§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Barnet)
The occasion for the recall of Parliament was, of course, Czechoslovakia, but the Government chose to have a second day to discuss the subject of Nigeria. There are many pressing problems facing this country, but I think the choice of this subject today reflects very truly some issues that arise. It reflects, first, the daily slaughter and death which are continuing in Nigeria, and it reflects also a growing sense of the moral issues involved for this country and for this House. I believe that it is upon these issues that the debate will concentrate, and certainly we hope very much that the Government will be able to help the House with clarification of the situation as it is now in West Africa, because it is exceedingly difficult to be clear as to precisely what is happening.
It is always difficult for us to try to put ourselves in the place of those who live in Nigeria. Their background, tradition, history, values and standards all differ so much from ours that it is particularly important for us to use every effort we can to understand the point of 1434 view of both sides in a dispute of this character.
It is difficult to understand, too, the immense emotions of tribalism that still persist, not only in Nigeria but throughout Africa, including, as we know so well, some of the East African territories. It is difficult sometimes to understand the tenacity with which the peoples of these countries cling to frontiers imposed upon them by history or by colonial powers but which, nevertheless, are immensely dear to them, and their tenacity must be respected by this House. We must not try to impose upon them our own values or our own political or social conceptions. This is one reason for the difficulty in understanding the issues involved.
The other reason is the immense fog of propaganda that hangs about the whole situation. Both sides deny that they are using propaganda techniques. Both sides, I believe, are using them freely and often expertly, and this makes it most important that the Government should do everything they can to clear up the situation for us. We hear continual arguments about why the whole business started. We know the bloody preliminaries which took place on both sides. The arguments about how or why it started seem sometimes as irrelevant now as they are confusing.
What are the true, genuine aims on either side? Are the aims of the Federal Government those expressed by Chief Enahoro in the statement that we have had in this morning's Press, or are they those expressed by some of the commanders on the spot in Eastern Nigeria? What is the real purpose of the Biafrans? Is it to ensure the safety of their own people within a united Nigeria, or do they wish to see Nigeria broken up? What is the true military situation? Here again, all the accounts that we get are very confusing. I believe that General Gowon said last night on television that they have taken the major fight into the heart of Ibo territory, but that is in conflict with what the Foreign Secretary told the House on 12th June was the stated intention of General Gowon. We want to have the position cleared up as much as possible.
What is the truth about the allegations of atrocities? To what extent, for example, have bombs been used against civilian targets or against airfields 1435 designated for use by the Red Cross? What truth is there in the stories about massacres and executions? What is the truth about the holding up of Red Cross supplies? In some ways, people in this country have been more deeply disturbed about this than about anything else, because the arguments put forward on both sides seem so totally inadequate.
The arguments used by the Federal Government objecting to airborne supplies seem quite unworthy of the situation. Equally, the arguments used by the Biafrans objecting to the carriage of supplies by land are totally inadequate. There is a general impression that too many statements and attitudes in this matter of relief are based on a desire to wage a propaganda war rather than to see relief carried through effectively. However, we are glad to see that there appears to be some progress and some agreement in principle about the simultaneous movement of relief supplies by air and land. If the details still being argued about can be settled, something of real value will have been achieved.
Throughout this sad and sorry business, the attitude of this country has been one of an agonised search for a way in which to help bring an end to the conflict, and we have all felt frustrated about how little in practice we have been able to do. We cannot impose our will. We cannot impose peace. We cannot impose justice, and we cannot impose mercy. We can persuade and we can suggest. We can bring a certain amount of pressure to bear. I believe that we should try to do all this to our utmost.
Everyone is tempted to take sides in this issue. Everyone is very tempted, visiting one side or the other and listening to the spokesmen of one side or the other, to take sides. This is the most dangerous attitude for hon. Members to adopt. In this conflict there is much of the element of true tragedy. It is not a conflict of right and wrong but one of right and right. There is much right in the claim of the Federal Government about the need to maintain Nigeria as a unitary State. The alternatives to this would be very serious, very bad for the people in Nigeria and possibly very bad for other African countries. On the other hand, the people in Biafra have every right to fear the re- 1436 prisals which might fall upon them in certain circumstances and on the basis of the statements made by some Nigerian commanders. We have been right to try to mediate, but we must recognise that our influence so far has been relatively little.
One of the arguments for continuing the supply of arms to the Federal Government has been that it enables us to maintain influence with them. I think that that is a persuasive argument, but I hope that the House can be given some evidence of what this influence has been able to achieve in practice and is likely to achieve.
§ Mr. Maudling
So I turn to the most urgent problem of the supply of arms, and I think that it must be judged against two criteria. The first is the practical one of what would be the consequences of a British refusal to provide further arms. Would it help stop the fighting? Would it help stop the bombs and the suffering? Is it not a fact that the Nigerian Government could get the arms that they require elsewhere? What are the chances of getting an organised agreement to stop the supply of arms to both sides? In previous debates, Government spokesmen have said that this is not a practicable proposition, but there is some evidence in Europe, for example, that the situation may have changed. We would like to know the Government's assessment of the current position.
Practical considerations are not the only ones. Possibly the overriding consideration today is the moral judgment that we should make in the circumstances of the policy pursued by this country. We must start from the point that this country has been the traditional supplier of most of the arms to the Nigerian Government and their forces. They have always been supplied on the basis that they would be used against a threat to the Nigerian State, the threat of invasion, or the threat of rebellion. They were supplied on that basis, and I think that it would be wrong to change the basis.
We understand—and I hope that this will be confirmed today—that the supplies of arms continuing are supplies of types of weapons that we have provided in the past and that there has been no 1437 change or stepping up of the supplies that we have been making available. However, the position could change if the struggle took on the character of a genuine civil war or if there were the threat of wanton and brutal slaughter. It is to those two points that I want to turn my attention.
First, despite the recognition of Biafra by a number of other territories on the African continent, is it not still a fact that this is a matter of secession rather than a civil war? Could a breakaway by the Ibo areas be reconciled with the continuance of Nigeria in the sense of a unitary powerful State capable of providing security, peace and prosperity for its inhabitants? I do not believe that that could be reconciled. It would be a tragedy if this breakaway brought with it the break-up of the whole of Nigeria. It is probably right still to regard this as a matter of secession rather than one of civil war.
What is far more worrying is the intentions of those who command the Federal forces at present in operation in Iboland. What is the truth about the bombing and about the alleged executions? What, in particular, must we think about the statements attributed to Colonel Adekunle in a recent interview to a European newspaper which, so far as I know, have not been repudiated, which remain on the record and which threaten massacre on a major scale? That attitude is quite different from the responsible one taken by the Government in Lagos and then-spokesmen. But many people must suspect that the voice of the colonel may be the true voice of those who are doing the righting and, consequently, there are many who fear that the commanders on the spot are not adequately under the control of their Government. This lies at the heart of what we are discussing this morning.
The Foreign Secretary will recall that on 12th June he said:If we make the supposition that it were the intention of the Federal Government not merely to preserve the unity of Nigeria but to proceed without mercy either with the slaughter or the starvation of the Ibo people … we would have to reconsider, and more than reconsider, the action we have so far taken.He went on to stress on that occasion that it would not be right to treat that supposition as if it were a fact. He said: 1438… it would not be right now to treat that supposition as a fact. Indeed, as I shall show, there are substantial reasons for not doing so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th June, 1968; Vol. 766, c. 293–4.]On that basis the House accepted that it would be right to continue the supply of arms, but the House will need reassuring in clear terms that that basis still remains. If it does not, if the conditions that the Foreign Secretary laid down that day and which the Commonwealth Secretary repeated a fortnight later no longer obtain, the continuation of the Government's present policy must, on their own showing, be open to very grave doubt indeed. This, above all, we want to urge on the Government today. They should make clear to the House and to the country how matters stand now. It would be utterly intolerable to provide British arms to anyone who intends to work on the basis of Colonel Adekunle's recent statement. It must be repudiated. It must be made absolutely clear that this is not what the conduct of the Federal armies will be in the campaign that they are at present waging.
As I said, I believe that this is the issue which mainly troubles the minds and the consciences of the country and of the House of Commons at the moment. I hope very much that the Government spokesman will be able to reassure us on this grave matter.
For the rest, I think that the tasks before us are fairly clear. We must continue to do all we can to get the relief supplies moving and to bring all possible pressure to bear on both sides to remove any obstructions. We must try to help to find a solution which can combine a united Nigeria with security and confidence for the Ibo people.
There are, after all, two stages. Chief Enahoro made it clear that the Federal Government accept the idea of an international force very much like the Commonwealth force which has already been suggested in this House, including two great Commonwealth countries. The idea of this force would be to guarantee the security of the Ibo people if they lay down their arms and if the fighting ceases.
But that is not the only point of danger. There is a later point of danger when a constitution has been agreed, if that constitution cannot guarantee the long term future peace and security of 1439 the Ibo people. All of us with experience of African problems know how great that difficulty is. With our experience of these territories and constitutional problems we should be able to make a valuable contribution to the solution of this problem, which must be solved if Nigeria is to survive and become a happy country.
Finally, we must do all that we can to mount a massive operation of aid to Nigeria as soon as the fighting has ceased. We have long traditional friendships with this country. We recognise its immense importance to the whole of Africa and we recognise the terrific amount of rehabilitation that will be urgently needed. It is not merely the immediate problem of bringing food to the starving and medical supplies to the wounded and the sick. It is also the problem of rebuilding the bridges, communications, railways and roads, and restoring some strength and backing to the Nigerian economy. I am sure that the Government will have the support of the entire House in all they can do to provide British aid to this end on the maximum scale possible.
That is all that I want to say today. This is a matter which troubles our hearts and minds. We are all desperately worried at the position in which this country now is and we are desperately sad at what is happening in Nigeria. I hope that the Government, on the basis of the questions that I have put, will be able to reassure the House. If they cannot, then I think that a change will have to be made.
§ 11.23 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)
It is just over a month since the House last debated the Nigerian situation. In that debate I was able to announce the beginning of a new effort by the Organisation for African Unity to bring about a settlement. The whole House then welcomed the preliminary talks which were about to begin in Niamey in Niger and expressed the hope that they would lead to successful negotiations at Addis Ababa. But, as the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) has just described, since then there has been a growing anxiety at the lack of progress in these peace talks, at the continuing suffer- 1440 ing of the civil population, at the increasing reports of difficulties about getting relief through to those who need it, and at the reports about an increase in the fighting on both sides. It was against that background that the Government felt it would be a proper response to the sense of concern in all parts of the House if we took advantage of the recall of Parliament to offer a further opportunity to debate the situation in Nigeria.
I recall that in the July debate the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) agreed with me that the wise sequence of priorities would be, first the organisation of relief of the starving on both sides of the fighting line; secondly, a ceasefire; and, thirdly, a political settlement. The agenda in fact agreed at the Niamey meeting approached these problems in the reverse order. They began with a search for a political settlement, a ceasefire to follow that agreement, and, finally, agreement on relief.
I think that events have shown that the instincts of the House about the most practical way to make progress were probably right. The Addis Ababa conference has struggled hard but unsuccessfully, despite the distinguished chairmanship and dedicated statesmanship of the Emperor of Ethiopia, to achieve political agreement. It finally gave up and turned to the possibility of an agreed plan for relieving the suffering. There were heartbreaking difficulties and suspicions on both sides, even about the bringing of help to the innocent victims of this tragic war.
Perhaps I might begin a report that will have many grave, sombre and disturbing features, with one encouraging development. The House will have been happy to hear that Emperor Haile Selassie's formula for relief operations was this weekend accepted in principle by both the Nigerian and Biafran delegations. A great deal of credit is due to the persistence and patience shown by the Emperor. The formula is basically about simultaneous use of land and air mercy corridors into Biafra. As the House knows, the Government have always believed that while land corridors were the only way to provide long-term aid in the necessary volume, there was also a short-term need for an emergency airlift to meet immediate requirements 1441 and to clear the stockpiles which have accumulated at Fernando Po.
Chief Enahoro has been in London for talks during the past few days. I had a long discussion with him yesterday and I was happy to learn that the Nigerian Federal delegation has now returned to Addis Ababa, authorised to accept the Emperor's formula. The House will also be glad to know that International Red Cross flights into Biafra from Fernando Po have already been resumed.
Chief Enahoro told me that he was in Geneva on Saturday and had a useful meeting with Dr. Lindt, who is in charge of the International Red Cross operation in Nigeria. The two have agreed to meet again shortly. Meanwhile, I have just heard that Dr. Lindt has been invited by the Emperor to join the talks in Addis Ababa, and is leaving Geneva today. These, I think, are encouraging developments.
I do not wish to underestimate the difficulties that may still lie ahead before the relief flows on an adequate scale into the Ibo-held territories. We have had too many disappointing examples of agreements in principle proving difficult to implement in practice. But we must all hope that both sides, aware, as the right hon. Member for Barnet has rightly said, of the way the conscience of the world is now aroused by the starvation in Nigeria, will now move with urgency to make the Emperor's formula a living instrument of relief. We must also hope that out of a working agreement on relief will yet come agreements on a cease-fire and on a political settlement. The time may be short if there is yet to be a political settlement without another round of major fighting.
We have pinned great hopes on the talks now taking place at Addis Ababa under the auspices of the O.A.U. It would be by far the best outcome if this tragic African civil war could be brought to an end by Africa's own regional organisation of unity.
Unfortunately, Chief Enahoro was not able to tell me of any progress at Addis Ababa on the central political issues in dispute or of arrangements for a ceasefire. The Federal Government have put forward a set of proposals for ending the war. They emphasise that these are 1442 negotiable. Taken by and large, and given the very strong military position which the Federal side now hold, these proposals seems to us not unreasonable. On Colonel Ojukwu, however, I am afraid that they have so far made no impact. His demands appear to be as rigid as ever in that they amount to a claim for independence, or at least the attributes of sovereignty. It is not for us to express partisan views in this matter.
Nobody in this House is anti-Ibo or pro-Ibo. Colonel Ojukwu's line would be understandable if he were winning the military conflict, but the reverse is the truth. The right hon. Member for Barnet mentioned the television broadcast given by General Gowon last night and asked for clarification about the military situation. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the military situation is both confusing and obscure and I want to try to give the House the clearest account I can of what we know about it.
The Federal forces have now retaken all the non-Ibo areas of the former Eastern region and have thus established their authority in the South-Eastern and the Rivers States, but in addition they now hold those areas of the East Central State—Iboland—which lie to the north of the Onitsha and Enugu road. To get matters into perspective, the House should understand that it is now more accurate to talk of the "Ibo areas" rather than "Biafra", because although Colonel Ojukwu still speaks of Biafra, he is in control of not much more than half of Iboland. The Federal forces are in a strong military position, having cut off the Ibos entirely from the sea. The present military activity by the Federal forces on the southern front followed strong attacks along the whole of this front by the Biafran Army. Indeed, these attacks were initially successful in the Ikot Ekpene area, and were widely acclaimed as such by Radio Biafra. The House must now face the fact that whether the Federal Government will carry out a full-scale invasion of Iboland will depend on the negotiations at Addis Ababa. That is the measure of the importance of them.
It is against this sombre background that a number of my hon. Friends feel that we ought to stop supplying any more arms to the Federal Government. I can 1443 well understand that the report I have just given the House is bound to add emphasis to that feeling and to the anxiety that hon. Members on both sides of the House have felt for some time. This is a grave and difficult question.
I recognise and share—as everybody in all parts of the House recognises and shares—the deep concern about the civil war in Nigeria. Hon. Members have had many representations from the Churches and from relief organisations in their constituencies. Perhaps, in passing, I might pay the warmest possible tribute to the tremendous work done by both Church organisations and relief organisations in trying to give some practical help to those who are suffering in this tragic war.
Eastern Nigeria was a great centre of Christian missionary work, as I have a special reason for knowing. Mary Slessor of Calabar came from Dundee and was one of the heroic figures of my own childhood, and I have close friends in the mission field amongst the Ibos who are deeply troubled and distressed about British Government policy. I ask those who are worried to recognise that, like so many issues in the political and moral field, and where political and moral issues greatly overlap, this situation is too complex to be solved simply by Britain's turning her back on Federal Nigeria as the traditional supplier of the means of national defence.
The real question—and I ask the House to think about this—the question that becomes more difficult each day as Colonel Ojukwu refuses to recognise the political and military cul-de-sac into which he has led his people—is what policies will minimise and shorten the sufferings of all Nigerians—Ibos and non-Ibos alike? That is the general question. The particular question is: what can Britain do that is most likely to contribute to that outcome?
As I understand it, it has never been the position of the Christian Churches that a civil war against a unilateral act of secession was an unjust war, cruel and tragic although any civil war is bound to be. I might say that I do not follow the distinction that the right hon. Gentleman was seeking to make between the issue of secession and the fact of a civil war. I would describe this as a civil war over 1444 the issue of secession. Other countries have gone through this agony, as I have mentioned on other occasions.
It is my understanding that concerned Christians did not, in the nineteenth century, denounce Abraham Lincoln and champion Jefferson Davis. More recently, they did not espouse the secessionist cause in Katanga in the Congo. Although there is a great missionary tradition in Eastern Nigeria it is worth remembering that there are more Christians outside Iboland than inside. It is wrong to see this issue in just black and white religious terms. General Gowon is himself of the Christian religion, and has certainly, in my experience, done his utmost to exercise humane restraint in an increasingly difficult situation. Indeed, more than half the members of the present Federal Government of Nigeria are of the Christian faith.
The right hon. Gentleman expressed anxieties which are felt by many people who would recognise General Gowon's restraint about the utterances of Colonel Adekunle, and the right hon. Gentleman asked about these. One must not take too much notice of the flamboyant language of a colonel in the field. We have had recent examples of flamboyant language from some of our own military people. The way to judge a military man is not by the flamboyancy of his language to the Press but by his professional qualities as a soldier and, in this context, by the degree of discipline that he is able to enforce amongst his troops. My information—into which I have looked most anxiously—is that in his professional capacity, as distinct from his public relations capacity, Colonel Adekunle leads troops who have shown self-discipline.
I have seen a report from Mr. David Williams, the editor ofWest Africa, who will be known to many hon. Members who are interested in Africa as a reliable witness in these matter, and who has been out there on the front south of Aba. He reports that he saw there no signs of any atrocities, and was struck by the fine discipline shown.
The overriding preoccupation of all of us in this House is how to shorten the suffering and, that being so, it seems to me that the immediate effort should be concentrated on urging Colonel Ojukwu 1445 to recognise the realities—the fact that he has been militarily defeated and that his duty is to save his people from suffering by seeking an honourable settlement that guarantees the safety of his people.
Her Majesty's Government have never made any secret of the fact that they hope that the people of Nigeria will be able to agree on a settlement which allows for the unity of their country. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Barnet said about this. But, equally, our view has always been that within that basic unity there must be room for flexibility. There are many degrees of federation or confederation and it must be possible to find from among them a form of society which would enable all Nigerians to prosper together. But perhaps even more important is that the House should remind itself that it must be for the Nigerians themselves to decide upon what form their State should take. It cannot be said too often that Nigeria ceased to be a colony eight years ago.
The central issue about which the war is being fought is that of unity or separation. In our opinion the Federal Government are prepared to be accommodating about many aspects of a possible settlement, including the constitutional arrangements through which unity is interpreted, but having come this far and being in a winning position they have made up their minds that they are not prepared to give away the basic sense of unity itself.
Whatever the hopes and fears of the Ibos, we cannot believe that they would not now do better to see what conditions they could negotiate for themselves within the framework of a united Nigeria, however this was expressed. We are not trying to pass judgment on the claims that the Ibos have made for a greater say in their affairs and, indeed, everyone is bound to have a profound sympathy for them, but it seems to me—in terms of the situation that I am reporting to the House—that they are risking bringing upon themselves the threatened invasion which is in all our minds and which we are all anxious to see avoided.
