Tag: Nigeria

Just a Daughter’s Memories: Nigeria, 1959


March is a problematic month for me, being one of those two or three in the year in which anniversaries and memories–those both deliriously joyous and desperately sad–seem to congregate and coalesce in an inescapable, and sometimes overwhelming, swarm. My granddaughter’s birthday. Our dinner of grace and the death of Mr. She’s first wife. “Fifteen days to slow the spread” which, although I didn’t know it at the time, would signal the end of any chance for Mr. She and me to escape the house together ever again and go on the slightest or most gentle of expeditions before his death four months later. That moment when I realized that he wasn’t going to pull out of his downward spiral, and that this would be the end. More than one dear friendship lost. Much else of joy. Many other heartbreaks.

And, as always, my Dad. He’d have been 103 this month, and although it may be greedy of me to wish he was still here, it’s not entirely without precedent in my family, which Mr. She used to call “The Dúnedain.” Auntie Betty lived to just a few weeks short of her 103rd birthday; Uncle Arthur was 102 when he shuffled off this mortal coil. Numerous others family members lived well into their 90s. Auntie Pat (thanks for asking and may she live forever) will be 99 in July.

Dad died in 2007 (in September–another of those bloody awful months) at the age of 88. I was lucky to have had him in my life until then. I’d turned 53 the week before, and my sister, brother, and I knew that Dad’s time was almost up.

Happy Birthday, Dad: The ‘Gremlin in the Petrol Tank’ Edition


One of the enduring memes (if we had had such a word to describe them at the time) of my childhood would have been my Dad’s invocation of the “gremlin in the petrol tank.” He was prone to bring it up in any situation where something unexpected happened and a thing that was supposed to have taken a finite amount of time, or achieved a particular outcome, either disappointed in the first instance, or didn’t perform as advertised in the second. Over time, we kids began to take it for granted. “Oh, yeah. There’s must be a gremlin in the petrol tank. No wonder it took so long.  No wonder it didn’t work.”

But, as we grew up, and as we demanded more in the way of Science! dare I say, we began to doubt. Was Dad simply saying this to cover up a defect in planning or execution? Or was there, as Paul Harvey might have said, a “rest of the story?” Dear readers, in Dad’s own words–on what would have been his 102nd birthday–here’s the “rest of the story,” told through the eyes of a young and vulnerable Dad.

The events recounted here took place in 1947 or so; he’d have been in his late twenties and hadn’t been in Nigeria very long. (For the record, I have no knowledge of the “girl in Lincolnshire,” who appears in this tale rather like Coleridge’s “person from Porlock” and as far as I know, she is never mentioned again anywhere in Dad’s writings. I’m just grateful she took herself off and left the field clear for my mother. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a me, and I wouldn’t have had such a Dad. But here I am. And without further ado, here he is, too):

Quote of the Day: But Always as Friends


“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.” — Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, KBE, PC

My Nigeria, the one that died on January 15, 1966, celebrated its independence from British rule 60 years ago, on October 1, 1960. I was six years old. We stayed in-country for another three years, with Dad working for the British, and then the Nigerian governments, charged first with administering a plebiscite in Cameroon, and then by the new Nigerian government with cleaning up leftover primordial tribal rivalries and corruption in the ancient Emirate of Kano.

You may never have heard of the old walled city of Kano. If it’s at all familiar to you, it might be 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. Similar things have happened several times since, in what have become Northern Nigeria’s own Killing Fields.



EVERY YEAR, about October/November a cattle tax of one-shilling-a-head was levied on every bull, steer, cow or calf throughout all the cattle-holding provinces of Northern Nigeria. This was in accordance with the principle that in order to establish sovereignty of the Crown, every adult in the territory had to pay an appropriate yearly tax to the government. Each Native Authority was responsible for collecting the tax in its own area. The greater part of it was retained by the NA that collected it, and this paid for the salaries of its servants and for the public services that it provided, but a small portion each year was directed to the central government and was then paid into various local government treasuries, thereby maintaining the principle of an appropriate tribute.

Farmers, craftsmen, and employees paid haraji (general tax) set at around ten shillings a head each, while traders, entrepreneurs, and the wealthy were assessed by the NA at sums that could go as high as 10% of estimated profits. (Complaints were heard through a formal review process led by the District Officer, and could result in the tax being decreased or, in rare cases, increased.) In really primitive areas things were simpler, with living-huts being made the basis of taxation and assessed at one shilling each per annum. Nomads, however, who were never settled in any one place, created their own problems and chief amongst these was the question of what to do about taxing the Bororoji (wandering Fulani).

