378. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Nigeria1

161782. For Ambassador.

Department impressed by extent to which Decree No. 8 appears meet many of East’s fundamental demands for much greater regional autonomy.2 While recognizing it stops short of granting everything Ojukwu wants, Dept. considers decree represents genuine effort by FMG and other MilGovs to implement Aburi agreements and to retain Nigerian unity in form which least objectionable to East.
Consulate Enugu has reported that some prominent and moderate Easterners may incline toward above view. Other advisors to Ojukwu, however, are undoubtedly pressing him to continue hard line with FMG. We consider this dangerous and believe we might be able assist moderates in convincing Ojukwu he should not reject Decree No. 8 out of hand.
While secession sentiment in East undoubtedly strong, it may be attributable at least in part to hopeful assumption that USG, despite public posture in support of FMG and unity, would not be able to withstand pressures to recognize independent East. Such assumption also dangerous and Dept believes this could be hammered home to Ojukwu. Dept would appreciate your comment on following proposal.
You have long-standing invitation to visit Ojukwu which, with our support, you have not accepted. Issuance of Decree No. 8 has altered circumstances to point where advantages of your visit to Enugu for frank talk with Ojukwu could well outweigh possible hazards.
If you saw Ojukwu you would orally inform him of following major points; (a) you acting under instructions; (b) USG has deep sympathy for, and understanding of, Eastern emotions in light of events since July 29; (c) tell Ojukwu substance para (1) above; (d) we believe that East’s failure to accept intent of Decree No. 8 and to build thereon would seriously erode understanding East now enjoys. It could cause USG, as well as other governments, to begin question whether East really wants to remain in Nigeria under any circumstances. Additionally, and on personal basis, you would tell Ojukwu, in same spirit of frankness that has characterized past exchanges, that you fear East making serious mistake if it under assumption that international recognition of independent East would be easily obtained; our info clearly to contrary.
Above would be accompanied by appropriate statements making clear our demarche undertaken only reluctantly and as sincere friend of Nigeria. We have no desire or intention to interfere in Nigeria’s internal affairs but believe honesty compels us to ensure there no Eastern misunderstanding of USG views. Gowon would of course have to be informed in advance.
Believe similar UK approach could be useful but recognize UK HICOM saw Ojukwu only recently.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 NIGERIA. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Smith on March 23, cleared by Trimble, and approved by Palmer. Repeated to London, Accra, and Enugu.
  2. Telegram 7193 from Lagos, March 17, informed the Department of the details of Decree No. 8, and telegram 7231 from Lagos, March 17, explained Eastern opposition to the decree. (Ibid.)