"You know Mr Smith, they have treated you like an African": in every era, William Wilberforces arise in Europe and stand by Africa through thick and thin. Harold Smith of Widbrook is undoubtedly one such character of our time. Not many people, European or otherwise, would sacrifice themselves for principles, values and a foreign continent. New African went to interview him.
Harold Smith: Journalists have asked me: "What did they offer you to shut you up?" And I tell them; a knighthood, a pot of money, a top job in the Far East. And they say: "You turned down all that? We would have taken them."
You see, with these bribes, once you start taking them, those offering the bribes can then do whatever they like with you, but we--my wife Carol and I--have led the life we have wanted to.
You see, what they do is play cat and mouse; they have done it all the time so they know what they are doing. Then one of them comes over, in this case it was the chief secretary, and says: "This was a terrible mistake, I didn't know anything about this, this is awful. I'm going to recommend you for a knighthood and shake hands and be friends." And they keep this up, so you don't know where you are, and then they come up with the big bribe.
After the chief secretary had offered this knighthood, the governor-general, Sir James Robertson, said to my face that I ought to be dealt with. There is nothing he would have liked more than to have got rid of me, because these guys have got tremendous hatred for somebody who breaks the rules, the old school rules. But I have been brought up to be honest and decent and obey the law, so when I come across a situation where everything is turned upside down, where they are pretending to do one thing but are secretly doing another, it's a big shock.
We are Methodists--Carol and I--and we don't do that sort of thing--take bribes. And I think most people would behave like we do, but for people with ambition, say civil servants and people like that, if you say you were offered a knighthood and turned it down, their jaws hit their chests. They would kill their mother-in-law for it.
When I refused to take the bribes, they thought it was really bad news, so what did they do?--They gave me a secret trial, treason. It was a kangaroo trial, it wasn't done properly, but the people involved were the top lawyers in the country, the very lawyers who tried the Nazis at Nuremburg. Was I that important? When they tried the Nazis and Hitler's allies like Herman Goering, they were allowed defence lawyers, and I wasn't? I was worse than the Nazis?
They had this organisation called Justice to which all kinds of lawyers belonged and it was there they did this, and I wasn't allowed a defence lawyer. Never mind it was against the principles of English law. For all I know, when I was there they could have done with me whatever they wanted. It was a pretty awful experience. In English law you are supposed to have a defence and know the charges against you, not a vague charge that you have done something very nasty. I had never been charged in my life with anything. I had never broken the law, so how could they charge me?
But really it was a trick because in a way they wanted to find me innocent so they could then offer me all these bribes quite properly. There was a small demand, though. After they had offered all those things, they said: "Well, of course, you must give your word never to speak about this." All they wanted was my word, so this was all a gag: "This top job in the Far East, it will be permanent and forever. But you will never be allowed to return to Britain."
You just can't believe what these people can do. Nothing will stop them, they can threaten you with terrible things, and they threatened my wife. It's like one of those films where Cary Grant runs around saying: "Hey, call the police,' and the police turn out to be on their side. And you are running around. Oh yes, these people can do anything they like, and there is nothing you can do about it. And when you go to the politicians and ask for help, they are all frightened.
We got some help from some pretty important people over the years like Harold Wilson, the former prime minister, we have a letter from him which mentions that he knows us, so we have been around.
In a way, we were very lucky. When they pretended at the end that somehow I had convinced them of my innocence of being a "traitor" and they offered me all this money and honours, I didn't ask how much money was involved in case I was tempted. We were broke at the time, we had no money, with two small children, and I had no job. This is the major thing they do--to keep you unemployed, they have no scruples at all.
They would do anything to you, and a lot of whistleblowers in this situation have committed suicide, and I know why. If the British are after you and you are a target, they will chase you and you will feel suicidal by what they will do to you. You will feel so humiliated by the dirty tricks.
NA: Tell us about the orders you received to manipulate the Nigerian independence elections. Did they do it for both the 1956 and 1959 elections?
Smith: In 1956, we had no idea. We thought the English were lawful and decent people. Nigeria was spoken about as the showcase for democracy in Africa. They told us everything was above board and proper. There was no hanky-panky. If somebody did a little thing like voting twice, he would go to jail for 10 years or something. We were, therefore, totally surprised at what we discovered in 1956.
It started in a small way because the independence elections were in two stages, regional in 1956 and federal in 1959. The orders that came to me started in a small way. I was to take all the staff and cars of the Department of Labour--now remember Africans at the time didn't have cars, they had bicycles, and if an African politician had a car, or six cars in a constituency for his election campaign, he was powerful, really big.
The Africans fighting the elections had no money to print election material or anything. So the orders that came to me via the chain of command said all our ministry staff and vehicles should go to the minister of labour's constituency in the East to help get some people elected, some of his friends. They said we had to pretend we were doing a survey on migrant labour.
You want to hear what I did? In some ways it was incredibly foolish, but I was so angry because we were interfering with the elections. So I wrote on the file: "No Sir, this will be a criminal act." I signed it and sent it straight back to the governor-general. They didn't expect a young bloke like me, not very high up, to tell the governor-general that what he was doing was very, very wrong, which is how he took it and was extremely angry. But I am glad I did it because I would have been so guilty if I had gone along with it.
