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BLUE COLLAR LAWMAN
"We are English, that is one good fact."
Oliver Cromwell to Parliament. 17 September 1656
"Sons of Oxford have been among our greatest Empire builders and Empire rulers... The tone of the place, its ideals, its merits and defects, are felt wherever the British flag flies."
George R. Parkin: 'The Rhodes Scholarships, 1913.'
Quoted in Jan Morris' 'The Oxford Book of Oxford.'
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Blue Collar Lawman
This is the story of evil committed by kind, nice, decent British politicians. They sought to keep Britain from bankruptcy and found a solution in the mineral-rich Empire on the point of independence. It was necessary to bend the rules and, sadly, in due course the rules were totally forgotten. Those who got in the way were innocent like the colonial peoples, but both had to be dealt with quite harshly.
To leave friends in charge of Nigeria in our absence was surely prudent. The local people chose hothead politicians and it was our duty to outwit them. The loss of one or two lives is all we can truly comprehend. An expedient Whitehall decision is calm and deliberate and the risks if ever considered must be small and, of course, anonymous.
William was our cook and our steward in Lagos. It was said that we had the first television set in Africa and when William saw a lady newsreader, he tried to cover his near bare body and asked in a very frightened tone, "Can she see we?" William's body, his human remains first rested in a ditch in Biafra, before being consumed by the teeming animal life in the bush. Grace, our nanny, starved to death in her native village in Biafra with her small children.
We rarely had dinner parties in Lagos in Nigeria shortly before Independence. We were lounging in the overlarge PWD armchairs over coffee. William had cooked brilliantly and we had particularly enjoyed his coffee mousse that was his secret receipt. At that point Grace entered and announced, "Pican has shat on floor."
Millions died in the great Nazi onslaught on Russia. Millions died in concentration camps. Yet we need the diary of Anne Frank to experience this tremendous loss. It is a failure of our imagination. The larger the number, the less we feel?
Grace and William worked for us and we trusted them and treated them as friends. We loved them. We left Africa and were very worried for them. Nigeria was on the brink of freedom and independence. They believed it because they trusted the British. They were Commonwealth citizens and our Queen was their Queen. We know that their trust was misplaced. The British had betrayed them.
In his private office in Government House on the Marina facing the lagoon in Lagos, the Governor General, Sir James Robertson, was extremely angry. He had ordered that a senior British member of his Headquarters staff be carpeted. The Governor General's personal orders had been disobeyed. Worse, the offending officer had suggested that the orders were criminal. Even when allowed to return to the UK without punishment, this young officer had persisted in his disobedience, and had been returned to the colony in disgrace.
I was that young officer, and I was in deep trouble. I carefully prepared for that interview and wore a freshly laundered linen suit and, although it was steaming hot, a white shirt fully buttoned up, and a tie. I hoped to be told that a terrible mistake had been made. I hope to be allowed to leave the Colonial Service and forget all about this ghastly experience. My hopes were to be shattered. Sir James was not in a forgiving mood. John Bongard, his private secretary, showed me into Sir James' room.
"Mr Harold Smith is here to see you, Sir, as you ordered, he said, and retired.
"You know why you are here, Smith," said Sir James. "And I want you to know that all your worst fears and suspicions are absolutely correct. All the accusations you have made are correct. I am telling you this because I want you to know how much trouble you are in."
It is a cliché to say that my heart sank, but I use it deliberately because it was somewhere in my groin. I had wanted to be proved wrong, but I was being told from the highest possible source that my conclusions were correct. Britain had calmly, coldly and with deliberation set out to destroy democracy in Nigeria, Britain's giant colony of many nations in Africa!
While I was absorbing this incredible disclosure, Sir James was pronouncing a death sentence. In his opinion I was wilfully disobeying orders on active service. The penalty was death. If the sentence was to be postponed, and he clearly deeply regretted that, I would now do exactly as I was told. As I had no choice... I listened to Sir James' terms and, when he had finished, I said nothing. I looked at the portly figure of the most senior, the most powerful representative of the Queen in the Empire, and very calmly, pronounced two words:-
I had graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1954 and joined headquarters staff in Lagos in 1955. My career was going well. I had brilliant reports. My name was soon known in the distant part of the empire that was Nigeria. When I encountered a famous, top administrator, a more famous Smith, he knew who I was. The lawmaker in Lagos, who was turning the Colony into a nation with laws to match, was Smith the Lawmaker. To be distinguished from Elephant Smith in the North and Tiger Smith who had named me Smith the Lawmaker.
When we arrived in Lagos in 1955...
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The British retreated from West Africa almost in a state of panic. A few African nationalists were making noisy demands for freedom from the Colonial yoke, but the riots and rebellions hardly existed and no blood was shed in Nigeria expelling the forces of Imperialism. The British withdrawal took place in haste, because world opinion was beginning to demand that the Colonial powers spend money on their African possessions. If this suggests that Britain exploited its Colonies it simply is not true. If this had been the case, then Britain would have left behind many more factories, plantations, roads, ports and means of communication in Africa than she did.
The vast mass of the African people was indifferent or actually would have preferred the British to stay. But neither was it true that the British found in West Africa a land of savage tribes living in crocodile-infested swamps and by exercising Christian charity and benevolence carefully instructed the natives in the civilised ways of Western democracy.
Not only is Africa denigrated by the carefully nurtured fairy tale fashioned for the most part in Oxford, but with skill and cunning the British image is carefully burnished and enhanced. When did Britain itself become a democracy, if it has yet achieved that state? With universal male suffrage in 1884 or when all women got the vote in 1928? Britain's democratic traditions are of more recent origin than most are aware. When the British removed themselves from Nigeria in 1960 (though in truth they did not really surrender power to the African people) there was not even universal suffrage, as only a minority of the country's women - those in the South - were entitled to vote. As for tribalism, that well-worn cliché of colonial histories, the pre-colonial societies found in Nigeria were quite sophisticated and could be seen as city states or nations. And it is the British who have been at war with rebellious Irish tribes for centuries. Can any savagery in Africa equal the Belsens of civilised Western Europe? And the tribal skirmishes, often quoted as an excuse for the British armed occupation, pale to insignificance beside the massive bloody conflicts between the European powers. I refer of course to the two Great Wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.
My main qualification for demolishing the myth that the British created viable democracies out of savage tribes only to see the ungrateful and greedy natives quickly revert to their tribalistic ways was my personal involvement in these events. I was educated at Oxford in the traditional manner thought suitable for those who would run the Whitehall civil service machine, or the British Empire. Although my tutors tried to persuade me that I could win a first-class degree, I thought they were wrong. Not unnaturally they wished me to spend the usual three years taking the honours degree course in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, but I found much of the Philosophy and Economic Theory studies uncongenial, though I had excellent teachers. Against their advice I took my finals and obtained a second-class degree at the end of my second year. I had already obtained the University Diploma in Social and Public Administration so I was considered particularly well fitted to serve the Crown in Africa. I became a thorn in the flesh of the British Government because I chose to believe in democracy, and to consider it dishonourable and despicable to tamper with it. But my problem was not that I was expelled from Africa - quite the contrary. I was offered the highest possible inducements to stay in the service of HM. Government. My work was praised and the British Government went to very great lengths to keep me in the service. Perhaps fortuitously, this determination to prolong my stay in Africa was to bring me down, for in my final year, the year of the rather tacky if not wholly sham Independence, I became ill with a chronic disease, tropical sprue. As a result I have had a quiet and retired life punctuated by alarming health crises.
I have not told this story before because I did not wish to wreck the chances of success of the new nation by revealing the truth behind the fine but phoney ceremonial retreat. It would not have been possible to write this book in the 1960's anyway as my health was in ruins and my survival unlikely. By the mid-1960's too, the consequences of the British betrayal were becoming evident and Nigeria was being torn apart by coups, corruption and civil war. If 1960 was too early, by 1966 it was far too late.
When I suggest that the British Government meddled with the democratic elections in Nigeria, I write as an authority. I was chosen by his Excellency the Governor General, Sir James Robertson, to spearhead a covert operation to interfere with the elections. The laws of Nigeria were a sham and largely window-dressing to conceal, not mirror, the reality of where power lay. I drafted some of those laws. The Factories Act I drafted was applauded by African leaders as the greatest piece of legislation to be placed on the Nigerian Statute Book. The National Provident Fund that I pioneered introduced a practical and simple worker savings plan for the largest African nation. Some major institutions, in themselves worthy and popular, were flawed and corrupt, as were the Employment Exchanges and Trade Testing Organisation. I was in charge of the administration of those bodies and revised the codes of procedure under which they operated. These structures did not become corrupt after Independence; they were rotten before the British handed over power to a small and elite group of Africans, who were for the most part thoroughly alienated from their native soil and their compatriots. If they had not been, we would have handed over to a more pro-British group. The new leaders and civil servants were for the most part Britishers with black faces. And they continued to rule as the British had ruled, espousing fine ideals and pragmatically wheeling and dealing and fixing to keep the show on the road. It must be remembered that British colonial power was autocratic, dictatorial power. The British did not practise democracy in Nigeria. They talked about it as a device to legitimise the transfer of power. There was a need to legitimise a new sovereign state. But the British to the end were fixing and cheating, and of course educated Africans were fully aware of this. These were the dictated terms of the sham Independence.
Whatever the shortcomings of British Colonial Administration in Africa, some of the more or less well ordered systems which were handed over to the native populations in the 1960's degenerated fairly quickly into corrupt, one-party states. Many of the native peoples must have looked back with regret to Independence and wished once more for British rule.
Much of this statement is true. Certainly, compared with other imperialist nations, the British behaved well to their native peoples. British historians, civil servants, academics and the colonial administrators themselves have told the story. However, as I have indicated, they have not always told the whole truth. The historical record does contain some questionable events which have tended to be glossed over, and, as always, it was the victor who wrote the history, not the subject peoples. I was present in Lagos, Nigeria, during the period 1955-60 in the run-up to Independence, and my recollection of those years is at variance with the record set down by some British historians. Many Nigerians may feel justly ashamed at some of the events that have marred the early years of the Nigerian nation. The assassination of several heads of state, five military coups and a bloody civil war in the first twenty-five years is a lot of history Nigeria could have done without. However, on reading my story, it may be seen that the British too did not leave Nigeria with perfectly clean hands. And perhaps the British will be seen to have been in some part to blame for the horrendous events which took place in the twenty-five years following Independence.
There are many fine, honest Nigerians who have served their new nation well and there is much to be proud of in Nigeria's short history. Similarly there were many fine British administrators who deserve to be remembered for the honourable service they gave in Nigeria. This book is dedicated to those many fine administrators, both black and white, who loved Nigeria and served it with honour. They know who they are, and they can be justly proud of their achievements, whatever blemishes my story may record.
It is probably too early to make a balanced assessment of the British occupation of West Africa. I hope this book will make its own small contribution to that record. I have no doubt, however that the overall assessment will prove that British rule, for all its shortcomings, was beneficial and advanced the welfare of many African peoples substantially.
The supreme betrayal of a new sovereign nation of which I write took place when the British retreated from Nigeria, the African giant, in l960. The last great act of the British Government was to hold democratic elections in l956 and l959 to choose the leaders who would inherit supreme power over this vast territory. It seemed that the Nigerian people did not want as its national leaders those educated Nigerians who had campaigned for freedom from British rule. For the election results gave majority power to the leaders of the then backward and feudal North, who had worked closely with the British and were sad to see them go. The British were well satisfied with the election results, though many Nigerians were baffled at the outcome.
What I now reveal in the following chapters is that the British Government interfered with the elections so as to achieve Northern domination of Nigeria. The consequences of this abandonment of the rule of law by the British Government is recorded in the turbulent and bloody events which were to produce the Biafran Civil War which grasped the attention of the world due to its daily presence on every nation's television screens. The pictures of starving children and homeless refugees will not soon be forgotten. Since the fraudulent handover of power to the Northern leaders in l960, not only has there been this bloody civil war which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Nigerians including many women and children, but five heads of state have been assassinated and there have been three military coups.
I was one of the British officers serving on the headquarters staff in Lagos, chosen by the Governor General, Sir James Robertson, to mastermind the covert action to rig Nigeria's elections. This secret operation hatched in Whitehall was of course a gross betrayal of trust by Prime Ministers Sir Anthony Eden and Mr Harold Macmillan. The orders which arrived on my desk from the Governor General before the elections for the Western Regional Government in 1956 were quite illegal and in direct contravention of Nigerian and British law. As a consequence of these illegal orders, I was to lose my career and my health. These orders were not only illegal but also immoral, and I refused to carry them out. I also refused many inducements. The authorities wanted me to promise never to reveal how the British Government rigged the results of Nigeria's General Elections.
In 1986, approaching my sixtieth year, I decided, in compliance with the convention, to seek permission from the Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, to publish my account of those years in Lagos. I believe that the British people have a right to know what was done in their name; and the people of Nigeria and the Commonwealth need to be made aware of the duplicity and criminal behaviour to which some British leaders had resorted when dealing with the African peoples' struggles for freedom from colonial rule.
The British Government's response to my plan to write these memoirs, was totally negative. Mrs Thatcher refused to reply to my letters. She is not often stuck for words but on this occasion she was rendered speechless. Assuming that my letter had been suppressed by the Foreign Office I wrote again using the good offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury and, when that produced no response, the Prince of Wales. I must assume after all these endeavours that Mrs Thatcher has indeed seen my letters and has no objection to the publication of my story of how the British tricked the Nigerian people.
The Governor General had told me that I had a choice. I could give my word to keep my mouth shut and I would continue to be a golden boy, a high flier, an outstanding officer with appropriate remuneration and rewards, or I would never be employed again by anybody. I chose the latter course. I had no choice really. Cheating a brand new nation out of its birthright was evidently routine stuff if you were Sir James. I could not see myself getting involved in this kind of intrigue. And of course I thought I would somehow survive. And of course I did, even though I found myself permanently retired at thirty-three with no salary or pension. I had only graduated at Oxford six years earlier.
During a TV discussion about an MI5 case officer, Cathy Massiter, who had resigned and told all, it transpired that MI5 had been partly privatised and was able to turn over unpleasant chores to private detectives. One of these sleuths remarked on TV. that he had been asked to check out on a character who had been kept out of employment for twenty-five years. He had declined the assignment.
The Governor General simply could not understand why I should make such a fuss about which set of Africans the British chose to leave in charge in Lagos. If I would not play the game I would have to take the consequences. I suppose this was the way Africans were treated, and it was decided I might profit from the same medicine.
One of my neighbours in Lagos was an expert in communist subversion. He swaggered around with his loaded revolver and when I warned him that burglaries were endemic in Ikoyi, the white area where we white Government officials lived, he said any 'wog' who broke into his house would get shot to little pieces. The following morning he awoke minus his valuables, his clothes and the gun that he had placed under his pillow.
I was very impressed with my neighbour's exploits. His main job was to check all foreign mail coming into Nigeria for Marxist propaganda or letters to subversives. I accompanied him to the Post Office sorting room in Lagos one day to see where he worked. I remarked he must be very clever to be able to understand all these foreign languages.
"I don't speak any foreign lingo, old chap," he assured me. "That's where all my years of training come in. I just look at the stamps. All mail from Iron Curtain and red countries I bung into the fire there..." and he indicated a stove.
"You don't read it?" I asked.
"Good God, no... It's obvious they're up to no good!"
So I should worry that my mail was opened and that I was being watched while I pottered around with my dog and cat in my old cottage at Widbrook. If I became a real threat, who knows but one day I might be fished out of the canal. The police would no doubt report that I had been complaining of being persecuted and was depressed.
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I was born in Hulme, Manchester, in 1927 to a great Englishman and his wife. What better name for an English war hero than Harry Smith? In perhaps my first English essay at infant school I wrote,
"My Father's name is Henry, but my Mother calls him Harry. My Mother's name is Margaret, but my Father calls her Maggie."
That was the complete composition and it pleased my teacher.
"Short and sweet, Harold Smith," she commented.
By that time we had moved from the dark tight terraces of Hulme to the heavenly winding avenues of one of Manchester's nicest Council estates at Barlow Hall alongside the meadows, orchards and farms strung along the banks of the river Mersey.
In this first literary effort at the new and splendid elementary school built on the Barlow Hall estate I could have added that my name was Harold, but that I was addressed as 'Our 'Arold'. The Family secret, only revealed after years of pestering, was that my Father, the most true blue Conservative Englishman it is possible to envisage, was of Irish origin. And so was my Mother. Dad had once answered when I had asked him what he was, meaning what work he did,
"I'm an Orangeman."
I told my school friends he worked in a fruit shop. He was actually the key and quite senior employee in a large shirt factory, 'The Cutter,' no less. It was his job to lay out the patterns of the various bits of a shirt on to the stacks of striped flannel material so that the stripes ran the right way and there was as little waste as possible. He was really the boss on the production side of the factory, but it was only when I was sent to collect his wages one Friday afternoon so my Mam could do the weekend shopping that I found this out.
"He's the boss, Mam," I gasped. "They call him 'Sir,' and say, 'Yes, Mr Smith' and 'No, Mr Smith.'"
"He might be the boss there, but he's not the boss here," responded my Mam.
He was Irish, an Orangeman, a Protestant; his family were from Dublin and he was ashamed of his Irish connection. I was delighted to learn his Aunt had been a teacher in Dublin. Someone in the Family had actually been educated and read books! My Mam and Dad never spoke of their background or family history except on very rare occasions.
"None of your business," they would respond, and we believed they were concealing terrible secrets.
It was not just that they were Irish and despised the Irish, but that Mam was a Catholic, and that was worse than being Irish for my Dad. My Mother's sister, my Aunt Nell, rarely called to see us. She hated my Father for being an Orangeman and despised my Mother for giving up her Roman Catholic faith to marry my Father. To my Father and Mother this was of the greatest possible importance. It took many years before I was able to force Mam to reveal that her maiden name was MacGarry, a clan or tribal name associated with the West of Ireland. I know of no famous MacGarry's but I am pleased from time to time to find writers and film makers who are MacGarry's. And one of the MacGarry's had enough brass to get himself a beautiful coat of arms.
Although my Father's discharge certificate mentions no special medals for heroic conduct, he was regarded by his many friends as being a war hero. Perhaps this was because he was one of the few who returned from three years of trench warfare with the Manchester Regiment in the first Great War. He regarded himself as incredibly lucky. All his friends had died. He had lost an eye and a leg and had a stiff left hand due, he said, to lying on that side for months in hospital beds while his wounds healed. He never complained, but then he did not grumble about anything. He never actually sat still. He was always on the move. Not so much restless, because that would suggest he was nervous, which he was not. He was perfectly content and sure of himself. He was highly principled, a bosses' man, a freemason, a heavy drinker, an Orangeman, a Conservative and he loved his country without the slightest reservation.
Before the War my Father had been a keen athlete, and his weekends were taken up by football and long distance running. After the War, with the young men dead or busy elsewhere, he was taken to the pubs and fêted by the older men. Later when he was established in a good job, it was his turn to repay their generosity and every night of his life he bought drinks for anyone and everyone. My Mother had started drinking to try to stop him but she had rapidly become hooked and probably drank more than he did. Eventually she died of cirrhosis of the liver.
Dad was always right and never saw two sides to any question. He was strict, unbending, without a hint of ambiguity and, although he inflicted much pain and suffering on his children, he was respected and adored. The rules had to be learned and were reinforced with a cuff on the side of the head.
"Don't answer back! Don't be cheeky! Speak when you're spoken to! Who are you looking at? Look at me when I speak to you!"
And general rules. "A man - a gentleman - never strikes a woman or ever lays hands on her!" (This rule made me an extremely reserved and inhibited teenager. Perhaps I was so popular with the girls because I 'did not try anything on' as the saying used to be. My best friend got an older girl pregnant when he was fifteen. I had not got to the kissing stage at that age.) Truth telling had to be one hundred per cent and lies brought on kicks as well as blows. I never lied to him, but sometimes he did not believe me and I would dive under the table for protection. Only rarely did he move the table so I was able to dodge his gammy leg which was swung with great force. If the table was moved my mother would intervene as I scrambled to get under the sideboard.
"I'll kill the little sod, I'll throttle him, I'll swing for him!"
My Mam used to say, "No one will poison you, you little bugger, you were born to swing."
Practically all the money surplus to food and rent and coal went on alcohol. Money for clothing or anything else was only extracted with great difficulty and after continual nagging and pleading.
From my bedroom window I could see through the trees the ancestral home of the Barlow's. During the long months of mysterious illness which beset me throughout childhood I peopled the Hall with its generations of Barlow children in strange costume and saw in my imagination its long hall hung with dark paintings of Barlow knights. My Father had no need of the ancient equivalent of a family photograph album to know where he belonged and who he was. He was ex-Private Harry Smith of the Manchester Regiment, an officer of the Ancient Order of Buffaloes.
Although I adored him, our life paths diverged from the very start. One of the Barlow's, Ambrose, was a Catholic martyr and had been cruelly executed. Ambrose Barlow was one of my saints before he was canonised. To follow in Jesus's footsteps and pay the ultimate price for his faith! There was a man. I doubt my Dad knew of his existence for, although intelligent, he had little education and I never knew him to open a book or read anything except the Daily Mail and racing papers. When we sang my favourite hymn, 'There is a green hill far away', in the hall during assembly at Barlow Hall School I saw Ambrose Barlow on a cross beside Jesus and revered the Catholic Church for producing men of Ambrose Barlow's calibre. Dad would have been perplexed by Ambrose's Catholicism but I feel sure he would have responded to his heroism.
My Father served his king and country. The only top person he ever criticised and that below his breath so he would barely be heard, was General Earl Haig.
"Bloody Generals! What did they care! It was like a bleeding butcher's shop... What did Haig care?"
Then he would swing his leg and shut himself away in the kitchen.
"Dad's crying in the kitchen. He was sobbing, Mam," I would say.
"Leave him be," she'd say. "It's the war."
When very young, I would ask, "Why are you crying, Dad?"
Once he said, "For my old comrades I left in France," but usually he'd say, "I'm not crying. It's my eye watering."
And he'd slip out his glass eye and wash it under the tap at the sink.
When my body burned with fever as if I was on fire, I slept in his bed and would watch as he unstrapped the canvas and leather belts which held his artificial leg in place. One of his boots was laced permanently to his gammy leg and he would leave the leg with the boot attached inside his trousers when he undressed. Then he would remove the special white socks made to measure for his leg stump and rub away the pain. Only my Mother would know when his stump was raw and sore. It was a point of honour not to complain. It was something men did not do.
For the fevers my Father prescribed Fennings Fever Cure, which was highly thought of because it tasted ghastly. Dad knew about such things because he had had ambulance training and for a time had been a stretcher bearer in France. To us children he was truly a medical expert even if his remedies included sweaty socks for sore throats and peeing on your feet for foot rot. Perhaps this was the Poor Bloody Infantry's treatment for trench feet.
I would swim out of a delirium to find my Dad clinging to me. Our flannel shirts would sometimes be soaking with sweat. But sometimes I would be in one of those tranquil cool periods between fevers when my brain, though no longer inflamed, saw everything so clearly, and it was my Dad who was tortured in his sleep and re-enacting a battle in the trenches. Sometimes it was impossible to make sense of the incoherent flow of shouts and orders - perhaps that was how the real battle was. Sometimes pieces made sense.
"Mr Edwards, Sir! Mr Jones presents his compliments and requests you to bring up your men immediately, Sir! We are under heavy attack! They are in the trench!"
There would be a pause, then, "Oh God! Jesus Christ! They're all dead! Bits and pieces of bodies everywhere! Jim! Bob! Where are you?"
Then Dad would begin to sob and I would try to comfort him.
I was brought up to serve King and Country and the Empire. I was a boy soldier, and as such treated like a man. A man never ran away. He always stood his ground. A man never laid hands on a woman. The reason as I have said for my being regarded as a 'nice boy' by girls and their mothers when in my 'teens. Impatient girls undid their blouse buttons and put my cold hands inside to warm. One can be too nice!
Sixty Maitland Avenue was on the edge of the estate next to a new Methodist Chapel which also housed a branch of the Public Library. Beyond the Chapel was the farm which had served Barlow Hall and carried its name. The parameters of my early influences were within two hundred yards of our front gate. Reading about the Barlow's led me into local history while I was too young to join the Library. From local history it was a short step to local politics and the City Council debates. The Liberals seemed to be responsible for the building of the council estates so I became a Liberal.
"Don't be so bloody daft," was my Dad's response. "We are Conservatives."
All my Dad's beliefs were like that. Final and forever.
Although I adored my Mam and Dad, one of my earliest recollections, following on those of being fed with pobs and later Farley's rusks and squatting on the Daily Mail and grunting, was of total disbelief at what I was seeing. I was propped up with cushions on a settee watching my Mam and Dad and brothers and sisters. The furniture was cheap and unattractive. How did I know? The conversation was in bits and pieces, accusing, mock threatening, whining from the children. It was not elevating or educated, but common and even vulgar. I was repelled and alienated. Why had I come here? I was in the wrong place! Some awful mistake had been made!
I was a weakling. Something had to be done. I had to be taught to fight and uphold the family honour.
"Up the Buffs!" was my Dad's cry to arms.
At every opportunity I was expected to fight. If my Mother stood at the gate she would challenge a passing Primo Carnera or budding Tommy Farr and cry, "My lad can beat you!"
They would look at me and laugh, which only encouraged my Mother.
"Call yourself a lad of mine and you won't fight!" she'd say.
"But Mam, I don't want to fight!"
"Don't you want to stick up for your Mother then? Say someone attacks your Mother? Fat lot of good you'd be. Harry (my oldest brother) would look after his mother! See that boy coming. He's very nasty! Go and get him!"
And so began my career as a prize fighter. Nobody fought harder, longer or more often. I got used to pain, bruises, split lips, black eyes, scratches, kicks. In fact I welcomed them as it made my Mother happy. I was a real boy. I never won a fight in all those years and never desired to. But I never ran away and would get off the floor time after time until my assailant would explain he would lose face if he kept knocking down someone who obviously could not fight for toffee.
"He wiped the floor with you," said my Mother scornfully after watching a somewhat unequal contest with a boy the size of a furniture van.
How I longed for her to rescue me and tell me I was brave, but she never did.
"You don't want to be a bloody clerk," said my Dad when I was eleven and took the scholarship examination, so I ended up at Chorlton Park Elementary Boys' School or rather after two minutes, in the playground winded and bleeding.
I was picked up, my arms were threaded through the school railings and I was then thoroughly beaten. The gravel embedded in my knees turned septic and when the delirium finally cleared I had been away from school for ten weeks. I had no idea that I was dying; that the doctors had given me up. In 1938 the wonder cure for septicaemia, Penicillin, had not yet been discovered. It was just delirium, another fever, but it seemed like coming back from a far country and I did not care whether or not I arrived. On one of these occasions early on I became aware of the doctor examining me.
"Hello," he said. "It's the first time I've seen you conscious. I'm Doctor P. I don't know what's wrong with you. I'm bringing a colleague to see you."
Dr P. was apologetic when the other doctor arrived. The new doctor assured him he had done the right thing.
"Let's start again," he suggested. "We'll examine him from top to toe."
They pulled off my shirt. When they saw my knees they could not miss the abrasions and scabs. They parted my legs and found a large black swelling in the groin.
"Septicaemia!" they exclaimed.
The decline continued. There was no cure. I would become conscious to find Dr P. bathing my body to get the temperature down.
"We're both in trouble," he said.
Ages later I swam out of delirium and he said maybe I was going to make it. My temperature was falling.
"They can't take that away," he said.
Very gradually I recovered and Dr P. would sit by my bedside doing his pools coupon. He would bring me piles of expensive American comics. And then he stopped coming. My Father would not tell me why. I felt somehow it was my fault.
"When is he coming back?" I would plead.
My Father said he was not coming back. He had been struck off for gambling debts. I did not believe my Father. It could not be true. If it were true I would not have wanted to live.
In my absence from school the preliminaries in the Chorlton Park world-wide street fighting competition had taken place and the whole school acknowledged that Alan Dawson was the world champion. I met the world champion as soon as I arrived back at school.
"You're new, aren't you?"
"Not really," I replied.
"Listen. I can beat everyone in the school," said Dawson.
I guess he thought I looked a pale thin weakling who had just got off his death bed.
"You can't beat me," I said.
"Are you kidding?" said Dawson. "I could blow you over."
He gave me a push which would have sent me six feet if the railing had not been three feet away.
"You can knock me down," I said, "but I'll never admit you can beat me."
"You're crazy," said Dawson. "I'm not going to fight you!"
In due course Dawson became my friend.
"Why wouldn't you admit I could beat you?" he would plead. "You were the only one in the school who wouldn't submit."
"I can't," I said. "It's the way I was brought up!"
Ten weeks into my new school and I had not had a lesson or met a teacher. I was really looking forward to my first class. Besides I had survived my first encounter with Dawson. I did not know which line to join in the playground when the whistle blew. Somehow I found myself joining a woodwork class. I stood out in the workroom because I did not possess a white apron. I was told to stand by a bench. All the other boys were planing and sawing and forever holding up pieces of wood to check with set squares. I picked up a wooden plane and hastily put it down when Mr Ladd, the woodwork teacher, glowered at me. Then he charged across, grabbed me by the ear and dragged me to his desk.
"I have told you time and again for months," he yelled, "never to put a plane down on its blade."
The rest of the class gathered round in eager anticipation. From his desk Mr Ladd extracted a long leather strap. The ends of the strap were cut into thongs.
"Hands up, boy! One under the other!" yelled Mr Ladd.
"The cat of nine tails," somebody murmured gleefully.
Mr Ladd was not angry. His face was lit up. His eyes were gleaming. His tongue was hanging out. He skipped forward as if going to bowl out Don Bradman. He could not have tried harder to tear the fingers from my hand. I got six of the best. Three on each hand. As he was preparing to take aim a quiet boy wearing spectacles tried to intercede.
"He's new, sir. It's his first lesson."
"Shut up!" yelled Ladd. "I've told him a dozen times."
I was not too upset by all this. I was used to pain and the school bullies left me alone. Apparently Dawson had let it be known that he was the only one who was going to beat me up. The school probably thought I was a nut case. And Mr Ladd? Nobody liked him very much as he was not a proper teacher and the other staff rated him on a level with the stoker who fed the school's boilers. But he later became the hero of every boy in the school.
In 1939 war was declared and Mr Ladd, as the dogsbody, was voted to be in charge of Air Raid Precautions. As timber was in short supply he had a good excuse for not handing out any wood for the boys to work with. As he had always been mean and acted as if it were his wood he was handing out, he was very pleased to walk around wearing a tin hat and blowing his whistle. Instead of ghastly woodwork we now got lectures, often very imaginative, on what to do if the enemy bombed us.
During one of his talks he told us what to do if the Hun decided to drop gas bombs on Chorlton-cum-Hardy. We would hear gas rattles - which Mr Ladd demonstrated. Apparently as soon as Mr Ladd learned that the Germans were going to wipe us out with gas, he would ride around on his bicycle rotating his gas rattle. We would then all put on our gas masks. However, this would not help if the enemy were dropping mustard gas. How would we know if we were being bombed with mustard gas asked a brave ex-woodworker. Mr Ladd looked at him as he had once looked at me, and I feared he was going to demonstrate his skill with the cat of nine tails again.
"You'll know about it, you just wait and see," he threatened.
"So what do we do if we get covered in mustard gas, Mr Ladd, please sir?"
"A very good question," said Mr Ladd with a snarl.
He would have smiled but there was a war on.
"You take all your clothes off immediately."
"In the street?" someone exclaimed.
"Anywhere," said Mr Ladd.
"Women too?" said a brave soul.
"Women too. Everybody stark naked."
Mr Ladd was warming to his work. Perhaps he was thinking of riding on his bicycle giving his rattle alarm for a practice mustard gas attack and making everybody he encountered strip stark naked!
"What do we do then, Mr Ladd, please sir?" asked the class.
"You run to the nearest house. Ring the door bell. Run inside and jump in the bath."
"What if there's a lady in the bath?" the whole class gasped.
"Tell her to move over and get in with her," shouted Mr Ladd, full of excitement. "All naked, all in the bath together!"
With that he ran out of the room with his tin hat and rattle and the class broke up to run round the school, telling everyone to pray for a mustard gas attack. The girls got quite hysterical. Next day a deputation of anxious mothers waited on the headmaster to ask why their daughters were expected to strip naked when Mr Ladd performed with his rattle. Mr Ladd became extremely popular and his stories, like all good yarns, were added to beyond all recognition.
When Mr Ladd suddenly disappeared, it was obvious to all the boys that the headmaster, jealous of Mr Ladd's incredible popularity, had volunteered him for something very nasty, like being dropped behind enemy lines with his tin hat and gas rattle.
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When I was a small child I would help my older brother Harry with his newspaper round in Northenden, an attractive Cheshire village which was in danger of being swamped by the Manchester sprawl. When Harry left school and got a job delivering fruit and vegetables in Northenden, I helped out on Saturday mornings. I was nine years of age when a University team of researchers into child employment caught up with me. I had enjoyed giving my mother the one shilling and sixpence and a bag of fruit, though she was never very impressed.
For two years I was unemployed, although my mother sent me for a number of jobs. I pretended to be stupid so as not to be employed as a butcher's boy. My mother was very disappointed. She liked the idea of cheap or free meat. When I was eleven she found me a morning newspaper round which paid three shillings and sixpence a week. Then an evening round for another three shillings and sixpence. Mr Burgess at the farm at the bottom of our council estate street could see I was a keen worker, so I took on a milk round too at seven shillings a week. I started delivering milk at five in the morning until the air raids started and I was at risk of getting in the way of fire engines and rescue squads. After my evening paper round I turned up at the farm to help bottle the milk for next morning. At the weekends I collected cash from my customers on the milk round and did odd jobs on the farm. In the holidays I cleared pigsties and weeded and picked potatoes.
My mother was not too happy when I left school and started an engineering apprenticeship at the vast Metropolitan Vickers factory. I only earned fourteen shillings a week at the factory. I loathed engineering. My first department was H Machine. I arrived the morning after it got a direct hit from a German bomb. The lathes and milling machines were hanging from their drive belts in mid-air. I was moved to K Machine. The lavatories at K Machine were in two facing rows and were so close that legs stretched into the walkway between.
My father had lost his job as a shirt cutter and had volunteered for war work. I found him dragging trucks piled high with iron castings on K Machine. The management had not noticed he had an artificial leg and a glass eye and he did not tell them. He was intensely patriotic. Women had been conscripted in large numbers into the factory and rapidly proved, after only a short training period, to be better machine workers than the men. This caused a lot of resentment. There was a great deal of flirtation and even the middle class ladies who were well spoken seemed to enjoy the sexual banter and innuendo.
My job was to drag two large steel baskets of brew tins to a lean-to boiler house at lunch time and otherwise run errands. A surprising number of men would either try to grab my penis or stroke my bottom. Some would try to get me to go home with them. If this was homosexuality, there seemed to be an awful lot of working class homosexuals at Metropolitan Vickers. The brew sheds were dangerous too. Sexual attacks disguised as initiation ceremonies were common. I learned to run fast and cry at night. The nightmares I had then I have had ever since. The initiation involved masturbation by an older youth and sometimes variations like jamming a narrow topped bottle on to a boy's penis so he could not remove it when he had an erection. If he did not get an erection a girl would be persuaded 'for a laugh' to expose her breasts or raise her skirt.
At fifteen I was on some errand when I stopped to chat to another brew boy from the Research Department. I agreed to swap secrets. They had few sexual initiations in Research. The people there were graduates and college apprentices and scientists. A better class of worker. So I recounted my stories of the K aisle brew sheds and he told me the secret of the atomic bomb which they were working on in the top secret Research Department. A little later I moved to West Works where I helped to assemble the switch gear panels for the Victoria Falls Power Station and mobile switch gear units for the Soviet Union.
My national service in the RAF. followed a predictable pattern. I tried hard not to be an electrician so I became one. At Melksham in Wiltshire I was pushed through advanced courses in electronics which I found totally boring. We had to be reasonably bright and our intake included a sprinkling of grammar and public school boys and students. When taking the end-of-course examinations I was surprised to get high marks.
"You remember very little, so you work out all the answers from theory and principles," I was informed. "The others only remember what they've been told."
I was asked what rank I would like. I settled for a pass. I was terrified I would be given stripes and recruited as an instructor.
At Melksham I discovered the joys and delights of Bath and spent my weekends in the Salvation Army hostel which was situated on a blitz site. I made friends with a family who lived in a modest but attractive terraced house which clung to the hillside under Beechen Cliff. This pleasant terrace on Calton Road, like much else in Bath, was to be destroyed by supposedly educated town planners or greed and replaced by ghastly egg boxes with flat roofs and picture windows. Mr Ryder was a shop steward at Stothert and Pitt's crane factory and Mrs Ryder was an activist in the local Labour Party. At that time the Bath Labour Party had their meeting place in the very beautiful Lansdown Terrace. I had never met such a nice group of people and they were very kind to me. I knew then that one day I would return to Bath. Much of what I needed to bathe my eyes and make my heart sing was available free in Bath. With BBC radio and some library tickets, most of my needs would be satisfied. That dream was to come true, but only because my wife kept me alive in extremis. And I have behind me too, two delightful daughters, my collie and my Persian cat.
I volunteered for service in Germany and was sent to Egypt. There we lived in tents which were cool because the floor was two or three feet deep into the sand. The floor and sides were lined with packing case timber and we fashioned chairs, tables and shelves from the same source. After a year in the Canal zone the RAF. were reluctant to let me go when my demobilisation notice came through. As I was already heading for three years' service I was not too pleased. My problem was that I had been too keen and had acquired a great deal of experience on various aircraft. Spares were short so we did a lot of patching up. From time to time we would ask a pilot to land with his wheels up, what we would call a pancake, so that we could strip the plane - 'Christmas tree it' - to keep the rest of the flight flying. The pilots were quite agreeable to a crash landing from time to time. They loved flying and would plead with us to sign Form 700 so they could take off.
The problem with electrics in a very hot climate is that the insulation melts. The fire switches were held in place by blobs of pitch which also often melted, leaving the engines awash with foam. One Lancaster had very temperamental inflatable rafts which kept popping up on the wings. The trick was to get everything to work at the same time so we could sign the plane as fit to fly. It was only a matter of hours or days before something else would go wrong. The aircraft were clapped out but the pilots were very easy going. One effective precaution was to make all the ground crew fly on the first flight after a major refit. We would have to search for some of the ground crew and ignore their sick bay chits. The aircraft hangars at Kasfareet contained mountains of small arms which had been collected from the surrendering German and Italian armies in North Africa. These armaments were in great demand and twice a week we spent the night in searchlight towers along the barbed wire perimeter fence. I had been a washout and had refused to hit the target during my rifle training at Rattlesden in Suffolk. When I arrived in Egypt the Station Armaments Officer decided I could be very easily made into a crack shot. He invited me to spend every afternoon when the heat was intolerable at an open rifle range. He presented me with an inexhaustible supply of bullets and told me I could fire for ever and a day until I got six in the centre of the target. I knew I had met my match. I got down on the floor behind the sandbags and put six bullets in the bull's eye.
One night I was swinging my searchlight and trying to dodge the large dung beetles which hit the lamp and fell at my feet, when a Sten gun opened up and bullets flew around my head. The rifle came up and I fired a magazine automatically. I was furious that the RAF. had succeeded in training me against all my inclinations to become a rifleman. My inhibition was not unconnected with my father's experiences in the trenches in France. My chums in the guardroom were convinced I was dead.
"It's a bit of a let down you being alive, Smithy," said one. "We were all saying what a smashing bloke you were. We felt very sorry for you - you being dead. Now you've gone and spoiled it!"
About this time I was summoned to see my Wing Commander and was given a dressing down.
"I have here a report on your work signed by your Flight Sergeant before he returned to the UK. He said your work was 'Excellent.' That is a grade reserved for officers. Aircraftsmen are satisfactory, NCO's very good and only officers are excellent. Is that understood?"
"He didn't tell me, sir," I said.
"All right then," he replied. "So long as you know. Your grade is satisfactory!"
At that time the British were withdrawing from Palestine and questions were being asked in Parliament about war supplies being released by the British to the Egyptian Army. Arms may not have been released but we were aware that vast quantities of vehicles and other supplies were being auctioned at army warehouses in the Canal zone. The impression we had was that Ernest Bevin, the Labour Foreign Secretary was anti-Semitic. Later I was to meet RAF. people who had come out of Palestine who showed off photographs taken at kibbutzim after attacks by Arabs. Pits were filled with the bodies of young boys and girls. On the troopship from Port Said I met another of these anti-Semites. While standing at the rail one night as we sailed through the Mediterranean he showed me some more of these pictures of atrocities. As I expressed disgust and went away I paused and very seriously contemplated pushing that RAF. corporal over the rail and into the sea.
During that voyage back to Liverpool in August 1948 I cleaned the latrines all the way through the Mediterranean. The girls on the dockside were wearing black outfits which went half way down their calves. It was the 'New Look' in fashion. A few days later we were demobbed from the RAF. and I was on the train to Manchester in a brown tweed suit which felt very rough. At once I missed the RAF. The RAF. was enjoyable because we had been conscripted. As we had no choice we could make the best of it and dream of what we would do when we got out. Now the dreaming had to stop and harsh reality hit me. I tried desperately to get any kind of job but there was nothing. I would have to return to the factory in Trafford Park.
