216. Telegram 8136 From the Embassy in Nigeria to the Department of State 1 2

[Page 1]
Summary: In a long meeting October 17, MEA Permanent Secretary Joe Iyalla detailed a long list of allegedly calculated American attempts to downgrade Nigeria. He covered the waterfront, from the Mojekwu case to the July murder of a Nigerian in Los Angeles. It all adds up to a pattern of American indifference and penchant to take Nigeria for granted. Meeting not unpleasant and served useful purpose of permitting him to unload. We need explanations but should not expect to turn the tide very quickly. Mojekwu likely to be genuine irritant as long as he remains in the United States. Iyalla quite capable of transferring his passionately held convictions to others.
Yesterday I conferred in the MEA with Permanent Secretary Iyalla for approximately three hours at his request. He stated that he wanted to review the bidding and proceeded to reveal that, by his reckoning, he had dealt himself every trump in the deck but hoped that we could have a friendly game. Indeed, his theme and manner were marked by friendship for “friends must remove isolated irritants before they grow into ‘malignancy.ʼ” He did not wish to dwell on semantics, but really “irritant” was used only because he, a native Ijaw speaker, did not have the English necessary to describe [Page 2] “the seemingly deliberate American attempts to take Nigeria for granted and to create anti-Nigerian feeling in the United States.” I told him that I was relieved that he added “in the United States” for I could certainly think of no “irritants” in Nigeria that would fit his preliminary description. He assured me that before he finished he would point out a few in Nigeria, too, but that his main concern was with the manner in which Nigeria was being ignored in the United States. This seemed strange to me in the light of the recent amicable meeting between Secretary Rogers and Commissioner Arikpo. He knew all about this meeting at a high level but wanted to descend to a lower level “where the mundane matters that really concern nations are important.” I replied that I never like to descend but that his initial sparring was like the penultimate chapter in a book of fiction and that I could hardly wait for the denouement. He smiled and promised “to move to reality,” into which he immediately descended.
First, there is the Mojekwu matter. This is an old story, he knew, but it is resurfacing, “even at the highest level,” because the FMG now has incontestable evidence that Mojekwu is influencing individual Ibos in the US, at a time when the FMG thought that these ex-rebels had become reconciled. Mojekwu outsmarts US authorities by not agitating publicly, but the damage is just as great. Our “unnecessary decision” to admit him was bad enough, especially since by doing so we had rejected a special request from the head of state, but unless he has left within the last few days we have compounded our “original sin” by outright reneging on a promise to expel him one year from February, 1971, when the visa was granted. He realized that we cited June, 1971, at the date of entry, but the effective date of granting the visa was February. Still even if he accepts our date we have failed to expel him. Why? This man was living in comfort in Portugal, our enemy, but it is intolerable that he is permitted to dwell among assumed friends in the US. He assured me that “this travesty of American concern for an innocent visa applicant” was being discussed in the Island Club by ordinary Nigerians but also in Dodan barracks.
He pleaded that I not respond to his individual examples but that I should concentrate on “the whole pattern of [Page 3] American indifference.” Thus, he apologized for moving on to point two, “which is the matter of Commissioner Dikkoʼs shabby treatment at Dulles airport, the scene of innumerable indignities to high level Nigerian visitors, to my personal knowledge.” Now, Commissioner Dikko is a saintly, gentle man who has a reputation for never complaining, but even he “thought this” downright shabby treatment, I must tell you to the attention of the Federal Executive Council.” I apologized for breaking his ground rule, but observed that I had talked with the Commisioner at least twice immediately after his return from Washington and had received nothing but expression of unlimited praise. “Oh, you must realize that the Commissioner is so kind. He would never tell you, but he certainly told us, including General Gowon, who was dismayed and was verging on ordering similar treatment for Americans at Ikeja until I intervened.” I persisted that obviously retaliation without offering any opportunity for correcting alleged wrongs would have been, “to use your favorite word, a Nigerian travesty.” Further, Dikko traveled in May, and you have waited six months before mentioning the problem and even now generalize about “shabby treatment,” which is uncorrectable because undefinable. He could be specific: poor, old man made to carry his own bags because Nigerian Embassy personnel could not reach him “beyond your barriers,” and repeatedly “made to queue up like all ordinary passengers.”
