional needs. Immediately following the coup, the Nigerian student association in the United States met in International House in New York and sent a message of congratulations to the new leaders. At the outset, General Ironsi faced a major dilemma. Could he and should he punish the instigators of the coup for assassinating the Federal Prime Minister, and the Premiers of the Western and Northern Regions? He had to bear in mind especially that the latter had been Islam’s revered religious leader and was generally acknowledged to be the power behind the Prime Minister himself. The Northern rank-and-file of the army were bitterly resentful over these murders, as well as the death of many Northern officers. However if Ironsi punished the young officers who had staged the coup, he would probably alienate the Ibo officers who formed about one-third of his officer corps, plus the whole southern intelligenstia who were fed up with the conservative, Northern-dominated and corrupt Federal Government. Ironsi chose instead to attempt to heal the rifts in the army and country by instituting badly needed reforms. In May 1966, as part of this program, he abolished the Federal structure of government. But this proved his undoing. Many politicians and bureaucrats with vested interests in a Nigeria divided into regions vigorously opposed this move. They chose to see it as a bald attempt to consolidate Nigeria under Ibo domination. To support their suspicions, they pointed to the fact that almost all the officers who staged the coup leading to the Ironsi government were Ibos. Further, the politicians and officers killed in the coup
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were almost all from the North arid West, while Ibo officials were left untouched. Following the Ironsi take-over, ousted Hausa-Fulani bureaucrats, politicians and religious leaders, began to focus upon Ibos living in the North as responsible for all the problems that were beginning to face the North—from rising prices to the declining power of the Northern Region in the Federal Government. Two days after the Ironsi proclamation of a unified governmental structure, these elements organized riots in several Northern cities resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Ibos and the forced exodus of thousands of others.5 This massacre fed upon the long-standing resentment of Ibos based upon their rapid accumulation of wealth and education. E, The Counter-Coup and the Mass Killings The idea of an Ibo take-over of the country gradually gained more and more credence and led to further unrest in an already disgruntled army, On July 29, 1966 Northern soldiers staged counter-coup, killing Ironsi, and about 400 Ibo officers. Colonel Yakubu Gowon, announced as new head of the government, immediately restored the federal structure yielding to the demands of the Northern politicians. Many members of the Ibo elite who had occupied prominent positions coder Ironsi viewed this new coup as a re-establishment of Northern authoritarian control over Nigeria. They and the progressive Yorubas and others who had joined with them had not been able freely to compete for: power under the old regime. Now, their high hopes for reconstruction and modernization after the Ironsi coup were suddenly ___________ 5. James O’Connell, “The Scope of the Tragedy.,Africa Report, February 1968, p.8.
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dashed by a counter-coup scarcely half a year later, These frustrations were transformed into deep hatred and fear by the ruthless slaughter of hundreds of Ibos living in the North and of Ibo officers in the army, Many Ibos fled to the Eastern Region convinced that only secession would afford them security as well as the opportunity to develop a politically coherent and economically vibrant nation. Half-formed notions about secession were transformed into grim determination after a veritable pogrom erupted in the North in September 1966, resulting in the slaughter of from 5,000 to 30,000 Ibos and other Easterners, depending upon the reports one reads. Nigerians claim that this massacre followed the killing of hundreds of Northerners resident in the East. Biafran supporters argue it was caused by Northern anger over a decision to break up the North into several smaller states, made by a constitutional conference arranged by General Gowon. In any case, this mass slaughter left a deep scar on the Ibo people. Ibo leaders called for the return of all Ibos to their ancestral homeland and began serious preparations for secession. A January 1967 conference of leaders from all regions failed to produce lasting agreement on decentralization of the country. At that point, civil servants, teachers, newspaper reporters, university students and military officers—all disillusioned with the results of Independence—further galvanized public opinion for secession. A definite step was taken in March when the Government of the Eastern Region announced that all revenues collected on behalf of the Federal Government would be paid to the Treasury of the Eastern Region. The Federal Government, it was alleged, had refused to pay the salaries of refugee civil servants forced to flee their areas of employment,
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and the East now had some 2 million refugees whose displacement from other parts of Nigeria was “irreversible.” Moreover, the Federal Government, it was alleged had refused to pay the East its statutory share of revenues for months.6 Faced with virtual secession, Colonel Gowon finally attempted to deal with grievances about Northern domination and also to appeal to minorities throughout Nigeria. He proposed that the Northern Region be broken up into six states, the East into three, and the West into two. The new states would coincide, to a large extent, with natural ethnic divisions. Notably, the East would be divided in such a way that the oil reserves would be located in states without an Ibo majority. Biafran Secession and the Beginning of the Military Phase Though the Ibo elites may have been satisfied with such a proposal a year or so before, they now felt that nothing short of a loose association of sovereign states could assuage their fears, On May 30, therefore, the Eastern Region proclaimed its independence as the Republic of Biafra. In July 1966, Federal forces attempted to reassert control over the East. After a determined and successful defense, however, Biafran troops a month later moved across the Niger River into the Mid-West. Aided by Ibo officers and soldiers in that area, they installed a puppet government under a Mid-Western Ibo officer, Major Albert Okonwo. That region then proclaimed its independence as a second separate state. The disintegration of Nigeria appeared to be well under way. _____________ 6. O’Connell, op. cit., p.10
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However, the Ibo advance apparently panicked residents of the predominantly Yoruba Western Region, particularly after Radio Biafra promised that the West would also be “liberated.” At that point, Chief Obofernis Awolowo, the old Yoruba leader of the national Opposition, who had been let out of jail and had accented a top civilian post with the Gowon government, rallied to the Federal Government many Yoruba leaders who had favored secession of the West. The Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani peoples along with minority groups in all the regions, are now apparently held together by anti-Ibo sentiment and common pursuit of the war. The Yoruba and the minorities have also been pleased by the new twelve-state structure decreed by Colonel Gowon which has resulted in the break-up of the formerly monolithic North. The Progress of the Campaign In the summer of 1967, Great Britain and the Soviet Union started to supply the Federal Government with modern planes, armored cars and other weapons. In September 1967, the Federal forces were able to retake the Mid-West and large-scale massacres of Ibos followed in which the Edo people of the region who had. been enraged by the Ibo take-over, participated to a large extent. The Federal .Army then pushed on into the East and during the course of the following year were able to occupy almost. all the non-Ibo areas of Biafra and almost: half of the Ibo homeland. On September 8, 1968 , Colonel Gowon predicted that the war would be over in two months. However, similar predictions had been made by various observers for almost a year. On November 3, 1968 , just about two months after Gowon’s announcement, the New York Times
