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OIL, BRITISH INTERESTS AND THE NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR*

  • CHIBUIKE UCHE (a1)
Abstract

Using newly available evidence, mainly from the Public Records Office (now the National Archive) in London, this article attempts to unravel the true extent of the role that British oil interests played in the decision of the British government to insist on a ‘One Nigeria’ solution in the Nigeria/Biafra conflict. While the official position of the British government was that its main interest in the Nigeria conflict was to prevent the break-up of the country along tribal lines, the true position was more complex. Evidence in this paper suggests that British oil interests played a much more important role in the determination of the British attitude to the war than is usually conceded. Specifically, Britain was interested in protecting the investments of Shell-BP in Nigerian oil. Furthermore, Britain was also at the time desperate to keep Nigerian oil flowing in order to mitigate the impact of its domestic oil shortfalls caused by the Middle East Six Day War. Supporting a ‘One Nigeria’ solution was considered its safest bet in order to achieve the above objectives.

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1 At the onset of the conflict (May 1967), 404,000 barrels of crude oil per day, representing 65 per cent of total Nigerian crude oil production, originated from this region. See Estrange to Davies, 2 Aug. 1968 (Public Records Office [PRO]/FCO/38/321, fo. 54).

2 See, for instance, O. Obasanjo, My Command: An Account of the Nigerian Civil War 1967–1970 (London, 1980); A. Madiebo, The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War (Enugu, 1980); C. Ojukwu, Biafra, vol. I: Selected Speeches with Journal of Events (New York, 1969); C. Ojukwu, Biafra, vol. II: Random Thoughts (New York, 1969); N. Akpan, The Struggle for Secession 1966–1970: A Personal Account of the Nigerian Civil War (London, 1972); and N. Graham-Douglas, Ojukwu's Rebellion and World Opinion (n.p., 1969).

3 See, for instance, S. Cronje, The World and Nigeria: The Diplomatic History of the Biafran War 1967–1970 (London, 1972); F. Forsyth, The Making of an African Legend: The Biafran Story (London, 1978); Nafziger, E., ‘The political economy of disintegration in Nigeria’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 11 (1973), 505–36; J. St. Jorre, The Nigerian Civil War (London, 1972); and I. Nzimiro, Nigerian Civil War: A Study in Class Conflict (Enugu, 1982).

4 See, for instance, Nafziger, E., ‘The economic impact of the Nigerian civil war’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 10 (1972), 223–45; E. Nafziger, The Economics of Political Instability (Colorado, 1983); R. Ogbudinkpa, The Economics of the Nigerian Civil War and its Prospects for National Development (Enugu, 1985); O. Awolowo, ‘The financing of the Nigerian civil war and the implication for the future economy of the nation’ (paper delivered under the Joint Auspices of the Geographical Society and the Federalist Society of Nigeria, Ibadan, 16 May 1970); Aboyade, O. and Ayida, A., ‘The war economy in perspective’, Nigerian Journal of Economic and Social Studies, 13 (1971), 1335; and Uche, C., ‘Money matters in a war economy: the Biafran experience’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 8 (2002), 2954.

5 See, for instance, Okolo, A., ‘The political economy of the Nigerian oil sector and the civil war’, Quarterly Journal of Administration, 15 (1981), 113; Kirk-Greene, A., ‘The genesis of the Nigerian civil war and the theory of fear’, The Scandinavian Institute of African Studies Research Report, 2 (1975), 67; Nafziger, E. and Richter, W., ‘Biafra and Bangladesh: the political economy of secessionist conflict’, Journal of Peace Research, 13 (1976), 104–5; Post, K., ‘Is there a case for Biafra?International Affairs, 44 (1968), 33; Diamond, S., ‘Who Killed Biafra?Kroniek van Africa (1970), 45–61; J. Onoh, The Nigerian Oil Economy: From Prosperity to Glut (London, 1983), 107–8; S. Pearson, Petroleum and the Nigerian Economy (Stanford, 1970), 138–9; Bienen, H., ‘Oil revenues and policy choice in Nigeria’, World Bank Staff Working Paper, 592 (1983), 4; and A. Ikein, The Impact of Oil on a Developing Country: The Case of Nigeria (New York, 1990), 65.

6 As will be shown later, right from the onset of the war, the British government deliberately downplayed the importance of Nigerian oil in its calculations.

