More on Nigeria’s Hidden History By William Bowles

24 June 2006

Harold Smith, who died 3 January 2010 is almost unknown except for the few who are aware of his courageous and lifelong struggle to expose the murderous duplicity of British Imperialism in Nigeria. Smith, in 1960 then a novice, young colonial administrator in Nigeria, attempted to expose the rigged and phony ‘independence’ that the British had foisted on the Nigerian people. I wrote this back in 2006 and given all the current events in Africa, I felt it worthwhile reprinting it. There is also a followup piece, ‘Hidden histories confirmed: So much for the ‘Mother of Parliaments’‘, that I wrote a couple of years later. You can find a tribute page to Harold here. WB

“You know why you’re here, Smith. And I want you to know that all your worst fears and suspicions are absolutely correct … I am telling you this because I want you to know how much trouble you are in … Smith, I want you to know that I personally gave the orders regarding the elections to which you objected … If you will keep your mouth shut, I can promise rapid promotion and a most distinguished career elsewhere … but you will not be allowed to work in the UK. You must understand that you know too much for your own good. If you don’t give me your word, means will be found to shut you up. No one will believe your story and the press will not be allowed to print it.” – Sir James Robertson, the then governor-general of Nigeria to Harold Smith in 1960.

Harold smith

Y’know it astounds me (though I know it shouldn’t) that ‘our’ governments have gotten away with so many lies over so many decades and we’re not talking about little fibs here, we’re talking about events that determine the lives-and deaths-of millions of people. Indeed, the fate of entire continents hinged on the engineering of massive lies about events and their causes.

Airbrushing the crimes of capitalism has reached new heights with the invasion of Iraq, but make no mistake, it is by no means new, it is merely the latest and the most brazen. The major difference is that the latest Big Lie was revealed even as it took place. Earlier crimes against humanity and equally as horrendous in scale have, with the complicity of the media, been hidden from view.

Without exaggeration successive British governments, whether Labour or Tory have proved to be the most cunning at weaving a web of deceit about the way they have manipulated our perception of events. This includes engineering election results, frame-ups of politicians, murders, bribery and corruption that extends to the highest levels of government.

But crucially, none of it would have been possible without the active connivance of the media, both corporate and state in the deception (and more often than not, parallel crimes of omission). This particular story has been buried for fifty years in spite of innumerable attempts to get the media to report it.

Entire histories have been completely erased from the record. Take for example the British role in Nigeria. Last week a friend sent me a copy of New African magazine from May of 2005 which contains a complete account of one of the many ‘hidden histories’ of British machinations on the ‘dark continent’.

This particular history haunts Africa to this day and one that the British Establishment have yet to pay for, for it resulted in the deaths of millions and almost led to the break-up of Nigeria. The results determined the nature of the Nigeria of today including all the talk about post-colonial ‘corruption’. And, it should not surprise readers that lusting after oil was the primary reason.

The author of this story, Harold Smith, has been threatened, offered a knighthood, ostracised, poisoned and finally blacklisted for fifty years for trying to tell the truth. He was a loyal if naïve servant of the state, who obviously believed all the myths about the ‘neutral’ civil service- until he tried to live by them.

“We thought the English were lawful and decent people.” – Harold Smith

In fact it’s a case-book example of British colonialism’s ‘divide and rule’ tactics. It epitomises just how devious the British ruling class are, they have had after all, centuries to invent and perfect every trick in the book. It should also put paid to any illusions the ‘left’ have about the Labour Party which was entirely complicit in the many crimes committed by British imperialism including the events that took place in Nigeria.

By 1956, the demands of the Nigerian people for independence were unavoidable. It was the year of MacMillan’s ‘Winds of Change’ speech, made in South Africa (of all places). But the British ruling class were determined that at best, a light breeze would waft through Nigeria and if change was to take place, it would be the kind of ‘change’ that would essentially change nothing, except the colour of the ruling elite.

“We had betrayed the Nigerians and undermined their democracy! We had taken millions of slaves from this area of Africa and shipped them in dehumanising conditions to America, and now we were pretending to be decent, the good old British were giving independence and behaving properly, but we weren’t! It was the same bloody dirty games we had been playing for centuries.” – Harold Smith

To this end, the British colonial rulers utilised the ‘special relationship’ they had established with their local administrators in the North-dominated largely by the Hausa and Fulani-who were more than willing to collaborate with the British colonial authorities in order to maintain their own, personal power, that of the Emirs.

Harold Smith, a low level administrator, was directed to make sure that a British creation for maintaining colonial power, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), won the upcoming elections, an order he refused to carry through labelling it a “criminal act.”

The NPC was funded by the British-created Native Authorities and according to Smith:

“it was difficult to detect in the North where the British administration ended and the Northern rule began. Thus through a cynical display of horse dealing, the 1959 Federal election became a mockery, because the outcome – Northern domination of Nigeria after independence – was assured before a single vote was cast.”

