376. Telegram From the Consulate in Enugu to the Department of State1

445. Lagos 6847,2 6753,3 Enugu 434.4

Saw Ojukwu Friday March 10 and made points Lagos reftels. He responded that once again I had been instructed to “deliver lecture” to him. I said I not delivering lecture but simply restating USG position—that [Page 638] way must be found other than use of force to settle crisis and that we continued believe in holding Nigeria together as one nation.
Ojukwu asked if we so serious about this why is U.S. so unwilling intervene to help bring settlement? I referred to Congressman Resnick’s meeting with him in which Resnick spoke of increasing reluctance in U.S. become involved in other people’s problems; said this part of answer, but more important in terms Nigerian situation, intervention as Ojukwu seemed to be thinking of it was actually adjudication of issues in dispute. Said we remain convinced that crisis is purely Nigerian in nature and must be solved by Nigerians.
Although I had not ever alluded to question of recognition if East separated Ojukwu then said USG had shown ability adjust rather quickly to de facto situations in Nigeria over past year and half. He said events January 25 and July 28 could hardly be termed constitutional yet USG seemed have no trouble accepting de facto positions of Ironsi and Gowon. Could not USG be expected do same, he asked, if East were separate?
I ducked by pointing out his consistent avowal to me that East did not want and was not planning to secede but sincerely desired find peaceful solution to crisis within framework One Nigeria.
Ojukwu said this true but East could not wait forever for others to realize negotiation only acceptable means solve problem; said Easterners very impatient with failure implement Aburi agreements and that East had to have money now for its heavy responsibilities.
I replied that Eastern financial problems not disputed but it clear that settlement will take more time than permitted by March 31 deadline; question seemed to be what needs be done persuade him not take unilateral action on finances before end of March which almost certainly would lead to armed conflict. Ojukwu said Yugoslav Amb Karapafdza made same point earlier in week.
Then Ojukwu said he would not take unilateral action on finance if Gowon would commit himself publicly to implementation of Aburi agreements as amplified by the (January) meeting of Solicitors General, and set publicly a reasonable time limit “for implementation.” Ojukwu said “reasonable time” could mean as little as three months or as much as a year. He said the critical issue is financial arrangements; agreement on “crash program” meet urgent Eastern needs from internal resources should be possible within very short time. If however, Gowon had to seek foreign assistance to meet longer term financial needs this could take a year.
Ojukwu said first step to implement Aburi must be issuance of new decree returning powers to regions. Said draft now circulating is step in right direction and East has sent its comments to Lagos. Second step would be agreement on financial “crash program.” Third step [Page 639] would be to “formalize” military reorganization which already largely accomplished on de facto basis. Fourth step would be for SMC to meet and “reconstitute” itself—“to decide who shall be chairman and all that jazz.” (Comment: Ojukwu’s position is that when Aburi implemented it immaterial who is Chairman SMC, CINC, and titular head of state.) Fifth and final step would be summon ad hoc constitutional conference and write new constitution.
We then talked on various points. I said in present situation it inevitable that doubts arise whether stated intentions are same as real ones. Said some people saying again that East really intends secede and that Ojukwu attempting provoke Gowon into action which would give East excuse for going out. Ojukwu said without hesitation or equivocation that he sincerely wants negotiate settlement by which all can live together in one Nigeria. Categorically denied that East regarded separation as any but last resort.
I said we aware that Ghanaians had been talking to Gowon and him and asked if anything coming of this. Ojukwu said that following Aburi Ghanaians had assumed Nigerian crisis on road to settlement and had turned attention to other matters. Said when they discovered Aburi not being implemented they asked Gowon for explanation which they “found unimpressive.” Then sent General Ocran to Enugu to see what could be done avoid head-on collision. Ojukwu did not say what discussed with Ocran, but presumably he repeated Eastern position.
On Nigerian Navy moves in Eastern waters Ojukwu said ships 30 miles offshore and that Commodore Wey had assured him by phone today that ships would not come closer without Ojukwu being informed.
I mentioned growing anxieties expatriate community because of fear possible invasion. Ojukwu conceded this serious problem for me but said as long as there talk about using force against East he had no choice but take all measures possible be ready.
Session concluded with Ojukwu saying as he has many times before that so far as East concerned settlement crisis by peaceful means which would preserve integrity Nigeria hangs on implementation, Aburi added that Gowon appeared either unwilling or unable implement agreements however and had no right therefore claim he supreme commander. I said if Gowon not sitting in Lagos, alternative would be much worse for East. Ojukwu said this not so. Said when he believed North capable overrunning East he was glad to have Gowon in Lagos acting as deterrent to Northern hotheads. Said now that he knows North quite incapable launching successful attack on East, it different matter. If hothead replaced Gowon and attacked East, a clear solution would come [Page 640] much quicker and cheaper than the costly stalemate which has developed under Gowon.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 23–9 NIGERIA. Secret; Immediate. Also sent to Lagos, London, and Accra. Repeated to CINCSTRIKE/CINCMEAFSA, DOD, Ibadan, and Kaduna. Passed to the White House, CIA, USIA, and NSA.
  2. Telegram 6847 from Lagos, March 7, instructed Consul Robert J. Barnard to impress upon Ojukwu that his repeated references to an anticipated invasion might cause a wholesale evacuation of foreigners. (Ibid., POL 15 NIGERIA)
  3. Dated March 4. (Ibid.)
  4. Dated March 7. (Ibid.)