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Southern Africa in revolt: A journalist’s report shaped Nigeria’s historic role

It is no secret that Nigeria played an important role in the freedom struggles to achieve majority rule in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. What is not so well known is how the most unlikely individuals like respected journalist and former university lecturer, editor and newspaper administrator at Punch and Triumph, Dr Haroun Adamu, pointed the way forward for those in authority to understand what the issues were and how best to tackle them. The following excerpts from Dr Adamu’s book written in 1976, sheds light on his ringside appreciation of what was needed to help Rhodesia, later renamed Zimbabwe, to achieve its independence.

 

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I was summoned by the Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. This would not be the last. When I appeared before him in his office, he left his desk, seated himself and relieved my tension by beckoning me to a seat. The meeting was business-like. As I recall, he informed me that there was a lot happening in Southern Africa, but admitted that there was a dearth of information for both the government and the Nigerian public. Consequently, he said I should prepare and leave for the region immediately and provide both the government and the public with information. That of the public, he said, I knew what to do; but for the government, I should give a hand-written report to Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma, the Chief of Army Staff. Logistics, he said, had been provided, and “Good Afternoon.” I summoned sufficient courage to correct what appeared to me to be a breach of protocol. I suggested to him that would it not be better if he contacted my immediate boss, Alhaji Alade Odunewu, Editor-in-Chief, who should in turn give me the assignment, at least one part of it. He saw my point. By the time I got back to the office, a note summoning me to the office of the Editor-in-Chief was waiting. I sat before the Alhaji, to be told of the justification of my proposed travel to Southern Africa. I disappointed him by saying that my wife’s pregnancy was advanced, and I could not leave her for such a tour. I was expecting a more forceful reply with the name dropping and al 1 that. However, he made me to believe that the idea was original and no one had talked him into sending me on that assignment. I respect him for that. I watched his face as he calmed me down with the assurance that the Daily Times would take full responsibility in case there was need for my wife to be taken to hospital.

Zambia – A Red Carpet Treatment

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Zambia was my first port of call. The reception given to me by President Kenneth Kaunda was regal. A breakfast interview had been arranged, but I later discovered that Air Zambia, by which I was to travel to Nairobi en route Colombo, Sri Lanka, to cover the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, would have left Lusaka. I quickly mentioned ply dilemma to the President’s Press Secretary. He called me back. assuring me that the plane would be on ground until I had concluded my interview with the President. A whole plane waiting for a journalist! I was flabbergasted. Reality however dawned on me that there was the possibility of not connecting with Air India which would take me to Bombay. I called back and informed the President of this new development. The President sent me a more beautiful option – “Let us have our breakfast, have our interview, and enjoy a ride in the Presidential jet to Colombo and back to Lusaka.” This was an offer I could not refuse. In Colombo, I was part of Zambia’s delegation. At the reception held in honour of the visiting dignitaries, President Kaunda made sure I was with him when he saw the leaders of delegations, introducing me, his journalist friend from Nigeria, to them, including, embarrassingly, our head of delegation, Joe Garba, the Foreign Minister.

