Glimpses—Written Nonfiction

The Nigerian Affair

Throughout the twentieth century, Nigeria proved to be a microcosm of the colonial system, demonstrating both the drawbacks and the advantages of the evolving relationships between the imperial powers and their vassals. The drama’s climax in the 1960s, though less well-known than the Battle of the Caribbean Sea a generation earlier, nonetheless exerted a major influence on international affairs in subsequent decades.
Originally a British colony, Nigeria was in the process of becoming a protectorate when the advent of the Plague turned the world upside-down. In the ensuing unpleasantness, it was left mostly to its own devices, with only a token British presence in Lagos. Even after the Unrest nominally ended in much of the world, ethnic unrest, similar to the Biafra rebellion in the player characters’ world, continued in Nigeria through the 1930s. Many Nigerians believed Britain should have done more for them, but instead had essentially abandoned them.
In the following decade, after the defeat of the Biafrans largely exhausted Nigeria, Britain reasserted control of the region. A slow rebuilding began, accomplished mostly by Europeans with little local involvement. Part of this process included assessing local natural resources, which in 1960 culminated in discoveries of oil under the Niger river delta.
A couple of years later, Germany began to suffer minor oil shortages as demand outstripped Continental oil supplies. Within a year there were minor but noticeable disputes among many European nations over oil, though Britain’s control of several oil-bearing regions and access to US oil gave them an edge. Germany deployed troops to Cameroon with a covetous eye for Nigerian oil assets.
By 1965, significant quantities of oil started flowing from Nigeria—but the inhabitants saw precious little of the profits. Britain’s position was secure, but the rest of Europe still had difficulties, hampering economic growth. The following year, Nigerian resentment flowered in an independence movement that was at first nonviolent. Britain, preoccupied with a second Moro rebellion in the Philippines, agitation in India, and European infighting, largely disregarded the movement as a danger and transferred military assets elsewhere, leaving what amounted to a skeleton crew.
However, the movement gathered strength suddenly when a charismatic leader—secretly supported by Germany—emerged in 1967. The rebels wrested control from the British in a series of small, nearly simultaneous skimishes. Europeans were rounded up and deported with relatively few executions; the new leader was canny enough to recognize the dangers of atrocities. Assets left behind were seized and the oil infrastructure was occupied.
Nigeria then declared independence and abrogated all oil contracts with the intent of negotiating more favorable deals. The new government invited non-British oil workers to teach Nigerians to run the oil industry, but there were few takers. Oil exports dropped dramatically, sparking a minor recession in Europe.
In March 1968, a Britsh, French, and German coalition invaded Nigeria by surprise, citing as their casus belli the expulsion of Europeans and seizure of their assets. Britain provided the primary naval power, sending only enough troops to occupy the oil facilities. French and German soldiers went to occupy the land. The Nigerians were defeated quickly in the cities and scatted into the countryside, intending to continue with guerrilla resistance.
The next month, Germany marched in its troops from Cameroon, much to the surprise of the British and French, who suddenly found themselves vastly outnumbered. France, seeing her forces in a bad position, was induced by promises of excellent oil prices to withdraw. To prevent irreparable damage either to the infrastructure or to chances of negotiation, the British troops guarding the oil facilities were left alone.
The guerrillas were crushed quickly and harshly. The German army used its own troops and Cameroon levies, taking advantage of old rivalries. Pre-war contacts gave German intelligence extensive knowledge of rebel organization and plans. Tensions built and Nigerian popular opinions shifted from being anti-British to being intensely anti-German.
In June, Germany “suggested” that Britain, militarily overextended due to its other colonial problems, cede Nigeria to Germany. To sweeten the pot, Germany offered the same deal it gave to France. Unfortunately for Germany, Britain’s access to US oil meant they were under far less pressure to accede. Instead, Britain cast about for other solutions.
At the same time, the US Navy was undergoing a major refit-and-modernization effort. Britain offered to buy the ships under construction at an excellent price; after examining the world situation and deciding Britain would not be a threat, the US willingly agreed. After all, the same shipyards could simply start over and build a whole new fleet after delivering to the British. US shipyards fueled a minor economic boom.
Negotiations between Britain and Germany dragged on over the next few months, while British diplomats approached the Nigerians in secret to work out a deal. In November, the new US-built fleet assembled in Chesapeake Bay, inspiring a wave of nerves in European intelligence circles. The “Hundred-Ship Fleet” crossed the Atlantic in strength, ending the journey in Portsmouth. To the astonishment of the Continentals, the Americans then cheerfully handed the ships over to the British, pocketed the payment, and returned to their isolation.
Britain promptly pointed out to Germany that they were no longer overextended and that the reinforced Royal Navy could make resupply of Germany’s West African forces very difficult indeed. Simultaneously, at the behest of the British, newly re-armed and -trained Nigerian resistance forces kicked off a campaign, taking a heavy toll on German ground forces.
Finally, in December, Germany saw the writing on the wall and agreed to withdraw. The resulting Treaty of Lagos not only stipulated that Germany and France recognize that Nigeria was under British control, but promoted Nigeria to a full protectorate, guaranteeing revenue-sharing of oil profits in a particularly good deal. Nigerians would be taught to run and maintain the infrastructure, though Britain would handle contractual issues and guarantee shipping and security. Britain also magnanimously offered Germany a good price on oil, thereby allowing the latter nation to save face . . . more or less. Germany was forced to withdraw the bulk of its troops from Western Africa.

The Aftermath

The US Navy continued its modernization, financed by the profits of the sale of the Hundred-Ship Fleet to Britain. The Royal Navy remained supreme outside Monroe Doctrine waters. Europe’s oil situation stabilized, with Britain left in an even better position thanks to its control of Nigerian oil and its continuing good relationship with the US—which remained an oil exporter.
Germany resented US involvement in the affair, however indirect. Subsequent retaliatory agitation in Mexico to cause discomfort to the US failed because Mexico was so fragmented and anarchic that no meaningful influence was possible.
France proposed a huge pipeline from Nigeria to Algeria through the Sahara, but few took the idea seriously. A common sentiment was that not even Eiffel would consider such a lunatic scheme.
The British realized that one of their greatest assets is their ability to call upon US industrial might at need. They tend not to speak of this, though, not wanting to call attention to it—particularly that of the Americans, who might use it as a lever. Britain also doesn’t want the Atlantic trade routes to become a theater of conflict in internal European rivalries; thus, their rear is secured and their supply lines maintained. This meets with American approval as well, since it allows the US to remain militarily aggressively isolationist. Ω

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