The British Empire Library

Oyinbo Banki: A White Chief's Nigerian Odyssey

by Elwyn Williams

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Chief Ruby Dunn-Abbott (Education Officer in Nigeria 1956-1975)
Chief Elwyn Williams has written authoritatively in this very comprehensive story of his life and work in Nigeria, West Africa. He worked there for 27 years arriving for the first time in 1957. The book is also a very comprehensive account of the history of Nigeria during this time - covering events in detail from the end of the Colonial period to Independence and giving the reader remarkable insights into life as a Banker there as well as covering the many difficulties that followed upon Independence.

We get an insight into the Biafran War and hear about the prominent personalities that Chief Williams met.

He is very frank about his bachelor life and loves.

After working in Lagos, Ibadan and Shagamu he was posted to Oshogbo - very much a married man's station. By this time he was married and he and his wife very soon had two lovely children. His interests were diverse and he was outstanding in football and worked hard to promote it. He set up a new football club and later became a registered referee for the game. Very often he was the first white person out in the field organising or taking part in things and very many Nigerian organisations and artists owe much to his enthusiasm. He has a great empathy with people everywhere.

Whilst in Oshogbo, his knowledge of the local people by his association with the town's Football Club, enabled him to save the King of Oshogbo's life. For his efforts and in recognition of his work and interests in the town he received from the King a Chieftainship title (equivalent to a knighthood in UK).

His banking life alone is a full story and he reminds us about the part played by women in trading. In most cases they carried figures in their heads and some of them became very rich. His account of the prominent role played by women in trading makes inspiring reading.

Chief Williams relates some very entertaining stories of day to day life - read about the parrot curry and about how he himself became the victim of juju - an event which ended with the tables being turned upon the one who wished him ill!

The writer became intimately involved with the rituals, rites and ceremonies of the local people. He absorbed the Yoruba language which was a great help in his particular work and he became tight friends with very many well-known Nigerians, being trusted by them and receiving their help whenever it was needed. He travelled widely, visiting the North and the East and other West African countries and we learn much about the oil situation from all sides. He escaped ambush on the roads and was shot once by a policeman whose rifle went off accidentally whilst a large amount of money was being transferred from a Bank to road transport.

Chief Williams' book has many fascinating passages for those who have been there and for those who do not know that great country it opens their eyes as to every aspect of life out there.

British Empire Book
Elwyn Williams
Elna Publications


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