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reported. that fresh supplies of arms from Gabon had enabled the Biafrans to put up stiffer resistance and even to counter-attack on some areas. At present, another extended stalemate seems in the offing. It is impossible at this distance to make any firm surmise about the viability of continued Biafran resistance. Estimates by Nigerian authorities and by experts, journalists and observers from abroad that Biafran opposition would soon dissipate repeatedly have been proven inaccurate. On the other hand there has been a steady retreat by Biafran forces and it is clear that if this trend continues some point soon will be reached at which the remaining terrain will be inadequate to sustain organized operations by the Biafran army. In recent months resistance has been reinforced by the fresh inpouring of arms commonly understood to be supplied by the French. Biafran military spokesmen visiting in this country firmly proclaim their ability to remain in the field as long as adequate weapons are provided. Assuming that the common conjecture about the contributions of the French forces is correct there is no guarantee that French policies will remain forever unchanged, especially in the light of the steady retreat of Biafran forces. The French government in other parts of the world has not hesitated to reverse its role as arms supplier when changing political circumstances so require. Biafran officials declare that even if the point were to be reached. that formal field operations were no longer tenable, major resistance still would continue in the form of large-scale guerrilla activities. However this would mark an essential change in the character of the warfare and could suggest that the significant military phase was nearing a terminal stage. The fact is that at present guerilla activity
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has not been sustained to any significant degree behind the Federal lines in occupied Ibo territory. Discounting the exaggerations natural to the partisans of each side, it would appear that some kind of major military campaign is likely to continue at least for many months, The New York Times of November 27 reports that “The new arms reaching Biafra, from what many here believe are French sources have so stiffened Biafran resistance that there is now little expectation of an early federal victory.” Meanwhile each day the issue remains unresolved tens of thousands confront the stark fact of imminent starvation. The Conflicting Claims A. The Case for Nigeria Proponents of the Federal cause point principally to the alleged disintegrative effects of the Biafran secession on the rest of Nigeria and, indeed, on the rest of Africa They argue that if the Biafran secession were successful, Nigeria would soon dissolve into a multiplicity of states. This position in its extreme, was vividly portrayed by a member of the British House of Commons: “That we shall find, I believe, will be a sort of Latin American pattern in which certain strong expatriate companies—oil, tin and rubber companies–pay to preserve order in the limited area in which they operated and in other areas small military dictatorships will be set up which will be overthrown with regularity when there is a military mutiny or a bad harvest and the soldiers are not paid.” (House of Commons, August 27, 1968), Supporters of Nigeria fear that Biafran success would encourage ethnic groups in other African countries to attempt secession, thus further balkanizing a continent already divided into a large number of tiny and barely viable nations. They also argue that minority groups
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in the East. which form 35-40% of the population, do not favor an independent state in which they would allegedly be at the mercy of the more aggressive and numerous Ibos. The Federal Government, they claim, therefore has a moral responsibility not to abandon these peoples to Ibo domination. Mr. William Whitlock, British Under Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, stated before Parliament on August 27 that he believed the 5 million non-Ibos of the East wanted to remain within Nigeria. This view was supported by The Guardian of August 21, (Parliamentary Debates, pp. 32, 18),. One leading supporter of the Nigerian cause, Father James O’Connell, Professor of Government at Ahmadu Bello University, sees the conflict as one between the Ibos of the East and the minorities in the rest of Nigeria. The latter, he claims, now control the Federal Government, sit on the richest oil fields, and provide the majority of the soldiers for the Federal army. Within the context of the new 12-state structure which Colonel Gowon has decreed, these minorities see a chance to escape from domination by the major ethnic groups which they experienced in the three regions of the old Federation. 0’Oonnell suggests they are as desperate to maintain a united Nigeria as the Ibos are to have their own country.7 Admitting finally that the old Federation was dominated by the North, Nigerian officials argue that they have, through the new 12-state structure, implemented the long-standing demands of the Ibo and Yoruba parties for a reorganization of the country in a way as to break up the Northern monolith. _______________ 7. O’Connell, op. cit., p.11
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On: the basis of available evidence it is difficult clearly to determine the true sent-ments of the non-Ibos population in the former Eastern Region. Lloyd Garrison has reported in the New York Times Magazine of September 8 that tens of thousands of minority peoples fled behind Biafran lines when Federal troops attacked. However it is not clear whether this a the result of Biafran :propaganda about atrocities or an authentic expression of fear based upon actual killings. Federal authorities, for their part, claim that most of the non-Ibo peoples of the former East are back under Federal control and wish to remain that way. B. The Case for Biafra Proponents of Biafra emphasize that the absence of a sense of community and solidarity render a united Nigeria undesirable and unworkable. They stress what they describe as the immense cultural, social and religious differences between Biafrans and the rest of the Nigerians—particularly the traditional Islamic peoples of the North who dominated the Federal government since independence. The inherent right to self-determination, they claim, has been morally reinforced by the acts of pogrom and genocide perpetrated upon Biafrans by Northern Nigerians and others, with the connivance and complicity of the Federal authorities and police. The Biafrans maintain that if ever a united Nigeria could have worked, the possibility was permanently wrecked by the massacre and mutilation of some 30,000 Easterners living in the North and elsewhere and the forced exodus of some two million others, How, they ask could they ever again entrust their security to a government which the logic of numbers insures would be dominated by the same elements [responsible for ?