Within days it was as if I had never been away. I would have gone insane if I had not been saved by my old mate Frank Fairhurst, the shop steward. Frank had news of a junior engineers' conference organised by our Society, the Amalgamated Engineering Union. I attended that conference and was pitchforked into battles with the communists. I was outraged to discover that they rigged elections and found that they fought dirty. I was very quickly elected to the Trades Council, the executive of the Fabian Society, the executive of the City Labour Party. The following year I was a candidate for the City Council. When Frank Fairhurst stood down as shop steward I was elected to replace him, and Frank became a foreman. The communists now saw their chance and the District Committee refused to issue me with credentials as a shop steward. The works director had wanted Frank to remain shop steward. I only pretended to force him out. Frank wanted the foreman's job. However, the works director was displeased with me and very rapidly, to the delight of the communists, I was out of a job. The major battles in the unions in Manchester were between the communists and the Roman Catholics. The communists often seemed to be ex-Catholics and in time they would either return to the Church or join some other political group. They sought strong authority and doctrine. People like myself were in the middle and got shot up by both sides.
I found a job in an aircraft factory. Was it true, the communists asked, that I was collecting books for a book fair for the Labour Party League of Youth? Would I like a pile of books? How kind, I thought. I was checking some wiring on an aircraft when a security officer ordered me to report to the Personnel Department. Someone had been smoking or taking a break on that aircraft.
"I wasn't smoking or taking a break," I protested.
"You're going anyway," said the security officer. "Have you seen your bench?"
The works of Lenin, Marx, Engels and Stalin were stacked high on my bench. The communists howled with laughter.
"Have a good read," they shouted.
I had been out of work a few weeks when a printer on a newspaper asked if I would like a job. He was a keyboard operator. The salary seemed enormous.
"I can't type," I said.
"You won't be allowed to. It's a union agreement. They've got rid of a machine, but they've got to employ an extra man."
"And what do I do all night?" I asked.
"Nothing. You won't be allowed to."
I declined the well paid job. I disapproved strongly of this kind of trade unionism.
I saw an advertisement in the Guardian for university extra mural courses at Hollyroyde College. I began to find temporary labouring jobs and in between times attended courses at Hollyroyde. The tutor at Hollyroyde was an ascetic intellectual with great warmth and wit. Ralph Ruddock took an interest in what I was doing and began to push books my way.
"Why don't you go to University?" Ralph asked one day.
"It's impossible," I protested.
Ralph asked what I thought of one of the visiting lecturers.
"OK," I replied. "Not very bright."
"Right," said Ralph. "He's got a couple of degrees and you're brighter than he is... Remember," he continued, "knock on plenty of doors. Some doors will be slammed in your face but eventually you'll find someone who's been waiting for you."
This was excellent advice. In October 1950 I got on a coach to Oxford. I had a Sir Ernest Cassel Scholarship and a place at Ruskin College. On the coach with me was a shop steward friend who was unemployed. We had met a couple of weeks earlier and I had asked him if he would like to go to Oxford.
"Ruskin won't take you without money and the City Council won't give you a grant unless you have a place at College," I told him. "So write to Ruskin and say you have the money and to the Council and say you have the place."
I helped my friend write an essay for Ruskin on the closed shop. The opening sentence of his draft commenced, 'The non-trade unionist in the factory is a philistine within the gate who must be eliminated...'
"We start," I suggested, "'Some would say that the non-trade unionist...' Then we put the other point of view and proceed that way all through the essay like two people having an argument."
"And at the end?" my friend asked.
"Sum it up, pros and cons, and if you want my opinion, settle for tolerance or leave it open."
"I won't sell out," said my friend.
"You'll enjoy Oxford," I assured him.
Two years later when I moved to Magdalen College my one time friend won a scholarship to Balliol. He became a psychologist and took a doctorate and became Director of a Research Unit. He had collected some smart friends and cultivated a posh accent. I was saddened. He was much nicer when he was a radical shop steward.
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My first year at Oxford involved a great deal of travel. I had foolishly assumed that on arrival at Ruskin I would immediately receive my scholarship money. It was not to be. On leaving Manchester I had pressed what money I had on others who needed it more and arrived at the College on Walton Street penniless.
I was met by the College Secretary, Ferdie Smith, who said, "You'll be staying at the Rookery in Headington," and bundled me into a taxi.
"Don't go away," I advised the taxi driver when we arrived at what had obviously been a large country house.
I then tried to explain my predicament to the students I encountered. Conway Morgan came to my rescue. He was to be my room mate and he was rolling a cigarette with one hand when we first met. He said nothing, but pressed paper money into my sweaty palm. During this manoeuvre he seemed to manage to keep one hand in his pocket and continue rolling his cigarette in a Rizla paper with the other. No mean feat! He was like that. Con was a very dark Welshman who could be eloquent but otherwise, unless he had something important to say, preferred silence. He chose on leaving Oxford to work in a Borstal. I had encouraged Con to take up social work so that I would have someone to accompany me to the Isle of Dogs. Con did not merely sympathise with the poor and down-and-outs and criminals, but totally empathised with them and he took a rather jaundiced view of anyone in authority. I had chosen the right man to ask for a loan to pay for my taxi.
Some of our lectures were given in Headington and others at Walton Street, and of course we attended University lectures. For our social work course we were attached to Barnet House, the social work faculty who in turn packed us off to London's East End for months on end. The Rookery at Headington was therefore mostly a base camp for our first year.
Returning from a sojourn in Shoreditch which had been made more tolerable by that area's Shakespearean connections, I found that an oafish oligarchy of Northern barbarians, masquerading as trade unionists, had taken over the house committee at Headington and were being a bore. These were not brothers but old fashioned bullies and they had drawn up long detailed rules and regulations which licensed them to annoy and irritate fellow students. While I was luxuriating in a hot bath one morning, one of the comrades burst in on me to announce that this was criminal activity. The committee had drawn up a timetable and one could only bathe by consulting this dreary document and taking a dip at an allotted time. As the bathrooms were mostly vacant with hot water gurgling in the pipes at all hours, this seemed like an attempt to turn our sylvan Oxford retreat into a Stalinist labour camp.
I found the fellow conspirator I needed playing the piano in the common room after dinner. Robin Higgs was quite unique at Ruskin. He was a London trolley bus driver whose mother played the piano in pubs in Holloway. Nothing odd in that. What made Rob special was that he was an extremely right wing Conservative. He also had a marvellous sense of fun and was an absolutely brilliant musician and mathematician. The simple belief we shared was that liberty and freedom were the hallmarks of civilisation and they ranked higher than food and shelter in our scale of values. While the oligarchy debated and bullied over coffee in the common room, I would encourage Robin at the piano to compose saucy ditties satirising these idiots who made up with malice and violence for what they lacked in wit and charm. The oligarchy was already restive, for some anonymous benefactor had stolen their set of rules and regulations and without their constitution the barbarians found it difficult to move motions. They spent a lot of time moving motions. Robin's Hymn to the Clean and Decent which he composed extemporaneously that evening stirred them up even more.
'No baths today
But we are dirty!
No baths today!
What can we do?
Take a furtive dip?
And risk persecution?
Big Brother is at the keyhole
That evening, returning from a rare visit to a local pub, the staircase in the Rookery was dark. As I reached for the banister rail, yells and the thud of falling bodies came from the top of the staircase. I stood aside as the thugs of the oligarchy stumbled and bounced down the stairs.
"Sorry lads," said Robin, who was massively built. "I didn't see you crouching on the stairs in the dark!"
Robin revealed to me over a mug of cocoa that he had overheard the mob planning a Tyneside Friday night ritual, namely to kick the shit out of someone. The target was my good self and the lads had removed the light bulb and were lying in wait when Rob had accidentally kicked them down the stairs! Not since my schooldays, when belatedly the school champ Dawson had become my chum, had I known the joy of having a protector. Robin's massive presence terrified the oligarchy. They never found their rules and regulations.
"Where did you hide their ghastly constitution, Robin," I asked one sunny day.
"The one place those ignorant bastards would never think to look," said Robin.
"Naturally," said Robin.
Ruskin had been a delightful experience. The College specialises in courses for mature students, and I found the tutors to be very kind and generous with their time. Ruskin is in no way inferior to the older, richer and more prestigious colleges of the University and achieves extremely high academic standards. Ruskin is an oasis of liberal civilised values to which students and scholars have been drawn from all over the world. It was established by two young idealistic Americans at the end of the nineteenth century. An act of great generosity from the New World to the Old.
In December 1950 I attended a student conference at Transport House. The chairman was an old friend from Manchester University, Peter Morris.
"You are going to have your photograph taken for the Daily Herald," said Peter. "Pick out a pretty girl from the hall."
At the back of the hall was a young lady with a golden halo. The halo was her plaited fair hair pinned up. I pointed to her and called and she came forward. That was how I met Carol. We had our photographs taken and the next day I apologised for being a bit slow and asked her to marry me. There were a lot of good looking men at that conference and I was taking no chances. We sat holding hands in the foyer of Transport House when the porter decided to play Cupid and showed us into the TUC. General Chamber.
"It'll be warmer up here and a bit more private," he said.
Which goes to show one should never underrate the TUC. The brothers mean what they say about love and fraternity. Trade unionists are magnificent people. Sometimes a little foolish because they are very ordinary like the rest of us, but big-hearted, very generous and very loyal. What few Conservative politicians understand is that they are also intensely patriotic, conservative and yet liberal minded and the salt of the earth. Harold Macmillan understood them which is why I think he will go down in history as a truly great Prime Minister.
I now had a problem and Billy Hughes, the Principal of Ruskin was, quite rightly, rather cross. I had been accepted to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Catherine's Society by the Censor, a reverend gentleman, and I had changed my mind.
"What are you playing at, Harold?" asked Billy Hughes. "You've done extremely well to be accepted and now you say you won't go!"
"But I've also been accepted by Magdalen," I said. "And Balliol are quite keen."
"Good God, Harold," said Billy. "How many Colleges have you applied for?"
"Twelve," I said. I was taking Ralph Ruddock's advice literally. "I didn't think any of them would want me," I added.
I apologised to Billy Hughes, and suggested we take it that I had gone the wrong way about applying for admittance to a College and had been severely reprimanded. He should reply to the Censor accordingly and smooth his feathers.
And would I go to St Catherine's? asked Billy.
"No," I said. "He wrote me an extremely abusive letter without giving me a chance to explain. I acted in ignorance. That letter was meant to hurt."
The Censor of St Catherine's was not mollified. If I would not go to his College, the doors of every other Oxford College would be barred to me.
Perhaps the President of Magdalen had seen me out of politeness. His butler had taken my dirty raincoat and held it at arm's length. The President's study had large faded tapestries covering the walls.
"Hello, Mr Smith," said Boase. "Excuse the old clothes. I'm weeding the garden."
The butler poured the tea from an exquisite Georgian teapot and I thought, 'This is better than working in the factory.'
"So what have you been doing with yourself?" asked the President.
I explained about Ruskin. I had the University Diploma in Public Administration and had been awarded a State Scholarship in addition to my Cassel Scholarship.
"I was born into a working class family in Manchester with six brothers and sisters," I said. "I went into engineering when I was fourteen, into the RAF. at eighteen and served in Egypt..."
"Tell me about Egypt," said Boase.
"I was guarding the Suez Canal for a year," I said. "But it was the chance of a lifetime."
"What was?" asked Boase.
"To see Karnak and Luxor! I saved up all my money and leave and went to the Valley of the Kings..." I told him how wonderful it all was and that it was the greatest possible experience. "You really must go, Mr Boase," I said.
He threw back his head and laughed. "Mr Smith," he said. "All my life I've wanted to go to Luxor and all my life I've found excuses for not going. You had nothing, but you knew about Luxor and the Nile and the Valley of the Kings, and you found it all by yourself!" The President got out of his chair and shook my hand. "I think you're a Magdalen man, Smith. Welcome to the College! See Harry Weldon about your PPE. and tell him you're a member of the College. Then see the Dean of Arts in the cloister. Fill in forms and all that."
Harry Weldon was extremely friendly and we had a glass of sherry. I was beginning to drool at the thought of Magdalen. The very atmosphere made me tingle with joy.
"I'm a socialist, but not a communist," I told Harry Weldon. (I thought it as well to make that clear.)
Weldon chuckled. "Surprise me, Smith. Surprise me," he said.
After the Censor had got to work, Weldon saw me again. "What's the old sod up to, Smithy? What have you done to him?"
"I told him I didn't want to go to St Catherine's..."
"Quite right too!" said Weldon. "Who would want to go to the Cats' Home with that burke! Tell him to piss off!"
I nearly upset my sherry glass. "It's all right your telling him what to do, Mr Weldon," I said. "Sitting here in Magdalen sipping your sherry. He'll have my balls!"
Harry Weldon roared with laughter and tears ran down his face. "That's the stuff, Smithy," he said. "Tell the old bugger to go and..."
I began to form the impression that Weldon had no particular respect for men of the cloth. Some days later Boase sent for me.
"I'm afraid, Smith," he said, "you may be called on as a Magdalen man to make the supreme sacrifice..."
It seemed that Magdalen was supporting Balliol who needed some new laboratories on condition that Balliol helped Magdalen put through some crafty wheeze. Unfortunately the Censor of St Catherine's support was also needed. His friends were making noises and...
"I think I must withdraw my application, sir," I said.
"I knew you'd understand, Mr Smith," said Boase apologetically. "It's Balliol's labs and our little scheme and..."
'Oh well,' I reflected, 'it was nice being a Magdalen man while it lasted.'
Towards the end of term I was doing my washing in the basement at Ruskin when I had an idea. I was not committed to any College now. Balliol had probably got its laboratories. I would start again. I wrote to the President of Magdalen, apologising for my ignorance of the proper etiquette when last I applied. I now had no commitments and wished to make a fresh application...
Boase replied next day. 'Dear Smith. Glad to have you with us...'
I was a Magdalen man again.
"Good God, Smith," said Boase. "We let you in for three years and now you want senior status and to do the degree in two years. Did you ask Harry Weldon?"
"He said it was all right with him if you agreed."
"And the Dean of Arts?"
"He said if you agreed..."
"Look, Smith," said Boase. "Just because they let the Prince of Wales do it before the war doesn't mean..."
"The way those regulations are drafted," I said, "I'm sure they'd let me do it."
"Go on then, Smith, old chap," said Boase. "Tell them the story. Tell them the story."
I was housed with the Rhodes scholars in a set of rooms opposite the College. The sitting room was furnished with a deep club-type leather suite and limed oak sideboard, table and chairs. Mr Edwards was my scout and we became good friends.
On matriculation day the Junior Dean of Arts at Magdalen lined the new boys up in a crocodile. We were wearing sub fusc, that is dark suits, squares, gowns and white bow ties. The Junior Dean was taking no chances. He placed four reliable grammar school boys at the head of the crocodile and shoved choir and organ scholars - Dudley Moore was not untypical- who were notoriously wayward, in the middle. I was with the oldies, the Rhodes scholars, bringing up the rear, but the Junior Dean, suspecting we might slip into the pubs on the High Street, shoved us in the middle of the crocodile too.
Off we went down the High and into the Sheldonian which always resembles a Costain building site. I was chatting to Colin Eisler, a New Yorker, about everyday matters like the meaning of life and how to make a good cup of tea. We were plunging down a stone corridor when a labourer with a wheelbarrow blocked our way. We paused and then a man with a ladder came along. We set off again, but this time Colin and I were leading the back end of the Magdalen matriculation crocodile. We went round the building and passed the man with the wheelbarrow again when the cry went up, "We're lost!" and our followers deserted us and started opening every door they came to. Colin and I ran after them and then some smart public school boy got the scent and we burst in on the matriculation ceremony. There was one small problem. We had come through a door behind the Vice Chancellor who was on a raised dais. The Vice Chancellor looked startled as the Magdalen mob propelled by those behind hustled past him. As I squeezed past I noticed he was reciting his Latin speech from a script concealed in his mortar board.
The Junior Dean of Arts was somewhat displeased. His Latin speech slipped out of his hat. When he got us outside he just shook his head and groaned.
"Do you think we got matriculated, Sean?" asked Colin.
"About that pot of tea, Colin," I said.
An Oxford lady invited me to attend an orchestral concert at the Sheldonian. The concert was most enjoyable. I sent a letter of thanks. And that is how I became a friend of Miss Rosemary Spooner and her cousin, Miss Ruth Spooner.
I was invited to lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the burnt sausages and mash. I detest rare sausages. Miss Rosemary and I had a contest of apologies. She apologised for the burnt sausages. I apologised for being so greedy and eating every last burnt sausage. I think I won. Henceforth I was introduced to everyone in Oxford, for everyone in Oxford attended the Spooner Sunday teas, as the politest man in Oxford.
"I'm told you're the politest man in Oxford," said one curious lady at a Sunday tea.
"I like burnt sausages," I confessed.
"Tell me," she said. "What is the University? Is it the Colleges?"
The politest man in Oxford spent an hour telling Sir Maurice Bowra's wife all about Oxford University. I think Lady Bowra was trying to prove she was the politest lady in Oxford, because she said, "Really, how interesting," at least twenty times. On the other hand, as she was undoubtedly sending me up, perhaps she was really the rudest lady in Oxford, but I was too polite to tell her.
"You really are deaf, Harold," said Miss Rosemary one Sunday afternoon."
"I really don't think so, Miss Spooner," I responded.
"Humour me, Harold," said Miss Spooner. "I've made an appointment for you at the Radcliffe tomorrow."
"So you're not deaf," said the hearing specialist.
"That's right," I said.
The specialist covered his lips with his hand and continued talking. I tried to peer around his hand. How could I hear if I could not see?
"Can you hear now?" he asked, letting me see his lips.
He stuck a hearing aid in my ear and I recoiled. The traffic noise was awful and a whole aviary of birds was singing madly. I was being assaulted by a battery of sound. So, courtesy of Miss Spooner, I became officially deaf and was issued with a hearing aid. When I wore it I didn't need to turn it on as people shouted my head off. Not that I had much time for social activity at Magdalen. There were one hundred tutorials to attend and one hundred essays to write. We were all so busy. Friends one wanted to know better, Alf Morris, Guy Barnet, Gerald Kaufman, Fred Jarvis, all rushed by.
"Hi! How are you? Fine. See you!?"
Each week at Miss Spooner's one knew where there had been a revolution because she always had for tea the very latest batch of refugees. One sometimes wondered where last month's refugees had gone. Everyone was made to feel somebody special. I had my title. A shy Dagenham shop steward, which seems improbable, blossomed after being introduced several times as a very important trade union official. Another visiting shop steward held the whole room transfixed with a long boring yarn but it was not his story which was spellbinding. It was his table knife which he waved above his head in a repeat of the speech which paralysed London docks. The Spooners' guests were not quite paralysed, more hypnotised, as they watched the docker's knife, for clinging to the end of the knife was a blob of raspberry jam.
"Did we take their stinking offer?" demanded the docker.
The assembled professors and refugees shook their heads vigorously.
"No, we didn't!" said the docker emphatically, the knife and its cargo of jam cleaving the air.
On the last syllable the knife and jam parted company and everyone's eyes rose to the ceiling with the raspberry jam and then down to the fine Persian carpet where it landed.
"Oh sorry!" exclaimed the docker and he ground the jam into the carpet pattern with his boot.
"What a thrilling story," said Miss Spooner faintly.
"Lovely jam this!" said the docker reloading his knife.
If I was polite, what were the Spooner ladies? Saints, I think.
My friend Neil Smelser compared being a student at Magdalen to living in a monastery. Perhaps unlike Neil I found everything about Magdalen joyful and sheer delight. Like Neil I was not overawed either by Magdalen or by Oxford. My factory experience and my social work training in the East End of London protected me against being transported by magic casements and dreaming spires. Whilst I enjoyed the buildings and the literary and historical associations, I also very much appreciated the good food, fine furniture and the linen fold panels in the great Hall.
Yet we had so little time to appreciate the magnificence of Magdalen. Two or three years may seem time enough but in my case a hundred tutorials and a hundred essays left too little time for friendships and the astonishing range of social and political activity available. How did I find time to convene the Cole Group, to give papers to the Labour Club, to entertain ex-Ruskin people who were also reading politics to tea each week, to walk around Oxford with Philip Williams, to enjoy Sunday teas with the Misses Spooner, to write poetry, short stories and song lyrics? Not to mention long vacations at the University of Tours where Carol was polishing her French and a conference on European unity at Stuttgart? To make quite sure I did not lose my bearings the Labour Group appointed me as their delegate to the Oxford Trades Council.
Neil was a Rhodes scholar from Arizona and he was soon to achieve his ambition to become a Professor of Sociology. At that time Rhodes scholars were not supposed to marry so Neil and his beautiful girl friend, Helen Margolis, had to postpone their wedding. Helen was a pioneer women's liberationist and she argued fiercely on those issues. Neil developed a trick of dropping by for coffee with Helen and departing for lectures - I skipped them all - leaving me with Helen in full flow.
"Look after Helen, Sean," he would say and he would be away.
Was Neil trusting or did he know that Helen would pin my ears back and would still be giving men - and me as the sole representative available - hell when he returned much later? My daughter Helen was named for Neil's Helen and she is an active feminist too.
We wore short black gowns, but only when we had to wear them, which was usually for lectures and formal dinner in Hall. Neil and I had only one mortar board between us. We were really mean. At the end of term we would assemble in the Hall for Collections which were known to Magdalen undergraduates as 'The Inquisition.' In turn we would go up to the high table carrying our square and the dons would make sarcastic comments on our progress. Quite accurately after a term of Philosophy, Harry Weldon reported I was in danger of discovering the subject any time now. On one occasion Neil had preceded me as usual carrying our square. He was on his way back and my name had been called when the President took him aside to compliment him on his work.
"Your square, sir!" the head porter yelled as I set off up the Hall minus my mortar board.
The assembled scouts grinned as I indicated that I was carrying an invisible square under my arm. I managed to stand alongside Neil at the high table and our square disappeared from under Neil's left arm and reappeared under my right one! The dons must have thought we were a stingy pair. Actually it was Neil who was the radical. He loathed bullshit and the Oxford flummery. Having been brought up in a working class home I knew how it was to be well looked after and was quite happy to let Mr Edwards, my scout, be my mother, but Neil loathed having his shoes cleaned and would hide them. His scout usually found them, however, and Neil's casual loafers would be polished with a mirror finish.
Neil and Colin Eisler lived on the top floor of a beautiful old pile called the New Building. Neil would have preferred a building made of glass and plastic but Colin, who was studying Art History, fitted perfectly into Oxford's old buildings and ambience. Colin had an encyclopaedic knowledge of all beautiful artefacts and he had scrubbed and polished his rooms to make them elegant and fit for an aesthete. As Neil had to fight to keep his shoes scruffy, Colin fought a losing battle with his curtains.
"What's wrong with the drapes?" said Neil, puzzled.
Colin paraphrased Oscar Wilde's remark about the wallpaper in his room where he lay dying, "One of us will have to go."
Each day Colin took the offending curtains down and whenever he returned they would be back in place. Oxford scouts are made of stern stuff.
The Oxford I knew was tolerant, liberal and civilised. The tutors I knew were progressive in outlook and most of them were probably Labour or Liberal voters. Although serious and hardworking, they were also cheerful and given to joking and sending themselves up. There was a lot of laughter, mockery and teasing at Oxford. A good story, preferably against oneself, and a refusal to take oneself too seriously were always well received. An ability to amuse and provoke laughter was highly prized. As most of one's contemporaries were extremely able and clever people, nobody was interested in anyone who talked of achievement or ambition.
Although I mixed mainly with American and Commonwealth students at Magdalen because they were older, I had no problems with the boys from the public schools such as Eton, Harrow or Winchester. Unlike the grammar school boys who tended to wear blazers with college emblems, and college ties and tended to be quiet and restrained, the public school mob were not only self-confident, but often wild and streetwise. On boat nights they would pretend to be drunk and stagger around the quad with lavatory seats around their necks vandalising anything that was loose. I say 'pretending to be drunk' because I had been holed up in a tutor's library one night poring over his books and was hurrying back to my rooms through the quad where the Eton and Harrow lot were on the rampage, when the Junior Dean of Arts appeared and blew a whistle. The transformation was remarkable. The drunken revellers meekly removed their strange neck gear and trooped off to bed quietly. The public school boys, as I had found with those I had made friends with in the RAF., could be tough, coarse, wily and extremely adaptable. They could also, of course, be well mannered, scholarly and loyal.
The vandalism used to annoy me, particularly as the damage was meticulously recorded and costed and added to our bills. As the vandals were often rich and some of those who did not take part were poor, this did seem inequitable. Some of the public school boys appeared to have been starved for years. Being from the working class and a fastidious eater, I would rarely clean my dinner plate and would be surprised when a well-to-do ex-Etonian would offer to finish off my scraps. In conversation the public school boys would tell stories of hunger and deprivation which made my working class upbringing seem rich and privileged. They would also be contemptuous of their parents and critical of the lack of love shown to them. Too often they felt they had been packed off at an early age to get them out of the way. And some complained that excuses were made for sending them off in school holidays too. They would be aghast when I piled jam on my bread.
"You can't do that, Sean," they would protest.
When I queried why not, they would say, "You can't. It's not allowed."
"Pretend you're working class," I would say, "and pile it on."
Maybe they thought nanny or the school matron was still watching them.
All in all the student body at Magdalen was very mixed and quite cosmopolitan. No one was nasty to me, no one patronised me. I sometimes made the point that I felt so much at home because the Oxford colleges were founded for poor scholars.
"It's you rich sods who are the interlopers," I would claim.
Yet in my second year I became a little weary of Magdalen. And that because I fitted in too well. I felt the balance I had struck was threatened. I loved the deep leather chairs, good food and amusing chatter. Perhaps I felt I was being seduced. Most of the friends I had made in my first year were now in digs and I had chosen, as this was my final year, to keep my rooms in College. A joke that I was 'the college communist' stung me. At most other times I would have laughed it off by saying 'how true' and how 'it paid so well, the floor of my rooms had been reinforced because of the weight of the sacks of Russian gold.' Perhaps all my friends felt the same. A realisation that the world out there would have to be faced and some adjustment was necessary.
I decided that I had to junk all the Oxford flummery and get it out of my system. I would not register with the Oxford Appointments Board but would go back to factory work for a time. When my head was clear, I would then make a decision about the future. The temptation was to stay in Oxford and I had to resist it. Four years was enough. It was now or never. A research post at a University Institute was mentioned. How I wish now that I had taken it! Perhaps I was frightened that I would be corrupted and changed. Today, this puzzles me, but I am recording honestly how it felt in 1954.
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I joined another Union, the Municipal and General Workers, and became a Smithfield porter. The butter factory where I worked frightened me. We wore clogs because the floor was running with water and after a few days it was as if I had never been at Oxford. I would carry Shakespeare in my pocket not just to read, but as a reminder of or key to that other world. At lunch time I would cross the road and hide in St. Bartholomew's Church. I had hoped to find myself but it was more as if I was getting deeper into a bog.
My job was to move crates of butter along a conveyor belt and bind the boxes with wire on a machine happily named, 'The Gordian.' A homosexual theatre buff with rotting feet, who shuffled around stacking empty cartons, told me of a young bloke he had recently helped escape from the factory on to the stage. The young bloke's name was Maurice Micklewight, and I have often wondered if Michael Caine, when he became famous, remembered the factory hand who took pride in helping others get on.
There was much ribald laughter and teasing when I took my place on the conveyor belt. The girls on the butter packing machines were not accustomed in those days to have students in their midst. I say 'students' because, having recently seen the Doctor series of films like 'Doctor in the House,' they decided I was a medical student. When I protested that I was not, they said I was really a psychologist, one of those doctors who listened to your dreams. They had seen that film too! The girls would invite me to listen to the glorious sexy dreams they had had and ask me to say what they all meant! The machines were very close to the conveyor belt and when the girls created a log jam, the men had to take turns to move along the conveyor and squeeze past the girls. We were timid and reluctant to do this, especially as we knew from experience that the girls might force us against the conveyor for a 'bit of fun' and all the girls would howl with laughter.
Before going to the packing machines the solid packs of butter would be mixed with salt and water in massive churns. The salt was kept in the cellars and because of the large number of rats down there, some cats were kept in the cellars. The sacks of salt we brought out of the cellar would be pungent with the stink of cat pee. The workers claimed that this is what gave the factory butter its appeal.
The butter would pass through the packaging machines in a variety of cheap paper or fancy silver wrappings, heading for a cheap corner shop or a Knightsbridge store. We all knew it was the same butter but when the men slipped some packs into their pockets they preferred the posh wrapper, for even they felt it tasted better. My refusal to steal the butter myself was eventually to lead to bad feeling. I was not only superior but dangerous. I pretended to take the butter, but they were not deceived. I might tell on them. Perhaps I was a boss's man, a spy? It was time to move on.
When I applied for the post of Labour Officer with the Department of Labour in Nigeria, Carol had just given birth to our first child in Hackney Hospital in London's East End. We named Helen Lindsey after Helen Margolis, who was now married to my college friend Neil Smelser, and Lindsey Miller, a fellow Oxford student we had met while attending a vacation course at the University of Tours.
Helen was of course the most beautiful baby ever born and Carol and I were blissfully happy. We made light of our housing and money problems because we considered ourselves to be so privileged and fortunate. As we could no longer live in our one-room bed-sitter in Gore Road, Hackney, Carol's parents had generously offered to make room for us in their large Victorian house in Bethune Road, Stamford Hill. Obviously this could only be a temporary expedient and perhaps this was a factor in my applying to work in Nigeria. Two other considerations influenced our decision. Firstly the job was on a temporary contract basis for a period of two years, and secondly Nigeria was clearly close to Independence. I would not have been interested in propping up a colonial regime. Preparing a colony for independence was a totally different matter.
My first impression of the Colonial Office was that it was as quiet as an empty church, which was not inappropriate as it was situated in Church House, Westminster. Small poky rooms opened off long lifeless corridors. Apparently I was to be interviewed by the Labour Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, a Mr Barltrop. In fact a board of four or five officials awaited me, crowded round a little table in a small room. I had the impression that the board was a formality. The questioning was friendly and the job was mine. Had I known how desperately keen they were to employ me, I could at least have negotiated the salary offered up to a level it would have been possible to exist on. There were in fact ten thousand senior staff vacancies in Nigeria at that time. Had I known what was awaiting me in Lagos, it would have been ten thousand plus one.
Mr Barltrop advised me that I was going to have heavy responsibilities thrust on me in Nigeria. Labour Officers were 'very thin on the ground.' Accommodation would be available and there would be no objection to my being accompanied by my wife and daughter. I had made it clear that I would not be interested in the post otherwise.
"What do you think of the job?" asked Barltrop.
I replied in my usual jocular fashion that it sounded like a cross between a Boy Scout Patrol Leader and a Factories Inspector. I immediately wished I had kept my mouth shut, but everyone smiled and Barltrop replied that this was in fact quite an appropriate description.
The interview over, the messenger was leading me down a corridor as I thought to the exit, when he paused and whispered, "Mr Parry, the Deputy Labour Advisor, wishes to have a few words, sir."
Mr Edgar Parry looked like the trade union official he had once been. He had served very successfully as Commissioner of Labour in Freetown, Sierra Leone, before coming to the Colonial Office. He was warm and friendly. He wore a crumpled cheap suit and he had had a few drinks.
"So you've got the job, Harold. Come and sit down. Forget everything Barltrop's told you. They know bugger all, that lot. I'll fill you in on the real picture in Lagos."
At this point I should emphasise that although I was incredulous at what Parry was to divulge, I was to find he was extremely well informed, accurate and truthful.
"This is the story, Harold. The Labour Department in Nigeria is a shambles. Peter Cook, the Deputy Commissioner, who's been passed over yet again, really runs everything and he's a total disaster, a homo, a pervert. His speech is almost impossible to decipher and his handwriting is totally illegible. He does have some skills in settling strikes, perhaps because the workers will sign anything to get away from him. Now he will hate your guts and as soon as you arrive he'll try to post you up shit creek." Parry chuckled. "But I've anticipated that, and I'll make it impossible for him to get you out of Lagos."
(I was never to find out how Parry managed this. It seemed not even the Governor General could post me out of Lagos, which was quite extraordinary.)
"Into this Augean stable goes bright, ambitious George Foggon, the new Commissioner, the new broom. He's come from the Control Commission in Berlin but really he's just a jumped-up labour exchange clerk. George is smart and thinks the Lagos job is a nice stepping stone into Barltrop's job here when Barltrop retires in a few years. But George will find it takes more than his desire to please and his fancy handwriting to get in here. He knows bugger all about industrial relations so we're sending him a researcher from the TUC. whom Cook will tie up in knots. You see, George's problem is that he can give orders but nobody will take any notice because Cook is really in charge....."
"So where do I come in?" I asked. I felt quite shaken.
"Exactly," said Parry. "What's in it for you? There are no prospects for you in Nigeria, you being an intellectual. But we have very close working relationships with the Universities here and if you do what I tell you, a nice research job will be waiting for you when you come back. I need someone I can rely on to keep me informed on what George is up to. You see we have to use informal channels if we're to keep in touch with what's happening on the ground. Now George wants an intellectual to draft a Factories Act for Nigeria. They've had any number of people out in Lagos for years and all they've produced is a pile of rubbish. Barltrop's very keen to see a Factories Act and George wants an intellectual, someone who can think and write to produce one. It would be a big feather in his cap. Of course, Cook is determined it won't happen!" Edgar Parry leaned back in his chair and roared with laughter. "Peter Cook's an absolute bastard who'll stop at nothing... But don't you worry. I'll look after you." Parry began to scribble on a note pad. "Here's my home address. All you have to do is to keep me informed on what's going on and I'll see you right when you get back. All right, Harold?"
I left the Colonial Office in a state of shock.
M father-in-law's reaction was direct. "Don't go. Tell them you've changed your mind. What else did he tell you about this new broom?" he asked.
"That he was known to his friends in Germany as the Gauleiter and that the only thing wrong with him was that he thought the wrong side won the war..."
"Maybe Parry was drunk," I suggested later to Carol.
"It can't be as bad as all that."
"Surely Barltrop would know, and he seemed a very decent chap, and so did the others. Perhaps Parry's just got it in for this Foggon bloke...."
Six months later the Smith family with all their worldly goods were on their way to Lagos on the mailboat, mv Apapa. The intellectual luggage in my head was my honours degree course at Oxford in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. This Modern Greats course, as it was known, was the recommended training for the administrators who filled the top jobs in the British Civil Service. I was exceptionally well qualified in that I also had the qualification of the University Diploma in Public and Social Administration. All this training was to prove totally irrelevant to the actual practices I was to find in Lagos. A more realistic course of training would have centred on the works of Niccolo Machiavelli, films featuring Al Capone and a masterwork entitled, 'How to Lie, Cheat and Steal Your Way to the Top of the British Civil Service,' based on my experiences in Lagos.
An extremely well informed American academic, Henry L. Bretton, in his devastating critique of British rule, 'Power and Stability in Nigeria,' published in 1962, exposes the fraud, chicanery and skulduggery of the British colonial rulers in such fine scholarly language that his message was easily ignored. One of his chapters is headed with the delicate understatement which characterises his writing, 'Not as Taught at Oxford.' You could say that again, Henry, and again and again!
On our voyage to Lagos, Carol and I had ample time to digest Edgar Parry's warning of what we would find awaiting us in Nigeria. We had decided that the only course was to act correctly and honestly. We would have no truck with underhand behaviour, lies and deceit and unscrupulous plotting for personal advantage. For a start we had no intention of sending secret reports back to the Colonial Office. Edgar Parry was obviously extremely well informed already, as we were to confirm. And if things were so bad, was he not responsible? We proposed to complete one tour in Lagos, do all we could to promote good works in Nigeria, and trust that after Independence Nigerians would behave honestly and responsibly to tackle the vast social, health and economic problems which the British had largely ignored.
The orderly arrangements on the mailboat gave way to chaos when we found ourselves in the custom shed at Apapa. Several gangs of labourers in rags were competing to head carry our loads to a Department of Labour truck. A British official of the Department introduced himself as Bob Curry and launched into an indignant speech to the effect that it was beneath his dignity to meet 'new boys.' He was a Senior Labour Officer and he was only picking us up because he had been ordered to. That was probably true, but almost everything else he told us proved to be false. According to our informant we were going to stay in the Government Rest House in the white enclave of Ikoyi, and would then go up-country. He also gave us advice on recruiting servants which was disastrous and put the boot in the new Commissioner of Labour whom he clearly did not like over much. For us, George Foggon's stock began to rise.
The car stopped at a long series of whitewashed single storey offices connected by covered walkways. This was the Department of Labour, situated on the Ikoyi road leading from the many acres of Lagos slums to the beautiful gardens and houses of the white suburb called Ikoyi. Our ill-tempered guide escorted me into an office and introduced me to George Foggon, the Commissioner. Foggon seemed cool, alert and well mannered, and showed concern that we had brought a young infant with us.
"We wouldn't have come without her, Mr Foggon. The Colonial Office were insistent that they had your approval."
"I didn't know," Foggon said.
The Senior Labour Officer smirked. "I told them the same thing. He shouldn't have brought his wife either...."
Foggon checked him with a disapproving look. "That doesn't matter now. They're here."
"I'll drop them at the Rest House," volunteered the Senior Labour Officer.
"They're going to my home for a few days," said Foggon.
"They're booked at the Rest House....."
"Take them to my home," insisted Foggon icily.
Our guide was furious and grumbled all the way into Ikoyi. The Commissioner's house was very beautiful and set in an equally splendid garden with breathtaking displays of bougainvillaea and frangipani.
Bob Curry introduced us to the Commissioner's wife with the query, "Mr Foggon says these people are to stay with you?" as if inviting Mrs Foggon to bar the door against us.
"I've heard nothing of this," said Mrs Foggon.
At first sight she seemed an aloof and formidable lady with a strong Newcastle accent.
"I told them they should be at the Rest House," said the Senior Labour Officer triumphantly. "I'll take them there if you like."
"I think it would be better if we went to the Rest House," I suggested. "There's obviously been a misunderstanding..."
"If George says you're to come here," said Mrs Foggon, "you'd better come in."
We were shown into a very comfortable sitting room but Carol, who was already very uneasy, was signalling that Helen needed to be changed.
"Of course," said Mrs Foggon. "Come upstairs and I'll show you the guest bedroom."
When Mrs Foggon returned she asked, "Are you a Labour Officer, Mr Smith?"
"Are you the one from Oxford University?"
"It's most unusual for a Labour Officer to stay at the Commissioner's house, Mr Smith. It's not the done thing..."
"I would be very happy to stay at the Rest House," I assured her.
"Oh no, Mr Smith," she insisted. "If it's what George wants..."
When Carol returned Mrs Foggon questioned her and seemed astonished to learn that Carol could be married, have a child and be a graduate. It is true that Carol has always looked very young and at that time was used to being charged half fare on the buses. Unfortunately Mrs Foggon had told me that she had learned German with George while stationed in Berlin before she questioned Carol as to which course she had followed at Queen Mary College.
"Foreign languages, Mrs Foggon."
"And which languages?"
"French and German," answered Carol quietly.
I could see this conversation was heading for disaster. I tried to change the subject, but it was too late.
"Oh well, if you have learned German at University, people like myself will have to be very careful what we say..." She changed the subject. "I think it's time we dressed for dinner," she announced.
Poor Carol looked as if she thought we should make a run for the mailboat before it turned back for Liverpool. I tried frantically to smile and signal support and solidarity.
When Helen had been given a feed and put to bed, we showered and prepared to change and go down. Carol was very upset and sat on the bed almost in tears.
"Why have we come?" she pleaded.
What could I say? I helped Carol unpack her best dress and I put on my Oxford Schools dark suit. We held hands, counted to ten and went down stairs.
Holding forth on the settee was a wiry small man with close cropped hair and very bad teeth. He was wearing a creased and weary-looking linen suit and tie - almost the only time I was to see him wear a jacket. Mrs Foggon was addressing him as 'Peter' and laughing with him. She evidently understood what he was saying but his thick Scots accent baffled my senses. With time, and knowing the subject of conversation, I would begin to follow his discourse a little.
The introduction was so brief as to be non-existent and he returned to his subject. This was strange too for he actually allowed Mrs Foggon to speak as in a normal conversation. To most people Peter Cook would simply engage in a long monologue that was impossible to interrupt. When he had finished he would simply turn and go. I suppose I was surprised that he was homosexual because in my almost total ignorance of the subject at that time, I had an idea that homosexuals were handsome or at least attractive, and Peter Cook quite obviously had neither of these attributes. He was quite repulsive.
Mrs Foggon had most certainly dressed for dinner. She was wearing a long-sleeved full length black evening gown with jewellery, and her hair was pinned up. She was a very striking woman and was making a stab at being thoroughly poised and at ease. But her voice let her down because her tone was affected and her accent was an uneasy blend of low Geordie and southern acquired posh. Coming from the back streets of Hulme and having been strained through the higher reaches of Oxford I of course knew all about that.
When Foggon arrived he exploded on seeing Ness - her name was Agnes - all dressed up.
"For goodness sake, Ness. that isn't necessary. The Smiths have only just got off the boat!" He threw his jacket on a chair and removed his tie. "Take your jacket off Smith, and relax," he ordered. "Your name's Harold, isn't it?"
"His wife calls him Sean," said Mrs Foggon.
"So you're Irish?" asked Foggon.
"Of Irish stock. My wife decided I needed a distinctive name after my dentist gave me a lot of fillings meant for another Smith."
Foggon turned to Peter Cook and addressed him warmly as if he were a good friend.
"And how are you, Peter?"
Whatever Peter said was lost on me. Then abruptly he was up and he had gone. Mrs Foggon left the room to discuss the evening's meal with her cook, and Carol went upstairs to check on Helen.
"Have a drink Smith; relax and take off your tie," ordered Foggon.
I sipped a sherry and loosened my tie. Foggon appeared to be in his element. He was relaxed and happy and he was about to make me an offer.
"You are going to find a lot in the Department you will hate. Don't worry. I am going to change it all." (Some years later he had changed nothing.) "Take no notice of that pervert, Peter Cook. I'm going to get rid of him." (When Foggon left Nigeria, Cook was still there.) "I need you, Smith, to work closely with me," Foggon continued. "There's a lot of work I want you to do. A Factories Act for a start. Nobody is to know you are doing it. You will get no credit for your work. It will be a secret between us. But you will be well rewarded, I promise you. When I get away from here you will be looked after. I can't ask the people in the Department to do anything. Everything is run down and the morale is terrible..."