7 This is perhaps because, long before oil became a factor in Nigerian politics, Britain insisted on ‘One Nigeria’ because it expected that ‘A united Nigeria would … be a major player in African politics and thereby a vehicle … for maintaining British interests more broadly in an independent Africa. British policy, as it was accepted that self-government was approaching, was determined to create a Nigeria that would be a powerful force in Africa and this required a united Nigeria rather than a balkanized one’. M. Lynn, Nigeria, Managing Political Reform 1843–1953: Part 1 (London, 2001), lxx.

8 See, for instance, the contribution of Mr. Michael Stewart, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the British parliament on 12 June 1968 (FCO/65/156).

9 PRO FCO 65/157. This advice was no doubt accepted as the British government officially downplayed their economic interest in Nigeria throughout the war.

10 ‘Nigeria is important as a source of oil to the UK and to the West as a whole mainly by virtue of its geographical position i.e. it is outside the Middle East and west of the Suez Canal. For the UK, the fact that this is a large supply in the Sterling Area is also of importance. The crude is of good quality, being low in sulphur content, and reasonably cheap to produce. Furthermore, it is expected that within the next few years, Nigeria will join the “big league” of oil producing countries. Shell have told us in confidence that they expect that total production from Nigeria as a whole might by 1971 reach 2 million barrels a day … 60 percent of which is expected to be from the Shell-BP concessions’. See Confidential 1967 Memorandum, ‘Nigerian oil’ (PRO/CO 221/45).

11 See Secret Brief for Minister of State by Ministry of Power, 6 July 1967 (PRO/FCO 38/111, fo. 118).

12 Secret Memorandum, ‘Nigeria: Cabinet’, 10 Dec. 1968, by A. T. Gregory of the UK Petroleum Division (POWE 63/406). It has been pointed out that the evidence in this paper could also be used to contribute to the debate on the role of British businesses in the decolonization process. I have, however, chosen not to extend this research in that direction, partly because, unlike most of the literature on the role of British businesses in decolonization, the period covered by this paper is post independence. Furthermore, the direct impact of the Nigerian conflict on British domestic oil supplies may complicate any analysis in the above direction. This is because, under such circumstances, British business interests and opinions would arguably play only a secondary role. For various views and summaries on the role of British businesses in decolonization, in both specific and general contexts, see: R. Tignor, Capitalism and Nationalism at the End of Empire: State and Business in Decolonizing Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya, 1945–1963 (Princeton, 1998); J. Milburn, British Business and Ghanaian Independence (London, 1977); S. Stockwell, The Business of Decolonization: British Business Strategies in the Gold Coast (Oxford, 2000); P. Cain and A. Hopkins, British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion, 1688–1914 (London, 1993); P. Cain and A. Hopkins, British Imperialism: Crisis and Deconstruction, 1914–1990 (London, 1993); J. Hargreaves, Decolonization in Africa (2nd ed., London, 1996); and W. Louis, ‘The dissolution of the British empire’, in J. Brown and W. Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. IV: 20th Century (Oxford, 1999).

13 ‘The problem is quite simply how to integrate the ancient emirates of the North into the rest of the country to form a unitary state. It is a simple matter of fact that nowhere in the world has it been possible to combine satisfactorily under a single central government, except in the cases of imperial domination, Mohammedan and non Mohammedan states. It would be otiose to draw up the list. An integral Mohammedan society forms a closed society; and as such cannot be asked to accept a central government over which it has no guaranteed control. Its cultural affinity is with the rest of the Islamic world and those who do not belong to this world form a foreign element that can never be truly accepted into the society. These incontrovertible sociological factors must be respected and any attempt to ignore them can only lead to failure. The founders of the federation did not respect these factors and the story of Nigeria between Independence and the first military coup is the story of the struggle to control the government of the country by the Northern Premier; the suppression, one by one, of all opposition; and the final breakdown of Government throughout the country’. See ‘A memorandum on Nigeria’, forwarded to Prime Minister Wilson by the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Heenan (PRO/FCO 65/458, 6 Dec. 1969). See also The Economist, 24 Oct. 1970, vii–xii.

14 See, for instance, Hiskett, M., ‘Lugard and the amalgamation of Nigeria: a documentary record [book review]’, African Affairs, 70 (1971), 188.