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the massacre of thousands of their people? Colonel Gowon’s decree of a 12-state structure elicits particular rancor from. Biafran authorities who contend that it is designed to fragment the Ibo people into three different states and generally, to destroy the homogeneity they claim characterizes Biafra. Some believe that the division of the Ibos into three separate states would render them particularly vulnerable to persecution and massacre. They point in this regard, to the massacre of Ibos in the Mid-West in September 1967 after Biafran forces were dislodged from their occupation of the area To the charge of Ibo domination over reluctant minorities, the Biafran authorities reply that the territory of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria is characterized by a high degree of cultural assimilation among the four major linguistic groups of the area: the Ibo, Efik, Ijaw, and Ogoja. Bi-lingualism and intermarriage they claim, have made it difficult in many areas even to distinguish Ibos from non-Ibos. To support their claim that the non-Ibo peoples of the former Eastern Region are fully behind. Biafra, officials of that state assert that of the 30,000 Easterners massacred in 1966, some 10,000 were non-Ibos and of the 2 million who were forced to return home, nearly 480,000 were non-Ibo. Biafran officials further assert that the former Eastern Region use the only part of Federal Nigeria which did not experience .violent ethnic strife. Because of the well-developed sense of community and cultural assimilation, there are no genuine minorities in the region, only local communities and the needs of these communities are met by Administrative
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System set up by the Biafran Government To further demonstrate the equity prevalent in the country, officials point out that seven of the thirteen Ministerial positions in the Government are occupied by non-Ibos. Nigerian proposals of guarantee of the lives and property of Biafrans outside the East are rejected as insincere and unworkable, No Lagos Government, claim the Biafrans, would have the ability or the good faith to carry out such a guarantee. They could not, in effect, control long-standing ethnic hatreds arid jealousies which have developed over scores of years. The same argument is applied to suggestions for an international observer force. Such a force, Biafrans point out, could not stay in Nigeria forever, and. therefore could not obtain for Biafrans the kind of security which is their natural right. Only a sovereign state with control over its own police force, army and means of economic development can satisfy their aspirations for security, economic development and political equality. In reply to charges of balkanization they assert that Biafra, with its large oil reserves and its population of 14 million would be a highly viable country, and by no means a mini-state, particularly when compared to some other African, Asian and. Latin American states which are fully independent. For all these reasons Biafrans insist their right to self-determination is inviolable. Is there Genocide? One of the most troubling aspects of the conflict has been the Biafran charge that.. the Nigerian government intends to commit genocide on the Ibo people. The Federal government has refused to
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discuss peace and, until recently, to permit any relief supplies to be flown into Biafra, unless and until Biafran leaders renounce their proclamation of secession. Biafrans have refused this demand because they believe they can gain their aims through conventional or guerrilla warfare, and also because they are convinced that Nigerian military commanders intend to perpetuate genocide against me Ibos people. Proponents of Biafra for the most part acknowledge that it is not the official policy of the Nigerian government to commit genocide. They do assert, however, that some local Nigerian commanders intend and, indeed, have tried to wipe out as many Ibos as possible, and that some Northern Muslim commanders regard the war as a holy Jihad against the Ibo people. The factual evidence for genocide is widely divergent. Mr. Andrew Brevin and Mr. David MacDonald, two members of the Canadian Parliament, recently returned from Biafra, have reported that genocide is in fact taking place, One of them stated that “anybody who says there is no evidence of genocide is either in the pay of Britain or being a deliberate fool.” (American Committee on Africa, 164 Madison Avenue, Relief Memo #4, Nov. 1, 1968). Lloyd Garrison has written: “…The record shows that in Federal advances… thousands of Ibo male civilians were sought out and slaughtered…” ( N, Y, Times Magazine, Sept, 8, 1968, p, 92), An international military:: observer group, on the other hand, has reported that there was no evidence of an intent on the part of Nigerian troops to wipe out the Ibo people, (New York Times, Oct. 23)
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Those who deny the charge of genocide point to the 30,000 Ibos still in Lagos, and the half million still in the Mid-West, with some, though not many—still holding senior posts in the Federal Government. Some British officials claim they have seen abandoned property committees and reconstruction and rehabilitation committees in many states, and that these committees are administering Ibo houses and shops that were abandoned in the hopes that the Ibos will return. Though admitting cases of indiscriminate killing, these sources allege that charges of genocide are grossly distorted. The charges of Jihad have also been denied by British officials who assert that more than half the members of the Federal Government are Christian, while only 1,000 of the 60-70,000 Federal soliders are Muslim Hausas from the North. (House of Commons Debate, cited earlier, p. 12). It is crucial to note, in this regard, that certain kinds of “legitimate” military strategy, though not to be equated with genocide intentionally perpetrated by a government on a particular people, can result in the extermination of large numbers of a particular group. Some Nigerian commanders, notably Colonel Benjamin Atakunle, maintain that the denial of food to Biafran-held areas and to Ibo people in Federally-controlled areas, is a legitimate and necessary strategy. As Colonel Atakunle himself told a Dutch newspaper: “I want to see no Red Cross, no Caritas, no World Council of Churches, no Pope, no missionary, and no UN delegation. I want to prevent even one Ibo having even one piece to eat before their