Foggon went on to say that he had particularly asked for an intellectual to be sent out. Someone who could handle papers. There it was again. It was news to me that I was an intellectual. Maybe someone had noted that I wrote poetry which I had published in student magazines. Did writing songs for a cabaret at Oxford make me an intellectual? Or was it that I had convened the Cole Group for a time? Certainly over the years the Oxford poets Auden, Betjeman, C.S. Lewis and politicians like Gaitskell had been drawn to the Group.
"I'll draft you a Factories Act, Mr Foggon," I said firmly. "You really will, Smith?" asked Foggon. He was both anxious and elated.
"When do I start?" I asked.
"It will take you a day or two to settle in. We've got to find you a house. Peter will see to that."
"Like hell he will," I thought. I was learning fast.
I excused myself to see if Carol needed any help. Carol was pretending all was well and was smiling wanly. I repeated the deal Foggon had offered.
"And what did you say?" asked Carol.
"Very little. Nobody seems to expect me to say anything. Perhaps it's because I smile. I do want to draft a Factories Act so I told him I'd do it."
"But nobody is to know," said Carol.
"That's right," I said.
"Do you trust him?" asked Carol.
"I don't know. Probably not," I replied. "What choice have I got?"
We stayed at the Foggons' a couple of days and whilst appreciative of the hospitality we were being offered, made it clear we would be happy to get started in our own place. It seemed that Peter Cook had found us a very nice bungalow and the following morning we moved in.
The wooden bungalow had been empty for some time as most expatriates preferred to live in the three-storey blocks of flats which lined some of the Ikoyi roads. Rats and lizards scuttled under the corrugated iron roof but the biggest drawback was the lack of a proper cooker. The kitchen was very primitive and situated outside the bungalow. The stove had to be fired with wood. How did we get wood? The wood problem would be resolved when we got a cook. We asked for Mrs Foggon's help. But she had a lot of problems with servants and the cook she sent us stayed two days, and was so surly we were happy to pay an extortionate sum to get rid of him. We also needed food and household goods.
Two Labour Officers dropped by and made welcoming noises. I had two questions. How did I get to the office and how did we shop? At that point the two Labour Officers withdrew their offers to help. They were not on speaking terms. And if I was talking to one of them, the other was going to cold shoulder me too.
I had gone in desperation to call on one of these expatriates at his home to request assistance when, on returning, I heard Carol let out a scream. She was sweeping the bungalow's concrete floor and had placed Helen in her carrycot on top of a coffee table. Coming out of the bedroom Carol saw a large snake entwined round the leg of the table ready to strike Helen in her cot! Carol had rushed at the snake with her brush raised and the snake swept out into the compound, as the barren garden was called. We were having a rough few days, but in reality we were being prepared for another proposition.
Peter Cook let us stew for a while before revealing that perhaps he could find us a modern flat in the block where he chose to live. He was in fact supposed to live in a rather sumptuous house, but preferred to live in a top flat. Before the flat made an appearance - it was in fact the flat we had been supposed to occupy - I got several hours of Peter Cook's monologues which could be summed up as demonstrating the desirability of doing nothing as everything was pointless. (His message of total apathy did not apply to his hedonistic life style or the fat salary he drew for doing very little). One did not really have conversations with Peter Cook. I have noticed that in some marriages when one partner refuses to argue and tries to withdraw, the other conducts both sides of the argument.
"I know what you're thinking. You think I'm nothing but a..."
That was Peter's technique. If you gave him a polite answer to fob him off, he simply ignored the answer and told you what you were really thinking. This was very disconcerting as his guesses were often correct. And if they were not it put you in the wrong. And your protestations did no good. If Peter told you that you thought he was a useless sod, you might find yourself lying in your teeth and telling him he was not that at all!
After listening to himself talk for several hours, he decided that we should be friends. We would get along fine. All I needed to do was to do what Peter told me. At this stage no action was indicated. He was full of goodwill. He would not only let us move into a flat, but would deliver me to and from work in his car for a few days. He would even tell one of the Labour Officers to take me into Lagos to purchase a car. (A huge car loan was available. The question of how to meet the payments had to be put aside for the time being.) The problem was how to become mobile so we could get organised and above all else do some shopping. The offers to run us into town usually failed to materialise.
So Peter Cook was a fund of goodwill, because I was a sensible, intelligent person who realised he knew nothing about Africa and would put himself one hundred percent into Peter's hands to be guided along a safe and sure track where nothing nasty might happen. And who knows, when George Foggon departed as he surely would very soon, Peter would be in sole charge again and a bright intellectual might go far with the right kind of help.
We moved into the flat. We even found a cook. The cook wanted to live in the servants' quarters in the compound, but it seemed that Peter Cook's young houseboy needed two sets of quarters, which was probably why Peter had kept our flat empty for some time. Peter did us another good turn and allowed us to have the quarters belonging to our flat. Every normal arrangement became a privilege, a concession to be granted or withheld at Peter's say so. It seemed that London was right. Peter Cook was showing himself to be a rather unsavoury character.
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Henry L Bretton, in the prophetic work I have referred to earlier, distinguishes clearly between the formal aspect of institutions in Nigeria; that is to say between how the Labour Department was supposed to work, and the reality of what actually went on. Unfortunately most of the early scholarly works on Nigeria did not choose to raise the curtain to see what was happening backstage, so that all too often the analysis is curiously superficial and lacking in bite or significance. Of course, academics or others who were seeking to teach or work in Nigeria, not only before but after Independence, would need to be very careful not to bite the hand of their colonial masters if they were not to be branded unreliable or unsound.
As the façade of the constitutional system crumbled in the 1960's, many scholars, with an investment of years of study in West Africa, turned their attention elsewhere. Instead of decrying the paucity of recent scholarship, we should perhaps be thankful for the work of those scholars who were on hand in the early years of the new African nation - even if they did sometimes suffer from political astigmatism and tend to cast the British Government as a good old-fashioned nanny who always knew best and ran an honest, clean and tidy nursery, ignoring the evidence to the contrary.
As predicted, Peter let it be known that I would be posted up-country very shortly, but nothing came of it.
The working day in Government offices in Lagos commenced at eight a.m. and finished at two in the afternoon. British staff wore short-sleeved, open-necked shirts and shorts. Khaki shorts predominated but in the Labour Department dark blue shorts were fashionable. Foggon instructed me to wear a linen suit and tie as he did. I followed his advice but soon jettisoned the jacket. A few days later he ordered me to see that the other Labour Officers followed my example. My expatriate colleagues ignored my suggestions as well they might. I was the most junior new arrival and they were old coasters.
It did seem an odd way to issue orders. The truth was that George was really a stickler for discipline and chains of command. The proper route for his orders to his staff was through Peter Cook, but Peter Cook for the most part simply ignored them. George simply did not know how to cope with this situation and was forced to try issuing orders direct to the staff. But they in turn only acted when Peter Cook told them to act. No one actually refused to obey orders - they just mislaid or lost the file or lied and said they had returned it. They would call the messenger in and shout at him. If that were not enough they would dress down the long-suffering Chief Clerk. He of course, as did all the African staff, knew exactly what game was being played. But it was Mr Cook they feared, not the Commissioner. Peter Cook was in charge of the administration, which included promotions, postings, sackings and bicycle allowances, and he could and would make an African employee's life a misery whenever he chose.
In all Government headquarters, whether in Washington, London or Lagos, the schedules of duties were divided into subjects. A department or section or desk would handle - as in Lagos - industrial relations, which meant strikes and trade unions, or employment, which covered labour exchanges and migrant labour. The problem was that an imposing title like legal and workmen's compensation might not generate any correspondence or call for anything to be done. This was not too important a consideration in the headquarters of the Labour Department as it was Peter Cook's desire that as little as possible should be done anyway.
Colonial administrations had been forced with some reluctance to set up Labour Departments under pressure from progressive Colonial Secretaries in London. Peter Cook's policy of doing nothing would have found favour with Governor Generals in the past. Notwithstanding the Administration's long-standing distaste for progressive measures, the blimps did find that the Labour Department had its uses. In wartime, recruitment could be handled by the Department as could resettlement.
But most important was the Intelligence aspect. Intelligence is the life blood of any colonial regime. Trouble must be nipped in the bud and trouble makers controlled. The apparatus of conciliation and even the encouragement of trade unions made sure that most kinds of dissent or rebellion were channelled into the offices of the Labour Department whence they were immediately notified to the Administration's Special Branch officers. The Commissioner of Labour in each colony sat on the main Intelligence Committee with representatives of the Police, Military and Administration. The industrial relations section of the Labour Department in Lagos maintained daily contact with Special Branch headquarters. In the cold war atmosphere of the 1950's which the British had spread throughout their African possessions, the bogey of international communism was suspected of lurking behind every clerk or railway worker who sought to live on more than two or three shillings (ten or fifteen pence) per day.
Peter Cook's total inaction, however, and in particular his loathing of correspondence and paper work could be misleading. He kept a close eye on industrial disputes and could act decisively to damp them down when he chose. The effect of his policies on the staff of the Labour Department Headquarters was to encourage total idleness. Peter did not tolerate laziness - he urged it on all expatriates. As he correctly pointed out, most items of correspondence, if ignored long enough, would not require answering. The subjects which at first appeared urgent would be seen in their correct perspective when the page was yellowed and covered with dust in a departmental file some weeks or months later. The letter would then be seen to have been 'overtaken by events.' Besides, answering letters promptly only encouraged the correspondent to write again.
A good way to deal with an oppressive letter was to write 'BU 3 months' (bring up in three months) on the minute page and have the file returned to the dusty racks of the filing section where there was a good chance it would never reappear. If by chance the file did reappear, the original letter might be buried under fresh correspondence which dealt with a quite different subject. And anyway the chap who had signed the original 'BU' might be safely on leave and propping up the bar in a country pub in Devon by then.
The employment schedule or section to which I was assigned was very quiet because it operated on the lines laid down by Peter Cook. It was Reg Lewis who was delegated to show me the ropes. No-one quite knew how Reg came into the Department, but a similar mystery shrouded the backgrounds of several Labour Officers. As some had a trade union background, it was generally assumed that those Labour Officers, who were not ex-Army and insisted on being called Major or Captain, were ex-Trade Union officials. One or two had slipped in sideways from Public Works or the Railways like Peter Cook and the ex-Army types did not have much regard for them either.
Reg went to the door and looked up the walkways. It was quite safe. The messengers outside each office were fast asleep. Sometimes a Labour Officer would awake from a nap himself and creep up on his sleeping messenger and roar in his ear giving the poor man a fit.
"Wake up, you lazy bastard," he would shout.
Or they did in 1955. As Independence approached in 1960 African staff began to be treated more politely, and 'wog', 'coon', 'black monkey', and other racist language went underground.
Reg returned to his desk where he had insisted that I be seated. Looking around from time to time to make sure no-one was listening, Reg gave me the key advice on how to survive at Labour Headquarters.
"Remember," he said. "You've got to keep your head down in this place. Know what I mean? Peter Cook... he's a bit fly... know what I mean? It's not just that he's one of them. Know what I mean?"
"You mean he's homosexual?"
I was prepared to defend Peter Cook's sexual preference, though I hardly knew what homosexuality was in the innocent 1950's, as I would have defended Oscar Wilde, an ex-Magdalen man whom I revered.
"It's the kids from the Alakoro Labour Exchange and the juveniles from the youth office, those trying to get Government jobs. They get sent up in two's and three's for interview by old Cookie."
"I see," I said.
This sounded all right to me.
"It's not what you think, " said Reg in a whisper. "He takes them home and puts it to them."
"Puts it to them?"
"You know. Come and have a bit of fun and I'll be your friend and look after you."
"These kids are desperate for jobs," said Reg. "I suppose they're used to it. Brought up in the jungle. Come to Lagos to go to school and live in a slum. Nobody's going to give them something for nothing..."
"And everybody knows?"
"Of course they do. Every other day there are two or three sitting under Foggon's window in the shade waiting for Cookie. You've got to watch your step here, Smithy. You don't have to do anything. If you do you'll only step on someone's toes. Just take it easy. Read the papers. Slope off for a coffee or a beer. Back for two and home for lunch and a little death..."
The 'little death' was how it felt to take a nap in the steamy heat of a Lagos afternoon. Awakening was like dragging yourself from the grave.
I felt sick with the whole situation. What had I let myself in for? It was not that Peter Cook was a homosexual. That need not have been anyone's concern, but his own and his friends. I was going to be responsible for the running of the juvenile bureau and the proper and fair handing out of jobs, and Peter Cook would be - and I was to find he was indeed - seducing and raping the boys in my charge. Edgar Parry in London knew this. Foggon the Commissioner knew this. Apparently everybody in Lagos knew. How could it be allowed? This was a question I tortured myself with. I still do.
"The trick," said Reg, "is to get rid of files. If all else fails you can lose the file or slip it into someone else's 'In' tray when he's absent or 'Not on seat' as the Nigerian clerks say."
To mark a file 'PA' for 'put away' involved risk because it might disappear for too long and if found would have your name on it. Of course one could refer files to another section.
"And if they send them to you?" I asked.
"Ah," said Reg. "Then you write on the file 'Noted' and send it back. Of course," he continued, "you can refer it up, but Cookie doesn't like that. He's likely to walk the file back and throw it on your desk. You could put up a draft reply to him or even send a typed letter for signature. He'd probably pass it on to Foggon then and he'd be unhappy as well. If letters have got to be written, be very careful and sign them for the Commissioner of Labour."
"And who types the letters?"
"Send them to the Chief Clerk. He's got two dozen typists sitting at typewriters but not a key is pressed. They have to sleep with their eyes open. It can be done," protested Reg. "Just takes a bit of practice. If they close their eyes the Chief Clerk throws things at them."
"And who keeps him awake?" I asked.
"Hatred keeps him awake. He thinks he's intellectually superior to all us morons. He's either planning a revolution or a book which will denounce us."
"You're kidding, Reg," I protested.
"I swear it's the truth," he said. "Have you met our famous author who's rolling in money? His books are translated into ten foreign languages."
"You can't miss him. He's the messenger who's awake. You'll see him scribbling in kids' exercise books. His name's Amos Tutuola."
"THE Amos Tutuola," I exclaimed.
"Oh, you've heard of him?" said Reg.
"He wrote the Palm Wine Drinkard."
"Drunkard," said Reg.
"No, drinkard. I suppose it's pidgin.
"It's amazing," said Reg. "All that money and the bugger can't spell properly. On the other hand, I can't spell either," he added. "But no one's paying me to write books. Now you'll be in charge of the Employment Exchange," said Reg. "But don't look too closely, know what I mean." Reg tapped the side of his nose with a finger. "Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, eh? See all, hear all, say nowt. Keep your nose clean and don't go looking for trouble. Know what I mean?"
I nodded in bewilderment.
"The Lagos Exchange is totally corrupt," said Reg. "But it doesn't matter as any jobs the staff don't give to their relatives, Cookie gives to his boy friends. Cookie's the most feared man in the country. And he has friends in High Places. Right at the Top. They come to his parties and his small boys dance with them.... So I'm told," added Reg hastily. "I've never actually been invited. I'm not you know... one of them. Now a bit of black velvet. That's different, eh?"
"Should I visit the Labour Exchange at Alakoro?" I asked.
"Any time," said Reg. "It's like a Turkish bazaar."
"I could 'phone the manager first?" I suggested.
"I wouldn't do that," said Reg. "He's very busy. Not at the Exchange. He's running a laundry in Lagos, so he never goes near the Exchange. He had to invest the money somewhere." Quite unnecessarily he added, "He's a close friend of Cookie..."
"What else do we do?"
"Oh, yes," said Reg. "Migrant workers. Twenty thousand Nigerians working on the plantations in Spanish Fernando Poo. We license recruiting agents who wander round the Eastern Region where there are lots of Igbo kids without work. The Spanish beat them up. Tie them to trees and wallop them with wooden paddles..."
"Can't we stop it?"
"That's not our policy," said Reg. "Cookie says they deserve all they get. Nobody made them go. So don't do anything... it will only bring Cookie down on you. He's friendly with the Spanish recruiting agency. It's very profitable. They send him cases of wine."
"But that's terrible!"
"Yes, it is," said Reg. "Tastes like bloody vinegar. We've also got workers in French territory round where Dr. Schweitzer has his hospital. He plays his organ to them and all that. The French don't beat them to death."
The handing over was supposed to take some days, but after our 'showing the ropes' chat, Reg disappeared.
As Carol and I were determined to be honest, we were very soon put to the test. Once we had a flat to turn into a home and a cook who became our friend, interpreter, protector and guide, we soon took delivery of a car. A driver had to be found and again we made a good friend when we found Joel. This expense was essential until I could pass the driving test. One of the trade testers in the Labour Department offered to obtain a licence by telephoning his chum, who was the Chief Tester. He was persuasive.
"Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," he insisted. "It's not corrupt like the bloody Nigerians. It's just a favour. You'll probably want to do me a good turn one day."
We would not have missed Joel for anything. All we had to do now was to do our sums but we found we needed much more than I was earning. How did the other expatriates manage? Now we had the car, Carol could seek a job and quickly found employment as personal secretary to the General Manager of British Petroleum (West Africa) and doubled our income.
Almost as soon as I was ensconced behind the employment desk, Foggon sent me a pile of dusty files relating to the various efforts to draft a Factories Act for Africa's largest nation. My heart sank, as I turned the pages. I was not surprised it was all a mess. It was hard to believe anyone had seriously tried to put an Act together. But that was unkind. They had tried but lacked the confidence, the nerve, the will to make it happen. No lawyer would let any of this stuff near a statute book because my predecessors with these files did not understand the necessity for legal terminology and precedents. They had been trying to write in simple English and whilst this was a noble endeavour, it was also a futile gesture doomed to failure when teams of lawyers had to give approval.
What should be done was to cut up the English Factories Acts and the Colonial Acts based on them. That was the first decision. This was to be a scissors and paste job. Secondly, the Act had to be driven on to the Statute Book without delay. It had to be presented in the proper layout, beautifully typed with schedules showing the precedents for every phrase used. Consultations would be needed with trade unions and employers' organisations, but this could be steamrollered through so long as Peter Cook did not get wind of it.
The earliest letter on the files had been collecting dust for many years. It was a letter from the Colonial Office suggesting a Factories Act was needed in Nigeria. A high official in the Secretariat had responded with "Not in my time... over my dead body," and had parcelled up the file and sent it to a small colonial possession in the Pacific by slow boat. The Governor of Fiji, or wherever it was, had been trained in the same school as the sender and he was not going to be stuck with a hot potato. He promptly returned this interesting document, having "noted the contents."
I told my messenger I needed a large supply of foolscap lined paper, paste, pins, scissors and paper clips and duly filled in a requisition on the stationery store. My messenger returned to say that the store was closed, they had none of these items, they were stocktaking anyway and Mr Cook had given orders that Mr Smith was to get nothing without Mr Cook's approval. I got in my car and went down to the Kingsway Stores and purchased everything I needed. On my return I went to see the Chief Clerk and admired his neatly spaced ranks of typists who were struggling to stay awake in a baking hot, ill-ventilated room. Could I have a typist to take on a very big job for the Commissioner?
The Chief Clerk smiled, "My typists are too busy, Mr Smith ..."
I returned his smile. I went back to the Kingsway Stores and bought both typing and carbon paper.
The Factories Act was drafted in my flat at night, typed by Carol as I was cutting, sticking and making up extra bits, and it was finished in six weeks. A beautifully typed Bill, ready for the lawyers, was presented to Foggon. He did not say "Thank you." To be fair, he appeared to be stunned into silence.
The Act went immediately on to the Nigerian Statute Book and was hailed by the leading politicians as the finest piece of legislation ever to be placed there. The Attorney General wrote to say that the draft had been passed without amendment and was the best presented Bill ever to go through his chambers. Foggon had tried to interest a former Factories Inspector in checking through my Bill. The three of us sat down and began to turn the pages. Foggon was really happy and handled the pages of the Bill as if it was treasure beyond reckoning. Our Factories Inspector was uneasy and kept glancing at his watch.
After a few minutes he stood up and said, "I must be off."
"We've only just started," protested Foggon.
"I can't help that," announced our old coaster grandly. "Some other time perhaps. I've got a cricket committee meeting. It's very important. I mustn't be late."
The day my Factories Bill became the Nigerian Factories Act, Foggon telephoned to say he was taking our cricketing old coaster with him to the House of Representatives to see the Bill become law. They would sit in the Chamber behind the Speaker's chair - a rare honour - because the Bill was meeting with tremendous approval from all sides.
"That's very nice," I said.
Foggon paused. "Of course you could come too if you wanted, but I expect you're very busy..."
"That's right," I assured him. "I'm very busy. Thanks anyway."
Whilst producing what might be a magnificent piece of health and safety legislation which could possibly help cement the emergent Nigerian nation together and give it the trappings of a civilised country, I was also aware that I was producing what might be merely a piece of window dressing without real significance for Nigeria's eager millions. I was certainly producing a stepping stone to help George Foggon climb higher and higher up the civil service tree, but George's ambitions lost me no sleep. I had no doubt that when he had finished with me I would be cast aside and perhaps even destroyed.
Our small flat in Fowler Road was perfect. It consisted of a sitting room with ceiling fan, spacious bedroom, a dressing room which became Helen's room, a modern bathroom with a hot water geyser and a simple kitchen with an electric cooker and refrigerator. It was all we needed. Now that Carol was working, we employed a nanny to take care of Helen while we were at work. Comfort was an Igbo girl who told us she was sixteen. When she felt she could trust us, she later owned up to being only fourteen. We employed James as cook, the driver Joel, Comfort the nanny and had a one sixth interest in the gardener who looked after the compound.
The furniture provided by the Public Works Department was simple but adequate and the flat had wooden parquet flooring. Mosquito nets were provided for our very large bed and Helen's cot. The king-size bed was an excellent idea because, with the net down, it became a secure insect-free zone and, when stocked up with books, games, toys, food and drink, it was turned into a small, quiet, comfortable and peaceful kingdom. The PWD. chairs were also built for king-size colonial administrators, but once the dirty brown cushions were covered in brightly-coloured rep material, and cheerful curtains hung at the windows, we had a home which gave us great joy and a strong feeling of security.
Yet we were acutely aware of how privileged we were to live so well, while the many thousands of people in Lagos, who were paying for Ikoyi, our flat and our salaries out of their miserable wages, were living in mud huts for the most part, without running water and proper sanitation. When the rains came they would be flooded. In no way would we minimise the discomfort or suffering of people living in such difficult circumstances. Yet in spite of these privations, the people from these shacks were all clean and neatly dressed. Their children too, were clearly well taken care of and loved. When we think of the nauseating racism which permeates white societies and compare it with the tolerance, kindness, good manners and hospitality which we received without exception during our five years in Nigeria, we feel ashamed of our compatriots. The Nigerian people may have been poor in those years, yet they had qualities any civilised society could envy. We Europeans would drive out from Ikoyi in our posh cars, grim faced and tense, and see those proud erect people full of gaiety and laughter. I often felt that we had forgotten how to live naturally but they still had that secret.
Once we had equipped our flat with rugs and ornaments and a small radio and record player, we began to get to know our neighbours, particularly those with children. We also tried to invite Nigerians to come to the flat for a cup of tea or a meal, but in 1955 this was not as easy as at first we thought. What we had not thought through was that our intended guests would wish to return hospitality, and if they were living in very poor conditions, might feel embarrassed. Even the few Nigerians in European quarters at that time were not always easy to get to know outside the office. They might not turn up at all or be late and ill at ease. Having said that, one would then encounter Nigerians who were much more urbane and sophisticated than we were, who were totally at ease in any situation. The general level of intelligence was extremely high in so many Nigerians we met and, though often they took pains to disguise the fact, all too often one found Nigerians in relatively humble jobs who were head and shoulders in education and intelligence above the European masters whom they served.
Although it was obvious to me that Independence could not be long delayed, this was not accepted by all English administrators in 1955, and some still talked as if it would never happen. In spite of the dubious qualities of a number of its members, the Labour Department did seem to have been successful in attracting into its lower ranks extremely talented Nigerians from the South of the country. Igbos from the Eastern Region tended to predominate and some generalisations do seem tenable. The Igbos were highly intelligent, full of ambition and drive. They were restless but hardworking and confident. The Yorubas from the Western Region were rather more reserved and difficult to get to know. What sometimes might have been thought to be sullenness in the younger ones, was very likely just reserve and shyness. It came from no feeling of inferiority. On the contrary, I often felt the Yorubas patronised the poor British with their inferior culture.
The Yoruba or Lagosian in a secure senior Government position had the character and demeanour of a very wise judge or professor. These were people of the very highest character, often self educated to the highest possible level, yet modest and polite as it was no doubt politic to be in the old colonial Nigeria. Men of the character of H.O. Davies, the Lagos barrister whose acquaintance I had the honour to make, were extremely impressive by any standards. These men, and I think Awolowo must be the most obvious example, would have been exceptional leaders of men in any Western state.
It was fashionable for some expatriates in those days to taunt the Nigerian elite with being too clever by half. This was the reaction of people who knew themselves to be inferior or inadequate. Often dogged by injustice, poverty and by lack of opportunity, considerable numbers of Nigerians - often aided by dedicated Christian missionaries - had gained an education and become leaders of considerable stature. And if one thought Nigerian men were often brilliant, one only had to meet some Nigerian women to be stunned by their high intelligence, perception and wit. It would not surprise me if West Africans proved to be of a higher intelligence than many people in Western Europe.
It became my rule to recommend almost every Nigerian who came my way for rapid promotion. This fitted in well with the obvious need for Nigerians to be found to fill senior posts, but again, although this was acceptable by 1960, it was by no means tolerable to many Europeans only five years earlier. It was suggested once in my hearing that the reason for the drastic shortage of mosquito men in Lagos (our office floor and the underside of the desks were sprayed with DDT daily) was that every mosquito man who ventured into Mr Smith's office came out a Labour Officer. Would that this had been possible! But the joke had some truth in it. And to be fair to my superiors, I had little difficulty in pushing Nigerians up the ladder. My judgements in that area appeared to be generally accepted.
Once the Factories Act was out of the way I was able to survey the awful state that the Lagos labour exchange in particular was in and to confirm that ghastly atrocities were taking place in Fernando Poo. At that time I think I genuinely believed that George Foggon would want to improve matters. It made good sense to pretend that he was going to do so anyway and act as if everything was going to work on a new level. I insinuated my progressive reformist prejudices to my staff, giving George full marks for his zeal and courage, although I was beginning to suspect from George's reaction that perhaps he lacked the nerve and resolution to see the job through. I was never to see again the cheerful self-confidence and show of character he displayed when we had first met. I suppose I also felt, having given him the Factories Act that he had wanted so much, it would not put him out to back me in cleaning up the employment schedule. In truth, George was timid, cautious, even I think frightened. Perhaps he was finding that Peter Cook had powerful allies. But I still believed Peter Cook's days were numbered. Foggon had assured me of that. In the meantime George was humouring him and I had to do the same.
Those first few weeks in Lagos were exciting. The heat was intolerable and we soon became accustomed to the backs of shirts and dresses running with sweat. The damp sticky climate could easily produce prickly heat, a kind of sweat rash, but we could bathe in the mornings, when we returned from the office and once or twice in the evening. In the late afternoon we would walk out with Helen in her push chair around Ikoyi or wander in the compound. When Helen had been put to bed we would play the handful of classical records we had purchased at the Kingsway Stores. After dinner we would be working on the Factories Act or reading through piles of old files dealing with the employment exchanges or Fernando Poo. When we relaxed in our large PWD. easy chairs a sweat stain would soon appear on the back of the cushions and we would begin to slap and scratch our ankles as the sandflies began to bite. We would watch the gecko lizards creeping along the walls, stalking flying insects, and listen to the cacophony of sound produced by the wildlife in the compound.
As the weeks passed, Carol would become listless in the evenings and homesick. Carol hated to be inactive and was happiest during the day because she had her interesting and fulfilling job at British Petroleum. If the truth were known, Carol would have much preferred to do her own cooking and housework and felt restless when watching servants look after us. We detected the same unease in other expatriate wives and wondered that those without jobs to go to did not die of boredom.
Apart from these occasional depressions and a few bouts of 24-hour fever which I had and which alarmed me, during those early days we had few health problems. We took our anti-malarial drugs each day and were so happy to be in our first real home together with Helen that even the clouds blowing up around my work at the Labour Department did nothing to affect our cheerful optimism.
We rarely stayed up late and made a point of retiring earlier when Peter Cook began to call in at a late hour and uninvited. He would be carrying a whiskey bottle and a glass and would sit by the door under the garden window, always in the same seat. We would try to engage him in conversation by asking him questions about Nigeria. There were a number of topics we would have been happy to talk about to do with Nigerian history such as slavery and the different tribal customs, and for a few minutes Peter might oblige us but then he would launch into a long monologue, during which both Carol and I would begin to feel it was very difficult to stay awake. His voice would drone on and on and it was tempting just to switch off as he needed no assistance to keep going. Occasionally he would talk with considerable feeling and sometimes bitterness about his own life and he withheld very little. Then he would be talking about young know-alls who came out to Nigeria and tried to tell old hands like himself how to do their jobs. He had seen them all come and he had seen them all go. Very nasty things had happened to some of those people who had crossed him. He had warned them but they would not listen. Did I not think it stupid not to take advice from people who were experienced in the ways of the Africans?
"People like you, Sean," he would say. "Come out here, with your wishy-washy preconceptions and liberal values. You feel sorry for the Africans. You think they're poor and hungry. They're not poor and hungry. They're well fed and happy."
"And the infant mortality rate is fifty percent, Peter," Carol would interject icily from the depths of a large chair where I had assumed she had fallen asleep.
"There you go, Carol. You think they suffer as you would suffer. They're used to it. And it keeps the population down. It's a kind of population control or family planning."
I would signal to Carol not to get heated as it would be pointless. Carol would be enraged and I would suggest maybe she was tired and ought to turn in. I would stand up myself and begin to close windows and beat out the cushions, but Peter was expert at not taking a hint. Soon I would be sitting close to his chair while he droned on. I had to get close to him as his voice would sink lower and become more hypnotic. Occasionally I would snap awake from a doze and find he had gone. The sweat stain on a chair back and the ring where his drink had stood were the only signs that he had called.
Our afternoons and early evenings would sometimes be enlivened by a Romeo and Juliet scene with Peter Cook's balcony as the setting and Peter and his small boy/steward cum lover as the two players.
"Who's making all that row in the compound?" we would ask James, our cook.
"It's Mr Cook's boy, sir," he would answer with a grin. "He's sulking behind a tree. He says he doesn't love Mr Cook any more..."
The small boy, a youth of fifteen or so, was standing with his back to Peter Cook who was pleading for forgiveness from his upstairs balcony.
"I won't do it again, I promise. I'll be good. Oh, come on. You can't stand out there all night. We'll have a treat. We'll go and see a film..."
The small boy would sooner or later begin to turn, though determined not to give in easily, and gradually would allow himself to be coaxed indoors. In time one would begin to accept this type of behaviour as normal and take no notice. The heat in Lagos limited one's interest in extraneous activity. We would get fresh cold drinks, turn up the fan and listen to Mozart.
I was appalled and shocked when I visited the Lagos Employment Exchange. It was situated on the waterfront at Alakoro near the Carter Bridge. One approached the Exchange passing small warehouses and piles of produce waiting to be loaded on lighters which would carry the goods to ships at anchor in the port. The Exchange was housed in a substantial building which had once served as the main trading post of a German firm which had been seized by the British Government as alien property during the Second World War. Large gates opened into a spacious compound from which a number of entrances led into the Exchange itself.
The compound was packed with people, of whom only a minority appeared to be job seekers. Traders were doing brisk business; groups of friends were deep in discussion; and the Exchange compound was more like a market or bazaar than a Government office. People were asleep or drunk not only in the compound. Inside the offices it was even worse. It was impossible to distinguish between the staff and the clients because the crowds were on both sides of the counter. Job seekers or staff were fast asleep stretched out on the counters, behind the counters and under the counters. Fierce haggling and bargaining were taking place and no one appeared either to be in charge or to consider anything was at all unusual. I was angry, bemused and amused at what I saw. I had to take another new Labour Officer to see the chaos because I was not sure I could believe my eyes.
On my return to Central Office from visiting the Exchange, Peter Cook sent for me. My visit had not gone unnoticed.
"So you've been to Alakoro. Enjoy your visit?"
"I thought it was a shambles, Peter."
"It's not that bad really. It just appears untidy because it's relaxed and informal."
"People were asleep on top of the counters!"
"It's very hot down there. The staff probably overwork..."
I burst out laughing. "You're not serious, Peter?"
"Indeed I am. And I must remind you that you have no operational control over the Exchange. Your job is employment policy. The Exchange comes under the Labour Officer, Lagos, and he reports to me."
"Actually, Peter, the Commissioner asked me to visit the Exchange. He has asked me to take a personal interest in its proper running."
Peter launched into a tirade of abuse. I backed out of his office and returned to my papers.
After some consideration I proposed to the Commissioner that all applicants be removed from inside the Exchange and brought back into the Exchange by the entrances at the other side of the building. Each entrance would deal with a different category of applicant. For example, new applicants would be separated from those renewing their application. Peter Cook surprised me by seeming to accept that this might be a good idea. He suggested I take one of his chums to the Exchange to explain my plan. We pushed our way through the crowds while I explained my scheme. The large gates would have to be closed.
"OK. Shove them all out and close the gates."
"Hold on," I said. "I wasn't planning to do it now. We could have trouble."
"If you want them out, get them out," said my companion.
He began to wave his arms at the crowd and push them back towards the gates. I thought this was crazy but I had to help him. As the crowd was pushed back into the gate entrance they began to shout and scream and refuse to move. I tried to smile and be persuasive but a hard knot of shouting men were holding their ground. I turned to consult my colleague but he was nowhere to be seen. I was alone, holding back a threatening mob who were beginning to wave their fists. I ordered a messenger who was trying to hide behind a pillar to close the gates, leaving those who would not move inside the compound. I helped the messenger close the gates against the crowd who went quietly, but once the gates were closed they tried to force them open once more.
I turned to those still in the yard and invited them to come into the Exchange where I would see that they got immediate attention. They began to move into the Exchange and the yard behind me was cleared of people. Now it was over I was frightened. I turned as a massive roar came from the crowd outside the gate. But they were not outside. The messenger had opened the gates and a solid mob of the unemployed were charging towards me. Things looked very bad. I could not have got into the offices if I had tried. I stood my ground and suddenly I roared with laughter. They had beaten me. I had been set up. My laughter changed the mob into a happy crowd of Lagosians who had scored against the stupid British. The crowd that hit me were not enemies but very ordinary people. Instead of being trampled underfoot, I was lifted high and was carried that way at speed until I hit the office wall with this crowd of joyful whooping people. I sought the hand of one of the leaders of the crowd and held his arm aloft as a referee does for the victor in the boxing ring.
"The winner!" I shouted to the cheers of the crowd.
People slapped me on the back and roared with laughter. I laughed with them. Looking up I saw my erstwhile colleague looking down from the safety of an upstairs balcony.
"Where the hell were you?" I demanded angrily.
"I went for a pee, old man. Had a bit of bother, did you?"
"I could have been killed down there," I said angrily.
"Then don't go looking for trouble," he snapped and turned on his heel.
I questioned the messenger as to why he had opened the compound gates and admitted the crowd.
"The white master say, 'Open the gates.' Please master he tellum, go open gate."
Peter Cook was highly amused. "I hear you had a bit of bother at the Exchange, Sean. Don't say I didn't warn you!"
The next morning I was at the Exchange very early and personally padlocked the gates. I took over the staff as they arrived and made temporary signs for the new entrances. I personally supervised the new arrangements. The Exchange was orderly, business-like and looked like a Labour Exchange. The crowd accepted the new scheme enthusiastically, and even the staff seemed relieved. I knew I had achieved very little so far, but it was a start.
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The Spanish Colony of Fernando Poo had a well documented history of cruelty to its labour force years before Nigerians from the Eastern Region began to work there under a Treaty between the Spanish and British Governments. The export of almost slave labour from Liberia had been investigated and banned by the International Labour Organisation. The Spanish in desperation turned to the British Government for assistance and found HM. Government very co-operative. The British Vice Consul in Santa Isabel was charged with looking after the twenty thousand Nigerian contract workers in Spanish Guinea and was designated as a Vice Consul and Labour Officer. The Colonial Government in Lagos had given overall control to the Administration in the Secretariat, but leading politicians had protested that the Administration was too pro-Spanish. They demanded that the contract workers be looked after by the Department of Labour.
The Labour Department followed the dictates of Peter Cook and the Administration nevertheless. The line from the Foreign Office in London was to go easy on the Spanish. There was evidently a pro-Franco clique dictating policy in the Foreign Office irrespective of the wishes of the electorate and the elected Government. One of the Vice Consuls took a relaxed attitude to Spanish atrocities and enjoyed holidays in Spain, paid for by the Spanish authorities in Fernando Poo.
My first discovery was that the treaty workers were dealt with under the Spanish Labour Code and that neither the Vice Consul nor the Labour Department had an English translation. I decided to arrange for a translation to be made. In many respects my investigations revealed a deplorable situation. No one had followed up except in a most perfunctory way the ill treatment of workers which sometimes ended in death. The Spanish had no consideration for the lives of Africans, and the British in Lagos were turning a blind eye. I began to sort out the files and my attention began to focus on one file which listed many of the atrocities perpetrated by the Spanish plantation overseers against Nigerian workers. I began to press for action and files began to pass up to George Foggon. However, George made no response to my endeavours. If pressed, he would be non-committal and say, "Leave it to me."
Some files he upgraded to 'Secret' and others disappeared. It was unclear whether this was because some of the files had been routed through Peter Cook.
It was quite impossible to satisfy both George Foggon and Peter Cook although I tried. I was always polite to Peter and tried to humour him. Unfortunately the only things he wanted were that I should do nothing and actually refuse to carry out George Foggon's orders. The extent to which I tried is shown by the relationship which we developed. We were on first name terms, something I was never allowed to be with George. Peter continued to 'drop in' both at my office and at my home. An observer might have thought we were friends. Yet the Labour Department and soon wider Government circles knew that a new raw Labour Officer was standing up to Peter Cook. Amongst the older hands this caused some amusement. They thought I was living dangerously but admired my nerve. The up and coming Africans in the Department had to live with Peter Cook and I understood perfectly why they kept their distance from me. At the same time I clearly had the confidence of the Commissioner as I was to all intents and purposes his right hand man and friend - his only friend it was often said. So there was some covert contact and support from these African colleagues.
The clerical staff, because they read all the files, followed our battles with great interest. It was probably from the Africans in the Department that I first heard mention of Francis Nwokedi. He was regarded as the most senior Igbo in the Department and he was reputed to have played a major role in dampening down the riots which followed a shooting incident at Enugu Colliery some years earlier when a large number of Nigerian miners had been killed by the police.
When Francis Nwokedi bowled into my office one morning I was astonished. His behaviour was so unlike that of any other African in the Department. He was not quiet, modest or retiring. He did not keep his eyes down. On the contrary he looked you firmly in the eyes and smiled with such warmth that your first thought was that you had made a friend for life. Francis was good looking, seemed to be incredibly fit and strong, and moved like an athlete. Women said he moved like a panther. He exuded personality and charm and supreme self confidence. He simply did not belong in the tacky old Labour Department, and with his restless energy he always seemed to be coming or going. He bowled over men and had an even more devastating effect on women. My wife remarked that when Francis spoke to her, she was not only the only woman in the room (even if the room were full of women) but the most important. He would take a woman's arm and walk with her and you would see the effect of that magnetic personality. He was seductive with everybody and could even charm Peter Cook.
When I first met Francis we were both in a relatively low position in the hierarchy, though I think he had by then joined the senior service. In a few years he would be head of the Ministry but even in those early days he dominated the Department and often acted as if he were already in charge. Even more remarkably everyone deferred to him, even Cook and Foggon.
"Sean," he announced to me after releasing my hand from a grip of steel. "You must be dying of intellectual starvation in this hole. Why don't we drive down to Ibadan to the University Library and get our hands on some books?"
"I'll have to ask Foggon," I protested.
"I'll see to George," said Francis. "I'll pick you up in the morning."
And pick me up he did. I was expecting to go in my car, but Francis arrived in the Department's new Chevrolet driven by a chauffeur. I was greeted like an old friend and my clerks stood back stunned as Francis whisked me away from the god-awful Labour Department as if on a magic carpet to the architects' dream campus that was the new University College at Ibadan.
Francis meant to impress. I was not stupid and I guessed I was being given the treatment for a reason. He made it quite clear that he was one hundred per cent behind Foggon in his efforts to clean up the Department and I had the impression he would be obliged if I would pass the message on. Although we spent a day together and I learned a great deal, there was much I did not know and I suspected Francis would make sure I never did. He appeared extremely open and disarming in revealing details of his upbringing and education and the fact that the tribal elders had given him a child wife when he was only a boy. In recent years he had also married, as I was later to discover, a sophisticated, very well educated, and beautiful lady from Sierra Leone.
I do not think I said much on that trip to Ibadan. Francis just held me entranced with his stories. One nugget of information did stick in my memory. We had lapsed into silence as if following a rich meal when he announced quietly, "I really want to go into politics. Politics fascinates me."
I tried to follow up this theme but Francis adroitly changed the subject. In truth, Francis was already in politics and politicking was in his life's blood. The friendliness was calculated and yet... One really hoped that Francis was a friend and that a bond had been forged. He was my friend so far as I was concerned for the next five years until I finally despaired of him.
As he sometimes remarked, "But Sean, you are so incredibly young!"