For centuries, the Fulani people had been regarded as an elite. By the eighteenth century, they had fully emerged all over the Western Sudan as brave, resourceful, learned, competent, and capable, with a bent for religious orthodoxy and proselytization, as well as for administration and government.

300: A Man, a Horse, and a Missionary Woman


The events related here took place a little over seventy years ago. They tell the story of a man and his horse. Together. Alone in the bush. The man, very ill. And afraid. The horse, very tired. He was probably afraid, too. And they tell the story of the extraordinarily brave woman who saved them both.

Some of you will recognize it as the récit d’enfance of Gagara Yasin, at the time a 29-year-old newly-minted colonial officer, the “lowest form of animal life” in the British administration of Sokoto Province in Northern Nigeria. He’d arrived in country the previous Spring, and had spent several months learning the ropes while his resolve, and his ability to think on his feet, were tested on a few small assignments (collecting the cattle tax from the nomadic Fulani farmers, investigating a case of witchcraft in Giro, delivering a baby in Bakin Turu). Finally, he was set (somewhat) free on his own, as a “Touring Officer,” a sort of roving junior Justice of the Peace, in and around Yelwa.

And so our story begins with our hero setting out on his first excursion, to reconnoiter the territory, and to meet the natives.

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.”

The King’s Shilling


The events recounted below are true, and took place in Sokoto, Northern Nigeria, in the Summer of 1947. The author was a young, newly arrived, civil servant in the British Colonial Service, recently separated from active duty in Italy and North Africa as a Major in the British Army. The gentleman in the photo to the right is a former slave, and the iron rings he is holding were his manacles. The term “The King’s Shilling” is used facetiously in this story: it is generally used to refer to the payment of one shilling to military recruits (and sometimes reluctant ones) in the United Kingdom between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

One morning Mallam Muhammadu Azare presented himself and announced that a girl was outside urgently asking to see me, as she was anxious to be officially manumitted from slavery. I must confess that at first I thought he was pulling my leg! Recourse to the legal books on the office shelf and a somewhat more careful inquiry of my mentor, convinced me, however, that this was not the case.

In the early 1900s, when Sir Frederick Lugard, began the process of replacing Sir George Goldie’s loose administrative system in Northern Nigeria with a formal British Protectorate, the issue that loomed largest (almost to the exclusion of all else) was the question of what he called “domestic slavery,” that is, the fact that most (if not all) of the domestic retainers of the Sultan and his Emirs (as well as of minor chiefs and many office holders too) were either people who had been born into slavery or who had actually been enslaved by capture.

“I Won’t!”


My father was a remarkable man. Over the course of his long life, he met very few men whose will was stronger than his own. Here’s the story of one of them:

Shortly after World War II, Dad was ordered to the ancient Northern Nigerian city of Sokoto to serve as the Assistant District Officer (that is, as everyone else’s general dogsbody) in the British Colonial Service. It was his first posting, and the culmination of a childhood dream that had as its origin the adventure books of Edgar Wallace and the stories of his hero, Sanders of the River.

When I was entering my teens, nineteen out of any twenty English boys you picked would have known of Wallace, and most of them would have known who Sanders was as well. Those who did not, had simply not yet got around to reading the eleven books that Wallace produced, between 1911 and 1928, featuring his hero, the legendary District Commissioner Sanders, together with Captain Hamilton and Lieutenant Bones, the soldiers commanding his detachment of Hausa Police, and Bosambo, the wily Monrovian who Sanders plucked from the jungle to be his right-hand, man, who then became Chief of the Akasava, a tribe until then rent by internecine feuding. As I found out later in life, kasava (manioc) is the staple food around Forcados, where Wallace was stationed for part of his term in West Africa. The simple addition of an “A” to this common Nigerian word makes it a thoroughly acceptable and relevant tribal name. But I digress. [Note well: The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree in this regard.]

Tall Tales: Gagara Yasin


dadweb2The year was 1956.

I knew something was horribly wrong that night, when Ahmadu dropped the soup! Normally exquisitely self-possessed, immaculately groomed, and imperturbable, our man-servant and friend was disheveled, the color of cement, and shaking like a leaf with acute anxiety and palpable fear.

Our little family—myself, Kay, and our imperious eighteen-month-old daughter, known behind her back as “She Who Must Be Obeyed”—were living in Idah at the time, among the people of the Igala kingdom.

