Hidden histories confirmed: So much for the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ By William Bowles

By William Bowles
featured writer
Dandelion Salad
24 November 2008

“This we do by rigging the parliament through official majorities, a restricted franchise and so forth” — From the minutes of the British Colonial Office, 14 December, 1959

Back in June of 2006 I wrote a piece, based on a story in the New African magazine on how the British government fixed the Nigerian ‘independence’ elections, so that the winner would be a compliant servant of the British government and of course, British and US capital (see ‘Hidden Histories’ 24 June, 2006).

The piece opened with the following quotation from the New African article, the only publication in the UK that had the courage to print the story about how the government fixed the Nigerian election. All the mainstream media caved into government pressure (no doubt a ‘D’ Notice was issued) to kill the story.

“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.

This lone civil servant, Harold Smith, blew the lid on the fix and has paid the price for his honesty and courage literally for the rest of his life.

This month New African magazine published a followup to their original piece following the publication by the British government of official papers that confirm Harold Smith’s allegations of election rigging, down to the letter.

“Official British documents just seen by New African have confirmed our May 2005 cover story about how Britain rigged Nigeria’s independence elections so that its compliant friends in the North would win power, dominate the country, and serve British interests after independence. “As long as the Federal Government remains dependent, our strategic requirements are constitutionally secure,” one of the documents says. “In the Westminster model, Parliament is the matrix of the Executive. When this model is exported to dependent territories, we are forced in the transitional stages to modify it in the interests of strong and stable government. This we do by rigging the parliament through official majorities, a restricted franchise and so forth,” another document reveals. “In the last resort, we must make sure that the government of Nigeria is strong, even if possibly undemocratic or unjust,” says yet another document.”” — ‘A squalid end to empire’ by Osei Boateng, New African magazine, November, 2008 [my emph. added, Ed]

The documents that confirm Harold Smith’s original allegations are to be found in an extremely expensive (£500) set of documents published for the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London in 2000 and 2001.

The series are titled ‘British Documents on the End of Empire Project’ (BDEEP) and it is in ‘Series A Volume 4’ that the relevant documents can be found, and as the author of the New African article Osei Boateng says,

“And what a joy to have official confirmation authenticating one’s story! And what a time to find it — on the eve of the 48th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence!”

Boateng quotes some of the relevant information from the documents including,

“So long as [Nigeria’s] Federal Government remains dependent, our strategic requirements are constitutionally secure.”

And under the subhead economic we read,

“The Nigerian market is a valuable one for United Kingdom manufactured goods. There are also important United Kingdom interests in trading and lesser interests in mining.”

But the kicker is to be found in the following quote taken from the minutes of a meeting held on 14 December 1959 involving R.S. Hudson, E.R. Hammer and Sir Hilton Poyton, who was then deputy under-secretary of state at the Colonial Office,

“When this model [Parliamentary democracy] is exported to dependent territories, we are forced in the transitional stages to modify it in the interests of strong and stable government. This we do by rigging the parliament through official majorities, a restricted franchise and so forth.”


the parliament must be rigged in some way or another. It might be better and more lasting preparation for what always seems to follow if we, while we were able, adopted a different method of rigging and restricted the powers of parliament rather than its composition.” [all emphasis added by New African]

And this where the unfortunate Harold Smith came in. Smith, then 29 and with a promising career in the British civil service ahead of him, was selected by Sir James Robertson, the then governor-general of Nigeria, to oversee the ‘fix’, a fix Smith refused to be a party to. In refusing and worse, in refusing to keep quiet about it in spite of bribes, including an offer of a knighthood and a lucrative (but overseas) position, Smith sealed his own fate.

Now 81 and unemployed ever since, he at least has the satisfaction of seeing accusations confirmed by the official documents of the time.

But perhaps the most revealing aspect of the entire, sordid affair is the one played by the British media in conniving with the state in suppressing the story. As was revealed in my story, the reaction of mainstream journalists (I use the term advisedly) is worth reprinting here,

“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.

Omission due to space restrictions? Over two million people died in the Nigeria-Biafra War! Furthermore, it was probably the first war, at least on the African continent, to use a PR company to spread propaganda in the West, and propaganda that worked extremely effectively, convincing even those on the left that it should support Biafra’s independence (even though Biafra was supported with arms and logistics by the Apartheid government of South Africa and that of Portugal and of course Biafra was the location of the Niger Delta and all that oil).

“The public relations firm owned by American Adman H. William Bernhardt. Since January, Mark-press has literally waged Biafra’s war in press releases —more than 250 of them. They are crammed with news of impending arms deliveries that is designed to embarrass European governments and with stark warnings about starvation. The firm has arranged air passage into Biafra for more than 70 newsmen from every West European nation and transmitted eyewitness reports to their publications.” — ‘NIGERIA’S CIVIL WAR: HATE, HUNGER AND THE WILL TO SURVIVE’, Time Magazine, no date.

My original essay ended with the reference to yet another futile exchange between MediaLens and Ms Boaden of BBC News over the BBC’s lack of coverage of the BRussell’s World Tribunal on Iraq:

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.

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