I knew he meant I was innocent and naïve. Not worldly and looking to my career and advancement. On that trip I expressed, I suppose, with all my youthful idealism (which made him roar with good natured laughter) my interest in Nigeria and how thrilled I was to be at hand when this African giant would be independent and begin to figure on the world stage. If Francis knew what I meant, he certainly did not agree.
"This place, these people, Sean!" he would explode.
After that trip I would be for ever thinking that, although Nigeria existed for me, it did not exist in the same way for Francis. He knew he was working for something called the Nigerian Government. No one knew that better, and how to use and exploit its civil service machine. He simply did not believe in Nigeria and as for loving it, he would have collapsed laughing. But at that time I could not accept my suspicion as having any basis in fact. I was too impressed by his personality and wit and intelligence. Like many other recipients of his attention, I left Francis feeling he had answered all my questions sincerely, but when I tried to pin down what he had told me I still knew very little.
There was always something tragic or comic about that winding road from Lagos to Ibadan, which was for most Europeans the first introduction to the African bush or jungle. Trucks called mammy wagons overloaded with produce and passengers would hurtle along, often on the wrong side of the road. Bends were taken at the highest possible speed, and the drivers seemed exhilarated as if riding a Big Dipper in an amusement park. The road was littered with the remains of cars and mammy wagons which had expired en route. As for the jungle, it just looked impenetrable and forbidding. Most of it was really cocoa farms, as the architects found when they began to survey the site of the University. They had been informed that they were building on virgin land owned by nobody, but a posse of Nigerian lawyers representing Yoruba cocoa farmers soon disabused them of that quaint notion.
As if to underline the fact that surprise and paradox play a major role in the Nigerian scene, we stopped the Chevrolet on a deserted piece of road and got out to stretch our legs and to pee into the bush on the edge of the road. No sooner had we opened our fly buttons and sent two streams of urine arching into the jungle when, as if from nowhere, a large European-style coach appeared crowded with European nuns in white tropical habits. The nuns stared with considerable interest at this strange scene of the black man and the white man side by side peeing into the bush. The coach actually seemed to slow down as it passed and I could see the Nigerian driver grinning delightedly.
We returned to Lagos with a box of books destined for Enugu where Francis intended to start a library in the Department's regional office. I doubt approval was sought for this and no other regional office was allowed a library, but this was how Francis did things. Perhaps he already knew that with the rare honour of an OBE. for his role in the Enugu shootings and the commendation for his sterling work, he was the golden boy of all the African civil servants in the eyes of the British administration.
But there was to be a twist in the tail of our trip to Ibadan. Whilst still basking in the glory of Francis's attention, a chit dropped on my desk. I was to sign a requisition for a departmental truck to go to Enugu from Lagos, a distance of some five hundred miles, with a load of the books we had bought at Ibadan. Fearful that I was being set up by Peter Cook, I explained to the Department's African administrative assistant that the books in question were some ten or twelve volumes and certainly did not need to be conveyed in a large truck. The Nigerian administrator's face showed no expression at all while I explained this to him.
"It's OK., Mr Smith," he said. "No trouble, no palaver, just sign it."
"What will Mr Cook say?" I asked.
"Mr Cook is a close friend of Zik. It's OK."
"What has Zik got to do with this?" I demanded.
Dr Azikiwe was the leading Igbo nationalist and Nigerian politician. He was a living legend for many millions of Africans. The black administrator shook his head and sighed. He obviously thought I was very backward.
"Mr Smith," he said patiently. "Dr Zik has been abroad. Now he has returned. His loads are here in Lagos. How are they going to get to Enugu without the Department's truck taking them? No voucher, no truck; no truck, no loads; and Dr Zik is sitting in Enugu while his hairbrush and his toothbrush and his..."
"OK., Mr Fuwa," I said. "Hold it. I'm beginning to get the idea. I just thought we were moving books for Mr Nwokedi to Enugu..."
"Well, that too, Mr Smith," said Mr Fuwa with that happy grin which so many Nigerians reserved for when they pulled a fast one on an expatriate. "By the way, Mr Smith, did you enjoy your day in Ibadan?"
"Very much," I said.
"Don't forget to sign the voucher, Mr Smith," said Mr Fuwa. "Mr Nwokedi said you would not mind..."
I signed the voucher and stumbled back to my desk feeling that somehow I had been taken, but I was not sure how.
It was some weeks later that Francis flew into Lagos again and perched on my desk. One could have been mistaken for thinking he had flown in just to see me.
"Has it occurred to you, Sean," he asked as we sipped a cup of tea, "that only the expatriates get any refreshments?"
Well certainly Francis got refreshments but I skipped in my mind whether Francis saw himself as a mere expatriate.
"Don't you think there should be a departmental canteen for all the African staff? That filing room is far too large. We could use half of it for a canteen. What do you say?"
"That's a good idea, Francis," I said, but Francis was already half out of the door, leaving his half-empty cup on my blotter.
"I'll put your proposal to George, Sean," he said with a grin. "I'm sure he'll approve it."
Years later when I saw Sergeant Bilko on TV. I would wonder why Francis Nwokedi kept coming into my mind.
"George wants you, Sean," said his English secretary. "Francis Nwokedi's busy spinning him like a top..."
"Ah Smith," said Foggon. "This plan of yours for a canteen..."
"What George has suggested, Sean," said Francis, "is that we all contribute to setting up the canteen."
Francis was standing behind Foggon and leaning over him like a teacher with a pupil.
"I'll make the first donation," said Foggon, "and then you can take it round the senior staff."
I noticed that Francis had already thoughtfully prepared a subscription list and was putting a pen in Foggon's hand.
"Here you are, Smith," said Foggon. George had promised to pay one pound.
"I think a fiver would be more appropriate, George, don't you?" said Francis, and he scratched out the pound and put in '£5' by George's signature.
Then on the second line he added '£5' for himself. Foggon was totally nonplussed. Francis had him trussed up like a chicken.
"Take it to your friend Peter next door now, Sean," laughed Nwokedi as I backed out of the Commissioner's room. "Peter will want to make a handsome contribution, I know," he said loudly, knowing Peter Cook would hear every word through the flimsy partition wall.
"I heard..." said Peter Cook as I started to explain. He signed up for five pounds too.
In due course the running of the canteen was added to my schedule of duties, but when some Nigerians would say how good it was that I had the interests of the African civil servants at heart and had struggled to open this magnificent welfare facility for them, I would say, "Well, what really happened was..." and then give up. And anyway surely no one believed that Peter Cook would have let me get away with anything as sensible and useful as that.
The duty officer at the Secretariat needed to contact one of the top brass. It was mid afternoon and an urgent cable had arrived from Whitehall. Most expatriates rested under the mosquito net during those very hot hours in Lagos. Some slept although old hands advised against it. One felt so awful on waking up. The duty officer did not want to disturb his boss if he were sleeping. On the other hand the old man was a stickler for being given messages without delay. He decided to telephone his home and ask the steward if his master was sleeping.
The Nigerian steward replied that he could not disturb master as he was in his bedroom.
"Quite," said the duty officer, "but he may be reading. Just peep round the door and then tell me exactly what master is doing."
The steward returned to the telephone and said, "Master is lying on his back on his bed. Madam is on top of him moving up and down..."
The duty officer wondered which creek he would be sent up.
One very hot morning at the office I was working through stacks of files at my desk. The overhead fan was screeching, sweat was running down my back and I was trying to stay awake, for after several hours of reading dusty files, the urge to give way to sleep could become irresistible. To rub one's eyes and rest them for a few moments was dangerous because one would suddenly come to with a jolt and find one had fallen asleep. I looked up from my files to see Peter Cook leaning over my desk. Peter was in a genial mood for he was smiling and revealing his very bad teeth. When Peter was happy he wore his smile all the time, not just when he was with somebody. He would be smiling, sitting quietly at his desk or walking down the concrete walkways to my office. He had decided to bring his smile and whatever idea had prompted the good mood to my attention. Peter was wearing his linen slacks, short sleeved shirt and Scottish tartan tie. It was not possible to see his eyes because he was wearing black sun glasses.
"I've brought you something from George," said Peter.
He was carrying a file. I tried to read the title on the file, but Peter turned the front of the file to his chest.
"What file is it, Peter?" I asked.
"Never mind that, Sean," said Peter. "I just want you to tear it up or lose it."
"Please sit down, Peter," I said. I had stood up when I noticed his presence.
"No, you sit down, Sean," he ordered. "I'm all right standing. I need to exercise my legs."
I felt uncomfortable sitting back in my chair with Peter looking down on me through his dark glasses, and that was probably what Peter intended.
"It's just a bit of George's rubbish, Sean," said Peter. "When is he going to learn that this is Africa and not some Labour Exchange in Pinner?" I waited while Peter's voice droned on. I had no choice. "Take Fernando Poo," said Peter. "Nobody asked those lazy bastards to go there. They think it's a holiday camp and the Spanish have to apply a little discipline to get them to work properly."
"Peter!" I protested. "They beat them!"
"Of course they beat them, Sean. Naturally when you read those petitions on the files you find it upsetting, but that's because you're new here. This is Africa and if you start shouting and protesting at every bit of injustice, you might as well go and shoot yourself for all the good it will do."
Peter could continue in this vein for half an hour without pausing for breath. I would make an effort to resist the exercise in brain-washing for that is what it was. One would pray that he would stop or go away and I could see why he so often got his way. People would agree to his terms, anything, to get him to stop talking. Peter's ideas were inhuman, intolerable and unforgivable. I did not want to hit him - one had to control violence in oneself - but simply to push him out of the office like the sack of rubbish he was. Peter Cook was bent, twisted and corrupt, and the pity I felt for this human wreckage of what must once have been a live, joyous, human creature was tempered by the knowledge of the vile abuses he was perpetrating on the African people who were paying his salary.
I suddenly jumped to attention. Peter had thrown the file on the blotter in front of me. It was the file on which I had asked the Commissioner's approval to pay for a translation of the Spanish Labour Code.
"In your ignorance, Sean," said Peter, "you asked for Foggon's approval to translate the Spanish Labour Code. Now why do you want to interfere with the Spanish way of doing things? They don't interfere with us, do they?"
"It happens to be our duty to protect twenty thousand Nigerian plantation workers, Peter," I protested. "Their safety, health and welfare..."
"And I'm telling you, Sean, to forget it," said Peter. "That's an order. Tear up the file, burn it, lose it, wipe your arse on it!"
I opened the file. On the minute page was Foggon's approval of my request to obtain a translation of the Spanish Labour Code.
"You're not giving me an order, Peter," I said quietly.
"But that's just what I am doing, Sean," said Peter coldly. He was no longer smiling. "Can you not hear what I am saying? I am ordering you to lose that file!"
"You are not ordering me, Peter," I repeated. "With respect, you are countermanding the orders of the Commissioner of Labour."
"Now that's where you're wrong, Sean," said Peter. "Foggon isn't going to see the file again because you are going to lose it!"
"No, Peter," I said. "I'm not going to lose any files. If you want to countermand Foggon's written orders, then you must put your instructions in writing on the file."
Peter's face became contorted with rage. He became flushed and he began to spit saliva with his stabbing commands.
"You will do what I tell you, Sean, or pay the price! No one crosses me and gets away with it!" Just as suddenly he forced a smile and tried to cajole me. "Don't you see, Sean, I'm your friend? There you are with your lovely wife and beautiful daughter just starting out on your career. An Oxford degree too! You've got the whole world ahead of you. I can open doors for you, Sean!"
"Peter," I said. "Let's put aside the Spanish Labour Code. It could be 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' for all I care. If Foggon orders it, I will get it. If you order it, I will get it. But if you countermand Foggon's orders, then I want that in writing on the file. I will do anything you ask, Peter, if it is a proper order and legal."
There followed another hour of bluster, threats, promises, pleading, bribes and long passages I could not decipher and had little desire so to do. Around Peter's mouth a white deposit began to form.
"So be a good fellow, Sean. Tear up the file. I can make life very good for you here in Lagos."
"No, Peter," I said firmly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."
Peter stormed out of my office shouting threats. He continued shouting as he went up the walkway, no doubt disturbing the messengers' sleep, and perhaps stimulating another fantastic incident in Amos Tutuola's next best seller, for as I watched Peter Cook's form retreating to his office with his fists clenched and raised as if to strike, I noticed Amos sitting on a soapbox and scribbling away in a school exercise book.
Peter did not give up so easily. Tomorrow was another day and once again the performance would be repeated on some other file and again and again. I tried to protest to George Foggon, but he cut me short. He did not want to know.
One day I surprised Peter. I agreed to his demand. He was delighted. Grinning broadly he left my office, promising me a host of good things. Would I now get paper clips? Or my typing done without a struggle? And would Peter stop plotting against me and trying to make my life as uncomfortable as possible? It would be a nonsense to list the petty tricks he would play. If Cook had a hand in any kind of function my name would be accidentally omitted. If Foggon asked him to pass on a message, I would not get it. I hardly noticed most of this and simply got on with my work. I reached for the file Cook had thrown on my desk and returned it to him with a request.
'Will you please confirm your verbal instructions of today when you ordered me to ignore the orders of the Commissioner of Labour of yesterday's date and to lose the file?'
That file disappeared and was not seen again, but it had served its purpose and Peter's visits to my office ceased. But the war hotted up. I gathered from various sources that for Peter Cook I was Public Enemy Number One. If we passed, he would not return my greetings, but just as suddenly one day his mood had changed and he reappeared to say how silly it was that we should quarrel when all he wanted was to be friends. As a peace offering he had brought a copy of the Department's own Labour Code in mint condition. Copies of the Code were hard to come by and those to be had were often unrevised or badly worn. This was a freshly printed version and something of a rarity. I thanked Peter profusely and was delighted at his change of heart. But I was also a realist and very wary.
Hating myself for my base suspicions, I began to check out the gift copy against a tattered and torn copy I had in my desk drawer. In a number of vital sections the regulations in the gift Code had been altered. Anyone using the gift Code as a guide to the law would have become a laughing stock. Yet here it was all in print. Only someone in the Government printing office, taking a great deal of trouble, could have produced this forgery, for that is what it was. And did not Peter have a close friend in the Government printing office?
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One day George Foggon confided in me that reinforcements were due to join the Department. A new Labour Officer, formerly with the British T.U.C. was to arrive.
"You'll have someone to talk to," said George cheerfully.
He had also enlisted, with the high rank of Assistant Commissioner, an old chum of his, a retired Ministry of Labour official who had worked with George in the Control Commission in Germany.
Victor Beck, the ex-TUC researcher, was a quiet, bespectacled, scholarly bachelor who had made his way from the Dunlop Rubber Company to the London School of Economics. His colleagues at the TUC sensed betrayal in his leaving to work for the Colonial Office, but I assured Vic he would have many opportunities to carry out liberal progressive measures. I hoped to enlist him in my battle to clean up the Labour Department. Carol and I befriended Vic and placed our trust in him. As he was very cautious and reserved, we did our best to entertain him and told him everything we had learned of the personalities and set-up in the Labour Department. Under pressure Vic would betray us, but that was in the future. And as the months went by, we learned to trust hardly anybody in the Department, so Vic's eventual betrayal caused us little surprise. Perhaps too, Vic resented or felt the lack of the family life which was the source of our strength. And I was continually refusing bribes and favours and promises of promotion with glee. Perhaps this riled Vic.
Jim Gabbutt's appointment quite rightly angered all the existing senior staff, nearly all of whom would leave Nigeria at or before Independence on the generous terms negotiated by the British Government. These lump sum payments, known as 'lumpers', and lifelong pensions were to be paid for by the Nigerian people. If some of the old hands could have got promotion to the grade Jim Gabbutt entered on, their pensions would have been larger. Jim Gabbutt was a genial and lively Yorkshireman who was extremely happy to escape from retirement to have some fun in Nigeria.
He bowled into my office one morning with the announcement, "Here's the third musketeer! So there's just the three of us - you, George and me against this lot, eh Sean? I can't wait to get my hands on these black girls. What are they like? It reminds me of when I was in Germany. Cunt for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What you could get for a tin of corned beef was unbelievable. George and me shipped all the refugees out. We had all these people who could not speak English. We hit on this idea of putting them on trains in groups. We used the line and page number system we had in the employment exchanges back home. It was a bit like 'Casablanca'...."
"With you playing Humphrey Bogart?" I queried.
"No. I was the police chief who got the girls!"
Jim was put in charge of the Western Region of Nigeria, and I gave him what help I could. When he was in Lagos he would camp out in my office, and together with other transients he would soon be rattling off stories of various debaucheries. The Smiths would later visit Jim in Ibadan. The house he rented was being built around him. The walls were unplastered concrete blocks and ladders, and buckets were everywhere. When Carol asked whether he had found a good cook, she was surprised to learn he employed a girl to cook and take care of the house. Most of the house servants in Nigeria were male and the Igbos seemed to predominate.
"She does everything for me, Carol. She's a lovely girl," said Jim.
The young lady in question quietly produced tea and biscuits and disappeared into the rear building lot.
"She warms my bed too. I like to have an afternoon nap." Jim turned to shout after his young housekeeper. "Go to bed now. I'll be with you soon!" Jim laughed merrily. "I'll bet you think I'm an old reprobate, eh? And you're right!"
On the way back from Ibadan that afternoon, Carol asked if she had heard right.
"He's sleeping with that young girl, Carol," I assured her.
"You must be mistaken, Sean," said Carol. She liked Jim and would not believe that someone she was fond of could behave like that. "Besides," said Carol, "He's married and has grandchildren!"
To carry out the Commissioner's orders, I had to defy Peter Cook and put up with the consequent unpleasantness. We believed at first that Foggon would act on his promise to get rid of Cook, but as the months passed we began to doubt Foggon's resolve. Foggon would not stand up to Cook but expected me to do so. Foggon could even turn away Cook's wrath by expressing surprise at what I was doing, while privately urging me on over the telephone. I was Foggon's lieutenant. I was his hit man. I made things happen. I got things done. And I took all the stick. As it happened I was totally loyal to Foggon because he was my boss and because at first I believed he was a good man who was going to new broom the Department. When it became clear that Cook was staying, we knew that - although we would have liked to stay in Nigeria because we got on so well with the Nigerian people - we would have to leave at the end of two years. Although this would please Peter Cook, it would not be received well by others. We were to have the greatest difficulty in leaving Nigeria.
As other Labour Officers went on leave from Lagos, the Commissioner merged their sections with mine so that I became responsible for all publications, reports, statistics, trade testing and much else. The Chief Clerk informed me that his orders were to send all correspondence to my section except industrial relations and trade unions which went to Victor Beck, and staffing etc. which was dealt with by Peter Cook. The possible areas of friction with Peter Cook therefore increased over the months.
Peter Cook would still make his night calls to our flat and taunt me with the claim that I was just a paper mill and that all the revised codes for trade testing, employment exchanges etc., all the reports and surveys which I churned out in ever increasing numbers, were just window dressing designed to impress but changing nothing. At first I refuted these charges, but as time passed I was forced to accept that Cook was speaking the truth.
"Everything you do, Sean, is sent straight to the Colonial Office to impress Barltrop," Cook would say. "Foggon has no interest in Nigeria. From London it must seem that George has a dynamic, streamlined and efficient Department!" Peter chuckled to himself. "It's all bullshit, Sean, and you know it. When Foggon goes, nobody will know he's been here in three months..."
"We're all writing in sand, Peter," I would remind him. "Something may stick."
"I told you he wouldn't get rid of me," gloated Peter during one of his midnight calls. "I know too many top people, Sean. They have the dirt on me and I have the dirt on them."
He then recounted some of his archive of blackmail material on leading figures in the administration. It was all extremely depressing.
When I made it clear to him that I believed in a liberal attitude to homosexuality, he exploded, "I don't need your approval, Sean."
At times he was aggressive as if it was his intention to convert every young male to homosexuality, at others he seemed full of guilt and self-disgust. He wanted to die, he would say, and seemed to be seeking forgiveness and redemption from me. He could be sickeningly sentimental about marriage while only minutes before he would be threatening my life. His wife had also been employed in the Department. I had had no idea that he had been married. His wife had betrayed him. She had African lovers. But he still loved her and forgave her. Slipping into bed after these ghastly confessionals in the early hours I would give a resume to Carol of what he had said.
"His poor wife," Carol would murmur. "He'd feel much better if he had all his teeth out. Those black teeth are probably poisoning him."
Peter Cook had warned me on several occasions. "I'm watching your every move, Sean. One slip and I'll have you. You had better be whiter than white and cleaner than clean."
"Well, it's good to know you'll let me know if I stray off the straight and narrow, Peter," I would assure him.
"Foggon won't lift a finger to help you, Sean, if you drop in the shit. He's in love with himself. Give him a mirror and it's the love affair of the century."
In those early months I defended Foggon, but as time passed I began to see that Cook was speaking the truth. Maybe I was just knocking myself out window-dressing. On one occasion Foggon's English secretary chided me as I handed her yet another report.
"Don't you ever stop, Sean? I have to retype everything you do and send it to London! Take it easy!"
If Peter Cook was watching me in the hope of finding dirt, he had George Foggon under a microscope.
"I'll have your Georgie Porgie by the balls one of these days, Sean, see if I don't," he would say.
I dismissed this as the rubbish it clearly was. So I was very surprised one evening when Peter Cook walked in with his whiskey and glass, and triumphantly proclaimed, "I've got him! I'll be having no more trouble with Mr George Foggon, Sean. I knew I'd just have to wait!"
I was very depressed when I reported this conversation to Carol.
"Did he say what George had done?" she asked.
"He was very cagey. But he went on to talk about Fernando Poo and how the Spanish gave Sir John MacPherson an incredibly valuable string of diamonds - a necklace for his wife. 'But surely he handed it into Government,' I'd protested. 'Like bloody hell he did, Sean' Peter had replied. 'Once she'd seen that necklace, that was it. She'd probably never had better than Woolworth's till she saw that diamond necklace! I know Sir John kept the diamonds and he knows I know. You see, Sean, they can't touch me, I know too much.'"
"But Sir John's retired," said Carol.
"He's gone to the Colonial Office as Permanent Secretary," I replied. "And now we've got Sir James Robertson from the Sudan."
"So what's he got on Foggon?" asked Carol. "Have the Spanish given George a diamond necklace?"
"I honestly don't know," I said. But he's up to something on Fernando Poo, and he's reclassified some of my 'Secret' file papers on to his personal files so I can't see them."
After that things changed. George Foggon seemed less happy and under a strain. Peter Cook was much more relaxed and, perhaps at Carol's insistence, had all his teeth out and got a gleaming set of dentures, which not only improved his appearance but also his health. He seemed somewhat more sane and balanced, but he was also less frightened. It seemed he had entered into an agreement with George Foggon.
I talked all this over with Victor Beck, trying to make sense of what was going on. It was during one of these discussions that I began to put some pieces of the jigsaw together. If Peter Cook had let George know about the Governor General's diamond necklace, then George had something on the number one man at the Colonial Office. We also knew that the Foreign Office insisted on a 'be nice to Franco' policy. So it was very likely that George would follow Peter Cook's policy on Fernando Poo and ingratiate himself with the powers that be in London.
On the surface my relations with George were as cordial as ever, though he was perhaps more elusive, but warnings came my way. One morning I was in Lagos on official business when I met Mrs Foggon. She was very distraught. While approaching the Kingsway Cold Store, the large UAC supermarket, she had been jostled and had slipped and fallen down one of the open storm drains which lined the road. I expressed my sympathy and talked to her. Very soon we happened to meet again in the shopping area and when we talked I sensed she was not terribly happy with her life in Lagos. Although no longer the 'white man's grave,' Lagos was still decidedly unhealthy for many Europeans. In later years I was to meet a number of expatriates whose health had broken down either in or after leaving Lagos. In some cases they never worked again. While talking to Mrs Foggon she asked how I was getting on in the Department. This was an odd question coming from the Commissioner's wife. I replied that I was not very happy and would not be returning. I said of course George was doing a great job in very difficult circumstances.
"Do be very careful, Mr Smith," said Mrs Foggon.
"She was warning you about Peter Cook," said Carol later.
"No," I said. "It was very strange, but from the manner in which she spoke, I think she was warning me about her husband!"
That weekend we took a trip to Ibadan to see George's chum, Jim Gabbutt. We toured the University College campus which seemed much too expensive in my eyes. To go from no University at all to a small, very expensive one on Oxbridge lines did not seem appropriate. The money spent on very modern buildings could have been used to set up some decent secondary schools.
We returned to Jim's villa and were sitting on his concrete steps talking about the latest news from the central office of the Department when Jim said, "Sean, you do know that Foggon owes you a lot. He thinks the sun shines out of your bottom." Carol was about to cut in, but Jim said, "Hold on, Carol. Foggon worships Sean but he also means to destroy him."
"But why?" protested Carol. "Sean has given him everything. Sean even did the Factories Act in secret and took no credit!"
"I know that," said Jim. "But when he said he'd see you right, did he put it in writing and did you have witnesses?"
"Of course he didn't," Carol replied.
"hen it doesn't count with George," said Jim gravely.
"You mean I can't trust him?" I asked.
"I don't understand him, Sean," said Jim. "He's got a kink. He's done this before."
"He's used Sean, and now he's going to throw him aside," protested Carol.
"I honestly don't know, Carol," said Jim. "I just wanted to warn you. He's got this enormous envy of Sean and his work. George is a strange character."
"Fancy you not knowing that George is revising the Anglo-Spanish Treaty, Sean," said Peter Cook happily. "He's been doing it in secret behind your back. He's planning to send even more workers to Fernando Poo, and all without your knowing! George will do anything to ingratiate himself with those bastards in London. And no doubt Okotie Eboh the Minister got something out of the deal."
Festus Samuel Okotie Eboh, a one-time shoe salesman, became the Minister of Labour and later Minister of Finance, and was to play a crucial role in the later very tragic history of Nigeria. It is of no great importance what happened to the Smith family in the run up to Nigerian Independence, but by chance we were to witness an incredible sequence of events which was to have far reaching consequences of world wide significance. The setting for this tragedy was the Department of Labour and the expatriates I have described in some detail played a major role in what was to happen later.
The British authorities played a decisive part in the selection of politicians for ministerial posts. Once the politician became a Minister he was made, and he became a much more powerful politician. The essence of colonial rule is that politics is banned for the people of the country while the colonial regime engages in full time politics. The notion that colonial administration functions without politics would be laughable to those administrators or political officers engaged in the trade.
The politics of the colonial regime are employed in the selection, destruction and manipulation of the leaders of the native people. Although the idea of indirect rule has become closely identified with Nigeria, it is not a new idea as every conquering power exercises its authority using existing power structures in the community. To this end in Nigeria a highly efficient intelligence service operated both through the administration who routinely completed intelligence reports and through the army, police and special branch. The Labour Department also played a key role. The major aim of all this is to encourage friends of the colonial regime, people who are 'sound,' that is prepared to betray their own people's interests for personal advancement, and to put down irresponsible elements, that is to say nationalist politicians who act in their people's interests and cannot be bribed.
A major proportion of the politicians who made Nigeria notorious for corruption after Independence were selected by the British before Independence. The politicians and leaders and men of eminence not chosen were often honest, trustworthy and responsible people. Why were these people not brought in by the British? The answer is that the British needed people they could control. They sometimes selected crooks whom they knew they could control after Independence. Balewa, the leader from the North, was of course the exception, as was Awolowo. Balewa was so pro-British that he hardly needed manipulating. He was sound because he took advice from his band of British advisors.
Awolowo in the West was not sound because he was extremely intelligent, wrote first class books, and taunted the British for their stupidity. At the same time he betrayed a love of democracy and touching faith in British fair play that was to lead to his downfall. And yet his integrity, which led to his being jailed in 1962, also saved his life when the first coup took place in 1966.
The mercurial leader of the East, Dr Azikiwe, was an enigma. A charismatic and the first Nigerian nationalist leader of note. He was seen as an egotistical, temperamental and flawed character by his political enemies, but revered by his Igbo followers. Zik was not feared by the British. His often unpredictable behaviour in the 1950's may have been more in response to pressure from without than his own faults of temperament. If a nationalist politician had skeletons in his personal or political cupboard the British knew about them. At the same time the preponderance of Igbo members of the lower and middle ranks of the civil service meant that, apart from the highest levels, an Igbo politician who did not know most Government secrets simply was not listening.
The interlocking blackmail that Peter Cook exemplified in the civil service was paralleled in the control of politicians by the colonial regime. One of my expatriate neighbours was a Post Office engineer who specialised in tapping Nigerian politicians' telephone lines. Surveillance of politicians by other Nigerians employed in special branch was also routine, as was interception of the mails to prevent subversive literature coming into Nigeria.
If the International Trade Union Organisations were angered at the tardiness of their Nigerian supporters in answering correspondence, their disgust was misplaced because quite often their letters must have ended up in the Post Office stove in Lagos, international postal conventions notwithstanding.
A more personal example of interlocking blackmail occurred when I was approached by one of the Labour Department's senior trade testers. We chatted about routine matters before he got to the point.
He said, "You're a decent sort, Smithy, but me and the lads really think you've got things all wrong..."
"How's that?" I asked.
"Well, you're having no fun at all. You can't stop these people taking money. If you make a fuss, which you do, they just keep your share! You can have as many black girls as you want. Peter Cook will fix you up with boys if you fancy some black bum. But you won't because you're afraid you'll get caught and that's where you've got it all wrong. If the blokes are a bit stand-offish it's because you won't join in. See what I mean? They're scared of you because you don't join in. Mr Clean is very dangerous. If you join in we know you won't be blowing the whistle on us. Get it?"
I assured him that I did get it, but I had so little spare time. He seemed disappointed with my answer.
Perhaps the trade testers had taken pity on me because they thought I had helped them. Peter Cook normally arranged to post trade testers to centres around the country. While he was on leave, George Foggon had fulfilled this duty. But the trade testers were up in arms and sent one of their men to make representations to me. I pointed out that I was not doing the posting but I would advise Foggon. What was the problem? The trade tester said that postings should be by seniority. Some centres generated far more dash (bribes) than others. The senior man expected to be posted to the centre that was most lucrative. I explained this to George Foggon who clearly had not known of this arrangement. Peter Cook had not mentioned it in his handing over notes.
"Well, of course," said George deliberately. "You were quite right to bring this to my notice. And I want to tell you this. It's just as well I have no formal knowledge of this dreadful behaviour as I would have to take the strongest possible action against those concerned..." George paused and looked me straight in the eye. "Do you follow what I am saying to you?"
"Let sleeping dogs lie?"
It seemed the new broom had lost all its bristles before it started sweeping. When next I met a trade tester I made a jocular reference to this matter and he immediately corrected me.
"We're not corrupt at all, Smithy. It would be corrupt if we took money off a few to let them pass. None of us would do that. It would be dishonest. We take a dash off everyone who takes the test. That's not corruption. It's just gratitude."
I was clearly not playing the game. I was letting the side down. Ronald Wraith, in a fascinating study of corruption in Nigeria, fails to mention the involvement of the British at all. (Although he does demonstrate that corruption was rife in Britain up to the middle of the nineteenth century.) It does seem a little unfair. After all, although corruption undoubtedly got worse after the British left, it was clearly much in evidence while the British were in charge. I shall demonstrate later an even more sensational fact. The British not only tolerated and indulged corruption. They actively took part at the highest possible levels and instigated it and encouraged it in Nigerian politicians, the better to control or blackmail them.
I suppose the most corrupt act of all is colonialism itself. What could be more corrupt than to steal someone else's country? However by 1955 the problem was how to hand the country back to the Nigerians. A coalition of politicians from the major tribes in each Region filled the ministerial posts. At this juncture there was no Prime Minister and the Governor General presided. Large ministerial palaces were provided for each Minister and Mercedes Benz limousines became normal transport for top politicians. Standards of luxury were dictated by the British colonial regime far in excess of the living standards of most British politicians, let alone Nigerian ones, most of whom had risen from the most humble backgrounds.
The rumours which circulated about Festus Okotie Eboh were well founded as those in contact with him knew. The Nigerian public wanted to know why he was allowed to get away with it. Why had the Governor General chosen such corrupt politicians? Why did the civil servants not refuse to co-operate with corrupt Ministers? It was evident that the Ministers could not carry out these corrupt deeds without co-operation from the civil service. At this time it must be remembered that the colonial regime still had overall power and was fully informed as to what was going on. It was clearly official policy to let the Ministers be corrupt. In the Department of Labour George Foggon saw it as his job to carry out the Minister's orders, whatever his personal qualms.
Not only did the Ministers betray ignorance of the proper role of Ministers in a parliamentary democracy, but the top civil servants seemed to be ignorant too. In the Ministry (formerly Department) of Labour Okotie Eboh acted as if he could do what he liked unless he was stopped. Given top civil servants who lacked training in constitutional and parliamentary practice and substituted a simplistic notion that they merely had to carry out a Minister's orders, the scene was set for corruption and larceny on a grand scale.
Although I was supposed to be in charge of trade testing matters, it was kept from me that Okotie Eboh had sold the trade testing headquarters in Lagos to a large trading company. This was not the whole story. The deal was arranged by the Commissioner of Labour. The trade testing headquarters were on a prime site opposite the main Lagos railway station. Having pocketed the proceeds the Minister then had built a makeshift edifice as a replacement in the bush outside Lagos. It was evident that Government House was fully informed as to what was going on. However, Okotie Eboh was one of the politicians most favoured by the British for reasons I will explain later.
One morning I was standing outside the Minister's room, talking to his English secretary, Katharine Polkinghorne.
"The Minister's out," said Kathy. "He's gone to see the Governor General. He's on the carpet. I've told him he'll get caught one day with all the crooked deals he gets up to."
At that point the Minister came in. Festus Samuel Okotie Eboh was a fat, jovial character of much the same build and disposition as the seventeen stone Governor General, Sir James Robertson. The Minister had until recently been Mr Sam Edah, but had changed his name to that of a family who were powerful in his constituency. Those who disliked the Minister referred to him as 'Festering Sam.' The Minister was wearing native dress and a straw hat.
"Miss Polkinghorne, do you know what the Governor General said to me? He said, 'Sam, you old rascal, I know every trick you've been up to. You've got to be more circumspect.' What does 'circumspect' mean, Miss Polkinghorne?"
"You should be asking Mr Smith, Minister. He's the clever one," said Kathy. I began a long involved explanation. "What he means, Minister, is 'Don't get caught!'" said Kathy. "That's what being 'circumspect' means."
"I love that Governor General, Miss Polkinghorne," said the Minister.
"He won't love you if you get found out with all those naughty things you do, Minister," warned Kathy, as the Minister went into his room, chuckling happily.
Presumably the Governor General had political reasons for not throwing the rule book at Okotie Eboh. When the Governor General wanted to get rid of Adelabu, an extraordinary politician who, had he lived, might have been Nigeria's most dynamic leader, he promptly sacked him, presumably because he was seen as dangerous by the British. A rival to Dr Azikiwe, he not only frightened the Igbo leader but frightened the British more.
Okotie Eboh was into interlocking blackmail too. The trade testers were corrupt and were hardly in a position to protest when their office was sold over their heads. George Foggon's justification for putting through the deal was that he was obeying orders, although he knew he was doing wrong. But the Minister knew George tolerated the corrupt trade testers. George was on thin ice too. Peter Cook could not protest even if he had wanted to. The Minister knew the Department and the follies and weaknesses of its officials intimately. If its top officials could get up to tricks, so could he.
"George is getting in deep," said Peter Cook. "It looks as if you're on your own, Sean!"
I felt that way too.
One late Sunday afternoon the compound was quiet save for a few children playing around the palms and frangipani. A party was going on, but not noisily, in Peter Cook's flat. Like most of the flat dwellers we had just climbed out from under our mosquito nets to shower and change for the evening and dinner. At that point one of my neighbours called in a very agitated state. His small daughter had gone up the servants' stairs to Mr Cook's flat and had gone through his kitchen. She had run down to tell her father what she had seen.
"Men not wearing clothes were dancing in a circle; they were all stuck together..."
"Can't you do something, Mr Smith?" my neighbour pleaded.
"It's worse than you know," I told him.
The question might be asked, 'Was the Labour Department typical?' Some have suggested that because the Labour Department produced three Nigerian Permanent Secretaries, it was a rather good Department. With obvious exceptions I do not see that the fault lay in the staff, but in management and leadership. With proper direction and training there was excellent potential in both expatriate and Nigerian staff. They were pensionable staff who were trying to do a good job in very difficult circumstances, and they were certainly not to blame for the scandals at the top in the Department. And what was the role of Government House and the Colonial Office in all this? It was no secret that the Labour Department was a shambles.
Before George Foggon went on leave he called me into his office. He whispered so that Peter Cook would not hear him. He spoke in a very roundabout way at great length. What he meant to say was that he was afraid that Peter Cook would drop him in the shit in his absence. He was counting on me to hold the fort. I was to do everything by the book and if in doubt consult the Chief Secretary's Office.
The three Regions of Nigeria already had a measure of independence and were in effect federal states. The 1956 elections would be the final regional elections before Independence and the major political parties were preparing massive campaigns. My knowledge of Nigerian politics at that time was very skimpy as I had been much too busy to pay much attention. The Minister of Labour, whose constituency in the Mid-West returned a member to the Western parliament, was campaigning heavily for his party's candidate. Okotie Eboh was a major figure in the NCNC, Zik's party, because he was also Party Treasurer.
In Foggon's absence, Francis Nwokedi was running the Labour Department with Peter Cook. I was a mere Labour Officer who had been charged by the Commissioner in his absence to 'keep an eye on things.' At this juncture the order arrived which was to change my life. It had come through the chain of command apparently from the Governor General himself. It was addressed to me personally. Perhaps my work had come to the Governor General's attention? I was much too modest to make that assumption. The order directed me to arrange for all Nigerian staff of the Department and all departmental vehicles to proceed to the Minister's constituency for the duration of the election campaign to work under the Minister's orders and to get his candidate elected. This was a covert operation and a cover story was needed. I was to devise a survey of migrant labour covering the Minister's constituency.
My reply was brief. 'No,' I wrote on the minute sheet. 'This would be a criminal act.'
I was immediately ordered to leave the head office of the Department and take over the Lagos office at Alakoro. The stench from the drains outside my office at Alakoro was unbearable. I could open the windows and choke or close the windows and suffocate. I was preparing my resignation from the Colonial Service when Vic Beck came to see me. He had brought an apology from Francis Nwokedi. It had all been a dreadful mistake. I was flattered by Francis's message. I liked him very much. I went along with what he wanted and agreed to return to the central office and my desk. It was the wrong move really. I should have resigned. Strangely perhaps I thought George Foggon would approve of my action. I had played it by the book! Nwokedi was only acting on the Governor General's orders to prevent me resigning and creating a fuss. My masters were much more clever than I was in foreseeing my moves and forestalling them.
While still awaiting Foggon's return from leave, I was approached by Vic Beck again. Apparently, when I had refused to get involved in the covert election plan, the orders had passed to Major Charles Bunker, a Senior Labour Officer. It was unclear whether he had carried them out. But he had also been ordered to pressurise British and foreign firms to make donations to the NCNC's election funds. Threats of official harassment by the Labour Department's Inspectors were to be made against firms who refused to pay up. In addition fleets of cars were to be obtained either free or at greatly reduced prices, and free or cheap petrol to run them. Vic Beck and Charles Bunker came to see me to discuss what could be done.
"You're not going to carry out these orders, Charles, surely?" I asked.
"It's too late, Sean," replied Charles. "I've done it."
Charles was very distressed. Both he and Beck appreciated the seriousness of the situation. The British Government was taking credit for its liberal policies in moving towards Independence and the honest and fair handover of power to the new democratically elected leaders of Nigeria. Yet here was chicanery and cynical interference in the electoral process beyond belief. The thrust of the British Government's policy was against the Action Group led by Chief Awolowo which ruled in the Western Region. Not only was the British Government working hand in glove with the North which was a puppet state favoured and controlled by the British administration, but it was colluding through Okotie Eboh with Dr Azikiwe - Zik - the leader of the largely Igbo NCNC which ruled in the East.
The actual orders which were clearly a criminal breach of Nigeria's own electoral laws, as well as being a gross betrayal of trust by the British who were supposed to embody the notion of even handedness, fair play and honesty, had come through Francis Nwokedi, the acting head of the Labour Department, and Peter Cook, the Deputy Commissioner, both close friends of Dr Azikiwe. And Okotie Eboh, the Minister of Labour, was Dr Azikiwe's Party Treasurer.
The British loved the largely illiterate and backward North and had arranged for fifty percent of the votes to be controlled by the Northern party, the NPC, which was largely a creation of the British and hardly a normal political party in the accepted sense. It was funded by the British controlled Native Authorities and was quite simply a tool of the British administration. Because of this, Independence was to some extent a sham because the results were a foregone conclusion. The North and the British would continue to rule. However, it was still possible that the two advanced and educated Southern parties would unite against the North, so it was necessary to keep them apart. Divide and rule, the old British device for creating conflict, was employed in its most brazen and cynical form to keep the Igbos and Yorubas from working together in Nigeria.
British policy was to encourage tribal rule in the East and West by discouraging the creation of new states which would have broken up these two power groups. Of particular importance was the need for the NPC. in the North to go unchallenged. And it was made quite clear to the leaders in the South that the British would not tolerate more than token electioneering against the British-favoured NPC in the North. There may well have been tacit agreements between the British and the leaders of the West and East. There was certainly anger from the British when the Action Group in the West was seen to be planning a major election campaign in the North.
What was obvious from the orders coming out of Government House in 1956 was that Zik was working with the British and the NPC in the North against the Action Group in the West. The Northerners disliked all the Southerners, East or West, as being too clever by half, a view shared by the British administration. In many respects in the North it was difficult to detect where the British administration ended and Northern rule began. The sickening sycophancy of the Northern leaders towards the British and the equally nauseating and patronising contempt (disguised as admiration) displayed by the British to Northern leaders, horrified educated Nigerians. But Southern politicians were needed to work with the North so as to ensure total domination by the North.