Her Majesty's Government have made it clear all along that they wish to see the earliest possible cease-fire, and a solution by negotiation, and that they do not 1446 believe that a military solution is the answer. I said exactly that to Chief Enahoro yesterday. We shall continue to work towards these ends. Nevertheless, I would not wish to let the House think that the Federal Government are likely to be responsive to appeals merely to stop and give up what they are fighting for, unless there is some sign that Colonel Ojukwu is ready to meet them over the question of unity. It is against this background that the vital importance for the future of Nigeria of the Addis Ababa talks must be seen.
If this is the situation, with a political stalemate threatening a fresh military offensive, then I know how strongly some of my hon. Friends and certain hon. Gentlemen opposite feel about the question of the British supply of arms to the Federal Government. I hope that the House will excuse me if, to give a considered answer to those who feel so anxious on this score, I begin by looking at how Her Majesty's Government came to be supplying arms to Nigeria in the first place.
The Nigerian forces, like the forces of many Commonwealth countries, were trained and equipped on British lines long before independence. Under successive British Governments, they have naturally looked largely to us for re-supply. When the time came that they most needed supplies, they counted on our willingness to allow them to purchase from the United Kingdom.
Neutrality was not a possible option for Her Majesty's Government at that time. We might have been able to declare ourselves neutral if one independent country was fighting another, but this was not a possible attitude when a Commonwealth country, with which we had long and close ties, was faced with an internal revolt. What would other Commonwealth countries have thought? After all, some other Commonwealth countries face dissident minorities who may be tempted to break up their countries to achieve secession. What effect would our action have had on the rest of Africa, struggling to create modern nation states in the face of traditional tribal rivalries and fears?
Our policy since the war began has been to continue authorising the export of carefully controlled quantities of arms 1447 and ammunitions, and I confirm that there has been no change in that policy. Broadly speaking, they are the same kind of arms as we supplied before the war. We have not supplied any military aircraft or bombs. Our supplies have amounted to about 15 per cent. by value of Nigeria's total arms purchases, and even in the categories of infantry arms and ammunitions, our share has been well under half. They are obtaining the bulk of their arms from elsewhere. In other words, our supplies have been more important in political than in practical terms.
I come to the question of whether, if we were to cut off our supply of defence equipment unilaterally, a peace agreement would be made more likely. We would, I believe, lose our capacity to influence the Federal Government if we were to take such a step. I suggest that the record shows that General Gowon and his colleagues have all along been prepared to listen to our views and meet us when they felt that they could. I do not wish to overestimate the degree of influence we have been able to exercise. However, we have exercised the influence we have, and I believe that we would lose that influence if we were to follow a course of unilateral suspension.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Did not General Gowon say on television last night that the big push had started? How, in the light of that, can my right hon. Friend say that we have had any such influence?
§ Mr. Thomson
I hope that my hon. Friend will listen to my argument as a whole and will judge it at the end. Apart from the undoubted reduction of influence with the Federal Government that would follow unilateral suspension, I believe that the suspending of arms supplies would make the Ibos less, rather than more, willing to come to a settlement. Far from persuading the Ibos to negotiate meaningfully, I believe that our action would encourage them to fight on. There may be a difference of view about this, but I can only report the fact that the recent, and, I believe, ill-timed French announcement of support for Biafra—just before the Addis Ababa Conference started—has certainly had the 1448 effect of making Colonel Ojukwu and his colleagues less willing to come to an honourable settlement.
There are other considerations. I have heard it put as an argument for stopping the supply of arms that it is disgraceful that we should be in the company of the Soviet Union in supplying arms when that country has adopted an oppressive attitude towards smaller nations, as illustrated over Czechoslovakia. I am bound to say that this is an odd argument which stands sense on its head. Britain, unlike the Soviet Union, is scrupulous in its respect for the sovereign rights of smaller nations. After all, we have created more independent nations than any other Power. The Russians have already secured a political foothold in Nigeria by supplying military aircraft and bombs, which we refused to supply. If we cut off our arms supplies, Russia would be only too willing to fill the gap and gain the influence which we would lose. Is it seriously argued that this is the best way to help a new Commonwealth nation to stand up to the pressures of Soviet Imperialism?
The other question which many hon. Members have rightly asked is this: if we were to stop the supply of arms, would that be of help to our getting relief into Biafra? The evidence seems to be to the contrary. Nations which do not supply arms have met the same resistance as we have from Biafra to proposals for mercy corridors. Nobody's relief supplies are getting through on the scale that many countries would like to see, and if we were to stop, unilaterally, the supply of arms, the resentment caused on the Federal side would, I believe, affect Federal co-operation and our relief effort as well. But I will come to that.
There is also strong feeling that every effort should be made to bring about some sort of international embargo on arms. Her Majesty's Government have looked into this matter closely in recent months. We came to the conclusion that the only way to get an effective international embargo on arms would be for the contestants to co-operate as part of a ceasefire. Much of the international arms traffic is in the hands of private arms dealers who would certainly find ways of circumventing any inter-Governmental embargo. In particular, the Ibos get their arms through irregular channels which would be impossible to 1449 control. There would, therefore, have to be agreement between the two sides to the conflict if such a step were to be taken.
It goes without saying that commercial returns from arms sales have not been a factor in our policy in this matter. However, in considering the consequences of a change in our arms policy, we have had to bear in mind the livelihood and safety of many thousands of British nationals working in Federal Nigeria.
Having said that, and having described the consequences that would follow from a unilateral suspension, we are bound to be watching the situation most anxiously, a matter to which the right hon. Member for Barnet referred. Our information on the military side I have given to the House. It is that the only fighting of a substantial character taking place is on the Aba front in the South and that a general offensive has not, in fact, begun.
The conditions attached to our continued supply of arms, as laid down by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 12th June, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, still stand and the Federal Government are well aware of them. The right hon. Gentleman recited them and I will not weary the House by reciting them a second time. Suffice to say that these conditions stand. The conditions envisaged in my right hon. Friend's speech have not yet arisen.
General Gowon has repeatedly said that his quarrel is not with the Ibo people but with the rebel leaders. The Federal Air Force has recently dropped leaflets over Iboland enjoining refugees to return to their homes in Federal-held areas and assuring them that they would not be ill treated. There has been some response to that effort.
Lord Hunt's recent mission to Nigeria found that an attitude of vindictiveness towards the Ibos among the people they met was noticeably absent. I hope that the eye witness accounts of a man of the character of Lord Hunt will be borne in mind when we are distressed by the occasional flamboyant quotations which are made by the sort of people to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred. One must consider this matter as a whole. Lord Hunt and his colleagues found that Federal troops were in many cases helping to feed Ibo refugees.
1450 It should be remembered that there are at least 100,000 Ibos living peacefully in Lagos and elsewhere in the Federation at the moment and that Ibos continue to hold responsible and senior jobs in the rest of the Federation. These factors clearly show that genocide is by no means the Federal intention, though I am afraid that I gloomily have the feeling that suicide for their people sometimes seems to be the intention of the Ibo leaders. There are no signs that the Federal Government are throwing away with contempt the prospects of reasonable negotiated settlements and there are no signs which should lead one to believe that they are not doing all they can at the Addis Ababa conference to reach a properly negotiated settlement, both on the relief and political issues.
I come to the problem of the relief of the suffering in the territories now in Federal hands, since I began by referring to the problem of getting relief into Ibo-held territory.
Many people feel, understandably, that however intractable the problem of a peace settlement, however stubborn the Biafrans, here at least is a human problem on which immediate action should be possible. The victims are, after all, in a part of Nigeria under Federal control. The right hon. Gentleman properly drew attention to the reports of difficulty about getting relief through. This was the problem that Lord Hunt and his team reported upon so thoroughly and so vividly, and, as I thought it would be helpful to make their report available, a White Paper was published as Command 3727.
Lord Hunt since then has been vigorously following up his own recommendations. He and members of his team have made two visits to Geneva to report their findings to the International Red Cross and to co-ordinate action with the Red Cross. There has been, understandably, a great deal of impatience here over Press reports about hold-ups in the flow of relief and there have been misunderstandings, it is true to say, between the International Red Cross and the Federal authorities. But these have now been cleared up.
The International Red Cross has been subjected to a good deal of uninformed criticism because it has been unable to perform miracles in the middle of a civil 1451 war situation. In my last speech, I referred to the appointment by the International Red Cross of Dr. Lindt, a distinguished Swiss diplomat and former United Nations Commissioner for Refugees. He has spent over three weeks examining the problems on the ground and is now taking the necessary steps that are necessary to bring the relief operations into full swing. With the cooperation of the Swiss Government, he has appointed a Swiss Air Force officer as his chief of staff and planner and a senior Swiss police officer to head the I.R.C. office in Lagos for the control of operations throughout Nigeria.
The International Red Cross is announcing in Nigeria almost exactly at this time the details of its relief campaign. It is now thoroughly under way in Federal territory and I am sure that the House will be interested to know some of the details. The International Red Cross now has 14 relief teams working in Federal-held areas and hopes to have 18 or more by late September. It already has 50 vehicles at its disposal for the transport of relief supplies and 25 more provided by the British Government will bring this total up to 75 within the next two or three weeks. In addition, the Red Cross is hiring trucks locally for the distribution of locally purchased supplies.
Some 2,000 tons of rice and other local produce have been bought in the northern areas and transported by road to Enugu and Lagos. From Lagos they will be shipped to Calabar. Seven hundred tons of supplies of all kinds were shipped to Calabar earlier this month and a further 1,000 tons are to be shipped very shortly. A further 10,000 tons of food supplies such as maize and corn meal are expected to reach Lagos from abroad within the next week.
The International Red Cross now has two coastal vessels of 500 tons each on charter for the transport of supplies from Lagos to Calabar. It also has its own aircraft for supplies from Lagos to Enugu and Calabar. Two DC 4s have been operating an airlift of 36 tons a day and 2 more DC 4s are being added next month.
There have been reports of relief air traffic being suspended for military reasons during the last day or two. I am 1452 afraid that these reports are true. The Biafrans have once again acquired a certain aerial bombing capacity. They were, as the House will remember, the first to introduce aerial bombing into this civil war and that has been a factor in the hold-up in the last day or two. Finally, 500 tons of supplies a month are now being sent by rail and road to Enugu.
I think that this recital is sufficient to show that a real momentum is now gathering in relief to Federal-held territories and I shall not go into detailed information about our own part in these operations. However, two medical teams have left London for Nigeria. As was the case with the earlier teams, these have been organised by the Save the Children Fund, which will be contributing something to their cost, although the major part will be borne by the Government.
At this point I should mention the tragic loss which the Save the Children Fund suffered when two young members of the original medical team which went out earlier at the expense of the Fund were killed. Their Land Rover touched off a mine in the road and the vehicle was blown up. The House will want me to express its sympathy to the relatives of these two brave and idealistic young men and to the Fund.
Twenty-five vehicles which have been purchased on behalf of Oxfam should be reaching Lagos in the next few days and they will be put to good use as soon as they arrive. I want to mention with gratitude the tremendous efforts which have been made by the various voluntary agencies in assisting to meet the distress in all parts of Nigeria. They have collected large sums of money and have dispatched considerable tonnages of medical supplies and essential foodstuffs, and in some cases have provided manpower as well.
I know that, whatever anxieties the House has about the course of this conflict in Nigeria, and whatever differences there may be about what the British Government policy should be, there will be universal agreement about the need for us to make a maximum contribution to the international relief effort in Nigeria, and this we are seeking to do. I am sure that the whole House will share my hope that, at Addis Ababa, the parties will be able to give flesh and blood 1453 literally to the agreement in principle that has been reached about the air and land corridors into Biafra. Equally, we must also profoundly hope that, even at this late stage, there may still be at Addis Ababa, arising out of an agreement on relief, an agreement on a cease-fire and on a political settlement which will allow the Nigerian people to find a way of living together in unity without the shedding of any more of their blood.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
There has been talk in the past about the possibility of the creation of some kind of international force which might provide security to the population after hostilities end. Is that idea still being considered?
§ Mr. Thomson
Yes. It is still under active consideration. Indeed, Her Majesty's Government took a lead in making it an active idea. We said that we were ready to play our part in a Commonwealth force if that was desired. The Organisation of African Unity is also looking at this matter because it is an essential element in giving a sense of security to the Ibos. Associated with it is another point that we have also been discussing with the Federal Government. This is the need to get International Red Cross observers into the fighting line itself to ensure that, in any fighting which may still take place, the relief operation goes in closely and that there is an international team there to deal with any allegations of atrocities.
§ Mr. Speaker
I remind the House that I was able to call 29 right hon. and hon. Members in yesterday's debate because the speeches were reasonably brief. I hope that the House will co-operate similarly today.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I am sure that many of the fears felt by hon. Members on all sides of the House have in no way been swept aside by the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It is only fair to recall what General Gowon said on a television programme yesterday—that the war was about to enter a phase which would be completed within four weeks. Whatever the Commonwealth Secretary said, therefore, it seems clear from the words of the Commander-in-Chief and Leader of Nigeria that that phase has begun.
1454 I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will check with Addis Ababa information which reached me this morning that although there have been talks about the provision of supplies to the people in Biafra as well as to those in the Federation, those arrangements are to last for only fourteen days. That is the latest story from Addis Ababa, confirmed to me by telephone this morning. For the Commonwealth Secretary to speak as though this were a still developing situation is wrong. This is a situation which is approaching crisis point. Unless he can reassure hon. Members on all sides of the House more than he has reassured them so far, I hope that the House will make a protest against the further provision of arms to the Federal Government in Nigeria.
The Commonwealth Secretary rightly said that years have passed since we ceased to be a colonial Power in these parts of Africa. Yet on both Front Benches there seems to be a tendency to talk as though we had some special influence and some special relationship with the emerging people of Africa. In my opinion, that is entirely false. It is an attitude which should be totally disregarded by all sides of the House. Our attitude should be that of friends. It should be an attitude both of realism and of idealism in these matters. I still detect the prevalent influence of an ex-Commonwealth Office compelling Government spokesmen to adopt attitudes which would have been more correct 30 or 40 years ago than they are today. There are indeed much wider issues involved.
I will not speak for too long, but I wish to comment on the so-called influence, which it is said that we maintain by continuing our supply of arms, first on the conduct of the war and, secondly, on the conduct of the relief operations. The line adopted by some Ministers has been that because we continued to supply arms there would be no all-out assault which could lead to the genocide of the Ibo people in Biafra. Yet only last night it was announced that Colonel Gowon is to launch his major offensive. We have also had a statement from the Commander of the Third Division that he will shoot everything that moves. No doubt according to the Commonwealth Office that is a totally irresponsible 1455 statement. They would claim that it has no validity. But in fact he is the local commander of the troops. I have seen African troops, and I know that they pay attention to the local commander rather than to people sitting back in Lagos.
Secondly, it is claimed that we have had some influence on the relief supplies. I feel profoundly sorry for that noble and distinguished man, Lord Hunt. In fact, his impact and the impact of the British Government on supplies sent to the people of Biafra has been nil. Fewer supplies are being sent to Biafra today by British sources than were being sent a month or two ago. Lord Hunt's mission has been something of a farce. It has had no influence. All that it has done, if anything, is to clog up the Red Cross machinery and to stop flights which were going into Biafra. We have heard from Lord Shepherd and others about air supplies being an impossibility. We know that that is not the case. Ministers and others who have not been reading the European Press closely—because the ghastly Czech situation has driven Biafra off the front pages—may not appreciate the enormous pressure and feeling throughout Europe about the situation in Nigeria. The feeling throughout Europe is so violent because of this continuing situation that there is a move to exercise Article XXIII of the Geneva Convention by which supplies should be provided to a people in a state of civil war.
Lord Hunt's mission has had no effect at all on the supplies for starving people in Biafra, and the claims for British influence in this matter with the Lagos Government cannot be substantiated. We have seen what happened when the Dutch, who were also suppliers of arms and who had large influence and large investments in Nigeria, ceased to supply arms. Were any actions taken against them? There was none. That applies to the Czechs, the Dutch and the Belgians. The only people supplying arms in this civil war today are ourselves and the Soviet Union. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us in his reply how much of the recent interest-free loan to Nigeria is for the purchase of arms from the Soviet Union.
I believe that the conditions previously laid down by the Foreign Secretary are 1456 about to arise and that there is grave danger of the destruction of the Ibo people. The Ibo people have shown their right to self-determination more clearly, perhaps, than any other people in the world. In spite of deprivation, war and starvation, for 12 months these people have shown that they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are faced with the destruction of their race, and they are prepared to defend themselves against that.
If there should be a further advance and a defeat of the military forces remaining there, I believe that the civil war would be continued by guerilla action of the most terrifying sort. In a moving phrase yesterday the Prime Minister spoke of tanks not being able to create. I do not know whether any hon. Member present has seen armoured cars in action against a civilian population. I have. I saw that during the resistance in the last war. If this invasion takes place and if resistance continues, there is the gravest possible danger of genocide. That is why I believe that the House should unite today in opposing the Government's proposals, which are born in an atmosphere of hoping that something will turn up or hoping—as certain hon. Members who have visited Nigeria hoped—that there will be a quick kill. That was the language of Attila or Heydrich. I therefore hope that the House, conscious that it is representing the idealism of the people in Britain and representing what people essentially believe to be the right way of government, will insist today that arms supplies should cease.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I am sure that hon. Members on all sides of the House are grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving us an opportunity to discuss the tragic Nigerian situation. The House rises at four o'clock today and unless it is again recalled—and we all hope that there will not be another occasion to recall it—we shall not meet again until 14th October, by which time it may be too late for us to exercise our influence upon the Nigerian situation. I must therefore ask what is likely to happen and what we ought to do, as far as we have any influence over events, in the next few weeks.
1457 First, may I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend—congratulations which the whole House will wish to extend—on the arrangements which have been made about relief. Both sides in the civil war have been stupid and callous about relief, and I am glad that the way now seems to be open to use every means possible—air as well as land—to bring relief to people who are suffering in Nigeria. We must bear in mind that they are suffering on both sides of the civil war, for it is certain that there are people within the territories occupied by the Federal troops who are suffering from hunger and even starvation.
I want to respond to your appeal, Mr. Speaker, and not to speak for too long. I come now to what I think are the likely events. First, will Ojukwu and the Biafrans surrender? We would be making a great mistake to base policy on that assumption. Whether they are right or not, they believe that they are fighting for survival and that the alternative is to fight to the death or surrender and be killed. Their view is that if they surrender, it will be the end of them.
It would be a great mistake to base any policy on the assumption that Ojukwu and the Biafrans will surrender. We should take note that if this last campaign for a final solution succeeds, the Biafrans will engage in guerilla warfare for which, I understand, some of their best soldiers are being trained now. I should hope that we have all learned that success against guerrillas is not easily won anywhere in the world, especially in Asia or Africa.
The hope has also been expressed that in this tragic situation, perhaps the best thing would be for the Federal Government to launch a final campaign, such as I am told has already been launched, to get a quick victory. We would be misleading our people if we led them to believe that by military operations of this kind there will be a quick end to this war.
When we look at maps in the newspapers and elsewhere and consider the division of Nigeria between the Federal and the Biafran Administrations, we are apt to think that Biafra is a tiny corner of the country which could be quickly overrun. That is not so. The area known as Biafra is the size of Holland 1458 and has a population of between 8 million and 10 million. This campaign would seek to overrun that territory and to impose a military settlement.
