Archive for November, 2008

Chapter 4: A Testing Time

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 29/11/2008 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
 

A Party Guest on the Veranda: Jos, 1971

Extract from The Up-Country Man

[…]The following day, as Fred and I walked through the main gate, we were greeted by Sergeant Musa who gave us the usual smart salute and told us, in his very formal way, that the GSM wished to see us right away. He then did a very strange thing. He turned to me and said that he was sorry that Nigeria was going through a bad patch now, but that he was sure it would all be sorted out very soon. My reply reflected his feelings on the subject, but stressed that he could in no way be held responsible for all the palaver in Nigeria.
“But I am to blame in a way, sir,” retorted Sergeant Musa. “Had I stayed in the army and tried to knock some sense into these young officers, then perhaps the problems would not have existed. When we had British officers, there was none of this tribalism. It is destroying our country, sir. The only hope we have is for Her Majesty to intervene and stop Ojukwu in his bid for secession.”
I could think of no appropriate reply except to nod slowly, make my excuses and walk away in the direction of the GSM’s office. As we walked, Fred grabbed my arm and said urgently, “Why was old Musa talking to you like that. Apologising for all the palaver and all that stuff about the Queen?”
“I don’t know, Fred. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.”
Edward met us at the door to his office and invited us in.
“How are you both this morning? Fit? Well? Good, the coffee is on its way. Nothing like coffee to chase the cobwebs away in the mornings is there?”
We both knew that Edward was feeling tense. He always talked too much when he had something difficult or unpleasant to say. We sat down and wondered what was coming next.
When his secretary had served the coffee and departed, Fred immediately got up and stood in front of Edward’s desk. All I could do was take a deep breath and pray for him to keep quiet. He did not keep quiet of course; instead he began to rant at Edward.
“Now listen to me, Edward. I am not going to the east for you, the general manager or anybody. So you had better cancel me out of any plans you may have in that direction.”
Fred began pouring out all the old arguments, but it was clear from the expression on Edward’s face that he was livid at such an outburst. At an appropriate moment Edward stood up and shouted, “Sit down, Fred, for God’s sake. Nobody has asked you to go anywhere have they? Instead of bawling and shouting at me why don’t you wait your turn and let me do the talking around here?”
My mouth remained closed. However, it did cross my mind that Fred had been a little premature in his outburst. He should have waited for Edward to say his piece before jumping in at the deep end.
Edward eyed us both angrily for a moment and then he began to speak.
“I was going to spend some time explaining the reasons for the decision I have reached, but there’s no point now. So here it is, no frills. Fred, you’re staying put, which will please you no end I am sure. Ken, you’re going to Enugu to relieve Charlie McKay.”
Even though the decision had been half expected, it did not prevent me from being taken aback somewhat. As the information began to sink in, my hands started to sweat and I decided to protest.
“Bloody hell, Edward. What about all this talk of rebellion and white men on chopping lists and Biafra and everything?”
Edward managed a smile and then said, “Oh, come off it, Ken. You don’t really think they know you from Adam, do you? How can you be on anyone’s death list? You’ve only been in the country for five minutes, and anyway all that nonsense was last year after the second coup.”
Since there was no answer forthcoming from me, he continued talking.
“Charlie McKay has been there for ages and he has his family with him. So there’s nothing to worry a young chap like you.”
A sudden thought entered my head and I voiced it immediately.
“Just a minute, Edward. The whole point is, this McKay bloke is coming out and I am going in. Just as all the bloody trouble is about to start.”
Edward tut-tutted and said, “You’ve been listening to all those old buggers at the club again. I do not think it will come to a fight, and even if it does, it will be over in five minutes. They don’t have the nerve for it, the Ibo, especially against the northerners, and you can bet your bush boots that these Yorubas will keep right out of any fighting if it comes to it.”
I thought about what had been said for a moment and concluded that Edward was probably right. Everyone who had expressed an opinion to me was convinced that the Yorubas would back away from anything that hinted at physical violence. The biggest problem, according to the pundits, was the Hausas. They would fight the Ibos given half a chance, and they were good at it too. They had a long tradition of soldiering with the British when Nigeria was a colony. I thought about Sergeant Musa and concluded that he would certainly give the Ibos a bashing, despite his age. The sound of Edward’s voice calling my name interfered with my train of thought.
“Ken. Ken, are you with us? You should be ready to leave on Sunday. You had better see the carpenter right away and ask him to make you a load box; he knows the form. The box will be quit valuable. He makes them from best mahogany you know. Of course, it is as cheap here as pine is at home. Do not forget to dash him. Ten shillings will do.”
My further protestations at having to leave so soon were met with a steely gaze and an explanation that McKay was now well overdue for leave and had been making quite a fuss about his replacement. Resigned to my fate, I said, “Presumably someone will give me a lift to the airport on Sunday, and whom do I see about the air ticket, Edward?”
He eyed me carefully over his glasses and said slowly, “Only general managers and up-country personnel travel by air. There’s a brand new, UK built, series IIA, 88-inch wheelbase, Land-Rover station wagon due for delivery to Enugu, and I have delayed its departure for you.”
“Whaaaat? I am up-country personnel; you have just confirmed it, Edward. Why can’t I go by air?”
“You are headquarters personnel at the moment,” said Edward calmly. “You won’t be up-country personnel until you actually get to Enugu. Do not worry; you will have one of our own drivers to take you there. You won’t have to rely on a casual driver.”
Highly irritated at being caught in a “Catch 22” situation, I tried not to it let show through.
“How bloody far is this Enugu place from here then, Edward?”
Edward tried not to notice my belligerence and replied very calmly, “Oh, about 350 miles. It depends on how much of a detour you have to make because of bad roads.”
“Bloody hell, Edward, 350 miles in a bloody 88-inch station wagon. I won’t be able to sit down for a week, particularly if the roads are bad.”
“You are lucky my lad,” he retorted. “The rains have only just started. Another week or so and the roads will be completely washed away in certain areas.”
My irritation ensured a continuous stream of questions and belligerent discussion until I could think of nothing further to say about my transfer to Enugu. Fred had remained silent throughout my exchange with Edward. No doubt he was feeling somewhat guilty over the whole business.[…]

