The CIA In Nigeria Coups: Past, Present And The Future

Buhari is not good in economics - Obasanjo

November 19th, 2012


At the time of the infamous 1976 coup that put Olusegun Obasanjo in power, there was little in the way of concrete evidence linking him to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. But over the years that followed, Obasanjo became a highly visible part of a complex network developed by the United States government to wage political and economic warfare against Nigeria.

A series of formerly-secret cables between Lagos and Washington, along with other documents from government and private sources, reveal ties between Obasanjo and at least two groups working closely with the CIA — and also make it appear likely that the recent plot to overthrow the Nigerian military government originated in Washington.

Destabilisation Campaign
CIA [Wikipedia}

When Muritala Mohammed was killed on 13 February 1976, suspicions were widespread that the CIA had a hand in assassination. This much is reflected in a secret report prepared by the U.S. Information Agency, the propaganda office that oversees VOA broadcasts and U.S. Information Service (USIS) installations around the world. The USIS 1976 Country Plan for Nigeria, declassified only five years ago, acknowledged that the political climate in Nigeria following Mohammed’s assassination had been one of “uncertainty, distrust and suspicion.” It further advised, “Charges of U.S. (CIA) backing for the attempted coup were prevalent [and] the Chancery and all USIS posts were physically attacked.”

The USIS document leaves no doubt about American intentions toward Africa’s most populous nation. Indeed, the same confidential report called Nigeria “the primary external source of crude oil for the United States,” and repeatedly stressed the need for increased American influence.

Many of the State Department’s Nigeria cables for the months prior to the assassination of Brig. Muritala Mohammed are still classified. Others, which have been released to investigators in recent years, are inconclusive. But the record nonetheless illustrates the paranoia that existed in the United States at the time about access to oil and about Nigeria’s growing capability to influence the rest of the continent.

A 26 September 1975 communique complains, for instance, that Nigeria had supplied several thousands of dollars to leaders of the then-banned African National Congress in Lusaka. Another, written in January of 1976 and classified as “confidential,” cited rhetoric heard with increasing frequency from Nigerian leaders about the “uncompromising supremacy of Nigeria’s national interest,” as well as opposition to what Mohammed himself had reportedly described as “blackmail and vicious propaganda” from the west.

Perhaps worst of all was the unpardonable sin committed by Mohammed when he declined an official visit by U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger which was proposed for May of 1976.

U.S.intelligence-gathering operations likewise escalated at an alarming pace during Mohammed’s rule. In a 20 January 1976 cable from Lagos to Washington, for example, U.S. Ambassador Donald Easum warned:

“If Nigeria wants to use oil as a political weapon to promote its foreign policy, this would not necessarily involve further nationalisation. But could mean FMG is considering ways it might assert greater control over which consuming countries get Nigerian oil, depending on positions those countries take on foreign policies issues of interest to Nigeria. We understand several other possibly important papers/addresses delivered at senior officers meeting, reportedly including Un/Ife scholar’s advocacy of Nigeria’s using oil weapon. We and consul Ibadan will attempt obtain relevant papers and will report further if warranted.”

And yet another secret dispatch, written less than two weeks before Mohammed was killed, hints that U.S. officials were prepared to sabotage Nigeria’s booming economy. Nigeria, wrote Ambassador Easum on 2 February 1976, “desires to play leadership role, [and will] require modern army if its power (within African context) is to be credible. Further, it likely that given foreseeable internal political realities, Nigeria will maintain relatively large army for some time to come.”

The same telegram listed a series of modern weapons likely to be acquired by the Nigerian government, and asserted the belief that a “civilian government might exercise a more restraint.” But it ended on an even more bitter note:

“One development would act as a constraint on Nigerian arms purchases: a sharp drop in the price of petroleum. Defence budget would presumably have to be cut proportionately with fall in revenue if government were to meet minimum developmental and social demands on its resources. Easum.”