I have sought, as we all have, to find out what is happening, what the war means and what will be the consequences. In the last few days, I have had talks with friends who know the area well. At the moment, Federal troops are approaching Aba. The Under-Secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that since June Federal troops have advanced nearly 40 miles towards Aba and are about to reach it. What happens when a campaign of this kind is waged? On the way, the army goes through many villages and as it comes to those villages the people flee from it. The Federal armies have guns which can fire shells with a range of six miles. Villages six miles away are shelled and the people flee from them.
I cannot find out how many villages have been left by villagers on the way to Aba. The normal population of Aba is, I understand, about 80,000, but it is certain that the population is now much greater. It has been increased by thousands—maybe tens of thousands, some say hundreds of thousands—of villagers fleeing to take refuge there. Aba is being evacuated and the 80,000, 100,000 or 200,000, whatever it may be, are moving away.
As the Federal troops advance and the Biafran army retreats, people in the villages are caught in the cross-fire from both sides. If they stay in the villages, they risk being killed or wounded in the cross-fire, so they take to the road in an effort to escape. If they escape, they will do so in ever smaller units. That is the picture that has been given to me and I have no doubt that it is true. If it is true, this war is a crime against humanity. The Federal Government have the equipment and the guns, shells and mortars to overrun and to conquer Biafra and impose a settlement, but when they have done so what then?
I hope that there will be a united Nigeria, but this is not the way to unite the country. I have not had the privilege of visiting the country, but I have met people from both sides. I have met missionaries and administrators from Nigeria. They all agree that, if this war is to continue to the bitter, tragic end, 1459 the victory which the Federal Government will gain will turn to ashes in their hands. That will be the end of any hope for a united Nigeria for a generation or more.
I put this to my right hon. Friend. People in our country should realise that, if the war goes on—and that is taken as the only course—it will reflect the greatest discredit and dishonour on everyone in Nigeria and, since we are involved, on us also. Our influence must be used with the Federal Government to stop this final assault. I hope that we shall throw our whole weight behind the efforts made by the Organisation of African Unity and by Emperor Haile Selassie to stop this war and to bring the two sides together.
Our hopes are now centered on Addis Ababa. There the negotiations proceed with starts and stops. I have sought to find what could help to make a fresh start, with fresh hope, to the negotiations. I want to convey a suggestion which has been made to me. It is that my right hon. Friend should try to persuade General Gowon to go to Addis Ababa himself to meet Colonel Ojukwu. I am told that it is essential to get new personnel there from Nigeria if there is to be any chance of achieving the peaceful settlement which I am sure we all want to see.
I do not know General Gowon. I have never had the privilege of meeting him, but some of my hon. Friends have said that he is not only a very competent and able general but a man of distinction and character. I would make this appeal to him if my voice could reach him: "Go yourself and talk to Ojukwu to see if you can stop this final onslaught which can bring you no credit and no solution. See if you can bring about a settlement."
§ Mr. Griffiths
Ojukwu has been to Addis Ababa, and I appeal to him to go again. I am led to believe that a meeting between the two of them may be the only chance of making the negotiations at Addis Ababa come to life and succeed. That is why I make this appeal.
I have not signed any Motions, I have not written to the Press or been 1460 on television, but I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If there is now no chance of negotiations and peace, if all that is to take place is the final assault, I implore my right hon. Friends to stop supplying arms now. I believe that I am speaking for very many people in my own party, and I have sought to serve my party and our country all my life. Even if stopping the supply of arms is only a gesture, I want us to have no part in the final assault in Nigeria, if that is what is to take place, and I hope that my right hon. Friends will also take that view.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
I am most grateful for the opportunity of following the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) because I think that it is about time that the Federal side of the case was put in the debate.
With the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) I visited Nigeria for a fortnight earlier this month at the invitation of the Federal Government. I believe that we were the first Members to see the civil war at first hand intensively and with virtually total coverage of the whole of Nigeria and all its leading personalities. I have been only to the Federal side, and to that extent the House will wish to discount my conclusions, but, although they may not be fashionable, they are at least up to date. We had long interviews with General Gowon, his chief of staff, Brigadier Hassan, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Arikpa, and most of the other Ministers in charge of Departments, and senior civil servants at both Federal and State level. We visited nine of the 12 States, and saw the miltary governors of each of them and many military commanders in the field, including Colonel Adekunle; and we questioned prisoners of war and refugees in the south-east battle area; and saw the leading representatives of the International Red Cross.
We also talked to three German journalists who were interesting because they had just come from Biafra. They confirmed my impression that the Ibos 1461 are to a large extent now the victims of their own propaganda. They are fighting on because they believe that they will be massacred by the Federal troops if they give in. I do not believe that this will happen, but if the people concerned believe that it will, it is not surprising that they are very reluctant to surrender.
The civil war as seen from Lagos or anywhere else in Nigeria is very different from the civil war as seen from London through the columns of the British Press.
§ Mr. Fisher
I was there for a fortnight.
The Biafran propaganda has been very effective and very well directed. The emotions of English people are easily stirred by starving children and ill-treated dogs. The pictures of African children, which owing to malnutrition could have been taken almost anywhere at any time in Africa or the Caribbean, touch our hearts, and when a picture appears in the popular Press with a caption saying that this is what great big Nigeria is doing to poor little Biafra, an emotional case is made in a simple form to which anybody naturally responds.
The Federal case, which is political and economic, and much more difficult to make, has to some extent gone by default. That is probably partly the fault of the Federal leaders. They thought that they had a good case and did not need to make it, but one must always make one's case. I should say in fairness to the British Press that I was told by journalists in Lagos that there are no weekly Press conferences; General Gowon seldom, if ever, sees the foreign Press; and the journalists are often only given official hand-outs and must work on them. If that is so, there cannot be anything very interesting coming on to the editors' desks in London from Lagos, and that may explain to a certain extent why the Federal case has not been very effectively put in foreign newspapers.
But the fact remains that Nigerians at every level—the leaders as well as the ordinary people—are deeply hurt by the attitude of the British Press. British opinion is touchingly important to them. They think of themselves as Britain's 1462 best friends in the Afro-Asian Commonwealth, and that may well be true. Many thousands of their students have been to British universities, all their senior army officers are Sandhurst trained, and as a nation they are immensely pro-British.
In official circles the policy of Her Majesty's Government is greatly appreciated, and although I know that it is unpopular to say this in the House at present, it would be disastrous to future Anglo-Nigerian relations if we stopped selling arms at the present relatively small level, nor would it shorten the war by a single day; rather the reverse.
The Roman Catholic Church has lost a great deal of good will and influence in Nigeria because of the pro-Biafran attitude of the Pope, and there has been tremendous public resentment against France. Nigerians do not understand why General de Gaulle has backed the wrong horse at the wrong time when the war is virtually over. I do not understand it either. French investment in Nigeria as a whole must be much greater than in Biafra. I believe that the repercussions on French commerce in the future may be considerable.
Nor is this a religious war. People talk about the Muslim northversus the Christian south, but that is an absolute travesty of the facts. Of the Federal Army of 60,000 or 70,000 men, I am told that only about 1,000 are Muslim Hausas from the north. The large majority are Christians from the Benue Plateau and the West and, as the Secretary of State pointed out, there are many more Christians in Federal Nigeria than in Biafra.
§ Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)
How does the hon. Gentleman think that tribes differ from nations? Does he consider that the frontiers of African states should be immutable?
§ Mr. Fisher
I do not want to enter into such philosophical discussions. I conceive my speech as a report to the House on the conclusions I formed in Nigeria, and I do not want to be side-tracked. Perhaps I could talk to the hon. Gentleman on that theme later.
I should now like to say something about the supplies of food. I do not believe that it is always clearly understood even in this House that large areas of that vast country are cultivated and food-producing, including many beef 1463 cattle, especially in the Benue Plateau State, so that sending food to Nigeria is a little like sending coal to Newcastle. I saw 2,000 market stalls in Jos and elsewhere groaning with food, including meat, which cannot be sold because the traditional markets in Ibo territory to the south are now cut off. The result is that food prices in the north have never been so low, and it would be cheaper and more helpful to the economy of Nigeria to send money to buy cheap Nigerian food than to send in food from abroad.
In any case, there is enough food already stockpiled in Lagos for all immediate requirements, but there are not enough lorries to transport it. Air transport is not very practical, although it is helpful, because the quantities it can carry are too small. Sea and land routes to the battle areas are essential, and food to the Aba/Ikotekpene sector is best sent by sea to Calabar. But there is only an 18 ft. draught at Calabar, and hitherto there has been a shortage of suitable vessels to send food there. This situation was improving when I left, and I was assured by the International Red Cross that 1,850 tons of food would be shipped to Calabar for the south-eastern sector during the second half of this month. But when it gets there, there are still far too few lorries to transport it to the battle areas. The Red Cross had only two large lorries in the whole of the south-eastern sector when I was there. There was also a severe shortage of drugs and trained relief workers—only six nurses and one doctor for the whole sector. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say this morning that this situation is improving.
We inspected a refugee camp at Ikotekpene. It was one of the most dreadful things that I have ever seen. There were 800 children and 600 adults there, literally starving. I am afraid that most of them, certainly most of the children, must have been dead a few days after we left. They were subsisting on small plates of raw rice and garri once a day, without facilities for cooking except little wood fires made by those strong enough to do so.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned a camp that he saw within the Federal territory. He also said that he saw markets crowded with food 1464 in the Federal territory. Why has not the food been taken to the starving people?
§ Mr. Fisher
I explained that by saying that there was a lack of transport by sea to Calabar and by lorries up from Calabar. That is the explanation; one can call it lack of organisation by the Red Cross or by the Nigerian authorities, but I do not want to attribute blame. Only a few miles south of the battle area the villagers appeared to be reasonably well fed. Transport is the main need; and an end to the war.
I must be brutally frank and say that in my view there is very little possibility of a political settlement; but a military settlement could come quite quickly if the Federal army has now, as has been mentioned, resumed a full military offensive. I genuinely believe that in the end this would be the most humane solution. This may sound odd, and I will explain it because my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) made a rather cutting remark about a "quick kill" and I think he was referring to something that I had said. What I meant by "a quick kill" was a resumption of the military offensive and a quick finish to the war. The example that I gave—it may have been abbreviated in the Press reports—was that it might involve killing in battle another 1,000 Ibo soldiers but I believe it would mean saving the lives of tens of thousands of Ibo civilians who would otherwise die from starvation.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
The point of the "quick kill" is that if it leads to guerrilla action it will lead to reprisals of the most savage sort. I have seen this sort of thing carried out by the Germans against the civilian population. It is the only way that military power can operate. Its forces must shoot civilians in order to destroy the guerrillas.
§ Mr. Fisher
I am coming to that point. I acknowledge that a quick solution depends upon the assumption that there would be no massacre of Ibo civilians by Federal troops. I believe that my right hon. Friend's talk of genocide is nonsense. There are 30,000 Ibos living peacefully and prosperously in Lagos alone and nearly half a million in the mid-West. In many States that we visited, including the North, we found abandoned property 1465 committees and reconstruction and rehabilitation committees which are everywhere administering Ibo houses and shops abandoned by their owners when the war started. Detailed records have been kept of the properties in large ledgers, including the names of the Ibo owners, photographs of the properties, their values, damage done to the properties, repairs undertaken, and rents paid if the properties are let. The rents are put in frozen accounts for return with the properties themselves to the Ibo owners after the war. The documentation is very detailed and complete throughout every State. It is not kept to impress chance itinerant politicians like me. It is part of a genuine Federal policy to welcome back the Ibos to Nigeria when the war is over. The Ibos will also get back their Federal Civil Service jobs when they return.
§ Mr. Fisher
I have given way a lot.
I believe that the Ibos will get back their State Civil Service jobs as well everywhere except perhaps in the North. In one place we were given a list of 166 Ibo civil servants who had resumed their former employment. It would be strange indeed to find all this evidence of good will towards the Ibos if the Federal policy was really genocide.
It may be argued that Federal policy in Lagos is one thing but that the conduct of Colonel Adekunle's troops in the field may be quite another. All I can say is that I have not seen better disciplined, better saluting and better drilled troops anywhere outside the Brigade of Guards. I commented on this to Colonel Adekunle, who replied that it was not surprising as they had been trained by a warrant officer in the Scots Guards. His dearest wish is to attend an Imperial Defence College course after the war. He told me, with scorn, that the only senior Nigerian officer who had not managed to get into Sandhurst was Colonel Ojukwu, who had only managed to achieve a fourth-class pass degree at Oxford.
The other important reassurance to the Ibos is General Gowon's statement, already publicly announced, that he would agree to the presence of an international force in Nigeria for six months or a year to ensure fair play and no 1466 victimisation of the Ibos. He told me that, in his view, this could best be composed of units from India, Ethiopia and Canada. I am convinced that his objective is a united Nigeria and that he genuinely believes that the Ibos have a most important part to play in this. The trouble is that the Ibos do not know this. Just as Ojukwu's external propaganda has been effective, so has his internal propaganda. Ibos feel that if they surrender or desert they will be shot. So they think they have nothing to lose.
The Ibo army is well fed. The Ibo civilian population outside the battle areas, we were told, have barely enough. But it is the refugees on both sides of the front line who are starving.
§ Mr. Delargy
It is a short point. The hon. Gentleman says that the fears that the Ibos have of being massacred are groundless. Will he explain why 30,000 were massacred just before the war began?
§ Mr. Fisher
I will not go into all that. It would make too long a speech. I have reported in detail on that point to the Secretary of State. There is a perfectly good case, but it would take a long time to make it. The figure has in any case been wildly exaggerated. It is about 5,000, not 30,000. I have checked this with many independent people there, including British people.
§ Mr. Delargy
The information came from a member of a British mission in Biafra who has been there for the last 32 years.
§ Mr. Fisher
In Biafra they might have said that, but not in Federal Nigeria. I have not time to go into this. It is irrelevant to my main theme.
One of the ironies of Colonel Ojukwu's policy of secession is that the Ibos were all for a united Nigeria as long as they were running it. General Ironsi, the former Ibo leader, favoured a unitary State, which the present Federal Government have never suggested. But whether the Ibo army fights on or gives in, in my view the war cannot go on much longer. 1467 There are only two more towns and two more airfields to take, and I believe that as soon as those are captured organised resistance will collapse. Guerrilla warfare might continue for a little time, but I do not think that it will go on for long because there will be no way of getting arms in or distributing arms to the troops once the airfields and main towns are taken. That was also the opinion of the East German journalist whom I have mentioned, who had just left Biafra.
The post-war prospects are important. The new 12-State structure is already operating quite well and has, I believe, come to stay. It will be more expensive to administer than the regional system that we left; but it is politically essential and is, surprisingly, universally accepted in Nigeria, even in the North. It is a Nigerian as opposed to a British creation. They have devised it and they are, therefore, involved in its success. Economically, it is vital for Nigeria and, indeed, for Britain, to get the oil flowing again. I was assured by General Gowon that this should be possible in a very short time, probably within the next month.
Politically, the Federation must have strong powers at the centre and this appeared to be universally accepted. I was encouraged to find that General Gowon and the military State Governors are also keen to get back to Parliamentary rule, which they had planned for March, 1969, but owing to the civil war this will, no doubt, now have to be postponed a little longer.
As hon. Members will have gathered, despite the tragedy of the war, I am extremely optimistic about the future of Nigeria. I believe that this great Commonwealth country will quite soon, and once again, be peaceful and prosperous and a leader of African opinion, as it always has been in the past.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) has asked the Biafrans to surrender. The Biafrans have shown by their suffering, their resistance and their fighting that they will not surrender. Therefore, if the hon. Member wants to avoid bloodshed and suffering, as I believe he does, 1468 he should not try to stop the victims from resisting. He should try to stop the invaders from invading.
Yesterday, this House rightly discussed the attack on liberty. To-day, we are discussing the attack not only on liberty, but also on life itself. We are told that 22 Czechoslovaks have been killed in their country, but what we are discussing now is the probable death of multitudes, and, moreover, in a sphere for which the British Government have great responsibility.
The relief authorities estimate—it is only an estimate—that 6,000 people are dying each day in Biafra. Yesterday, the International Red Cross estimated that half a million have already died through starvation in the last few months. That is a very high proportion of the population of Biafra. Last night, Dr. Azikwe estimated that in the fighting alone 80,000 Biafrans and 70,000 Nigerians had been killed. British missionaries fear that 3 million might die in the next few months.
It is possible that in the next few days the world may witness the greatest human tragedy since 1945: the slaughter and starvation of millions of men, women and children. We may see an attempt at what Hitler called the final solution of the Jewish question, and this may be the attempted final solution of the Biafran question.
Even if every human being is not shot, as many Biafrans fear, I believe that they are right in thinking that every person capable of giving leadership locally will be killed. In one town in the last few days, every secondary school teacher was killed by invading forces. In two villages near Akwuete, 15 miles south of Aba, 2,500 inhabitants were shot dead, according to the Biafran radio. [Interruption.] That is no more unreliable than the hon. Gentleman's evidence.
I want to quote what the Federal Military Commander himself said. Colonel Adekunle said:Shoot everything at sight whether it moves or not.That is not from Biafran sources.
Millions of British people, shocked by television documentaries and reports and photographs in the British Press, share the impatience of Lord Brockway and 1469 others with the statesmen of the world that they are doing so little to prevent this tragedy. I am convinced that our Government, the Government most intimately connected with Nigeria, are making a ghastly mistake. Surely the Commonwealth Office and the Cabinet must now realise that they have failed and that by providing arms to the Federal Government they are helping the war and worsening the terrible situation.
I should like to remind the House of what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said on 12th June:If we make the supposition that it were the intention of the Federal Government not merely to preserve the unity of Nigeria but to proceed without mercy either with the slaughter or the starvation of the Ibo people … then the arguments which justified the policy we have … pursued would fall, and we would have to reconsider, and more than reconsider, the action we have so far taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th June, 1968; Vol. 766, c. 293.]The time for reconsideration is overdue. Far from exercising a restraining hand on Nigeria's conduct of operations, British arms and British support have worsened it. AsThe Guardian said this morning,Even at this late stage it would be better to abandon a policy that has been proved morally disgraceful as well as politically bankrupt.This morning, my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary said that we do not wish to see the invasion. What does he think he is seeing? How much more can there be invasion than is occurring now? The fact is that the "big push" has begun. Again, this is not Biafran opinion. It was stated by General Gowon on television last night. General Gowon said that he expects that the Federal troops will win in four weeks. They will not. My contacts with Biafrans lead me to believe that they are prepared to die to the last man and woman before this happens. People may say that they are wrong, but that is what will happen. It would take months, but it need not take place at all.
The Commonwealth Secretary said this morning, and it was very much the same as was said by the hon. Member for Surbiton but not in such crude terms, that the attitude of those of us who have spoken this morning—and I must say how much I admired the powerful speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and by 1470 the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), with whom I seldom agree but with whom I agreed absolutely in what he said this morning—was discouraging the Biafrans from giving in. It is asking them to accept slaughter. It is, again, the argument of the quick victory. These Biafrans are remarkable people, the men and the women, and I am convinced that they will not give in. I do not accept very readily, in view of the statement I have just read by the Federal Government's leading military man, that the Biafrans would be safe from decimation if this takes place.
I find intolerable the complicity of the British Commonwealth Office with the Federal Government it is backing. Commonwealth Ministry officials are misleading the British people. Whether this is deliberate or not, I will not say; they may be misleading themselves. While these officials in Lagos and Whitehall have a lot to answer for, the Commonwealth Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the whole Cabinet are ultimately responsible for what is happening—and I am very glad to see the Commonwealth Secretary—
§ Mr. George Thomson
My hon. Friend ought to put the responsibility where it belongs. It is on my shoulders. He should not attack my advisers, who have no opportunity to answer back and whose advice I accept or reject.
§ Mr. Allaun
I accept that, and my right hon. Friend is quite right: it is a Cabinet responsibility; and I will quote one or two things which the Commonwealth Office has said. Let me give some evidence.
