Nigeria and World War II Cover

Nigeria and World War II

Colonialism, Empire, and Global Conflict

Chima J. Korieh

Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2020, 310 pages

Book Review published on: April 9, 2021

During the early years of World War II, particularly during the days of “England Alone,” Great Britain reached out to the Commonwealth nations of South Africa, India, Australia, and Canada to continue the fight after the Fall of France. With the help of the UK’s worldwide network of colonies, Great Britain and the Commonwealth nations were able to prosecute the war to its fullest. England was not entirely alone.

Chima Korieh’s book, Nigeria and World War II: Colonialism, Empire, and Global Conflict, examines the impact of the war on Nigeria. This West African country became a key player in Allied war efforts, between Nigerian airfields used by U.S. warplanes on their way to North Africa to Royal Navy ships stopping at Nigerian ports on the way to the Indian Ocean. But according to Korieh, Nigeria’s role in the British war effort went beyond its strategic position.

Nigeria’s mineral wealth and agricultural production became important to Great Britain, particularly when Japan entered the war and cut off supplies from Asia. Britain needed foodstuffs for its workers and raw materials for its factories. Colonies like Nigeria found their internal and external trade heavily regulated in order to maximize production for exportation. This uptick in exports did not, unfortunately, result in an increase of imports for Nigeria or even an improvement in the lives of Nigerians, who were now working longer hours to help Britain win the war.

Nigerian soldiers were enlisted in large numbers as well, primarily among the Hausa and Yoruba peoples, because the British still subscribed to the outdated theory of “martial races”—native peoples who were considered inherently superior soldiers (such as the Sikhs and Gurkhas). This left out the Igbos of the southeast, who were considered too “sedentary” and “intellectual” to make good soldiers. Nevertheless, well over one hundred thousand Nigerians served under the Union Jack, mostly in Burma, and for the first time Nigerians were permitted to serve in the Royal Air Force.

These sacrifices would not have been possible without a well-crafted propaganda campaign. Nazi racial ideas made it easier for the British Ministry of Information and its subsidiaries in the colonies to convince local peoples that regardless of whatever grievances they might believe they had with England, the German alternative was at best slavery and at worst extermination. Any doubts about Nazi ideas about the “subhuman” nature of black Africans were squelched by bringing up Imperial Germany’s brief experience as a colonizer on the continent and the subsequent massacres in German Southwest Africa and German East Africa.

Instead, Nigerians raised money for the war effort. Instead, Nigerians grudgingly suffered economic disruption. Instead, Nigerians enlisted to fight alongside “fellow Britons.” This was a total war effort, enabled by British propaganda but made possible by German propaganda which openly sold a worldview that had absolutely nothing to offer Africa.

Book Review written by: James D. Crabtree, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas