Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Harold Smith, Sir Bernard Bourdillon and everything in between..

In July last year I posted about Harold Smith's claims about vote-rigging by the British government in the 1950's in Nigeria. Below are several strands of follow-up material for the student of Nigerian history:

1. Here is a new guest posting by JG on an article in next month's New African:
The British and election rigging in Nigeria.
Further to the posting on Naijablog with the above title (July 15, 2007), readers may be interested in Osei Boateng’s article in New African (November 2008) that takes up the accusations of election rigging in pre-Independence Nigeria made by Harold Smith.

In ‘A Squalid End to Empire’, Boateng draws attention to ‘official confirmation’ for what Smith alleged, and what a colonial policy maker apparently described as ‘rigging the parliament through official majorities, a restricted franchise and so forth.’

Boateng directs particular attention to a report on ‘The Future Constitutional Development in the Colonies’ in British Documents on the End of Empire. Though published in 2000 and 2001, relevant papers among those documents have not, it seems, been examined in the context of discussion about election rigging in Nigeria.

Boateng writes, somewhat vaguely, that ‘BBC TV has done something on Smith’ but does not indicate what. He does not refer to the July 2007 BBC 4 Documents programme that aired Smith’s charges, a programme that represented an important discussion of the Smith’s charges in the mainstream UK media.

Among the fascinating pieces of information in Boateng’s article is a reference to the strategic importance of Kano international airport to the British. Apparently Sir N. Brook described it as ‘on the air communications line to Uganda, Kenya, the Arabian Peninsula and the Far East’. That may explain a lot.
2. A friend has a copy of the Nigeria-related British Documents on the End of Empire.

Among the key passages from these documents are the following:

"Sir Bernard said that there was no 'Nigerian' feeling, but this would grow in time" - 22-June-1943, Sir Bernard Bourdillion to attendees of a colonial office meeting

"He was confronted with the difficult setting of an artificial unity which existed only on the map. His problem was to build a system which would allow organic growth and make the unity superimposed from outside into a living thing which might progress through varying stages of adolescence to adult nationhood" - 19-Jul-1944, Sir Arthurd Richards talking about Lord Lugard.

"But what of the alternative ? The suggestion is seriously made that all Unofficial Members should be elected by ballot. This is in a country where barely 5% of the population can read or write, where for generations the peasant has been far too concerned with the problem of existence to concern himself with anything but the most petty local affairs, where in large areas the natives, men and women, go unclothed, where cannibalism is still practised, where secret societies based on ju-ju can still indulge in mass murder, where the very leaders of organised labour invoke ju-ju to impart discipline; where the vast populations of the Moslem Emirates are only just emerging from the eastern feudalism of the Middle Ages. To attempt popular election in such circumstances would not be to introduce democracy but a sham disastrous alike to the true interests of the people and to the future of the country" - 9-Jun-1946, Sir Arthur Richards, Letter contesting the validity of the NCNC's proposed visit to the UK to ask for independence.

"...referred with foreboding to the historic conflict between the North and the South of what was now Nigeria; once the British left, he said, the North would continue its interrupted march to the sea" - statement (apparently) made by Tafawa Balewa, March 1947.

"He is quite unscrupulous, and is always ready to say whatever he thinks will appeal to the audience of the moment. He has no regard whatever for the truth, and will make any statement or give any promise which will advance his cause with no more intention of keeping his promises than the late Mr. Hitler had. In fact, his methods in many ways remind one of Hitler, and have possibly been copied from him" 10-Jun-47, Letter from G Beresford Stooke to the CO describing the Colonial Nigerian Government's views on Zik.

"What you are suggesting in effect is that the East and the West should be persuaded to agree to the North having the same representation on the Legislature as the East and the West put together, or something near it, in return for the North agreeing that the central Legislature should not be concerned with regional legislation" - 23-Feb-50, Letter from AB Cohen on the next stage of the constitutional review.

3. Those interested in buying/reading these fascinating documents should start here. The Nigeria documents are Series B, Volume 7. When you scroll down the page, you come to this intro blurb:
Nigeria was Britain's largest colonial dependency in the 1950s and home to one-third of the population of the British empire. This two-part volume of official documents on the evolution of British policy examines Nigeria's move to independence in the years to 1960.

