In 1954 the Attorney General of Nigeria decided to open the first Crown Counsel’s
Chambers in Port Harcourt in Eastern Nigeria. As a member of the Colonial Legal
Service I was given the task of setting up the chambers. Much of the trade of Eastern
Nigeria was conducted through Port Harcourt and shortly afterwards it was to become a
major oil port when Shell made its startling discoveries in the delta. As a town it was
unimpressive. Nigeria did not receive a single penny piece in aid from London from
1914 until 1943. The colonies must pay for themselves was the rule and it showed.
The population, originally people from the river tribes such as Ibibio and Ijaw, had
recently become predominantly Ibo. It is now one of the most lawless places in the
world, ruled by armed gangs of drug-crazed youths, a place of murder, muggings and
kidnap and corrupt officials.
I was given an office in the High Court buildings and the services of a clerk and a
messenger. By 1954 most of the High Court judges and all the magistrates in the Region
were Nigerians and there was a substantial African bar. Port Harcourt was the capital of
Rivers Province and was presided over by a British Resident who was assisted by several
District Officers and a few white senior police officers. Major Geoffrey Allen was the
Resident of Rivers Province. He had joined the Colonial Administrative Service in 1926.
He was public school, army, a bachelor. He wore a monocle and played his own piano in
the Residency. I was his legal adviser for the six months I served in his province.
He was frequently on tour, travelling in the Resident’s launch visiting the vast delta area,
a Nigeria policeman with navy-blue tarbush, jacket, shorts and puttees, ramrod on the
bow. His servants in the stern and he amidships in immaculate whites and sola topee with the Union Jack fluttering in the breeze and crocodiles slipping into the river from the
forested banks. When I first saw this some words from Wilfred Scawan Blunt’s poem
Gibraltar came to mind:
Ay, this is the famed rock which Hercules
And Goth and Moor bequeath’d us. At this door
England stands sentry. God! To hear the shrill
Sweet treble of her fifes upon the breeze,
And at the summons of the rock gun’s roar
To see her redcoats marching from the hill!
Apart from our brief initial meeting when I signed his book he never met me or
consulted me once during my whole time there. The ordinances emanating from the new
parliament in Lagos which affected his powers went unread. Directions from the
Governor of the Colony were ignored.
In those days the Resident’s powers were still considerable. He had dealings with the
traditional chiefs in the rivers and with the new democratic councils in the towns.
The traditional chiefs well knew his habits. The new officials and traders in the towns
had less experience of him. Certain it was that from bribery, the future deadly
self-destructing weapon of the new Africa, he was totally immune. Nobody would even
consider using it. What was left? A mild threat to take things to the Lieutenant-Governor
in Enugu could have little effect on a man approaching the end of his career. Llattery was
all that was left. He never played his piano for me. Certain it is that the new tunes shortly
to come out of Africa would by comparison be cacophonous.