Then there is the case of Nazif Mohammed, a duly accredited member of the Nigerian Embassy staff in Washington, a recognized diplomat, who in July, 1972, was “manhandled by the Washington [Page 4] police.” He realizes that individual police officers can get out of hand, “especially in a place like Washington.” What puzzles him “and others at the higest level” is that the Department of State will not even answer our formal protests, made orally and submitted in writing on August 2, 1972. “Today is October 17, and we still await an answer.” He gave me a copy of his Embassyʼs note with “Reference No. DXI/1,” which does detail a stiff protest.
Still worse, in Iyallaʼs opinion but “not of that of some of my high-level colleagues, who will never get over the Mojekwu matter,” is the case of Mrs. Lily Smith, an American lady who picketed our Embassy “for three or four days,” splashed our wall with red paint, and painted “scurrilous, anti-Nigerian remarks on our own property.” Mrs. Smith seemed to the Embassy staff to be demented and should be pitied and forgiven. What he can not forgive is the “total failure of the Washington police, the Executive Protective Agency, and the Department of State to answer our desperate pleas for period of three or four days. You can be sure that we would answer your pleas at your Embassy here, for we recognize it as our duty to protect foreign establishments.”
The pattern of indifference continues to unfold, he observed, for also in July, 1972, one Dr. Adigun, a decent, upstanding Nigerian citizen, was murdered in cold blood and in very suspicious circumstances in Los Angeles. For a long period the Nigerian Embassy was not even notified. Using its own means, the Embassy finally learned of this despicable act, protested to the Department, and was routinely promised an investigation by the FBI. To date there has been no further response from the Department, “which is not the way one treats friends.” Dr. Adigun is well connected in Nigeria, and his friends and relatives have “protested to the higest level... I must tell you these things are discussed at the Island Club and (underline and) at Dodan barraks.”
He could repeat “numerous other examples that form a pattern, a pattern of something close to contempt for Nigerian,” but he wanted to rush on to a few problems here in Nigeria. Foremost the “most serious” is the jura case (reported in septel).
The Permanent Secretary is also disturbed about “freedom of the press seminars conducted by your USIS people here.” He doubted that there is any problem but had received many complaints from “people who are concerned.” All he wanted now was for “your people to get together with my people. Let us understand what you do, and we will explain the tolerable limits of such seminars.”
Then, there is the case of a recent visit by a high-level even distinguished American politico-business group, who came here and in “typical American fashion” wanted to rush in and talk with the head of state and seal a deal on the spot. “I think we got them straight, and they now realize that Nigeria is not one of your banana republics.” I asked whether he thought the USG was reponsible for the gaffes of every visitor. No, he did not, and only cited this visit as an example of “how Americans take Nigeria for granted and dowgrade us whenever they can.” (cf/ my letter to Foley date September 17.)
Finally, he realized that the proper place for dicussing [Page 6] most of thes problems is Washington, which his Embassy had done to no avail. He was not interested in these “affronts” in isolation, what he wanted me to understand is “the pattern, the calculated trend of downgrading Nigeria.” I should also know that “this pattern, this trend” is not new: He had watched it develop and become well established throughout his tour in Washington. The big difference now is that other FMG officials, “even poor Dr. Dikko,” are becoming convinced of “a pattern, a trend,” which Iyalla never doubted in the first place. A friend of the United States, the Permanent Secretary wished “to arrest the growth of this malignancy before it is too late for both of our countries.”