It is a story of policy-making in London and of political pressure from Nigeria, punctuated by riots, communal conflict and regional tensions, and one that has much to say about both Britain's future position in Africa and Nigeria's subsequent history.

Part one covers the years between 1943 and 1953. It begins with the wartime Colonial Office debates over indirect rule and Nigeria's political future. Nigerian reactions to British initiatives and to local economic and political developments are recorded in detail. These are seen first in the increased prominence of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons under Nnamdi Azikiwe, and the subsequent polarisation within Nigerian politics that led eventually to the emergence of the Action Group under Obafemi Awolowo and the Northern People's Congress under the Sardauna of Sokoto.

Part two covers the period from mid-1953 through to independence in October 1960.

Throughout, the documents reveal Britain's explicit aims and ambitions for the future of Nigeria as independence drew closer. Central to ministerial and official thinking in Whitehall was the view that Nigeria would not be ready for independence in 1960.

But rather than forfeit Nigerian goodwill and its place within the Commonwealth, and also to protect British trade with and investment in the country, the decision was made to proceed.

Documents on the future of the Cameroons, as a United Nations Trust Territory administered from Nigeria, are interwoven in the main text and an appendix takes the Cameroons' story from Nigeria's independence through to Britain's withdrawal the following year. Entirely based on hitherto unpublished material and drawn primarily from the records of the Colonial Office, Commonwealth Relations Office, the Foreign Office, and the Cabinet and its committees, this volume will be essential reading for all students of decolonisation and modern African History.

You can buy this volume from Amazon here.


Lost at The End 4:26 pm  

"This is in a country where barely 5% of the population can read or write...To attempt popular election in such circumstances would not be to introduce democracy but a sham disastrous alike to the true interests of the people and to the future of the country"

See, what Richards is doing is undermining the civil potential of the "Nigerian" populace. It's a simple trick.

The British, understandably so, were not interested in nation formation since it did not factor into their economic project.

By nation nation formation, I mean the process whereby the state and citizens develop a co-dependent relationship.

But, lets grant that Richard is remotely right that Nigeria was yet to develop a civil society that could make a national government operational.

The sad reality, though, is that 48 years after independence we are yet to get to the point where we have a civil machinery that can handle a democratic election.

N.I.M.M.O 5:51 pm  


So much information. Will go read more.

R.E.II 8:35 pm  

Dear Jeremy,
I'll check this out.

ababoypart2 11:46 am  

Thanks...order placed with Amazon

Anonymous,  12:13 pm these newly discovered documents prove right the sc. “rule of colonial difference” (Partha Chatterjee)?

Waffarian 2:13 pm  

Oga, I sent you a mail case u no dey check dis ya email!

Anonymous,  8:07 pm  


This is some good stuff!

We know we got screwed over by the Brits...basically, all 1st World countries had to screw some other nation/s to get where they are.

In any case, there is a political blog you need to check out (, that's where I got your blog address.

Take care..Aluta continua!

maitumbi 9:00 am  

I guess the Brits royally screwed up. But in retrospect, I can say with the hindsight of 48 years history that if they hadn't ffed us up, we are royally willing and able to do it ourselves.

Bobby 7:26 am  

Great Stuff. The Brits had no business leaving us the time they did and the way they did. We also had no business clamouring for independence. like school children deciding they could suddenly run the school and all the school administration boards simply because a few of them discovered the store room where chalk and other supplies were kept. We are still largely insufficiently evolved as a people. The Brits without doubt, by coming to colonise us had disrupted our natural evolution path. too late for nature now though. Our To Do list looks like this: Get rid of this nonesense democratic experiment we practice; Bring back the Brits to head and run the following: police, judiciary, education and health (they have many yrs of experience and its them we try to emulate anyway... so lets cut to the chase); Fight for Visas for more Nigerians to go abroad and speed up their evolution; fold up state govts and the notion of state and trim the federal govts making the local councils the only true face of govt; eliminate "state of origin" and replace it with "local council of residence" or "local council of birth"; introduce laws banning public celebrations of chieftaincy, funerals, births or weddings... should all be private; allow a coup and make me president to commence the task of dismantling this current democratic facade and commence a reign of 15yrs of benevolent dictatorship that will begin with political mass murder. etc. etc. etc.

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