377. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

153489. Nigerian Crisis.

We had agreed with UK on need to allow Ankrah initiative re easing of Nigerian tensions to run its course before urging him to broaden it in any way or we and UK attempt new ones. However, failure Ojukwu to attend Benin meeting and his scheduled press conference March 13 indicates events have seemingly overtaken Ghanaian initiative.
Recent developments have led Dept to reluctant conclusion that if Nigeria is to retain unity in any form, a loose confederation with virtually autonomous powers residing in regions is realistically most that can be hoped for. We of course had hoped that stronger center would be able emerge from present crisis, view which we believe British shared. Evidence accumulating that West and Mid-West leaning more towards East’s position on confederation. In its deepening conflict with East, FMG would be essentially dependent on North, which sharply raises perennial problem of single region seeking to dominate center. This offers increasing prospect of armed conflict as Gowon subjected to stronger urgings of northern military and advisers for drastic action. End result likely be bloodshed and disintegration of country. Such resort to force must be avoided if at all possible.
Would appreciate your informing HMG officials of these tentative views and soliciting their own thinking this subject.2 We have not yet [Page 641] formulated what next step by US and UK might be, but believe frank exchange with UK now called for. In this connection, would also appreciate any ideas UK may have.
You should also inform UK of our growing concern re safety Amcits and obtain current UK thinking on safety their subjects in Nigeria.
We recognize much may depend on specific results Benin conference and contents Ojukwu press conference. Since events likely move rapidly in coming days and weeks, however, would urge earliest consultations with HMG to make certain our views of situation are similar.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 23–9 NIGERIA. Confidential; Priority; Limdis. Drafted by Smith and Melbourne, cleared in substance by Thomas M. Judd in EUR/BMI, and approved by Trimble. Repeated to Lagos and Accra.
  2. Telegram 7534 from London, March 17, reported that the British believed that Ankrah had the best chance of bringing about a peaceful settlement. (Ibid.)