The Up-Country Man: The Story Behind the Story

Posted in Synopses with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 23/11/2008 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Evacuation Ship: MV Isonzo

When the “Winds of Change” began to blow through the African colonies in the late fifties and early sixties, the author began to take a deep interest in these vast territories. Even after leaving school, he nurtured his secret desire to live and work in the ex-colonies of Africa. His ambition was eventually fulfilled shortly after his 25th birthday.

Having finished his engineering apprenticeship and obtained the necessary academic qualifications, the author joined a British company with commercial interests in the West African state of Nigeria. In the six and a half years since independence in October 1960, the people of this ex-British colony had already experienced civil unrest and two military coups. Now the country was on the brink of three long years of civil war, primarily because of an argument over oil revenues between the Federal Military Government and the Governor of the Eastern Region. The author arrived in Nigeria in April 1967, just as the Biafran crisis was about to enter its final and most devastating stage.

This book records his personal views and experiences of the events leading up to and beyond the act of rebellion that created the short-lived Republic of Biafra. The work concentrates on the author’s arrival in the territory and the first one hundred days following secession when he was resident in Enugu, the capital of Biafra. His job as a manager with one of the most important companies in the region gave him a particular insight into the bid for independence and the consequences arising from many of the policies adopted by the Biafran Government thereafter.

The narrative deals with the culture shock that everyone experiences when they arrive in a country where the lifestyle, customs and climate are vastly different to their own. It also looks closely at the relationship between the Africans and the Europeans who lived and worked in Nigeria, reflecting the reality of post colonial Africa in the nineteen-sixties in a sensitive and honest way. Though there is cognisance of the wider political machinations in Biafra, Nigeria and the UK during the period of the crisis, the work is really a personal reflection of the day-to-day difficulties and problems encountered by both Africans and Europeans as Nigeria raced headlong into civil war.

Despite being resident in Biafra for only a short time, this work captures the mood and relates some of the incidents that occurred during the build up to all out war in July 1967. These include the close surveillance of all foreigners by the Biafran secret police (an activity that caused many problems for the author); the difficulty he experienced with the Biafran military when the company driver was beaten close to death by drunken soldiers; the illegal and barbaric activity of the police and army personnel who manned the hundreds of road blocks; and the effect that all this chaos had on the lives of the people and the economy of Biafra. The work also reflects the feeling of vulnerability that pervaded the author’s daily life as the Federal Nigerian Army penetrated the northern and western sectors of the new republic and began to advance inexorably towards Enugu, the seat of power of the rebel regime.

However, it is not all gloom and misfortune. Many passages touch on the humour and grit of the ordinary citizens trying to cope with the chaos around them. The sections of dialogue written in the style of spoken Pidgin English will provide the reader with an intriguing insight into the use of English as a means of communication in a country where 250 languages are in daily use. The work is presented from the viewpoint of a young Briton, seemingly abandoned by his company, stranded in a rebel enclave, threatened by war and separated from his wife and child.

The climax of the book describes the author’s evacuation by road from Enugu to Port Harcourt. During the journey the civil defence volunteers manning the roadblocks subjected the author and the other Europeans in the vehicle convoy to many threats, and there is an account of the evacuees being dragged from their vehicles and lined up at the side of the road ready for a firing squad.

The author, together with over 800 other expatriates, was eventually evacuated from Port Harcourt to Lagos by sea on the MV Isonzo, a small, 7,500-ton Italian freighter. This was the last vessel to leave rebel held Port Harcourt and required a special agreement between the warring parties for its safe passage. Even at this late stage, however, the Biafran military continued to harass the evacuees as the ship steamed down the river Bonny on its way to the open sea.

The work will satisfy a wide spectrum of readers ranging from those interested in British post-colonial African history to the many who simply enjoy a good, true life adventure story. Though the outline for the book was written twenty-five years after the events, this does not dilute the impact of the story. Contemporaneous diary notes, a sharp memory, reflection and hindsight give the work an unusual strength and character.

This book will provide the reader with a detailed insight into the traumatic conditions that prevailed in Nigeria as the country embarked upon a bloody and cruel civil war. It was a war fuelled on both sides by the Western Powers because of the importance of Nigerian oil. No other British author has written an account of the misfortunes and sufferings of ordinary individuals caught up in the power politics and lust for oil revenues that broke the uneasy peace in Nigeria during the late sixties.

First Visit?

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , on 20/11/2008 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
The Author

The Author

Welcome. Please have a look and find out more about my work. The fiction is primarily based on my own experiences whilst living and working in West Africa during the 1960s and 70s; whereas the memoirs are factual accounts of my apprenticeship and later my adventures inside secessionist Biafra. I will be posting news, extracts from each book and reviews to provide a flavour of the stories. If you like what you’ve read and wish to order any of them, they are available from a wide range of online bookshops in both paperback and e-book format – have a look at the “Ordering” section listed under “Information” at the top of the right hand column to see titles and availability. To return to this page simply click on the “African Tales” title situated at the top of every page.