Festus Okotie Eboh was the ideal candidate to become the linchpin of this pact between the North and Zik's NCNC which ruled in the East. Okotie Eboh was from the Mid West, so was not too close to the Igbos in the East, although he was Party Treasurer of the Eastern Party. Although from the Mid-West, he was not a Yoruba but an Itsikeri, so he could be relied on to be hostile to the Yoruba-dominated Action Group in the West. As Party Treasurer, he held a powerful position so long as he could raise funds for the NCNC But the NCNC was bankrupt. To strengthen Okotie Eboh's position, it was essential that he should be able to raise funds. We have seen how the British set about helping their stooge to do this.
Okotie Eboh had to sell a policy of collaboration with the North to the NCNC and to Dr Azikiwe in particular. The Minister of Labour was a cynical party hack intent on becoming rich very quickly. Already in the late 1950's he was a byword for corruption. Okotie Eboh was not a nationalist and in no sense an idealist. He was a large, fat, cheerful crook and he was much loved by George Foggon and the Governor General, perhaps because he conformed to a stereotype which confirmed their low opinion of Africans in general.
A warning shot had been fired by the Governor General over Dr Azikiwe's bows in 1956 with an investigation of his African Continental Bank. Very serious malpractice was revealed as also was the fact that Zik's business affairs were in a mess, and he was practically bankrupt. There was no question of Zik financing his party's election campaign. The charges were allowed to lie on the table, and although Zik could very easily have been dismissed from public office, as Adelabu was in very similar circumstances, no action was taken by the British which would perhaps have put Dr Azikiwe behind bars, a fate he had always shown considerable ingenuity in avoiding, unlike other nationalist leaders.
The Bank enquiry not only served as a warning to Zik, it made it impossible for the Eastern Regional Government, which was under the spotlight, to divert funds to finance its party, the NCNC. That the North and the West used public funds to finance their parties was no secret to anybody in the British administration. The result of all this was to make Okotie Eboh a key figure and, after Zik, the most powerful leader in the NCNC. It also meant that Okotie Eboh was able to influence both NCNC and Zik's policies away from confrontation with the British and the Northerners and in favour of collaboration and a cynical display of horse dealing which would make the 1959 Federal election a mockery, because the outcome - Northern domination of Nigeria after Independence - was assured before a single vote was cast in that election.
The group of Ministers which gathered round Okotie Eboh was known as the 'Ikoyi clique' because they lived in the largely European suburb of Ikoyi. A close ally of Okotie Eboh was T.O.S. Benson, the Minister of Information. His offices were next to the Labour Department on the Ikoyi Road.
By this time, as my duties covered such a wide range of departmental activities, I had been moved into the largest office in the Department. This was necessary because I had acquired a number of assistants, clerks and a typist. Labour Officers passing through Lagos gravitated towards my office because they could depend on a cup of tea and a seat, and if they needed transport I was happy to run them into town or back to the Rest House where they mostly stayed. I was also assigned the task of looking after the English secretaries and when they had headaches and period pains I would run them home. As they were replaced or joined by Nigerian girls, often the daughters of eminent Nigerians, they too would call on me to run them home or help with chores. Through these girls I met the very beautiful wife of T.O.S. Benson, and so it happened that one day my normally busy and hectic office not only had Labour Officers from up-country wandering in and out, but a group of Nigerian girls who had come to see and perhaps to buy a dazzling collection of shoes which Mrs Benson had brought back from Europe. When walking in Ikoyi, if the occupants of a ministerial Mercedes waved to me, I knew Mrs T.O.S. Benson was inside.
The British were busy rigging Nigeria's elections, but there were still lighter moments in my ever-expanding employment, recruitment, migration, research, statistics, reports and publications, trade testing and library section.
At home, our cook William was saving up to buy a wife from his own village back in the East. He told Carol, who was not too flattered, that he wanted a wife like madam, nice and plump. In truth Carol was quite slender, but when eventually William got a wife we saw what he meant. The girls in William's home area were valued by weight, and it was not unknown for girls to be caged and gorged with food so that they would fetch a large bride price. Although William was paid above the going rate, as were all our servants, he was so desperate to find a wife that he requested leave when he only had a down payment on a bride. We ran William down to the market where he would get a space on a mammy wagon, one of the produce and passenger trucks which hurtled along Nigeria's roads, which were often only single track. William looked very smart. He was wearing my white trench coat. This was my gift to help persuade his bride to be, and more important her father, of how affluent he was. I knew William had yearned to own that trench coat. It gave him so much pleasure it was a joy to give it to him.
William found a girl, but was very downcast when he returned, because the girl's father would not release her for one down payment. I saw a group of servants in the compound throwing themselves around in fits of laughter. The laughter of Nigerians is a wonderful thing to see and I was determined not to be left out. I asked Joel, my driver, to find out what was so funny. When he came back he could barely stand for laughing.
"It's William's long journey to find a wife, master..." and Joel collapsed on the floor.
"Joel please..." I insisted.
"They say, master," said Joel, "it was a pity her father wouldn't let him bring back the bit he had paid for!"
And Joel collapsed on the floor again.
We helped William so he was able to return quickly to complete the purchase of his wife. We also insisted, and William was forever full of gratitude, on collecting the newly wedded couple when they arrived in Lagos and driving them home in style. William's wife was the thinnest girl child imaginable. We felt guilty that we had not paid William even more.
"It's all right, madam," William assured Carol. "In our new home with master and madam and lots of good food, she will soon be plump like madam."
All this made me feel like landed gentry or even a Southern plantation owner, but that was how it was in Ikoyi in the mid-1950's.
I was almost sorry when I eventually had time to pass my driving test because it meant parting with Joel our driver whom we liked enormously. He did have an occasional weakness for the palm wine which on occasion forced me to plunge into the Lagos traffic and learn to drive the hard way, because Joel was flat out on the back seat.
Each day Joel would switch off his grin and be very sad. He would then beseech us to buy him a peaked cap. It was very important that he have a cap. It gave him status. All chauffeurs had a cap. Eventually we succumbed and our servants and everybody else's cheered when they saw Joel's cap. It was an important victory. Joel showed it off and made sure everybody noticed it! Then after a few days he was sad again.
"Master. If only I had a khaki jacket!"
We could not stand the pressure. In no time Joel was kitted out in full khaki uniform and could have passed for an officer in the Nigerian Army.
Joel would ask us to correct his English and would rehearse a word or phrase until he had got it fixed in his memory. Joel was staying at his brother's house in Lagos at the time, and occasionally I would run him home. One day he remarked that he was sleeping with his sister-in-law.
"No, Joel," I corrected him. "You are staying with your sister-in-law."
"No, master," he said. "I am sleeping with her."
"Yes, Joel," I said. "Sleeping in the same house. If you say 'I am sleeping with some one' it means like man and wife."
"Oh, I don't touch her," said Joel. "But I sleep with her in the same bed. My brother is away."
"Doesn't he mind?" I asked. "Isn't it a bit risky?"
"Of course not, master," said Joel. "My brother has taken precautions."
"Yes. When he go he put juju on back of door. When he come home he will ask juju if I have touched his wife. If juju say 'yes' he will kill me."
"I do hope the juju doesn't fall off the door and give him the wrong message, Joel," I said.
"I'm going to have a word with that juju, master, myself or maybe you're going to have to find a new driver."
With that Joel threw himself around in a fit of laughter and the car shot off the road and sent a crowd of Lagosians jumping for their lives.
On another occasion I discussed juju with Joel and he said it was a pity African juju was so weak unlike British juju. I was very intrigued by this.
"We don't have juju, Joel," I insisted.
"Oh, master," said Joel, rolling his eyes up to heaven as if seeking forgiveness for this idiot white man. "Master," said Joel, "white men have juju that gets them pretty girls when they want, get drunk when they want, radio, car, anything they want."
"I don't follow you, Joel," I said.
"White man's juju is money, master. It is the most powerful juju in the world," said Joel. He was deadly serious for once.
We were concerned about finding a job for Joel when I passed my driving test, but were surprised to find Peter Cook had offered him a job as a driver for the Department. I knew he had taken a liking to Joel and Joel was smart enough always to salute Peter and greet him. I thanked Peter for offering Joel the job.
"I didn't do it for you, Sean," said Peter grimly. "I happen to like the man."
"So I won't have to go back to that heavenly job with the Lagos Bus Company," said Joel. "Oh, those lovely ladies, master."
I was all ears of course.
"This lovely lady is the first on the bus, so I don't give her ticket. When we go back to garage she say, 'OK, big boy, come,' and she takes me back to her room and loves me till I can't stand up. Next day it's the same. Every day it's the same. 'OK., big boy, come!' On Friday I go collect my pay and the clerk gives her my packet. She gives me a few shillings and keeps the rest! 'See you next week, big boy,' she says!"
A new District Officer was fed up with reading his Dickens' collected works during his long evenings in the bush. He would hear his servants jabbering away in the kitchen and longed to know what they were talking about. Who knows, he thought, what exciting and even erotic tales he would hear. It would give him something to write about in his letters home. They might even make a book. 'Tales from up the Creeks,' that sort of thing. He borrowed a dictionary of the local language from a missionary and after a few months' study, helped along by lessons from the missionary, he became proficient. After dinner he would now station himself by the kitchen door and eavesdrop on his servants' chatter.
"Master he like chop," (dinner) said the cook.
"Oh yes, master like chop," said the steward.
"Master like chop plenty hot," said the cook.
"Oh yes, master like chop plenty hot," said the steward.
"Master like grapefruit before his chop," said the cook.
"Oh yes," said the steward.
Night after night the conversation went on for hours in this totally boring fashion. At last the District Officer could take no more.
He burst into the kitchen and shouted, "Talk about something interesting for God's sake! I didn't learn the sodding language to hear you talk about chop night after night after night!"
Shortly afterwards, he was posted a hundred miles up country where the local people spoke a different language.
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It was as well we had some distractions from my troubles in the Labour Department. When talking things over with Bunker and Beck I recalled Foggon's advice to seek guidance from the Secretariat if necessary. This was sensible advice in most situations. The real power house in colonial government was the Chief Secretary, and it was perfectly proper and sensible for anyone in the administration to seek help from the Chief Secretary and his staff. As Beck and Bunker had raised Bunker's orders with me, and Bunker was the most senior in rank, I thought at the time I was the junior partner in this enterprise. Victor Beck suggested we approach one of his contacts in the security section at the Secretariat, and this we did and had a cordial discussion.
The roar of anger from Government House at our audacity in questioning His Excellency's orders at least made it quite clear that the orders were official and not some freakish forgery. At this Beck and Bunker put their heads together and decided to pin the blame on Smith. He had persuaded them into this foolish action against their will. After all Bunker had carried out his orders! And Beck made it quite clear he would be perfectly happy to do anything he was told. To make sure he really was pliable, Beck was posted to the North where he happily applied himself to hush-hush political duties.
I had no fear of facing Foggon alone when he returned from leave. I expected nothing, so I was not surprised at his anger.
"You disobeyed the direct orders of the Governor General," he yelled. "Are you mad?"
"I'm not fixing elections for anybody," I replied.
"Who are you? Don Quixote?" yelled Foggon. "Nobody could touch you. You were in the clear. You were just obeying orders!"
"That defence was not accepted at Nuremberg," I told Foggon. "I'm responsible for my own actions."
"They were wrong," screamed Foggon, white with anger. "None of them were guilty at Nuremberg. They were only obeying orders!"
There was nothing more to be said. A man who could defend the perpetrators of Belsen was truly beyond the pale. I did not want to have anything to do with this creature again.
I had volunteered in the past to help in elections in Lagos. I had also volunteered for everything else which came my way. I wanted nothing to do, however, with the 1956 election in the West and made my views known. Foggon retaliated immediately by informing me that I had volunteered to take part. I replied that he was misinformed. The next I heard of this was a remarkable letter from Sir Ralph Grey, the Chief Secretary. It informed me that I had been recommended for immediate dismissal by the Commissioner of Labour for wilfully refusing to obey orders to volunteer to help in the elections.
I was annoyed at this, given the fact that I was doing several Labour Officers' work at the time, often returned to the office after hours to try and catch up, and often worked through the evenings. However, I hoped that this would be my chance to bring this whole business into the open. Phil Haywood, who was later to become Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, was a good friend.
"Tell them, Sean, that you have been proud to have been a member of the Colonial Service..."
"Really, Phil," I protested.
"Tell them the story, Sean," ordered Phil. "Say you regret if in any way you have let down the high traditions of the Service..."
"Peter Cook, Phil!" I exploded.
"Say you are retiring at the end of this tour..."
"Well, that bit's true..."
"They'll know you're telling them to piss off but they'll think you're a clever bugger and let it drop."
Phil was quite correct. Foggon was furious.
"I have a letter here from Sir Ralph Grey I've been ordered to show to you. I've also been told to shake hands and ask you to forget the whole business."
Foggon presented me with a limp hand and the most unwilling handshake possible.
The letter said, 'Mr Smith has been of some service to the State...' The rest of it told Foggon politely to drop dead.
Our world was in a state of chaos. The seventeen stone Governor General of the most populous British colony in Africa, in his white uniform and plumed hat, while posing as a liberal to visiting VIP's, was secretly rigging elections and destroying the very foundations of democracy in the new state which outwardly would be the fifth largest democracy in the world. Sir James Robertson, not content with that, was urging his newly elected Ministers to loot and pillage the State and make Nigeria's first great nationalist political party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) almost totally dependent for funds on levies and bribes from British and other multinational firms which already had a powerful grip on Nigeria's economy.
Even the mild and gentle Northerner, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, favoured by the British and chosen to be the first Federal Prime Minister, was moved in 1958 in an interview with the distinguished children's doctor and writer, Robert Collis, to complain with some bitterness of the British commercial interests that held Nigeria in thrall. This is quoted on page 159 of Dr Collis's book, 'A Doctor's Nigeria," published in 1960.
Despite George Foggon's attempt to have me kicked out of the Colonial Service on a trumped up charge, which the Chief Secretary, Sir Ralph Grey, had scornfully rejected, I continued to work flat out on my several combined schedules of work to the last day of my two-year tour in Lagos.
Outside the office, Carol and I took Voltaire's advice of what to do when the world is upside down; we cultivated our garden and our friends. We usually made our garden from scratch from a patch of weedy sand, but in the Lagos heat with daily watering a garden would take shape in a few weeks. We spent liberally at a nursery on the outskirts of Ikoyi and begged seeds and cuttings from our friends. In this way we retained our equilibrium. We continued to be ourselves with our own standards and code. We never played the dirty games we were pressurised to join and if others thought us naive and innocent and stupid, so be it.
If George could think of any extra chores to pile on towards the end of this very long and arduous tour, he heaped them on unmercifully. It was evident to some that he was either hoping I would crack up or refuse to carry them out, thus giving him another opportunity to mount an attack. It was of no consequence that other Europeans sat playing with paper clips all day or reading magazines. When George heard that there had been no audit on the Lagos Sub-Treasury for several years because expatriates had simply refused to get involved in a duty for which they might be held personally responsible for millions of pounds, he promptly volunteered my name to conduct the audit.
Armed with a posse of assistants, clerks, a policeman, accounting machines and written orders to suspend all work until the audit was complete, I marched into the Treasury and we processed masses of bills, vouchers, chits, books and petty cash and came out with a statement that not a single penny of the millions of pounds passing through the Treasury had been purloined or gone astray. Frankly, I did not believe a word of it and neither did anybody else. It was reported to me by sources close to him (there were no real secrets in the Labour Department) that George had been quite disappointed that I had given the Treasury a clean bill of health and had not been sucked into a quagmire of corruption and trouble. He was even more depressed when he had to hand on to me a congratulatory letter from on high, thanking me for carrying out this awful task expeditiously and efficiently.
Sometimes George's zeal for piling it on became downright absurd. He telephoned one morning to tell me that a British lady in the Public Works Department was offended by having to liaise with a Nigerian in the Labour Department when dealing with housing for expatriate officers. Henceforth she would deal with me. And indeed the lady did deal with me, but our conversations were fruitless for - miracle worker that I sometimes was - I had no authority or way of taking these matters away from the Deputy Commissioner, Peter Cook, who had overall authority in this area. Presumably George was trying to provoke me into a rebellion. If so, I declined the temptation and tried to carry out instructions which originated in the most bizarre flights of fancy.
On our way to the nursery to buy plants and cuttings for our garden, we would stand at the roadside and, while trying to cross the road and dodge the cars driven by Europeans at speed, observe African families carrying small wooden boxes to the graveyard. It would have heartened us had we known that Dr Robert Collis was newly arrived in Nigeria and working valiantly on measures to save millions of children from an early death. It was heartbreaking to observe these tragedies and feel unable to do anything materially to help. We made no more than a gesture by taking several wives in our car to the Massey Street clinic when their babies were due. When other expatriates failed even this simple kindness for their servants' wives, we were happy to oblige and our cook.
William stopped apologising and, explaining that other masters did not care, he would wake us up with, "Another lady for Massey Street clinic, master."
Despite my efforts to keep the Labour Department afloat on rafts of paperwork, news of George Foggon's unpopularity was spreading out from the Department. The Chief Clerk's years of presiding over stacks of dusty files and ranks of sleepy typists were drawing to a close. He had restrained his anger at the total incompetence of many of his white superiors for many years, but towards the end his face showed the deep unhappiness he felt at the humiliations he had suffered as an educated person in an inferior position. On his final day with the Department, as tables laden with refreshments were set out on the grass patch in front of the offices for his retirement party, my clerks were huddled together whispering and I tried to find out what was going on.
"It doesn't involve you, sir," advised my assistant. "Just a little surprise the Chief Clerk is planning."
The little surprise the Chief Clerk had in store for the Commissioner had been brewing for many years.
"You will be expecting me on this long awaited day," said the Chief Clerk, "to regale you with platitudes expressing my gratitude for having been able to work with such a splendid body of officials serving Her Britannic Majesty here in Nigeria. The truth is that I, as an educated person, have been forced to work under generations of stupid, often illiterate expatriates, who were lazy, uneducated, patronising, selfish and of no use to anybody." At this some of the expatriates began to rise, but the Chief Clerk waved them down. "I have waited a long time to tell you these truths," he went on. "Sit down and listen and learn something from my heart which may yet be of service to you..."
I have condensed just the start of his speech using simple words. The Chief Clerk, like a number of educated Nigerians, had an extensive vocabulary and never used a short word if a longer one were available. The Nigerian staff gurgled with glee and sent out ripples of laughter at some of his carefully rehearsed barbs. But when he at last sat down looking happier than I had ever seen him, it was as if an invisible message had been passed around the expatriates. The Chief Clerk had behaved outrageously, but his speech had never happened because it should not have happened and it would be ignored.
Someone rose and thanked the Chief Clerk for his kind words about the very fine officers he had served and he was presented with his leaving gift. After a perfunctory shaking of hands, the expatriates roared away in their cars, leaving the African staff to congratulate the Chief Clerk for his courage and audacity for telling the British to pack up and go home. It was indeed a memorable day!
This cannonade was accompanied some time later by a full page article attacking George Foggon for his transparent lack of interest in Nigeria, his insincerity, careerism and so forth. This was very unusual and clearly came from an informed source, though no mention was made of George's involvement in the Minister of Labour's notorious imbroglios, but as the newspaper concerned was 'The Pilot,' Zik's own paper and his party organ, such references would have been inappropriate. Francis Nwokedi made it clear he knew who the author was, evidently a highly placed Igbo in the Department, but he was not saying who.
I continued in these last few months of my first tour to encourage some idealism in Francis Nwokedi, but Francis was only really interested in his career and keeping in with the British regime. He had been offered the post of Nigerianisation Officer and was depressed lest he make the wrong move and lose his chance to be the head of the Department, soon to be the Ministry, of Labour. I assured Francis, which was obvious, that he was highly regarded by the British and would probably be the most senior Nigerian civil servant at Independence. A prediction which came to pass. Francis sat by my desk looking quite dejected. This was so unusual as to be remarkable. His natural ebullience had temporarily left him. I could have wished that he had been more rebellious and independent and had not sucked up so outrageously to the colonial regime, but my words seemed to have some effect and it was evident that he had already agreed to become Nigerianisation Officer. And anyway it was what his masters wanted. I knew he was just stalling. He knew which side his bread was buttered on.
My involvement with Peter Cook had declined as he realised that he was safe with George Foggon, and that my days were numbered. I would still meet tearful youths blazing with anger fleeing from his flat, and would sometimes run them back into town. It seemed to have become one of my roles in life to act as an unofficial taxi service to anyone who needed a lift. Peter could not resist making life difficult for me even to the end. It was up to him to arrange passages on the mailboat back to Liverpool, but anticipating that he would create havoc, we took the precaution of obtaining berths using the good offices and influence of Carol's employer, British Petroleum. We were very happy to return to the United Kingdom on a small cargo boat. We were sad to leave Nigeria. We did not think we would ever return.
A Cambridge friend who was recruited as a District Officer was asked at his interview at the Colonial Office, "What games do you play?"
"I don't play any games," he replied truthfully. Then seeing the look of horror on the faces of the panel members, he added, "I was very busy on my course..."
"Ah, quite," said the Chairman. "But what games would you have played if you had played games?"
"Cricket, rugger, sculls, tennis, boxing," said the Cambridge man hopefully.
"Splendid, just the man we want," said the Chairman with enthusiasm. "We want a sporting man for this job, not some wishy washy intellectual!"
We boarded the small cargo boat at Apapa with considerable relief. Standing at the rail we watched as our car, a grey Ford Consul, was slung off the dockside and on to the deck where it was lashed down alongside massive trunks of exotic Nigerian trees. We were very fond of the Consul because its presence had transformed our lives in Lagos. Not to be dependent on others for lifts to buy food and other essentials was heavenly. If we had sold the car in Lagos, we would have been forced to let it go at a very low price. It seemed sensible to take it back to England although we were not particularly bothered about owning a car.
Only when our banana boat had cast off and was in the lagoon and passing Government House on the Marina did we begin to relax. We feared Peter Cook might find some pretext to get us off the boat, even though we knew he must be rejoicing at our departure. We would have both liked to say that we loved Nigeria and we were certainly truly sad to be leaving. But we had come to distrust those carpetbaggers, men who sucked up to prominent politicians and after short acquaintance proclaimed their 'love' for Nigeria. These were bogus characters. Administrators and missionaries with a lifetime of service to the Nigerian people did not use this kind of language. One went on learning about Africa till the day one left its shores. In my case my learning had just started because I had been too busy to read much of the literature on Nigeria and West Africa. Yet fond as we were, we were elated at the thought of escaping from the Labour Department and what it stood for.
Two years was much too long a time to spend in Lagos, particularly without a break. Older hands stayed for a year or fifteen months with a break half way through in the cool highlands of the North at Jos. My attempts at organising local leave in Jos failed, because it became quite clear that Peter Cook's administrative assistant would foil and disrupt any plans we made. Rather than risk the disaster of finding bookings had not been made or had been cancelled we went on working.
Both of us had the pale, washed out faces of people who had worked in Lagos too hard and too long. Some expatriates managed to leave Lagos as fresh, untired and healthy as when they arrived. Their lives seemed to consist of nothing but sport, the Club and sunbathing. This type were known as deadbeats. If encountered in Government Departments they were avoided as they were useless. They did nothing, they knew nothing. At the other extreme were the old coasters, often bachelors in commerce, who had spent many years on the coast. They were heavy drinkers, totally reactionary, cursed the Nigerians for their dishonesty and stupidity and sometimes had a royal portrait on the wall in a back room. They were quite sentimental characters really and sometimes not as hard as they pretended. Often they got on beautifully with Nigerians and had servants who adored them and stayed with them for many years.
Perhaps the people we revered most were the missionaries. They were often sorely tried. Much of what was good in Nigeria was the result of their many years of uphill struggle. To dissect Christianity as a philosophical exercise can appear spiteful and childish when one has seen the great achievements of men and women inspired by love of Christ in Africa.
We were puzzled by the British administrators. It must be emphasised that in condemning the low quality and describing the sheer ghastliness of some who haunted the departmental warrens of Lagos, we would have the total support of the real administrators, the District Officers and Residents up country, whether in the North or the South. That would be perhaps all the administrators from North and South would agree on, for the two parts of Nigeria had long been administered as almost two different countries, and the British in South or North were fiercely loyal to their own Nigerians. The old chestnut was that but for the Nigerians the British in the South and North would fight to the finish.
No one with any knowledge of the reality of the lives lived by the British administrators would subscribe to any sweeping criticism of their character or work. They were honourable men who worked hard for very low pay, often in very unhealthy conditions. I never heard of a corrupt District Officer or Resident, and they usually retired on miserable pensions, as poor as when they first started out.
That they were often called on to do a Lord Nelson and turn a blind eye to injustice and corruption was, however, very evident. Some refused and left the service. Others managed, like Sir James Robertson, to exude liberal attitudes and a genial good nature whilst perpetrating criminal acts. As always the hoary old Nuremberg defence - 'I was only obeying orders' - was waiting in the wings to be trotted out.
Writing in 1987, thirty years after the events I describe, on a modern computer with a word processor facility, I am reminded of Sir James Robertson's two faces each time I press the ALT key on the machine in front of me. The modern computer has more functions than keys on its keyboard. By pressing ALT a totally different set of functions is revealed when the keys are pressed. Similarly, in talking to certain British administrators, they would be patently honest, straightforward and incorruptible. But if one prefaced one's remarks, after a pregnant silence, with 'Of course, if national security is involved...' or 'If it's hush-hush political work...' the ALT key was pressed and the honest administrator might, now his ALT key had been pressed, admit to the most hair-raising illegal activities on behalf of his masters. Clearly some thoroughly enjoyed these clandestine, covert operations; others abhorred them and in extreme cases protested.
For the protesters the punishment stations existed. In Nigeria, 'up shit creek without a paddle' was a home-grown living truth, not a cliché. This was a staging post. It was not necessarily the end of the line. Some who later climbed to the very top had early on in their careers been in deep trouble but had made their peace with their masters. They had promised to be good boys. For others, 'the treatment' would continue until they resigned. If they had to be fired, the punishment post was a necessary staging post. If the administrator under a cloud had influence and a shower of protesting letters from VIP's arrived at Government House, the administrator could be reinstated to a plum post where he might settle down having made his protest.
This was once graphically described to me as the first pressure on the rifle trigger. If no protests were received, it was safe to squeeze the trigger and to fire the offender knowing he had no friends in high places to defend him. He 'got the bullet' straight between the eyes. If he made trouble back in England he could always be terrorised with a dodgy reference which would keep him very busy trying to find employment, and if he did find work, a cosy telephone call from the Colonial Office might encourage an irresponsible employer to put him on the street again.
I was free of all such fears however. My 'Certificate of Service', the only reference allowed to be issued, was safely in my wallet. I had made sure it was in my possession before leaving the Department. The reference was perfectly satisfactory and I had no cause for complaint. We settled down to enjoy life on our banana boat.
The number of passengers on a cargo boat was limited to twelve. Beyond that figure a doctor had to be carried. The nine other passengers included an official from the North and his wife. This lady had to address the other passengers once to explain why they would not be speaking to us again. She made it clear that they were the VIP couple aboard for they had distant connections with a titled nobody and would be dining with the Captain (the poor Captain) and so would be keeping their distance from the rest of us.
On this kind of voyage it is absolutely essential to take several volumes of Somerset Maugham, for his books provide the perfect setting, background and atmosphere for social life in a small saloon on a banana boat trailing the coast of West Africa from whence so many slavers had carried cargoes of human misery to the Americas.
An elderly lady, who had been visiting her son-in-law up country in Nigeria, still had an untapped reserve of teasing enquiry which was the more deadly for being camouflaged as innocent small talk. Mrs Sheridan eyed the passengers carefully before selecting as her target a quiet unassuming Scotsman who had been advising on Post Office administration in Nigeria.
"I didn't catch your name, Mr...?" she challenged, forcing him to put down his who dunnit.
"Urquhart, madam," said the poor Scot in a rich brogue.
"Well, Mr Yewcart" said his persecutor.
"Urquhart, madam," protested her victim.
"I can hear perfectly well, Mr Yewcart," Mrs Sheridan insisted.
The tease lasted all the way to Liverpool. Mrs Sheridan confessed to us her naughtiness, but admitted she just could not not tease that bumptious little Scot who did not know how to pronounce his own surname. The poor man would peer into the saloon before entering and would hide away in corners, but Mrs Sheridan would always winkle him out. Rudeness only encouraged her. She had drawn blood. And her flow of seemingly innocent questions gave Mr Urquhart an ashen complexion as the days at sea passed.
The wind-up gramophone in the saloon played a collection of worn, scratchy, old 78 records. The only Nigerian amongst the passengers was a boy of sixteen, the son of a dentist being sent to school in London. After a day or two the other passengers sympathised with his father's desire to send him abroad but wished he had chosen some other boat. The boy had settled on one record of drinking songs as his favourite and he would play one ghastly song over and over, despite protests. We would huddle on the deck rather than hear 'D,R,I,N,K,I,N,G,' yet again. No one was lawless enough to hide the record and we continued to be tortured by this awful youth. I was rather surprised to find protests being directed to me and indeed told the boy off once or twice. But then I felt I had done my bit as a responsible person. Even the VIP couple protested - to me.
"Surely you could do something, Mr Smith," the wife complained.
"Why me?" I asked Carol.
"It's because you look responsible," said Carol.
The truth was only revealed on the day we left the ship at Liverpool, when one of the ship's officers queried the arrangements to be made for the handing over of the boy at disembarkation.
"Why me?" I complained. "He's nothing to do with me."
"But you're his guardian, Mr Smith," exclaimed the ship's officer. "His father had to produce a certificate that someone on board would be responsible for his son and your signature was on the certificate. Didn't you know, sir?"
A small postscript, a little practical joke to remind us of Nigeria.
I had gone to Nigeria on a contract which was renewable. However, I had made it clear that I was not returning. I was not a pensionable officer. Had I been, given subsequent events, I would have been financially much better off. Even so, I was entitled to six months' leave with pay. It was not my intention to have any further contact with the Colonial Office. Edgar Parry had made it abundantly clear that he was fully informed on events in Lagos when I was first appointed. The election rigging could not have been carried out without the approval of Whitehall. However, it was my very success in finding a new job which put me in touch. Learning I had returned to the UK, a friend working with a market research firm asked if I would like to work with them. The firm had taken on an assignment for the US Government. The State Department wanted to know the reactions of leading British political figures to US foreign policy. This seemed an extremely interesting proposition.
While we had been away in Nigeria, British politics had been aflame because of the Suez affair. Following Colonel Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal, Britain, France and Israel had invaded Egypt. The United States had disapproved of this venture and the whole affair turned into a fiasco. Collusion between Britain and Israel was strongly suspected but this was vehemently denied by Anthony Eden, for whom I had the greatest respect and likewise by Harold Macmillan, who I had always felt was in the wrong party. His kind of responsible, one-nation philosophy and his obvious detestation of unemployment and concern for the welfare of working class people appealed to me. Looked at from Nigeria where we had little detailed news and hardly realised the impact of Suez at Westminster, the Suez affair seemed an ill-judged and futile gesture. But the issues were confused for me because I was totally immersed in my work in Lagos, and I had great respect for Anthony Eden's and Harold Macmillan's veracity and integrity.
If I took the job I was being offered which was extremely well paid, I would in effect be working for the US State Department, but technically I was still in the pay of the British Government for a further six months. On reflection, perhaps I should have ignored the point. At the time, however, before I made up my mind, there seemed no reason not to telephone the Personnel Department at the Colonial Office to seek advice. I was a personnel specialist myself, and this seemed the obvious thing to do. The personnel officer was aghast that I was seeking work at all. I was to return to Nigeria. My work was so brilliant (that word I began to loathe) that I had practically been booked aboard the mailboat six months hence. I tried to explain that perhaps Messrs Foggon and Cook had other plans. I had no intention of returning.
"But why?" pleaded this senior civil servant.
I should explain that the staff of the Colonial Office belonged to the home civil service; it was rare for them to have served abroad. I tried in a few sentences to give this personnel man an idea of what was happening in Lagos. There was stunned silence at the other end of the line. Clearly this official had not the faintest idea of the realities of colonial administration. I felt quite sorry for him. This reaction was soon to be a commonplace. It needed a one-hour tutorial to explain the situation in Nigeria, and too often they simply were not listening.
So I returned to my questions. Was it all right to take up other employment? Was my six months' leave pay a gratuity? Was it all right to work for the US State Department at second hand so to speak? Two other considerations were in my mind. Was the proposed employment strictly above board politically, or was it some kind of semi-intelligence, CIA operation? And was it somehow connected with the aftermath of Suez? Whatever kind of fool I was for not simply taking advantage of this excellent job offer, I was certainly being responsible in seeking advice. The personnel man was absolutely stunned at my revelations about Lagos even though I had merely given him a hint. I had not mentioned Cook or Foggon beyond their names as I despised both of them as not worthy of serious consideration.
"But the Labour Advisor, Mr Barltrop, speaks so highly of you, Mr Smith. He would be bitterly disappointed if he knew you were not going to stay with us. You have a tremendous future in the Service."
He asked if I would speak to Barltrop and reluctantly I agreed.
Barltrop was extremely warm and generous with his compliments.
"As soon as you arrived in Lagos, Mr Smith, a series of spectacular pieces of work started to arrive on my desk. Your signature may not have been on the work, but I can recognise your style."
I apologised for having to disappoint him. Barltrop was shaken.
"How could you possibly wish to work for a foreign power?" he asked.
Barltrop made the Americans sound like the enemy. Was this a reaction to Suez? He insisted I must return to Lagos. I had a brilliant career and rapid promotion to look forward to. I would be throwing away the brilliant start I had made.
I chose my words carefully.
"Mr Barltrop, the Labour Department was and still is a shambles. It is also corrupt. The Colonial Government is busy rigging the so-called democratic elections to decide who is going to take over at Independence. Nigerian workers in Fernando Poo are flogged to death! Have you no idea what is going on in Lagos?" I concluded.
There was total silence at the other end.
"I find it unbelievable, Mr Smith," said Barltrop as if in a state of shock. "It can't be!"
"I'm sorry, Mr Barltrop," I said. "I'm speaking the truth. Why don't you ask Mr Parry? He seems to be very well informed."
"Mr Smith," said Barltrop, "I want to make some enquiries and I want to see you. Promise you'll come to see me before you take up another post."
"I'll think about it, Mr Barltrop," I said and put the telephone down.
Sadly I turned down the State Department job. I also declined an offer to work for the TUC. It seemed I could pick and choose from many offers. There was an interesting job going at Esso as Personnel Officer. It was a well paid job and I liked the people who interviewed me. The job was mine if I wanted it. As a personnel man interviews were relatively easy because I was meeting other personnel people. Les Thornton, one of the senior Personnel Managers at the Fawley Refinery was down to earth and frank. There had been three hundred applications and it had been a problem to sort out a short list.
"You were obviously the best man," said Les. "You've got no competition, Sean."
Les went on to extol the delights of living around the New Forest. I was convinced and actually bought a bungalow at Lymington within days. I was so confident the job was mine, as indeed it was. I was in no hurry to start work though. I was still thin; I had lost some weight; and felt the cold even in a British summer. We furnished our bungalow on the edge of the New Forest and got used to the ponies in the back garden when we left the gate open.
Carol was beginning to get over Lagos too and started to feel restless. We started another baby. The day I started work in Esso's Personnel Department I was a well-paid executive with a comfortable home, a car, a collie dog a friendly farmer had given us, and a Camden Town cat who slaughtered the relaxed and lazy wild life of the New Forest. We had named our cat Hercules after a stirring commercial for the bicycle which the Nigerian audience used to chant in the cinemas in Lagos. 'Hercules for Looks; Hercules for Strength; Hercules, the Finest Bicycle Built Today!' To match that our collie had to have a prestigious name too, so we called him Jason. Classical scholars would appear from the undergrowth for a chat whenever I called 'Jason' on our walks in the New Forest. With Helen enrolled at a kindergarten and Carol expecting a new baby, it seemed we had come through a terrible storm and were in calm and tranquil waters.
My initial task at Esso was to go through an induction course for all new employees. I had been particularly attracted to Esso by its democratic attitudes to its work force. All staff used the same lavatories and the single canteen as the shop floor workers. In fact this was not without problems for I soon found I was being buttonholed as a useful contact in Personnel. A friendly chat might end up with a request for a helping hand on a pay query. Whilst paying lip service to the idea of Esso's democratic approach, most of the personnel people retreated to a pub for lunch which was invariably a pie and a pint.
It was at this point, whilst making many new friends and delighting in the possibilities and challenges of my new job, that I guessed Les Thornton had a problem which concerned me and forced him to come clean.
"Sean," he said. "You came to us with the highest recommendation and we still think you are the right man for us. But..."
Esso had received a secret letter from Whitehall saying that their new Personnel Officer was totally unsuitable for any kind of responsible employment in a senior capacity. He was disruptive, unco-operative and disloyal. He had all the faults of his race...
I exploded with rage.
"Race!" I exclaimed. "An Irish name I chose after a visit to a dentist and I have all the faults of the Irish whatever they are! They aren't allowed to publish adverse reports like this. There's an established procedure with appeals to a Public Service Commission."
"Somebody is trying to destroy you," said Les. "I've told you too much already, Sean. Esso will not want to upset Whitehall, however unjustified this is. We'll have to hide you away somewhere."
"Like hell I'll hide away," I said, and went off to telephone Barltrop at the Colonial Office.
Mr Barltrop was dead. He had had a heart attack. Had I caused this by forcing him to lift the lid on the atrocities in Lagos? A Mr Foggon had recently taken over as Labour Advisor to the Secretary of State.
Les confirmed what I already knew. Foggon's first act in London had been to destroy me. I told Les a little about Lagos, and how Foggon had tried before to get me sacked and how he had been overruled. He shook hands! Some gentleman!
"It's the worst reference I ever saw," said Les Thornton. "The bastard wants you dead. You must have a lot on him."
"Yes," I said. "Even his English secretary had it out with him. She told him he'd got one real friend in the Department and his name was Sean Smith..."
"Is he insane?" asked Les.
"I don't know. Maybe he's got a medical problem. Strange things happen to people in Lagos. Some get sex crazed, some take to drink or go native. Foggon's got to destroy me."
"Life could be difficult for you here, Sean," said Les. "And maybe even for me."
"That's why I'm resigning, Les," I told him. "I'm not going to embarrass you or Esso."
The following week I started delivering the post in Lymington. Esso executives were astonished to see their new Personnel Officer delivering their pools coupons.
Foggon cowered when I entered his small room at the Colonial Office. He was pale and frightened. I looked at the small window. It was too small to throw him out. I thought of chucking a chair out. I felt the need to shatter the calm of the cathedral-like quiet of the Colonial Office.
"You didn't tell them about me?" he implored. "About Lagos?"
"Why did you do it?" I demanded.
He looked at his blotter. "Look," he said, springing up. "This is what they gave me when I left Lagos!" He held up an elaborately decorated Nigerian dress. "This is me wearing it," he said, eagerly, thrusting a photograph towards me.
"Christ!" I thought.
How pathetic. He had pressurised the Chief Clerk to take a collection. Men with a life time of service in Nigeria disdained such nauseating bum sucking pretences. Foggon really was the genuine carpet bagger.
"They want you to go back to Nigeria," said Foggon. "You always got on well with Nwokedi. He's in charge now."
I turned and left. He was not worth another thought. He was quite worthless.
The personnel people at the Colonial Office were incredulous. How could Foggon do what was clearly a breach of all the rules!
"Ask him," I told them. "I've lost my job. I've had to let my house. I've sold my car. I've had my cat and my dog put down. My wife is expecting a baby. I'm broke..."
"It's incredible," they said. "We're checking out things in Lagos. If what you say is true...!"
"What you said is true. It's incredible, unbelievable. We could put you on the next plane back to Lagos. Foggon wants you to go back. Did you know him well?"
"Very well," I replied. "But I don't want to talk about him. Even thinking about him makes me sick."
Nwokedi wrote to say he would like me to return to Lagos. Hope springs eternal. Perhaps Francis had got rid of Cook!
And so we returned to Lagos. This time we were four. Helen Lindsey had a baby sister, Rebecca Louise to be known as Lou. Foggon was returning me to Lagos. This was the character who had said I had all the faults of my race; who had tried to make me unemployable.
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Philip Haywood met the plane at Ikeja Airport and took care of us until we had a flat and a new car. Francis Nwokedi was warm and welcoming. He invited us to a party and insisted on a group photograph. Peter Cook did not want to be photographed but Francis was determined that Peter should stand next to his friend Sean. Francis was gleeful.
Lagos was changing. Young American college boys were driving and cycling around Lagos and they did not all belong to the CIA. Journalists and writers, anthropologists and sociologists, were wandering around the back alleys. Carol took up her old job at British Petroleum and we could pay our bills.
Francis had plans for me, but it seemed I was not to be allowed to see any files. No schedules for me, only special assignments. A Dock Labour Scheme for Lagos might be a good idea, Sean? Why not? I should drive down to Port Harcourt to see how the labour force was organised there as well.
"Ask Peter to arrange Rest House accommodation, book you on the ferry across the Niger and so on," said Francis.
I smiled and agreed, but next morning at 3 a.m. I was on the road out of Lagos. I was going to drive straight through to Port Harcourt, a distance of 550 miles. If I drove my new Consul flat out I might get to Port Harcourt by the evening. I had a torch, a heavy spanner for defence, sandwiches and a flask of tea. A new road had just been completed to Benin but was not yet open. The new road could save many miles, but could I find it in the dark? It was madness but I did find the road. The drive was scary as the road was quite empty of traffic. Late that afternoon I was heading south to Port Harcourt when I found the road blocked with oil drums. Rather menacing men carrying clubs tried to stop me. I skidded off the road and at speed twisted and wove my way back on to the road. I had one day in Port Harcourt and that evening set off back to Lagos.
