Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce, second left

Araba Massacres got the North out of the Lugardian cage.. The polo loving British High Commissioner Francis Cumming-Bruce persuaded them (the Northern Emirs) to go back into the new British cage with Gowon given the key to keep Nigeria one (in the new cage) became an attack/task that must be done.

“Once Gowon had been chosen, and deemed acceptable to the majority of the army with Northern and Western affiliations, he sought help in restoring a semblance of government and control over the state. The one man he felt he could trust and to whom he could lay bare his misgivings over his momentous task was the British High Commissioner Cumming-Bruce. Appealing to him for help, he admitted that he was ‘only a simple soldier’ and had no experience of affairs of state, let alone taking charge of a country as diverse and fragmented as Nigeria. The immediate problem facing Gowon was the total disintegration of Nigeria, initiated by the North. The North was intent on secession. It was only through the support of Cumming-Bruce and his close friendship with the Northern Emirs that Gowon was able to exert authority over the North. Cumming-Bruce was able to persuade the Emirs that secession would have been an economic disaster. As Cumming-Bruce stated:

But it wasn’t on the face of it easy to get them to change, but I managed to do it overnight. I drafted letters to the (British) Prime Minister to send to Gowon as Nigerian Head of State, and for my Secretary of State (Michael Stewart) to send letters to each of the Emirs. I wrote accompanying letter to each of them because I knew them personally. I drafted all these and they all came back to me duly authorised to push on at once. The whole thing was done overnight and it did the trick of stopping them dividing Nigeria up.

He continued:

Britain had no formulated policy in view of the events of the second coup and that as Britain's representative I should decide on policy as I saw fit, being the man on the spot; hence my action with the emirs. I had particularly cordial relations with the emirs because we all shared a love of polo and of course because of that we met socially and my position also meant that we met on more formal occasions. However, I had been totally unaware of an impending coup, my security people had heard of no rumours to unseat the Ironsi regime. However my relationship with Ironsi had always been somewhat distant, I always felt that he didn't entirely trust me, perhaps because of my personal relationship with the emirs and sultans of the North, so that was probably the reason the second coup caught me by surprise.

Of course such unilateral action, with no consultation with the other interested parties, especially Ojukwu and the East, was to have dire con­sequences, especially after the Aburi meeting. Such action also encouraged Gowon and his administration to accept that a federal state with strong control from the centre was the way to keep Nigeria united. It was this mindset that persuaded Gowon’s senior civil servants to insist that the Aburi agreement was unworkable. Furthermore this unilateral action was to determine British, and by agreement, America’s policy towards Nigeria throughout the conflict and to lead the British Government into increasingly acrimonious difficulties with its own supporters and indeed with many members of the Western European and American public. Indeed it could be argued that
Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce, accompanied by Lady Cumming-Bruce (seated)
Cumming-Bruce's action, although laud­able from where he stood at the time, in the light of future circumstances was, to say the least foolhardy, especially with regard to the longevity of the war. It could be argued that if Cumming-Bruce had not interfered, Nigeria would have fragmented into separate states, possibly as a con­federation, in the style proposed by Ojukwu, and most importantly war would have been avoided. However, Cumming-Bruce was only extending British policy which had been formulated during the run-up to the coun­try’s independence: that Britain's investments would be best protected if the country was left to run ‘in a safe pair of hands’, those of the Northern rulers. The volte-face by the North confirmed for the Gowon admin­istration that the only way of keeping Nigeria united was with strong control from the centre. By this time also, the North had appreciated that by seceding it would lose its political stranglehold over the coun­try, a position which it had held since independence, and a position that, once secession had lost its appeal, it was determined to hold on to for the haute. Such has been its determination that it still holds this position to the present day. On a second meeting with Cumming-Bruce he greeted me with the comment: l sometimes wonder whether l did the right thing in keeping Nigeria together.

In the light of further riots in the North against the Igbo population liv­ing there, and the many killings and damage to property, which Gowon's new regime seemed powerless to stop, relations between the North and the East deteriorated. This made the Eastern ruling elite champion secession. Indeed Dr Ukpabi Asika, an Igbo from Onitsha, who was to become the Federal Government's administrator for one of Gowon's promulgated twelve states, East Central, has claimed that as early as April 1966 his Igbo colleagues were planning secession, on the grounds that unity was non-existent. The nation teetered on the edge of disintegration ... At campus encounters, open-air bars and other informal gatherings, at which the secret service made no pretence at disguising their presence, we railed it the government's lukewarm concern for the plight of the Igbo.

Ojukwu also complained to Gowon about his inability to contain the pogroms in the North against the Igbo people living there.  The kill­ings seemed systematic and organised:

Then the killings began again, with renewed vigour, between 18 and 24 September, while the ad hoc constitutional conference was sitting in Lagos. The outbreaks began within days, sometimes hours of each other, at Makurdi, Minna, Gboko, Gombe, Jos, Sokoto and Kaduna.
They quickly spread to Kano, Zaria, Oturkpo, Bauchi, Zungeru and elsewhere .... Again, rented buses were seen speeding across the North, bringing armed agitators to fresh towns and villages. In each one the message was the same; kill the Easterners … In the main centres hideous massacres took place as mobs, sometimes led by army men and native police officers, raged through the Sabon Garis hacking, spearing, cutting, chopping and shooting any Easterners they came across.”

Reference:      Michael Gold (Biafran War) page 43 - 45
Share To:



0 comments so far,add yours