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

No. 433


  • Notes on Some Factors Affecting Relations with the Nigerian Government and People.

The Officer in Charge believes that it may be of interest to the Department to present a few notes concerning some factors on the political and social scene which affect the operation of both the General Program, and even more noticeably, the USIS program at this post.

As far as the USIS program is concerned probably the most important single consideration is the reaction among Nigerians to our position in support of British colonial policy and foreign policy. It is, of course, fully accepted by all members of the staff here that we should and will maintain a firm position alongside the UK in most international questions today. There is no quarrel with this and all operations are based on this premise. It should be noted however, that, this policy of the United States Government carries with it certain strong drawbacks insofar as it concerns our efforts to win friends and influence people in Nigeria. Naturally the British community takes no exception to our wholehearted support to [of] the UK policies, but the Nigerians feel quite differently—the degree depending on who the Nigerian is.

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It cannot be denied that Nigerians’ acceptance of us as a genuine friend is subject to reservations based upon our open and close friendship with the UK. It is very difficult for us, at this post, to present ourselves at the same time as both a friend of the British and a friend of the Nigerians. The reason for this should be obvious to even the most casual observer; the Nigerians do not think too highly of the British Government and they do, therefore, hold back full acceptance of us because we support this often unpopular foreign government. What this amounts to, in actual facts, is that we representatives of the United States Government here must walk a rail which is sometimes very narrow in order that we do not paint ourselves as supporters of all the things the British do. To fall off the rail into this pit would mean that we would lose thousands of friends in Nigeria. This problem is a very real one to USIS and one with which they must grapple daily in their press output, radio show and movie program. We are in a position where we must depend upon the wholehearted cooperation of the Public Relations Office of the Nigerian Government and do not wish to offend them; but at the same time we must assure that the material which we make available to the public does not make us the same kind of “nasty imperialist” as many Nigerians feel the British are. We have to be very careful in our private conversations and information media to steer clear of the blunter, more obvious positive evidences of wholehearted support of British colonial policy. It is true that neither the American Government nor the American people endorse all of Great Britain’s overseas policies, and if we were able to remind the local population of this fact, our position in their eyes would be bettered immeasurably, but this cannot be done because of the danger of offending the British officials in the Nigerian Government who have the means at their disposal to present very serious obstacles to the operation of the Consulate General.

Another factor in the picture, which presents all sections of the Consulate General with problems, is the attitude of the lower-level civil servants toward the virtues, or lack of them, of the so-called American way of life. This becomes particularly evident when questions arise concerning visits of Nigerian students or young Nigerian leaders to the United States. It is the avowed policy of the top-level British administrators here that as many Nigerians as possible be given an opportunity to go to the U.S. and observe its society. The trouble arises from the fact that this policy is not sincerely supported by the people further down the administrative ladder and, further, their attitude often becomes downright opposition rather than mere obstruction. We are all accustomed to, though perturbed by, the daily fact of having local British civil servants “drag their feet” on matters such as this one. The Officer in Charge has taken up this matter with the [Page 274] Chief Secretary to the Nigerian Government1 and hopes that improvement will be forthcoming, when that official returns from leave in the UK sometime in August. Some improvement has already been noted but the character of the Acting Chief Secretary is not such that the Officer in Charge feels he can press this matter further until the Chief Secretary himself returns to duty.

Prior to his departure the Chief Secretary had asked the Officer in Charge for the names of the individuals who had manifested the above-discussed attitude, but he was informed that it was not felt necessary to put the guilty individuals in line for a personal reprimand yet. The Officer in Charge feels that a general sort of statement from the Chief Secretary to the departments involved will probably suffice; however if deemed necessary, names will be named to the Chief Secretary.

Anglo-American cooperation means something quite different here in Lagos than it does in Washington, D.C. The local British officials still look upon we Americans as children in the matter of colonial affairs and definitely feel that the U.S. is not the senior partner in the Anglo-American partnership. This is not true, again, of the top administrators who admit very frankly that America is the big brother of the family and that the British must conduct their affairs in such a way as to continue to receive complete and whole-hearted support from the American Government. In fact, the Chief Secretary once said that he wanted us to be accepted by both the British and the Nigerians as the most important friend of Nigeria today. He said that he sincerely felt that Nigeria would survive if Great Britain fell, but that it certainly could not survive if the U.S.A. was to collapse as a world power. The failure of the lower-level officials to accept this idea manifests itself primarily in a failure to cooperate except in a bare minimal way with all of the officers at this Consulate General. We all have been confronted with the situation where we have offered to officials here full access to many broad types of official information only to find when we request certain small bits of information from them that it is not forthcoming.

. . . . . . .

It is not expected that the Department will be able to remedy any of these problems and some of them are not capable of resolution by us, but it is felt that a recap of these factors would serve the Department. We are making constant efforts to overcome some of these problems and are gratified to note that our position has been improved in the past six weeks.

Robert W. Ross
  1. See despatch 405, supra.