Trevor Kerslake captured Northern Nigeria in a time capsule in 1937. At that date
slave raiding, war and hunger had been part of the normal daily life of men and women who were no more than 37 years of age. That way of existence had been
replaced by a framework of administration, skeletal perhaps, but defined and
accepted by almost all the people. Crops could be sown with a very good chance of
their being able to be harvested. People were very thankful for that; even if there
was not much money about.
Trevor Kerslake began in the Audit Department before he transferred to the
Administration and was appointed to Katsina Province. Not surprisingly the
Resident guided him straight into supervising the preparation of the Native Treasury
Estimates which had a total expenditure of 120,000 pounds in 1937. He was appalled at the
smallness of the sums of money to be allocated for welfare, amenities and disease
control. Some 25,000 people had died of cerebro-spinal meningitis that dry season
and damage from locusts was severe. Hardened older hands accepted these things
but the young ADO was dismayed
He then became immersed in the life of district administration, well-sinking,
sleeping sickness control, building, road-opening and accounting, all of which made
him feel that wherever he turned his hand there was useful work to be done. In
Katsina the people responded wholeheartedly. There was also cattle tax to be
collected - always a battle of wits between the various interested parties. It was fun
for the energetic and of course brought in revenue for the Native Treasury.
In September 1939 he was a cadet in the WAFF. In February 1940, being a man
of enterprise, he departed for leave in the UK by way of Zinder and Algiers and
returned to rejoin his regiment which by then had arrived in Nairobi.
His account of campaigning in the Somalilands and Ethiopia, through
astoundingly difficult country, brings to life once more that almost forgotten but
very successful campaign in which the King's African Rifles, the West African
Frontier Force, Rhodesians and South Africans combined to rout the enemy.
Back in provincial administration in Nigeria in 1942, this time in Bomu and soon
in charge of the main Division, he was chafing at the slipshod and inaccurate records
of the Native Authority and the complaints about extortion and bribery which
flowed in. But there was not a lot of time to deal both with them and the air supply
post at Maiduguri with its staff of 500 Americans and a thousand troops passing
through nightly. He was, however, happy to find in Bomu a sprinkling of Katsina
College educated young men who managed with speed and efficiency.
In the turmoil of the war years he did not lose sight of the need to try to shape
events for the future of Nigeria. But by 1946 he was pessimistic about the prospects
of training an elite who on our departure could take up the reins and drive. One can
only hope that in the very long mn his pessimism will be unjustified.
Meanwhile his account of life inside the capsule, where he was joined by his wife
in 1944, is one to enjoy. It is a valuable record of a sort of life which vanished after
the war, when the capsule popped and politics altered the course of events with a
speed unbelievable at the time.