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capitulation.” (London Economist, Aug. 24, 1968 as cited in the Village Voice Oct. 17, 1968.).On another occasion he suggested that emergency relief efforts were “misguided humanitarian rubbish,” arid further declared: “If the children must die first, then that is too bad, just too bad.” (San_Francisco_Chronicle, July 2) as cited in Village Voice Oct. 17, 1968 . That there has or will be deliberate genocide in the sense of the Federal government attempting to wipe out the Ibo people, is debatable. That there have been large-sclae pogroms and indiscriminate killings is irrefutable and widely acknowledged even by Nigerian spokesmen. The Positions of the Major Powers At the outset of the war in Nigeria-Biafra, the major Powers initially remained neutral, perhaps attempting to assess the relative strengths of the two sides. After a few weeks, however, Great Britain and the Soviet Union both moved to support the Federal government. Various motives have been ascribed to these moves. A. Great Britain Though formally prohibiting arms shipments to either belligerent at the start of the war, Great Britain soon agreed to grant export licenses for the sale of various types of weapons to Nigeria. Mr. George Thomson, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, suggested in Parliament on August 27, 1968 , that Great Britain could not have remained neutral when a Commonwealth country whose army was built by Britain was faced with a major internal revolt. To do so would have amounted to tacit support of the secession. Moreover, to cut off arms once they were supplied would
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only encourage Colonel Ojukwu to fight and thus prolong the conflict. An arms embargo would not help, argued Thomson, because much of the international traffic in weapons was in the hands of private dealers. In contrast to this official British explanation, some observers including Lloyd Garrison of the New York Times have suggested that Britain moved when it saw that Biafra, contrary to initial expectations, was able to withstand the Federal forces, and that therefore, Britain’s oil interests in the Eastern Region were in danger. Others have argued that British support of the Federal Government reflects a long standing bias in favor of Northern Nigeria. B. Soviet Union Soviet support for the Federal Government, in the form of MIG’s and technicians, probably reflects an attempt to gain influence in an area which Russia formerly regarded as an exclusive province of the West. The Soviet Union had little contact with the pre-1966 Nigeria because it considered the Northern-dominated regime to be unpopular with the masses, politically and economically reactionary, and generally subservient to British interests. Relations became more cordial after the Ironsi take-over, and a number of agreements were negotiated on air services, student exchanges, and cultural affairs. After initial reservations about the reemergence of “reactionary” Northerners after the July countercoup, the Soviet Union eventually expressed support for Gowon’s attempts to unify the country. Though non-committal at the outset of the war, the Soviets were encouraged to move in, according to one analyst, by American and British neutrality and by non-recognition of Biafra by most African states.8 ____________ 8. Arthur Jay Klinghoffer. “Why the Soviets Chose Sides,” Africa Report February l968, p. 4
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In addition to supplanting some Western influence, the Soviets hoped to gain recognition in Africa as a champion of legitimate governments against secessionist rebels. C. The United States The United States has maintained official neutrality, but in practice has tacitly supported the Federal Government. Though contributing a reported 17 million to the relief efforts of various private organizations, President Johnson announced in July that the U.S. had no intention of interfering in Nigeria’s “internal affairs.” In practice, this has meant that the U.S. is not willing to support an airlift organized by private organizations that are not recognized for this purpose by the Nigerian government. On November 14 the United States offered to contribute $500,000 to American volunteer relief agencies to help charter a Hercules C-130 transport to fly relief supplies into Biafra, The offer was made contingent upon the willingness of three American religious groups engaged in relief work to accept Red Cross control over the operation, The condition apparently is predicated upon the fact that the Red Cross is the only relief organization acceptable both to the Federal government and to Biafran authorities. The $500,000 is to be used as part of an estimated $1.2 million to be raised from all sources to operate a Hercules transport from the Portugese island of Sao Tome in and out of Biafra for a period of about 5 to 6 weeks Officials estimate that the use of the larger aircraft could increase current deliveries by at least 50% daily. Observers note that part-time leasing of a Hercules allows only a very modest assistance and there has been considerable
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private effort to persuade the United States government to make available a C-130 transport for relief airlift for the duration of the present crisis, However, the airlift into Biafra has been subject to field attack and, among other things, American officials are unwilling to risk embroiling official American personnel or equipment in a possible military encounter, Moreover, on December 5 the U.S. government publicly censured Biafra for refusing to permit relief day flights of food and medicinal supplies under the auspices of the International Red Cross Committee. The State Department spokesmen described as “incomprehensible” the refusal of Biafran authorities to allow such flights into Uli, the major Biafran airstrip, notwithstanding the likelihood that this additional means of delivery might as much as doubt current supplies. The Federal government at Lagos reportedly agreed not to intercept these deliveries. And the U.S. has sharply criticized Biafra for not similarly accepting these arrangements. Biafran authorities are dissatisfied with the Red Cross which they claim is both sluggish and overly responsive to the Federal government’s demands. The State Department further castigated Biafra for not accepting proposals for operating land corridors to accelerate relief operations. Biafran authorities claim that this suggestion which has been endorsed by the Federal government, is intended to prevent guerrilla activities which necessarily rely: upon the destruction of the bridges, the interdiction of roads and the denial of other means of transit between the two zones. They charge that the motive of this proposal is military rather than humanitarian and is designed to impede Biafran resistance rather than to prevent Biafran starvation.