When I had staggered into the Rest House at Port Harcourt the regulars at the bar turned and asked, "Where've you come from?"
"Lagos," I replied.
"How many days?" they asked.
"This morning," I replied.
There was a stunned silence.
The morning I arrived back in Lagos I went into the office.
"We had better plan this journey of yours to Port Harcourt," said Peter Cook.
"I've been, Peter", I replied.
"The Governor General thought you'd finished and now you're back. What the hell happened?"
The speaker was the new head of establishments in the new Ministry of the Interior. He wanted to hear my story. I told him about Okotie Eboh and his depredations.
"He's now Minister of Finance."
"I hear he told the Governor General he hadn't finished spending the Labour Department!"
"Be very careful," I was warned.
Okotie Eboh's name had become synonymous with corruption in Lagos. During our stay in London, Carol had called on a friend in the City who specialised in unusual deals. Carol had worked for him on leaving University.
"You'll know Okotie Eboh then, Carol - Festering Sam. I've been moving his money through London to Swiss accounts. He's minting it!"
This was two years before Independence.
Some histories and other academic works on Nigeria are a public relations job. Their purpose is to sell an idea about Nigeria. These books are nice in tone, straightforward to read, and admitted simplifications. The writers can plead that they are compiling elementary introductions to the Nigeria story and that they have to cover a lot of ground in a few pages. They skate over or ignore unsavoury subjects and are positive, optimistic and non-controversial in tone. The authors are honest, decent people who often have long experience of Nigeria and are devoted to its interests. They have suffered from or risked malaria, sandfly fever, and a host of other diseases, and the many real discomforts and dangers of life in Nigeria. They may be idealistic and intelligent enough to know that a country, particularly a new nation, needs a history it can believe in. The right story can reinforce national feeling and sensible patriotism. Romance and mythology play a part in nation building.
The authors, being British, show how Britain came to this part of Africa but make the colonial act, the stealing of someone else's territory or country, a friendly, decent, benevolent thing to do. And as the story ends with Independence on 1 October 1960 the history can be written backwards to show things gradually improving, the people being educated and civilised, the nation being built up from primitive savagery until the time is ripe to haul down the Union Jack, fire the cannon and light the fireworks.
Nor is this public relations job confined to some historians. As an administrator, I drafted and edited many reports which gave a rosy picture of the Labour Department and its work. My aim was to present my Department as efficient and hardworking in an effort to encourage it to be like that, and anyway I would not have been allowed to write the depressing 'truth', emphasising all the faults and negative aspects.
Henry Bretton, an American scholar, realised all this in 1962 when he wrote that most articles and books on Nigeria did not shed light on its problems. The majority paraphrased official reports written by bureaucrats (like myself) 'whose purpose it is to conceal rather than to reveal.' Bretton goes on to say that for this reason no real insights should be expected from studies based on official reports of elections in Nigeria. Bretton was very perceptive.
If the 'official' story, history or report is not the whole truth, how can one find out what really happened? For the officials who know the secrets risk their jobs, promotion and pension rights if they reveal those dark secrets. Where law breaking is concerned it is my personal belief that the civil servant's true loyalty must be to the electorate and not to criminals who happen to be civil servants or politicians. In the United States civil servants are positively encouraged and ordered to blow the whistle on criminal activity. In Britain the establishment regards the public, the taxpayers who pay their salaries, as the enemy who must not be allowed access to secrets, for the simple reason that if they knew what was going on they would put a stop to it.
The official story, that the British handed sovereign power in Nigeria over to a democratically elected group of party leaders was written and stage managed by officials. The true story must not be revealed to the public. Keeping these two scenarios going was no problem for the experienced bureaucrat. Even what appeared to be an absolute truth, the granting of Independence in October 1960, is not as well founded as it appears.
The Regions already had considerable powers of self-government and became independent in 1957. British influence and power continued unchecked in the most vital areas of Government after October 1960, and to some extent, so successful have British policy and the machinations of British Governments been, even to the present day. A secret defence pact, which Nigeria's leaders had to agree to sign before Independence was granted, is but one small example. As the elections were not fair and above board, the legitimacy of the Government was doubtful. The British Government determined beforehand to whom it would be handing the keys of the Nigerian kingdom. They were the rulers of the North, who had been long favoured by the British.
When the British invaded the Moslem North and realised that a stable if feudal and authoritarian system of government was already in place, they decided to rule through the Emirs. This system of indirect government which has probably always been the stock-in-trade of conquering powers, became almost a religion or a fetish and attempts were also made to apply it in Southern Nigeria with disastrous results. The basic idea was that the Northern rulers could do as they pleased so long as they did not offend the British. The restrictions placed on the Emirs were not arduous and so long as taxes were collected and there was no disorderly behaviour, the Emirs not only had a free hand but were assisted by British administrators and, if necessary, by the force of the British army. Missionaries were disliked by the British and only allowed into very restricted areas. As the Northern Region covered most of the area of Nigeria and arguably the majority of Nigeria's population, only a minority of Nigerians had access to the civilising influence and the schools, hospitals and Christian message of the missionaries.
Sir Alan Burns, an acting Governor of Nigeria and historian, asked after Independence what British rule had done for the Nigerian people. He said the chiefs had little to complain of, their positions were assured and their incomes more certain. As for the common people, no attempt was made to force upon them 'all of the doubtful advantages of modern civilisation.'
Dr. Robert Collis was also in Nigeria at that time. He wrote, 'The children of Nigeria are suffering unbelievably. I have seen nothing like it since Belsen. Death and pain stalk beside them. Out of every two born one must die... often suffering the greatest agony as they go.'
The chief recruiting officer at the Colonial Office, Ralph Furse, wrote in 1962, 'To rule, you must also know when to shut one eye. The British have been rather good at this... we are sometimes surprised and a little pained, that the immense benefits we have conferred on the so-called backward races, have not been received with more whole-hearted enthusiasm.'
In 1947 Sir Hugh Foot found that there was not a single University in Nigeria nor a technical school, and in the North not one secondary school. Highly regarded as a first class administrator himself, I.F. Nicolson, who thought indirect rule very overrated, saw British administrators as trustees or stewards of an estate during the minority or incapacity of its rightful owners. Nicolson thought nearly all the British did a good job and gave a regular and honest account according to their lights.
The colonial service was another fiction as it did not really exist. A small staff at the Colonial Office merely recruited staff for each colony, which itself paid the salaries of its administrators. Most of the recruits went to Africa and most of these to Nigeria. Northern Nigeria was the most sought after posting.
The British in the North despised the educated Igbo and Yoruba from the South, but nevertheless they had to employ them as clerks, storekeepers and railwaymen in the North as there were no educated Northerners. They were seen as troublemakers like the missionaries: the sort of people who see injustice everywhere and protest to the newspapers. Not that the British in the North took any chances, for only one Government-controlled newspaper was allowed there. Permission to publish newspapers was often sought by Southerners and as often refused. Henry Bretton remarked that, although on paper, basic human rights were guaranteed in the North, the Northern regime was still feudal, and the civil rights provisions were so thoroughly circumscribed and hedged round as to permit almost any practice, including slavery.
The Northerners never really wanted the British to leave. They feared the Southerners more than the British. The British and the Northern elite worked so closely together that differences of policy could hardly exist. The British claimed that the Northerners had demanded and must have fifty percent of all the seats in a Federal legislature. Was it really the Emirs who thought this up or did the British put them up to it? The British agreed anyway. The only thing lacking in this feudal authoritarian state was a mouthpiece, a political party which could represent the North and a political party, the Northern Peoples' Congress (NPC) was invented. It has been remarked that the NPC had few of the attributes of a political party. Its members, officials, MP's and funds came from the Native Authorities which were controlled by the Emirs.
Whoever controlled the NPC controlled the North and the whole of Nigeria. As the British and the Emirs were inseparable, elections were a mere formality. As Henry Bretton remarked '...the very construction of the Northern Region, in the form in which it entered the era of independence, represents one of the greatest acts of gerrymandering in history.' Most observers have noted this symbiosis between the British and the Northern elite. Were the Southerners so objectionable that the British had to go to such lengths to deny their leaders political control over their own country? Or were there other reasons?
Sir Hugh Foot, like other British administrators in the North, adored Northern people and, like some of his colleagues, the people he spoke so highly of were not the common people, the poor illiterate millions, but the Emirs. Thus, 'Polo is the national game of the North where the people are natural horsemen. The Emir of Katsina was the best polo player in Nigeria. I remember particularly one polo game we played... The Emir rode as hard as ever and when we had finished, and the strings of ponies were being led back to the walled town...'
One can see the appeal of all this to one type of British administrator. It seemed to many in the South that the British had constructed in the North a magnificent game reserve, except that the game were the Northern peasants. The Emirs were the gamekeepers. Sir Hugh found the Obas, the Chiefs of the Yoruba, very different and most difficult to understand. 'The Northerners have the predominant characteristics of Moslem dignity, courtesy and courage. The Igbos in the East are quick to learn, volatile, uninhibited, gay.'
The Yoruba on the other hand had a barbaric custom, personal dignity and political finesse. Maybe it was the barbaric custom that got up the British nose. The traditional way of getting rid of an unpopular Oba was to present him with a parrot's egg. He was then expected to commit suicide. Presumably the Yoruba did not waste parrots' eggs on the British because they knew they would not take the hint. But the British were not treated as gods by the Yoruba. In my experience the Yoruba regarded themselves as superior to the British and one only had to read a book written by Awolowo, the Western leader, to know why. The Yoruba were often highly intelligent and they taunted the British with sending inferior people to Nigeria. The Igbo would be humble and avert his eyes in the presence of a European. The Yoruba child would look at an important European and shout, "Hello, white man," as if he were a freak.
British settlement and ownership of land in Nigeria had been prohibited because it was so unhealthy, the white man's grave. The mosquito saved Nigeria from the ignominy of becoming a South Africa. Accordingly the Action Group's first circular in 1951 had a motto, 'Freedom from British Rule,' and a mosquito for a badge, intended to symbolise the driving out of the British. Awolowo claimed that the Governor General, Sir John MacPherson who left Nigeria in 1955, had developed a strong prejudice against the Action Group. Its leaders were rude to Sir John and in due course they decided to ostracise him. The Action Group had the audacity to pass a resolution forbidding its members from fraternising socially with him. Sir John was charged with wilfully obstructing the political progress of Nigeria. His mischievous actions in certain matters was tending to impair the unity of the country. Awolowo claimed that Sir John was furious, not so much with the resolution but by the reasons given for it.
Awolowo had made a tactical error and a powerful enemy for himself. Sir John left Nigeria to become head of the Colonial Office. He would be negotiating with Awolowo when the Action Group were demanding more states for Nigeria. And when an ally was needed to help weld the Northern NPC into a permanent Government machine, the vacancy would be filled by the Easterners, Zik's NCNC. The West and the Action Group were to go into limbo and worse. The Action Group would eventually be smashed and Awolowo jailed for treason. Sir John MacPherson knew a parrot's egg when he saw one, but he was not an obliging Oba, and he planned and got his revenge on the Action Group and its leaders.
Sir Hugh Foot spoke with some experience of Yoruba chiefs. He was himself given the bird by the Alafin of Oyo. The bird was a live turkey presented as a gift and Sir Hugh, wearing his cocked hat and white suit, was expected to make a speech with the turkey under his arm. 'The turkey obviously thought the proceedings odd. As I spoke he turned his head to look me in the eye. His gaze was embarrassingly close and I thought as I continued my formal speech - and feared for my white uniform - that I could see in the turkey's eye a look of contempt. I also thought as I turned from the turkey to the Alafin that I caught, through the string of beads, a wink of delight at my predicament.'
The Yoruba were extremely conservative and drawn towards the law and business. They modelled the Action Group on the Conservative Party as the latter's machine was considered the most efficient. It may seem odd that the Yoruba were not chosen by the British to rule alongside the favoured Northerners in the Independence Government which the British were busy planning in 1956 long before the actual Independence date. The reason was that the Yoruba leaders were independent minded and could not be relied upon. Awolowo particularly was regarded as 'unsound'. He was personally honest and if there had been a whisper of corruption the British would have known about it, for he was under extremely close surveillance. That is to say, his every movement was reported on and his mail and telephone were checked routinely.
Political leaders who would not be controlled through blackmail were regarded as a menace by the British. In the Arabian Gulf and Aden Protectorate a raid by a squadron of rocket firing Typhoons could quickly destabilise, if not permanently remove from this earth, a Sheikh who was getting too big for his boots. The British Resident or Political Advisor would have already lined up one of the Sheikh's lieutenants or cousins who was eager to take his place. Rocket firing Typhoons were not permissible under Nigerian conditions. Bribes could be offered, favours done, threats made. All the British wanted were amicable agreements; an atmosphere in which bargains could be made, compromises considered, deals done.
Awolowo was very displeased when Lagos was taken out of the Western Region and made Federal Territory. However, he must have been relieved when the Governor General removed Adelabu who was an enormous thorn in Awolowo's flesh. Adelabu was also a threat to Zik's leadership and the British had their reasons for not wanting Zik's position to be undercut. Adelabu was a charismatic firebrand who might, had he not been removed from the political scene, have transformed Nigerian politics. He could have been a real revolutionary. Adelabu was a Minister in the Federal Government when corruption charges were brought and the Governor General fired him. At that very time, as I well knew, the Governor General was positively encouraging Chief Okotie Eboh, his Minister of Labour, to spectacular acts of corruption, including selling off Government buildings and pocketing the proceeds. No doubt a forerunner of Mrs Thatcher's privatisation doctrine.
In sacking Adelabu the Governor General performed the neat trick of putting both the Action Group leaders and Dr Azikiwe in his debt and got rid of a likely troublemaker who might have upset the British applecart. Adelabu had accomplished the impossible task of turning the Western Region capital, Ibadan, into an NCNC stronghold. This was very unsettling to the Action Group.
The British plan was to have each major tribal party secure in its own Region. It has been suggested that the British did some deals and had an unwritten understanding that fighting elections outside one's own Region was to be no more than a token affair. Although the NCNC had once won the Western Region, perhaps because at that time the NCNC was better organised than the Action Group, and Dr Azikiwe was perceived as a truly nationalist leader and not merely a leader of the Igbo tribe, in general the East was the monopoly of the NCNC and the West was the monopoly of the Action Group. What the British did not want was the intervention of the West and East in the heartlands of the North. If the peasants were to turn against the Emirs the very basis of British policy would be undermined.
The NCNC tried to get round this embargo by running in tandem with the small Northern group called the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) which it financed. Retaliation was swift. Armed thugs physically attacked NEPU candidates and they were hounded and harassed by police and government officials. It was said by visiting Europeans that the British tried to control these attacks and things would have been worse without the British presence. Others might ask why the British allowed these terrible abuses at all. And did the British only intervene when observers were seen to be present?
The British administrators always, of course, acted in accordance with the traditions of an English gentleman. An official enquiry into the recruitment system in 1929 had endorsed this view, which had been put forward by the Duke of Devonshire,'...that in every circumstance and under all conditions British colonial officials shall act in accordance with the traditions of an English gentleman.'
What was not enquired into was what exactly these traditions were. And which English gentlemen were to be emulated, as they were quite a mixed bunch. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century bribery and corruption were rife in British politics. The gentlemen who sat as judges sent trade unionists to exile in Australia and hanged children for petty theft.
Ralph Furse, who personally recruited many colonial administrators, proudly claimed that '...the name of the British Colonial Service will be remembered with honour for a thousand years.' It is perhaps unfortunate that Adolf Hitler made a similar claim for his Third Reich. Yet it is undoubtedly true that in Northern Nigeria, even in the 1980's, individual British officials are still remembered with the greatest warmth and affection. Even if the British were not always taken at their own face value, and were sometimes seen as hypocritical and just a bit dodgy, they were seen generally as nice people, usually totally honest, who rarely abused their considerable power for personal gain.
An American, Robert F. Heussler, who studied British administrators in the North, commented that '... following the time honoured principles of indirect rule... colonial regimes exercised as little government as possible.' This was another reason for the British to be unhappy with the Western Region leaders. As soon as they got power, instead of leaving their considerable financial reserves made from cocoa in London, where they helped prop up the ailing British economy, they spent them on universal primary education, roads and clean water supplies, and even paid a minimum wage of five shillings (twenty-five pence) per day to their workers. This not only embarrassed the British, who had always argued that it was only shortage of cash which stopped them providing basic utilities, but also the East and the North who felt it necessary to demonstrate that they were not lagging behind the West.
In the East, Dr Azikiwe had built up a political machine, the NCNC, which could genuinely claim to be nationalistic and not tribal. It was, however, seen by its enemies as representing Igbo aspirations and being under the control of the Igbo leaders. Like most newcomers to Nigeria I at first saw Zik as the embodiment of Nigerian nationalism, but Peter Cook, who saw it as his duty to educate me in realpolitik, assured me that Zik was no threat to our people. There was a lot of sound and fury but basically Zik was sound. He knew which side his bread was buttered. He was also very astute in keeping out of jail.
"When there's trouble," Peter Cook assured me, "Zik will be out of the country. Nobody will be able to pin anything on him."
I saw nothing sinister in this. Perhaps I became disenchanted with Zik when I learned he was a good friend of Peter Cook's. It appeared that Zik had been a boxer and shared Peter Cook's love of sport to the extent of having his own stadium in Lagos.
If I was disappointed to find that Peter Cook was not displaced as Deputy Commissioner when Francis Nwokedi took over the Department of Labour, I was shattered to learn that, after his retirement in 1960, Peter Cook would be returning, at Zik's instigation he claimed, to manage the new Federal Sports Stadium.
In his long political career Zik accomplished a great deal, and perhaps his critics expected too much of him. There was a vacancy for a saintly, self-sacrificing, adroit, highly intelligent, revolutionary, statesmanlike, nationalist leader. The hopes and dreams of many that Zik would fill this role were dimmed when they saw Zik, the President of Nigeria, going about in the uniform of the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Army. As Peter Cook predicted, when the military coup took place in 1966 Zik was having medical treatment in London, and the failure of the coup leaders to assassinate corrupt Igbo politicians made many Nigerians, and particularly Northerners, question the motives and sincerity of those behind the coup. Zik's change of sides, when it became evident the Igbos were losing the civil war, finally destroyed his image as the nationalist saviour. For many Nigerians, Awolowo was accepted by default as the only candidate for the vacant post of a great Nigerian political leader.
John Gunther noted that Zik believed vehemently in a unitary Nigeria and that, under self-government, the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa could live together. Whilst Zik's interest in sport was undoubtedly altruistic, it was noted that sport was a cohesive influence in the NCNC's youth organisations. But if Zik was extremely keen on youth and sport, his opponents rarely considered him as being sporting, or a good member of a team. Rather he was seen as a temperamental prima donna who could not stand any other person of ability close to him. Other British academics, like Post and Jenkins the biographers of Adelabu, saw Zik in a different light. He was a persuasive teacher, an effective propagandist, an able formulator of principles, an astute political tactician, a rugged antagonist and an inspiring personality.
Zik has been blamed for wrecking a potentially powerful political grouping, the Nigerian Youth Movement. By 1957 Zik was in deep trouble when the Foster-Sutton Commission of that year found him guilty of conduct unbecoming of the Premier of a Region. But the Governor General made no move to oust him, as he had previously ousted Adelabu. Perhaps the British saw Zik as a broken reed, who was bankrupt in more ways than one. Seeing their opportunity, thirty-one influential NCNC leaders demanded Zik's resignation in 1958, but Zik outmanoeuvred them and had them all thrown out of his party.
The full story of Zik's political career has yet to be written. There are many dark areas such as whether Zik had a role in the Enugu shootings. The British clearly thought Zik and his Party were somehow involved, but perhaps they exaggerated his influence and found him a useful scapegoat.
Major Nzeogwu, one of the leaders of the first military coup, complained that Zik was a rogue, but fortunately for Zik the six majors did not feel too strongly about him for otherwise he might have been one of the victims of the coup. Paradoxically, had he been assassinated, many Igbo lives would have been saved, for the charge that the coup was an Igbo plot, which led to so much bloodshed, would not then have been sustained. Nigeria might even have been spared the bloody civil war which cost one million lives.
One of the English girl secretaries had a headache at the office. On the way home she remarked, "I hate the Africans."
"I thought you got on so well with your cook," I said.
"Oh, he's all right. He's smashing really. I bought him a watch for his birthday."
"And the chap you work with?"
"He's great fun. We have a lot of laughs."
"And your boss?"
"The man with the golden tool! Women queue up to see him. All nationalities! Those eyes! Talk about 'come to bed' eyes!"
"You get on so well with them. I know they really like you," I said.
"Do you think so?" she asked looking surprised. "I wish they'd say so!"
"Of course some people don't like them," I said.
"Oh, I don't know," she said with a smile. "They can be very sweet." After a pause she asked, "Do you think they have big ones... you know?"
"I've heard it said. Maybe some have small ones too!"
"I bet they're animals in bed. You probably think I'm dreadful. I just wonder. Just once, to see what it's like."
"It's difficult to get to know them socially in Lagos," I said.
"Never mind," she said as she got out of the car. "I'll probably never know."
Instead of spinning out the devising of a Port Labour Registration Scheme for Lagos for the eighteen months of my tour, I completed it rapidly in a few weeks. As the dock workers were already employed by one firm, I was myself unclear exactly what our registration scheme was designed to accomplish. In unscrupulous hands the scheme might have been used to apply pressure so that some of the large profits being made out of a monopoly situation were diverted elsewhere. I have little doubt that I was not the only one to foresee this possibility.
Although disappointed that Nwokedi had no plans to displace Peter Cook, I foolishly continued my efforts to instil some idealism into Francis.
One evening we had Francis and his wife Betty to dinner and I was carrying on as usual, with Francis roaring his head off when Betty commented,
"I totally agree with you, Sean, but Francis is a very hard nut to crack! I know, I've tried often enough!"
While still working on my Port Labour Scheme, I was surprised to be visited by a very large lady who, in Lagos parlance, was described as a market mammy. She had a wicker tray holding cigarettes and matches balanced on her head, but what she fished out of her native dress was a Police Special Branch identity card.
"I'm a plain clothes detective," she said.
I was quite surprised. It seemed that the dock workers had plans to throw the Port Manager into the lagoon. I found it impossible to take this seriously. Particularly as there was no special reason why they should. The dock workers were not employed by the Port Manager. Their employer used ruthless tactics to maintain discipline, including a squad of very heavy, menacing thugs who were easily picked out because they wore English-style trilby hats. When trying to interview dock workers, I had found them very reluctant to talk, which surprised me until I realised that the thugs were watching from a distance. The dock worker I was talking to slipped away into a crowd of his companions and was soon indistinguishable because they were all wearing the same uniform of khaki boiler suits with short sleeves and legs.
The Special Branch lady was irritated that I did not take her allegations very seriously. I asked her to let me know if she received any more information.
"Why?" she asked.
"Oh, I'd just like to be there if they do throw him in," I said.
She was not amused.
That weekend the whole family went for a picnic on the Marina, outside Government House. The docks at Apapa were on the other side of the lagoon. We had spread our reed mats on the grass and laid out sandwiches, cakes and bottles of Fanta, an orange drink, when suddenly I grabbed Helen and Louise and to Carol's consternation bundled them all back into the car. The Marina was deserted and quiet except for the lapping of the water. In the lagoon a few feet away from our picnic was the floating body of a man. He was wearing the short khaki overalls of one of my dock workers. His head had been damaged and there was a look of terror on his face.
I rushed to the policeman on guard at Government House to ask him to report the body. This was difficult as the policeman spoke very little English. I ran back to the car to quieten the girls. They did not know why we had abandoned the picnic. As the police arrived and I prepared to drive away, a coach stopped by my car. This was like a repetition of the incident on the Lagos/Ibadan road when a coachful of nuns passed by while Nwokedi and I were peeing into the bush. Only this time it was dozens of Salvation Army ladies who were pouring off the bus and heading for the water's edge. I rushed out and tried to send them away, but the more insistent I was, the more they crowded round.
"Please go away," I implored.
"We don't have to," snapped one of the lady officers.
Then she let out a shriek and collapsed. She had seen the body. Then there was a lot of crying and noise. I gave up and took Carol and the girls home.
"What is it, Daddy?" asked Helen, trying to comfort me.
My eyes were full of tears.
"Just this bloody country, Helen! Just this bloody country!"
If our Dock Labour Scheme was of any benefit to Nigerian workers, the credit must go to Francis Nwokedi whose idea it was. Francis made it possible. He also deserves credit for his next brain wave, which was to be the National Provident Fund for all Nigeria's workers. This was a magnificent idea and I was thrilled to prepare papers and devise a scheme. I was moved to the new Ministry of Labour which had taken shape at one end of the Labour Department. I had a desk outside the Minister's room which was meant to impress the National Insurance officials from the UK and ILO staff who came out to advise us. It made me seem more important than I was and made them feel they were seeing one of the top men. If they had seen my office at the Alakoro Labour Exchange they would not have formed such a favourable impression. The only reservations I had about the Provident Fund was whether we could prevent corruption. Millions of pounds would be flowing into the Fund. For me this was a major consideration, but first we had to set up the Fund.
If the Victoria Beach was getting more crowded with African families, we knew who was responsible. In our first tour Victoria Beach was only used by expatriate families. The Syrian and Lebanese communities would lean against their cars along a deserted piece of the beach road. This place on the road was known as the Syrian Beach. Our nanny Comfort would accompany us to the beach and sit on the sand in her white uniform while we splashed in the sea with Helen, or sunbathed. Other nannies sat on the beach watching over children.
It was Carol's idea to get Comfort a bathing costume. We had tried to get Comfort to paddle in the water but she had refused. I think she felt it was not allowed.
"We're going to get you a costume, Comfort," announced Carol. "You're a member of the family. If you don't go in the water, we won't go in the water."
Comfort looked stunned.
"Will you take Comfort to Kingsway and buy her a costume, Sean?" said Carol the following day.
The Nigerian shopgirls were amazed when I asked to be shown the swimming costumes and then told Comfort to choose one. Comfort was terrified but I reassured her. She selected an emerald green costume with some white edging at the top. When Carol returned from the office, she asked Comfort to put on her costume and wear her white coat on top. We set off for the beach with the girls very excited. When the moment came on the beach, Comfort was tense. Very slowly she removed her coat. Her costume fitted her well and she looked really beautiful. We gasped with pleasure and ran screaming down the beach and into the water. Comfort was so happy.
Over the next few weeks we noticed other Nigerian girls in costumes going into the water. Then as if by magic, one weekend the beach was crowded with African families and the road to the beach would be crowded with Nigerians walking there. It was wonderful. Europeans began to complain and head for beaches only accessible by boat. Half the housing in Lagos was insanitary even by the low public health standards. At least the people of Lagos could now go to the seaside and enjoy the fresh sea air.
The semi-educated Nigerian working as a house servant would probably know very little about Nigeria, its history, geography, etc. and he probably did not want to know. Even well educated Nigerians could give little help to the Britisher studying any aspect of Nigeria. The curious expatriate had to turn to the few libraries and find books written by British historians and researchers. Most educated Nigerians were products of missionary schools where the curriculum was very similar to that of an English grammar school. Many Nigerians delighted in the subtleties and complexities of the English language and deployed a very large vocabulary. They often seemed more English than the English, as some English academics researching Nigerian history and politics seemed more Nigerian than the Nigerians.
Working at my desk I would dread the approach of Nigerian clerks wanting to have a chat. Invariably they were seeking advice and, after paying me compliments on my wisdom and learning, would put to me some fine point of English grammar. I was most often much more ignorant about split infinitives and participles ending sentences than they were. If I professed total ignorance they would think I was teasing them or being modest. I was not; I was simply telling the truth. I tried to dodge by telling them that English was a living not a static language, that its forms and vocabulary were always evolving. If a new phrase or word was useful and used, it was in. It might not stay in long or it might soon become a permanent fixture. My clerks were not interested in this at all. They sought the correct usage, the right pronunciation. Having said that, it was interesting to see the clerks themselves, for all the purity of their English, coining new words and meanings.
"Did you train here?" I might ask.
"No, I came by bus," the clerk would reply.
"Is Mr Jones on seat?" I would ask, using an expression common in Lagos.
"No, he has deparked," would come the response.
"Don't you mean Mr Jones has departed?"
"No, sir, his car has gone, he has deparked."
One day, returning home from Alakoro, a boy of about twelve came from an alley at speed and hit the side of my car. He was unconscious and bleeding. I scooped him up, placed him on the back seat and rushed him to hospital. As I returned to the scene of the accident with a policeman the crowd seemed very menacing and I was reluctant to get out of the car.
"When they see master, they don't make plenty trouble," the policeman assured me.
I was not at all sure, but he was right. The crowd was suddenly silent.
"It's the blood, sir," said the policeman. "I tell them you take the boy to hospital. When they see the blood, they believe me."
It was only then that I noticed that my shirt and trousers were covered in the boy's blood.
The boy made a quick recovery and I tried to visit him.
"Better not," said my clerks. "We will look after him and take him food."
"Please take fruit for me," I requested.
"What sort of fruit?" asked my clerks.
They seemed puzzled. I explained that in England fruit was still seen as something of a luxury. We often took grapes.
"Grapes!" gasped my clerks. "How many?"
"A big bunch," I explained.
"How many in a bunch?" they asked.
"We don't count them," I said.
"Four grapes?" they asked.
"Good God, no," I exclaimed. "Dozens of them!"
My clerks fell about laughing and it was then I realised that they thought I meant grapefruit. I was the stupid one, of course. They did not know what grapes were as they were not commonly seen in Lagos at that time.
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I was driving down to the port at Apapa one morning when I passed a Nigerian struggling along the dusty road in the awful heat. I stopped to give him a lift.
As he approached the car his face lit up and he exclaimed, "Michael! How good to see you!" He had obviously mistaken me for somebody else. "No," he said. "You're not Michael, you're the other one who looks like him. You were at Oxford?"
"Then you knew my wife..."
When he mentioned her name, I did remember her. Not only that, but I recollected reading that her husband had murdered her a very few years before. And surely I had seen her at a college dance with an African companion. I became aware that he was continuing to speak.
"I killed her, you know. They put me in Broadmoor. They've just let me out. It wasn't my fault..."
Three weeks later Carol and I were at a dinner party given by the new Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, Richmond Postgate. I opened the door to a late arrival. The man who entered bore a very close resemblance to myself.
"You must be Michael," I exclaimed. "I met a friend of yours a couple of weeks ago who murdered a friend of mine. He's in Lagos and looking for you!"
Michael Crowder was to become a good friend. He was the new editor of 'Nigeria' magazine. Michael and his friend Robin Horton, an anthropologist, were to serve for many years in Nigerian Universities, but in 1959 they were both young men and they contributed considerably to the gaiety of life in Lagos. Neither made the slightest concession to the stuffy and Victorian atmosphere which surrounded officialdom in Lagos. They were a tremendous breath of fresh air and their laughter made life much more tolerable for me.
One evening, walking around Richmond Postgate's compound, Richmond stopped and peered into what seemed impenetrable bush at the edge of his garden.
"I have forebodings, Sean, of the most awful and bloody cataclysm in Nigeria soon," he said.
I have never forgotten Richmond's prophecy. The bloody and horrendous civil war which almost destroyed Nigeria came seven years after Richmond's gloomy prediction.
Awolowo in the West had taunted the British by claiming that his Government had accomplished more in the space of two or three years for his people than the British had since they arrived in West Africa. It was certainly true that the British administration spent very little on education and had it not been for the missionaries there would have been hardly any schools at all. One of the Action Group's first objectives was a crash programme of free primary education throughout the region. Some British administrators criticised these heroic measures to overcome decades of neglect. It was pointed out that many of the teachers were not qualified, conveniently overlooking the fact that Britain had only brought in compulsory education with the 1870 Education Act and at various times since it had not been uncommon to recruit untrained pupil teachers.
Lagos was fortunate in having Philip Haywood as its Education Officer in the late 1950's. Philip's drive and enthusiasm produced dozens of schools all over Lagos and a rapid expansion in the training of teachers. Philip was worth twenty dead-beat expatriates and his intellectual integrity and determination to get things done was an inspiration to others who were honestly trying to give Nigerians a good start when the country became independent. Philip had not found it easy to survive in the Education Department, but his enormous good humour and fund of stories enabled him to be buoyant and cheerful however difficult the odds.
"It is a very interesting fact," Philip remarked once over tea. "No matter how bad the Departments are in Lagos, each one somehow manages to get hold of one competent officer who can get things done and keep the machine running."
Philip named his contacts in each Department to make his point. It was true what he was saying. However, not every person he named managed to become Permanent Secretary of his Ministry as Philip did. Philip might have added that those whom he named as being dedicated and hard working, usually had the advantage that Philip also had, of an intelligent and enlightened wife. Philip and Vera had two daughters as we had, and I am absolutely convinced that having a supportive family enabled us to contribute much more to the enormous needs of Nigeria on the brink of Independence.
The doctors we met socially and through our official duties also made us aware of how fortunate we were to be happily married, for syphilis and other venereal diseases brought into the country by the seamen visiting Lagos and other Nigerian ports meant that the customers of the Lagos brothels were satisfying their sexual appetites at considerable risk, not only to their health, but to that of their wives and children too.
The Second World War had brought many British and American servicemen to Lagos, and a large number of brothels had sprung up to cater for them. But it was not only visiting seamen who frequented these brothels which masqueraded as beer parlours and dance arcades. British administrators without their wives commonly slept with African women, and it was official policy to advise a permanent arrangement, as casual sex increased the health risk. An official directive to District Officers had recommended that the advice of personal servants be sought when choosing a sexual partner, as they would know who the healthy girls were. A follow-up to this directive advised that it should be noted and destroyed.
When returning our nanny Comfort to her village if she had been baby-sitting and it was dark, we would drive from Ikoyi, th European suburb, and the car lights would pick out what appeared to be illuminated brassieres moving at the side of the road.
"Fornicators!" Comfort would squeal in an outraged tone.
The girls wearing these fluorescent bras were prostitutes waiting for clients from the white suburb. It really did seem that the bras were dancing without any form of human support.
Nigerian couples amongst our friends dealt with this matter in a very practical and matter of fact way.
"We don't want our men to catch syphilis by going with these girls, so when we are having babies or are out of town, we arrange for a sister or a friend to sleep with our husbands."
When Carol preceded me home and I was alone in Lagos for some weeks, an attractive young Nigerian wife said, "You must be hungry, Sean. Do keep away from those filthy women in town. You don't want to infect Carol..."
I stammered that I really had no intention....
"You men are so weak," she continued. "I had better come and have sex with you."
"But your husband..." I protested.
"I wouldn't deceive him, Sean," she laughed. "We don't play your English games! Of course, he would be agreeable. He is your friend as I am!"
I thanked her for her kindness, and reflected how much more honest and sensible the Nigerians were. With my English reserve, I could not have handled that situation, but I agreed very much with her attitude. When I mentioned this story approvingly some men were not very keen.
"No, thank you," said one. "You should see my wife's sisters and friends!"
A marriage without children to most Nigerians was unthinkable. It would be no marriage at all. And it appeared not uncommon among the Nigerians we knew in Lagos to start a pregnancy quite deliberately before getting married.
Those of us stationed in Lagos had a problem with visiting VIP's. We would show them the few official buildings, perhaps sign the book at Government House and, depending on their profession, show them prisons, schools, labour exchanges or whatever.
But almost without exception after a day or two of official visits, the VIP would say, "I've been thinking. It really has been absolutely fascinating seeing the way sewage is collected... I was just wondering if it might not be possible to see some social life. What do people do here at night?"
What they were after were girls. 'Local colour' was a guarded expression for what they wanted. There apparently exists in the culture and dreams and imagination of the Western male this enormous urge to experience sex with some dusky beauty. It is assumed, quite incorrectly, that the native girls are promiscuous, immoral or nymphomaniacs, but this is of course total fantasy. Certainly in Lagos, more girls went to church and were conventionally respectable and well brought up than the ladies in any English town.
The second part of the fantasy for the Western male is that the dusky maiden cannot wait to have sex with the white man. That was pure fantasy too in our experience. Perhaps because Nigerian men are extremely good looking, healthy and otherwise attractive. That left the prostitutes. Lagos had some, but compared with London very few.
If one escorted, and perhaps discreetly left, one's visiting VIP's in a dance hall collecting local colour, could one warn him that he might well take syphilis back home to England, from whence it had probably been brought by a visiting seafarer?
Sex without love or even affection, perhaps satisfies rape fantasies or is perhaps a commentary on the unsatisfactory sex lives of those who seek it. When powerful white men exercise their sex drives with powerless black women and men or children, perhaps we are close to the motivations of domination, colonialism or imperialism. At least white women are free from this kind of foolishness. And I was certainly not the only European male to exercise restraint, and treat the Nigerian people with proper respect. Nigerians are extraordinarily interesting and nice people, blessed with so much cheerfulness and laughter, that to see them as sex objects and not as human beings is simply an outrageous perversion or obscenity.
The stewards at the Lagos Rest House also provided prostitutes and one Resident bounced a lady on the bed springs for an hour, to the annoyance of his neighbour. The thin walls of the chalet accommodation seemed to amplify these goings on.
Eventually the voice of a Nigerian girl was heard to complain, "Please, master, fornicate me now. I got go cook my husband's chop!"
The Minister of Labour, Okotie Eboh, was like a child presented with the keys of a sweet shop. He exercised no restraint and in the Ministry did anything he wished and was never stopped. As he had timid officials who believed in obeying orders, it was little wonder that he was noted for his geniality. He quickly acquainted himself with every secret and racket in the Department of Labour and, being a born practitioner of interlocking blackmail, known to the British as 'Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours,' rapidly acquired the reputation of being the most corrupt Nigerian politician. The competition was quite strong for the title and although there were other strong candidates perhaps the others did not have such complaisant and co-operative officials to put the deals through.
As VIP's in Lagos were introduced to local colour, so Okotie Eboh in London was granted VIP status and entertained by the Foreign Office hospitality section. White prostitutes were laid on by that section when Okotie Eboh was in London. He so enjoyed having the Foreign Office pimp for him that he soon acquired a reputation for his trips abroad ostensibly to attract capital investment for Nigeria. The London prostitutes soon recognised this rotund black ruffian and began to protest,
"Oh, not Festering Sam again!"
They would with reluctance take him into Hyde Park and perform their services while the taxi driver went for a walk. Curiously at one time taxis were not allowed into the Royal Parks, perhaps for this very reason, but a saint of a socialist minister, Jowett of Bradford, thought this was an injustice and allowed taxis to use Hyde Park. To the British, Okotie Eboh was 'sound'. A Nigerian we could trust and work with. That he was totally corrupt, a crook and absolutely depraved was beside the point. He was one of 'ours.'
"Sean, this is the finest piece of work you have done in Nigeria," said Francis Nwokedi.
"How about the Nigerian Factories Act?" I queried.
I was not sure even Francis knew I had been responsible for that one too. At least Francis had the grace to thank me for my work in setting up the National Provident Fund. And then he dumped me back at Alakoro as Labour Officer in charge of the capital. The previous holders of that post were not distinguished for their dynamism. It took me several months before I found out why my telephone never rang. It seemed that the operator had instructions to tell callers I was not on seat.
"What happened to the other operator?" I asked my assistant.
"The new woman is a niece of the Minister," he replied.
I wondered why he had not told me that before.
Rather than die of boredom I took every opportunity to inspect establishments in Lagos. One well known catering firm had not paid its employees any wages for a very long time. I laid siege to the place, but it was only when my staff surrounded it and sent in a message that we were sitting tight until we saw the owner, that we got a response. The owner's wife would see me, but not if I was accompanied. We compromised. I would only see her if a door was left ajar with my assistant in the corridor. She pretended she only spoke French, and I insisted I only spoke English. She was a plump, middle Eastern lady, bulging out of her satin negligee. She was heavily made up and making seductive gestures which were so corny that they belonged in a Laurel and Hardy film.
"Tell me what you want and I will give it you, Mr Smith," she said, forgetting her earlier insistence that she only spoke French.
I repeated that I wanted her husband's workers to be paid but she brushed this aside. I kept moving up the settee on which we sat. There were no other chairs in the room. In the corner was a screen and I was sure her husband was in hiding behind it, waiting to leap out and accuse me of molesting his wife. I decided to stand by the door.
"Don't you like me?" she said.
"I want you to co-operate..." I began.
At that she brightened.
"That's what I want," she said and her negligée slipped.
I made a speedy exit. After further attempts over several days, I finally cornered her elusive husband.
"What do you want, Mr Smith?" he pleaded. "I have offered you money, crates of whiskey, girls, boys. You are the only British officer like this. I know many British Government people..."
He named some.
"I want you to pay arrears of wages to your staff," I insisted.
"Are you mad?" he shouted. "Why should you care whether I pay the lazy bastards!"
"It's the law," I said firmly.
"You're crazy!" he shouted. "Nobody obeys any laws in Lagos, you know that. I pay money to everybody!"
"But not to your employees!"
"What do you want, Mr Smith? My wife?"
"I don't want your wife."
"What's wrong with my wife?" he asked, looking hurt.
"Your wife is very nice..."
"You'd like her?"
"No. Nothing personal. I don't want her, that's all."
"OK," he said finally. "You want my daughters. You can have my daughters."
I gave up and wrote to the Attorney General asking permission to start a prosecution. The Attorney General replied that as the employer had not paid wages, the workers were not employed. One began to understand why the law was not obeyed in Lagos.
To keep boredom at bay we continued our inspections of Lagos catering establishments. In a Casablanca-type bar which catered for seamen, I refused the routine offer of a bottle of beer and looked around, half expecting Humphrey Bogart to make an appearance. My assistants were trying to find the books or accounts and question the staff as to their earnings. A lady who looked like Marlene Dietrich was sitting at the bar showing a lot of leg. My assistants appealed to me, as she said she was employed but did not fit any of the categories on our forms, such as waitress, cook, maid or kitchen hand. The lady grinned and winked.