Since our return from the Anti-Apartheid Conference in Cuba, at which I represented the Nigerian Anti-Apartheid Committee, late Ambassador Leslie Harriman, Chairman of the UN Anti-Apartheid Committee and Mr Reddy, his Secretary, requested me to convince Brigadier Joe Garba, the Foreign Minister, to host the Second Anti-Apartheid Conference in Nigeria. I had a wonderful opportunity in Colombo, where I was fortunate to meet the entire movers and shakers of Nigerian foreign policy in their hotel. Ambassadors Ukegbu, Haruna ibn Musa, (both now deceased), B. A. Clarkand the Foreign Minister himself. I found them in a relaxed mood. They jokingly referred to me as a Zambian. Noting their relaxed mood, I immediately introduced the topic, pleading with the mandarins to convince the foreign minister to host the anti-apartheid conference. I enjoyed tremendous goodwill from these elder statesmen of Nigerian Foreign Policy and Foreign Relations. It was at this informal gathering that the Foreign Minister decided to recommend to the Head of State that the Anti-Apartheid Conference should be held in Nigeria. And so it was. I returned to Zambia in President Kaunda’s jet and completed the rest of my assignment. I met the Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and the Vice-President of Botswana. On my return to Nigeria, I prepared mm report and handed it over to Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma. as directed. A few weeks later, I received an august visitor at my Cooper Road residence in Ikoyi. Brigadier Abdullahi Mohammed dropped in. and said he was on his way to the office. He was to acknowledge that he had read my report for he was then the head of the newly-formed Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO). But I was surprised, when after meeting with Brigadier Mohammed, I was accosted by a bohemian, a youthful looking man at the entrance to Ikoyi Hotel in the evening. The young man launched into a conversation on a report, which I had written, and said he would like to congratulate me on it. I flatly denied I had written any such report. In any case, “who are you?” I asked. He refused to identify himself. I recalled that I did not sign the report. I only scribbled a letter which no one could recognise for what it was. How could this young man, therefore, come into possession of the report? “What impertinence,” I said to myself. “You know,” he continued, “we have been advising our bosses on some of the recommendations you made, but no one listened. We are happy that an outsider had reached the same conclusions,” he concluded. Friends had begun to stream into the hotel and our corner, full of young technocrats from the private and public sectors, was bristling with the usual arguments, discussions and debates. I managed to shake him off. I later discovered that he belonged to the Research Department of the Foreign Ministry, the external security apparatus of the Nigerian Government. We later became close friends. It was sad to lose such a brilliant officer in mid-career.

The highlights of my recommendations are:

1. That government should set up a South African Relief Fund to which both the general public and the government could contribute.

2. That Nigeria’s outstanding payment of $2,000,000 (two million dollars) should be paid to the Liberation Committee without delay.

3. That “it would be necessary for Nigeria to change the pace of present talk-resolution-massacre-fight-syndrome in Southern Africa. A shock treatment is needed. I cannot suggest the nature of the shock treatment. This would depend on consultation between the Nigerian government and Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. But before the year is out, Nigeria should take a stand either militarily or economically, that would definitely shake the entire Southern African region.

In view of the importance of the report I submitted to General Olusegun Obasanjo, I reproduce below, the full text of the report.

 

MEMORANDUM TO GENERAL OLUSEGUN OBASANJO: HEAD OF STATE

The Frontline States – An Overview

Four nations, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, constitute the four frontline states and their presidents meet occasionally, as charged by the  Organisation for African Unity, OAU, to map out strategy for the solution of the crisis in Zimbabwe. Actually, only three of the four states share common borders with Zimbabwe. The fourth, Tanzania, does not, but has been co-opted as a result of her role in assisting FRELIMO, and also because it is the headquarters of the Liberation Committee Secretariat, which is headed by a Tanzanian, Col. Hashim Mbita. With President Nyerere of Tanzania as Chairman, and Col. Hashim Mbita, another Tanzanian, as the Executive Secretary, some people suggest, not without reason that Tanzania dominates the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. The existence of a special relationship between Tanzania and Mozambique, the latter being the operational zone, confirms their view, they say. The other three States which share common border with Rhodesia, can be classified into Security and Liberation zones. Two States, Botswana and Zambia, are members of the security zone; Angola and one other. Mozambique, the liberation zone. Zambia and Botswana, both independent for more than a decade, are concerned with their national security and are not likely to allow active liberation struggle from within their borders. Coincidentally, this security zone happens to be land-locked. Zambia has already begun to feel the pinch of South African pressures. Its North-Western province has now become the hot-bed of revolt, indeed a secession attempt. President Kaunda told me that the province used to supply the bulk of migrant labour to South Africa, which he had stopped in 1965. South Africa had recruited a hundred of them, trained them in military operations, and infiltrated them into Zambia. Majority of these had been captured, but a small band is still roving in the area. Additionally, a Zambian local chief with about 380 men had “defected” into Namibia and these could be trained and unleashed into Zambia anytime. Any time SWAPO guerrillas attacked from inside the Zambian border, South Africa unleashed its own Zambian hit-and-run soldiers, into Zambia. President Kaunda has said times without number that he would not close his border with Rhodesia and is unwilling to turn his country into a battle zone. He may have his reasons. Until late this year, Botswana had no currency of its own; the South African Rand had been the nation’s currency.


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