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However, on December 14, a New York Times background story disclosed United States contingency plans for a vast sea, land and air emergency relief in Biafra. It is estimated that this plan would entail an expenditure of approximately 20 million dollars, in addition to the 17 million reportedly already contributed by the United States in one form or another to various private relief operations. This compares with the five million dollars contributed by private U. S. voluntary agencies. Even more important, the Times story reported that the U.S. contemplates a more active role in trying to bring an end to the military phase of the conflict. Although no specific official or governmental authority was cited in the Times dispatch the import of this background story is that from now on the U.S. intends to bring pressure on both sides to cease the fighting and will urge foreign countries to contribute to relief, to halt arms shipments and generally to push for a negotiated settlement. If in fact this story should prove to be true and should turn out to be the official position of the Government, it would portend a radical change in the nature of the U.S. operation and hold out the promise of meaningful political pressure to bring the fighting to a stop. Critics of the present U.S. operations argue that U.S. policy in Biafra has been characterized by passivity and indifference. The new plan described by the Times would mark a welcome change away from that posture. D. France Perhaps the most significant of all the aid received by Biafra until now has been the assistance provided by France. On September 9 France announced that it would assist Biafra “to the extent of her
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capabilities” and that she did not disregard the possibility of recognizing Biafra sometime in the future. Although there has been no explicit acknowledgement of French military assistance it is widely surmised that France is the principal supplier of weapons to Biafra and is also the source of major food supplies flown in from Gabon. The motivations of the French are not at all clear. Some have suggested that France is merely out to harass and thwart British interests. Others have argued that France wants to establish a foothold in the oil-rich lands of the East. And others point to De Gaulle’s long-standing support for the idea of small countries rather than large federations in West Africa. E. China China, too, has recently entered the foray—at least verbally—with a resounding denunciation of “imperialist” and “revisionist” support of Nigeria, and a declaration in favor of self-determination for Biafra. Chinese motivations are similarly obscure. Some speculate that the opportunity to align against the West and the Soviet Union at one blow has proved too much of an enticement to resist. Others point to the opportunity afforded by the situation, to experiment with guerrilla warfare—though there has been no indication of any material support for Biafra from the People’s Republic. The crazy-quilt grouping of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the UAR (Egyptian pilots fly most of the MIG’s for the Nigerian Air Force), on one side, and France, China and Portugal on the other (Portugal allows the use of the island of Sao Tome for relief flights) makes clear, at least, the unmitigated and cynical pursuit of selfish interests on the part of the Great Powers, while hundreds of thousands of Africans die each month.
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The Position of African States African governments have, for the most part supported Nigeria—mainly because almost all of them contain potentially secessionist minorities. Four states, on the other hand, have recognized Biafra: Tanzania, Zambia, Gabon and Ivory Coast—though for none is the motivation entirely clear. Prime Minister Nyerere of Tanzania is generally acknowledged to be among the few remaining radicals in power in Africa and, according to the report of some observers, there has been much talk in that country about the radical potential of Biafra. Zambia may support Biafra for similar reasons. The positions of the Ivory Coast and Gabon probably are explicable in terms of continuing French influence within those countries. On the other hand, there has been some speculation that Ivory Coast Prime Minister Felir Hcuphouet-Boigny might have convinced De Gaulle to support Biafra rather than vice versa. It may be noted that Houphouet-Boigny is a long-standing opponent of larger federations in West Africa and was a key figure in the break-up of French West Africa in the 1950’s. OAU Attempts to Resolve the Conflict. Nominally at least, the natural place to resolve this conflict would appear to be the forum of the Organization of African Unity. The OAU was formed in May 1963 by some thirty African countries to coordinate cultural, political, scientific and economic policies on the ground to end colonialism and to promote a common defense of their independence. With this broad mandate it would appear that the OAU should be in a preferred position to help resolve the present conflict. Unfortunately, OAU attempts to bring about negotiation and to terminate hostilities have been notably ineffectual Such efforts were undertaken in July and August of 1968 and each time quickly broke down.