Sunday'sObserver reported that Chief Enahoro and the Commonwealth Office doubted the reports of widespread starvation in Biafra. My goodness, we have seen these things on television, we have seen the reports of scores of British reporters and foreign reporters, and these reporters are not making these things up. I think that that was an astounding and disgraceful statement for the Commonwealth Office to make.
In the last few weeks the Commonwealth Office denied that invasion was taking place. I heard—agreed, from Biafran sources, but it can be proved from the man of Biafra itself snowing 1471 the change of control—that invasion has been going on for three weeks. It may be that the bigger push is coming now. Nevertheless, it has been taking place, and at this very moment the British Government announce a loan of £10 million to the Federal Government free of interest. I regard this as an affront not only to the Biafrans but to every Member of this House who takes a different point of view from the Government.
This comes from the argument about influencing the Federal Government. This is the third debate we have had on this subject since 12th June, and on each occasion we have been given the stock answer about influencing the Federal Government. It does not seem to have been very successful. It has failed, and, far from discouraging Gowon's invasion, our supply of arms and our political support are encouraging Gowon to invade in the way he has done.
This is one point I ask the Commonwealth Secretary to believe, that so long as we are supplying arms to one side we are in no position to act as mediators, and that is the position which we should be occupying, the position of mediators, but this puts us out of court.
Last night, although there were not so many here late on, 51 hon. Members on this side of the House signed a Motion from the left, right and centre of our party. It is very short, and I ask the House to listen to it. It says:That this House asks Her Majesty's Government to stop all arms supplies for Nigeria immediately and to approach the Governments of those countries still permitting the supply of arms to either side for a joint ban.I must say that the only way some of us have of expressing, other than in words, our opposition to what we believe is a tragically mistaken policy is by voting against the Adjournment, and unless, as we hope there is, of course, some last-minute change, of which there was not a sign in the Commonwealth Secretary's speech this morning—I regret to say that it was merely an attempt to justify a disastrous policy, and the whole bias of his speech was to support the Federal Government and, indeed, Federal action—I feel that the only way of expressing opposition will be by voting against the Adjournment of the House.
Trading interests are involved here, £300 million of British investments, and 1472 it may be that the Government believe that big orders for British industry will be forthcoming when all this is over. I say it is not intelligent to believe one can do business in a cemetery, and that is largely what is going to result if this war continues.
Just a word on relief. We welcome the Addis Ababa agreement, but there have been agreements before, and they have not resulted in supply of food. The Biafrans have offered an airstrip, and inspection by the Red Cross, for food supplies by air, and I see no valid objection to sending supplies of food. Caritas can get things there. I am not a Catholic, but I say, all credit to Caritas. The World Council of Churches can get things there, and in the last four days the International Red Cross has been able to get things there too. All the British Government have been able to do is to get one Hercules plane in the air. It is not good enough.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hul, West)
I hope my hon. Friend will be—may I say?—a little more fair and will turn his mind to the possibility of a land corridor which could take ten times as much of supplies, and appeal to the Biafran Government to allow a land corridor. I have been on the spot, and I can assure my hon. Friend that a land corridor could be provided quite easily.
§ Mr. Allaun
That was proposed at Addis Ababa, and that is what I should like to see, both a land corridor and an air corridor, but I can see no objection to the much quicker means, which is an airstrip, particularly when we have seen food supplies already in Lagos and distributed to hungry people within the Federal Government's area itself.
I make a person point now, and I may not in this necessarily represent the 51 hon. Members who signed the Motion. I believe the Government must have a reappraisal of their attitude towards Nigeria. The idea of federation maybe, was a good one, but I am convinced that bitterness is now so great in Biafra that, whilst union may be possible, it is not reasonable to expect the Biafrans to submit to people who have in many cases massacred them; it is not right, in particular, to expect them to accept security forces of people who come from the North.
1473 I must quote a letter which was written on Saturday by 21 members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service, either present members or retired members, and 21 very eminent ones. They say, to back up the point which I have just made:In any case the war cannot and will not restore 'Nigerian unity'. We regret the failure of a splendid idea for which most of us have actually worked, but we recognise that General Gowon spoke the truth when, after assuming power in Lagos at the end of July, 1966, he announced that the 'basis for unity no longer exists'. The hope of preserving some form of federal structure was, however, not abandoned in Eastern Nigeria until after General Gowon's repudiation of the Aburi Agreement early in 1967. The Biafrans have nevertheless maintained their willingness to negotiate arrangements for common services and future association over a wide field. The pre-requisite for meaningful negotiations is to stop the fighting.I conclude on this point, that nearly always the sale of arms abroad is a dirty business which worsens the prospects for peace. This is a striking example; it is the classic case against the sale of arms to other countries.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)
The House has, today, reflected something of the shock that has been felt throughout the country from the television appearance of one of the Federal Government's divisional commanders, Colonel Adekunle. That appearance, combined with photographs of starving people, has resulted in people everywhere, whether they have interests in Nigeria or not, accepting the impact of this television presentation.
We have not had from General Gowon the assurances that we need if the people of this country are to be reassured about the attitude of the Federal Government towards the Ibos, both in the Federal administrative areas and within the Ibo heartland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) gave a vivid account of starvation on the Federal side of the battle lines which, not so long ago was on the other side of the lines. That may properly be taken as some indication of the impact of starvation today within the Ibo areas.
In view of this new information, we are no longer justified in standing aside or in going ahead with the policy announced before the Recess. These re- 1474 ports cannot just be laughed off. Last night General Gowon announced that he was launching the final phase of the battle which he hoped would be completed in four weeks. That announcement must be combined with the television statements made by Colonel Adekunle which the Secretary of State brushed aside as being a flamboyant public relations exercise of a field commander. If that statement did not represent the view of the Federal Nigerian Government, then the sooner that is made clear to the people of this country and the Secretary of State the better. It was a horrifying presentation in all its callousness.
We know that there are other sides to the picture. An important piece of evidence, which completely destroys the strident statements about genocide, is the reasonable treatment of the Ibos in the areas now administered by the Federal Government. This is incontrovertible. People have access to those Ibos and can ask them about how they are being treated. What is more, this can be seen as evidence of good intentions. We have heard General Gowon speaking on this subject and I believe that he has a realistic and constructive appraisal of the future rôle of the Ibos in a strong and united Nigeria.
I have visited all regions of Nigeria since I was there in earlier days helping to set up their first university. Even then, just at the end of the war, one of the mainsprings of initiative, ideas and drive throughout the whole of Nigeria was from the land-hungry and energetic Ibo people. This still applies today. They have an immense contribution to make to the future of Nigeria. But if they are to realise their potential as a distinct group, with their own language, their own beliefs and their own intense family loyalties, then they must have the whole of Nigeria as the field for their operations. Any Ibo would say this: Nigeria will be greatly the loser if the Ibos do not regain enough confidence to enable them to operate throughout the country.
We have heard from both sides evidence of the Ibo's return, within Federal Nigeria, to routine duties in the midst of tragedy. They are surrounded by the tragedy of their own people who have been misled by Colonel Ojukwu 1475 into this bloody confrontation for an end that is not worth while. Nevertheless, there is evidence that care is being taken to restore to those Ibos now living in the Federal areas confidence that their future field of operations is in the whole of Nigeria.
For the British Government, this is not just a practical problem of whether or not our continued supply of arms would affect the last phase of the battle. I do not think it will, but I am certain that we ought to make this gesture unless we get from General Gowon quite new assurances, both about the objectives of his Federal Government in the Ibo heartland and the acceptance of those objectives and methods by his field commanders, and evidence that the Federal Government will do far more than they have done up to now to open the land and air routes to the passage of food and medical supplies.
I know that Colonel Ojukwu says that he does not want supplies to be dependent on routes over land administered by the Federal Government. He will need to change on this. But, from what my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton said today, there has been great laxity in getting supplies even to some of the areas administered by the Federal Government. I do not want to be put off with guff about the difficulty of organising transport. If a sufficiently high priority were given to the task, transport could be found. I am sure that the firms who for many years have represented our great trading connection with Nigeria would be prepared to put transport at the disposal of the Federal Government for this purpose.
I was sorry that the Secretary of State did not refer to the slackness of the Federal Government in getting supplies to areas which have recently come under their administration. It is a manageable task to which a higher priority should be given. Those who know Nigeria know that, in a good harvest year, there is plenty of food. It worries me that greater efforts have not been made; this could represent an attitude too near to that of the divisional commander who appeared on television. There seems to be not nearly enough regard for what is happening to the civilian population in the Ibo areas.
1476 If the Federal Government really want to regain the confidence of the Ibo people—and rivalries have been building up over many years—the sooner that they start giving more effective help with supplies of food and medicaments to civilians both within the Ibo area under Colonel Ojukwu's control and in areas recently taken over by the Federal Government, the sooner they will make a start on re-establishing that confidence.
The Government should, I believe, give the House an undertaking that, unless they get better assurances from General Gowon about the intentions of the Federal Government towards the Ibo people in their own area and a repudiation of the approach of the divisional commander who appeared on T.V., we shall have no more to do with the supply of arms to Nigeria. Since the Secretary of State last spoke to the House before the Recess there has been a serious deterioration in the situation. There is clear evidence of callousness in relieving starvation.
I know that our stopping our supply of arms may not make any difference to the ability of the Federal forces to wage war to the end, but, if relationships between Federal Nigeria and this country are as close as I believe them to be, such a gesture or the threat of it could, I suggest, have the effect of causing them to give higher priority to saving civilian life in the old Eastern Province both within the Ibo area and that which they administer outside Colonel Ojukwu's area.
I say this with some sadness because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton, I have a deep faith in the ability of a federated but closely knit Nigeria to provide a reasonably tolerant framework of living for people in the whole of Nigeria, including the three groups in the old Eastern Province. It is a big enough and powerful enough unit economically. And certainly the people, if united, are powerful enough in their determination and brain power and in the rich diversity of their cultures to play a leading part in bringing Africa forward to play an important and constructive rôle in world affairs. However, unless we get from General Gowon the assurances which I have mentioned, we ought to dissociate ourselves from this final phase, on the grounds that the Federal Government are not doing 1477 all that they could and should to preserve civilian Ibo lives.
Before I stop, I should like to make one additional point. I do not accept this term "Biafra". As I have tried to indicate, I have a great regard for the capacity and tenacity of the Ibo people. However, I do not think that either the new South-East State or the River State, which are included in Colonel Ojukwu's idea of Biafra, will ever again want to be under the administration of an Ibo-dominated administration. The problem remains to find a way of living for the Ibos, they must have both their heartland and freedom to operate within the whole of Nigeria.
Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would ask the Secretary of State to consider very carefully the new attitudes that have been shown not only on television but in the reports that we have heard today about the callous disregard for civilian life and for starvation. This country should not tolerate it, and we should no longer be associated with it unless we get fresh assurances about the Federal Government's programe of action to relieve these horrors and their intentions towards the Ibo heartland.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
In the speech of the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair), we have heard the voice of sanity. I enjoyed his speech immensely. However, I want to take up three of his points, the first of them being the callous disregard on both sides for human life.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, within the last week or two I have been to this whole area. I went to within a few miles of the Ibo lines, and at Ikot Ekpene I saw hundreds of boys and girls lying naked on stone floors, living on a pannikin of beans and rice per day. It was the most shocking and saddest spectacle that I have seen in my life.
I accept all that has been said about the inefficiency and lack of organisation in getting food into the Ikot Peninsula on the west side of the Calabar Estuary. However, that state of affairs is changing rapidly. Before I left Lagos, two boats had gone to Calabar, together with vehicles, taking 1,850 tons of food supplies. I hope that matters will continue to improve in this area. It has been ad- 1478 ministered by the Federal Forces, and there is no excuse now for not getting food to it.
At Ikot Ekpene, the battle has ebbed and flowed, the area spending a few days in Ibo hands and then a period in Federal hands. The civilian population has been between the devil and the deep blue sea. It is hard to understand why civilians have not been taken south to safer areas like Uyo.
I spent two hours in Port Harcourt discussing matters with Colonel Adekunle, and later I had lunch at his house. I did not see the television broadcast to which many hon. Members have referred, but, whatever Adekunle may have said about killing Ibo on sight, that is not the state of affairs on the spot. I interviewed four Ibo officers, one of whom was a deserter, and between 25 and 30 Ibo soldiers, many of them of school age, who had been captured or who had come through the lines. In the Ikot Peninsula there are many thousands of Ibos who are now living with others in this post-war society.
I turn now to the matter of incorporation of the Ibos. I went all over the north—Kano, Jos, Kaduna and elsewhere, and South east to Calabar and Port Harcourt. Everywhere I met the will on the part of non-Ibo people, whatever their ethnic origins, to attempt to forget what had happened in those dreadful days of May and September, 1966, and a desire to build up a new United Nigeria. I accept this. I take this for what it was given to me. I believe there is a genuine will once more to live with the Ibos.
We have heard earlier in the debate that in the cities of the North and West there is an administrator looking after all the old shops and houses of the former Ibo inhabitants. Inventories have been carefully kept, with a caretaker who gets 2s. in the £ for collecting the moneys which are recorded in the files.
Many Ibos are coming back to their old homes. The best place to see this is in the Mid-West, like Benin. If one goes there, there are thousands of Ibos who have never gone over to the east bank of the Niger. In the Cabinet in the Mid-West State there are two Ibos among the nine members. I have been assured by many people that it is not 1479 impossible to envisage the Ibos once more living amongst their fellow Nigerians. That is my own opinion based on my own experience, having spent a fortnight among these people. I say this sincerely, but must emphasise again the need to get food and medical supplies to Ibo refugees in the places that I have mentioned.
I should like to correct a myth about eastern Nigeria. Speeches have been made by Colonel Ojukwu at Addis Ababa in which mention is made of 14 million Ibos. One does not need to have been a historian at Oxford to know that this is not a fact. When one goes to Calabar, Port Harcourt and elsewhere, one finds there are in the south-east State and the river State at least 4 million—some may say 4½ to 5 million —non-Ibo people who have suffered in the past as a minority in the East under an Ibo administered eastern capital at Enugu, similarly as the Ibos suffered in the North in 1966 under a northern Moslem-dominated capital at Kaduna.
It is a very complex situation, but I hope that we shall all attempt to hit the correct balance. As I put to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sal-ford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) a few moments ago, there are two sides, both showing an equally callous disregard for human life. I fault the Federal Government, and I have said so while there; because they have been more than evasive in the matter of an airlift over the fighting lines into the airfields of Ibo-land or Biafra, call it what one might in East Nigeria—this heartland of Ibo people. I fault the Federal forces. In the same context, however, I do not hear anyone speaking with emotion or otherwise in this Chamber, who will say to Colonel Ojukwu, as I say to him: Why cannot we have a land corridor which can carry in 10 times the amount of food, 10 times as quickly, for 100 times the number of people? Supplies can be taken so much more quickly and efficiently over land. I am pleading for less inflexibility on both sides of the war. I ask for the sake of 60 million people who live in Nigeria, not 8 million of a particular Ibo ethnic group or, indeed, 40,000 of a smaller ethnic group. I plead for the Nigerian people as a whole, and it is not impossible to visualise this society in future.
1480 I went out there to do three things: first, to see what was happening to the food and medical supplies; secondly, to ascertain the morale of the people; and, thirdly, to discover what are the hopes for a peaceful solution.
We have heard about the tide of battle ebbing and flowing. I have been in the field, and I want to correct another myth. There is a myth which is fostered over the air and on television, also by journalists who should know better, but not, indeed fostered by missionaries who have come out from either side, thatthere is a seething mass of helpless people about to be overwhelmed.I found on the Ikot Ekpene Peninsula—and I was also in Port Harcourt, which was devastated by the Ibos when they left—many women carrying their goods in bundles on their heads; many Ibos and other tribes coming back to live in the towns. Behind the Federal lines there is what I call law and order in the usual sense of the term. I found people going about their business and their markets as usual. There were at least 220,000 people, some well fed, some in stages of starvation, between Oron going north to Ikot Ekpene and the Ibo battle lines. They were attending their markets as usual. I am told on the highest authority, a Canadian pastor in the Church of Scotland who has been on the Biafra side, that, in the same way, there is what he calleda life which goes on with firmness and decision.I hope, therefore, we will not hear too much about this business of blasting villagers with gunfire on either side of the roads. Genocide is a sinful word, and I hope that no one will use it in this Chamber again. I do not believe there is planned genocide. I think it is disgraceful that we should endeavour to link what is happening in East Nigeria with what happened in that disgusting page in European history in Germany when 6 million Jews were consigned to gas chambers. The word "genocide" has no such connotation in the Nigerian context, and I have no evidence to suggest that this is so or is happening in the occupied areas.
I was told again on the best authority—1 was not behind the Ibo lines, of course—that there are 700 camps with 700,000 refugees on the Ibo side. This 1481 is one thing I would emphasise before I sit down. It is a ghastly fact that there are at least 5,000—perhaps 6,000—men, women and children dying each day. It may be that 6,000 have died today and that 6,000 will die tomorrow. I hope that we will all remember this terrible fact.
To relieve the hunger we talk about an airlift or a land corridor, but the important thing is for the fighting to cease. It is vital to stop the fighting and then get in masses of food plus an observer corps, formed of the Canadians, Ethiopians and Indians. It is also important to take in thousands of young women as nurses, and men as medical auxiliaries, in the hospitals and camps.
How does one achieve a cease-fire? I pay all homage to the Emperor of Ethiopia for his enormous work and able chairmanship in Addis Ababa. But, despite the enormous losses, the military defeats and the starvation at home, Colonel Ojukwu is still determined to preserve Biafra as a separate state. I plead here, with Colonel Ojukwu and others, including President Azikwe, who is now in London, that they should not be determined to go on with the suffering to their own people. Their answer is "no" to accepting any land corridor, and "no" to anything else as long as peace is linked with the question of giving up their secession. I understand how the Ibo leaders feel about it. I have also listened to my right hon. and hon. Friends speaking this morning, and I respect their utmost sincerity but do not agree.
One of the bad things about the political situation is that Colonel Ojukwu has convinced the Ibo people, within their diminishing heartland, that they will suffer this awful genocide. As I have said before, in my opinion this is a sinful term to use but I understand the motives behind it. I know what happened in September, 1966, in Jos, Kano and other towns. But we must ask ourselves the question: must millions suffer because two élites are fighting it out at the top? Must people suffer because Colonel Ojukwu and his colleagues totally mistrust the intentions of General Gowon and other leaders in Lagos? It seems that millions must, until they can get in observer forces and supplies of food and medicine.
At Addis Ababa it has been said that this is a dialogue of the deaf and the 1482 dumb. My experience leads me to believe that General Gowon has deliberately chosen not to force home his advantage in the field in the past few weeks. I believe that Her Majesty's Government have had some influence in Lagos in this matter. I believe that General Gowon is sensitive—even hypersensitive—to public opinion, including the opinion of Her Majesty's Government.
I hope that my colleagues will not be too shocked if I say that the logic of the situation will cause me not to pass judgment upon General Gowon if he finally decides that military action is justified after four series of peace talks, with deadlock continuing day after day. When I know that 6.000 lives will be lost a day—which is 200,000 in a month, and 500,000 in a quarter of a year—I must take the view that the imperative thing is to shorten this war, end the fighting and get in relief.
This is the vital thing in the whole situation, and I beg General Gowon and his opposite number, Colonel Ojukwu, to think again about this. This stalemate is upon their shoulders. If Colonel Ojukwu would give up just one thing—secession—and General Gowon, for his part, would meet Colonel Ojukwu, it would mean—to me and to many other people like me—that a load would be taken off our shoulders in terms of our concern for the suffering peoples.