In my response, I began by expressing appreciation for his finally bringing to my attention matters that had obviously been disturbing him for a long period. Indeed, I wondered why he had waited so long, especially since I had talked with him many times since his return in May. He had been too busy reorganizing the ministry, he said, but more important he wanted to “collect the elements of lie pattern.” I told him that in my judgment it was little short of “nonsense” to talk [Page 7] about “your patterns and trends.” I was willing to believe that considerable misunderstanding had arisen for reasons that I would not explain but that I was surprised that his extended stay in the United States had not demonstrated that there are no cultural grounds for “your patterns”: We are much too direct to build the kind of patterns that your are seeing. “Frankly,” I said, “your case would be far more convincing if you were charging impetuous actions rather than studied, deliberate, paranoia-laden little insults.” To assign plausibility to his argument, one would need to “see little men in dark corners studying ways to insult Nigeria” any Ambassador who had stayed in Washington as long as he should know that to move from Dikko to Lily Smith to a Los Angeles murder in a pattern called for ingenuity far better employed in dealing with foreign policy and military problems greater than any Nigeria had presented during the period he had discussed. I acknowledged that before this meeting I had never heard of the Dikko case, of Lily Smith, and Nazif Mohammed. While his best channel for quick correction of obvious misunderstanding is his Embassy in Washington, I would report his views and seek a response. I, of course, knew of the Mojekwu problem but was unwilling to speculate beyond the information conveyed by [Page 8] Mr. Foley in May, 1972. I regretted the tragic death of Dr. Adigun and was familiar with his Embassy request for an investigation, the results of which I was certain he would soon have. (He thought that “soon” would not cover the elapse of time since July, and he may be using one of his trumps quite well with this retort.) As for the USIS seminars, his reports are the exact opposite of mine, for we have been requested to conduct far more than we can arrange. I agreed that some visiting Americans exhibit tactlessness but argued that their regrettable clumsiness had no connection with his “patterns.”
Comment: Such are the peregrinations of a friend determined, as he put it, to help America help herself. However, Iyalla today was neither an irascible B.A. Clark nor an uninformed Larry Febunmi. Present in his manner was the usual feigned regret to talk about problems and the equally feigned desire to be reasonable in pursuit of a mutual goal. However, he was not disagreeable. He seemed genuinely certain that he was presenting carefully selected examples that can not be satisfactorily answered. Thus, he has heard our Mojekwu explanations but rejects them before we speak, though this time he adds “evidence” the former Biafran is doing exactly what Iyalla said would happen and we assured him would never be tolerated. I am certain that something went wrong during the Dikko story. Dikko is far from the saint that Iyalla portrays, but he is a mild man who apparently has created quite a rumpus here. Iyalla multiplies Dikkoʼs experience several fold, assuring that it escalates beyond the irritant level.
I can give no assessment of the other Washington problems, but either his Embassy reporting has broken down, or we would seem to have been rather slow in responding to protests. He flatly asserts and repeats that he simply can not get answers.
The reference to the seminars is pretty clear. While talks before the press have not emphasized press freedom, he obviously wants to make it clear that there can be no reference to the subject. Yet he chose not to make his point today and believes that by indirections he can have other achieve this end.
Since Iyallaʼs return in May, I have never doubted that something was in his craw. There is no reason to believe that todayʼs regurgitation leaves him empty, but itʼs good to have what I obtained. Clearly we will need some answers to what I got today. The one that will help most is responsiveness to the Mojekwu case. I know all of the difficulties previously cited, but we are wasting our time repeating them to the Nigerians. As long as Mojekwu stays in the United States, we will have a genuine “irritant” on our hands.
In leaving Iyalla, I urged that he not wait another six months before unloading; he promised that he would not. I vainly tried to summarize the meeting by observing that in Tennessee we would characterize his complaints, at best, as “misunderstandings” or “aberrations.” He would have none of that, noting that Ijaw is not nearly as rich as Tennessee English but that in his language they have a word that can be roughly translated as “shafting.” Shining through his wit is fairly accurate summary of this whole demarche: he sincerely believes his “shafting” and “patterns” thesis, and unfortunately he has the capability of convincing others, “at the highest level,” as he fondly reiterates.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL Nigeria-US. Confidential. Repeated to Ibadan and Kaduna.
  2. Ministry of External Affairs Permanent Secretary Joe Iyalla presented Ambassador Reinhardt with a lengthy list of alleged calculated U.S. attempts to downgrade Nigeria which, Iyalla believed, all added up to a pattern of U.S. indifference and a penchant to take Nigeria for granted.