"Put her down as a chambermaid," I suggested.
One day at the office I heard my assistants having a heated discussion in the adjoining office. They were debating whether English law or the English language had contributed most to Nigeria's development. For the hell of it I argued for English law. My assistants listened attentively and then one said:
"Nobody obeys the laws, Mr Smith. We know that."
"It's the spirit of the law," I pleaded, not altogether convincingly. "It's the idea of the law, of proper conduct..." Somewhat desperately I concluded, "It may take time for the law to bite, but one day..."
To my surprise, my assistants became deadly serious. They were not having a school debate now.
"Our inspections are a farce, Mr Smith!"
I began to waffle. God, even I was beginning to evade the truth!
"Maybe our calls do some good," I pleaded without conviction.
"But only the small fry," said one of my assistants. "We don't do the Ikoyi Club or the Island Club!"
I was stunned. The Club! I had not even thought of the Club as a catering establishment. As the Ikoyi Club exercised a colour bar, apart from a few nominal black VIP'S, the Nigerian top people had opened the Island Club which copied the Ikoyi Club and was for the well-to-do black as the Ikoyi Club was for the well-to-do white.
"You want us to do the Club and the Island Club!" I demanded.
There was silence. There was a lot of tension and unhappiness in the air.
"I know they're covered by our regulations," I said lamely.
"It's all right," said my assistants quickly.
"No, you're right," I said. We were just pretending. Chasing the small fish.
"It's all right, Mr Smith..."
"No, it isn't," I said. "Maybe one day a year we could make the laws work in Lagos."
"Inspect the Ikoyi Club, the Island Club?" my assistants gasped.
Their eyes were on stalks. They were on the defensive and frightened now.
"It's our job, isn't it?" I demanded.
"Mr Smith, you would get into plenty trouble!"
"I'm already in plenty of trouble," I said. "I'm going to have one day of law compliance. No one is above the law. Tomorrow I inspect the Ikoyi and Island Clubs."
"We'll do it, Mr Smith," they said.
Suddenly we all laughed. We felt ten feet tall. We were exhilarated.
"What do we wear?" they asked.
"Shirt sleeves down. Long trousers and ties," I insisted.
Next day we assembled in my room. My two assistants were tense and quiet.
"You don't have to come," I said.
"We're coming," they replied.
The Ikoyi Club was deserted at 10.30 in the morning but for a few stewards in uniform and scarlet cummerbunds. They looked astounded when they saw my two Nigerian assistants.
"I want to see the Secretary," I announced.
A dapper European appeared and glowered when he saw my African staff.
"What's all this?" he demanded.
I held out my official Identity Card. "My name is Harold Smith. I am a Labour Officer and I am carrying out an inspection of these premises under the provisions of the Labour Code and Catering Establishments Regulations.
"Get out!" he shouted. He was pink with rage. "How dare you bring those people in here!"
"May I introduce my Labour Inspectors?" I insisted. "We will require your wages books. I am empowered to see them."
"The Governor General will hear of this," the Club Secretary threatened. "I'm going to 'phone the Commissioner of Labour!"
"By all means," I said.
The Secretary raged over the telephone to Mr Cook. It seemed Mr Cook could not help him.
"Before I get the wages books, may I ask whether you are a member of the Club?" he enquired.
"Certainly not," I replied. "The books please..."
At the Island Club the black Secretary was even more enraged, but otherwise we had a carbon copy of the performance at the Ikoyi Club. The Secretary was also hostile to having two black Labour Inspectors on his premises. Perhaps if they had been white that would have been all right. Peter Cook was telephoned again.
That is all that happened the time we brought the law to Lagos for just one day. Except that I got the boot from my office at Alakoro. An isolated room was found for me some distance from the Ministry of Labour headquarters. I did not even rate a messenger, let alone a clerk or a telephone. I did have a desk and a chair though.
The Association of Senior Civil Servants were known as the Bolshies. Its Secretary was horrified when I told him how I had come to return to Lagos.
"They can't do that," he gasped. "It's just not possible."
"They did it," I insisted.
"We'll take it up," he said.
"So what happened?" I asked some weeks later.
"It was incredible. We saw the Governor General. We told him your story and do you know what he said?"
"'How would you boys like to go to London? Have a break. Talk to the Colonial Office about lumpers...'"
"So what did you say?" I asked.
"We jumped at it. We go to London next week!"
"And my case?"
"I don't think we're going to be able to help you... How about that! A free trip to London!"
The Public Service Commission Secretary was stunned.
"They can't do that!" he said.
"They did it."
"We must do something! God, it must have been terrible. Having to lose your dog, and your cat!"
Listen," said the PSC Secretary over the telephone. "I protested to the Governor General. They've posted me up shit creek!"
"How would you like to join the Nigerian Army?" asked the Senior Assistant Secretary. "It's a sinecure! Someone up there loves you. The Chairman of the War Pensions Board is going on leave. The job's yours."
"What's the catch?"
"No catch! You get his pay and yours. Just turn up on Friday, sign a few vouchers and take the money... You can have army rank. Be a colonel if you like."
"I'd rather use my own rank," I suggested.
"Why not? What was your rank?"
"The same as Lawrence of Arabia's."
"Colonel? That's OK."
"No. Aircraftman First Class. He was in the RAF too!"
"So you said 'no'," said Carol in a resigned tone. "We could have used the money."
"So they make me an army officer," I said. "One day it turns out I've signed some vouchers and someone has made off with a pile of money. I get cashiered. Maybe I get jailed. Maybe they let me off if I promise to be a good boy and keep my mouth shut..."
"You're right," said Carol.
The Social Welfare Department looked after juveniles in trouble and Lagos had quite a few. If it was attached to the Labour Department, Peter Cook could give the Lagos social workers the benefit of his experience, his interest in juveniles.
"Is that Governor General fucking mad?" asked the Nigerian social worker.
She was normally a very restrained and dignified lady.
"If that Cook so much as touches my kids, I'll cut his balls off," she said.
I knew how she felt.
"We've got to have a revolution," she said.
"Marx?" I queried.
"Rubbish," she replied. "The women's revolution!"
"The Amazons?" I queried.
"If men are going to go on making such a mess, we'll have to take over..."
"Could I help?"
"You'd only get in the way, Mr Smith."
Strange as it may seem, Peter Cook and his Government-approved ring of homosexual rapists were quite distinct and disapproved of by those responsible and liberal homosexuals who followed normal and quiet careers in commerce and teaching and other professions. To them his activities were a public disgrace which brought all homosexuals into disrepute and created an atmosphere of intolerance which would lead to persecution and prosecution.
If this had not been true it would not have been possible for Carol and me to have a good family friendship with men and women who happened to have a homosexual interest. To us, as to most liberal, educated people, it was of no possible concern to us what our friends' sexual interests happened to be. One chooses friends because they are honest, fair-minded, tolerant and responsible.
Francis Nwokedi certainly knew that our family circle of friends included a homosexual of considerable talent, because he seemed puzzled. Perhaps understandably he could not make the distinction, one I got tired of making, between being a homosexual and abusing one's position to pressurise young people into giving sexual favours. I had made it quite clear to Peter Cook, and he certainly understood, that I had no interest in his private life. I was, however, extremely concerned that he should exploit youths who were seeking employment. I would have found his behaviour equally obnoxious if it had been carried out with young girls as the victims.
I was already aware that the Governor General was taking a personal interest in my activities and my endeavour to prevent a repetition of the events following my last attempt to leave the Colonial Service. At the same time I knew a great deal about the election fraud which the British Government was perpetrating. I had kept my friend at Oxford, Philip Williams of Nuffield College, fully informed and it is likely that he had revealed to Margery Perham, an employee of the Colonial Office, Fellow of Nuffield and expert in Nigerian politics, that he had a friend in the Labour Department in Lagos.
Philip was an excellent raconteur and retailer of funny stories about Oxford personalities and scandals. There was much good humour and little malice in Philip. His interest in politics was total and he seemed to have little concern for novels, poetry or much else. I was interested in politics but after two hours of intense political chat with Philip over tea at Trinity College or Jesus, where he also taught, my head would be spinning. Although right wing in many ways, Philip's love of the Labour Party was notorious and second to none. He was by no means an uncritical party supporter and in many ways he thought the party was a bit dotty, but he admired the selfless devotion to good works by so many often poor, self-educated people and, as he made no secret of his Labour Party leanings, he must also have been acutely aware that he was placing obstacles in the way of advancement of his own academic career.
Margery Perham was a close friend of the Governor General, Sir James Robertson, and of many other prominent personalities at the Colonial Office. It is not improbable, given also that I was always candid and completely open to friends and colleagues about the difficulties I was in, that Sir James Robertson knew my every move. And of course, as Government routinely censored mail, tapped telephones and employed informers, it would have been surprising had they not known every detail of my life.
Even so, I was shocked when one of our family friends told us of a conversation he had had with the Governor General while having a private lunch at Government House.
"Your friend Smith is dabbling in politics, and needs to be warned," said Sir James to my thoroughly alarmed friend.
Sir James knew of his friendship with Sean Smith? He must have wondered why he had been invited to have lunch at Government House. A distinction enjoyed by few.
Our friend might have replied that I was usually much too busy to have time for politics, and was in trouble because I had resisted being embroiled in politics by Sir James himself.
"Just let him know," said Sir James.
He was not just letting me know, of course; he was embroiling a close family friend, who was not in the slightest degree involved in my conflict with Sir James. As it happened my friend was an Oxford man, and like Sir James a friend of Margery Perham.
Our friend was frightened. He was a homosexual and homosexuality was something one could go to prison for in the 1950's. He was being threatened and used to put pressure on me. Given Sir James's tolerance, if not active approval of Peter Cook's activities - he would have had only to pick up a telephone to have had Cook despatched on the first plane out of Ikeja Airport - his behaviour was extraordinary. Our friend was alarmed. He knew why the Governor General wanted to shut me up. I knew too much, but what could he do? I was afraid he might kill himself.
What followed next was even more intolerable. A police officer called on our friend at home and openly accused him of being a homosexual. He did not demand anything from my friend, he just wanted him to know that the Government knew about his private life. My friend telephoned me and I gave him such reassurance as I could, knowing full well that Government House was listening to my every word. I knew from my conversations with colleagues in other branches of Government, who shared my incredulity at the British Government's behaviour, that Sir James was not only frightened I would go public on the election rigging, but perhaps also expose his tolerance of Peter Cook's extra-mural activities. The Governor General had appeared to be very interested in this matter. He would not have taken personal charge in this affair otherwise.
I was not particularly happy with Francis Nwokedi. I knew he was reporting on me to Government House and would do whatever the Governor General ordered him to do. Francis had complained to me about demands made on him by MI5 who saw reds behind every palm tree. At the same time he did not see himself as a British stooge and was deeply offended when he attended an ILO conference in Geneva to find that the Russians openly snubbed him. I told him they probably did not realise how important he was, which seemed to satisfy him. As I said to Carol, it was much more likely that they knew and disapproved of his role in the events following the shooting of the coal miners at the Enugu Colliery. Francis was so anxious to please his masters, and so enjoyed the honours and promotion this brought, that he simply could not understand that some might have entertained the idea that he was betraying his people and his country. But as a number of discussions had made clear, although Francis knew he was black and an African, he did not see himself as a Nigerian. Britain was his mother country. Nigerians were inferior people. He was well educated; well read; perhaps an intellectual who was above national constraints. Politics was scheming, manipulating and fixing and greatly to be enjoyed as a pastime. He was not a fool; he did not lack moral sense; I still prayed that he was behind our National Provident Fund because of the benefits it might bring to millions of workers; but I was getting wary.
I was then invited to Government House myself. It was only a garden party but it was not one for the lower ranks. Most Heads of Department were there, but there were few Africans. It was either a sick joke or another warning for me. The reception was to honour the Minister of Finance, Chief Okotie Eboh. The Governor General knew that Okotie Eboh was a crook, and I knew that he knew. Had he not warned him to be more circumspect! The Governor General also knew that Okotie Eboh's name was a byword for corruption. His notoriety was a talking point in London, let alone throughout Nigeria. And as I have already stated, we even knew the London broker who was handling his Swiss numbered bank account.
It was also true that Okotie Eboh knew I was the expatriate officer who wanted his criminal behaviour stopped. And it seemed that quite a few departmental top brass at that reception knew that I was the Governor General's bête noire. As I passed through the gates of Government House on to the lawn, there was a hush and I turned round thinking the onlookers were staring and then turning their backs on someone behind me, but I was alone. It was me they were turning away from. People I knew were scuttling away, as well they might, for watching us from a raised dais were Okotie Eboh and Sir James Robertson. Government top brass were peeling away on either side as I walked slowly across the lawn.
Here was my friend, who had been warned by Sir James. I greeted him and strode towards him.
"Keep away," he yelled. "Sir James will see us!" and he ran away.
As if sensing that I was being ostracised, which I most evidently was, the Postgates came forward and ostentatiously took me by the arm and, under Sir James's steely gaze, introduced me to some of their friends. At this point the Governor General called for attention.
"I have the honour today," he announced, "to present a medal to the Minister of Finance, my good friend, Chief Festus Okotie Eboh.."
"Festering Sam!" I heard an onlooker murmur.
"...for his honesty and integrity..."
Even the VIP's were stunned. There was a silence and then, as the Governor General's aide began to clap his hands, a most unwilling and perfunctory clapping of hands followed. This was too much even for the thick-skinned British administrators.
'The bastard!' was a common expletive. Presumably they meant Okotie Eboh.
'Insane! Nauseating! Disgusting!' These were the whispered reactions as Sir James pinned a medal on Okotie Eboh's voluminous robe.
My thoughts were of the young English girl who had been one of the staff accompanying Okotie Eboh on one of his missions abroad. On some pretext he had called to see her late at night and had tried to rape her. The Governor General must have known of this young woman's distress.
I thought of all the honest, decent, young Nigerian people who were struggling out of poverty and, with the help of the missionary schools and dedicated church people, trying to create a new society, a new nation. They deserved better than this.
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One of our delights, returning from the Colonial Church on a Sunday morning with Helen and Louise, was to drive slowly around the back streets of Lagos. We would hear and join in a hymn from one Methodist chapel and a few hundred yards further pick up another hymn and another and another as we progressed around the town. The young people coming out of church and chapel would be full of gaiety and laughter. We felt cleansed ourselves just being amongst them.
There were many decent British people too. As we liked to stay at home with our daughters of an evening, we preferred to see our friends for tea rather than organise dinner parties. And as we were not drinkers, cocktail parties did not appeal either. We found a perfect compromise. After the morning service we would greet friends outside the Colonial Church and invite them home for coffee or even a heavily-diluted Pimms Number One. We always felt happier ourselves with the children present, and those Sunday morning get-togethers were one of the nicest memories we took away from Lagos.
Our young American friends whom we had met wandering the back streets of Lagos always reminded us of Holden Caulfield in 'Catcher in the Rye.' And one of the delights of knowing them was the discussions we had about 'The Caine Mutiny' or the latest Tennessee Williams play or Marlon Brando film. Years later I would find a scholarly work on Nigeria by some American professor and say to Carol,
"Do you remember that young American...?"
Peter Marris, who had come to Lagos via Cambridge and Kenya, was studying housing in Lagos. While driving to Ibadan on that road notorious for crashes, his Volkswagen Beetle had turned a somersault and plummeted into the jungle. Peter had crawled out unscathed and strolled into our flat for tea shortly afterwards as cool as if nothing had happened.
What with friends at Oxford like Neil Smelser and Andy Hacker shortly to be professors, and Bola Onitiri who had lodged with Carol's mother soon to be professor at Ibadan, and Michael Crowder and Robin Horton - both more Nigerian than any Nigerian - it seemed nearly all our friends would soon be university dons.
Michael Crowder was busy writing his very popular history, 'The Story of Nigeria.' I hoped one day Michael would tell the true story of the events leading up to Independence, although I appreciated that he wanted to continue to live and work in Nigeria. Michael was to write many more scholarly works before eventually being deported.
The various constitutional conferences in London which led up to Independence were not as significant as they appeared, because as I have already outlined, the elections were rigged and the coalitions formed even before the 1959 Federal election results were known. One Igbo academic supporter of Zik, Kalu Ezera, in a distinguished and scholarly work, 'Constitutional Developments in Nigeria,' correctly predicted the coalition line up of the political parties at Independence. In theory, the two Southern parties, the Action Group and Zik's party, the NCNC, could have teamed up against the Northern NPC. To make sure they did not, having already made extensive preparations to avoid such an outcome, the Governor General called on the leader of the Northerners, his friend Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to form a Government even before all the results of the 1959 election were counted.
The hotels in London where the delegations at the Lancaster House Constitutional Conferences were staying were wired up for sound by MI5 so that the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, the Colonial Secretary and Sir John MacPherson, former Governor General and now Head of the Colonial Office, could eavesdrop on what the Nigerians were discussing among themselves. As Okotie Eboh was a party to the machinations of the Colonial Office and had the job of sewing up the deals his masters at the Colonial Office wanted, he took care to take the prostitutes laid on for him by the Foreign Office into Hyde Park and not back to his hotel suite, thus denying the boys at MI5 of an extra bonus for their hours of tedious eavesdropping. In charge of eavesdropping on this occasion was an MI5 officer whose memoirs Mrs Thatcher has decided are not to be made available to the British public. The MI5 official was Peter Wright.
Any reader who is nauseated by this account should direct his anger at Britain's elected politicians at the time. Foremost amongst them was a man I deeply respected, the then Prime Minister, Mr Harold Macmillan.
The flight of the British from Africa, signalled by Mr Macmillan's 'wind of change' speech, was based on a realistic conclusion that the days of British rule were numbered, but did the withdrawal need to be so precipitate? Neither of the great fears which motivated Harold Macmillan were borne out. The new Africa did not go communist, neither was there any persecution of the British who stayed on. He should have listened to the Nigerian people, who, as Awolowo and other leading politicians stated, adored the British. Instead he took heed of MI5's fantasies which had reds up every creek. MI5 was responsible for tons of anti-Communist literature which Labour Officers and administrators were supposed to peddle to Nigerian workers. One had only to glance at this material to see how ridiculous it was. Its effect was firstly to publicise communism which not one in a thousand Nigerians had even heard of, and secondly it listed all the likely promises and good things the communists might bring to Africa. This propaganda was either written by idiots or communists in MI5. As a convinced anti-Communist myself, I sympathised with those who stacked these piles of misplaced propaganda publications in a corner of their office to be eaten by termites.
There is a record of Okotie Eboh on the way back from a Constitutional Conference peddling the Colonial Office line to his colleagues in the NCNC. Not all the party leaders were aware, as were Zik and Okotie Eboh, of the fact that British firms were financing the NCNC and that the British Government was actively participating in election rigging and chicanery to ensure that the North with the assistance of the NCNC ruled Nigeria in the British interest after Independence.
Okotie Eboh's ever growing wealth allowed him to play an independent role in politics, even defying his own party when necessary. He financed the NCNC and was probably more powerful than Zik. When criticised in the House of Representatives in 1960 for his dubious property deals, like selling the Department of Labour's trade testing headquarters, a deal put through by British civil servants, he threatened to expose similar deals in the Western Region. Okotie Eboh and some of his colleagues were more at home with the British-backed NPC Northern leaders than they were with the Igbo leaders of the NCNC. It has been suggested that, as an Itsikeri, Okotie Eboh could not plunder the Eastern Region, so had to be given licence to pillage the Federal Government. A licence from Sir James Robertson he exploited to the full. To put such a crook in charge of the Ministry of Finance was so unprincipled as to be beyond belief. It convinced me that on a personal level Sir John MacPherson, the Head of the Colonial Office and former Governor General, and Sir James Robertson, the Governor General, thought little of the Nigerian people and cared nothing for democratic values.
The draft minutes of an ad hoc committee meeting of NCNC ministers on board mv Apapa on 22 July 1957 are revealing. Zik was present, as was Okotie Eboh. Both knew of the British machinations. They now persuaded their colleagues. 'Experience has shown,' read the account, 'that in a country of our own level of political and economic evolution, open and emotional animosity towards expatriates is not only a most expensive luxury but a great tactical error. Agreed that a policy of evident fraternisation should now be pursued - with the national leader (Zik) giving the lead. We should not only be friendly but should appear to be so. This policy is to be applied officially and unofficially.' Sensible as this policy might have been, it was hardly the fire eating talk which they were feeding to their supporters back home, when they were posing as courageous nationalists, throwing off the British yoke.
Zik, had, of course, been expelling radicals from his party over many years. His remarkable inability to be at ease with men of superior or even equal intelligence has been put down to his temperament or some flaw in his character. His betrayal of the Biafran cause when they began to lose was the final act in a long line of similar inexplicable changes of course. The ghost in the works was of course the British colonial regime and the control they exercised through their superb, if totally unscrupulous intelligence network. The British held cards they never even played; the threat to play them was sufficient. And neither were individual Nigerians pure and virginal; they not only reported on each other but, after the supposed Independence of 1 October 1960, operated the British intelligence network against their political enemies. The NCNC in power were to be somewhat less than comradely in their persecution of the official opposition, the Action Group, and its leader Awolowo. On the mv Apapa, Zik and his comrades only agreed not to be beastly to the British.
Anthony Enaharo, one of the Action Group leaders to be persecuted and jailed while Zik was posturing as Governor General and President of Nigeria, has stated that after the 1959 elections the Action Group offered to join the NCNC in forming a coalition Government in which Zik should be Prime Minister. The offer was rejected. 'Within the NCNC there were powerful forces ...which opposed such an agreement' for reasons which have never been fully disclosed.'
I can now say what those reasons were. The NCNC had done a deal with the British to support those backward and reactionary Northerners on whom various NCNC leaders had poured such ridicule in the past. Zik would have to be satisfied with the empty post of Governor General, then President, but was apparently persuaded that this was really the Number One job. He would even be Commander-in-Chief and could wear the uniform of a Field Marshal. If Zik thought he was to be the real head of the Nigerian military forces he was to be soon disabused.
But why take the shadow or pretence of power when he was being offered the prime ministership? The truth was that Zik could not deliver his party to such an agreement. Okotie Eboh held the trump cards. Zik and his great party were bankrupt and dependent on those great British commercial interests he had attacked with such eloquence for so many years to keep his party in existence. Okotie Eboh was the paymaster and on the mv Apapa Zik was dancing to Okotie Eboh's and the British Government's tune.
Zik the progressive nationalist, Zik, the great socialist and leader of his people to freedom, was a spent force, a burnt out case. In this topsy turvy world of secret intelligence reports, MI5, pimps, prostitutes, rape and murder presided over by the Colonial Office and Harold Macmillan, it was not surprising that the Nigerian political leader of great personal integrity and honesty - Awolowo - who based his party machine on the Conservative Party and was a devout Christian and believer in British fair play, would soon after Independence find himself not in the President's or Prime Minister's office but rotting in a small prison cell.
It might be asked by what right a supposedly civilised nation like Great Britain, after fighting a Great War for freedom against the most evil forces, secretly manipulated regimes in Nigeria and in so doing set the scene for a bloody civil war. There were apparently to be no limits to the immorality practised in Britain's name. If Nigeria and Africa are unstable today, one should not only look for internal reasons but consider also the intolerable interference of the Western powers. The British Government in particular must accept full responsibility for the consequences of the deep laid plans which ended in the bloody tragedy of the Nigerian Civil War. The seeds of the military coups, assassinations and horrendous civil war were sown as I have demonstrated by the British in Nigeria in the 1950's.
The new constitution for an independent Nigeria which emerged from the Conferences of 1957-8 was the result of co-operation between the North, the East and the British Government. The imbalance caused by the size of the North was ignored. It was not seen as a hindrance by the British but as a bulwark of British security. Awolowo's reasoning for having more states could not be faulted. Time has shown how right he was. In 1987 Nigeria has nineteen states, not three.
It might be asked why Zik appeared to collaborate in the machinations of the British. In 1959 his party, the NCNC, and its ally, the NEPU, had won more popular votes than any other party, though this was not reflected in the number of seats won. This in spite of the efforts of the Northerners and the British administration to crush opposition. The Hausa were marched through the polling booths by the Emir's men in the North. The percentage voting figures would have been remarkable in a Western democracy. In Nigeria they were incredible.
The funding of the political parties was the key not only to Nigerian elections but also to their results. The British knew where every penny came from. If the British chose not to investigate claims that the West were diverting six million pounds of official funds from the Marketing Boards into the Action Group treasury, it was because the NPC in the North was obviously also being financed by the Native Treasuries. In the East the Foster-Sutton Tribunal into Zik's African Continental Bank (ACB) found that it was insolvent. The principal use made of the public deposits in the ACB was to finance Zik's various business ventures. In 1955 the Eastern Region Finance Corporation invested large sums in the ACB, money which had come from the Eastern Region Marketing Board. In turn Zik financed his party, the NCNC. In 1955 the ACB and Zik's businesses were virtually bankrupt. In 1959 the Development Board took over the ACB.
In 1956 we have seen how the British Government opened a conduit which saved the NCNC from bankruptcy, but also placed the NCNC in the hands of British commercial interests, who would later expect their pound of flesh. The aim of the British Government was to force the NCNC to co-operate in letting the North rule Nigeria after Independence.
The extent of British philanthropy, or extortion, is revealed in the following figures. 'Between January 1957 and July 1960, that is in the period which included the Federal Election of 1959, the NCNC had spent approximately £1,200,000. In the same period its income from all sources had not exceeded £500,000.' Some £700,000 was not accounted for at all, even if the rest of the accounts were in order. The position of the party would have been worse had it not been able to draw on the credit of official quasi-Government backed agencies such as the Eastern Region Development Board. Much more than the £700,000 probably passed through Okotie Eboh's sticky fingers. A great deal certainly ended up via the City of London in numbered Swiss accounts. Probably others in the know had to be paid off too.
Ministers' wives who were not in possession of an official marriage certificate, but had large sums of hot money deposited by their husbands in their names in bank accounts, now found it easy to get their 'husbands' to walk up the aisle.
Peter Cook, my boss in the Labour Department, knew all about the hot money. It was his business to know. It was because he knew so much that he could afford to live so dangerously. Not that he was a happy man. Strangely, because he hated, feared and despised me, I became his confessor. He was sick with guilt, he wanted to die, he wanted to become a Roman Catholic - the RC hierarchy in Lagos discouraged him by saying they would need proof of his change of heart - he needed to confess and obtain absolution. He had to make do with me. I was leaving Nigeria, this time for ever, and I had failed to remove Peter Cook. I felt responsible.
Francis Nwokedi was Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and as Nigeria's foremost civil servant would take over the post of Head of the Foreign Service. Our National Provident Fund needed a head too.
"The job's yours, Sean," said Francis. "You can name your own salary."
"No thank you, Francis," I said. "I'm going back to the UK. I've had enough."
I was not going home with 'lumpers' or a gratuity or a pension. I felt dirty, tainted, unclean. So why had I turned down a job I would have loved? The National Provident Fund would have been, in a phrase later to be made famous by Mrs Thatcher, safe in my hands.
Perhaps it was the qualification Francis had added, "Of course, Sean, you would need help on staffing. I would look after that for you."
I loved Francis too in my way, but we had come to a parting of the ways.
The Governor General, His Excellency Sir James Robertson, the representative of the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Head of the Commonwealth in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, was waiting to see me in Government House.
My boss at the Labour Department, Peter Cook, had drawn up a timetable and arranged for the head driver and the Department's Chevrolet station wagon to collect and deposit me at Government House with fifteen minutes to spare. Punctuality was Peter's only conspicuous virtue and it was nice to see it demonstrated on such an important occasion. Peter had started his working life as a railwayman before getting into industrial relations. Maybe he thought I would ignore the Governor General's command and forget to turn up at the Governor General's seat of power, Government House, which was set on the Marina waterfront overlooking the lagoon. Peter Cook hoped the Governor General would put Smith through the mincer. He really cared that I should be delivered on time.
As the Chevrolet approached the racecourse the head driver pulled over on to the grass verge and informed me that we were three minutes ahead of Peter Cook's schedule. A few yards away on the racecourse a gang of convicts were chopping the grass with machetes. The warder was wearing a crisp khaki uniform and swinging a wooden staff. The warder's favourite trusty was keeping time by striking an iron bar with a metal rod. The warder was bored; the trusty was watching the gang strike the grass to his rhythm. None of the convicts looked up at the parked blue and white Chevrolet and the white man in a light linen suit. Maybe the convicts did not dare. Perhaps they were hoping one day to get the job of hitting the iron bar.
"These people go to jail for years for stealing pennies, Mr Smith. The Minister of Labour, Okotie Eboh, steals many thousands, and the Governor General gives him a medal for his honesty."
"I was there," I said. "It was a reception for VIP's. Not the sort of do a lowly Labour Officer gets invited to usually. I think the Governor General was trying to tell me something."
"The African staff have been watching you for five years, Mr Smith. We know what you have tried to do. We understand... we are grateful."
I thanked him for his kindness. For five years I had greeted him and for five years he had ignored me and turned his eyes away. I was trouble and he needed to keep his job.
We watched the convicts slash the grass. It was still cool if you were wearing a light linen suit and sitting in a Chevrolet with the windows down. It would soon get very hot and there was a lot of grass on the racecourse. As the convicts slowly moved around the track the grass would be growing fast behind them.
"The Governor General thinks you are plenty trouble, Mr Smith ..." The head driver paused and grinned. "What nobody knows is which trouble he is carpeting you for. You make trouble about the workers the Spanish kill in Fernando Poo. You know too much about Okotie Eboh and his crooked deals. You know about Mr Cook and his boy friends..."
"No, it's not that. Not Mr Cook. The Governor General's secretary has insisted that we do not discuss unsavoury matters. I think he means Mr Cook, but I can't be sure."
"I would just love to be in there listening, Mr Smith. The Governor General - no disrespect, sir - he doesn't see just anybody."
His Excellency was indeed next to God in Africa. He controlled a quarter of Africa's population in a country as large as several European nations. The newly established democratic Nigeria, only a few months from Independence, would be the fifth largest democracy in the world.
And it was this problem of democracy that was bringing Sir James, the Queen's representative, the man entrusted with the glorious and awesome responsibility of planting democracy in Africa's largest state, to see the Labour Officer for Lagos.
One of us was carrying the flag for the great principle of British democracy developed over the centuries together with our parliamentary system and the concepts of fair play and the rule of law, and it was not Sir James. Sir James Robertson in my view had gerrymandered, cheated, perverted and, by his machinations, perpetrated one of the most ghastly acts of infamy in British colonial history.
The head driver turned away from watching the convicts. The zing of the metal rod was hypnotic. He started the car and pulled on to the road.
"We mustn't keep His Excellency waiting, Mr Smith," he said.
He was not smiling now.
Despite his weight of seventeen stones and being sixty years of age, Sir James Robertson, KCMG, the Governor General of Nigeria, seemed very alert and fit. He was a bluff, hearty man with a greying moustache, and I supposed he could be a genial and warm person to his friends. He saw before him a man half his age, six foot tall, lean in face and build, with a pale complexion and black hair.
Sir James had all the cards. He was the Governor General and he had a whole hierarchy of staff who could have sat on a rebellious Labour Officer. But he had asked to see me and he had embargoed any discussion of Peter Cook, the homosexual rapist. It did cross my mind to wonder why.
As soon as Sir James spoke, he made a tactical error. Perhaps because I appeared to be so thin and weak he decided to bully me. Sir Hugh Foot had said of his old friend Sir James, that by the warmth and sympathy and joviality of his personality he had taken all Nigeria into his big bear-like hug. My friend Michael Crowder, who had met him, had remarked on his geniality and had noted that Sir James actually read the New Statesman!
When Carol heard this she laughed and said, "Sean used to hang around the magazine counter in Kingsway Stores to see who bought the other copy!"
Although I had made this wisecrack, I had actually long given up judging character by a person's politics, let alone his reading habits. I am sure I reminded Michael that Sir James knew how to impress him; he was not a fool. Sir James was a Balliol man and Oxford blue. He had been a formidable rugby player and officer in the Black Watch. He was a very canny Scot and had spent most of his working life in the Sudan Political Service. I had no doubt that Sir James was extremely intelligent, experienced and genial. He was also a family man. It was a tactical error to bully me because I was neither frightened nor impressed. Had we chatted about Nigeria or had a drink or walked on the lawn, we might have made a better start.
"You may be under a misapprehension, Smith," said Sir James forcefully. "I want you to know that I personally gave the orders regarding the elections to which you objected. They were necessary."
"But illegal, sir," I riposted.
I was told I was impertinent. The overseas Civil Service was like the Army. If you disobeyed orders the highest penalty could be demanded. This was simply not true. The Public Service Commission had been designed to protect civil servants from political pressure. As if sensing how spurious this was, Sir James tried a different tack.
"Look here, Smith," he pleaded. "Be reasonable. Your work has been brilliant and outstanding. If you will keep your mouth shut I can promise rapid promotion and a most distinguished career elsewhere in Government service overseas." (I was not to be allowed to work in the United Kingdom.) "You must understand that you know too much for your own good. If you do not give me your word, means will be found to shut you up. No one will believe your story and the Press will not be allowed to print it. You will never work in a responsible position in the United Kingdom again. You were the only senior officer of the many involved in this operation who raised any objection. Be sensible and think of your own interest. You have had a taste of what lies in store for you. I was not personally responsible for what those Whitehall wallahs did to you back in the UK. Those Whitehall Johnnies are responsible for all this. Now be reasonable and we will forget the whole thing. Just give me your word and think of the brilliant career which lies ahead."
At that moment I almost agreed with him. I suddenly realised that he was just as much a part of this squalid mess as Bunker or Beck or I had been. Then he rounded on me furiously with threats.
"You will never work in the UK again! You will be absolutely finished!"
I said, "It was very kind of you to see me, sir. My position is unchanged. I cannot carry out unlawful orders." As I said, "Good-bye, sir," he turned away.
He was very angry. Oddly enough I felt sorry for him.
It was reported to me from a high level that African Ministers saw me as a threat. My life was in danger. I should get away from Lagos immediately. One of these warnings came from the Secretariat. however I could not get an air passage without Ministry approval, which was not forthcoming. An air ticket was obtained illicitly with the help of a friendly Permanent Secretary in another Ministry and a senior BOAC official.
I boarded the plane for London with a great sense of relief, but still anxious. I would only feel safe when the plane was airborne. Moments before the plane took off, the stewardess called my name. I expected to be thrown off the aircraft. The stewardess was clutching a telegram but the man in the seat alongside was also named Smith and the telegram was for him. We fastened seat belts, the engines revved up and we were away.
My companion was the senior Resident in the Western Region and only a step or two junior to the Governor General. It seemed he was the former pupil my tutor Harry Weldon at Magdalen had spoken to me about when I had mentioned that I was going out to Africa. He had been at Magdalen in the 1930's, had read PPE as I had, and had lived in the same set of rooms!
"I've heard of you, Smithy," my companion said. "You're the chap who keeps churning out papers from the Labour Department. I've heard about your Factories Act and the Provident Fund Scheme. Why don't you come and work for me as my PA? We'd get on fine together."
"That would be great," I replied. "But I have problems; there was a lot of corruption in the Labour Department."
"I've got the same problems. I've got a safe in my room full of incriminating documents..."
I changed the subject to give me a chance to think. I did not want to get him into trouble with Sir James Robertson. I asked why he was going to London.
"I'm pissing blood, old man," he replied. "How are you?"
I told him I had lost five stone in weight over the past year. I was down to seven stones and my clothes hung on me. I knew my gut was a mess and everything tasted metallic. It would have been too melodramatic to confide in him my fear that I was being poisoned.
"I can't work for you," I said quickly. "I'm in trouble with the Governor General."
"Jesus!" said my companion, and we did not speak again.
I felt very sad. I liked him a lot. We had much in common and it was a remarkable coincidence that two Magdalen men, separated by many years, should both have gone to Africa and met up in this way.
When the plane arrived in London, I immediately bought 'The Times.' On the main news page was an item from Nigeria. My companion was in the news. His post had been abolished. We were both out of work.
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Carol had found us a small terraced house in North London and when we had unpacked our loads from Lagos and found Helen a place at a local school, we began to breathe again.
One day while I was painting doors, the telephone rang. Francis Nwokedi was in London. Would I go to see him at his hotel? I refused to do so. I had had enough of Francis's games.
I made a full statement to Justice, the British branch of the International Council of Jurists. I was cross examined by Sir John Foster, QC, who pronounced himself satisfied that I was speaking the truth. A good friend put me on to a relative who was a prominent City solicitor. I was not hopeful of taking legal action against the Crown. For one thing I had no money and I was unemployed. While in Lagos I had sought advice from C.P. Snow the novelist, who had been a Civil Service Commissioner.
"Get a good lawyer," was his advice.
My good lawyer said I had an excellent case but we would need a first class QC and we simply could not afford one. We were broke. There was another alternative. Only the previous evening the lawyer had sat down to dinner with Julian Amery, the MP and son-in-law of the Prime Minister. Amery was also Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Colonial Office. My lawyer got in touch with Julian Amery who could not understand what was supposed to be going on in his Department.
"The Colonial Office have told Amery you must be mad," said my lawyer. "They say you never worked for Government in Nigeria."
I informed my lawyer that at that very time the Governor General was frantically sending me offers through Miss Perham at Oxford. Would it help if I gave my contract number and official details?
Now the Colonial Office changed its story. Of course I had worked for them. Unfortunately all my papers had been destroyed in a fire. Of course this was a lie. The weeks passed, and I was about to contact Julian Amery again when I heard he had been moved from the Colonial Office. He had been promoted to Secretary of State for Air by his father-in-law. I felt that particular channel was now closed.
I contacted the Labour MP for Salford whom I had known when he worked for the Guardian. Perhaps as we had never been very close because of his left-wing connections, he was extremely unhelpful. He could not help me because I was not one of his constituents. He was well aware that my own MP was senile.
The CIA people in Lagos were pretty disgusted at the machinations of the British. That hardly seems possible today, but in 1960 perhaps the CIA were still learning from the British in Africa the techniques they would soon be employing themselves all over the 'free world.'
Big Bill Donovan, the CIA godfather, had recently died. One of my friends in Lagos gave me a telephone number in London. I was interrogated once again. A prominent Nigerian politician of considerable stature arrived on my doorstep. How would I like to be editor of a new newspaper in Lagos? Carol was sceptical. She asked how long I would last as an honest and outspoken journalist.
"Not very long in Lagos," our Nigerian friend admitted.
I had a contact with the High Commissioner for Western Nigeria. Would I come and work for them?
My new problem was my health which was continuing to deteriorate. The doctors were unhelpful but, instead of saying that they did not know what was wrong and referring me to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases where sprue might have been instantly recognised, they said nothing was wrong and therefore there was no point in getting more skilled advice. Over the years I was to meet other ex-colonials from Nigeria living wretched lives of total fatigue with many complications. They too had to wait years before the correct diagnosis was made. Many must have died as only in the 1970's did awareness of the condition spread through the medical fraternity.
For a few weeks, I held down a job at the Holloway Employment Exchange as a counter clerk. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were due to make an official visit as the exchange service was approaching its 50th anniversary. All the staff were to be presented to the Queen in order of length of service, except me. I was the new boy so would be working on the counter. One of the managers' wives stood in for the Queen at a rehearsal and everything went well. On the day, everyone was in line including wives who wore hats and gloves. The Queen dutifully started shaking hands with the most senior staff but the Duke got bored and spying me on the counter bowled over.
"You seem to be the only one doing any work," he said cheerfully.
While the staff glowered, the journalists and photographers took photographs and film of the new boy with the Duke. A West Indian pushed forward with a long poem he had written in honour of the Queen. He started to read.
"God bless our Queen
And Empress of Light.
To us, her subjects
She gives great delight."
"Recite a few more stanzas," ordered the Times man who was dressed in an undertaker's suit.
"Are you a foreigner?" the black man asked.
"Kind of, he's from 'The Times'," said the Mirror man. "Read him a few more lines."
As the Times man put together his fountain pen, the West Indian poet pressed on.
"Very nice," said the Duke and turning muttered, "What a load of bollocks," but I probably misheard.
I had no resistance to infection and a cold turned to influenza and worse. I felt as if I was dying. One doctor gave me tranquillisers, another gave me pep-up pills I was up and down like a yo-yo. Then suddenly I was floating on the ceiling and out of the house. The light was magnificent. I had gone down a long dark tunnel. As I soared into the heavens, I saw the world of continents and oceans far below. Loved ones who had died were waiting to greet me and the joy was incredible. All the knowledge of the universe was now mine as if contained in one heavenly library. The depression and unhappiness which I had buried and refused to allow to surface were wiped away I was pure, clean, reborn. Except that I wanted to stay up there. But it was not to be. I was told I had to return. There was work for me to do.
I returned and saw my body sprawled on the bed as if in agony with my face contorted. It was awful and then I was inside my body and I was alive again. Recovery was slow, but I knew I had to stop fighting. My African struggle was over. If I wanted to survive I had to accept a low key life. I now had no fear of death and somehow I had trust that I would be protected.
Carol had begun to teach and I stayed at home. We let rooms to pregnant teenagers and helping others in trouble brought us joy and happiness. Our own problems shrank to insignificance.
On 1 October 1960 Africa's largest and, after India, Britain's richest overseas dependency became independent. The transfer of power to the leaders of the new Nigerian nation had apparently been effected through democratic elections in the years preceding Independence. It was said that the torch of parliamentary democracy had been lit in West Africa and it was believed that democracy in Nigeria would serve as a model for the rest of Africa. The Nigerian leaders needed to be rewarded and a handful of decorations were duly despatched. Balewa came out with a knighthood, Zik became a privy councillor, Okotie Eboh got a CMG, as did George Foggon.
