But Always As Friends

 

My Nigeria, the one that died on January 15, 1966, celebrated its independence from British rule 58 years ago today, on October 1, 1960. I was six years old. We stayed in country for another three years, with Dad working for the Nigerian government, charged with cleaning up tribal rivalries and corruption in the ancient Emirate of Kano.

You may never have heard of the ancient walled city of Kano. If it’s at all familiar to you, it’s probably because it was featured in one of the first news stories in which the use of underage and intellectually compromised female suicide bombers came to the attention of the Western world, as they blew themselves, and dozens of others, up in Kano Market.

I loved Kano Market. My heart broke for it then, and breaks for it now. For my friends For the stalls. For the vendors. For the lepers. For the Berbers. For the goats. For the camels. For the indigo wells (OK, so sue me. I’m a crafter and a dyer.) For the smells (well, perhaps not for the smells). But especially, it breaks for the vulnerable victims of the bastards who prevail. For now. I pray that it is just “for now.”

Part of that portion of my life, between 1960 and 1963, involved 24-hour armed guards, and armed patrol of our compound, because they were coming for us in ways that Westerners would understand, and ways that they would not. We were under attack — on the road, in our beds, and while we were with our friends. Goats with throats slit, buried for three days, and then dug up to see if they were dead. They were not. Gagara Yasin. Poisonous snakes in the bed. And more. At one point, the rumors that my parents had been killed were so prevalent that Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, contacted my grandparents in the UK and offered to adopt my sister and me. (Stipulate that he’d already adopted me in a ceremony just after I was born, in which I was given a Hausa name (“Hawa Numan” after the Arabic word for “Eve” and the town in which Dad was serving as Assistant District Officer when I was born). My sister also had a Hausa name, “Nassara Mubi.” Nasssara meaning “lucky,” and Mubi, the town in Cameroon Trust Territory in which she was born. We were connected. And, in Nigeria, we were at home. There are parts of Nigeria in which I would still be at home. And Muslim men I’d trust with my life. And there are parts of Nigeria where I’d get my throat slit without a second thought. I’m very clear about that).

One of our dearest friends at the time was Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (ATB), the first (and so far, only) civilian elected Prime Minister of an independent Nigeria. An elegant and immensely dignified man of extraordinary intellect and gracious demeanor, it fell to him to deliver the address on Nigerian Independence Day. I reproduce it in full here, if for no other reason than to ask all those reading if you can imagine a Muslim leader today speaking this way. I doubt that you can. But these were my father’s Muslims. These were my Muslims. Here is ATB, in his own words (emphasis added, just to add emphasis):

Today is Independence Day. The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years every Nigerian has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent sovereign nation.

Words cannot adequately express my joy and pride at being the Nigerian citizen privileged to accept from Her Royal Highness these Constitutional Instruments which are the symbols of Nigeria’s Independence. It is a unique privilege which I shall remember for ever, and it gives me strength and courage as I dedicate my life to the service of our country.

This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well- built upon firm foundations.

Today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a process which began fifteen years ago and has now reached a happy and successful conclusion. It is with justifiable pride that we claim the achievement of our Independence to be unparalleled in the annals of history. Each step of our constitutional advance has been purposefully and peacefully planned with full and open consultation, not only between representatives of all the various interests in Nigeria but in harmonious cooperation with the administering power which has today relinquished its authority.

At the time when our constitutional development entered upon its final phase, the emphasis was largely upon self-government. We, the elected representatives of the people of Nigeria, concentrated on proving that we were fully capable of managing our own affairs both internally and as a nation. However, we were not to be allowed the selfish luxury of focusing our interest on our own homes. In these days of rapid communications we cannot live in isolation, apart from the rest of the world, even if we wished to do so. All too soon it has become evident that for us Independence implies a great deal more than self-government. This great country, which has now emerged without bitterness or bloodshed, finds that she must at once be ready to deal with grave international issues.

