The Resident, Rivers Province

Courtesy of OSPA

by Manus Nunan
The Resident, Rivers Province
Port Harcourt, 1930s
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:
The Resident, Rivers Province
Local Chiefs in Port Harcourt

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.

map of Nigeria
Map of Eastern Nigeria, 1958
Colony Profile
Nigeria Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 98: October 2009


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