I agree with what was said inThe Guardian on 21st August, namely:A compromise will be difficult but not impossible. A mid-course must be found between the incompatible extremes of General Gowon's neat twelve-state pattern, and Biafra's claim to complete independence. A sovereign Biafra does not seem within the bounds of practical politics. The disastrously overcrowded Ibo heartland cannot be viable by itself. The rest of Biafra peopled by non-Ibos who are not predominantly in favour of secession, is in Federal hands and will remain so.I am assured that the Federal Government propose a general amnesty upon the cease-fire, to be followed later by the holding of a constitutional conference which will decide the degree of association between the various peoples of Nigeria. I believe that the vast majority of the people of Nigeria wish to build a united and virile nation, and wish to have the gifted and hardworking Ibos back in their midst. I am sure that all of us in 1483 this Chamber desire that events will allow this to come to pass.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I am delighted to follow the most thoughtful and well-informed speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson). I want to make a slightly different point. At the end of last month I attended an international conference in Stockholm on aid and development from Europe to the developing countries. Quite incidental to the subject before the conference I was asked to support a resolution offering sympathy to the suffering people of Biafra.
No less than 23 nations were represented at the conference. I rose to explain that people were suffering not only in Biafra but throughout the whole of Nigeria, and proposed that in lieu of the word "Biafra" there should be substituted the word "Nigeria". My suggestion was met with stony silence. This is a measure of the excellence of Biafra's public relations on the one hand and Europe's ignorance of the general situation in Nigeria on the other. People are extremely surprised when they are informed that the casualties in the civil was in Nigeria exceed those in the war in Vietnam. It makes the tragic events in Czechoslovakia look like a bull-fight by comparison.
It may not be superflous to remind the House—and it may put the situation in perspective—that up to the beginning of 1966 the Nigerian Federation had not only miraculously held together but was regarded as the showpiece of the Commonwealth in Africa—a large and potentially wealthy federation with inbuilt safeguards for the rights of minorities. Then, on 15th January, 1966, the Federal Prime Minister, the Northern Prime Minister, the Sardauna of Socoto, and the Western Prime Minister, were murdered, along with several senior Northern army officers, in an Ibo-ledcoup d'etat. This event probably triggered off the civil war, although other equally unsavoury events intervened.
I am not trying to over-simplify the situation, and it would be completely pointless and unproductive—two years later—to try to apportion blame, or to cast either antagonist in the rôle of hero 1484 or villain. There has been, and there still is, a ghastly civil war raging, with appalling casualities, many—perhaps the majority—among non-combatants. It is to our shame that Britain has been directly or indirectly militarily involved. The worst sufferers are the minority tribes on the fringe of the Ibo heartland —the Efriks, the Ibibios, the Orvikos and the Calabaris—the small tribes who live in very unsophisticated conditions along the creeks of the Niger delta.
I regret that I have no first-hand expertise to bring to the subject of Nigeria, but I have one or two rather pertinent questions to ask. I have taken a considerable interest in this subject, although my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) has tended to deal rather more with African matters than I have. Nevertheless, I paid a visit to the Secretary of State for Wales, when he was Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs, in order to raise this subject, and I was also on an all-party group which called upon the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs. I have also attended all the debates on the subject.
The two Ministers concerned are men for whom I have the highest respect, but I have never seen two Ministers look quite so desperately uncomfortable as they did when we have discussed with them Britain's involvement in Nigeria, and when they have attempted to explain, quite inadequately, the reasons for it. In my view, Britain's aim and purpose in Nigeria has never been openly and unequivocally declared. Time and time again the excuse has been offered that by continuing to send arms to the Federal Government we are somehow retaining influence, but this has never been explained or enlarged upon, and I do not accept it.
I cannot believe that Britain has any right—and she certainly has no duty—to become involved in a civil war in the territory of an independent State. Certainly there have been no invitations, and there are no treaty obligations.
Certain nations which originally supplied arms to Nigeria, among them Holland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and West Germany, have ceased to supply arms.
§ Mr. Davidson
I am not sure that France has suspended the flow of arms. In any event, I understand that the Dutch Foreign Minister has approached other countries asking them to also suspend the flow of arms to the Nigerian Federal Government. Has that Minister approached the United Kingdom and asked us to suspend the flow of arms? If so, what reply have we given?
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will enter a qualification about the French suspension of arms because there are reports from people in Nigeria that the French Air Force has flown in a consignment of equipment and that over 20 Panhard armoured cars are now operating in the country. The French may have said that they have suspended the flow of arms, but I am not sure that they have, and I will elaborate on this if I am able to speak in the debate later.
§ Mr. Davidson
I did not include France in the last I originally gave because I am not as well informed as the hon. Gentleman on this score. I understand that there is some doubt about France in this respect.
Some embarrassing questions must be asked of the Government and straight answers must be given. Have the Government considered replacing the present British Commissioner in Nigeria? I trust that the Minister will forgive me if I do not say much about the gentleman at this stage, but I will give him further information personally later. According to certain unimpeachable sources, the standing of this gentleman is not high. I suggest that a very highly respected British Commissioner of great political ability and integrity will be needed in the coming weeks and months. Great importance is attached to personalities in Africa, since the Africans tend to live much closer to the surface, so to speak, than we in Europe. In this respect I understand that personality is woefully lacking.
Perhaps it is my ignorance which leads me to ask this question, but what steps have been taken to press for the 12-state solution which I understand is widely accepted as the right way forward by many thoughtful Nigerians of 1486 all types of background, since this would tend to spread power from the three major tribes of the North, East and West? This spreading of power is, of course, an attractive idea to Liberals.
§ Mr. Davidson
If it is, the Federal Government have been remarkably unsuccessful in pushing it forward at a fruitful and productive time.
According to information which I believe to be reliable, a Federal Government soldier captured at Umuede has since stated that five English-speaking officers, four men and one woman, are engaged in the headquarters of C Company, 14th Brigade of the Federal Army in planning operations. Is the Minister aware of this? Are these men and this woman of British nationality? I appreciate that they could, for example, be English-speaking Russians. I gather that they are sometimes seen in uniform and sometimes not.
The same soldier is reported to be convinced that the majority of Ferret armoured vehicles are driven by white soldiers. Are these mercenaries? Has the Minister any information about them? I have with me a list of nine British officers said to have been killed in action in May, 1968, in the Bonny section during an attack on Port Harcourt. I have had names checked against the Army List, but I gather that they are not in the List for this year or last year. Does the Minister know anything about these men? Are they likely to have been mercenaries and are any of them likely to have been in receipt of pensions from Her Majesty's Government? What is the policy of the Government on pay and pensions to former British Army officers now engaged as mercenaries fighting for cash for a foreign power? The same source informs me that a Lieut.-Colonel H. N. Hunter, said to be British, is in command of the Bonny area. If this is true, I would be interested to know his status.
I am told that possibly the main reason for the speed of advance, when they get going, of the Federal Army, is their immense superiority in fire power and in the use of a new type of weapon, the official name of which I do not know but which is said to be a radar-controlled shelling 1487 machine which completely saturates a given area. Many youngsters in the Federal Army are, I am told, 18 or 19 years of age and have had 10 days' training. However, due to the immense fire power at their command, they have an enormous advantage over their opponents. May we be given an assurance that these radar-controlled saturation shelling machines are not of British origin?
Two assertions have been voiced and I give this opportunity to the Minister to deny them, if they are untrue. One is that Her Majesty's Government will have to pay massive cancellation charges if arms orders by the Federal Government from British firms are not delivered. The second—I have no confirmation of this—is that Airwork Services Ltd., which might be termed a British Government cover organisation, has negotiated a large contract to re-equip the Nigerian Air Force with Jet Provosts.
It is time that the Government came completely clean on the matter of arms supplies. The argument adduced by the Government earlier—that the continuation of arms supplies helps the negotiations—would seem to lead one to believe, if carried to its logical conclusion, that we should increase our supply of arms and so finish the war more quickly. However, that argument is riddled with fallacies. Far from retaining influence, Her Majesty's Government appear to be completely undermining their mediatory rôle by continuing the supply of arms.
It is not too late to stop this flow of arms. We should stop it now and, even at this late date, concentrate on the rôle of mediation. I sincerely believe that Chief Enahoro, the leader of the Nigerian delegation in Addis Ababa, is making a genuine effort to arrive at a peaceful solution, but nobody is certain how firmly he represents the views of his own Government. This is, perhaps, the major obstacle which besets the negotiations in Addis Ababa.
Even at this late date Britain should turn from the rôle of wholesale arms salesman to that of mediator and give full-scale assistance to the International Red Cross and other organisations to relieve the millions of non-combatant sufferers of every creed and tribe.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Henig (Lancaster)
I would, had my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State been in his place, begun by paying a tribute to his integrity, since that is about the only flattering thing that I can say about him and his policies in this matter.
It has seemed—and the latest evidence overwhelmingly supports this view—that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Commonwealth Office were misled. I understand the constitutional nicety which made my right hon. Friend say that he was responsible. Technically he is, but in a sense I am not certain that this has been his fault, because he was clearly misled at the beginning. He was assured—as a result of which he assured the House—that the war would be short. It has not been short. A few weeks ago, when we last raised the matter in the House, we were assured that there would not be a final push and ultimate military solution. That, too, seems to be wrong. That, too, it seems has become wrong.
The kind of thing which worries me is that last night we saw on television General Gowon saying one thing and today we heard my right hon. Friend say that General Gowon had told him the opposite some weeks ago and that we must trust him. I would prefer to trust my right hon. Friend rather than General Gowon. I know my right hon. Friend, but I do not know General Gowon. But General Gowon said these things only last night. He said that we should take no notice of what Colonel Adekunle said because Lord Hunt had seen for himself and had said that it was not so. But it is not Lord Hunt who is going to lead the armies. It is not he who will give the orders to shoot or not to shoot. This is the kind of thing which worries me. Assurances are all very well, but I no longer believe them.
It is possible to go into two complete histories of what has happened in Nigeria and I shall not start to do so, except to say that they completely disagree with each other. But at this point in time there is no means of finding out any unadulterated facts, and the British Government would do better to accept neither version and not to apportion blame. Why did my right hon. Friend say that Biafra started the air war? Certainly I believe that the first plane to do 1489 so was Biafran. It was a Douglas aircraft 25 years out of date. This sort of thing does not help to bring about a solution.
The question of the right of secession is something which should worry us greatly. Have a people the right of secession or not? Does the United Nations mean that the countries in the world only recognise each other and that no new country can emerge? Throughout history we have not found a peaceful way in which a country can establish its right of secession. Whenever a country tries to secede there is nearly always war. But who starts the war? We need to look for some better kind of international system than this.
When it was announced that Biafra was to be set up, it was disguised as an artificial State. But it is surely as artificial as Nigeria itself, which we foisted on West Africa. Both are artificial.
The British Government have said that we have relations with the Nigerian Government and must sell them arms. Could we not have grantedde facto recognition or the right of insurgency or belligerency in all these things? But we did nothing, for political reasons. We made a political choice when we should have declared our neutrality. My right hon. Friend said twelve months ago that, in effect, we would not take sides but he said today that it was impossible to be neutral. Why is it impossible? Why is it impossible for us, a thousand miles away or more, to be neutral in a conflict which does not concern us save from the humanitarian point of view in that we would like to see as little suffering as possible?
The argument is that we are the traditional suppliers of arms to the Federal Government and we are asked what would be the attitude of other Commonwealth Governments if, at the moment a Commonwealth Government needed arms, we stopped supplying them. Apparently the argument is that, thereafter, other Commonwealth Governments would not buy arms from us but would go elsewhere in future. I say to that that this country should be able to earn itself a more honest living than through the sale of arms. If arms sales lead us to such aimpasse we should stop the business.
There has been discussion of the consequences of our refusal to supply arms. 1490 But what has been the consequence of our supply of arms? There has been one source available to the Federal Government, but not available to Biafra. The war has gone as it has because the Federal Government have had arms supplied by the Soviet Union and Great Britain—acting together, if you please— while the United States has declared an embargo. On the other hand, Biafra has been able to get arms only from surreptitious sources. Of course the arms supplied to the Federal Government have been better. But have they been paid for, or have they been given on credit?
The Federal Government, therefore, have been able to control the military outcome of the war. That has been the consequence of our supply of arms. What would be the consequence of our refusal? Seven or eight months ago, the consequence of such a refusal would have been that the military situation would not quite have developed as it has. Now, the consequence of our refusal might be that the Federal Government would go elsewhere for the arms if they could.
However, one would like to think that, if we made a diplomatic effort, we might be able to tie this thing up by asking other countries to join us in a refusal to supply arms. Is there evidence that this has been done? Will my right hon. Friend make this clear? Has it been done? If so, with what result? Has the Soviet Union refused? Who has refused to join an international arms embargo? Have we consulted the United States? Does the United States not want some influence in West Africa? Or did the Americans cunningly say at the beginning, "We will not supply arms. We will leave it to Britain to take on the Russians in this Battle for influence." Is influence worth having if all we can do is stand idly by while the final military solution which we have always said we were against is imposed? Where have we had influence? It does not seem to me so far to have amounted to very much.
I want to put three essential questions. They are essential to what is being done in our name, which is something I bitterly regret. The first is the legal question. By what right do we claim to judge what should happen in Nigeria and what is or is not good for the Nigerian people? I do not back one side or the other. I have not been to the area. Most people 1491 in this country have not been there. One good reason why we should not be interfering is that it is not something that ought to concern this country. I want to know why the Government think we have this right to judge. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has told us that the aim of all of us is one Nigeria. Why? If the Nigerians want one, two, three or ten Nigerias it may be a matter of regret, but it is their business and not ours.
Secondly, there is the political question. Why have we made the choice that we have made? Why have one Nigeria as against two Nigerias or the right of secession? Would it not have been better for us to have declared neutrality to show that we were not involved?
Finally, there is the moral question. In an immoral world, Governments cannot always direct their behaviour by moral considerations. We know this and argue about it in other contexts. But surely there are occasions when moral arguments should play a major part. I wonder whether we are not reaching the situation here. We have supplied arms in order to get influence. That policy has failed. We have no influence, for the war is spreading. It may be that we could not stop the war now by ceasing to supply arms but is it a moral position for a British Socialist Government, whom I support, to be supplying arms for use in a civil war by men to kill each other and for that Government to say, "When this is over, we have bandages and food for you and we shall give you aid and patch you up again"? This is not an attitude I like, and I echo what has been said by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides—that, if we cannot now do something positive to end the war, we should say that we will no longer supply arms for use in it. That may not be a happy position to be in, but it is clean.
The supply of relief is again an area in which we have shown no great ability to influence events. We have not been able to get through any of the relief which has been needed nor the kind of relief we wish to send. I would like to have seen the Government taking a tougher line with the Federal Government when that Government threatened to shoot British aircraft out of the air if they took supplies to Biafra. We know 1492 that the Nigerian Government have a few MIGs with Egyptian pilots, but surely we are not all that frightened. This was aid from Britain to Biafra, where the people are starving. Could we not have sent out the British Navy and Air Force? I do not see why not. Other more vigorous things have been done by others in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) said that he was prepared to urge the Federal Government to be more willing to compromise on the question of relief to the suffering, and he suggested that those of us who have constantly opposed the Government's policy ought to do so, too. I certainly accede to that request. I say clearly that I am against the supply of arms and I am against the British Government's policy, but if I had any voice at all I would add it to those who urge the leaders of both sides in Nigeria to think of the people who are starving and to think, indeed, of bigger things than the war. I say no more than that except to point out that whereas in the long run presumably a land corridor could take most food into Biafra, we should remember that those who have been there say that there are not enough lorries even to organise relief for the starving people in the Federal-held territories. In the short run, therefore, it may be that an air corridor would be the best solution. No doubt what we need, ideally, is to establish both an air and a land corridor, and I hope that the British Government will continue to press for that as far as they can.
I have spoken perhaps in somewhat intemperate tones, but that is for a reason which can be justified. At the beginning of last week I urged my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the House of Commons should be recalled in order to discuss this issue, because millions were dying, some with British bullets in them. Another tragedy overtook events, and that is why the House was recalled. Yesterday we discussed the situation in Czechoslovakia. But let us be quite clear that neither at the beginning nor at the end of yesterday's proceedings was anything proposed which we could do to help Czechoslovakia. The salvation of the Czechoslovaks, if it comes, will probably come from themselves. It certainly will not come from us.
1493 On the other hand, we have been involved very much in Nigeria, and we can still be involved. There are far more things that we can do about Nigeria than we can do about Czechoslovakia. If it were true that Czechoslovakia were in the Russian sphere of influence, then, from what my right hon. Friend said, if the British policies in the past have had any success at all, it may be true that Nigeria is in the British sphere of influence, if there is such a thing. If we have any power to do anything anywhere, we ought to do something to exercise it.
We are in mid-August. I have to rely on what Colonel Gowon said on television last night, when he said that all would be over in four weeks. The Federal authorities have given themselves deadlines in the past and have failed to meet them. But in this House we have another deadline, because at four o'clock today we shall disperse again and, being realistic, I am inclined to doubt whether we shall be summoned back before mid-October, seven weeks from now. What will have happened in those seven weeks? And it will have happened partly in our name, because in Biafra and many other parts of Africa it is regarded as a war of Nigeria and Britain on the one hand against Biafra on the other hand. We ought, therefore, to do everything we can to make our voice felt.
Obviously many of the things that have been done in Biafra may be as wrong as things that have been done in the Federal Government. These are two military dictatorships. At stake there are the Ibo people, who number from 10 million to 14 million, whose leaders—and we have no reason to doubt that the Ibo people support them—have said that they would like some kind of State to rule their own affairs. They consider themselves not just a tribe but a nation. We may think them misguided, but this is the question: do they or do they not have that right?
We are debating what we can do to help. It seems to me to be the greatest hypocrisy of all when we express our opinions about what the Russians may do in Czechoslovakia and about what the Americans may do in Vietnam if that leads us, in any area in the world where we have influence—especially in an area where more people have already been killed than in either Czechoslovakia or 1494 Vietnam—in effect to say, "Never mind the Ibo people. They are a nuisance. They do not matter, because we are battling with the Soviet Union for influence in Lagos". If that is what is being said in the House of Commons, it is a shame and a disgrace.
This House has always been only too willing to fight, in as far as it can, for the rights of small nations. I hope that when my right hon. Friend concludes the debate, better counsels will prevail and that at least he will tell us that the British will dissociate themselves from this war, will cease to supply arms and will do something positive to bring about a settlement and a relief of starvation.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I take very much to heart the wise advice given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) that we should strive to avoid taking sides. Like him, I find it extremely difficult, in the face of a persistent barrage of propaganda, to make an objective assessment of the situation. But the main questions which I have tried to answer to myself are those which the Commonwealth Secretary posed in his speech: which policies will minimise and shorten the suffering of all the Nigerian people and what can Britain contribute to that outcome?
The British Government find themselves in a dilemma, and to some extent that dilemma arises from their failure it the outset of this unhappy development to envisage the nature and scale of the conflict which would ensue. All the way through they have defended their policy on the ground that the continuance of the supply of arms would best ensure the maintenance of British influence over the Federal authorities. While it is true that over the past eight years we have been consistent in providing military assistance to Nigeria, nonetheless the historical and economic links betwen our two countries go back much further than that and are of much greater significance. It cannot be the case that our influence derives only from the supply of arms. surely, from our knowledge of the country and by virtue of the origins of the existing Federation, we must be able to bring pressures to bear for other reasons than the supply of arms.
1495 But even if it is true that only if the Government continue to supply arms shall we have any right or opportunity to exert influence, we are nevertheless right to call upon the Government to give evidence of what that influence has so far achieved. It has not ended the fighting. It has not stopped the relief airstrip from being bombed. It has not stopped the preparation for a final settlement—in other words, for a military solution. We may have had some marginal influence, in conjunction with the Emperor of Ethiopia, in persuading the Federal Government to permit some measure of relief to go ahead, and I fully accept that we may have had some influence in slowing the forward movement of the Federal advance. But now this does not seem to be offering us much hope for the future, except through the means of a final military solution.
