The British Empire Library

All Our Yesterdays: Memories of a Forester in Nigeria, 1950 - 62

by P.W.T. Henry

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Peter Wood (Vice President of the Commonwealth Forestry Association
My first reaction on opening Peter Henry's welcome book was a slight disappointment that there is no glossary of acronyms and forestry terms, which might make it more accessible to an informed lay readership. Nevertheless the book will be welcomed for many reasons, first, as a general historical archive covering the period 1950 to 1962, and second, as a source book for Nigerian forest specialists today, explaining how specific landscapes came to be as they are now. It is an account of twelve years of forestry activity in Britain's largest and most heavily forested (and deforested) African colony, and straddles both the pre- and post-independence periods. The author has also had the advantage of revisiting Nigeria twice, in 1973 and 1978, so that he shines the light of hindsight on many of his experiences.

Peter Henry arrived on first appointment in Nigeria in 1950 and was posted to Ibadan in the west of the country. He learned the ropes from the start on field visits and tours, many of which were aimed at securing a Government-owned estate of reserved forests which would supply the needs for forest products within the colony in perpetuity. At the time, the population of Nigeria was less than 35 million (today it is over 140 million) and virtually all the forest plantations in the country were intended to supply basic wood-fuel needs. Drawing up management plans for a sustained harvest of these products occupied much of the forester's time, as did the control of logging and log exports. But the objectives of forestry policy were having to adapt to continuously changing political, economic and social conditions and as time went on, simplistic fuel-wood plantations were less and less relevant to the state's needs, not least because rich oil discoveries were being made. The status of the global timber trade was changing too, and by the end of the author's stint in Nigeria the country had changed from being a net log exporter to a net timber importer. The narrative gives many interesting sidelights on Forest Department organisation and staffing and the young forester's place in the colonial society to which he was posted.

After his first tour, the author attended the Colonial Forest Officers' year-long "refresher" course at the Imperial (later to become the Commonwealth) Forestry Institute at Oxford University. The substantial middle section of the book gives numerous details about this course, which was the only one of its kind at the time which many regretted did not lead to a post-graduate degree. It did, however, provide a unique opportunity for forest officers from all parts of the Commonwealth and the remaining empire to bring themselves up to date. The subjects covered, the tutors/lecturers involved and those attending the course are treated exhaustively and could stand alone as a special historical record.

After his return to Nigeria the author became more and more involved in training and in research into silvicultural management methods for the country's natural and plantation forests. He handed over to his successors in 1962 and on his return visits to Nigeria in the 1970s he regrets what he sees of corruption and that many of the protected forests have been exploited; on the other hand he is delighted at the successes of his former colleagues and students.

The book includes 72 of the author's monochrome and coloured photographs together with two location maps and altogether is a valuable account of experiences during the unique pre- and post-independence periods in West Africa. It is well printed and solidly bound; and moreover, it includes a welcome index.

Part Two is reviewed here.

British Empire Book
P.W.T. Henry
The Author


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