Nigeria why the 'British experiment' failed.

Author:Boateng, Osei
Position:Cover Story - Cover Story
 
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Nigeria's current debilitating North-South problems have their roots in the pre-independence arrangements foisted on the nation by the departing colonial power. Osei Boateng reports on Frederick Forsyth's re-worked book, The Biafran Story.

How can Nigeria forget Frederick Forysth. He is British. He is famous. He is a journalist turned novelist. And he has a story to tell. His book, The Biafran Story, (first published in paperback on 26 June 1969 by Penguin) raised quite a storm at the time. On 20 December last year, a reworked edition of the book was published in hardback with a fresh Prologue and Epilogue. It is worth every Nigerian's attention, especially as they celebrate 42 years of independence.

Forsyth writes in the new Prologue: "It is now more than 32 years since the last plane I took out of the besieged and crumbling enclave that Biafra had become in December 1969 lifted away from the tarmac at Uli airfield and turned its snout towards Libreville, Gabon...

"It is strange to read what I wrote all those years ago. With the marvellous gift of 20-20 hindsight, it is tempting to revise, re-edit and modernise the script; to temper the polemic, to mute the anger of the opinions.

"Yet I have not done so, for I was then a deeply angry young man, and with cause. I had seen such misery, so much starvation and death, so much cruelty inflicted on small children; and I knew that behind it all were vain and cynical men, not a few in high office in London, who had closed their eyes, hearts and minds to the agony of those children rather than admit they might have made a mistake."

Forsyth himself, a pro-Biafran, admits a mistake: "Biafra was a mistake," he now says. "It should and need never have happened. But I have resisted the temptation to be wise after the event, preferring the philosophy of the Beatles' song: let it be."

The first print-run of Forsyth's book, 30,000 copies, was sold out as quickly as it was printed. Thus, in September 1969, Penguin, through its representative, one Mr Hutchinson, asked Forysth to return to Biafra and prepare an addendum.

"The idea was for a reprint in the spring of 1970, or so I understood," reveals Forsyth. He duly returned to Biafra in October 1969 and stayed for three months.

The addendum was ready by 31 December 1969, but Penguin had suddenly developed cold feet. Hutchinson had moved on to the academic field, and his replacement simply informed Forsyth that a reprint was no longer intended.

Censorship was not the preserve of newspapers after all. The book had been too hot to handle. So it took 32 years (till 20 December 2001) for the censored addendum to see the light of day, "to complete the story of Biafra", says Forsyth.

And what a story!

"The passage of time," Forsyth concedes, "may mellow viewpoints, or expediency may change them. But nothing can or ever will minimise the injustice and brutality perpetrated on the Biafran people, nor diminish the shamefulness of a British government's frantic, albeit indirect, participation...Victors write history, and the Biafrans lost. Convenience changes opinions, and the memory of Biafra and what was done there remains inconvenient for many."

Forysth maintains that "all those who condemned [his book when it was first published in 1969] had one thing in common: they were all in positions of power and authority, to wit, the...

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