In looking ahead beyond the military conflict, I am concerned at what may be the outcome of this civil strife. I am much more concerned that we should have influence, not just with the Federal Government but also with Ojukwu and the Biafran forces. We are not likely to have any opportunity to exert any form of pressure there so long as we continue to supply arms to those who are fighting against them. I agree that it would be a tragedy if the breakaway were to lead a complete break-up of Nigeria as we originally conceived it.
I certainly have no wish to advance any cause or to promote any policies which might lead to a dismemberment of the Nigerial grouping of States into a series of rival tribal factions. I cannot believe that any good would come from that, no more than any good can come from a break-up of the South Arabian Federation for example. But we have to face the facts of the present situation that those who have thought to break away from the authority of Lagos, particularly in the Eastern region where its writ has never really run, are now not likely to seek to come to terms unless there is first an established ceasefire.
The Commonwealth Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have both said that the Government's attitude on the supply of arms would change if it appeared to them that the Federal forces were driving into the Ibo heartland and were bent on a 1496 final massacre. I hope I do not misinterpret at least the implications of what Government Ministers have said in that regard. But from the Commonwealth Secretary's own words Federal forces are already in the Ibo heartland. They have already occupied, or retaken, a very substantial part of Ibo territory. Where does the heartland begin and where does it end? Have they not already, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, virtually completed the fighting in acceptable terms of a military solution?
One further military step remains open to them. That is the move across the river and into the final assault in what must inevitably be an immensely devastatingly horrible battle to seek to kill and crush for all time the semblance of Biafran independence. I believe from what Ministers have been saying that they would not wish to see this happening, yet there does not seem to be any other next step, in military terms, than that open to the Federal forces. It is not a military solution that is likely to bring durable peace to the peoples that make up the Federation of Nigeria.
The military victory has already been virtually won. Short of exacting total surrender, the military forces of General Gowon have brought Colonel Ojukwu to his final bastion. In these circumstances peace talks must be encouraged. In these circumstances it is right that everyone who has any influence on either side should be exerting whatever pressure he may have to bring about a cease-fire. The quicker that the arms supplies are stopped the quicker will a cease-fire come about. To put it another way, only when a cease-fire has come about at the instance of General Gowon and his forces are we likely to be able to get realistic discussions going about the future of the Ibo people. I believe it would be a very material factor in bringing about a ceasefire if Her Majesty's Government were to stop the supply of arms at this point They said they would show great concern if the Federal forces were to advance any further.
We should not only now in the light of this changed circumstance and the military advance that has been made already stop the further supply of arms, but we should endeavour to bring other countries also concerned in this matter to 1497 do likewise. It is not a question of turning our backs on General Gowon, as the Commonwealth Secretary put it. It is a question of using that influence which we still possess to bring about a ceasefire so that talks can begin. At this stage in the military developments which have ensued this is the time for negotiation and conciliation. This is not the time for a further military advance.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) quoted the admirable article in theGuardian of Wednesday, 21st August, in which reasons, which I found most convincing, were advanced for saying that a compromise solution must be found and for stressing that a sovereign Biafra does not now seem to be within the bounds of practical politics. Equally, there is not much realism to be found in General Gowon's neat twelve-state pattern. A compromise must be found between these two. I hope very much that full influence can be brought to bear on Colonel Ojukwu to try to seek an honourable settlement with sufficient and adequate guarantees for the safety of his people. Those again were words used by the Commonwealth Secretary. We must exert that influence upon him. We have no means of contact or communication with him. We are not even able to penetrate to him—until we cease the supply of arms to General Gowon's side.
I desperately hope that Colonel Ojukwu will not persist in a policy which will lead to the complete annihilation of the people with him. I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman about this but if we are to bring home the realistic alternatives which may be open to him we must first do all we can to bring about the end of the actual fighting and we are likely to precipitate that the quicker if we cease to supply arms to Colonel Gowon's side. Only in these circumstances will Arnold Smith's pleas for a Commonwealth force or anything like that have any chance of being brought to fruition. Only then will the people of Nigeria be able for themselves and in peace to determine the course of their own future and only then will they be able to find a new formula for association between their varied and various peoples. We should not stand pat on the solution we bequeathed to them eight years ago. The war has entirely 1498 changed the situation. It must be our concern now to bend all our efforts to bring an end to fighting and a restoration of peaceful negotiation and discussion about the future.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
I respect the motives and sincerity of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), but I believe that if we ceased to supply arms now the result might be the opposite to what the hon. Gentleman wants. The effect might be to make Colonel Ojukwu feel that he was getting sufficient international recognition, that sufficient countries were changing over, that he could stick to his hard terms and hope for an economic collapse in the Federation, and that he should fight on to the bitter end. That is at least as conceivable as the hon. Gentleman's argument that a cessation of arms supplies would make General Gowon's terms as set out at Kampala easier or more flexible. The action could lead Colonel Ojukwu to think that because Britain had stopped supplying arms that was a reason for carrying his resistance a bit further.
To turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig), he said in a very strong opening passage, "Why should Britain intervene?" He asked why we should not declare our neutrality, what has West Africa to do with us, and made a powerful case for having nothing to do with the whole situation. He then switched his line and contradicted himself completely by saying that we should push in British Air Force planes with supplies and exert the strongest British pressure. He argued that Nigeria is a British sphere of influence and that we are profoundly affected by what happens to the people in the area. In fact, he himself answered in this way the first passages in his own speech.
We have had a long connection with the area. I respect the sovereignty of Nigeria and its right as an independent country to determine its own affairs. We often assume that we have too much power and influence. We have very little. What we can do is purely as a friendly ally. But we have a certain general interest in humanity and the future of the people in the area. We are involved 1499 by our history and tradition, our connections up to the moment of independence and to the time of the war breaking out. We cannot simply walk out or wash our hands of these connections.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves the very concrete questions of what such little influence as we have can do, and in what way we should exercise it. We must ask ourselves where we should like to see the conflict lead, what ultimate outcome is desirable, and how we should try to effect this.
The question of Britain's influence and what can be done is extremely difficult. I beg hon. Members not to overestimate our influence. There is a great danger of some Government spokesmen doing so, and conversely there is also a great danger of some of the Government's most extreme critics overestimating our influence. While they deny that the Government have influence on General Gowon, they imagine that the cessation of British arms supplies would have an immediate effect and change the situation profoundly. Several Nigerian officials to whom I have talked take the view that if we stopped supplying arms they would simply buy them elsewhere. They would dislike doing this because it would cost a bit more and it is also irritating to find instructions on machines and weapons possibly in German or Russian, which make them more difficult for Nigerians to work. But they would get the weapons elsewhere, and I do not think that the Nigerian Government would fundamentally change their methods or objectives in response to the dramatic cessation of weapons supply, as I gather some hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), believe would be the case. My hon. Friend said that he thought that if we ceased the supply of weapons we could assume a mediatory rôle, and an hon. Member opposite also felt this was so. But if we ceased supplying weapons now the Federal Government would simply abandon any connection with Britain, and the Biafran Government have detested us so much that they are certain to pay no attention. Any suggestion that we could then mediate more effectively would be ridiculed. That is what would happen if we made a dramatic gesture of that kind.
1500 Our connection does not give us such a strong position in Nigeria. In fact it irritates some Nigerians. We have a bad Press in Nigeria; we are not universally regarded as the greatest friends of the Federal Government in Lagos. We are often attacked, and we do not get all that much credit. Nevertheless, we have a certain position there, and a certain amount of attention is paid to public opinion in this country. We must choose those issues on which we can, as a friend of the Federal Government, exercise some influence.
Here I endorse the speech of the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair), who put his finger on the matter precisely. If we tried to insist on an end to the war on terms unacceptable to the Lagos Government, our influence would melt away and would stand for nothing. What we can do is to pick matters on which the Federal Government are half concerned, half interested, and get them to put a little more emphasis on these matters. The primary example picked by the hon. Gentleman, with his long experience of West Africa, is the matter of persuading the Federal Government to take the question of relief to suffering people in Federal-occupied territory more seriously. We are entitled to press them on this, and should do so.
In our last debate I mentioned that in the traditional suppliers of the Ibo areas, Plateau and Benue provinces, one and soon two harvests will be in store. The place is groaning with food. A senior administrator of the Plateau State was visiting me last night, and he pointed out that in Jos a factory making high protein cereal food for babies is now out of production because there is no demand. This food is available, and it could be run into at any rate the northern areas of Iboland without great difficulty.
The reasons why this is not being done are complex, but it is correct to say that shortage of transport is not an adequate reason. Any of us who have been in the streets of Lagos and have tried to fight our way across the street in danger of being run down by lorries and mammy wagons find it hard to listen to talk of shortage of transport in Nigeria. There is plenty of transport if people are prepared to requisition it, but there is lack of concern.
1501 The concern felt in Britain about women and children dying in refugee camps is not equally shared in Nigeria on either side. I do not wish to sound critical of the Nigerians on this matter, but if one speaks to Nigerians that one knows well on both sides they will tell one that in a subsistence economy in every dry season children die of malnutrition and starvation. This is not new in West Africa. The scale may be new, it may be worse, but it does not concern people there quite as much as it concerns some hon. Members.
The question of getting supplies to starving people in refugee camps in the Federal-held areas is a matter of organisation and willpower. The fact is that at present the prosecution of the war and the terms on which it will end matter far more to the Nigerian officials and officers involved than the question of relief, as people have seen from the statements of Colonel Adekunle. The Nigerians regard British opinion as somewhat quixotic and over-concerned with a particular aspect of the war.
Therefore, while the British Government could not profoundly affect the course of the war it could persuade the Federal Government to step up its level of organisation in this matter. I agree with some Nigerians that international experts living in the Ikoyi Hotel cannot make a great deal of difference from Lagos with the odd aeroplane. What matters is to get the commanders on the fronts to use land transport to distribute the food presently available in the background areas, and to concentrate some energy on this.
My second point is a question that has been somewhat overlooked in our debate—the ultimate outcome of the war. I do not think that the Government should simply press for a cease-fire.
I understand why the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs so emphasised a cease-fire to try to press the Nigerian Government, but a great deal depends upon the terms of the cease-fire. It matters relatively little to many people in this country, but if we were in West Africa or Nigeria it would be like the position in 1940 when certain Americans said, "What is the war between Britain and Germany about? Why not have a ceasefire and stop it?" The war is about something very serious in Nigerian terms. 1502 It is about the organisation of the communities occupying the entire country. Are they to be federally controlled or to split up into small tribal States? It is perhaps the most important question for the future of West Africa. It is more important in the eyes of the people living there than relief, development or economic progress. It is no good simply calling for a cease-fire. All depends on the terms.
On this question I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. James Griffiths). I do not believe that victory by the Federal Government over the remains of the Ibo secessionist area would destroy the future of Nigeria. On the contrary, I believe that if secession was established by the Ibo area successfully it would encourage others among the 12 States now talking about secession in addition to Colonel Ojukwu and the Ibos, to go ahead. Already one hears some people in the Sokoto State saying "If the Southerners are to spend all this money on having this war which is doing us no good, why do not we break off?" One hears arguments in the West to the same effect. I believe that defeat for the Federal Government would spell disruption and even if the war is won by the Federal Government, the future of the Federation is still tendentious and extremely shaky.
We have to consider what we want to come out of this. I have no brief for either side, but I believe that the terms offered at Kampala by the Federal Government were reasonable. They offered special concessions to the Ibos—the Ibo area was to be secured by an international force and internal order was to be left to an Ibo police force and a Government which would include some of the present leaders of Biafra. There were to be special safeguards for Ibos in the rest of Nigeria all provided they would live within the context of a United Nigeria and accept the other safeguards for Ibo territory. To have offered more would have been to preside over the breakup of Nigeria. I believe it would have been wrong for Nigerians to have done this and for us to have asked them to do so.
Win or lose, what we shall be forced to realise in a few years' time is the extent to which the war has crippled the economy of Nigeria. At the moment it 1503 is costing £10 million a month to the Federal Government in internal costs apart from overseas purchases. Every one of the existing States is running a deficit. The Federal Government is near the end of its reserves. Colonel Ojukwu may calculate that if he can hold on a little longer the whole thing will fall to pieces. If it does, what will be the future for 55 million people, not merely 7 million or 8 million Ibos, if the whole structure of Nigeria disintegrates? What 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 operate, 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.
This is not too great a stretch of the imagination. I repeat what a senior official told me yesterday. When he was responsible for running one of the major Nigerian States and it was in such deficit a few months ago that he telephoned the police and asked them to get out on the roads and try to raise some money in fines for transport offences because if some money did not come in it would be impossible to pay officials salaries in the near future. That is the sort of position with which Nigeria is faced. This Government should say clearly that they believe that in the interests of the long-term future of the area there must be an attempt to hold the Federation together and give safeguards to the Ibos while preserving an element of general order.
I do not wish to enter into detailed arguments about who is right or wrong, but I believe that if we do not exert our influence in this direction we shall be doing the greatest possible damage not merely to the present limited area of conflict but to the 50 million people who live in the entire territory.
I should like the Government to consider a number of small but factual points. First, they should say to the Lagos Government that if we are to continue as the arms supplier for part of the arms needs of Nigeria the Federal Government must do a much better job of organising food distribution and relief 1504 supplies in the area now under its control as well as help to get relief into areas held by Colonel Ojukwu. It must demonstrate that it shows concern. It has demonstrated politically that it is prepared to put the Ibos in charge for instance at Enugu where the Asika government of Ibos is running successfully. But they must be pushed into providing better supplies for relief in the area.
Secondly, we should offer immediate aid to get the oilwells going. I say this not because I have any brief for the oil companies but because on the production of their oil wells depends the foreign exchange which Nigeria needs in order to avoid economic collapse.
Thirdly, we should continue gently to press the Federal Government to go even further on some of the Kampala terms. I see no reason why the East Central State in the Federation should not be called Biafra; this would make it easier for Colonel Ojukwu.
I see no reason why there should not be a more far-reaching amnesty than has been proposed—and there should be no later series of investigations and trials.
These are the sort of things on which British influence could operate. Any idea of a total cessation of arms supply which should have any dramatic effect on the outcome is a miscalculation and a mistake. I support the Government in going on with what I take to be these pressures, and I hope that we shall have evidence that they will reinforce them on the points I have selected.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
Although I am a member of Lord Brockway's Peace in Nigeria Committee, I find myself in almost complete agreement with the speech by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). It shows how difficult the problem is. We all want peace but are not sure of the methods that ought to be followed to get it.
I also find myself in agreement largely with the speech by the Secretary of State, with two provisos. First, he said that not too much attention should be paid to soldiers' language. But we have coups constantly in certain African States, and we must remember that in Nigeria now we have a military Government.
1505 As to the other proviso, I do not agree that the British Government could not have taken some action a year or more ago. At that time I said I thought that an embargo should have been put on all arms to both contestants. I am not convinced by the argument of the Secretary of State that that was impossible at that time. I think we should have tried for at least a month or two to get the countries of the world to dampen down a war which it was obvious to so many of us would be a terrible civil war. Had we done so, a number of lives could have been saved, and also much destruction of property and much bitterness.
At that time Biafra, or so-called Biafra, was viable. It had its oil and its routes to the Cameroons. It also had no really embittered minorities. How different it is today! I commend to the House a substantial pamphlet written by Dr. Graham-Douglas, formerly Attorney-General to the Eastern Region of Nigeria. He was actually Colonel Ojukwu's Attorney-General for a long time. He says:I resigned because I thought it was dishonest for one man to wish to be king at the expense of the lives of millions of his countrymen. Ojukwu's determination to take Eastern Nigeria out of the Federation was not inspired by any love for the Ibos, less so for the peoples of the minority areas, but by the insatiable thirst for personal political power.He goes on to say:we have all been plagued by the horrors of an avoidable civil war".That may be propaganda. What Dr. Graham-Douglas says may not be wholly true. But we are all plagued by propaganda from both sides. Every day I get a couple of letters from Geneva, usually duplicates, of Biafran propaganda. One day last week I got no fewer than six envelopes in my post. This shows beyond a peradventure that we must consider the future and the present and not go over the past rights and wrongs.
It shows also that what Ojukwu now claims for his own people he must not deny to the minorities, which up till now he has done. It is a tragedy that the Ibos should have been buoyed up, first by the recognition of Tanzania and Zambia, and then virtually by France, who, by her action, destroyed hope for success in Addis Ababa and has probably prolonged the miseries of the Ibo people.
1506 The Ibo people have lost two-thirds of what they call Biafra. Can they now ever be independent? I believe that they have lost much sympathy by claiming too much and by putting down their minorities. The story told by the Attorney-General is a terrible one. After what has happened, could the Federals even agree to a form of land-locked Israel? I believe that there would be too many people in a small territory surrounded by tariffs, and the Federals would always fear that they would arm for another rebellion in the future.
I understand to some extent the argument that the most humane way to bring an end to the war is to win it and feed the people, but I very much doubt whether the world would agree. Although a year ago I was in favour of an embargo, I do not believe that such is practical or sensible now. I do not believe that it would have an effect on the ultimate outcome. It would give the Ibos a false hope and even greater misery and we would lose not only what little influence we have in Lagos, but friendship for future years.
There are a number of discrepancies in the information that this country has. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten the House later. Many of us will have had a telegram from an old friend of ours, Raymond Njoku, once Chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He sent me this wire yesterday:Johnson's suggestion advocating Nigerian Federal troops overrunning Biafra heartland as quick end to the war contrary to British Government's previous undertaking is most unrealistic, mischievous, shocking and wicked. Federal troops are now attempting to do so. If this happened, God forbid, wholesale massacre of all educated Ibos as well as women and children will follow".He continued:Nigerians openly supported Russia's criminal invasion.I do not believe that that is true. He urges that we should free ourselves from the wicked and ignominious company of Nigeria and Russia in their war of suppression and genocide. And yet a friend of mine only last Friday came back from Port Harcourt to Lagos with 100 prisoners of war, and he saw 50 waiting at the airport for similar transportation. That does not look like genocide.
The other discrepancies concern the ill-discipline of the troops. Perhaps the 1507 Minister can say something about this. One has heard many stories of the second division around Onitsha, and yet my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) said how good he found the discipline of the third division. I am told that that of the first is equally good. No one, I am told, has been punished for the massacres in 1966, and yet other people tell me that those who perpetrated those massacres are in prison. Perhaps the Minister will answer that.
Then we have the great argument about the airstrips. Did the International Committee of the Red Cross really bring back an agreement from Colonel Ojukwu, and should the Federals have agreed? I should like to quote what Mr. David Williams, editor ofWest Africa, one of theDaily Mirror group of papers, states in the issue of 24th August:Almost three months ago the Federal Government had agreed, at a time when the International Red Cross themselves had admitted that a land corridor was the only effective way of bringing help to people in rebel areas, that a temporary daylight airlift with certain safeguards should be permitted to move 700 tons of stockfish from Fernando Po to a rebel airstrip. Only after the Addis Ababa talks had begun did the Red Cross get any response from Colonel Ojukwu who had in the meantime been making international propaganda on the issue. Then, one morning, the Federal Government was told that an elaborate agreement had been signed in Biafra the previous evening for an airstrip to be used by the Red Cross. Federal agreement was requested at once as an announcement was to be made in Geneva that afternoon. The airstrip in question, however, did not yet exist and the Federal Government was expected to agree that equipment for it should be flown in. More important, as it was situated between Afikpo, now in Federal hands, and Okigwi, towards which Federal troops were moving, the demilitarisation of the area would represent a major military obstacle for many weeks.What truth is there in that? Of course, we must endeavour to get food in by land rather than by air, although preferably by both, but it is interesting to see that Mr. Robert Goldstein, the publicist for Biafra, has resigned because Colonel Ojukwu has consistently refused to accept a land corridor.