Pondering a Military Invasion

To appreciate fully Obasanjo’s curious connections to western insiders, one must first look at the circumstances under which Mohammed was murdered, at the political context of the times, and at other key players in the events of the 1970s.

The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 and 1974 presented the wealthy nations of the northern hemisphere with the most serious crisis they have faced in recent history. Unlike any other event of the 20th century, the action impressed upon western leaders their vulnerability to collective action by resource-rich states in the southern hemisphere. In fact, the oil boycott accomplished something that two “world wars” and a half-century-long East-West confrontation never even touched: it altered the distribution of wealth between north and south.

Moreover, the embargo came at a time when the U.S. was still stinging from the humiliation of its military defeat in Vietnam, and when American political institutions were under siege from within. Anti-war protests convulsed the country from coast to coast. A civil rights movement, massive in scope, challenged the old class structure, while riots in urban centers diverted the attention and resources of government. In the midst of this upheaval, Congress launched an unprecedented investigation into CIA misdeeds around the world. And even as all these events combined to shake the political establishment, a scandal of historical proportions began to unfold which would eventually force then-President Richard M. Nixon from office.

It is also worth noting that the OPEC action would have been even more devastating to the U.S. and its western allies if it had been complete. But as Nigeria’s head of state, Yakubu Gowan opted to permit shipments to the U.S. throughout the boycott.

It is not entirely surprising, then, that just one month after the nationalist Muritala Mohammed took office, an elaborate “feasibility study” was presented to Congress which explored the options for a military invasion of the oil-rich Nigerian coast. The detailed military document — called “Oil Fields as Military Objectives” and dated August 21, 1975 — was prepared to provide background to legislators in the event that the U.S. “vital interest” was threatened by a repeat of the OPEC sanctions.

Among other things, the Congressional report noted that Nigeria would offer little more than “token resistance” to a U.S. invasion — primarily because it was considered unlikely that the Nigerians would learn of the pending attack in time to sabotage the oil fields. Moreover, said the Congressional report, transit routes from Nigeria to the eastern U.S. are relatively direct — without “bottlenecks, such as the Suez Canal and Strait of Hormuz, [to] interfere with traffic flow.” Nigerian oil wells, the study’s writers concluded, could “pump enough petroleum to maintain the U.S. economy at a reduced pace if we conserved a million barrels a day,” and offered the additional advantage of having “essential refinery capacities” already in place.

Of particular military significance was the fact that the potential for Soviet involvement on the Nigeria front was considered low. “Outsiders would find it difficult or impossible to oppose U.S. actions [to seize Nigerian petroleum installations],” the document insisted. “No intervening obstacles impede passage … to the United States or its principal allies.”

But there were important drawbacks, as well. “Parachute assaults, for example, would be impractical,” the document warned. “Nigeria’s fields are in mangrove swamps and rain forest similar to those that frustrated U.S. forces in Southeast Asia.” Worse yet, it continued, Nigeria’s oil-rich coastline was densely populated, making guerrilla warfare a certainty and mandating “special tactics, tools, and techniques” on the part of the invader.

The Population Dilemma

A related theme of the time that took on astonishing urgency behind closed doors in Washington was the matter of population control. If Nigeria’s population was arguably sufficient to successfully repel a military attack by the world’s largest army, it certainly made the country fairly immune to the political pressures urged by USIS and other government bodies, as well.

Thus, in the waning days of the OPEC oil embargo, Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger sent an urgent memorandum to the Department of Defence, the CIA, the State Department, the Agency for International Development, and other branches of government active in the so-called “third world.” Under the heading, “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests,” the communique requested guidance on planning a population control strategy that could be used as a point of reference through the year 2000. Specifically, the agencies were asked to respond to the National Security Council with an analysis of the “international political and economic implications of population growth” in developing regions.

The final report, completed seven and a half months later in December of 1974, recommended that the most intense efforts to prevent births be concentrated in large countries of “special U.S. political and strategic interest.” Not surprisingly, it was populous, oil- rich nations like Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria that headed the list.