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Some recent stories from Venezuela, Brazil, and Nigeria caught my attention; they have some interesting similarities. They are all oil-producing countries–with state-owned oil companies–that have been impacted by falling oil prices. And they are also reaching levels of political maturity where corruption is becoming more scandalous. In Venezuela, the opposition has resolved to oust Chavez’s successor Nicolas […]

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The Price of Everything, the Value of Nothing


College-Students-opt-1024x682Free things are rarely ever free. The Left is fond of saying that Canada’s socialized health care system is “free” for all its citizens. It certainly is, so long as you’re a Canadian who doesn’t pay taxes. In the same spirit, Hillary’s college plan would mean that students may not have to borrow for tuition, however much the federal government would be borrowing on their behalf. No prizes for guessing who gets the bill in the end. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Hillary Clinton is proposing an expansive program aimed at enabling students to attend public colleges and universities without taking on loans for tuition, her attempt to address a source of anxiety for American families while advancing one of the left’s most sweeping new ideas.

The plan – dubbed the “New College Compact” and estimated to cost $350 billion over 10 years – would fundamentally reshape the federal government’s role in higher education by offering new federal money, but with strings attached.

In Defense of Hashtag Campaigns


justsayin-376x330Let me get something out of the way: Hashtag campaigns are stupid. That being said, those who are complaining that this is a weak response to the Nigeria situation are off base. Yes, its asinine. Yes, it’s unseemly. Yes, it’s inappropriate for a First Lady to get caught up in it. And yes, it’s a really bad idea to create a blank slate like the one above an release it on the Internet. But you’re missing the value of the thing.

The way a republic works is:

1. There is some dramatic event or an ongoing situation.

Cue Up The Band


shutterstock_106322621Peggy Noonan writes today in the Wall Street Journal that the US needs a military that acts swiftly and doesn’t brag. I agree with that first point — especially with the suggestion that we should have cut to the chase and sent in the troops to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. The military would have been delighted to execute such an assignment, a good thing would have been accomplished, and we would have demonstrated that America hasn’t completely forgotten how to flex its muscles. Nigeria’s not going to declare war on us. And is the international community likely to get on their high horse over the rescue of innocent girls? And so what if they do?

I wasn’t as convinced, however, by her assertion that great militaries shouldn’t brag. I understand the principle behind it: don’t showboat and let the guns do the talking. But I suspect the truth is that pomp and ceremony have always been a component of military might — and probably for good reason. Triumphalism is actually pretty effective at producing the “shock and awe” factor that great militaries like to inspire in civilian populations, both at home and abroad. I myself tend to react reflexively against propaganda, so the flag-waving jingoism often misses with me, but there’s no denying that plenty of people like it and it tends to make an impression. Compared to missiles and tanks, flags and musicians are cheap and safe. If there’s a chance of forestalling a war with a parade … throw the parade.

On a less utilitarian level, I’m inclined to think that the bragging may actually be a healthy and natural part of military prowess. Of course, I say that as someone who has never had any justification whatsoever to engage in that kind of self-aggrandizement. But I’m guided here mainly by reflection on how soldiers and military pomp were regarded historically. There seems to have been widespread agreement among the ancients that soldiers fought for honor and, insofar as they did their jobs valiantly,  deserved it in a way that few other members of society did. Sedentary brainiacs (read: people like me or Peggy Noonan) find it easy to wrinkle our noses and piously suggest that war is no laughing matter. The people who are throwing the parades, however, know this far better than we.

Dog Tags Vs. Hash Tags


Unknown-2A chilling picture has been making the rounds lately. It shows our First Lady with a sad face, holding up a hand drawn placard with #Bringbackourgirls written on it, a response to the abduction of more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls by the islamist group Boko Haram. Though Mrs. Obama’s feelings are no doubt sincere, her actions will not bring one child back.

I’m glad neither my father nor my grandfather is alive to have seen this photo. They never had to teach us German or Japanese due to the fact that they were willing to don dog tags.  I’m sure they would have preferred hashtags, had they been the rage back then.

I realize that’s not politically correct to say today, but those men understood the code. It goes back to before Herodotus and was memorialized in The Song of Roland in the mid-12th century. Call it chivalry, call it the “Knightly code of honor,” call it what you will: it is the bedrock of Western Civilization.

Random Ruminations


If only Churchill and FDR had hashtagged the Nazis and the imperial Japanese, a world war could have been averted. President Roosevelt could have reassured us that, “We have nothing to fear but a Wi-Fi disruption,” while Prime Minister Churchill, through clinched fist and chewed cigar, could have promised that, “We shall hashtag them on the beaches, we shall hashtag them on the landing grounds, we shall hashtag them in the fields and in the streets, we shall hashtag them in the hills…”

“The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime,” declared US Secretary of Capitulation John Kerry last week, adding, “we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice.”  

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The latest heart-breaking news coming out of Central Africa is the kidnapping of 300 Christian school-girls at the hands of the brutal Boko Haram (a diffuse Islamic terrorist organization). There is likely no good outcome for these innocent children. The possibilities are unspeakable. But their fates should not be inexpiably linked to U.S. national security […]

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