15 See, for instance, Report of the Commission on Revenue Allocation (Lagos, 1951, ‘Hicks–Phillipson Report’), 68; O. Osadolor, ‘The development of the federal idea and the federal framework’, in K. Amuwo, A. Agbaje, R. Suberu and G. Herault (eds.), Federalism and Political Restructuring in Nigeria (Ibadan, 1998), 35; R. Nwokedi, Revenue Allocation and Resource Control in Nigerian Federation (Enugu, 2001), 20; and Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Political Bureau (Lagos, 1987), 169.

16 As late as 1958, the members of the British Willink Commission, appointed to inquire into the fears of the minority tribes, remarked that ‘the northern Region has remained behind the protective wall of the Colonial government as an Islamic society, singularly unaffected by change in the rest of the World; Islamic law of the Maliki school is administered, purdah is observed by women, and western innovations are in some quarters regarded with disfavour’. Quoted in A. Waugh and S. Cronje, Biafra: Britain's Shame (London, 1969), 19.

17 ‘The allocation of the proceeds of mining royalties has presented us with a most perplexing problem. Although the revenues from columbite royalties rose rapidly at the time of the American stockpiling in 1953–55, royalties on tin, columbite and coal, normally yield a fairly constant annual sum. If these were the only minerals concerned, there might be no difficulty in our recommending the continuation of the present system … The problem is oil. Test production of oil has already started in the Eastern Region and exploration is being undertaken in both the North and the West. While the yield from oil royalties is at present comparatively small, … we cannot ignore the possibility that the figure may rise very markedly within the next few years … There is therefore a double obstacle in our recommending the simple continuation of the existing method of allocating mineral royalties. First, it would involve us, in our revenue assessment for the next few years, in crediting the Eastern Region with a source of income which is at once too uncertain to build upon, and too sizeable to ignore. Secondly, it would rob our recommendations of any confident claim to stability for the future since oil development might take place in any one of the Regions on a scale, which would quite upset the balance of national development, which it is part of our task to promote … Our considered conclusion therefore is that the time for change is now, while there is still uncertainty as to which of the Regions may be the lucky beneficiary or which may benefit the most’. See Colonial Office, Nigeria, Report of the Fiscal Commission (London, 1958 [‘Raisman Report’]), 24. See also Robinson, M., ‘Nigerian oil: prospects and perspectives’, Nigerian Journal of Economic and Social Studies, 6 (1964), 219.

18 ‘Raisman Report’, 31–2.

19 Waugh and Cronje, Biafra, 29–30. See also B. Smith, But Always as Friends: Northern Nigeria and the Cameroons, 1931–1957 (London, 1969), 237–9.

20 Waugh and Cronje, Biafra, 31.

21 See, for instance, Aligwekwe, E., ‘Biafra: reflections on the nation state in Sub Saharan Africa’, Insight and Opinion, 3 (1968), 41–5; and Panter-Brick, S. K., ‘Biafra’, Institute of Commonwealth Studies Collected Seminar Papers, 19 (1976), 31–3 (‘Collected Papers on the Politics of Separatism’).

22 See confidential Commonwealth Relations Office document, ‘Nigeria: the new regime’, 10 Feb. 1966, 8 (PRO/DO/221/85).

23 11 Mar. 1966, 2 (PRO/DO/186/28).

24 See July 1965 Intelligence Report on the Nigerian Armed Forces (PRO/DO/195/426). See also Chadwide to Garner, 28 Feb. 1965 (PRO/DO/195/426).

25 See July 1965 Intelligence Report on the Nigerian Armed Forces (PRO/DO/195/426).

26 This may have been influenced by the drastic change in recruitment patterns in the Nigerian Army shortly after independence. Along these lines, it has been asserted that: ‘efforts to balance regional representation were made through the introduction of a quota system in 1961 requiring 50 pct. from the North and 25 pct from each of the two southern regions. As a result, cleavages in peer groups, ranks and educational backgrounds reinforced ethnic and regional differentiations’. Baker, P., ‘Why Nigeria collapsed’, Africa Today, 20 (1973), 82–3. British colonial officers advised the North on the need for such regional representation in the Army as a constitutional safeguard. See Smith, But Always as Friends, 365.

27 Francis Cumming-Bruce to Sir Saville Garner, 4 Feb. 1966 (PRO/DO/221/85). Abubakar was the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria while Senanayake was the first Prime Minister of independent Sri Lanka. See also Kirk-Greene, A., ‘The peoples of Nigeria: the cultural background to the crisis’, African Affairs, 66 (1967), 4.