Then I discovered, talking to two of my British colleagues that they knew more. The British, of course, talked! We all knew of rumours going around, the Nigerian civil servants all knew about it and talked to each other, they had their own grapevine; the Ibo had one, and the Yoruba had theirs too. The African clerks knew all the secrets because they read the files, and they manned the switchboard.
I met with my two British colleagues and we all agreed that it was terrible and criminal. And I said to one of them: "You are not going to do this!" And he said, "I already have, I did it." I said: "What exactly have you done?"
The orders were to put pressure on all the major British firms in Nigeria, including the oil companies, to get some money, imply that they would be in real trouble if they didn't help. Any excuse to make them cough up money to give to this particular minister who was already getting a reputation for being corrupt. This was big money, plus cars, plus petrol and printing materials, all for one party, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe's NCNC party in the East. It was quite clear there had been a deal between Zik [Azikiwe] and the North brokered by the British.
Dr Azikiwe had been a great nationalist but the British had got him. They had found out from the marketing boards in the East that the money the boards had been putting into Zik's bank, the African Continental Bank, had been going into Zik's party. He had been spending it on his election campaign. But the British would turn a blind eye to it.
In fact, we will never know what the real vote was in that election because the British counted the votes, and everywhere they had people manipulating the figures. And there was this sad alliance forced on Zik with the North. Who would have voted for people who didn't want independence, who wanted the British to stay?
As it turned out, when the British royals came on Independence Day--1 October 1960--and they had the flag lowering ceremony, there were no nationalists there. The only people who were there were those who wanted the British to stay. 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!
Once they had made this alliance with the North and the East, everybody knew what the election results would be. And even before they counted the votes, the governor-general was announcing the winners! And there had to be a federation or a semblance of it. The British are not stupid. There was indirect rule in the North and they tried to have it in the South but it didn't work. Remember the people in the South were, and still are, very well educated. The people of West Africa are very intelligent. This idea that black people are of some kind of inferior intellect is absolute rubbish. If you have met a wide range of West Africans, you would know they are brilliant. The general level of intelligence in Lagos, in the Yorubas and the Ibos, was very high.
Chief Awolowo's Action Group in the West was going to be the opposition. If you think about what we were doing, the question you would ask is: What is going to happen when the British leave, how can you have another election, who is going to organise it? Nigerians wouldn't vote for the people we put in charge. So if you had an election once the British were gone, what the hell was going to happen?
A neat solution was found. We will get rid of the Action Group via a treason trial, and I saw this coming. Awolowo, who I considered one of the greatest men in Nigeria and West Africa, got 10 years in jail for treason.
NA: So you were lucky to have walked free after turning down the bribes, weren't you?
Smith: More or less, yes. We just kept on saying we wanted no part of it, but the governor-general said: "You don't just walk away, you know far too much, you are not going anywhere." I was lucky to have escaped.
I had some very beautiful women throwing themselves at me, sometimes even including policewomen dressed up to try and get at me. I even had young men smiling at me through my office window. Then I had a lot of African businessmen come in with a lot of money, banknotes, wanting to hand this over to me for favours, and I ran as quickly as I could out of the office. This was the kind of behaviour we got.
Then I got back to London and got lots of job offers. One of them was from the TUC to work as a researcher, and another from the American State Department. I realised that all along the Americans, via the CIA, were observing the hanky-panky in Nigeria, and they had watched this young guy telling off the governor-general and it had excited their interest, they knew everything. Here they were offering me a good job in London as a kind of consultant. But I didn't take it because I consulted somebody who advised against it.
Then in 1958 the chief personnel officer at the Colonial Office said that what had happened to me in Nigeria was dreadful, and if I agreed, they would put me on the next plane back to Lagos. Like a bloody fool, I agreed. And they flew us back to Lagos in December 1958. I had been cleared so it was OK to go back, but really we shouldn't have done so because they were really waiting for me!
The chief personnel officer had given the impression that I had been cleared and I would be looked after and promoted. But that was not the game they were playing, they just wanted me out of London because I was talking to too many people.
Back in Lagos in 1959, I was more or less in "political quarantine". They sealed me off, with no duties. As a European officer, you had a phone, a messenger and clerks. They first took away the clerks, then the messenger, then the phone. I was really stupid because it took me a long time to realise what was going on. In the end, I decided to send Carol and our two girls home because I felt they were at risk.
NA: And come 1959, they interfered with the elections again, you say that in your book.
Smith: Yes, in 1959 the whole thing was fixed again, and this time I just kept quiet. Interestingly, I went to a reception one evening and someone came up to me as I was leaving and said he had a message for Mr Smith, that I had friends in Washington DC who say I had to get out of Nigeria immediately because they (meaning my own people, the Brits) were going to harm me if I stayed.
