18 OCTOBER 1968, Page 30

Sir: The Nigerian/Biafran war calls to ques- tion the most

fundamental principles of British democracy. Those who are privileged to govern the country in the meantime must be constantly reminded of their obligation to respect the wishes of the British people.

The Daily Mail on 12 September 1968 re- ported in its public opinion poll that 53 per cent of the public sympathised with Biafra and 9 per cent with Nigeria; 61 per cent con- demned the supply of British arms to Nigeria and 21 per cent approved of it; 58 per cent considered the supply of arms to Nigeria and food and medicine as immoral, while 25 per cent approved of it; 38 per cent supported the independence of Biafra, while 30 per cent wanted to see Biafra as part of Nigeria. On 27 August 1968 the Government made it im- possible for a vote to be taken on the arms issue when it was clear that a majority would oppose it. On 3 October 1968 the Labour party conference in Blackpool urged the Government to discontinue the supply of arms and help to bring peace to the two sides, but on 4 October, in an interview with a correspondent of the BBC Overseas Service which was not published at home, Mr Wilson made it clear that the supply of arms would continue.

It is quite improbable that the Nigerians can win in any meaningful sense while the Biafrans are determined to resist. There is a real danger that if the war is not halted the rest of the country might collapse under its strain. Sup- pose the Nigerians win with the help of Britain, how will the divergent interests of the ordinary Nigerians who killed and chased away the Eastern Nigerians from the rest of the country, the radical Nigerians including some of their military officers who regard everything foreign as a neo-colonialist trap, the soldiers in the field whose single purpose is to kill, loot and burn, the Russians who wish to install com- munism, and Britain which wants 'One Nigeria' be reconciled? The arms suppliers may find it a daunting task to reconcile these interests. Moreover, if Nigeria succeeds it would provide a sad precedent for the settlement of a dispute that has far-reaching political, economic and social implications.

The British government is advised to respect the fundamental democratic principles which the people of this country cherish and apply them in this futile war. It should renounce the use of British Saladins, Ferrets, Saracens and Russians Migs as instruments of national unity.

It is presumptuous to assume that the North has suddenly abandoned its desire to be left alone or that the Yorubas wish to be too closely associated with others or that the minorities approve of an enforced unity. A democratic solution based on negotiation, consent and mutual confidence provides a more solid foun- dation for the peaceful coexistence of the peoples of Nigeria and Biafra. The prerequisites to such a solution are an unconditional cease- fire and a return to the negotiating table. The true wishes of the peoples should be ascer- tained and ways and means found to reconcile them. A cessation of the supply of arms is both conducive to such peaceful settlement and accords with the wishes of the great bulk of the British public. The British government must be constrained to respect these wishes and spare the lives of millions of people.