This fact has of recent months been unhappily emphasized by the startling events which have occurred in this continent. I shall not labour the point but it would be unrealistic not to draw attention first to the awe-inspiring task confronting us at the very start of our nationhood. When this day in October 1960 was chosen for our Independence it seemed that we were destined to move with quiet dignity to place on the world stage. Recent events have changed the scene beyond recognition, so that we find ourselves today being tested to the utmost We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to responsible government are well-founded, and having been accepted as an indepedent state we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilisation. I promise you, we shall not fail for want of determination.

And we come to this task better-equipped than many. For this, I pay tribute to the manner in which successive British Governments have gradually transferred the burden of responsibility to our shoulders. The assistance and unfailing encouragement which we have received from each Secretary of State for the Colonies and their intense personal interest in our development has immeasurably lightened that burden.

All our friends in the Colonial Office must today be proud of their handiwork and in the knowledge that they have helped to lay the foundations of a lasting friendship between our two nations. I have indeed every confidence that, based on the happy experience of a successful partnership, our future relations with the United Kingdom will be more cordial than ever, bound together, as we shall be in the Commonwealth, by a common allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, whom today we proudly acclaim as Queen of Nigeria and Head of the Commonwealth.

Time will not permit the individual mention of all those friends, many of them Nigerians, whose selfless labours have contributed to our Independence. Some have not lived to see the fulfilment of their hopes—on them be peace—but nevertheless they are remembered here, and the names of buildings and streets and roads and bridges throughout the country recall to our minds their achievements, some of them on a national scale. Others confined, perhaps, to a small area in one Division, are more humble but of equal value in the sum-total.

Today, we have with us representatives of those who have made Nigeria: Representatives of the Regional Governments, of former Central Governments, of the Missionary Societies, and of the Banking and Commercial enterprises, and members, both past and present, of the Public Service. We welcome you, and we rejoice that you have been able to come and share in our celebrations. We wish that it could have been possible for all of those whom you represent to be here today: Many, I know, will be disappointed to be absent, but if they are listening to me now, I say to them: ‘Thank you on behalf of my Thank you for your devoted service which helped build up Nigeria into a nation. Today we are reaping the harvest which you sowed, and the quality of the harvest is equaled only by our gratitude to you. May God bless you all.

This is an occasion when our hearts are filled with conflicting emotions: we are, indeed, proud to have achieved our independence, and proud that our efforts should have contributed to this happy event. But do not mistake our pride for arrogance. It is tempered by feelings of sincere gratitude to all who have shared in the task of developing Nigeria politically, socially and economically. We are grateful to the British officers whom we have known, first as masters, and then as leaders, and finally as partners, but always as friends. And there have been countless missionaries who have laboured unceasingly in the cause of education and to whom we owe many of our medical services. We are grateful also to those who have brought modern methods of banking and of commerce, and new industries. I wish to pay tribute to all of these people and to declare our everlasting admiration of their devotion to duty. 
And, finally, I must express our gratitude to Her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandra of Kent for personally bringing to us these symbols of our freedom, and especially for delivering the gracious message from Her Majesty The Queen. And so, with the words ‘God Save Our Queen’, I open a new chapter in the history of Nigeria, and of the Commonwealth, and indeed of the world.

He gives thanks to the Brits (and he was talking about people like my father, make no mistake about that). He gives thanks to the missionaries (and he was talking about Christians, make no mistake about that). He gives thanks to the captains of industry (and he was talking about Western Capitalists, make no mistake about that).

Such a waste. We, in the United States, and in the United Kingdom, let ATB and his ilk (and ourselves) down. Make no mistake about that.

On January 15, 1966, ATB and Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, were murdered. Sardauna was murdered while he stood, with arms outstretched, protecting his wives (some of whom were murdered with him). I don’t know the circumstances of ATB’s murder, but his body was left by the side of the road, and parts of it were eaten. I hope by dogs. But, given the circumstances, I can’t be sure. Make no mistake about that.

Later that year, my Dad was the first, and as far as I know, the only Westerner still, to be allowed inside Sardauna’s tomb.

Such a waste.

Sow the wind. Reap the whirlwind.

Make no mistake about that.

There are 23 comments.

  1. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Wonderful and worrisome at the same time…Thank you for the post!

