by Ian McCall

Chapter 25 - IBADAN

The Macpherson constitution which was introduced just before my arrival in Nigeria proved difficult to operate in practice. Dr Azikiwe’s exclusion from the House of Representatives, noted below, tended to weaken the support his party gave to the new constitution. A convention of his party, the NCNC, instructed its ministers to resign. Most of them refused to do so and started a new party, the National Independence Party, which tried to carry on as a minority government in the East and a constitutional deadlock ensued. The Northern Peoples’ Congress objected to a motion put forward by an Action Group (Western Region, Yoruba dominated) member demanding the acceptance of ‘self-government by 1956’ because it feared southern domination. The political impasse was due largely to the regional basis of the parties which meant that no one party could command a clear majority in the House of Representatives. The upshot was a decision to provide for greater devolution of authority and the removal of powers of intervention by the Centre in matters which could, without detriment to other regions, be placed entirely within regional competence.

In December 1954 a new constitution was introduced which effectively created a federal structure which gave much greater control to the regions while retaining matters like defence and external relations at the centre. The Marketing Boards were to be regionalised. The political decision was in due course reflected in a reorganisation of the department. The produce inspection function became a regional matter. I was invited to join the Western Region where I was already serving. I was in the fullness of time transferred from Warri to Ibadan headquarters where my job was more administrative than technical. On an earlier visit to Ibadan, my Assistant Director had told me informally I was being promoted to Senior Produce Officer and that I would shortly receive the Secretary of State`s confirmation of this through the Civil Service Commission. The world was informed of such developments through the Nigeria Gazette, now to be regionalised as far as we were concerned as the Western Nigeria Gazette. Your salary and your previous history were available to all and sundry through the Staff List which was updated at regular intervals. Some officers, a small minority, referred to the Staff List as the `Stud Book` whether in self-affirmation of their pedigree or their sexual prowess I wasn`t always quite sure. While I might now make tours of inspection to the areas, these would not bring me in touch so much with people on the ground as in the past, certainly in the very often small, even remote, stations. Touring of the kind that took me into the real bush was finished. Now I was between a Ministry of Trade and Industry and the men who ran the areas and often had to interpret the requirements of the ministry to the latter and occasionally explaining the needs of the area officers to the Permanent Secretary’s staff. I was involved in the early stages of the reorganisation of the Produce Inspection Service in the region into circles to meet the new political conditions. An anomalous situation was the position of Senior Produce Officer, Lagos where we had a strong Western Region presence in federal territory, largely because there was a considerable amount of produce emanating from Western Nigeria as it was now to be called. Municipal Lagos was now declared federal territory.

It was at this time I came to know Caywood Brown Harry, a senior produce officer like myself who had been originally in what was referred to as the Junior Service, or lower posts filled by Africans. Both European and African staff agreed that it was by sheer ability and personality that he had been promoted to the senior ranks and now found himself in charge of the Lagos Port Area. I was junior to him in seniority as a Senior Produce Officer and was surprised when I was appointed Acting Deputy Chief Produce Officer in Ibadan for a period of a few months which was in due course published in the Western Nigeria Gazette. The reason given for the preference being given to me was that I was in situ in Ibadan and that the appointment was limited in duration. I wondered if ‘C B’, as he was widely known, would be upset by this but he saw it as a rational decision made in the interest of continuity. I was later to succeed him in the Lagos post while he moved to Ibadan.

C B was brought up in a village community in the eastern Niger delta, son of a much respected chief and transport entrepreneur. Because he did not belong to one of the major ethnic groups and did not have the hubris that seemed to stem from a long period of domination as a member of a majority tribe, he combined humility with a the natural authority of a chief`s son. Since the organisation of his people was based on a very restricted hierarchy he was much more open to external influences and read widely. He was a big man who laughed a great deal. Even when not actually laughing, his eyes were. CB gave me much to think about in discussions we had of the future.

