213. Memorandum of Conversation1 2

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  • US/UK Talks on Africa, March 6–7, 1972, Washington D.C.—West Africa—Ghana and Nigeria, Agenda Item 2C


  • Mr. Charles Martin Le Quesne, Deputy Under Secretary, FCO
  • Mr. John Wilson, Head of West Africa Department, FCO
  • Mr. John C. Moberly, Counselor, British Embassy
  • Mr. Kenneth McK. Critchley, Counselor (Overseas Development), British Embassy
  • Mr. Michael Anthony McConville, Assistant Head of Central and Southern Africa Department, FCO
  • Miss Margaret I. Rothwell, First Secretary, British Embassy
  • Mr. Peter C. Petrie, First Secretary, UKUN
  • Mr. David D. Newsom, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
  • Mr. Robert S. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Economic Affairs
  • Mr. William Witman II, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
  • Mr. O. Rudolph Aggrey, Director, West African Affairs
  • Mr. Jack S. Davison, Acting Director for Nigerian Affairs
  • Mr. John D. Stempel, Country Officer for Ghana, AF/W
  • Miss Virginia Montague, Policy Reports Officer, AF/RA
  • Mr. John G. Kormann, Politico-Military Advisor, AF/RA
  • Mr. William B. Edmondson, Director of African Programs
  • Mr. W. Marshall Wright, National Security Council
  • Mr. Stephen G. Christmas, AID/CWA
  • Mr. Gordon Beyer, National War College

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Nigeria.]

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Le Quesne opened the session with the following analysis of Nigeria:

The UK believes Nigeria is a qualified success story. In restrospect it may be well to see the civil war as an historic necessity. Nigeria emerged with a greatly reinforced sense of national identity, and prospects are fairly promising for stability. Gowon appears to be a good leader.

The problem is on the political side—the structures of state machinery are so weak that the government lacks effectiveness. As we look ahead there are some clouds on the horizon, though no insoluble problems: (1) there are still worrisome indications of factions along tribal lines and of a north-south split. (2) The slowness of the pace of return to civilian rule suggests there is really no government—the civil servants run Nigeria and the link between the commissioners and the administration is weak. The commissioners have not developed into ministers within a ministerial system.

Even though Nigeria has military rule it is not a police state. The UK would want to feel better about the prospects of a possible return to democratic rule; the Ghanaian experience is not salutary. If the soldiers can decentralize the administration and run the government perhaps they are the best answer for a while.

Nigeria’s economy is booming, her balance of payments is healthy. The British now believe the Nigerian labor force has a much higher capacity for training than the expatriates thought possible. This development is accompanied by corruption, which may not be an unaccetably high price to pay for growth since it also helps distribute the wealth more evenly.

Signs of economic nationalism are the most worrisome economic problem for the coming years. The UK believes Nigeria will not opt for nationalization, but Nigerianization instead. The expatriates have complained about what they [Page 3] consider the too rapid pace of Nigerianization, but they have brought it on themselves by a reluctance to move when they had the time. This will lead to inefficiency, but at an acceptable level. In the long run the problem is participation; Nigerian capital is simply not available to take a large share of the foreign investment. This could lead to a check in industrialization.

In foreign affairs, the Nigerians are flexing their muscles. Gowon feels personally involved in issues affecting black Africa. The role he seeks, however, is not that the UK would label African statesman. As his power base grows, Gowon will want to play an increasingly active role. However, he is extremely sensible and believes Nigeria comes first. He will advocate African policies but not carry them to extremes like Diallo Telli. The fact that Gowon is reasonable will make him a much more formidable interlocutor.

British ties with Nigeria have survived surprisinglly well considering the shocks the UK has given them. There are closer cultural ties and very satisfactory working links. Relations will never be warm and uninhibited, however, until Britain clarifies its Rhodesian and South African policies more to Nigeria’s liking.

Newsom replied that Le Quesne’s comments found echoes in US views. The civil war challenged US-Nigerian relations to an ever greater degree, and we emerged with our ties barely intact and subject to frequent amounts of bitterness. This was exacerbated by our postwar difficulties with “militant humanitarianism”. The tide turned with Secretary Rogers’ visit in February 1970. The Secretary got on very well with Gowon and relations have been improving ever since. Our new Ambassador now has more access to Gowon and does not suffer from the unfortunate identification with war problems that Ambassador Trueheart did. The galling problems that existed after the war are now on the way to being resolved. Nevertheless, when Newsom was in Nigeria he was reminded (to the surprise of several Nigerians) of wartime US-Nigerian difficulties by the Governor of the North Central State.