28 PRO/DO/221/85, 6. In another memorandum, a British Foreign Office official, John Balfour asserted that: ‘A sharp blow has been dealt to the power of the feudal north which under the domination of the Sardauna, was acting as a brake on social progress in that region and on inter-tribal reconciliation in the country as a whole’ See ‘The Nigerian situation’, 22 Feb. 1966 (PRO/FO 371/187870).

29 10 Feb. 1966, 7 (PRO/DO/221/85). ‘[T]here are over 1,000 British officers performing in Nigerian Government service key jobs for which qualified Nigerian are not available. Another 500 work in the universities and schools. Also the essential public utilities such as electricity, railways, and telephones, depend very much on senior British staff’. See British High Commissioner in Nigeria to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 17 Feb. 1966, 2–3 (PRO/DO/186/28).

30 S. Panter-Brick, ‘From military coup to civil war: January 1966 to May 1967’, in S. Panter-Brick (ed.), Nigerian Politics and Military Rule: Prelude to the Civil War (London, 1970), 24; O'Connell, J., ‘The Ibo massacres and secession’, Venture, 21 (1969), 23; Fanso, V., ‘Leadership and national crisis in Nigeria: Gowon and the Nigerian civil war’, Présence Africaine, 109 (1979), 35; Baker, R., ‘The emergence of Biafra: balkanization or nation-building?Orbis, 12 (1968), 523; and Ekpebu, L., ‘Nigeria: background to the crisis’, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana Research Review, 5 (1969), 35. British officers like Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith, the then Governor of the Northern Region helped to foster this Northern position. See Waugh and Cronje, Biafra, 29–30.

31 According to the Guardian [London] Newspaper of 12 June 1966: ‘Inflammatory pamphlets, professionally printed, suddenly appeared all over the North. However popular the Northern protests, it looked as if someone was organizing and paying the bills’. Quoted by A. Akinyemi, The British and the Nigerian Civil War: The Godfather Complex (Ibadan, 1979), 14.

32 The British High Commissioner in Nigeria at the time wrote: ‘Gowon has the same kind of pragmatic approach as Abubarkar. He has no patience with extremist African demands and would like to help us’. Letter to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, 7 Sept. 1966 (PRO/PREM/13/1040).

33 See, for instance, Waugh and Cronje, Biafra, 35–6 and Vincent, S., ‘Should Biafra survive?Transition, 32 (1967), 54.

34 See undated Colonial Office Memorandum by Mr. Larmour (PRO/FCO/65/452). This was not surprising, especially given the evident preference of the British for Northerners. Lyttelton, Governor General of Nigeria in the 1950s, once asserted that: ‘we cannot let the North down. They are more than half the population, more attached to the British and more trustful of the Colonial Service than the others too’. Quoted in Lynn, Nigeria, lxix.

35 Sunday Telegraph, 9 Feb. 1969. Unfortunately, archival evidence that may have helped unravel the extent of possible British complicity in the murder of Ironsi has since been destroyed. Specifically, two important Foreign and Commonwealth Office reports, ‘The Nigerian revolution: the first hundred days’ and ‘Nigeria: the military government's record’, were removed and destroyed by J. R. Green of the Prime Minister's Office on 8 Mar. 1996. This was shortly before the documents were to be made public. These reports, dated 6 and 7 June 1966, respectively, were produced shortly after the promulgation of the ‘Unification Decree’ and before the overthrow of General Ironsi (PRO/PREM/13/1040).

36 Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce to Sir Morrice James, 1 Oct. 1966 (PRO/PREM/13/1041, No. 121058). See also Akinyemi, A., ‘The British press and the Nigerian civil war’, African Affairs, 71 (1972), 415.

37 ‘The Northern murderers are certainly making it as difficult as possible for the East to refrain from secession. The disastrous consequences for the Northern economy are brushed aside by even sophisticated Northerners as secondary to the need to make it quite impossible for the Ibos ever again to aspire to play any decisive part in the North on the lines that almost all Northerners believe that the Ironsi regime intended to establish an Ibo stranglehold. This is not a rational reaction and cannot be countered by logical argument: it derives from hatred, fear and a sense of inferiority in the modern competitive race’. Francis Cumming Bruce to Sir Morrice James, 1 Oct. 1966 (PRO/PREM/13/1041). See also C. Mgonja, ‘Statement on Tanzania's recognition of Biafra’, Kroniek van Africa, 1 (1968).

