By Taiwo Akinola, 5 Jan. 2010 (Movement for National Reformation)
It was with great sadness that the progressive communities received the news of Mr Harold Smith’s death on 3rd January, 2010.
Born in Manchester, in 1927, Harold Smith was educated at Oxford University in the traditional manner thought suitable for those who would run the Whitehall civil service machine, of the British Empire. The Colonial Office recruited him into the Labour Department in 1954, after he took his final examinations [Philosophy, Economics and politics] at Magdalene College a year ahead of his class and got a second class upper. He also obtained the University Diploma in Social and Public Administration so he was considered particularly well fitted to serve the Crown in Africa. This is not a small accomplishment for a boy who left school at fourteen. He was posted to Nigeria and he arrived in Lagos in 1955 with his lovely wife Carol, both worked as British officers serving on the headquarters staff in Lagos.
At his recruitment he sought out and attained assurances that he was being recruited to assist in helping to prepare Africa for independence. However, on the ground, he soon found out that things were different. When the British removed themselves from most of Africa and from Nigeria in 1960, the programme was forced on them by the outcome of the Second World War. Though in truth they did not wish to surrender power to the African people; but set about to rule though the imposition of colonial local agents. This meant circumventing democracy in order to achieve their goal.
Harold Smith was also an idealist who lived for humanity. Once he realized the reality of colonial rule, instead of cooperating, Harold displayed unusual courage by taking on, at high personal cost and risk, the British colonial authority that violated the honours of Africans and the ordinary decent British who were of the majority. As he observed after when he received the order to take part in the manipulation ‘My reply was brief. ‘No,’ I wrote on the minute sheet. ‘This would be a criminal act.’ He saw the orders as clearly a criminal breach of Nigeria’s own electoral laws, as well as being a gross betrayal of trust by the British who were supposed to embody the notion of even handedness, fair play and honesty.
Like David Wilberforce, Harold Smith was also a patriot, he saw himself as fighting for the reinstatement of British honour which he says had been cruelly defiled by the sordid, evil machinations of men at the helm of affairs in the old colony who handed over a counterfeit democracy on the eve of independence in 1960.” But the British Imperial Authority did not take kindly to that; as he observed “The Governor General simply could not understand why I should make such a fuss about which set of Africans the British chose to leave in charge in Lagos.” For his principled position, Harold was given a dose of how Africans were treated. He was sacked from his job without being allowed to seek another job. Hence “I found myself permanently retired at thirty-three with no salary or pension. I had only graduated at Oxford six years earlier.” With two children, it was left to Carol, his equally courageous and devoted wife to be the bread winner of the house.
Harold Smith’s was forced back to Nigeria and his health was destroyed, as he observed “Perhaps fortuitously, this determination to prolong my stay in Africa was to bring me down, for in my final year, the year of the rather tacky if not wholly sham Independence, I became ill with a chronic disease, tropical sprue. As a result I have had a quiet and retired life punctuated by alarming health crises.”
Harold refused to sell his conscience at any cost. He told the story of evil committed by ‘kind, nice, decent British politicians’. They sought to keep Britain from bankruptcy and found a solution in the mineral-rich Empire on the point of independence. It was necessary to bend the rules and, sadly, in due course the rules were totally forgotten. Those who got in the way were innocent like the colonial peoples, but both had to be dealt with quite harshly. Harold Smith accounts as he himself observed ‘My main qualification for demolishing the myth that the British created viable democracies out of savage tribes only to see the ungrateful and greedy natives quickly revert to their tribalistic ways was my personal involvement in these events.
“When I suggest that the British Government meddled with the democratic elections in Nigeria, I write as an authority. I was chosen by his Excellency the Governor General, Sir James Robertson, to spearhead a covert operation to interfere with the elections.”
“I was present in Lagos, Nigeria, during the period 1955-60 in the run-up to Independence, and my recollection of those years is at variance with the record set down by some British historians.”
What he revealed is that “the British Government interfered with the elections so as to achieve Northern domination of Nigeria. The consequences of this abandonment of the rule of law by the British Government is recorded in the turbulent and bloody events which were to produce the Biafran Civil War which grasped the attention of the world due to its daily presence on every nation’s television screens. The pictures of starving children and homeless refugees will not soon be forgotten. Since the fraudulent handover of power to the Northern leaders in l960, not only has there been this bloody civil war which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Nigerians including many women and children, but five heads of state have been assassinated and there have been three military coups.”
“I have not told this story before because I did not wish to wreck the chances of success of the new nation by revealing the truth behind the fine but phoney ceremonial retreat. It would not have been possible to write this book in the 1960’s anyway as my health was in ruins and my survival unlikely. By the mid-1960’s too, the consequences of the British betrayal were becoming evident and Nigeria was being torn apart by coups, corruption and civil war. If 1960 was too early, by 1966 it was far too late.”
Today we all celebrate and salute the life and the courage of this great man of impeccable character who, in order to preserve the integrity of the black race and the honour of the ordinary decent British- had the audacity to stand up to the power of the British imperial authority. Though, his life was turned into a ‘single issue’. He will be affectionately remembered and honoured. Even though the judgement of ‘the negative powers’ of the British Imperial authority did not favour him, he is favoured by the judgement of the people and both posterity and God will equally judge him as righteous. Harold, we will always remember your saintly name.
Harold is survived by his amiable wife Carol who stood with him through this trying period, and two lovely daughters Helen and _____. May they and we all have the heart to bear the loss of a father, a husband, a friend and a lover of humanity.