    • #1
    • October 1, 2018, at 3:53 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    She: On January 15, 1966, ATB and Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, were murdered. Sardauna was murdered while he stood, with arms outstretched, protecting his wives (some of whom were murdered with him). I don’t know the circumstances of ATB’s murder, but his body was left by the side of the road, and parts of it were eaten. I hope by dogs. But, given the circumstances, I can’t be sure. Make no mistake about that.

    I will remember the day forever. We were in England for a few months. I remember my mother sitting on the stairs, listening to the radio (we didn’t have a television) with news of the “coup.” She had tears running down her face, and she was twisting the ring on her finger that she always wore. It was solid silver. It was given to her by Sardauna on her first visit to Nigeria. He had two rings made, one for him (which he always wore). One for her (which she always wore).

    Then he had the mold broken.

    I suppose his was buried with him. We still have hers.

     

    • #2
    • October 1, 2018, at 4:04 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  3. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Kano Market indigo dying (using camel dung as a fixative. Talk about a stink!):

    The old British Residency in Kano, where we lived. A palatial mud house, on the order of “adobe” construction in the US:

    The “modern” extension on the Old Residency. My mother made the armed guards take their boots off as they marched up and down all night on the veranda protecting us, because they kept us awake!

    But what I remember most, are the peacocks, the beautiful flowers, and the crowned cranes in the garden:

    • #3
    • October 1, 2018, at 4:29 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. JoelB Member

    Was the coup communist-sponsored?

    • #4
    • October 1, 2018, at 4:38 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Mark Camp Member

    This is why we Ricochet. Thx.

    • #5
    • October 1, 2018, at 4:39 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Was the coup communist-sponsored?

    Yes. I am certain that was part of it.

    • #6
    • October 1, 2018, at 4:56 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    This is why we Ricochet. Thx.

    Thank you.

    • #7
    • October 1, 2018, at 4:57 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. The Reticulator Member

    Now that you mention it, I remember hearing the word Hausa in those days, but I don’t remember what it was all about. 

    • #8
    • October 1, 2018, at 5:11 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Percival Thatcher

    Do they dye things brought in to them?

    • #9
    • October 1, 2018, at 5:46 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Percival (View Comment):

    Do they dye things brought in to them?

    No, they have huge bolts of cotton fabric and they dye them (or at least they used to) in the most intricate tie-dyed patterns I’ve ever seen. Then they sell the dyed fabric. The dye is indigo (the substance, not just the color), obtained from plant leaves. It was the traditional “blue jean” dye, but most of that now is synthetic.

    Camel dung was used as a fixative. The stench of the indigo dye pits was eye-watering.

    • #10
    • October 1, 2018, at 8:48 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Now that you mention it, I remember hearing the word Hausa in those days, but I don’t remember what it was all about.

    It’s the language and the culture of Muslim Northern Nigeria.

    • #11
    • October 1, 2018, at 8:48 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Zafar Member

    @she has the well of goodwill run dry? And if not, what is a good response to it in Nigeria? (And elsewhere?)

    • #12
    • October 2, 2018, at 3:36 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Hang On Member

    I haven’t really been to Kano. Our flight landed there and then departed back to London.

    The walls are impressive. I’ve taken these off the web.

    Kano-City-Wall

     

    The Ancient Kano City Walls, Nigeria

    • #13
    • October 2, 2018, at 5:11 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Hang On Member

    African markets are amazing. The sights and smells were an assault on the senses. Negotiating was usually a lot of fun.

    There were multiple markets as well which tended to be somewhat specialized, at least in Douala.

    There was a market for fruits and vegetables – fresh and tree ripened. Mangos, pineapples, bananas, avocados, groundnuts, mantioc, lettuce, tomatoes. People would carry their produce in from the countryside sometimes walking; sometimes taking bush taxis – people didn’t ride alone in a taxi, it was usually two to four other passengers; sometimes they would have a family member who had access to a vehicle. I’ve seen dump trucks laden with people on market day and when they hit a pothole people would sometimes be thrown out. Dangerous place, Cameroun.

    There was a fish market every evening down at the docks when the fishing boats would come in. 