38 Memorandum from British High Commissioner to Sir Morris James of the Commonwealth Office, 1 Oct. 1966, 10 (PRO/PREM/13/1041).

39 In a memorandum dated 1 Oct. 1966, to Commonwealth Office in London, the then British High Commissioner explicitly asserted that he ‘was entirely satisfied that there was no question of Ojukwu declaring U.D.I. unless this seemed to be the only means of avoiding Northern action to split the East and deprive the Ibos of the lion's share in the oil revenues’ (PRO/PREM/13/1041). See also Cumming Bruce to Commonwealth Office, 6 Sept. 1966 (PRO/PREM/13/1040).

40 Briefing notes for the Prime Minister for his meeting with the Nigerian High Commissioner, Brigadier Ogundipe and Mr. V. A. Adegoroye, 27 Sept. 1966 (PRO/PREM/13/1040).

41 Footnote to the briefing notes for the Prime Minister for his meeting with the Nigerian High Commissioner, Brigadier Ogundipe and Mr. V A Adegoroye, 28 Sept. 1966 (PRO/PREM/13/1040). See also J. Nyerere, The Nigeria-Biafra Crisis (Dar es Salaam, 1969), 4.

42 PRO/PREM/13/1040.

43 ‘In the new circumstances, it must clearly be the principal object of British policy to avoid doing anything which could seriously antagonize the State of Biafra in case it is successful in vindicating its independence. Our interests, particularly in oil, are so great that they must override any lingering regret we may feel for the disintegration of British made Nigeria’. British High Commissioner in Nigeria to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, 7 July 1967 (PRO/FO/25/232, fo. 32).

44 See Estrange to Davies, 2 Aug. 1968 (PRO/FCO/38/321, fo. 54).

45 British High Commissioner to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, 27 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/112).

46 As will be seen later, the Middle East crisis at the time made Nigerian oil even more important for Britain.

47 See Estrange to Davies, 2 Aug. 1968 (PRO/FCO 38/321, fo. 54).

48 Financial Times, 15 Mar. 1967. See also Davies to Miles, 23 Mar. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/108).

49 Miles to James, 30 Mar. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/108).

50 Confidential File Document, 30 Mar. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/108).

51 At the time, less than 10 per cent of Eastern Region oil was produced in the Ibo-dominated East Central State. See Rivers State, The Oil Rich Rivers State (Port Harcourt, 1967), 5.

52 Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Enugu to Shell BP, 21 July 0967 (PRO/FCO/38/112).

53 The fact that the majority of its operation was in the East no doubt influenced Shell-BP in developing sympathy for Biafra from the onset. Many of its senior members of staff were Ibos and the ‘infectious atmosphere’ must have influenced many of the Europeans. See British High Commissioner to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, 27 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/112). Also, the general expectation was that Biafra would receive the royalty – See, for instance, The Economist, 24 June 1967, 1382.

54 Lagos to Commonwealth Office, Telegram No. 1246, 22 June 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/110).

55 Steel to Hetherington, 30 June 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111, fo. 87).

56 Steel to Hetherington, Secret Memorandum on Nigeria, 3 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/110, fo. 82).

57 See Shell BP to His Excellency, the Military Governor of Biafra, 1 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/112).

58 Biafra, however, never received this money. According to a Confidential Telegram (No. 1418, 14 July 1967), from the Commonwealth Office to Lagos: ‘Exchange Control permission on Shell/B.P.'s request to pay £250,000 into a Swiss Bank Account or in Swiss Francs is being held up. You may inform Federal Authorities at your discretion … If Shell asks them formally why a decision is being delayed, the Bank of England propose to say that this is on the technical grounds that payments between Sterling area countries should be over resident account. For your information, we have asked HM Treasury to withhold permission for political reasons. Shell knows about the decision which apparently suits them because they do not wish to set a precedent which might involve them in having to pay foreign currency to other oil producing countries’ (PRO/FCO/38/111, fo. 153).

59 Secret Memorandum from Steel to Hetherrington, 3 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/110, fo. 82).

60 See Secret Brief for Minister of State, ‘Nigerian tanker blockade: effects on oil supplies’, 6 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111).

61 The Economist, 8 July 1967, 136. At the time, a bill, empowering the British government to introduce oil rationing had been introduced in parliament. See Telegram No. 1300 from the Commonwealth Office to Lagos, 5 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111).

