The Vice Consul at Lagos (Ross) to the Department of State

No. 405


  • Conversations with Chief Secretary to the Government by Officer in Charge.

The reporting officer has had occasion to talk at some length with Mr. A. E. T. Benson, Chief Secretary to the Government on three recent [Page 270] occasions and it is felt that some of the ideas expressed by him during these conversations may be of interest to the Department.

Mr. Benson is scheduled to go to the UK on home leave at the end of May and will be gone until sometime in August, his place is being taken by Mr. L. H. Goble. Goble has been serving as Administrative Secretary in Lagos, where he had been posted after a stint as Administrative Secretary Northern Region. Benson’s leave will not be as long as he could have expected, inasmuch as the Governor is to go on leave in August and the Chief Secretary must return before that time.

The officer in charge mentioned to Benson that he had been more than a little disturbed by two things which have characterized the day to day, lower level relationships between the Consulate General’s staff and the local Government: the evident reluctance of many of the lower-ranking civil servants (British) to furnish this office with information which had been previously available without restriction; and the reluctance of a small group of officials to cooperate in the program of sending Nigerian students to the US. This latter is not quite as evident as the former but evidences itself in the form of stalling on action. The Chief Secretary was visibly shocked and immediately asked for the names of the uncooperative officials so that they might be “jacked up”. The reporting officer told him that it was not felt necessary to take this step yet, and that our knowledge that such an attitude was completely contrary to the policies of the Governor, the Chief Secretary and the Colonial Office should prove a sufficient weapon to obtain better cooperation. Mr. Benson stated that he could not and would not tolerate lack of cooperation with us on these matters by subordinates; that he would take any steps we might feel necessary to demonstrate his sincerity and/or terminate any stalling. This very heated and sincere statement of position by the Chief Secretary only confirmed the previous feeling of the officer in charge that the uncooperative stand of the lower ranks of the civil servants here was taken without the knowledge of the chiefs and in complete contradiction to Government’s real policy.

This particular issue prompted the Chief Secretary to reiterate his statement that he would be satisfied with nothing less than the very closest relations between the Consulate General and the Nigerian Government. He stated, with seeming sincerity, that he believed that it was to the benefit of Nigeria to be completely pro-United States even if they developed a strong feeling against the UK in the future. It is his feeling that, in many cases, British institutions are not necessarily the ones which will contribute the things Nigeria needs in the way of training and outlook and that steps should be taken to facilitate orientation of the people here toward the US. As long as he was in a policy-making position, he said, such steps would be encouraged. Benson also said that if the Nigerians developed a serious anti-US attitude he would [Page 271] consider British administration here a complete failure and would “wash his hands” of the Nigerians and the Colonial Service. Even if some of this is an exaggeration on his part, it is felt that Benson’s words do indicate the basic attitude of himself and of the Governor.

The Chief Secretary informed the reporting officer that both he and the Governor were very concerned over the ever-present problem of Nigerian tribalism and its possible disastrous influence upon the operation of the present constitution. The British have been accused, he said, of recently stepping up the “divide and rule” policy in Nigeria under the present constitution. This is exactly contrary to the true situation; he stated that the British would have preferred the preservation of something nearer to the former highly-centralized system of government in force prior to the new constitution but that the most powerful Nigerian groups would not allow any but a “federal” system of government for an independent Nigeria. It is an unfortunate fact that the present constitution encourages the very fractures which were being sublimated previously—there are schisms based upon tribalism, the development of regional “nationalism” not based on tribal lines and upon the economic and social differences among the various regions. Under the present government the great antipathy between the Western Region’s largest tribal group, the Yorubas, and the East’s Ibos is heightened by the fact that the Action Group political party has a clear majority in the West’s government, while their bitter enemies, the NCNC, control the government of the Eastern Region. This situation, of course, only buttresses the much older tribal squabble. The Chief Secretary said that he did feel that if there is one stone on the Nigerian scene which might trip the present constitutional development, it is tribalism—an attitude shared by the reporting officer. The most critical period, he said, was the present one; the period during which demagogic politicians would play upon disunity before time had allowed the development of skilled, responsible politicians to lead the Nigerians to genuine nationality. On this ground he justified and insisted upon “tutelage” by the British for several years to come.

Mr. Benson mentioned that one of the problems he and his colleagues have at the moment is the astounding lack of knowledge of the non-Nigerian world on the part of the Nigerians in the government—from the central Ministers on down. As this lack of knowledge often results in obstruction of constructive policies it is something which must be attacked, and he hopes that the US will assist. Because of the limited budget of local British informational services and because these facilities are sometimes suspect in the minds of the locals, Benson feels that USIS can be of great help in equipping the Nigerians to rule themselves while serving the more selfish objective of telling Nigerians about the United States and the free world.

While discussing British information services, the Chief Secretary [Page 272] stated that he believed that one of the main reasons why people in the United States, and in the UK too, attacked the British system of colonial government today was that they did not understand it. He said that he believed that non-Britishers would not find the colonial policies of the UK nearly so unpalatable if they had full knowledge of these policies. British propaganda had not done its job properly, Mr. Benson said, or the criticism would be much more realistic and much less bitter. The reporting officer is inclined to agree, although part of the trouble also lies in divergence between avowed British policy and the day to day method of administration carried out by less fair-minded civil servants.

The officer in charge feels that these forthright statements by the Chief Secretary, second-ranking local official, indicate a very helpful attitude toward this Consulate General and our government which augurs well for increased effectiveness of US–UK efforts on the Nigerian scene. Every effort will be made by the officer in charge to make this relationship even closer, while not overlooking the importance of preserving our own identity in the eyes of the Nigerian people.

Robert W. Ross