Is it true that a considerable percentage of the starving refugees, on both sides, are from the minorities? I know that pamphlets are being dropped, but is it true that safe conduct passes are being dropped, too? Is it true that the body- 1508 guard of Ojukwu is now composed of Zambians, Chinese and Tanzanians? Does the new supply of arms from Gabon, which comes in regularly every other night, come from the French? Are the Ibo troops well fed? They appear to be in the films which one sees on television. I cannot help but think of what the reaction of my battery would have been had food been dropped to beleaguered Boulogne or Calais at the time their guns were firing at us.
Is it true that General Gowon is prepared to return to parliamentary government as soon as possible? It seems to me that the Ibos cannot win, but they can be a snake in the grass for many years to come, prepared to pounce on Federal leaders or Federal officials of any kind. I know that the argument of General Gowon is that they will have no base, but did the Irish have any base in Ireland? We know what happened to us there.
It seems to me that the Ibos are frightened to surrender because of their own propaganda. They still hope for adeus ex machina to snatch victory out of defeat. Never in history, I believe, has a totally defeated people still argued for a return to the pre-war frontiers. Ojukwu, and his oligarchs about him, seem to be prepared to pull down the pillars of the Ibo's future temple about their own congregation. They are shorn of strength and yet they are prepared to go on regardless of what will happen to their own people.
Our hopes are that although this is an African problem and must be settled by Africans, the Federals in their position of victory will be magnanimous. If not, and if they massacre, they will be ostracised in the comity of nations. I hope that they will bear this in mind.
I hope that it will be made clear that Ibos will be allowed to live anywhere in Nigeria, in all the 12 states of the new Federation. I am glad to read inWest Africa this statement by General Gowon:I want this to be again a country where Ibos like everybody else can look forward to holding the highest offices. There are a small number of people on the other side who have played with high stakes, the lives of millions, and have lost. They have to face the music. But there are so many others who, I know, once Ojukwu's police state is ended, and they 1509 no longer fear for their families, will come out on our side to rejoin us in reconstruction.I trust that what he says will be carried out. I trust, too, that both sides will show greater flexibility, Ojukwu accepting association in whatever way it may be, and the Nigerians, if possible, giving the East Central State some special status, like that of Northern Ireland. We have somehow got to arrange that both sides save face. I hope that both will accept a permanent peace-keeping force, permanent not for six months or so but more like the force sent by Napoleon III to Rome and which was accepted, reluctantly, I agree, by the new great State of Italy at that time.
So finally I would like to urge that action should be taken for mercy routes to be agreed on as soon as possible by air, road and water; for safe conduct passes to be dropped on the whole of the Ibo territory, the literate part of Nigeria, and leaflets are surely better than bombs; that both sides should accept a peace-keeping force, for which there should be immediate contingency planning; that there should be a real co-ordination of relief agencies to get round the stories of incompetence and inter-agency strife of which one has heard; that maximum pressure should be put by us and other Governments on both sides for a cease fire; that aid should be given on a massive scale.
We cannot bring back the dead. One of the most horrible civil wars in history has taken place. Let us see that the survivors recover more quickly and have a better chance than the survivors of past civil wars, and that they are able to build more quickly and better a new association along the great river.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I want to offer a few brief reflections on the debate. The Secretary of State told us that it has now been agreed in the Ethiopia conference that there should be priority for relief, that his Imperial Majesty the Emperor's proposals have been accepted, and that the United Nations delegate is leaving Geneva for Addis Ababa. We all hope that that will succeed, but I venture to add a rider. It is weeks, six or seven, since the Secretary of State told us that it would be dangerous to talk about stopping the supply 1510 of arms because it might imperil the proposals for relief. I have felt it very unfortunate, to use a mild and academic word, that the talk about relief has cut across, has clouded, has obscured, what really matters, the ending of the war. If we want to save the lives of those starving mothers and children the thing to do is to bring hostilities to an end, and that is the issue on which I wish to speak.
I say, as a preliminary, something which would be quite familiar to the Secretary of State—if he were here: that I have never agreed with the policy which the Government have pursued. I have never understood the reasons with which they have justified their actions. I agree with every word of the powerful speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) this morning, and I believe that not a single word has been said in valid answer to it. I have never understood why, in a dozen ways, right down to the Foreign Office comments last week on General de Gaulle's recognition of Biafra, why, in ways military, diplomatic, economic, financial, our Government have favoured, helped and supported the egregious Government of the egregious Colonel Gowon.
I start from the question asked by the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling): is this secession or is it civil war? I agree with the Secretary of State in thinking that that is a distinction without a difference. In 1860 the Southern States of America endeavoured to secede. Ever since, the Americans, and all the world, have called their struggle the American Civil War. I mention it because it has a lesson. What was the vital lesson of the American Civil War? That it ought never to have happened, that if the war had been held off for a few short years slavery would have been abolished by peaceful means, and the nation might have avoided the terrible problems of racial hostility and discrimination, of lynchings and riots and ghettos, with which they have been cursed for the last century. They are problems which are still growing worse from year to year, and which no American Government have yet shown the courage to face.
The supreme problem in Nigeria last summer was to avoid the outbreak of 1511 war, or, if war started, to bring it to an end. And incomparably the best hope of stopping the war, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) so ably said, was to prevent arms from going to either side. The Government say, how could we deprive an equal Commonwealth Government of a right which they had always exercised to import British arms? I think we could very well have done what the United States Government found it possible to do. The United States Government said, "Sorry, we cannot supply any arms. This is a Nigerian problem. You must settle it among yourselves". I think we might have said, as the ex-Colonial rulers of Nigeria, "We have responsibilities to 14 million Biafrans as well as to the millions of other ex-British citizens in the north and west. We have responsibilities to 14 million Biafrans, and our responsibility to all of them is to try to stop the war from breaking out, to try to use every means of influence we have to ensure that your dispute shall be settled by peaceful means."
At that time the Prime Minister had excellent relations with Chairman Kosygin, and I believe that if the Prime Minister had called on Chairman Kosygin then to stop the supply of arms, with the purpose that, as members of the United Nations, we should join in seeking to prevent the outbreak of an appalling war, then in all human probability Mr. Kosygin would have agreed.
The real argument that has dominated the Government's thinking, and the Secretary of State more or less reproduced it in his speech today—it has already been dealt with in the House but I venture to deal with it again—has been that if we stop giving Colonel Gowon arms we shall lose our influence to persuade him to a policy of peace.
That argument, stated in plain terms, seems to me to be a semantic absurdity. It is a challenge to common sense. Give a man a gun in order to persuade him not to use it! Experience has shown that it has given us absolutely no influence at all.
As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) argued, today we have precisely the situation which the Foreign Secretary foresaw in June when he said that, if 1512 this situation came about, the supply of arms should stop. I believe that even at this late hour it is by far the most hopeful policy for our Government to pursue. Even if this great military drive succeeds, even if there is a massive slaughter and the Biafran forces are defeated, there will be a long guerrilla war. No one who knows the Ibos can doubt that that is true. For that reason alone, it would not be too late to stop supplying arms. The Secretary of State said to us that if we stopped the arms now the Biafrans might be less ready to accept honourable terms. That is an argument for the Biafrans to surrender and for Britain to play a major part in forcing them to surrender; but it is not an argument that the opinion of this country would accept.
Whatever happens, Nigeria and Biafra will have an unhappy future, with many of the problems which have cursed the United States. For us to stop the supply of arms and to do everything in cur power to get Russia and all other Governments to do the same is by far the best hope for stopping the war, preventing the guerrilla sequel and securing a lasting peace. I hope we shall do it, and do it now. Even if it fails, it is the only way in which we can show our deep conviction that further fighting can only do irreparable harm to Nigeria, to Africa and to the world.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Yesterday we met to discuss a sudden act of criminal aggression which none of us in this country could have prevented and where, alas, the only course open to us was to express our moral condemnation. Even so, I think all hon. Members would agree that it was well worth the while.
Today we have debated the long drawn out horror of a civil war in a very different country, a country which we above all others helped to create, whose constitution we helped to fashion, whose leaders were trained in our ways and where hitherto we have enjoyed exceptional friendship, esteem and influence. For that reason it is not surprising that this has been one of the most moving debates that I can remember.
Some speakers have reminded us that Nigeria is now independent and it is not 1513 our responsibility to take part in an internal domestic quarrel. That is, of course, quite true but then, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) in a quite remarkable and well-informed speech reminded us, precisely because of our long historical association with Nigeria we were involved in this situation from the start. There is no escape from that.
Speech after speech has made it plain that hon. Members, like the country as a whole, find it repugnant that we should be supplying arms in a war which is causing intense human suffering; all the more so when the leaders on both sides have utterly failed so far to agree on the organisation of relief which the International Red Cross and other voluntary organisations are ready and willing to provide, and have been so for many months past. Whatever the difficulties as a supplier of arms, Her Majesty's Government cannot evade responsibility for what is going on. It is therefore, wholly right that this debate is being held to focus attention on this appalling tragedy. It is right that we should be scrutinising the Government's policy and should be impatient for some proof that that policy has been justified.
As for the arms issue, it must be remembered that we had a hand in Nigeria's defence long before the present troubles. Newly independent Nigeria quickly built up an exemplary international reputation. Her influence was generally cast for moderation in the counsels of the United Nations, in the Commonwealth, and in the Organisation for African Unity. Her troops played a constructive role in the Congo. It was understandable why, at the outset, Her Majesty's Government continued to supply arms to the legal authority in Nigeria and why they believed that such a policy would permit this country to exercise a moderating influence on the situation.
That policy is defensible only as long as it is manifest that British influence has led to restraint in the conduct of military operations, is leading as rapidly as may be to a cease-fire and to speedy relief of famine and, thereafter, to conciliation and reconstruction. It is not defensible if it leads in Nigeria itself to indifference to civilian suffering and eventually to the destruction of a whole people.
1514 The Government's policy on this has been clear for some time past. It was put by the Foreign Secretary in the debate on 12th June, when he said:… it would at any rate have been wrong at the outset of the secession for us to have cut off supplies completely from the Federal Government. That would have been to have said to a Government, in effect, 'We have put you in a position where you are very heavily dependent on us for the instruments of power. Now, when you are faced by a challenge to your authority, we will put you at a very serious disadvantage.'He went on:I do not think that one can avoid the conclusion that if we had taken that action it would have been, and would have been interpreted as being, giving in practice approval, and substantial practical help to the movement for secession."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th June, 1968; Vol. 766, c. 290.]That made sense. There was a further consideration which the Foreign Secretary laid before us and which perhaps I ought to mention now. If by cutting off supplies we had encouraged the secession of the Eastern Region as a whole on the ground that the Ibos wanted it, that would have meant handing over to Ibo control the numerous non-Ibo peoples living there. That made sense, too.
While the 7 million or more Ibos in the Eastern Region are entitled to self-determination, so are the 5 million Efiks, Ibibios, Ekois, Ijaws, and the rest who were included in the Ibos' dream of a Biafran State. My memory and those of several of my hon. Friends go back some years in this regard. Recalling the demands that some of those minority tribes once made for their own States, the process of secession and disintegration would hardly have stopped with Biafra and would almost certainly have had an adverse effect throughout an already dangerously Balkanised Africa.
Thus the choice presented to us by the Foreign Secretary in June was between supporting the Federal Government and standing by while anarchy prevailed. At the same time, the Foreign Secretary also stressed the difficulty of securing an all-round embargo on arms supplies to both sides, especially as he told us that the arms going to the Biafrans were coming from many different quarters. At that time, and even now, that sounds a reasonable enough argument. However, he made one important reservation of which the House was reminded by my hon. 1515 Friend this morning. He said that if the Federal Government contemptuously threw aside any chance of a reasonable settlement or proceeded without mercy either with the slaughter or the starvation of the Ibo people, the arguments which had justified the Government's policy would fall.
Now the Commonwealth Secretary told us earlier today that the conditions laid down by the Foreign Secretary in June as justifying a change of policy have not yet arisen. The House must take that as the considered judgment of the Government. To be fair, I do not think that it can be said that the Nigerian Federal Government have thrown aside the chance of a reasonable settlement. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian was right to remind us of the reasonable proposals tabled by the Federal Government at the Kampala talks. It is true that the later talks at Addis Ababa have for the time being broken down. In passing, we on this side of the House would like to pay tribute to the tireless efforts and the painstaking statesmanship of the Emperor Haile Selassie in his efforts to bring the two sides together for a political settlement and to try to get famine relief organised as quickly as possible. If only the Nigerian protagonists had listened to his advice not to hark back over the causes, but to think of the plight of their people now and of the problem for the future. But I am bound to say that any objective reading of the speeches made at Kampala, Niamey, or Addis Ababa by Colonel Ojukwu or General Gowon or their representatives would reveal clearly where the blame for the breakdown of the political talks lies. In my judgment, the blame does not lie at the door of the Federal Government. To that extent, I support the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman reached this morning.
But now other consequences follow. The fighting has been resumed and with it a dampening of the hopes that swift relief might be brought to the starving. The question raised in speech after speech is: Is this the begining of the end? Is this the military solution? Somebody used the awful phrase, "Is this the final solution?". Many right hon. and hon. Members clearly fear that this is so.
1516 It is reported in the Press that Aba has fallen. If so, a look at the map will show that there are only two sizeable towns left in Ibo hands. All the indications are that the unhappy Ibos are taking to the bush. Unless some new element is quickly introduced into the situation a long and bloody period of guerilla warfare and intensification of the suffering may ensue. The House listened with great respect to the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) when they spoke about what may follow if guerilla fighting ensues. It is in these circumstances that the Government's claim that their policy is justified, because it has succeeded in preserving British influence in Lagos, is put to the acid test.
In the name of humanity we ask two things of the Government. First, that they insist on observers—I do not think that we care very much whether they are from the Commonwealth or from the Organisation for African Unity accompanying the Federal troops in this latest military drive. As long ago as the beginning of the year some of us were arguing for the preparation of a Commonwealth peace-keeping force which, at the appropriate time and with the approval of the Federal Government, could be moved in to give assurance to the Ibos that they were not going to be massacred.
In the debate on 22nd July I said that we supported the Government's readiness to contribute to a joint observer force as part of the pacification programme.
I said that it was not too early to ask what was being done about the preliminary preparation of a British contribution to such a force. I received no answer; yet the question was crucial then, and it is crucial now. This was not a case of outsiders seeking to impose their ideas on an unwilling Federal Nigeria. General Gowon is a sensible man. He has already recognised the need for such a force. In Niamey on 10th July, he said:I am fully conscious of the fact that after the bitter experience of a civil war, the Ibos in rebel-held areas may fear for their personal safety when the rebellion is over. To accommodate this fear the Federal Government has agreed to have an outside observer force to give a sense of security to the Ibos … We are thinking of an observer force drawn from friendly Governments to witness the reassertion 1517 of Federal troops will not go into rebel-held areas to 'massacre' Ibos.At Addis Ababa Chief Enahoro went further and proposed a force drawn from Ethiopia, India and Canada. What contribution is this counry making to the organisation and movement of such a force, and to the setting-up of its communications? What contingency planning have the Government carried out? I got no answer to this question a month ago, and I should like to have one now.
We cannot brush aside the Ibo fears. The right hon. Member for Llanelly, speaking with all the authority of a former Colonial Secretary, said that the Ibos believe that they are fighting for their survival. They believe what they are told by their leaders. They believe that food coming from Lagos will be poisoned, so they will not eat it even if it gets through. They have been told that they will be massacred when the Federal troops arrive. They certainly have bitter memories of what happened in the past. Never mind how many people perished in the North; many thousands did perish, and they have the memory of this engraved on their minds. Who can blame them for thinking in this way when one Federal commander has been talking of shooting every Ibo in sight?
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) I too received a telegram from Raymond Njoku, a former Chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, a Federal Minister, and an Ibo. My hon. Friend will forgive me when I say he drew the wrong conclusions from the telegram. I will read it again.Suggestion advocating Nigerian Federal troops overunning Biafra heartland as quick end to the war contrary to British Government's previous undertaking is most unrealistic, mischievous, shocking and wicked. Federal troops are now attempting to do so. If this happened, God forbid, wholesale massacre of all educated Ibos as well as women and children will follow and the war will never end. Is that what our British colleagues and friends want to happen to us?The point is not whether it will happen; the point is that this is what the Ibos believe will happen, and for that reason will go on fighting as long as there is breath in their bodies.
I hope that an answer has been given to Mr. Njoku by the speeches in this debate. We cannot wash our hands of 1518 this matter, Pilate-fashion. That is why the Government must use every scrap of influence they say their policy has been designed to preserve to give this unfortunate people the assurance that their lives are not in jeopardy and that their suffering can be brought to an end.
The thought dominating everyone's mind in the debate and the thought dominating the minds of millions of people in this country for weeks past is what can be done to ease the plight of the starving civilians?
Here, as many hon. Members have recognised, the problem exists not only in the Ibo heartland but in the Federal-occupied territories around it. We should commend the Government for sending out the Hunt Mission. It is a pity that a mission of this kind was not sent out earlier. It was a tragedy that permission to enter Biafra was withheld. Even so, the Mission did its job with speed and efficiency, and Lord Hunt, Sir Colin Thornley, Mr. Hodgson and Dr. Maelor Evans are deserving of the highest praise for a job well done. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone is right and little has been achieved since the Mission has reported—and I do not quarrel with that—I say most emphatically that it is not the fault of the Mission. But what precisely has happened since the Mission reported and since the statement of Lord Shepherd of 31st July as to the response the Government made in sending out food, medical supplies, special transport and personnel? We are entitled to know.
There are clearly two separate problems. There is the problem of organising relief in areas where the Federal Government have resumed full control of administration and communications. Then there is the problem of opening new corridors of mercy into the Ibo heartland where, according to Lord Hunt only last month there were at least half a million refugees in about 600 camps. There must be many more now, with larger numbers taking to the bush.
This tragic situation is heightened by other facts, such as those presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) and others who have reminded us that there is no shortage of food in Nigeria as a whole. According to Mr. Ian Colvin in last Friday'sDaily Telegraph, there are 5,000 tons of food 1519 waiting in Lagos, 1,700 tons in Enugu, 1,000 tons in Calabar and 3,500 tons in Fernando Po. On 31st July Lord Shepherd said that relief was reaching Federal-occupied areas, but I have seen reports suggesting otherwise. If relief is reaching these areas, we should be given the details.
I ask this question because the voluntary agencies contest Lord Shepherd's assertion. For example, as recently as last Friday I was told that up to then no significant relief supplies were reaching these areas from Lagos. These are areas in which Lord Hunt reported there was severe and pitiable distress, where the number of refugees was increasing daily and there was an acute shortage of relief workers, doctors, transport and properly organised lines of communication. But these are areas which the Federal forces have controlled in some cases for weeks and in many cases for months. What is the truth of the situation there?
§ Mr. Braine
I will not give way. I wish to adhere to my promise to sit down at a specific time. I still have a number of matters to raise.
As I was saying, we want to know the truth of the situation. The Commonwealth Secretary gave an impressive list of relief teams being mobilised and of supplies and transport being organised. He said that there was a gathering momentum of effort. Unless I am much mistaken, the implication of all this is that precious little has been done up to now. Indeed, we had to wait until the Hunt Mission left the country and reported before anything was done at all. It reported, but it is only now that matters are starting to move. This may be a reflection of the callous disregard which Nigerian leaders on both sides have been paying to the pleas which the International Red Cross, Oxfam, the World Council of Churches and all the other organisations have been making, not just since the Hunt Mission went out but for many months past. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian used the milder term of there having been a lack of concern. I would say that there has been a callous disregard. This is a commentary on the standards of some of those who exercise control over people 1520 we once governed. Hon. Members can draw their own conclusions from that. Perhaps we did not build as well as we thought we did.