62 See Telegram No. 1687 from Lagos to Commonwealth Office, 5 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/68/111).

63 See Undated Confidential Memorandum, ‘Negotiations with Nigerians’ (PRO/FCO/38/111) and Confidential Telegram No. 1397 to Commonwealth Office, 6 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111). See also Confidential Telegram No. 1418 addressed to the Commonwealth Office London, 8 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111). It is clear that the 1967 Middle East oil crisis was the main reason why Britain was desperate to get the Nigerian government to lift the oil blockade. Britain was careful not to admit this publicly because this could harden the determination of the Arabs and hand Gowon a blackmail tool.

64 See Forster to Pallise, ‘Nigeria’, 7 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111, fo. 136).

65 Steel to Hetherington, Secret Memorandum on Nigeria, 13 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/112, fo. 159). See also Confidential Telegram to Commonwealth Office, 10 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111).

66 Lagos to Commonwealth Office, Confidential Telegram No. 1434, 10 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111, fo. 130).

67 Steel to Hetherington, Secret Memorandum on Nigeria, 30 June 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111, fo. 87).

68 For an indepth analysis of the origins of colonial power rivalry and cooperation in Africa, see J. Kent, The Internationalization of Colonialism: Britain, France and Black Africa, 1939–1965 (Oxford, 1992).

69 See, for instance, Wrigley, C., ‘Historicism in Africa: slavery and state formation’, African Affairs, 70 (1971), 122; Umozurike, U., ‘The domestic jurisdiction clause in the OAU Charter’, African Affairs, 78 (1979), 201; Mayall, J., ‘Oil and Nigeria foreign policy’, African Affairs, 75 (1976), 317; Herbst, J., ‘The creation and maintenance of national boundaries in Africa’, International Organization, 43 (1989), 676; and J. Stremlau, The International Politics of the Nigerian Civil War (Princeton, 1977), 12.

70 British High Commissioner Lagos to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, 27 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/112).

71 See Chief Secretary to the Military Governor of Biafra to Shell BP, 29 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/113). According to the Financial Times (11 Aug. 1967): ‘The statement did not spell out what the takeover meant but the phrase “for purposes of protection” suggests that it may be premature to assume that Shell BPs £200m has been nationalized or will not be returned when the civil war ends’ (PRO/FCO/38/112, fo. 214).

72 Cable from Shell BP Lagos to SIPC London, 1 Aug. 1968 (PRO/FCO/38/112).

73 According to an undated confidential Foreign and Colonial Office memorandum, ‘Nigeria: a background note on British interests and the government's approach to the civil war’: ‘We have no ambitions other than the preservation of our traditional interests in Nigeria … But the Russians are using the increasing Nigerian dependence on them for arms supplies to effect a growing penetration of Nigeria. A Russian foothold in this, in many respects the most important of West African states, would be contrary to the interests of ourselves and our friends. This consideration has not so far weighed greatly with the French, who despite their denials are believed to be assisting the supply of arms to Biafra. Their objective appears to be the breakup of Nigeria, which threatens by its size and potential to over shadow France's client francophone states in West Africa’ (PRO/FCO/65/179).

74 Brown, N., ‘Arms supply’, Venture, 21 (1969), 8; and Elaigwu, J., ‘The Nigerian civil war and the Angolan civil war’, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 12 (1977), 218.

75 For a detailed analysis of the reasons behind Soviet support for Nigeria, see G. Obiozor, ‘Soviet involvement in the Nigerian civil conflict’, in U. Damachi and H. Seibel (eds.), Social Change and Economic Development in Nigeria (New York, 1973); and Ogunbadejo, O., ‘Nigerian–Soviet relations’, African Affairs, 87 (1988), 83104.

76 ‘Strictly Confidential’ memorandum, ‘Shell-BP in Nigeria’, 9 Dec. 1968 (PRO/POWE/63/406, fo. 75/1).

77 ‘Nigeria: France's Biafra bombshell’, Africa Confidential, 16 (9 Aug. 1968), 2.

