British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by John Adshead
Uh, uh! D.O. done come!
Hugh Sackville-West
I was told this tale by my Nigerian staff when I was the Provincial Surveyor in Ilorin in Northern Nigeria in 1958/59. The event occurred before my arrival in Ilorin but I have no reason to doubt its veracity though its elevation into something like local folklore may have resulted in a little embellishment in its telling and re-telling! The bones of the story are however as follows:

The Senior District Officer at the time was Hugh Sackville-West and he had apparently returned to his office in Provincial Headquarters in the late afternoon to catch up on a bit of paperwork. The peace and quiet he had expected to enjoy in the absence of anyone else in Headquarters was however shattered somewhat when his messenger burst into his office completely out of breath and in a rather agitated state. Sackville-West apparently did not notice the distress of the man, merely telling him to wait a minute or two because he was busy and wanted to finish what he was doing - and the few vain attempts made by the messenger thereafter to gain Sackville-West's attention came to nought. When he had finished Sackville-West looked up and taking in the agitated state of the man, his dishevelled appearance and his rather dirty, torn and blood-smeared clothes asked him what on earth was the matter. In reply the messenger had said "D.O. must come quick quick. They are fighting. It's very bad. D.O. must come! Please, Sah!" "Who is fighting?" asked the D.O. "The people, Sah. In the town. D.O. must come. Now, Sah, quick, quick!" Sackville-West apparently looked completely unconcerned merely muttering "Oh, dear! I suppose we'd better go and see what's happening".

He drove into town in his Land Rover with the messenger beside him and came across an enormous crowd of people in the open space in front of the Emir's palace. They were obviously in an ugly mood and many of them were laying into each other, many with sticks in their hands, and the noise was considerable. As he surveyed the scene four Native Authority policemen came up to him and asked him what they should do because with so few of them they felt more than a little helpless! Sackville-West told them to walk alongside the Land Rover as he then drove slowly into the centre of the struggling mob. As he did so the crowd parted and those close enough to the Land Rover to see who was driving it fell back looking worried and muttering "Uh, uh! D.O. done come". Sackville- West got out of his vehicle, climbed onto its step so that he was head and shoulders above the crowd and calmly looked around. He apparently did nothing else and, in fact, did not need to! The crowd fell silent looking rather sheepishly and somewhat apprehensively at him - and waited. Sackville-West then told them that it was bad to fight and they should not do it whatever bad feelings they might have for each other - and that he now wanted them to go home and behave themselves. And they did!

If only we had people like that running things nowadays! And what a wonderful example of the very genuine respect and admiration for the British D.O. and the rule of law which he wielded apparently so effortlessly and so gently - and with a real feeling for the needs, wellbeing and aspirations of the people for whom he had such concern, respect - and, dare I say it, affection? That Britain left Nigeria fifty years ago with such expressions of friendship from both sides and that that friendship has stood the test of time so well must, in large part, be due to people like Sackville-West.

Colonial Map
1955 Map of Western Nigeria
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 101: April 2011


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