1960-1969 | Backing dictatorships | Nigeria

Minister – backing Nigeria’s assault on Biafra will benefit B.P. and Shell

Starving woman in a refugee camp during the conflict –
US Department of Health photo – public domain.

4 December 1967

On 4 December 1967, Commonwealth Minister George Thomas urged Denis Healey, the Defence Secretary, to step up Britain’s military aid to Nigeria’s Federal Military Government. Five months earlier, Nigeria’s generals had launched a full scale invasion against the province of Biafra, which had dared to assert its right of self-determination. Over the next two years the Nigerian junta’s military offensive, bombing and blockade on imports was to cause the death of over two million from famine.

Thomas explained his deep concerns, not for millions of starving Biafrans, but for British oil companies. ‘Anything that we now do to assist the FMG (Federal Military Government),’ he reminded Healey, ‘should help our oil companies to re-establish and expand their activities in Nigeria after the war, and, more generally should help our commercial and political relationship with post-war Nigeria.’ Healey agreed wholeheartedly, adding in a response that increased military aid would hopefully encourage the generals ‘to look to the United Kingdom for their future purchases of defence equipment.’  Accordingly, the British government duly dispatched thirty Saracen armoured personnel carriers (APCs), six Saladin APCs, about 2000 machine guns, anti-tank guns and nine million rounds of ammunition.  By the end of the month, this generous supply was topped by the promise of two helicopters, 1950 rifles with grenade launchers, 700 grenades and 15,000 pounds of explosives.1

A Saracen APC – The British government supplied 30.
Photo by Steve Glover – CC License – Flickr – Wikimedia


  1. Correspondence and statistics quoted in Mark Curtis, Unpeople, Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses, Vintage, London, 2004, p. 174.

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