When Harold Macmillan visited Nigeria, the Sardauna of Sokoto, who was said to pull the strings which made Balewa the Prime Minister dance in Lagos, remarked to him that the Conservatives had won in England and the Conservatives also won in Nigeria.
"With a lot of help from your friends," would have been an appropriate retort.
The British High Commissioner in Lagos, appointed after Independence, was Lord Head, an experienced Conservative politician. Awolowo was soon to declare that Nigeria was in fact being run by Lord Head. This criticism was considered most unfair by one British academic who thought Lord Head was an ideal High Commissioner. It was not his fault that he had considerable influence.
The Deputy High Commissioner was another strong link in the chain. Sir David Hunt had been in charge of the African desk in Whitehall. It was his job to work closely with Francis Nwokedi, the head of the Foreign Service, with whom he became predictably very friendly. The other member of the British triumvirate was Peter Stallard who was the Prime Minister's Secretary. The High Commissioner's residence was close to the Prime Minister's house on the Marina and this was thought to be sinister by some. For another five years the Nigerian Army was commanded by a British officer, General Welby-Everard.
At the Independence celebrations Balewa thanked his friends at the Colonial Office who had made Independence possible. Some Nigerians had helped too.
The political future of Nigeria was a matter of passionate concern for Harold Macmillan. The personality of Balewa was one of the principal reasons that he felt so proud and hopeful about Nigeria's future. It was felt that Balewa's party had adopted a policy of moderation and progressive conservatism. Balewa wanted the United Kingdom to continue to mother Nigeria and would have liked Sir James Robertson to stay on as an umpire. The NPC in 1959 had demanded the formation of a large army, an expanded navy and the creation of an air force. It also wanted an expansion of the police force. Awolowo went on claiming that Nigeria was in fact ruled by the British. He was only shut up in 1962 by being arrested for treason.
A defence agreement had been arranged before Independence and was passed by the Nigerian legislature in November 1960. Leaked information about a secret clause created a furore in Lagos and the treaty had to be abrogated. The pact had been signed by the leaders of the three major parties prior to Independence. Awolowo claimed he had only signed under duress because Independence might have been delayed. This angered Balewa and convinced him that Awolowo was a threat to the unity of Nigeria. Secret skulduggery in the corridors of Whitehall regarding this pact planted the seeds of disunity which were later to help tear Nigeria apart.
Lord Head, the British High Commissioner, had of course been a Conservative politician. He had also been a professional soldier, then Secretary of State for War and Minister of Defence. Sir David Hunt in his account of this affair states that it was the Nigerians who wanted the defence pact because they feared an attack by Dr Nkrumah of Ghana. When Sir David speaks of Nigerians he probably means the Northerners like the Sardauna of Sokoto who was more British than the British. The Sardauna sometimes referred to the Federal Prime Minister Balewa as 'my able lieutenant.' As Head of the Foreign Affairs Department Francis Nwokedi played a key role too.
It will be recalled that the trail of powder which led to the keg which was to blow Nigeria apart was laid in 1956 when it became evident that the British were actively interfering in Nigerian elections. The respected politicians who were Prime Ministers during those years were Sir Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan. Both politicians were deeply involved in the Suez invasion and both lied to the House of Commons about collusion with Israel. It has been reported that Eden was in fact thought to be insane at the time of Suez.
Macmillan's integrity was also questioned regarding the forced repatriation of Cossacks to the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. It was known that the Cossacks and their families faced certain death. Macmillan chose to try to dodge his responsibility in this matter and also claimed, sadly for such a great man, that he was only obeying orders from above. A minor figure at the Colonial Office in 1957, who would later be a household name, was its Parliamentary Under Secretary, J.D. Profumo.
Harold Macmillan, in rushing Nigeria towards Independence, had taken the advice of Sir John MacPherson, the former Governor General and now the head of the Colonial Office, who urged that the time had come. In effect Sir John was saying our people are ready and in place. His other Africa expert, Sir David Hunt, who had been in charge of African affairs at the Colonial Office, was sent out to do the fine tuning on the spot as Deputy Commissioner. Sir David was shattered when the compact he had helped sew up between the North and the East came apart. He refers to the happy stability which would have lasted a long time if the West had not fallen into chaos. He fails to mention that the happy stability was the result of long-standing chicanery on the part of the British and that as a result the very legitimacy of the Independence regime was questionable.
To some extent of course Independence was a sham. A more polite description might be 'a qualified Independence', a term used by the Cambridge History of Africa, editor Michael Crowder to describe a situation where the reality of power, the control of the economy, was still to be found overseas. Communist critics like Franz Fanon saw British decolonisation as simply an alliance between wealthy Nigerians, the elite, and the rulers of the mother country. This was true in Nigeria because the elite were in power and negotiated independence.
However, other elites could have been drawn on in Nigeria. There were many prominent men and women and other less well known but honest and dedicated people who could have been drawn into politics at the national level. Safeguards too could have been built in to limit corruption. Training courses for civil servants and politicians could have been organised, if the will had been there. Unfortunately it was not.
From my experience with Okotie Eboh it seemed that the British Government wanted to hand over power to a corrupt group of politicians. Perhaps corruption was seen as the speedy way to create a conservative middle class which would be sound, stable, and most important anti-Communist. If this is the case the dotty capitalists' ideologues and the communist theoreticians come together, for it is the Marxist theory too that a corrupt middle class is needed before a proletarian revolution can take place. I once met a corrupt communist businessman, who defended his dishonesty by claiming he was undermining Nigeria and paving the way for the revolution. This dangerous half-baked nonsense needs knocking on the head hard, from whichever extreme it arises.
Our small house was soon bursting with pregnant teenagers. I would remind the social work agencies that it was a man who was at home looking after these girls, but the social workers assured me that their girls were quite safe with me. Of course we would not have missed the experience of knowing and helping all those young girls and their babies. Even if we were crowded, the exhortation to take just one more teenager might be resisted over the telephone, but who could turn away a pregnant girl on the doorstep with a battered suitcase? It crossed my mind to call our home 'The Jampot' because all our girls were in a jam. My position was not too good either. Even if I could have got a job, my health was appalling. I had not got the energy to go to work. It was an achievement often to get through the day and survive.
Our girls were not immoral or anything unusual. They were just pregnant. The pregnancy might have been inconvenient but in the early l960's that was most often the rule. Smarter girls might have used contraceptives or arranged abortions. Perhaps some of our girls had tried both, but it seemed some had very odd ideas about contraception and we heard very weird ideas on abortion. Some of our girls seemed to think that because they had their eyes shut, IT could not be happening to them. Of course IT was happening and as a consequence they became our guests.
The only thing to be said about the half hearted attempts at abortion we heard and laughed about, for some were incredibly funny, was that they all failed. One girl had wrestled with a massive block of carbolic soap in the bath and decided after much struggling that she was anatomically small. She had, fortunately for her and her baby, misheard the instructions.
It may seem strange that our house was full of laughter; maybe it was because the girls were safe that there was a great sense of relief. Strangely with but one exception, all our young ladies (a couple of whom were only fourteen) produced healthy girl babies.
I did not worry too much about my status. I was delighted to be at home with my two young daughters. I was close to them as they grew up. That was a joy I would not have missed for anything. I was not self-conscious about turning up at the school gates with all the mums. Was I staying at home because I was unemployable or too ill or to look after my daughters or to look after our pregnant girls? Friends found it awkward. I was introduced for the last time as a Poet. It seemed I had to have a title. Everybody, particularly men, have to be something. That is how men judge you. If unemployed or chronically ill, you are nothing to most men except perhaps as an object of pity which is the last thing you need. My advice to anyone in this fix is to be a Writer, or a Researcher, or a Student or a Social Worker. Anything in fact. Not only do other people feel better, but they might offer you jobs. Few people without jobs or an occupation can get jobs. Also you feel better. Become a Social Worker, not just a helper with meals on wheels. Working at home gives you status, and to your surprise you may find men envying you for having escaped the rat race. As a Student you do not feel ill at ease in the libraries, they belong to you. Sign up for a course if you do not feel legitimate enough. Give yourself status!
As for being poor, I have always found that people do not really believe it. They tend to think if you can afford not to work - they do not see you when you are ill - you are probably quite well off. Leisure, even if it is compulsory, can be enjoyed if you have the right frame of mind and work at being cheerful and confident. It is by no means easy, and there can be awful depression, but it need not all be awful gloom, especially if you have the godsend of a loving spouse.
It is ironic that having gone to Nigeria to prepare legislation on safety, health and welfare, I should have returned to Britain with my health ruined. This was something I had not allowed for. I had assumed that once away from the damp heat of Nigeria, which sapped my energy, I would put on weight and make a good recovery, even if it took some time. It is probable that the coeliac sprue, which took ten years to be diagnosed correctly and only then in extremis, was a latent condition brought out by the ghastly Lagos climate, intestinal parasites and infections, and the extremely stressful way of life I had to endure from 1955 to 1960.
It seems I was reduced to the African level for Dr Robert Collis in his excellent book, 'A Doctor's Nigeria' makes the point that the reason Africans appeared lazy and sleepy to some Europeans was that the majority of them were only partially healthy, being continually assaulted by non-lethal attacks of fever and harbouring numerous parasites which infect the bowel and share with their hosts an inadequate diet.
Similarly, most of the children who died so tragically young in Nigeria were suffering from nutritional problems. Dr Collis has likened what he experienced in Nigeria to what he had seen in Belsen. Strangely, there was a wartime dimension to my own plight. Before the Second World War specialists were becoming aware that coeliac sprue which afflicted both babies and adults had a nutritional basis, but it was only in wartime Holland that the clue to a major advance was found. Because of the German occupation, bread was unobtainable, and in the children's hospital babies with coeliac sprue had to be fed on potatoes and turnips. To the doctors' amazement the babies' health improved. A young doctor followed this up and published his findings after the War. An ingredient of wheat and other flours caused or exacerbated this condition. The ingredient was gluten which provides the stretch in pastry. Gluten free diets were introduced and saved the lives of many babies and adults.
By 1971 when I was in a critical state following coronary episodes, I was also covered with weeping blisters. Fortunately for me, Dr Lionel Fry at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington made the breakthrough discovery which confirmed that this skin condition was a complication of coeliac sprue. I had survived long enough to benefit from a major advance in medical science. Up to that time dermatitis herpetiformis had been treated with dapsone which also suppresses lesions in leprosy. In centuries past the two conditions had been confused. It was as well the gluten free diet had been discovered for I could not tolerate dapsone or other sulpha drugs. They left me a burnt out case - a term applied to lepers following dapsone treatment.
A wasting gut was the main feature of coeliac sprue and dermatitis herpetiformis which was to some extent restored by a gluten free diet. However, I was to find that large doses of the B vitamins as in brewers' yeast were also essential. Later, as I experimented on myself, I was to find I could clear a number of other heart, bone and muscle problems with particular vitamins and minerals. The parallel with those suffering children in Nigeria was clear. They too were suffering from vitamin and mineral deficiency due to faulty nutrition and other factors. The billions of pounds produced by the oil fields found in Nigeria in the 1960's were mostly wasted. Most found their way into the Swiss bank accounts of corrupt politicians who were following the example of Okotie Eboh. Nigeria could have had modern sewage and drainage, clean water supplies, electricity, clinics, hospitals and schools for everyone. It was a terrible tragedy.
When I returned to England I spent some days with my parents in Manchester. There was our Methodist Chapel, the ancient mansion house of Barlow Hall, my old junior school named after the mansion, and the farm where I had worked as a boy. Mr Burgess was returning to the farm from his milk round one morning and I stood by the side of the road to greet him. Sadly the milk float passed without my being recognised by Mr Burgess. However, when I called at the farm, I was immediately recognised by Mrs Burgess and shown into the parlour. Mr Burgess was sitting by the fire.
"Mr Burgess will be delighted to know you are here," said Mrs Burgess. "But he is nearly blind."
What sadness and relief I felt! I went up close and Mr Burgess greeted me warmly. We reminisced about delivering milk in wartime in the early hours with air raids taking place and shrapnel falling around us. I explained that I had gone to Africa after leaving Oxford, but the Burgesses naturally wanted to tell me all their news. They might have remembered my ambition as a boy to serve in Africa as a missionary. The young students from Cliff College in Yorkshire had arrived at our Chapel pulling a handcart across the Pennines. Their enthusiasm and joy in doing Christ's work had made one convert, a quiet dreamy kid who sat in the corner. I was not good enough to be a missionary but one day I would find my way to Africa to fulfil a promise I made that day.
"We have such good news, Harold," said Mrs Burgess. "The Chapel has been supporting a missionary in Africa. It's a remote little island called Fernando Poo. The workers are treated terribly but..."
I looked at the shining face of Mrs Burgess and wanted to weep. I had tried to help that missionary too and those workers. I felt I had completed a mission and fulfilled a promise too.
Recently I returned to Barlow Hall Farm. The buildings have been razed to the ground and huge gravel pits have been dug out of the fields. Even the cobbles of the farmyard have been taken away. It was not all loss however. A lido and small country park have been established and where only a few of us had enjoyed the secret places of the farm and countryside, thousands are now able to walk and sail. It is nevertheless a very traumatic experience to return to one's boyhood haunts, particularly when they have changed so dramatically.
I went to Oxford to see my friend Philip Williams at Nuffield College. Once again Philip tried to recruit me for Hugh Gaitskell's party caucus and invited me to meet him at his Hampstead home.
"I'm still in Africa, Phil," I told him. "Perhaps later."
Philip mentioned that he had told my story to Margery Perham, the colonial expert at Nuffield.
"She was stunned," said Philip.
Her friend, the Governor General would be in Oxford to see her very shortly. Miss Perham could not believe that our people were capable of such monstrous behaviour.
When I next heard from Philip, Miss Perham was talking realpolitik. Was I prepared to do a deal? If I was, there were golden opportunities on offer, if I would keep my mouth shut.
Philip Williams was a friend of Anthony Crosland and knew the Labour leaders, Hugh Dalton and Hugh Gaitskell, but never offered to take my story to them. Maybe he had and they did not want to know. Some Labour people thought all white colonials bad and all Africans good. And most of them knew little of African history and geography. Conservatives seemed to be better informed and to take a moral stance. The criterion used by the upwardly mobile careerists was simply how they would have exploited the situation for personal gain.
Perhaps Philip was disappointed that I would not join the Gaitskell camp. I would defend Nye Bevan and Harold Wilson from the charge of being irresponsible left-wingers. 'Nye Bevan gave us the health service,' I would argue, 'and Wilson was a success at the Board of Trade.'
To mollify Philip I would say, "My brain's with you, Philip, but my heart's with Bevan."
Perhaps it truly was instinct. Bevan and Wilson were the kind of Methodist Chapel people I admired. Hugh Gaitskell was like a High Church preacher. No doubt I did Gaitskell an injustice. His friends adored him. I was a little put out when he attended one of our Fabian meetings at Oxford for he had just come from a meeting of the Privy Council and was wearing knee breeches. The speech he made was warm, sincere and thoughtful. The essential goodness of the man came through and the stuffy image one had expected simply was not there. I know he was disliked by some but I think it was a mistake. Probably if I had got to know him as Philip suggested, I would have liked him too.
Margery Perham was quite a powerful figure at Nuffield College, Oxford, where she ran training courses for colonial administrators. I did not want to get Philip into any kind of trouble on my behalf. Nuffield College had been built on the profits of the Morris car factory at Cowley. Lord Nuffield was the financial backer of Oswald Moseley's Fascist Party in the 1930's. What Philip did not tell me was that Nuffield College was carrying out a series of election studies in Nigeria. Philip himself was an authority in this area and had pioneered research in the field. Whether because of my lack of response to overtures from Margery Perham or whatever, our relationship cooled from that time. We were to meet once after he had had a heart attack and once when I was recovering from some coronary episodes. I was about to take up with him the question of those election studies, which on the whole gave a clean bill of health to Nigerian elections, when I got the news of Philip's death. Instead, I attended his memorial service at Oxford.
There was nothing obviously wrong with those election studies. They were conscientiously carried out and provided much useful information. The lone researchers had an awe-inspiring task and a much larger team was really needed. The researchers were honest and thorough and went on to academic posts in Nigeria and elsewhere. Had they got wind of the machinations of the British Government I wonder if Oxford would have backed them in blowing the whistle and whether their academic careers might not have suffered.
No study was carried out of the Northern Region elections of November 1956. No reason was given but it was noted that 'this leaves an important gap in our picture of Nigerian politics at a critical stage of its development.'
The North had plenty to hide. The harassment of opposition candidates was disgraceful. No confidence could be placed in the count at such elections when this kind of conduct was tolerated. Women were not allowed to vote in the North. Voting registration was voluntary in the East and West, but in the North tax rolls were used to ensure maximum voting. In the crucial 1959 General Election voting in a backward, largely illiterate, desolate Region the size of France, a percentage poll of 89.2% was achieved.
The whole of the proof of the legitimacy of the transfer of power in Nigeria turned on these Northern results. Even without taking account of the chicanery by the British in the South, it is evident that the requirements for an honest and fair election were simply not met.
Ken Post who carried out the 1959 election study concluded, 'And so in 1960 Nigeria's leaders (with, be it noted, the enthusiastic mandate of an exemplarily administered general election behind them) moved into sovereignty.' And a very sinister, fragile and temporary sovereignty it was to prove to be. In later years, Mr Post seemingly modified his rather sanguine views about the fairness of the election.
However, what was beyond doubt was that, fair or foul, the outcome of the 1959 General Election was to have the most decisive effect on Nigerian history. Post added that this election was in a sense 'the last great act of the British Raj.' In fact, as we have seen, it was the last great treacherous act of the British Raj because what was missing was the one great essential condition for the holding of free elections, an honest, competent non-partisan administration to run those elections. The condition is the one laid down by Professor W.J.M. Mackenzie in his book, 'Free Elections.'
Even Post acknowledged 'the many different ways in which the campaigns of certain parties were hampered in the North.' The North may have got away with it, but the memory left a very bitter legacy. Not content with a very questionable election result, the Northern-dominated Federal Government, fully aware of the doubtful legality of its regime and perhaps fearing the prospect of future elections when the British would not be around to render assistance, set out to destroy Awolowo and the official opposition.
In the treason trials of 1962 the prosecution based its rather shaky case on the thesis that Awolowo had lost faith in the ballot box as a result of his experiences in the North in the 1959 General Election. The truth was that Awolowo knew too much and had reason to fear further unconstitutional action by his enemies in Government. He was to be proved absolutely right. The Government was indeed planning the brutal suppression of his party. Awolowo was preparing for that contingency.
One final point on this crucial 1959 General Election. Sir James Robertson, the Governor General, had come to Nigeria from the Sudan. He was well aware that the elections leading to Independence in the Sudan were supervised by an international body, which was made up of an Indian, an American, an Englishman, an Egyptian and three Sudanese. We have reason to be suspicious that no plans were made for Nigeria's elections to be supervised in a similar way.
There was little more I could do. I published a letter in the Observer regarding the awful treatment of Nigerian workers in Spanish Fernando Poo. Later during the Congo crisis in which the Nigerian Army gave exemplary service, Francis Nwokedi served alongside Conor Cruise O'Brien. I hoped O'Brien might remind Nwokedi, who held a position of great power in Nigeria, to do something for the Nigerian workers in Spanish Guinea. O'Brien was not sanguine about Francis. Apparently Francis had not changed much. But Francis did make one vital contact while serving in the Congo. He became a close friend of a Nigerian Army officer called Ironsi.
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On 1 October 1960, the day Nigeria became independent, the British Government had reason to be proud. Years of election rigging and gerrymandering had culminated in an alliance between the North and the East under the leadership of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Sir James Robertson had pleaded necessity as an excuse for this treachery. Cicero had experienced it long ago.
'There are no acts of treachery more deeply concealed than those which lie under the pretence of duty or under some profession of necessity.'
And Livy adds, 'Treachery, though at first very cautious, in the end betrays itself.' But not if that once great newspaper, the Guardian, has anything to do with it, for over many years they refused to publish the story of the British Government's treacherous betrayal of democracy in Nigeria. A freebie trip to Nigeria was a different matter and in October 1960 Lagos was full of Fleet Street editors, most of whom did not know where Nigeria was when the invitation to an all expenses paid jamboree dropped on their desks. Independence was obviously a good thing and on arrival in Lagos they set out en masse to acquire some local colour. The Lagos bars and brothels did good business. Balewa's Independence Day speech was remarkable because he had just accepted a knighthood from the British Government. The British official who wrote his speech undoubtedly caught faithfully Balewa's own sentiments.
He said, 'Time will not permit the individual mention of all those friends, many of them Nigerian, whose selfless labours have contributed to our Independence... All our friends in the Colonial Office must today be proud of their handiwork...'
The sordid alliance between the North and the East which was the result of considerable effort by the British Government was to be referred to by Sir David Hunt, the Deputy High Commissioner, after it had come unstuck as a state of 'happy stability.' My old friend and colleague Francis Nwokedi was head of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and working closely with his British counterparts. Francis was trusted and regarded as a good friend of Britain. When the plot came unstuck Francis would be denounced by his old friend Sir David Hunt as being too clever by half, but in those early days there was a euphoric feeling in the air. Only the Western Region which had been ganged up on and isolated felt it was out in the cold. Awolowo was getting his come-uppance for being disloyal, unco-operative and so rude to the British administration.
Sir David Hunt had more than a passing acquaintance with the British Government's machinations before Independence because he was Head of the African Department in Whitehall. After Independence he was in Lagos and, with Lord Head, exercised enormous influence over Balewa, the Prime Minister. Yet in his memoirs he asks why the cheerful, prosperous and fairly democratic Nigeria of 1960 turned into the military dominated Nigeria of 1966, as if he were totally ignorant of his own role in the British Government's machinations which brought Nigeria to the brink of total destruction.
Awolowo was not stupid. He had seen the behaviour of the British administration during elections in the North, and he knew who was behind the pact between the North and the East. Nevertheless in 1961 he made contact with elements of the NCNC in the East to try and break the stranglehold which the North had over the Federal Government. This move came to nothing but may have alarmed the ruling clique who already feared him. It has been suggested that Awolowo's success as an Opposition leader in the first year of Independence and his popularity throughout Nigeria gave the Northern/Eastern coalition no alternative but to counter attack and adopt some highly questionable tactics. Akintola, Awolowo's lieutenant, was persuaded that he could lead the West and join the coalition. Rich rewards were on offer. Following stage managed disturbances in the Western Parliament, the Federal Government intervened and, following a judicial enquiry, Awolowo was sentenced to ten years in jail for treason.
As the legitimacy of the Federal Government was highly dubious, since they had been the willing beneficiaries of British treachery, it was ironic that those politicians should have thrown in jail a political leader whose belief in democracy was without question and whose personal probity was never doubted. Awolowo most certainly did anticipate that his enemies were intent on destroying him and his Party and made plans for defensive measures. A train of events had been set in motion which was to lead to near anarchy and civil war. Sir David Hunt and the British were friendly, as he admitted later, with Igbos like Nwokedi who occupied the best places in the public service.
'They might be ruling Nigeria today,' he exclaimed bitterly, 'if they could have restrained their tendency to go too far!'
The British had not complained when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Nwokedi as its Permanent Secretary had given the Russians a very hard time when they wanted to establish diplomatic relations. Francis had probably not forgotten being snubbed by the Russians when he attended an ILO Conference in Geneva before Independence. The Russians had not forgotten his role in the Enugu shootings when many Nigerian mineworkers were killed. Now the Russians found that they had considerable difficulty in obtaining even car permits for their diplomats. Russian diplomatic staff were limited to ten. No restrictions were placed on the British and Americans. The Russians were allowed five diplomatic car plates. The UK and the USA got one hundred each. Nigeria did not open an Embassy in Moscow until 1962. The British had before Independence banned the importation of communist literature and banned communists from employment in the public service.
This anti-Communist activity was not a marginal interest for the British, though it often seemed totally irrelevant and farcical to Nigerians, but central to and almost the driving force of British policy in Africa. Macmillan saw the whole of British foreign policy in terms of the Cold War. To fight the reds it was necessary to ensure that Nigeria was ruled by a reactionary regime prepared to act as a British satrap. To achieve this, democracy was cast aside. As democracy was the distinguishing feature which raised the freedom-loving Western powers above the base totalitarianism of the Iron Curtain countries, Macmillan had surrendered the moral advantage. But only if he was found out! I had reason to know the lengths to which he was prepared to go to keep that secret.
The massive power of the North rested on the census figures produced by British officials in the early 1950's. All attempts to confirm those census figures since have proved a failure and this has become the most bitterly contested issue in Nigerian politics. After the census in 1962 it was found that the Northern Region no longer had a numerical majority over the rest of the country combined. The NPC leaders found these results unacceptable and cancelled the results. The 1962 census returns were never officially published. In a fresh census in 1963 the North improved on its 1962 figures. If Southerners had thought that the new figures would end the North's absolute majority they were to be bitterly disappointed. It was little wonder that Awolowo commented bitterly that for himself and his party 'the twilight of democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria is changing into darkness.'
The role of the Federal Government and its dubious politicians in destabilising the Western Region Government and jailing the Action Group leader, Awolowo, began to alienate the majority of the educated elite. Another factor was the failure of the Government to pursue a vigorous anti-colonialist foreign policy. Because democracy failed in Nigeria, British commentators have tended to question the attachment of Nigerians to the democratic ideal. In truth, however, it was a lack of commitment by the British which was to plunge Nigeria into rule by the military. Nigerian politicians had been brought up in a colonial situation which assumed that those in Government could wield power as they pleased. The colonial regime used its power to jail opponents. The colonial example not only influenced Nigerians. It probably explains the lack of commitment to democracy by the British. Nigerians believed that Balewa took his orders from his friends the British. The jailing of Awolowo was in line with a British tradition rather than an example of Nigerian tribalism.
The military coup led by the six young majors in 1966 was greeted with rapturous support by the Nigerian masses. They were not seeking to destroy democracy but were affirming their belief in it. Democracy had been a force in Nigeria almost since its inception, in a form seriously flawed by the British. If the British were unprepared for the coup of 15th January 1966, they must have been blind. The British Prime Minister seemed to enjoy the customary close relationship with Balewa, who was still after six years extremely pro-British. Indeed a Commonwealth Conference was held in Lagos days before the coup. Did the British civil servants not warn Harold Wilson? Did they not warn Balewa? Harold Wilson was extremely embarrassed and very angry that the large MI6 staff in Lagos had failed to report that a coup was imminent. However, it is inconceivable that they had not so advised the Foreign Office. The truth was that British Intelligence suspected that the British Prime Minister was a Russian agent and were involved in treasonable activity against him and his Government. They would not have been unhappy to put his life at risk by sending him to Lagos at the very time a military coup had been planned. It was a very remarkable coincidence. As it happened, the six majors postponed their coup for a week to let Wilson and the other Commonwealth leaders get away from Lagos. The coup took place the day after the Conference ended.
This was the first Commonwealth Conference to be held outside London. When Rhodesia declared unilateral independence, Nigeria was persuaded by the British to discourage other African Governments from taking reprisals against Britain. In return Harold Wilson agreed to hold the Conference in Lagos and to devote a major part of the agenda to the Rhodesian question. Dr Azikiwe was in London ill. Awolowo was in prison. The British High Commissioner was Sir J. Cumming-Bruce. An indication that his role in Nigeria was rather more than diplomatic was revealed by his attendance at Cabinet meetings in Lagos after the coup of 15 January.
The British did not plan the military coup of 1966. They simply made it inevitable. And they signed Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa's death warrant. Balewa had never wanted the British to leave. In March 1947 he had warned those who wanted the British to leave, that if the British withdrew, the Hausas would carry their conquest to the sea. By all accounts Balewa was a gentleman and he endeavoured to serve Nigeria honestly. To qualify that truth seems unworthy and yet we must. Balewa held high office and he accepted responsibility for the actions of his cabinet colleagues. To tolerate an Okotie Eboh as his Minister of Finance was to undermine his own great reputation. Okotie Eboh was a gross squalid crook who dragged Nigeria down to his own level. Would that he had dragged Nigeria into the sewer, but because of his corruption Nigeria has no sewers. The money to pay for them is still in Swiss banks. And it was Balewa's Government which had settled accounts with the Action Group in the West and put Awolowo, the leader of the Opposition, into jail for ten years.
The six majors were seen by Nigerians initially as public benefactors. But when it was realised that no Igbo politician had been executed (and were not most of the majors Igbos?) the coup began to appear like an Igbo plot, although this seems unlikely. If only Zik or other Igbo politicians had shared Balewa's fate, hundreds of thousands of Igbo lives might have been saved. The Sardauna of Sokoto, the leader of the North, had been executed with Balewa. Akintola, the Western leader, had been gunned down. Okotie Eboh had almost been overlooked sitting in a military truck, but was recognised and shot. Early reports, which were inaccurate, said that he had been castrated and cut to pieces because of his bestiality to the youth of Nigeria. He was mourned by his family and by the British and by nobody else.
A martial law decree by Major Nzeogwu broadcast from the North by Radio Kaduna on 15th January 1966 included homosexuality in the list of offences punishable by the death sentence. Why this illiberal and draconian measure should have featured in the first aims of the young soldiers was not explained. Although the coup was abortive and was taken over by General Ironsi, the majors had destroyed the totally discredited First Republic.
Nigeria never had been the 'model democracy' that the British claimed to have left behind. Moreover the blatant corruption, election rigging and thuggery in the years from 1960 to 1966 had not started only when the British had departed. They were instigated, condoned, tolerated and covered up by the British before Independence. By 1966 the growing disillusion with the Balewa regime which was common amongst civil servants, teachers and academics had spread to the Army. The six majors do not seem to have made any plans for how they would rule Nigeria once the coup had taken place. One might have expected if they had been put up to it by politicians that some kind of political plan or programme would have been devised. The shooting of a handful of politicians would not accomplish much as the system which had produced these corrupt politicians would still be in place. Even without a House of Representatives or Government someone would have to make decisions, govern and rule the country. However, before they got that far they had surrendered to General Ironsi, the soldier who had served in the Congo with Nwokedi, and it was to Francis Nwokedi and several other Igbo high fliers that he now turned for advice. By surrounding himself with top Igbo civil servants Ironsi fostered the idea that the coup had been an Igbo plot.
Ironsi wanted an end to regionalism. He appointed Nwokedi to be Commissioner on Administrative Unification. As Igbos like Nwokedi already occupied many of the top civil service jobs, this appeared to Northerners as an attempt to dominate them. Nwokedi was to report as a one-man commission of enquiry on the 'establishment of an administrative machinery for a united Nigeria.' When I heard of Francis' appointment I was filled with foreboding. As Francis had probably drafted the terms of enquiry and was to be the sole Commissioner, I was in no doubt what conclusions he would arrive at. To those of us who knew Francis this seemed just the type of enterprise he would devise and enjoy. Masterminding difficult projects was his forte.
He was extremely intelligent and capable but could also be mischievous. Francis was always being judged by the very highest standards because he was enormously talented. Perhaps his critics expected too much of him. His cheerful demeanour and tendency to fits of laughter indicated that he did not take himself too seriously. His friends persuaded themselves that he was totally dependable and would do what they expected. Then they felt let down when they found he was playing a game of his own. Francis had not risen to the very top of the colonial regime by being independent, difficult or awkward. He always appeared extremely agreeable to his masters, and was a consummate artist in the use of flattery to achieve his purposes. Those who thought they were using Francis were in for a surprise for they were the ones who were being used. The curt dismissal would come as a shock. Gone was the friendly grin. In its place was a glacial stare. The Igbo elite had been propping up the Northern rulers of Nigeria long enough. They now saw their chance to take the lead. Why should they not have their turn as the dominant tribe?
My own feeling, if I had been a Northerner, would have been one of alarm. The Eastern elite had joined with the North in British-inspired election skulduggery in 1959. They had worked together to settle old scores with Awolowo and the Action Group in the West, and at that very moment Awolowo was serving a ten-year prison sentence. The Ironsi/Nwokedi team was not proposing to set Awolowo free. The Northerners had reason to fear the new Igbo initiative. It seemed as if the Igbos were going to settle some old scores with the North.
The furore which greeted news of Nwokedi's appointment caused Ironsi to have second thoughts and to appoint someone - a non-Igbo - to serve with him. It made little difference. Francis travelled widely throughout Nigeria carrying out his commission. Nobody would be able to say they had not had a chance to put their point of view. Many complained later that he did not really listen, because his report did not endorse their views. It was said that he did not submit his final recommendations for approval to the other members of the committee on administrative reform before reporting to Ironsi.
Ironsi/Nwokedi wanted a strong and unified Nigeria. There was some merit in this proposal because it dealt with the greatest threat to stability in Nigeria, the size and therefore power of the North in relation to the other two Regions. There is little doubt that Northerners and others were strongly opposed to their absolute power being taken from them. They would, wouldn't they! Awolowo, locked up in jail, had for many years suggested another alternative, that more states should be created to match the ethnic variety of Nigeria's many tribes. But the British had seen this as an attack on their favoured ally in the North and would not hear of it.
As for Awolowo, he had been plotted against by the British and the Northern and Eastern political elite and was in jail. As it turned out, the shedding of blood had only just started and his enemies had done Awolowo a great service. He was safe and, being locked up, he did not become tainted with the deadly corruption and machinations of the other politicians.
Ironsi/Nwokedi abolished the Federation and the Regions. The various civil services were to be united and run from Lagos. These moves were welcomed in the South. Ironsi set off on a national tour to explain his policies and meet his critics. He stopped off at Ibadan on his way back to Lagos and his soldiers struck again. It has been suggested by John De St Jorre in his excellent study of the Nigerian Civil War that Ironsi's advisors who urged him on with his unification policy must share the blame for his downfall and the guilt for his death. Perhaps his advisors were opportunistic and used Ironsi for their own ends, but it is possible that the army would have executed him anyway. The six majors had not been punished for their crimes. And as John De St Jorre tellingly observes, three quarters of the army rank and file were from the North, though not necessarily from the major tribes.
General Gowon emerged as the new national leader, but it was too late to stop the indiscriminate slaughter of Ibo officers and men and civilians by Northern soldiers and civilians. Igbos fled back to the East accompanied by Nwokedi and the Igbo elite politicians and civil servants.
Some anti-Ibo riots in the North had occurred in May 1966 before Ironsi's death and both Ironsi and Eastern newspapers had tried to implicate the British High Commissioner, Sir Francis Cummings-Bruce, because he had been touring in the North for several weeks. The High Commissioner strongly denied any involvement. He was later to plead with General Gowon to pull the country together and, along with the US Ambassador threatened to cut off foreign assistance if the Regions were allowed to secede. One of General Gowon's first moves was to release Chief Awolowo from jail. The North was still in charge but now it was the turn of the East to come under attack. The Easterners who had backed Nwokedi's call for a unitary system of Government turned a somersault and became Ibo nationalists.
The horrible atrocities committed against many thousands of Ibos in the North and elsewhere did not attract much sympathy outside the East. The reaction noted by John De St Jorre was one I was to hear in London later, 'They had it coming to them.' The Igbo elite who had fled from Lagos knew or suspected that they would never be able to return. They felt their lives would be at risk. This gave a tremendous boost to the idea of secession. And when attempts were made by General Gowon to hold Nigeria together the Igbo hawks made sure that nothing came of it. Almost immediately the Eastern propaganda machine got under way preaching secession and no return. Tales of atrocities were repeated and perhaps magnified in order to convince the ordinary Igbo that there was no alternative. When this propaganda was directed at the outside world, it was enormously successful and the Christian churches in particular were led wildly astray.
The Eastern Treasury was taken over and Francis Nwokedi was despatched by Colonel Ojukwu, the Biafran leader, to travel abroad buying arms. Francis was an extremely efficient and highly experienced former head of the Foreign Service so that what purportedly happened seems extraordinary. It appears that very few arms were obtained for the very large sums of money taken out of Biafra. It was claimed that Francis and his mission were duped by unscrupulous arms dealers. Twenty million dollars of foreign exchange were rapidly depleted in dubious deals. Yet those involved were the cream of Nigeria's civil service. Twenty million dollars was an awful lot of duping!
The Nigerian Government responded by cancelling Nwokedi's passport and belatedly trying to stop the flow of currency from the East. Francis had once been the dutiful advisor to the British, and then after Independence to the British-backed Northern rulers of Nigeria. When Ironsi took over, Francis was by his side and, now Ironsi was dead, he was General Ojukwu's lieutenant and right hand man.
From the start I judged the Biafran venture totally ill conceived and doomed to failure. If it had worked, perhaps the commentators would have been less critical of Francis Nwokedi and his role in the colossal tragedy which followed. For myself, I was less interested in the personalities than in the conditions which allowed them to flourish. Francis Nwokedi was made by the British; he was their creature and they were responsible for him and the terrible tragedy in which he played a central role.
There was near panic in Whitehall. Considerable efforts had been put into constructing and backing the awful Balewa regime. True, it was reactionary and totally corrupt, but what was new? These were our boys, the bulwark against communism. As always in these dreadful Whitehall and Washington anti-Communist scenarios, the very policies devised to keep the Russians out, brought them in. But then these global theorists with their phobias about the red menace need to have the Russians as their raison d'être. In the same way probably the Kremlin plotters with phobias of Western spies need the Whitehall and Washington paranoids.
Dutifully the Russians arrived in Lagos to fish in troubled waters. They were inexperienced and ill at ease with the Africans. According to the Marxist theory, the Nigerians should have thrown the British out years ago, but the Africans laughed at the British and often seemed quite fond. When in doubt always back the winner was Russian as well as British foreign policy, and it was evident to the Russians that Biafra would be a loser. And who was this Biafran leader Nwokedi, busy making a complete hash of buying arms? Was he not the British stooge who gave the Russians such a hard time when they established diplomatic relations with Nigeria? The Russians set to with a will to supply arms to General Gowon and the Lagos Government. In the summer of 1967 Nwokedi was in Paris negotiating the sale of Biafra's oil and mineral reserves to a French businessman. Again something went wrong and not a penny reached Biafra. General Ojukwu declared secession from Nigeria on 30th May 1967.
Awolowo, released from jail, became Minister of Finance. It was a miracle, but an honest and dedicated politician had been found to fill the post which Okotie Eboh had exploited to the point of destroying Nigeria. Awolowo was now a leader in the Lagos regime of General Gowon.
And Doctor Azikiwe? To the disgust of the Igbo people he had changed sides in September 1969 when it was obvious that their battle was lost.
Francis Nwokedi reappeared in Sierra Leone and was immediately established as a prosperous businessman.
As Ruth First was to write later, coup, counter coup, civilian massacre and war - was there ever anywhere else so rapid and gruesome a sequence?
The Nigerian Civil War was on a scale with the American Civil War in the last century and the Spanish Civil War in this. Estimates of the number of those who died were between half a million and one million. John De St Jorre's figure for those who were killed was 600,000.
In victory General Gowon and the federal forces behaved with great magnanimity to the defeated Ibo. Every effort was made to rehabilitate individual Igbos and to rebuild the East and reintegrate the Region into the Republic. This was perhaps the only good thing to come out of this disastrous civil war.
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I began work on these memoirs by collecting all the books which have been written by academics and politicians and journalists on the transfer of power in Nigeria, and in my cottage in rural Wiltshire began to piece together the full story. There were few interruptions to the quiet daily routine I enjoyed with my cat Shu-shu and my dog Lulu. (My wife was absent during the week, working as an Inspector of Schools in central London.) Occasionally neighbours would drop by for a chat, and although our little hamlet of Widbrook only numbers six homes, it is always a source of surprise how much news we find to pass on to each other. Three times a day I would walk my black and white border collie along the Kennet and Avon Canal. The big decision - usually taken by Lulu - being whether to go east towards Trowbridge or west towards Bath.
One day Lulu accompanied me into Bath to collect books on Nigeria which I had ordered from the library, and on my return it was immediately evident that someone had been in my house and a search had taken place. Lulu, instead of waiting for her treat - she is horribly spoilt - picked up a scent and dragged me from room to room until we had been in every room in the cottage. She was very puzzled not to find the intruder though I was rather relieved not to. The papers and bits and pieces on my desk were not quite right. Someone had been through my notes and papers.
We began to note some very strange happenings on our telephone. We assumed the cause was a branch (just an ordinary branch, not a special branch) touching the line; then we noticed that they occurred at exactly the same time each day. I consulted a retired GPO engineer who examined my telephone and he was very perplexed.
"You have some unusual wiring in that 'phone," he informed me.
Surely Mrs Thatcher had not decided that I was a Russian spy or some kind of threat to our democracy? I was defending democracy in Africa from British politicians who were undermining it. I had also taken a stand in my early years against Communist interference in trade union elections. I pooh-poohed the idea. However I began to recall how one of my neighbours in Lagos, a GPO engineer, had first informed me that the telephones of all the leading Nigerian politicians were tapped and recorded as a matter of routine. I realised that I had some knowledge of these surveillance techniques. Besides, I had been trained as an apprentice, and by the Royal Air Force much against my will, as an expert in electronics.
As a first measure I decided to return my telephone to the British Telecom shop at Debenham's department store in Bristol. My arrival created great confusion amongst the store staff because the handset I was carrying in a plastic bag as I entered the store set off all the shop alarms. The staff ran out on the street to see who had run off with valuable merchandise, but I was inside the store observing the fracas, with my telephone swinging in a Tesco carrier bag.
Had I placed that multipoint adapter in that socket on the wall? The adapter had obviously been interfered with and a rough hole had been bored inside it. And was our mail being opened? It appeared so. Could it be that we were meant to know that I was under surveillance? I was reluctant to inform my wife but we have no secrets and she quickly became suspicious and then, I am afraid, greatly distressed. This was not surveillance but harassment. The hurt was deliberate. We were finally convinced when a farmer friend made it clear that the police were very interested in my activities. It seemed there was great interest in some memoirs I was writing! But I had told no one I was engaged in such a work... except Mrs Thatcher.
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