The British Empire Library

Last Man In: The End Of Empire In Northern Nigeria

by John Hare

Courtesy of OSPA

John Smith (Nigeria, Western Pacific 1951-78)
This is a gem of a book, beautifully produced and engagingly written. Anyone seeking a graphic account of what a District Officer was about in the remotest corners of empire could do no better than read John Hare's memoir of his service in Northern Nigeria. Hare had the good fortune not only to spend all of his service in district administration but most of it in remote, mountainous, rarely visited, 'one man' stations, such as Tangale Waja in Bauchi and Gembu on the Mambilla Plateau. His only encounter with the capital was as provincial marshall to the Bauchi contingent attending the self-government durbar In 1959. That Involved getting the 1000 participants and camp-followers, 300 horses and 20 camels the 220 miles to Kaduna, looking after them en route and organising them for the great day, very much a one-off but out of the ordinary task.

Clearly this was the sort of adventuresome life Hare wanted, and while he never complains, his account brings out factors common to district administration in the wilder parts of nearly every colony at at least some stage in its development: the loneliness; the physical demands of constant trekking over difficult terrain; the all but non-existent communications; the problems of maintaining basic supplies; the lack of medical facilities; and, above all, the inevitability and appropriateness of being a jack of all trades and of having to take decisions without the option for consultation. This is district administration at its lowest, most basic and most enjoyable level, a job that only those who have experienced it can really begin to understand, and soon we shall all be gone.

As he demonstrates, much of what Hare was doing would have seemed totally familiar to his few predecessors over the previous fifty years but the extraordinary thing about his experience was that half his service was undertaken after independence and all of it within a period when Nigerian ministers were responsible for local government. That tells us a lot about Northern Nigeria upon which Hare himself only comments indirectly. We British were only there for sixty years in a governing capacity and throughout that time administering through indirect rule. Among the peoples Hare administered were those who had escaped or resisted Fulani overlordship, some so remote in their mountain fastnesses that he could still be the first European to visit or to be seen by any but the oldest men. For a variety of reasons western education had not caught on in Northern Nigeria as it had in the South and at independence there was a massive dearth of qualified personnel to take over from departing expatriates. Interestingly, Hare's service covered the five years in each of which 30 men were selected on a provincial quota basis for training as administrative officers at the Institute of Administration, Zaria. Some were teachers, some had clerical and executive grade experience and others had proved their potential in a variety of ways. They were to hold the fort until graduates came on stream. Nearly all were married with families and would not have welcomed the postings Hare enjoyed so much. When the first graduates were appointed they expected secretariat or provincial headquarters postings and ministers were anxious that their own officers be seen alongside them rather than be hidden in the remotest bush. Although Hare handed over Gembu to a Nigerian graduate successor it was not long before another young expatriate, a graduate VSO by this stage, followed him - and this was well into independence.

I have two regrets. Among his several useful appendices, including one explaining why he joined the Overseas Service, is a final one with the first chapter of Genesis in Pidgin English. Pidgin belonged to the Southern rather than the Northern Cameroons and was never used in Northern Nigeria. The Pidgin Genesis was a such regular expatriate party turn in the centres Hare scarcely visited, and so would not have known, that it really belongs in an entirely different type of book, of which there have been several, and could detract from the seriousness with which Hare's account deserves to be paid by academic researchers. Selfishly, I also regret that he chose to tell us nothing about his fifteen months national service as a subaltern with the 5th (Nigerian) Battalion of the Royal West African Frontier Force and nothing about his exploits in Nigeria after resignation. But given his renowned later championship of wild camels and crossing of the Gobi Desert, I am grateful that the army posted him to Nigeria rather than to the mounted camel brigade of the Somaliland Scouts for which he had volunteered - fortunate for Nigeria subsequently and for those of us who have the chance to read this delightful account of his service there.

British Empire Book
John Hare
Neville ands Harding
978 0 948028 03 8


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