British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by Dogon Yaro (Ronald Bird)
In Bornu and Adamawa
Royal West African Frontier Force
In the period shortly after the end of the war Administrative staff in Northern Nigeria had become so few that government was almost grinding to a halt, though Native Authorities continued as best they could with little supervision. I had been posted to Bornu Province and before long had to take over as ADO. Provincial Office, which seemed to cover a multiplicity of other jobs. Large numbers of soldiers from the RWAFF back from Burma were being demobbed and repatriated, many of them to French territory east of Bornu. One day there turned up a large group of about 100 men. accompanied by two officers, being repatriated to Fort Lamy. I had always wanted to see what went on on the other side of the frontier and when they invited me to accompany them I sought the Resident's permission and he readily agreed. The rainy season had begun and the Fort Lamy dry season road was in a fairly doubtful state as we set off in three trucks. Maiduguri being a fairly busy trade and transit post to French territory I was also acting as Immigration and Customs Officer for Bornu and I had to stamp all travel documents and passports, including my own. as leaving Nigeria. It took a day and a half of rough driving to reach Fort Lamy, crossing the Chari river by ferry. The UAC Manager in Maiduguri had very kindly arranged for the two RWAFF officers and myself to use the UAC house, then unoccupied, in Fort Lamy. The soldiers being demobbed were paid off and then I and the two officers went on to the Fort Lamy cercle or club as the French were celebrating Bastille Day. The two officers were in full uniform and as we entered the club everybody stood up and somebody said a few effusive words of welcome. It was so surprising and indeed embarrassing that I fear we did not do justice to the occasion. It was only afterwards that I learnt of the part that Fort Lamy had played in the major Free French campaign right across Africa to Fezzan and Tripolitania in 1942-43 known as the Epopee Leclerc. Needless to say the French carried off the occasion with true Gallic charm and the next day we returned to Bornu.

In Bornu and Adamawa
Fort Lamy
Shortly after this there being nobody else available I was sent to take over Dikwa Division for two months. While there I had my first introduction to the "unsettled area" of the Gwoza Touring District as somebody had to show the flag and check on the Nigeria Police detachment stationed at Gwoza. The Resident came out on a quick visit and rather ambitiously insisted on climbing the steepest part of the escarpment north of Gwoza where the hills jutted right out into the plain. Not being as young or active as I was the Resident very nearly passed out and had to stop and rest before reaching the top of the rocky hills some 2000 feet up from the plain. At the end of two months a more senior officer returned from leave and took over Dikwa Division from me. Administrative staff in the next door Province of Adamawa being reduced by ill-health to the Resident and one other officer. I was then "lent" temporarily by Resident Bornu to Adamawa to help them through their difficulties.

In Bornu and Adamawa
River Benue
Roads were bad in the latter part of the rains and it took me two days to get to Yola, where I found that the Governor was due shortly on a visit, coming up the Benue in the venerable old stern-wheeler the "Valiant". After a few days the Resident sent me down to Muri Division where I was to prepare for and receive the Governor at Jalingo on his first stop in the Province. I travelled down to Lau by poling barge and found the Muri NA in a bit of a panic about what to do to receive the Governor in the style they felt was due to HE. Fortunately I hit it off well with the Emir, a real old timer but young at heart and with a great sense of humour, and preparations for the Governor went ahead smoothly. The great day arrived and the "Valiant" churned its way up to Lau waterside. HE Sir Arthur Richards disembarked to be greeted by the Emir's Senior Councillor and a host of other NA representatives. The Governor's car was landed from its barge and he was then escorted in it with much pomp to Jalingo where the Emir and full Council were waiting to welcome him formally to Muri Emirate. 1 found that the Emir had brought out a magnificent brass bed which he used as a throne, and then made me sit down on the bed beside him so that I could act as interpreter. Having got across the NA's main request for an all-season road from Jalingo to Yola the Emir continued to chat away about all sorts of things with HE. Proud of the size of his family he asked HE how many children he had; HE replied three; the Emir was then able to play his usual trump card and assure HE he had 127 children living! The usual parades of schoolchildren etc. then took place followed by a most excellent and dramatic display of wrestling by the local pagans. The Governor was then escorted back to Lau where we played skittles on the "Valiant" until HE held a small reception. The visit appeared to have been a success and HE left the next morning for visits to Numan and Yola where the Resident was to receive him.

In Bornu and Adamawa
Nigeria Steamship
After a few weeks at Jalingo, the substantive DO being due back from leave, I was brought back to Yola and then sent out to Mubi to open up the Touring Area which had not been visited for a considerable time. Mubi was a pleasant spot and there was some good touring in the hills amongst a tough lot of pagans. At Michika there was a new young ex-college District Head who asked for my assistance with the Nigeria Police escort to try and catch a man known to have committed a most gruesome murder and afterwards cut up the body of a young girl. We had good intelligence about him and the hill village where he was hiding out and planned a crack of dawn arrest. The District Head insisted on leading the party and before we went in stripped off his large gown to be ready for action. We surrounded a compound on the edge of the hill village without arousing any alarm and then as we went in the wanted man rushed out of a hut and tried to slip over a dry stone wall at the back. The District Head went after him like a wing forward and brought him down with a most spectacular rugby tackle as the wall collapsed under them. The police then pounced on him and had the handcuffs on in no time. We left him handcuffed to a constable and guarded by two others while we searched for other wanted men. Five minutes later we came back to find that the arrested man had slipped the handcuffs off his wrist and got away from the police. This was a bitter blow but pressure was maintained on all who harboured him and within a few weeks his own family brought him in. He was later formally committed for trial in the High Court.

After four months at Mubi I was returned by Adamawa to Bornu Province and moved north to the adjoining Gwoza Touring Area of Dikwa Division which with its tough and unpredictable hill pagans had many unusual problems requiring attention. One of the first problems was a frontier incident involving the French Cameroons which required a meeting in the hills on the frontier with French administrative officers from Mora and Mokolo. After a long trek through the hills with the Nigeria Police escort we came out by the frontier on the open hillside fixed for the meeting. The Union flag was raised on a pole and the Nigeria Police, determined to show how much better they were than anything on the French side, paraded in their smartest uniforms and formed a guard of honour with bayonets fixed. Eventually two French officers accompanied by a rag tag and bobtail of irregular soldiers arrived and the meeting began. The French admitted they were having difficulties with two or three recalcitrant villages in the hill pagan area and it emerged that in a recent tax collecting expedition one particular lot of pagans had swept down on a group of camp followers, who were carrying off goats as tax payment but were temporarily separated from the main body of soldiers, and had slaughtered them to a man. Under these lawless conditions settlement of minor frontier incidents in the hills was difficult, but we had an amicable meeting and determined to maintain the entente.

Colonial Map
1955 Map of NE Nigeria
1955 Map of Lake Chad and Fort Lamy
Colony Profile
Nigeria
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 81: May 2001


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