78 Sunday Telegraph, 9 Feb. 1969. See also Z. Cervenka, The Nigerian War, 1967–1970 (Frankfurt, 1971), 115.

79 Uche, C., ‘The politics of monetary sector cooperation among the Economic Community of West African States members’, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 2647 (2001), 1314; Ogunbadejo, O., ‘Nigeria and the Great Powers: the impact of the civil war on Nigerian foreign relations’, African Affairs, 75 (1976), 21; and Perham, M., ‘Reflections on the Nigerian civil war’, International Affairs, 46 (1970), 241. See also Confidential Memorandum from the British Embassy in Paris to the West African Department, Foreign and Colonial Office, 16 Dec. 1968 (PRO/FCO/65/267).

80 For detailed analyses of the various Francophone West African countries' positions, see: Baker, R., ‘The role of the Ivory Coast in the Nigeria–Biafra war’, African Scholar, 1 (1970); M. Peepy, ‘France's relations with Africa’, African Affairs, 69 (1970); and D. Bach, ‘Le Général de Gaulle et la guerre civile au Nigéria’, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 14 (1980).

81 See Estrange to Davies, 2 Aug. 1968 (PRO/FCO/38/321, fo. 54).

82 ‘Nigeria: France's Biafra bombshell’, 2. See also ‘French interests in Nigeria’, Africa Confidential, 25 (22 Dec. 1967), 1–2.

83 ‘The Federal Government believes that SAFRAP, the State-owned French Petroleum Company, is the channel for the subsidies. Clearly if Ojukwu wins, he will cancel the Shell/BP oil concession and turn over this immensely profitable area to the French Company. The odds are against Ojukwu winning even with the help of French mercenaries; but an oil company which is used to spending large sums on speculation in unproductive trial drillings is not likely to blanch at losing £10m or so when there is a chance, however slim, of acquiring properties which cost the present owners £200m’. British High Commission in Nigeria to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, Memorandum, 29 Feb. 1968, ‘Nigeria: progress of the war and prospects for peace’ (PRO/FCO/25/232). See also A. Crawley, De Gaulle: A Biography (London, 1969), 466–7.

84 See Lagos to Commonwealth Office, Cable No. 1387, 5 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/111).

85 Quoted in an internal memorandum by A. J. Collins of the Foreign and Colonial Office, 20 Oct. 1969 (PRO/FCO/65/347/1, fo. 53). See also Hunt to Thomson, 19 January 1968 (PRO/FCO/25/232, fo. 54); and B. Crozier, De Gaulle: The Statesman (London, 1973), 583.

86 Financial Times, 12 Dec. 1968.

87 Secret Memorandum, 10 Dec. 1968 (PRO/FCO/65/267 TNM 121058).

88 For an analysis of the emergence of this OAU position, see Z. Cervenka, ‘The OAU and the Nigerian civil war’, in Y. El-Ayouty (ed.), The Organization of African Unity After Ten Years: Comparative Perspectives (New York, 1975), 152–73.

89 See, for instance, The Economist, 31 Jan. 1970, 32; Guardian, 26 June 1969; and W. Schwarz, ‘Foreign powers and the Nigerian war’, Africa Report (1970), 12–13.

90 Wilson to Tebbit, 30 Oct. 1968 (PRO/FCO/65/178). Also of equal importance was the fact that the British government helped to discourage other Western European powers with sympathy for Biafra from getting involved in the conflict. See Ajibola, W., ‘The British parliament and foreign policy making: a case study of Britain's policy making towards the Nigerian civil war’, Nigerian Journal of Economic and Social Studies, 16 (1974), 133.

91 See, for instance, Ajibola, ‘The British parliament’; and Akinyemi, ‘The British press’, for an analysis of such a divide.

92 ‘The oil company representative … agreed to start some discreet lobbying of M.P.s at once (Shell think they can talk to Mr. Heath). They also agreed that it would be most unwise for us to refer publicly in the House to the importance of oil interests in our calculations or to the risk to the 16,000 British subjects in Nigeria if we went back on our arms policy’. Memorandum from John Wilson to Tebbit: ‘Nigeria: views of the oil companies on likely consequences of H.M.G. being compelled to change their policy of support for the Federal Government on supplying arms’, 9 Dec. 1968 (PRO/T/317/1175, fo. 145).

93 Tebbit to Hunt, 20 Oct. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/113, fo. 273).

94 British High Commissioner Lagos to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, 27 July 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/112).

95 Cable from Shell BP Lagos to SIPC London, 1 Aug. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/112).

96 Lagos to Commonwealth Office, Confidential Telegram No. 1768, 4 Aug. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/112, fo. 216).