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On September 17, 1968 , the Conference of Foreign Ministers of the OAU passed a resolution which supported Nigeria. At that time, the OAU appealed “to the secessionist leaders to cooperate with the Federal authorities for the purpose of restoring peace and unity to Nigeria.” However, the OAU also recommended that the Federal Military Government of Nigeria cooperate with it in “assuring the personal security of all Nigerians without distinction until mutual confidence is restored.” On the question of humanitarian aid, the OAU appealled “to all interested parties to cooperate with a view to assuring the rapid dispatch of humanitarian aid to all those who need it,” implicitly blaming both Nigerian and Biafran authorities for impeding the shipment of food, medicine, clothing, etc Politically, then, the OAU has backed Nigeria though by relatively innocuous means. Further, though the OAU did not suggest that humanitarian aid should clearly take priority over a political settlement, neither did it declare that a settlement must precede the sending of aid. At present the six-nation consultative committee of the OAU consisting of Cameroon, the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia and Niger, reportedly is trying to bring the two parties together for negotiations in Liberia. The present stalemate in the fighting, and recent reports on the part of international observer teams that there is no evidence for genocide, are cited by the N.Y. Times of November 11 as factors which might induce flexibility on both sides. On the whole, however, it seems futile to hope that the OAU will be able to impose or induce peace or even a cease-fire without the cooperation of the world’s major
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powers. The OAU as yet, at least, lacks the force and cohesiveness to determine matters even in its own area, especially when the major powers are divided and are actively contesting those same affairs. The Attitudes of Private American Groups A. The American Left As surprising as the positions of foreign governments has been the silence and, apparently, even disdain for the Biafran tragedy among the large sections of the American left. One justification advanced within these circles for the lack of protest over the appalling loss of life in the Nigeria-Biafra war has been the argument that “imperialist” powers would like to see Nigeria, the largest and potentially most powerful nation in Africa, further balkanized and weakened, and have accordingly supported the Biafran secessionists. The corollary therefore seems to be that left liberals and radicals must support Nigeria and do nothing to sustain the Biafran breakaway.. Proponents of this argument point to the belated support which France and Portugal have given to Biafra. They ignore, however, the all-out support which Nigeria has been receiving from Great Britain. In this connection, Aviva Cantor Zuckoff has written in the Village Voice of October 17, 1968 : “I’ve been told by American leftists that ‘we cannot waste time on the Biafra thing. There will be Biafras again and again until the revolution. What we have to do is concentrate all our efforts on working toward the revolution. We mustn’t be distracted by temporary crises.’” B. American Negro 0rganizations It might have been expected that civil rights organizations and especially Negro groups would have taken a firm and forthright position on the Biafran matter since it entails a staggering loss of
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life among a black population. Surprisingly, most of the major black organizations in the country have taken no formal position and only a few ad hoc or coordinating groups have found it possible to address themselves to the question in any manner at all. Thus, we have been unable to find any formal statement on Biafra by the NAACP, the Urban League, CORE, SNCC or any of the customary Negro groups. Indeed, among the more radical Negro organizations, the argument is frequently heard that the white community is happily exploiting the Biafran civil war as a way of retreating from its more immediate responsibility for resolving the domestic civil rights crisis Even humanitarian relief activities by white liberal groups have been deprecated as an easy way of appeasing conscience over white failures to promote meaningful black equality in the United States and as a substitute for the harder labors needed toward that end. To be sure, there has not been a total silence on Biafra among blacks, but there has been a disappointing lack of consistent demand and concern among the one segment from which it might most naturally have been expected to emanate. Where positions have been taken by Negroes in this country they have for the most part sought to ameliorate differences in Nigeria/Biafra and have been careful not to express any position on the merits. Thus, on March 24, 1967 , the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa, sponsored by major black organizations throughout the country, sent a cablegram to Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon, head of the Nigerian Federal Government, and to each of the four regional chiefs of state, including Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu of the Eastern Region. The cablegram expressed the pride of Negro Americans in “the emergence of the independent nation of Nigeria in 1960,” and added that “now events cause us to fear the
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breakup of Nigeria and. the prospect of bloody civil war.” “We ask our brothers in Nigeria,” the leaders continued, “to mediate their differences for the sake of us all, to make new starts at resolving their conflicts.” During June and July, the Conference sent its director, Mr. Theodore B. Brown, to consult with African leaders in Nigeria. On October 30, the Conference sent another cablegram to Lt. General Gowon which stated: “As the war goes in Nigeria, Americans of African descent become increasingly alarmed at the mounting bloodshed and misery. We offer again our hand in friendship in any effort to bring the bloodshed to an immediate end…We hope that the six heads of the Organization of African Unity will be able to undertake their mission as soon as possible.” On August 2, 1968 , with the problem of mass starvation becoming increasingly acute, 15 leaders of religious, civil rights, labor and minority group organizations sent a cable to the heads of the Nigerian and Biafran delegations then meeting at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The signers noted that “continuation of the conflict, with its attendant streams of refugees and the already devastating rate of starvation among the civilian population, is intolerable to concerned world opinion. The first human right is the right to life, yet the war and hunger are annihilating the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and potentially of millions.” The signers pledged their “strongest efforts to secure massive relief supplies and full cooperation in the supervision and all technical details of delivering food and medicine.” Negro signatories to this cablegram included James Farmer, chairman, National Advisory Board, Congress of Racial Equality; Dorothy Height, president, National Council of Negro Women; A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and
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vice president of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations; Bayard Rustin, executive director, A. Philip Randolph Institute; and Roy Wilkins, executive director, National Associat:ion for the Advancement of Colored People. In addition, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP issued the following statement: “The need for feeding the starving millions transcends all military arid political considerations. It is to be devoutly wished that all parties concerned will summarily end the food blockade as they increase their efforts to negotiate a lasting peace.” It has been suggested that the lack of a sustained and effective response to the Biafran tragedy reflects a general cultural phenomenon which in general is willing to accord greater sanctity to political purpose than to human life. C. Statements by Jewish Groups Although as is noted below Jewish organizations have recently become actively engaged in relief efforts, few of them have found occasion to issue formal pronouncements on the present conflict. It is noteworthy however that the World Jewish Congress at its last meeting of its Governing Council in Geneva on July 8, 1968, adopted the following resolution: “The World Jewish Congress records its deep distress at the unspeakable human suffering caused by the conflict over Biafra. This tragic situation imposes an inescapable obligation on the nations of the world community to take urgent steps to help to bring this conflict to an end. Accordingly, we express the earnest hope that the appropriate organs of the United Nations will take the necessary measures to organize a cease fire and to alleviate the hunger and suffering which is taking a toll of uncounted lives.”