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In economic terms the US sees growing opportunities but with an emphasis on Nigerian participation. However, in petroleum this will be matched with a greater caution than other OPEC states have shown. Le Quesne disagreed—the Algerians are pushing the Nigerians hard, and have a high-grade mission in Lagos. Newsom replied the Nigerians have not gone beyond demanding 30% equity in two existing concesions. Le Quesne acknowledgeed this but noted all new concessions would be given to the Nigerian company. Newsom asked if the UK thought the Nigerians were as militant as the Libyans. Le Quesne replied “No, because their policy is based more on common sense”. Newsom thought the Nigerians would listen, but make up their own minds.

In the economic arena, Newsom said the US planned to continue an aid program of $25–30 million per year. Our program included a project to give the Nigerians a greatery say in priorities in US aid. Our aid relations are now business-like and smooth.

The US has the impression that the Nigerianization was more moderate than expected. Wilson said this might be the case, but the British felt the Nigerians were slow to recognize some of the difficulties the British companies were concerned about.

Newsom said that in foreign affairs the US thought Nigeria will want to project the image of a role on the African scene but the permanent secretaries and others running the show were not willing to commit time, energy and resources to an expanded role. Their minds were very much focused on internal affairs. The US and the UK agreed the Nigerians would not spend large amounts in support of external activities such as Libya is doing although the UK thought token funds might have been used for this purpose.

Le Quesne suggested there was a similar pattern developing in Nigeria and Algeria. Both countries were focused on internal development as a first priority, but the Algerians were concerned with the Arab-Israeli struggle while the Nigerians directed their external attention to the liberation of southern Africa. Wilson added that if one word described Nigeria’s external posture it would be arrogance. An example was a recent Nigerian statement on the European Economic Community: “Nigeria is just not interested.”

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Newsom asked how far the UK thought Nigeria was ready to go in response to UK policy toward Rhodesia if there are developments Nigeria dislikes. Le Quesne replied the UK believes Gowon understands some of the restraints on the UK in dealing with Rhodesia and accepts a British obligation to sell certain military goods to South Africa. However, if the UK moves into areas of free choice in either country, such as selling additional arms to South Africa, then there will be a rather sharp reaction aimed at British commercial interests. The reaction would take into account what could be done without hurting Nigeria’s own interests. The Nigerians have worked on their options.

Newsom asked how the British explained the apparent improvement of the French position in post-war Nigeria. Le Quesne replied there was no simple explanation. He had been told the Nigerians were afraid of the French; they did not push the French on their role in Biafra because they feared French paratroops would be landed in Nigeria. Wilson added the Nigerians always say “Britain is different.” Nigerian “hates” against South Africa and Portugal are not pushed off on the French. Newsom added the Nigerians have said they rebuilt their ties with France so fast because “after all, they are the only European power in Africa.” Le Quesne said it was true Africa was closer to the center of French policy than any other world area. Wilson added the Nigerians admit they have a double standard for the British.

Newsom noted while the US did not wish to exacerbate its own good ties with France, we frequently tell African leaders that if they were to complain about French arms sales more often it would be much easier to carry African complaints to US leaders. It is amazing how little the Anglophones know or want to know about French arms trading with South Africa. Newsom gave the Ghanaian Ambassador a list of French arms sales and he was surprised.

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Petrie said the UN focus has shifted to France over the past year. The Africans tend to criticize the British and the US because it is so much easier to get information—the US/UK press is freer than the French press. Pressures are exerted on the US and UK because the Africans believe they get results that way. On the other hand, at least some Africans think they score better using an easy line with France. Newsom replied the press point was not always true: The day the Security Council began debate on British arms sales to South Africa, there was a front page story on the sale of a French submarine to South Africa in that morning’s New York Times. Yet there was no reference to the French in that day’s debate or in any other. The meeting closed on this note of irony.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL UK-US. Confidential.
  2. British and U.S. officials had an open exchange of views regarding Nigeria, including prospects for political stability, economic development and Nigerianization, and U.S., British, and French relations with Nigeria.