The task of controlling population was to be accomplished through a devious, complex, and forceful plan of action under which multinational institutions like the United Nations would be used to “front” for the United States in an attempt to deflect suspicions of ulterior motives. The World Bank, said the lengthy report. would be particularly useful because of its ability to order changes in domestic development policies. The study also suggested that food aid be tied to birth control promotion where leaders were reluctant to address the population “problem.” Ultimately, however, the strategy would depend on the ruin of the emerging oil economies, since neither conditional aid and credit nor even coercive diplomacy work very well against self-sufficient nations.

Most importantly, the National Security Council document made clear the fact that high rates of population growth are to long term advantage of less-developed regions. It noted, too, that those nations with abundant natural resources would generally pose the greatest threat to U.S. hegemony, since they are uniquely well situated “to cope with population expansion.” Said the study, “Nigeria falls into this category. Already the most populous country on the continent, with an estimated 55 million people in 1970, Nigeria’s population by the end of this century is projected to number 135 million. This suggests a growing political and strategic role for Nigeria, at least in Africa south of the Sahara.”

The Assassination Inquiry

Even as the U.S. government was preparing for the possibility of full-fledged petroleum sanctions that could impinge on the nation’s “vital interests” and planning its long-range population reduction scheme, yet another development destined to shake the Washington hierarchy was taking shape.

Congress, in response to growing distrust of government among the American public, began holding hearings into abuses by the CIA. Of particular interest was the matter of political assassinations and plots to overthrow foreign heads of state. And there was abundant evidence of CIA involvement in such actions in Africa.

The Agency’s role in the 1961 murder of Patrice Lumumba, for instance, was first revealed publicly by the former chief of the CIA’s Angola division, John Stockwell, in a landmark book titled In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story. In that 1978 expose, Stockwell asserts that the Congolese leader had been eliminated to preserve “a half-billion- dollar investment in Zairian mineral resources,” which the west felt would end up in the wrong hands if Lumumba controlled the vast central African nation.

In his book, Stockwell also recalls a conversation with a fellow U.S. operative who told of “driving about town after curfew with Patrice Lumumba’s body in the trunk of his car, trying to decide what to do with it.” According to Stockwell (and confirmed in testimony given before Congress), Richard Helms, CIA director from 1966 to 1973, had ordered the destruction of numerous records re- lating to the assassination of Lumumba.

Stockwell also reveals in the same book that, “the CIA station in Ghana played a major role in the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966.”

Formerly secret State Department records have also revealed that the United States worked closely with British colonial rulers in the early 1950s as part of a plot aimed at “breaking the back” of the Mau Mau movement and, in particular, at getting independence leader Jomo Kenyatta “out of circulation without due process of law,” in the words of a top secret October 1952 cable from Nairobi to Washington. More recently, published reports have suggested that an American diplomat, working as a CIA contact, engineered the capture by South African police of Nelson Mandela in August of 1962.

One outcome of the hearings — held in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate __ was that, by January 1975, strong pressures were brought to bear upon the White House to issue an Executive Order barring foreign assassinations. And that very month, then-President Gerald Ford, Nixon’s successor in office, openly acknowledged that disclosure of the CIA’s involvement in assassination conspiracies “would blacken the reputation of every President after Harry Truman.” But oddly, the year passed without any such presidential directive.

Obasanjo’s Curious Alliances

To track the careers of the high-ranking U.S. policy makers of the 1970s into the present time is to follow a sequence of bizarre coincidences — or perhaps something far more sinister. It is here that Obasanjo’s ties to the “inner circle” in Washington and New York become apparent.

At the time of Mohammed’s assassination, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria was Donald Easum, who enjoyed a cordial relationship with Henry Kissinger, then U.S. Secretary of State.