He was a strong believer in one Nigeria and accepted the new arrangements without demur. He believed that tribalism was the enemy of such a consummation. To such an extent did he hold this view that he condemned any action that set one ethnic group against another. The responsibility rested in the first instance with those people fortunate enough to have insights into the possibilities of a federal system whether through education or experience and intelligence. In pursuit of this ideal, people must learn the different ways of others and be tolerant in their judgments. He had believed in the one Nigeria ideal of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons and felt that Azikiwe, an Easterner, had betrayed his pan-Nigerian vision when, after being elected to the Western House of Assembly in 1951 and been unsuccessful in getting getting nominated to the federal House of a Representatives as a result of a ploy by the ruling Action Group, he refused to be leader of the opposition and resigned to return to the east. CB saw in Zik’s action the tribalisation of politics and the obliteration of a dream. He would have liked to serve in the North before regionalisation. Not a single native southern Nigerian had been stationed as a senior officer there, presumably because of the backlash that might call forth among the local Hausa/Fulani. He would have relished the challenge.

CB’s views on how people should work across the cultural and linguistic divide also extended to how people within their ethnic groups tended to promote the interests of any member of that group irrespective of the claims of others. This was another form of tribalism that operated against the interests of the country in that it advanced someone of the ‘in-group’ or tribe at the expense of merit. I wondered how valid this view was.
‘Caywood,’I said, ‘don’t you think that within a federal system it doesn’t matter if a bit of nepotism is exercised? After all, people speak the same language, share the same kind of beliefs in what is good and what is bad’.
‘That may be all very well in a country like England where everybody does speak the same language and by and large share the same culture. Assume I, from a minority group, was working in one of the regions. Do you think I would become the Chief Produce Officer under an independent government? I’m sufficiently conceited to think that I have got where I am through merit. That was under a fair system instituted by your countrymen. Without a system that encourages the recognition of ability the mediocre come to the top.’
‘How do you guarantee that merit will be rewarded then?’ I asked.
CB hesitated and then gave a measured answer. ‘Institutions won’t resolve it. If the country’s interest is to be served, we need politicians who are not self-serving. I can point out current politicians whose actions belie their words. What we need is politicians who have a selfless commitment and an electorate that is able to think.’
‘You’re just the man to fill that political bill’ I thought to myself.
CB appeared to have that capacity to put the interest of others first. He had a wide reputation for integrity, possessed an easy charm, a persuasive tongue, an innate sense of fairness and fun and an analytical mind which seemed to me the embodiment of the very qualities he was advocating. Of all the Africans I met, he was the one who encapsulated for me the inherent invalidity of any residual post-imperial beliefs of white superiority with which I was unknowingly imbued on my arrival in Nigeria despite my course in social anthropology at university.

It was in discussions such as these and observations of developments that showed pressure on the administration to fix a date for independence that I concluded that the future in Nigeria was with people like CB and the younger generation whose education and background took them beyond ethnicity. There were signs that the pressures for self-determination were mounting like the appointment of officers on contract and then the appointment of indigenous officers only except where expatriates brought skills not available locally. When I was Senior Produce Officer at Regional Headquarters in Ibadan we talked of the need for a wider induction for new entrants but no funds were available for the extra training. At no time to my knowledge was any consideration given to the training of Nigerian staff for eventual assumption of top posts. Firms like the United Africa Company were already training Africans for senior appointments and in talking to members of the UAC hierarchy, it was obvious that they were considering pulling out of the produce business and considering alternatives within an expected autonomous Nigeria. As far as the Produce Inspection Service was concerned a hiatus could be left if the expatriates were to leave within a relatively short period. The writing was well and truly on the wall as far as the European was concerned. Their days in the country were numbered, I would have said. In future, the government policies would be made according to ground rules worked out by the local people according to their view of the needs of the situation as they had done before the traditional authorities were displaced or influenced by economic and political events more than 50 years earlier. Only this time the rules would not evolve according to the unfolding situations within the sovereignty of kings but would be made by elected representatives working in the name of a parliamentary system in which individual ministers could exercise much power. It was people like C B Harry who gave you a sense of hope for this future.

Ian Mcall Auchencrow
Berwickshire, Scotland July 2003