He said I want to give you a password, which he did. And then he tucked a piece of paper into my top pocket which I completely forgot about. When I finally looked at this piece of paper after some time, I remembered the guy had said: "Wherever you are, if you phone this number, help will arrive, we will be there for you. Only phone this number if you are in real trouble and mention this password; Donovan.)" (Colonel Donovan was then in charge of the CIA).
I got out of Nigeria all right in 1960, but back in London, with all the troubles I encountered, I phoned this number and a female voice said: "Yes?" and I said: "Donovan." She said: "Tell me where you are and stay there, don't move, we'll find you." Soon they were there. They took me to meet "the chief" in London who knew all about me.
NA: And you were suspected that you were being poisoned?
Smith: I knew they made poisons that simulated tropical disease, including Sprue, which is what I've got. When I saw the specialist in the 1970s and he discovered what it was, he was mystified as Tropical Sprue is rarely found in Africa, it's common in the Far East and I hadn't gone to the Far East. They were going to send me there, I would have died and that would have been the end.
As it happened, I went to St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London, and it was just one of those coincidences. A specialist there had just discovered this skin disease and I walked into his clinic, a classic case.
My gut is damaged; it has lots of fine holes in it. It cannot handle dust or flour, anything ground up will pass through the gut and into the bloodstream, and I'm in real trouble. If I avoid fine foods such as flour, I'm fine.
We haven't gone on about poisoning because it is negative. If you go on about it you make yourself angry, your morale is sapped. It's the same as the phone tapping, our phone has been tapped for decades, but we just laugh at it.
When I started working on my memoirs, one day I took our dog Lulu to Bath to collect some books on Nigeria that I had ordered from the library. On my return, it was evident that someone had been in our house and a search had taken place. Lulu immediately picked up a scent and dragged me from room to room until we had been in every room in the cottage. She was very puzzled not to find the intruder though I was rather relieved not to. The papers and bits and pieces on my desk were not quite right. Someone had been through my notes and papers.
Soon, we began to note some very strange happenings on our telephone. We assumed the cause was a branch (just an ordinary branch, not Special Branch) touching the line; then we noticed that they occurred at exactly the same time. I consulted a retired General Post Office engineer who examined my telephone and he was very perplexed. "You have some unusual wiring in that phone," he informed me.
As a first measure, I decided to return the phone to the British Telecom shop at Debenham's department store in Bristol. My arrival created great confusion amongst the store staff because the handset I was carrying in a plastic bag as I entered the store set off all the shop alarms. The staff ran out into the street to see who had run off with valuable merchandise, but I was inside the store observing the fracas, with my telephone swinging in a carrier bag.
And was our mail being opened? It appeared so. This was not surveillance but harassment. The hurt was deliberate. We were finally convinced when a farmer friend made it clear that the police were very interested in my activities. It seemed there was great interest in some memoirs I was writing! But I had told no one I was engaged in such a work.
NA: Have you made contact with the new government circles?
Smith: We have had contacts within the magic circle; a number of my friends are in the House of Lords, friends from many years ago. They have asked me to keep my mouth shut and close down the website (www.libertas.demon.co.uk), as simple as that.
NA: And you've had this seesaw with the UK media. Very interesting indeed, isn't it?
Smith: Yes, we've written hundreds of letters since 1960 to the editors of the mainstream media. We came back in 1960 and the first newspaper we contacted was The Guardian. If the Guardian had printed the story then, it could have changed history. They knew it. The major writer on Africa for The Observer then was a South African, and my colleague told him our story in 1959. He knew our story, that the British were fixing the Nigerian elections.
Again, the major writer on Africa at The Guardian had written a very good book on Nigeria, and by coincidence he was a school friend of mine and he knew our story. I made it my business to talk my bloody head off in Lagos to every journalist I knew. I was loose and reckless, and now I think how incredibly dangerous it was because they all knew what I was doing, and they must have been sorely tempted to bump me off.
Since 1960, Carol and I have written letters practically every year to The Guardian. Since 1987, we must have written to The Guardian editors over a hundred times and got very few replies. Before the days of the computer, it was very laborious keeping copies. They have not been very helpful to us.
The Independent has published a letter of ours in their "Letters Column" about how the British fixed the Nigerian elections, but the paper wouldn't run the bigger story. We have tried to get into Fleet Street so many times, without success. They won't print the story. But here we are, trying to tell the story of how two million Africans were killed in Nigeria because of British dirty work. And Fleet Street [the British mainstream media] won't print the story! If they had listened to us in 1960 and had printed the story then, maybe millions of lives would have been saved in Nigeria.
All the journalists we spoke to in the 1960s said the same thing: "This is dynamite, we dare not touch it." Looking back, I think we must be lunatics to keep on all this time. In 1960 our friends thought we were bloody lucky to get out alive.
And so I laugh when I see them getting themselves into a state about Zimbabwe. I know President Mugabe is no angel, but when they talk about the press there being muzzled, and we know our experience with Fleet Street, it's hilarious.
When we went back to Nigeria the second time, the African staff who knew us would get me to one side, and say: "We know all about what you've done, and we thank you for that." And they would add: "You know, Mr Smith, they have treated you like an African."
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|Date:||May 1, 2005|
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