After leaving his overseas post up through the early 1990s, Easum headed an outfit called the African-American Institute, which is headquartered across the street from United Nations in New York. The African-American Institute is an establishment created in 1954 with CIA money to promote an “exchange” of ideas between the United States and the people of Africa. It is essentially the “liberal” face of CIA-inspired meddling in Africa’s internal political institutions.

Although Easum was the chief of AAI, Obasanjo could easily be called its most visible African. Obasanjo is an AAI trustee, and heads its prominent African Leadership Forum. He was specially honored at the AAI Sixth Annual Awards Dinner in November, 1989. Among those serving on the advisory board of Obasanjo’s Forum is the Vietnam war era Defence Secretary and one-time World Bank president, Robert McNamara.

In June of 1990, McNamara was charged with planning a four-day World Bank conference in Lagos, at which population control was the only agenda. The birth reduction programme, as the Kissinger-era National Security Council paper shows, was aimed at crushing Nigeria not only militarily but also economically. Larger populations produce more wealth, and more wealth in the hands of Nigerians would mean less dependence on western “development” institutions and heightened regional influence. So obvious was the ploy that the Bank itself dared not make such a pronouncement. Instead, it sent for Obasanjo.

During its planning and implementation, the Lagos conference was a well-kept secret, and World Bank press officers referred inquiries to Obasanjo’s office in New York. After the meeting, however, Obasanjo publicly called upon Nigerian leaders to implement mandatory birth curbs barring families from having more than three children.

And while Obasanjo was in Lagos demanding that compulsory birth control be foisted on unsuspecting Nigerians, Easum’s African American Institute was busy building a shadowy political network to make it a reality. Under a tightly-worded contract between AAI and the Agency for International Development, the Institute agreed to be instrumental in producing “a policy climate conducive to the successful execution of a national family planning effort [in Nigeria] and to strengthen federal, state, and local government capability in strategic planning in order to efficiently mobilise and execute an effective and self-sustaining national family planning programme.”

Another outfit with extensive ties to Washington’s “secret establishment” is the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a right-wing geopolitical “think-tank” whose most conspicuous team member is Henry Kissinger.

Obasanjo’s footprints can be found all over CSIS. On 15 December 1987, the former Nigerian leader delivered the CSIS David M. Abshire lecture — an annual event of no small importance which takes its name from the Center’s ambitious founder and head. Abshire was the first director of the Board for International Broadcasting and is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

The Intelligence Advisory Board, established by presidential decree in October of 1985, is a select group of individuals chosen by the president and authorised to “continually review the performance of all agencies of the Federal government that are engaged in the collection, evaluation, or production of intelligence or the execution of intelligence policy.” It makes recommendations directly to the president and, when approved by the president, “to the Director of Central Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other government agencies engaged in intelligence and related activities.”

Indeed, Abshire’s CSIS publishes and sells materials written by Obasanjo, including a small paperback book titled, “Forging a Compact in U.S.-Africa Relations,” which is based on Obasanjo’s 1987 lecture.

And roughly four years ago, Obasanjo was the featured speaker at a Washington conference on “Sudan and Nigeria: Reli- gion, Nationalism and Intolerance,” which was sponsored by the government-controlled (and deceptively-named) U.S. Institute for Peace. There he presented a rambling talk that called for a “mental decarbonisation of the generality of the people in both countries [Sudan and Nigeria]” — something his militaristic audience may well have interpreted as a veiled reference to wholesale brainwashing.

A Matter of Timing

The sequence of events that occurred in February of 1976 seems even more bizarre if one looks at what happened at the very top level of government — the White House.

In the fall of 1975, Ford selected a new Director of Central Intelligence, who was sworn in to office on January 30, 1976 — exactly two weeks before the coup that brought Obasanjo to power — over the objections of many of the same legislators who had labored to uncover abuses by the secret agency. The new CIA chief had a reputation as being the nation’s most enthusiastic supporter of foreign population control measures in the 1960s and early 1970s, both as a member of the House of Representatives and as Nixon’s envoy to the UN, and he later engineered the oil-motivated massacre of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. His name: George Bush.