When ‘independence’ came, in 1960, British control and domination through a rigged election was assured with a government dominated by the North, a situation that led directly to the Biafra war, a war that resulted in 2 million deaths.

When opposition leaders objected to the rigged election they were simply framed on trumped up charges and thrown in jail.

But the story of this lone colonial administrator’s opposition to British manipulation of the ‘independence’ process reveals a far more insidious process at work, the connivance of the corporate and state-run media in the cover-up.

When Smith returned to England he attempted to get the ‘liberal’ press to publish his story, but as Sir James Robertson had predicted, neither of the two leading ‘liberal’ newspapers, the Guardian and the Independent initially would even reply to his letters.

“This is dynamite, we dare not touch it.” – Harold Smith on journalists’ responses to why the story was unprintable.

Smith relates the forty-five years he spent trying to get the press to tell the public his story including the hundreds of letters he sent over a 45-year period, all to no avail.

Eventually, he wrote a book about his experiences but this too was ignored. Eventually he published it on the Web for free (

Smith’s exchanges with the newspapers indicate the nature of the relationship between the media and the government.

“Reading through the written material … it occurs to me that perhaps there is a simpler explanation of why your story has not been published. Maybe in an earlier period, pre-1990 when the 30-year rule would have bitten, you had some cause to feel that the authorities were trying to suppress something and the newspapers were their allies – but I stress I have absolutely no knowledge of any involvement on the Guardian’s part.

“Now however, it is at least possible that the problem is journalistic. Is the Nigerian election of 1960, however corrupt, a story our readers would be interested in? – Hugo Young, the Guardian, 2 June 1993, to Harold Smith

Predictably, Mr Young resorted to smearing the indefatigable Mr Smith with the following dismissive note:

“Dear Mr Smith (1) I have not the least idea what the Guardian did or did not do about Nigeria long before I joined it. (2) You seem to be in a state of demented obsession, which causes you to defame me (and others) to all and sundry. Please desist. (3) This will be last communication. Do not trouble our fax machine or our secretaries.” – Hugo Young, The Guardian, 13 May, 1994 to Harold Smith [my emph. WB]

Thus we read why the one of the alleged ‘experts’ on Africa, Alastair Hetherington, could not find space in his book The Guardian Years on the first and at the time most devastating calamities to befall Africa, the Biafran War, a war that came about as a direct result of the rigged elections of 1959-60:

“Dear Mr Smith … I am sorry that you did not find any reference to Nigeria and the Biafran situation in my book The Guardian Years. The omission may well be because the book was originally 120,000 words long, and had to be cut down to 80,000. … I am afraid that I cannot become involved in correspondence on the subject now.” – Alastair Hetherington, former editor of the Guardian, 10 June 1994.

Readers may well be aware that similar arguments have been used to excuse why the corporate and state press have not covered similar revelations about the invasion and occupation of Iraq either because it’s merely “history” or because as the BBC stated as to why it has not covered the BRussell’s World Tribunal on Iraq. BBC news director Helen Boaden had this to say when pressed as to why it had not covered the Tribunal:

“We’ve covered the issues discussed many times and will continue do so, though we did not cover this – not least for logistical reasons.” (Email to Media Lens reader, June 29, 2005)

Only one newspaper, the Morning Star, reported on the Tribunal:

There was nothing in the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, the Financial Times, The Times or any of the other ‘watchdogs of democracy’. There were also zero mentions at BBC news online. — ‘THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF THE VANISHING WORLD TRIBUNAL ON IRAQ’ — Media Lens, July 6, 2005

Ms. Boaden does not have the excuse of ‘history’, merely that of ‘logistics’ though apparently there are other, unstated reasons as to why the BBC could not inform its viewers/listeners. Thus, over the past fifty years, absolutely nothing has changed, the media is as complicit now as it was back in 1960 in hiding the real state of affairs from the public. This should surely disabuse everybody of the false notion that we have a ‘free’ press intent on telling the truth either about current or past events. It also raises the issue of the degree to which the corporate and state-run media actively collude with the state in suppressing the truth, something that the unfortunate and courageous Harold Smith discovered to his cost.

One thought on “More on Nigeria’s Hidden History By William Bowles

  1. Valentine Anthony says:

    An interesting and informative piece. It reminds me of my days in the then Malaya, now Malaysia, and Singapore under British colonialism. I would like to add few quotes and 2 books for the benefit of readers:

    On British colonialism: “corruption and imperial bigotry in a society where, after all, natives were natives – interesting, no doubt, but finally…an inferior people.” George Orwell, Burma Days, 1934.

    The responsibility for governing India had been placed by the inscrutable decree of providence upon the shoulders of the British race—Rudyard Kipling

    The loss of India would be final and fatal to us. It could not fail to be part of a process that would reduce us to the scab of a minor power—Winston Churchill to the House of Commons, February 1931

    Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge….At the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance….. Jawaharlal Nehru to the Indian Constituent Assembly, New Delhi, August 14, 1947

    1. Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapeirre, 1976
    2. The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru,


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