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And in August, Dr. Nahum Goldman, President of the World Jewish Congress, issued the following statement: “The Jewish people everywhere has watched with growing anguish the unspeakable horrors which have disfigured the conflict over Biafra and the incalculable toll of human suffering which it has exacted. In the name of an immemorial tradition which has never wavered through all the prejudices of our own history, in affirming that the rights of human life and. personality are sacred, we feel impelled to call upon the protagonists to transfer their conflict from the battlefield to the conference table, and to seek peaceful solutions of their differences without delay. We support wholeheartedly the African statesmen who, in the service alike of humanity and the cause of African Unity, have striven with so much dedication for a cease-fire through which succour can be brought to save the defenceless victims of the war who can still be saved. It is imperative that every effort should be made, and without delay, to mobilize help which is today a matter of life and death for many thousands of innocent civilians. I am confident that Jews everywhere will rally to the help of the agencies, national and international which have undertaken to discharge what is our common human obligation. I urge all Jewish communities and representative organisations affiliated to the World Jewish Congress to take an active part in supporting the work of relief and rehabilitation either in close association with bodies already active in the field or, where necessary, to create committees for the purpose of mobilizing the support of their members.” On October 2, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the coordinating body for major national and local Jewish community organizations in the United States, called on the American government to take the lead in organizing a massive airlift of food, medical supplies and other necessities to Biafra. The NRAC further urged the United States to raise the matter at the United Nations, with a view to providing effective humanitarian relief under international auspices.
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Efforts of Church, Religious and Relief Organizations Strenuous efforts have been under way for many months by a wide group of humanitarian and religious groups to airlift food and medical supplies into Biafra. These organizations include the International Red Cross, Caritas, Church World Service (representing Protestant organizations), Catholic Relief Service, the World Council of Churches and the American Jewish Emergency Effort for Biafran Relief. The latter organization comprises a broad assembly of major national American Jewish organizations. While these efforts have been carried out in most instances with great energy and zeal, they are, almost by their very nature, inadequate to meet a challenge of this dimension. The major road block at this moment appears to be the provision of adequate transportation. Recent reports indicate that 15 to 20 planes are landing at Biafra each night. This breaks down to 10-12 from Sao Tome (through the coordination of the Committee of International Church Relief, involving the World Council of Churches, Caritas, Nordchurchaid, German, Dutch, Swiss churches etc.); 6-8 from Fernando Po, mainly ICRC; and 3-4 from Libreville, Gabon, mainly French. Major arms and ammunition flights emanate from Gabon as well and are reported as amounting from 20-30 tons a day. The Ivory Coast also is involved in the shipment of supplies.. The present airlift brings into Biafra 150-180 tons of relief materials a day—a distressingly small amount in terms of the size of the need. If no cease-fire is reached by the end of December, Dr. Herman Middlekoop, now secretary of the Christian Council in Biafra estimates that 3,000 tons a day will be needed to save the Biafran population from
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extermination. Even with improvements in the airstrips at Sao Tome and Fernando Po enabling an increase in flights to about 50 per day, only 500 tons of the 3,000 needed will be able to get through by air. Until now the major problem has-been the unavailability of protein-rich food and this diet deficiency has exacted its greatest toll among growing children and young adults. Early in December 1968, Middlekoop estimated that Biafra’s staple supply of carbohydrates—yams and cassava—would run out by the end of the month. He predicted that thereafter a general famine will set in resulting in the deaths of millions of adults as well as children. In addition, Dr. Middlekoop has broadcast an urgent appeal for various drugs and. especially for large stores of measles vaccine for the immediate inoculation of an estimated 2,000,000 children. On the other hand, it is reported that tons of food and medical supplies now lie idle in Nigerian warehouses Red. Cross officials attribute difficulties of distribution to heavy rains, impassable roads, blown-up bridges, requisition of available transportation for military purposes, military intervention and. plain inefficiency. Distribution of supplies seems somewhat better in the Mid-Western State and in the northern parts of the former Eastern Region now under Federal control, and quite poor in Calabar and. the coastal areas. In the former areas, suffering is largely confined to refugee camps and hospitals, although there are other areas of overcrowding and disease. In Calabar and the coastal region, the death rate is extremely high, perhaps because of greater interference by the Nigerian military. Since September the IEC and UNICEF have been able to transport to these areas only about twelve tons of supplies each day.
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Further Steps Despite the good intention and diligent efforts of many private organizations throughout the world it is increasingly apparent that these groups alone cannot begin to do the job necessary to preserve life in the distressed areas of Biafra. Although private organizations have been reluctant to approach governments because of their unwillingness to engage in actions that might be represented as political, the hard truth is that the massive assistance indispensable to save lives realistically can come only from government sources. This does not mean that private assistance should not be continued or that energetic efforts to solicit private contributions should not be made, It is noteworthy, however, that until now American private relief efforts combined have produced only an estimated 5 million dollars while the United States alone, as noted earlier, has already extended 18 million dollars relief and is reported to be ready to commit an additional 20 million dollars. The relative size of the sums is a sufficient explanation of the emerging consensus that it is necessary to apply to government agencies if any large numbers of human lives are to be salvaged.. Even more sobering is the view of many observers that even large-scale governmental assistance at this stage will he ineffectual unless carried out within the context of a cease-fire. They point out that the effective distribution of supplies and the necessary rehabilitation of the land cannot proceed in the midst of active conflict and that realistically the only way to prevent the anticipated enormous human losses is for both sides immediately to accept a stand-still cease fire.