It was not until 18 February 1976 — five days after Mohammed was killed and more than two weeks after Bush took charge of the CIA — that President Ford signed the long-awaited Executive Order 11905 on the subject of “United States Foreign Intelligence Activi- ties.” The directive stated: “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.” By then, of course, Obasanjo had been safely installed as Brig. Mohammed’s replacement.

Old Habits

Although the assassination ban is still technically in force, it does nothing to hinder actions against foreign government which stop short of murder — U.S.-aided coups, for example. In fact, over the past several years, the government has been surprisingly open about advocating the removal of several leaders — Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, to name just two.

Within weeks of embarking on a “humanitarian” invasion of Somalia, the U.S. military freely admitted that its real mission was to contain the rise to power of certain political factions. And no sooner had American troops been put in place to restore democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, then journalists discovered that the very Haitian military bosses who had ousted Aristide in 1991 were on the CIA’s payroll before, during and after Aristide’s overthrow.

Ironically, a key actor in the Haiti-CIA saga was none other than Obasanjo’s prestigious colleague at the Leadership Forum, Robert McNamara. Indeed, McNamara was part of a group of U.S. foreign policy elites who met with Aristide immediately after his election, portraying him to U.S. officials as another Fidel Castro — and “vehemently anti-American.”

The decision to restore Aristide to power may have been motivated in part by a desire to stem the flow of Haitian refugees to the U.S. But it is more likely the action seemed desirable from the U.S. vantage point because the U.S. could then preside over the election that would ultimately usher him out of office, and his successor would then owe his stability to American troops. Indeed, the influence gained by merely having a hand in a change of leadership could be enough to explain Obasanjo’s pro-U.S. tendencies — even if no conclusive evidence were ever found to link him directly to the CIA prior to Mohammed’s assassination.


Update 1995


The the subject of ousting foreign leaders has been discussed relatively openly in Washington over the past few years. A series of papers presented at a conference on “Worldwide Threats,” published in April of 1992 by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), addresses such delicate matters as “Intelligence for Low Intensity Conflicts.”

The unclassified GOA document deals with operations ranging from planned political coups and “strategic sabotage” to document seizures and the protection of escape networks. And it affirms that American officials, depending on the particular conflict situation, intend either to be involved in the prevention or the promotion of foreign coups.

“Biographical summaries are the basis of successful operations to unseat or sidetrack key personnel who plan and implement insurgencies, coups, transnational terrorism, and drug smuggling activities that adversely affect U.S. interests,” the document says. “Motivations, habit patterns, friends, other important contacts, tactics, strengths, and weaknesses are particularly important. So are locations, movement, and personal security measures.”

Even more interestingly, however, the report makes clear the fact that the United States is still very much involved in the business of ousting unfriendly governments, offering this fairly obvious precaution: “U.S. leaders cannot knowledgeably support or oppose any foreign coup that affects U.S. interests unless they are well informed about potential successors, especially their attitudes toward the United States and expected programmes compared with those of incumbents.”

Whether or not Obasanjo acted on behalf of the United States in his recent attempt to bring down Nigeria’s military government, one thing is certain: the United States intends to remain engaged in the oil-rich west African nation. And the 19-year-old Country Plan for Nigeria that was issued the year of Muritala Mohammed’s assassination is still timely today when it says, “USIS has a particularly significant role to play in stimulating increased American influence in Nigeria, now of considerably heightened importance to U.S. strategic and economic interests…. [U.S. operatives will seek to promote] attitudes which are sympathetic to assuring U.S. access to Nigeria’s energy resources on reasonable terms…”

This report is the work of the staff of the Baobab Press, a Washington-based consortium of professional journalists involved in investigative reporting about issues of concern to the developing world. For further information, please contact: Baobab Press, Post Office Box 43345, Washington, DC 20010, U.S.A.