    There was a separate market where you could buy textiles – some from Hong Kong or Europe, but also hand-made from locally grown cotton. 

    There was also a market for art work with locally made items and also items smuggled from Nigeria. It was illegal to sell old art work in Nigeria, but it could be sold in Cameroun. There were textiles for wall hanging where patterns or images were painted with dye and then fixed with dung. There were lost wax bronze and copper statues that were amazing, especially the Ife statues from Nigeria. There were wooden and ivory carvings. The symbolism was also different from western symbolism. Spiders were wise. Snakes represented fertility. 

     

    • #14
    • October 2, 2018, at 5:53 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Zafar (View Comment):

    @she has the well of goodwill run dry? And if not, what is a good response to it in Nigeria? (And elsewhere?)

    My well of goodwill? It never runs dry. Sometimes the bucket that comes up has more acid in it than it does water, but my friends (even the one’s who’ve wronged me, or vice versa) will tell you that I remain positively inclined, at least if they’re honest about it.

    I don’t know the solution. I do know that when the Brits left Nigeria there was so much promise. And that seeds were sown, not wholly from inside the country, leading to the coup of 1966. And that that coup was not a “Muslim on Muslim” thing. In fact, the military officers leading the coup and murdering my friends, were, at least in name, Christians.

    I think there was considerable discomfort, in both the Western and Communist worlds, that such a large and populous country was an anglophilic, but Muslim-run state. And that that, and oil,had a lot to do with events in 1966. And that the rapidly emerging international media sensationalism which turned the soi-disant Biafran “genocide” and starvation crisis into perhaps the first real-time photo-opportunity news story which turned into a never-ending parade of misery against which facts and logic could not gain any traction.

    I guess, if I were to give an answer off the top of my head to your question, I would say that Western governments (US and UK mainly) need to re-engage in sub-Saharan Africa. That there are traditional Muslim leaders who are the much sought-after “moderate Muslims,” some of them still very influential (like the Sultan of Sokoto.) IIRC, he’s the son of “my” Sultan of Sokoto.

    This one has an impressive biography, and a long track record of easing religious tension in his country, particularly traditional Muslim/Christian tensions, as well as a long-standing commitment to the education of women, the modernization of his state, and the eradication of some of the least attractive features of what an unenlightened observer might assume to be his “worldview.”

    I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the West does not find ways to support and bring such traditional rulers to the fore in the Muslim world. Muslims think he’s important (he’s regularly listed in the top 20 of the “most influential Muslims in the world” lists). Why don’t we? Co-opting and promoting the Sultan and others like him is a mindset that’s baked into me, thanks to my dad and what I consider to be the benign, and perhaps even “good” form of Colonialism I’m familiar with.

    Because I do believe that “our” values are better. But some of “their” values are pretty good, as practiced by people like the Sultan of Sokoto. And my late friends. And there ought to be enough room in this world for all people of kindness and goodwill, regardless of their religion.

    The Sultan is the head of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, a Nigerian group promoting Islam. What does this group think of Boko Haram? Here is their response to the massacre of 42 students in Yobe in 2013.

    Could I find things about the Sultan and his beliefs that trouble me? Of course. Just as I find things about politicians/religious leaders in the West that trouble me. And the “Muslim” hurdle is a big one. But, this is a pretty good man, I think. And we in the West should find a way to promote him, and others like him, and to make him the face of the Islam we can live with.

    Here’s the gentleman, speaking at Harvard on the role of traditional leaders in Nigeria today. I haven’t listened yet, but I’m going to. There seems to be a rather long-winded introduction covering his biography. Some of that can also be found here.

    • #15
    • October 2, 2018, at 6:15 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  16. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Hang On (View Comment):

    African markets are amazing. The sights and smells were an assault on the senses. Negotiating was usually a lot of fun.

    Yes, indeed.

    There were multiple markets as well which tended to be somewhat specialized, at least in Douala.

    I’ve seen dump trucks laden with people on market day and when they hit a pothole people would sometimes be thrown out. Dangerous place, Cameroun.