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Again, however true this analysis may be, many private groups are reluctant to urge this view upon their governments because of an unwillingness even to appear to be adopting a partisan position on the merits .of the Biafran conflict. Private groups understandably are unwilling to become embroiled in the political disputes that now ravage many African states and that are especially virulent in Nigeria/Biafra. They are afraid that support for a cease-fire would be construed as tantamount to urging the imposition of peace which would redound to the principal benefit of one of the contending parties. They argue that a stand-still cease-fire would necessarily produce a pro tanto victory for the secessionists—it would allow the Biafrans to retain possession of the territory, however small, that their forces now control. And thus to that extent it would detract from the sovereignty of Nigeria and from its assertion of plenary authority over its claimed territory. Many Americans moreover are circumspect about recommending a policy of intervention in the affairs of other governments, even in the form of a cease-fire. They are reluctant to recommend any position which arguably implicates our government in the settlement or determination of the political affairs of governments far from our shores. They allege that this applies with special force in the case of a controversy on the continent of Africa in which other African States remain unwilling to become involved or even to recommend a cease-fire because of the possible political connotations.
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On the other hand there are others in the United States who reject the proposition that a U.S. call for an end to the fighting would be in any way improper or would amount to a form of “intervention.” They insist that the humanitarian considerations are so clear and overriding as to exclude a sudden meticulous preoccupation with the prerogatives of sovereignty. They point out that a nice hesitancy about influencing the affairs of other states would preclude any form of protest or exercise of influence with respect to such matters as apartheid in South Africa, the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union or the imprisonment of Jews in the U.A.R. They argue that to be silent now despite certain knowledge that a continuation of the fighting in Biafra will inexorably result in the extirpation of tens of thousands of people would constitute a kind of moral enervation, if not callousness, that ought to be unthinkable only a generation after World War II. Moreover, to limit community engagement merely to efforts to obtain relief shipments, however vital and important, knowing that at this stage relief efforts can only salvage a small percentage of those now in line for death, is to abdicate the responsibility incumbent on all mankind when confronted with urgent tragedy of such dimension. Since in our own lifetime a share of the world Jewry was itself victimized by genocide, it might be expected that Jews especially would be responsive to the present danger in Biafra. At the same time however some Jewish spokesmen have cautioned against a disproportionate expression of Jewish interest. They warn that Jewish concern might be misconstrued as deriving principally from the fact that a large percentage of the Nigerians are followers of Islam and that the principal
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allies of the Nigerian government against the secessionists include the principal enemies of Israel, namely, the Soviet Union and. the United Arab Republic. This argument seems doubtful. It is indeed sometimes alleged that Biafra now is being used by Soviet and UAR forces as a kind of testing ground of men and materiel for the Middle East—as previously noted, Egyptian pilots fly Russian MIG’s in missions over Biafra—in a manner not dissimilar from the way the Spanish Civil War was used by Fascist forces before World War II. To be sure, it is primarily the partisans of Biafra who make the charge. But if it were true it would appear only to add the concern Jews must feel for any human aggregate which can reasonably be said to stand in danger of genocide. The fact that the enemies of Israel happen to be combined against Biafra may not be sufficient reason for Jews to support the secessionists but neither is it a reason for them to deny a natural sense of compassion and sympathy. Critics of Biafra observe that the loss of human life is directly attributable to the separationist attempt and that if, indeed, the saving of life is paramount, the simplest and sanest method would be for Biafra to abandon its secessionist campaign and thus forestall any further taking of life. By the same logic Nigerian authorities warn against further intensive campaigns for relief, however humanely motivated. They insist that these efforts can only extend the conflict and thus enhance the ultimate loss of life. This proposition has a certain plausibility and merit. But it is the kind of argument that applies in any armed conflict. Obviously, in any war if one side were to capitulate and surrender, the loss of life would come to a halt. To apply these same strictures to the
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Middle East, it might be argued that if the Israelis really were apprehensive about the loss of Jewish life the surest way to prevent Jewish fatalities would be to yield to Arab demands and accept Arab domination. Plainly this cost is too high in the Middle East and is likely to be too high in the case of Biafra. Combatants in any conflict, as it were by definition, reject the view that the losses they sustain are more important than the political ends they pursue. But even in non-pacifist terms, this does not detract from the absolute value of those lives or the absolute tragedy occasioned by their loss. The people of Biafra are committed to a nationalist cause; whether right or wrong, they are unlikely to be persuaded now voluntarily to go out of business or to lay down their arms. This is especially so when in their view they run the risk in the event of defeat of civilian genocide and of massive reprisals that would decimate their surviving members. The argument in a sense can also be turned around. Biafra at the present time occupies only 1/6 of the original Eastern zone. The amount of physical territory the secessionists retain has been sharply reduced. A standstill cease fire therefore will not entail any large sacrifice of land or sovereignty by Nigeria. The small enclave remaining in the hands of Biafran forces would not seriously detract from Nigerian unity. This fact coupled with the universally conceded prospect of a long, bitter, indefinite and costly stalemate in the field may operate to make Nigerian authorities more amenable to a world-wide demand for a cease-fire. The Nigerian government now occupies so large a share of former Ibo territory as to be able to
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withstand the political shock of a cease-fire. The secessionists are so well entrenched in their present position that it seems unlikely that they can be dislodged in the predictable future. Because of the war the drain of the land, people and resources is enormous and for an under-developed state like Biafra, ultimately intolerable. The only rational course left is to call an end to the fighting and begin the task of salvaging human lives. Obviously concurrent with political efforts both by our own government and by international agencies to stop the war, more immediate efforts to provide emergency relief both private and governmental must continue. Every means must be used to avoid the imminent starvation. History suggests that every age has its own time of moral trial. It is perhaps not too much to believe that Biafra fulfills that role for this generation. December 15, 1968