The British Empire Library

But Always As Friends: Northern Nigeria And The Cameroons, 1921-1957

by Bryan Sharwood Smith

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by J.W.R.
Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith's book ('But always as friends' published by George Allen and Unwin) appeared at just the right time for those who wish to learn something of the problems which General Gowon and other Nigerian leaders faced in working out a new constitution for Nigeria after its years of war. Some of the most important peoples concerned are the northerners, and in this book written by a man with immense experience of their background, views and ambitions the countless facets of the problem are fully dealt with.

Sir Bryan, who first served in Northern Nigeria as Asst. District Officer, spent over thirty years there and it was as Governor of the Northern Region that he retired in 1957. So he had unrivalled knowledge of the people both in the country villages and in the later political conclaves of Parliament and constitutional conferences. Though obviously full of sympathy for the Northern point of view, and imbued with great affection for their way of life, their dignity, courage and hospitality. Sir Bryan was not one of those who tried to hold back education and economic development. It would be truer to say that in his view political development that was not combined with advances in every other sphere of life would lead to chaos, and that gradual orderly progress was worth striving for over the whole field.

His long service in Nigeria gave him an intimate personal knowledge of all the northern leaders. He liked them, could see their faults as well as their virtues, and as is manifest from this book they liked and respected him. I have little doubt that it was very largely due to his personal influence that the events of 1953 first in Lagos and later in Kano did not lead to the secession of the North from Nigeria, and his personal friendship with the Sardauna and with Sir Abu Bakr Tafawa Balewa helped very considerably to facilitate the difficult relationship between the Federal and Regional Governments.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can confidently recommend it, even at its considerable cost. He writes in an easy agreeable way and gives a modest and almost diffident account of what was an outstanding career. Perhaps it was paternalistic in essence, but was it any the worse for that?

Review by Philip Mason
To visit Northern Nigeria, even in the late Fifties, was immediately to be transported to Northern India - but to the India of Kipling and Curzon. Dust, heat, drought, flies; horses, constant travel, the camp-fire, the bathwater heated in kerosene-oil tins and smelling of wood-smoke; a cultivated contempt for comfort, for deskwork, for theory - all this the two settings have in common.

In both, the sense was strong of something shared between British Officer and Muslim leader; both admired courage, chivalrous hospitality, the repression of emotional display; both felt it was a man's world, in which women should be kept in the background. But identification with Fulani aristocrat and Hausa peasant was closer for the Nigerian District Officer than for even the most devoted politcal officer with Afridi malik and Waziri Khassadar.

In Nigeria, it seemed as though the system would last for ever. The British had undertaken to rule through the Emirs and not to interfere with religion and they had kept their word. The Emirs reigned in feudal state; Sokoto or Kano would put on for distinguished visitors a display of four thousand horsemen in chain mail, fief-holders bound to give knight's service, their horses caparisoned as brilliantly as Saladin's.

The mark of the North was what Bagehot calls "deference" - a readiness by subordinates to accept the rule of traditional superiors; it was still strong on the eve of independence. But Ghana became independent in 1957; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the infinitely remote became infinitely close. Southern leaders demanded independence for Nigeria at once, and with difficulty were persuaded to postpone their claim till 1959. Even the Emirs decided that instead of playing for time they should work for independence quickly before democracy went too far. This is the background to Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith's modest and straightforward account of service in Nigeria. Through his story shines his liking for Fulani and Hausa and his understanding - though he tried to reduce it - of their hostility to the Southerners, Yoruba and Ibo, who filled the posts of clerks and salesmen and inspectors - posts for which the qualifications were Standard VI or Cambridge Pass instead of an ability to recite the Koran. To the North, they seemed arrogant, emotionally undisciplined; tyrants in office and yet truly, for all their modern learning, still slaves at heart - as the Premier of the North once let slip in an unguarded moment. This is the background to the killings in the North and to what has happened in Biafra.

Sir Bryan takes his title from a speech by Sir AbuBakr Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minster of Nigeria; the British, said AbuBakr, we have known "first as masters, then as leaders, finally as partners, always as friends." Sir Bryan prints a most moving letter to himself from that great and wise man, in which he speaks of his weariness of politics and asks if it would be right to come back to humbler work in the North. "I appeal to you as a son to a father," he concludes. He was told that his duty lay where he was - he took the advice and was murdered.

There are many questions to be asked about British rule in Nigeria. Should we - and if so, could we - have moved faster in the North? What strains and stresses lay concealed beneath the "deference" and the external calm? Sir Bryan does not answer these questions directly but without some understanding of the picture he draws a judgment would be likely to go wrong. He was paternal in the best sense - a loving father who did his best to understand.

British Empire Book
Bryan Sharwood Smith
George Allen & Unwin


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