    Nigeria, too. The things people carried on their heads also used to amaze me. The traveling tailors would walk from village to village with their Singer treadle sewing machines turned upside down and balanced on their heads. A machine like this:

    There was a separate market where you could buy textiles – some from Hong Kong or Europe, but also hand-made from locally grown cotton.

    I have a few. Our friend Gwama taught me to spin cotton.

    There was also a market for art work with locally made items and also items smuggled from Nigeria. It was illegal to sell old art work in Nigeria, but it could be sold in Cameroun. There were textiles for wall hanging where patterns or images were painted with dye and then fixed with dung. There were lost wax bronze and copper statues that were amazing, especially the Ife statues from Nigeria. There were wooden and ivory carvings. The symbolism was also different from western symbolism. Spiders were wise. Snakes represented fertility.

    Have some of the Benin Bronzes in the UK. I have an ebony carved head here. My sister has the ivory match to the set, still in the UK. For obvious reasons, we didn’t want to try to bring the ivory one into the US.

    Nor the intricately carved elephant tusk with the crocodile at one end, and the ‘satiably curious Elephant’s Child being tugged out of the crocodile’s clutches by the rest of the herd. That was a gift from Sardauna to my sister. I have the hammered brass coffee tray from him as a memento:

     

    • #16
    • October 2, 2018, at 6:33 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. KentForrester Coolidge

    She, it’s pieces like yours that keeps me coming back to Ricochet. 

    Wow, what an interesting life you’ve led. It makes mine look gray and empty. While you were walking abou the exotic markets of Nigeria, I was hanging around the bowling alleys of Compton, California. 

    I think if you and were to get together over a beer, you would have stories to tell and I would have to invent things just to keep up.

    • #17
    • October 2, 2018, at 6:58 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    I think if you and were to get together over a beer, you would have stories to tell and I would have to invent things just to keep up.

    I doubt that, @kentforrester. I bet your life didn’t heat up till you started that 18th-century English Literature gig. There are limitless possibilities for excitement there.

    • #18
    • October 2, 2018, at 7:50 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. KentForrester Coolidge

    She (View Comment):

    I bet your life didn’t heat up till you started that 18th-century English Literature gig. There are limitless possibilities for excitement there.

    That’s something that no one has ever said in the history of the world.

    “Limitless possibilities for excitement there.” That’s also something that no one has ever thought to say. 

    You’re weird, Mrs. She. 

    • #19
    • October 2, 2018, at 8:08 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    I bet your life didn’t heat up till you started that 18th-century English Literature gig. There are limitless possibilities for excitement there.

    That’s something that no one has ever said in the history of the world.

    “Limitless possibilities for excitement there.” That’s also something that no one has ever thought to say.

    You’re weird, Mrs. She.

    Proud of it, too.

    • #20
    • October 2, 2018, at 8:18 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. Zafar Member

    Not yours, @she, their goodwill. ??

    • #21
    • October 2, 2018, at 4:55 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. RossC Coolidge

    Great Post, I don’t want to side track the conversation but if you ever get a chance to post about it, I’d like to hear about if you think that Nigeria was a survivable construct without British Rule. From what little I know, the racial/tribal hatred was only inches below the surface at any time. Could a negotiated settlement (oil rights etc) with the Biafrans somehow kept the country together without the disaster that occurred. Or does Nigeria only exist in its current form because the Biafrans were so thoroughly subdued.

    • #22
    • October 3, 2018, at 7:05 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    RossC (View Comment):

    Great Post, I don’t want to side track the conversation but if you ever get a chance to post about it, I’d like to hear about if you think that Nigeria was a survivable construct without British Rule. From what little I know, the racial/tribal hatred was only inches below the surface at any time. Could a negotiated settlement (oil rights etc) with the Biafrans somehow kept the country together without the disaster that occurred. Or does Nigeria only exist in its current form because the Biafrans were so thoroughly subdued.

    Very good questions all. And a reminder that I ducked the challenge from @claire in one of the comments, after this post in January of 2015. Perhaps it is time to grapple with this. Thanks for the reminder.

    • #23
    • October 3, 2018, at 7:18 AM PDT
    • 2 likes