Have we yet any guarantee that relief is now going to be brought to these people on an adequate scale? Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report in this week'sEconomist, the Lagos correspondent of which stated that at the beginning of last week the International Red Cross was ordered to halt its daily flights to Enugu and Calabar, that the airports there were now being reserved for military purposes? The Commonwealth Secretary told us that the Red Cross's flights to Fernando Po were to be resumed. Does this mean that they have not yet been resumed? If not, what pressure is being brought to bear by the Government?
§ Mr. George Thomson
There are two separate issues here. I dealt with the closure temporarily of the airports in Federal territory but the flights from Fernando Po into Biafra will not require any Federal airports.
§ Mr. Braine
I am grateful for that clarification.
I turn now to the question of the situation in the Ibo heartland. Lord Hunt was reported to have told Mr. Colvin of theDaily Telegraph that a new initiative to get relief there might take three weeks to get into operation. Does this mean three weeks after acceptance of the formula proposed at Addis Ababa? If so, this could be a considerable time in the future. In the meantime, the clandestine flights by the French from Gabon are continuing. According to Lord Hunt, they are gallant but ineffective because the aircraft only land five tons at a time. Since Colonel Ojukwu is getting arms from the same source, it is perhaps not surprising that the Federal authorities have threatened to shoot the planes down.
But the end of the military phase of the war cannot be far away. It seems from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that agreement in principle for a landing strip for relief has been or is about to be reached, but I have seen it reported that General Gowon has rejected the last site offered to the Red Cross by Colonel Ojukwu. What steps are being taken to persuade him to accept Red Cross planes?
1521 There may be simple answers to all these questions but I ask them to highlight the anxieties expressed in every speech in this debate. The message of this debate is that the Government must use every ounce of influence they say their policy has preserved to get the Red Cross supplies moving. The time for equivocation is over. The Government must make the position crystal clear to the Federal authorities. They must state, too—and the House needs to know this because we shall be involved in the expenditure and supply of personnel—what active they are taking to assist in sending an observer force to help both sides in the task of pacification.
Very shortly Parliament will be dispersing. If General Gowon is to be believed, the present military phase will be over in four weeks, that is before we have the opportunity to look at this matter again. But the Government need not think that this gives them a period of respite. We shall watch their actions with the utmost vigilance. We shall expect them to exert every ounce of the influence they say they have, and if events move more hopefully—and I want to end on a positive rather than a negative note—than seems likely at the moment, we shall expect them to offer generous help in the task of rehabilitation and reconciliation in a country which, only a very few years ago, was regarded as one of the most promising in the Commonwealth.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. William Whitlock)
The theme of every speech today has been one of great concern with the terrible fratricidal strife in Nigeria. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) said that the speeches have been some of the most moving he has ever heard in this Chamber, and I am sure that the speeches reflect the feelings of the broad mass of our people and, indeed, of the people of the world who have any knowledge of what is going on in Nigeria.
The right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) referred to the great difficulty of understanding what is going on in Nigeria. He said that an immense fog of propaganda surrounds all accounts that we get. Inevitably some of that fog has invaded the Chamber. Perhaps that is 1522 why my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) said that there were no means of finding unadulterated facts about the events in Nigeria and went on to say that, while he could not accept what my right hon. Friend said about events there or what Lord Hunt said about events there, he could nevertheless accept the statements made by people unknown to him about what is going on there.
The right hon. Member for Barnet asked, very understandably, what is the true military situation, bearing in mind that hon. Members had seen on television last night a programme in which General Gowon said that the final offensive had begun. While this debate has been proceeding we have been in touch with Lagos, and General Gowon has told us personally that when he said that the final push is now in progress he was referring to the continuing preparatory operations in both the northern and southern Sectors for a final Federal push. General Gowon explained that the rebels had seized the opportunity while the Addis Ababa talks were going on to harass Federal troops on all fronts and that extreme restraint had been exercised by all Federal commanders. But it is evident that in one area, in particular, the Aba area, there was a very troublesome salient which Federal troops have had to strike out. He points out that that is in response to the attacks made by the rebels while the talks were going on. What is happening in this area, one can see, is not always what is said to be happening and is not always in accordance with the words of the military commanders on the spot.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
My hon. Friend described Aba as a salient. As I said in my speech, I understand that normally 80,000 people live in Aba. There are an untold number of refugees. If it is being attacked, what is the news about what has happened to the people who live there?
§ Mr. Whitlock
We have no news about the fate of the people who are there, but obviously when a war is going on there are casualties on either side, and there must always be casualties. In this battle which is going on, there are undoubtedly casualties, but the details of those casualties are not known to us at the moment.
1523 Our view, therefore, as my right hon. Friend said, is that we should continue to strive for a negotiated political settlement. I remind the House that, however much we should regret any extension of the fighting, an offensive by itself would not necessarily breach the conditions which the Government laid down on 12th June. It is patently untrue that the Federal Government are proceeding without mercy to the starvation of the Ibo people and we believe it to be equally untrue that they have any intention of seeking a merciless slaughter. It is also untrue that the Federal Government are throwing aside with contempt any reasonable terms of a settlement. The true situation is that the Federal Government have offered reasonable terms and that Colonel Ojukwu has rejected them.
As my right hon. Friend warned the House, we have been very much aware that time is short if there is to be a political settlement without more major fighting. I remind the House that while the talks have been going on in Addis Ababa there has never been any ceasefire on either side. Half the Ibo heartland was already in Federal hands when the Foreign Secretary made his statement on 12th June laying down the conditions for the supply of arms—behind which we firmly stand at the moment.
One of the factors which has added to the difficulty of assessing events in Nigeria—of course, I am not referring to the well-authenticated reports of starvation nor denying that there has been appalling suffering and loss of life which we all deplore greatly—has been that at times the Press here has found it by no means easy to obtain objective, first-hand reporting from the fighting areas. In the propaganda field the Ibos have often seemed to be winning the war of words while losing the battle of arms. Behind this success is a highly professional operation conducted by an advertising agency in Geneva. The Ibo official line is regularly telexed to Geneva and distributed wholesale and undiluted by the agency to world-wide outlets.
Much of the material supplied by or on behalf of Ibos has been patently untrue. For example, we have been accused of sending 600 painted British troops to Nigeria, some 260 of whom, it was alleged, had been killed during the 1524 Federal offensive at Port Harcourt. A thousand Royal Marines were alleged to have been dispatched to Nigeria for an amphibious attack on Port Harcourt and subsequently recalled. The Hibernian footballers touring Nigeria were said to be parachute troops. A party of British schoolchildren on a cruise were said to be British soldiers. This is the kind of propaganda which emanates from Biafra. It would be laughable were it not for the fact that this last example, the allegation that British schoolchildren were British soldiers, was responsible for the burning of British property in Port Harcourt by an Ibo crowd.
In fact, of course, no British forces have served in Nigeria during the civil war and we have repeatedly denied Ibo claims to the contrary. The Ibo propaganda machine has also gone on insisting that R.A.F. aircraft and British bombs were being used in the war. Although there has never been the slightest shred of truth in this allegation, it still goes on. It is a completely untrue story; nevertheless it has been repeated in some British newspapers. I noted that in theDaily Telegraph magazine supplement as recently as 23rd August there was the suggestion that conceivably British bombs were being dropped on Ibo-held areas. So still, in spite of contradiction of this allegation, we are seeing it repeated even in British newspapers. Obviously if a lie is repeated often enough there are some people, who should know better, but who believe it.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that during the Middle East conflict in June last year the same sort of situation developed? There were misunderstandings and misstatements but they were not the basis of a case for the Government to take action one way or the other. I am surprised that he should suggest that it is the case on this occasion.
§ Mr. Whitlock
It has often been said that the first casualty in a war is truth. We see this in every war. Another example of the completely misleading claims made by Markpress, which hon. Members regularly receive from Geneva and a copy of which I have here which was referred to by the hon. Member for 1525 Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), has recently been drawn to my attention. In a Press release headed "Biafran Overseas Press Federation" Markpress claimed:Airwork Services Ltd., a semi-official British Government Agency, is currently engaged in extending the Nigerian Air Force.It added that air crews would be recruited from ex-R.A.F. fighter pilots who would serve as mercenaries, and blamed the British Government for actively promoting and fiancing a new instrument by which to intensify the killing of Biafrans. The hand-out is entitled:British Government plans to build Nigerian Air Force.Airwork Services Ltd. is a completely independent commercial organisation. [Interruption.] It is not a semi-official British Government agency. The activities attributed to it by Markpress could not be a responsibility of the British Government, but I understand that Airwork Services Ltd. has no plans to recruit pilots to serve in Nigeria, and that its activities are confined to the maintenance of trainers and communication aircraft.
In the past we have repeatedly had to deny stories that R.A.F. aircraft and pilots have been made available to Nigeria. Now we have this latest story about the British Government being behind an alleged expansion of the Nigerian Air Force. I should like to take this opportunity not only to deny this allegation but to point once more to the completely misleading nature of the type of hand-outs which the Ibo leaders are using in an effort to influence outside opinion.
I could go on at great length giving examples of Ibo propaganda which are not only untrue but grossly defamatory in their allegations about British policy and intentions. Another example of Biafran claims which has been mentioned in the debate and which paints an illegimately lurid picture of events is their recent allegation that Federal troops massacred all the inhabitants—2,300 people—of two villages.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
It might help the House if the Minister were told that it is generally accepted that inadequate and inaccurate propaganda may well have been put out from both sides, harmful to this country. 1526 Would the Minister then think that it was time he moved on to a matter that he has not dealt with and has not denied, namely, that we are continuing to supply arms?
§ Mr. Whitlock
The Government's policy on arms has been outlined by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs and the Foreign Secretary on previous occasions. It is a policy to which we adhere, and that has been made clear. I am replying to the propaganda speeches which have been made in the House. I was talking about the lurid picture of the alleged massacre of 2,000 people in two villages. This seems an extremely unlikely story since it has been observed that the normal pattern is for civilian village populations to disperse into the bush well in advance of the fighting reaching them. A senior journalist with a wide experience of West Africa has recently returned from a visit to the front in the area mentioned—the Aba area—and stated that he saw no evidence of any atrocities. He told our High Commissioner that he was particularly struck by the excellent discipline of the Federal troops, the troops under the command of Colonel Adekunle.
One can scoff at some of these wilder inventions, but the fact remains that Ibo propaganda, perhaps more credible, but none the less untrue, may well have coloured the judgment of some that it has reached, although the Press here has scrupulously quoted the source of its reports. Particularly tragic is the way in which the Ibos seem to become the victims of their own propaganda. The belief which has been instilled in them that any concessions would lead to a planned genocide by the Federal authorities is certainly a stumbling block to achieving a cease-fire. We do not accept that the Federal Government have any such intention against the Ibos. [Interruption.] They have offered to accept outside observers after a ceasefire for the very purpose of reassuring the Ibos. They have suggested that after the ceasefire the East Central State should be policed mostly by Ibo police and not by the Federal Army.
We have heard from reliable sources of captured Biafran soldiers being well-treated by the Federal forces. Lord Hunt's recent mission to Nigeria found 1527 that an attitude of vindictiveness towards the Ibo people among other people was noticeably absent. It also found that Federal troops in many cases were helping to feed Ibo refugees.
It should also be remembered that there are at least 100,000 Ibos living peacefully in Lagos and elsewhere in the Federation at the moment. Ibos continue to hold responsible and senior jobs in the rest of the Federation. These features clearly show that genocide is not intended by the Federal troops or the Federal Government.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
In his opening remarks the Secretary of State said that the British Government would be neutral. Does the hon. Gentleman think that his speech is following the lead given by his right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Whitlock
What my right hon. Friend said was that the Government in this situation could not be neutral. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shameful."]
I think we might now return to what are the issues that divide the two sides. Much has been made of the view of the present situation taken by Biafrans. But how do the Federal Government see the situation? The Federal Government view the situation just as strongly obviously as the Biafran side. We must bear in mind that the Federal Government believe that Colonel Ojukwu and the Ibo leadership are seeking to create by unconstitutional and undemocratic means a sovereign independent State which they call Biafra, which would embrace the whole of the Eastern Region. But that region is not only the tribal home of the Ibos, who number some 7 million. There are also in the region about 5 million others—Efiks, Itsekiri, Ibibios, Ekois and Ijaws. We believe that most of the 5 million non-Ibos, almost half the population of the region, do not favour secession.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the need to take a vote, I beg to move, That the Question be now put, as I am assured that nothing recorded in the Chamber yesterday prohibits a decision before 4 o'clock if it is the will of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is right. There is nothing in yesterday's 1528 Motion which prevents a decision of the House being recorded by a vote but only provided the debate ends before 4 o'clock. I am not prepared to accept the Closure. Mr. Whitlock.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could the Minister give an assurance that he will sit down one minute before 4 o'clock?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that my hon. Friend would desire to give an assurance to the House that he will sit down before 4 o'clock.
§ Mr. Whitlock
I was saying—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—that we believe that most of the 5 million non-Ibos—
§ Mr. James Davidson
On a point of order. It must be obvious to the Government Front Bench, Mr. Speaker, that it is the will of the House to vote. May we, please, have an answer from the Minister that he will sit down before 4 o'clock and give the House an opportunity to vote?
§ Mr. Whitlock
I am attempting to reply to the debate and I shall be better able to do so if hon. Members allow me to continue. We believe—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman must no: broaden the Ruling that Mr. Speaker made. It is in order for Mr. Speaker to accept a Closure when he thinks that he will accept a Closure, even if an hon. Member is speaking. Mr. Speaker is not, however, prepared to accept the Closure. He is bound by the Motion of yesterday.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Further to the point of order. Since the Minister has indicated that he wishes to reply to the debate and, therefore, presumably wishes to assist the House in its deliberations, in case it did not register in his mind on previous occasions, may we repeat the question and ask him to indicate whether the Government are frightened that he should sit down at a minute before 4 o'clock?
§ Mr. Whitlock
This debate has been arranged by the Government in response to requests by hon. Members—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
On a point of order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Is it the custom in this House for the Government flagrantly to deny the wish of the House in the matter of a vote? In the circumstances, cannot you persuade the Government to act in an honourable and decent manner?
§ Mr. Speaker
If Mr. Speaker were to attempt to persuade the Government, this would be the first time a Speaker had done so in history and it would also be a failure.
§ Mr. Whitlock
I will continue with what I was saying. We believe that most of the 5 million non-Ibos, almost half the population of the region, do not favour secession. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) may care to think of the lost liberty of those non-Ibos who have suffered under the Ibos and who have not wanted secession.
It must be remembered that the pipelines, the oil installations and the ports of the Eastern Region are mainly in the non-Ibo tribal areas. Thus Colonel Ojukwu's concept of a separate State of Biafra could be achieved only by subordinating the wishes and interests of 5 million non-Ibos to those of the 7 million Ibos in the region. If Colonel Ojukwu were to succeed—
§ Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)
On a point of order. Is it not the case, Mr. Speaker, that on two earlier occasions this year all hon. Members loyally heeded the advice of both Front Benches that it would be best not to divide the House on the question of Nigeria? Is it not equally the case that today there is overwhelming feeling in this Chamber that the matter should be put to the vote? Can you explain, Mr. Speaker, why it is not possible for you to accept the Closure before 4 o'clock, or would you accept the Closure a little nearer 4 o'clock?
§ Mr. Speaker
The position is quite simple. The House decided yesterday that today's business should be taken on the Adjournment and that at 4 o'clock Mr. Speaker should adjourn the House without Question put. Those are the instructions of the House to Mr. Speaker. I cannot vary them. I am not without sympathy with the desire of many hon. Members to register their opinion by voting. I am powerless to do so unless the debate ends before 4 o'clock.
§ Mr. Whitlock
If Colonel Ojukwu were to succeed in his aim, he and the Ibos would acquire for themselves a territory rich in agriculture and containing the great oil installations and reserves, all this at the expense of Nigeria as a whole. The position of the Federal Government, on the other hand, has always been clear. They see Nigeria as one sovereign State. They see the economic wealth of the country as something to be developed for the good of all people in Nigeria. In short, if the Federal Government had condoned secession and armed insurrection it could only have been done at the expense of the future development of Nigeria as a country. It would have increased the danger of further fragmentation and the possibility of future conflict between the main tribes of Nigeria. And so the civil war broke out.
In the early days, Colonel Ojukwu's army proved more ready for war than did that of the Federal Government. It was able to move to the attack and occupy the Mid-West Region and march towards Lagos. The first bombs were dropped by Colonel Ojukwu's air force on the civilian population. The truth is that Colonel Ojukwu had imported a considerable quantiity of arms in the expectation 1531 of war. Can anyone doubt that if his forces had continued to advance successfully they would have approached up to Lagos, too? One cannot help but observe at this stage that many of the more vociferous of the Government's critics failed to condemn the civil war when Colonel Ojukwu was—
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Hamilton)
On a point of order. Could I, as a fairly new Member, ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Is not one of the functions of the House of Commons to arrive at the democratic will of the House at the end of a debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is a delightful philosophic question which I would love to discuss with the hon. Lady.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
On a point of order. Could I put this philosophic question to you, Mr. Speaker? If the Minister feels unable to sit down at one minute to four o'clock, would he ask the Prime Minister, who is sitting beside him, and who is in charge, to ask him to sit down so that the will of the House may be shown by a vote?
§ Mr. Whitlock
Throughout this tragic dispute we have persistently worked for peace, first by trying to help the Nigerians compose their differences without resort to arms, and later by urging both sides to work for a negotiated settlement, and paradoxically—this is not accepted by my hon. Friends, I know—our continuing arms supplies to the Federal Government have lent weight to those methods and have been a real help to us in urging moderation and flexibility upon them.
In January, 1967, Mr. Malcolm Macdonald's largely unknown and unsung work came near to achieving the reconciliation of opposing viewpoints at a conference at Aburi in Ghana. It is a tragedy that this agreement was so shortlived and did not reach fruition. In March, 1967, we urged Colonel Ojukwu not to push Ibo grievances to the point of secession—
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
On a point of order. As it is manifestly out of order for hon. Members to read their speeches, would it not be just as well if we took a vote now?
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
On a point of order. It would appear likely that the proceedings of this House this afternoon will bring Parliament into contempt. Naturally, I do not presume to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to bring pressure on the Government, but I ask you to uphold the rights of private Members, most of whom here wish to vote.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must defend Parliament against the hon. Member. A Motion was carried yesterday, and it defines the proceedings of the day. The hon. Member and his colleagues should have taken exception to that Motion yesterday.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
On a point of order. When the House reached that decision yesterday it had no idea of the sort of arguments the Government would make. It is quite obvious that nearly every Member in the Chamber wishes to have a Division.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not responsible for what was in the minds of hon. Members when they came to their decision yesterday. But they came to that decision.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker
On a point of order. May I suggest to the Leader of the House that, for the good name of the House, he should ask the Undersecretary of State to sit down and allow a vote to be taken?
§ Mr. Whitlock
May I remind the House that it was the Government who recalled this House in order that Members on either side of the House might have an opportunity to put their points of view on this terrible tragedy of the war in Nigeria.
1533 My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that we would end the arms supply if the Federal Government were conducting irresponsible military activity which would prevent talks from taking place, if those talks had any chance of success, military activity which would cause wanton and unavoidable 1534 slaughter going on in Nigeria. That is the situation—
§ It being Four o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, till Monday, 14th October, pursuant to the Resolutions of the House yesterday.