97 ‘He … found the atmosphere thoroughly cordial. He had seen all his old contacts in mines and power who were most genial. He had also called on Osinderi at the Ministry of Finance, in the absence of Atta, and handed him a cheque for £450,000 representing a preliminary payment of income tax. In fact the Company could have argued that they owed nothing because they were owed £5M by the Nigerian government being the first repayment of a loan they made to the Federal government in 1964. They had a letter from Festus, then Minister of Finance, saying that they could deduct their £5M from whatever income tax [it] was owing. However they had now agreed to let the repayment of the £5M stand over for the moment’. Confidential Memorandum from the British High Commission in Lagos, 15 Oct. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/113, fo. 267).

98 Estrange to Davies, 2 Aug. 1968 (PRO/FCO/38/321).

99 Dudley, B., ‘The Commonwealth and the Nigeria/Biafra conflict’, Institute of Commonwealth Studies Collected Seminar Papers, 6 (1969), 25 (Collected Papers on the Impact of African Issues on the Commonwealth).

100 Confidential Memorandum from the British High Commission Lagos, 15 Dec. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/113, fo. 292).

101 Confidential Memorandum from the British High Commission Lagos, 15 Oct. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/113). Admittedly, Shell-BP did not disclose all its activities to the Nigerian side. Prior to the war, for instance, the company was the main supplier of aviation fuel to São Tomé. Once the war started, however, São Tomé became a major transit centre for Biafran arms and relief. The result was that Shell-BP was fuelling the planes that carried arms and relief into Biafra. Shell-BP was willing to continue with this profitable arrangement, which was described by the British establishment as ‘a minor conflict of interest’ so long as it did not attract unfavourable publicity. See, Zalik, A., ‘The Niger Delta: “petro violence” and partnership development’, Review of African Political Economy, 101 (2004), 407–8.

102 Restricted Memorandum, ‘The resumption of Nigerian oil supplies’, 27 June 1968 (PRO/FCO/38/321, No. 120903).

103 See Estrange to Davies, 2 Aug. 1968 (PRO/FCO/38/321, fo. 54).

104 Restricted Memorandum, ‘The resumption of Nigerian oil supplies’, 27 June 1968.

105 Tebbit to Hunt, 20 Oct. 1967 (PRO/FCO/38/113, fo. 273).

106 Table 1. See also S. Schatz, ‘A look at the balance sheet’, Africa Report (1970), 19.

107 See S. Meisler, ‘The Nigeria which is not at war’, Africa Report, (1970), 17; and Abiodun, J., ‘Locational effects of the civil war on the Nigerian petroleum industry’, Geographical Review, 64 (1974), 255.

108 For the main sources of Biafran foreign exchange, see Nafziger, Economics of Political Instability, 165–7.

109 Herbst, J., ‘Is Nigeria a viable state?’, Washington Quarterly, 19 (1996), 159; and Uche, C. and Uche, O., ‘Oil and the politics of revenue allocation in Nigeria’, Africa Studies Centre Leiden Working Paper, 54/2004 (Leiden, 2004), 41.

110 In the recently concluded National Political Reforms Conference, called to rewrite the country's Constitution and ease ethnic and religious tensions, resource control was the major divisive issue. Specifically, the delegates of the oil-rich Niger Delta region, or ‘south-south’, demanded an immediate increase in the region's oil revenue share based on derivation from the current 13 per cent to 25 per cent, with a target of 50 per cent within the next five years; the conference offered the region 17 per cent. The group then staged a walk-out and even boycotted the presidential gala where recommendations from the conference were submitted.

111 S. Khan, Nigeria: The Political Economy of Oil (Oxford, 1994), 8–9. See also P. Olayiwola, Petroleum and Structural Change in a Developing Country (New York, 1987), 89; and E. Ahmad and R. Singh, ‘Political economy of oil revenue sharing in a developing country: illustrations from Nigeria’, IMF Working Paper, WP/03/16 (Washington DC, 2003), 3.

* This research has been generously financed by the Institute for French Research in Africa (IFRA). Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the IFRA Seminar in Ibadan, Nigeria (17 Mar. 2005), and the London School of Economics Seminar on Comparative Economic History of Africa, Asia and Latin America (5 May 2005). I thank participants for their constructive criticisms. I am also grateful to Gareth Austin, Sylvanus Cookey and the three anonymous reviewers for the Journal of African History for providing useful guidance.

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