Reminiscences of life in Nigeria
It was my first assignment or encounter with Africa. I was a young High Commissioner in Nigeria and concurrently to vast western African states of Niger, Cameroon and tiny little Benin then known as Dahomey. Crossing over to the Black Africa as the countries below the Sahara are described. Only till recent past of that period of history, Africa was called the Dark Continent, as if it was coming out of its long slumber. It was a surprise for me to discover soon that African social manners were very much like ours from Asia. The code of hospitality was very much similar. It was a greater surprise to see that administrative structure the British had bequeathed to its African colonies had provided a kind of a frame work to build on it an independent state. The African administration had many ingredients, the Civil Services, the Armed forces, the African native chiefs, etc. There was no feudal class, as pre-independence Africa land was a kind of social commune and private land holder which avoided wadera- ism.. If there was any thing specially African it was tribalism.
I was struck by the strong Nigerian administrative machinery, quite efficient in those days. I do not know now. Last I was in Africa was in 1982 as President’s special Envoy sent to muster African votes for its Security Council seat. Pakistan had a certain affectionate image for many African countries. Africa had the largest voting block in U.N.. African vote was quite crucial in winning cases in the UN. and almost voted as a block. I saw the administrative structure in other parts of Africa too.
In Nigeria the police was much more efficient than in Pakistan. Here you lodge a complain with the police and then stars the question of endless searching of a proof. It was quite different in Nigeria. What I watched in the press was a quick system of justice in Nigeria. It astonished me how speedily litigation came to end, More surprisingly, Nigeria had adopted Pakistani laws, the same Criminal Code instead of being called Pakistan Criminal Code it is called Nigerian Criminal Code or was when I was in Nigeria.. Once I read in the press that a claim for damages moved from lower court to the High Court of Lagos in about six months time and compensation was paid after High Court judgment . The Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria had become my very good friend He was a Yoruba Muslim .His wife Irene was an English lady. He had been a student of Cambridge University ( UK) and had many Pakistani good friends of his in the University. Those were the days when Pakistan movement had become irresistible. He had got memories of his student days as of his Pakistani students. One of them was our mutual friend. So we became gradually good friends. Same age also. His name was Fatai Williams I asked him Fatai, how your courts decide the cases so quickly but not ours. He said You know we have identical laws, we borrowed your laws but not your Evidence Act. It protects the culprit and makes it difficult to punish the criminal. But their police was equally prompt in acting on complains. Once I was entering Ikoi Club- some thing like Islamabad Club or so, I and my family were honorary members of the Club. As I was entering the Club an Englishman stopped me and demanded my membership card. I replied as a High Commissioner we are made honorary members and I walked in. He came rushing and stopped me. almost holding my hand to physically prevent my entry, I asked him who he was He said he was an auditor . And stood in front of me to bar my entrance. I came back furious and the police took note of this incident. They sent a team after him to Calabar (?) and brought him back to Lagos a long air journey. I did not know of this matter till the British High Commissioner a thorough gentleman came to me and told me of that ill mannered English man being in the police custody and police will release him if I forgive him. Well I had to do so. In another incident my official car was hit by the car of the “Police Commissioner” Alhaj Yusuf if I remember his name. Neither I was in the car nor the Police “Commissioner’ or Minister for police. An Assistant Commissioner Police came to me, took the car for repairs and when repairs were done , the car was returned to us. The police paid for the repairs. No ifs and butts or you pay this much we pay this much.
Strangely, similar was the case with other institutions. The Accounts organizations have the same names as Pakistanis. What is A G P R ( Accountant General Pakistan Revenues) its counter part in Nigeria was called A G N R ( Accountant General Nigerian Revenues) , and so on so forth. On my request the Government had sent some military doctors and surgeon to Lagos military officers of medical Corps.. One of them was a Major Salim a surgeon. On termination of his assignment he went to the AGNR to take his Last Pay Certificate. The accounts officer said By the way, major, pay of officers of your rank were increased so many months ago, .We owe you so much as arrears. Such a thing was impossible in Pakistan. Here is your cheque for the arrears.
There is an impression that African chiefs are the last word of arrogance and absolutism In fact they pale into insignificance compared to Waderas.. This is not a correct impression and the idiom like an African chief implying inordinate hauteur might have held if at all in the past long lost. But African chief is not like a wadera here. Most of them are not rich. Nor their word is the last thing in cruelty.
African native states are a relic of the past, lingering on as a historic mile stone in African cultural history. But their subjects used to send him parrot eggs if he became very unpopular which was a symbolic message that he had become highly unpopular Either he should abdicate or commit suicide. The Chief was not necessarily the son of the last ruler. He was elected by the King Makers after long deliberations by the King makers on all the eligible successors . The King Makers were kept in total isolation till they agreed on the successor. If there is a wound on the African soul it is the slave trade in which the Arabs and the Europeans and Americans indulged in the middle ages to the eighteenth century.
Islam was spread by Sudan in Black Africa. It has many types from the traditional Islam with an African stamp on it to Africanized version. Once upon a time the African used to look up to Pakistan for education and technical training, for medical training etc. Gone are those days. I do not know exactly what is Pakistan’s image now. My account is of old Africa when Pakistan was a respected name. Is it so now I do not know. This is like an old Ibne Batuta’s tale.