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Review of The Mine “A Real Page-Turner”

Posted in africa, Civil War, General, nepotism, Reviews, Tribalism, West Africa with tags , , , , on 05/04/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

themineThe author has a real problem at the beginning of this book and that is getting the reader to appreciate the complicated historical, social and political background that is vital to the story he is about to tell. However, once this phase of the novel is over, the story grips the reader and Ryeland’s real skills come to the fore.

The strengths of the book come from the author’s effortless command of the complex series of plots and sub-plots underpinning and driving the story. It is admirable how Ryeland balances so many balls in the air at the same time, keeping the reader keen to find out how the trick will work out in the end as the juggler finishes his final act with a flourish.

At the same time as the author is entertaining us with a multi-faceted thriller, we are being shown insights into the world of post-colonial Africa. If some of the scenes of utter corruption seem far-fetched to readers who have never experienced it, I can assure them that from my own experience of living in West Africa at the time, the picture Ryeland draws up of betrayal, sleaze, bribery and the general cheapness of human life is an accurate portrait of the times and is probably still reliable today, if news reports from the area are anything to go by. Ryeland’s Nibana may be imaginary, but the Nigeria on which it is based (and whose history it shadows so closely) really was the fraud-ridden, chaotic, divided nation of this book.

The book can be depressing at times, since with the exception of the three main heroes, everyone else in the novel is on the make or else pursuing their own political ambitions. Honest, decent men in Africa of the calibre of Bello do appear to be sadly thin on the ground. However, this trio of good men certainly arouse our approval and by this means the author ensures that the reader cares what happens to them as well as focusing our sympathies on their plight as the novel develops.

I would guess that some people might find some of the minor characters in the book to be rather two-dimensional. However, I would come to the author’s defence by noting that the kind of pompous and insensitive “cartoon” attitudes shown by the High Commissioner (for example) are in fact accurate portrayals of the public personas that those characters exhibited to the world at the time. The bar at the Ikoyi Club, in Lagos, where expatriates met to socialise, was full of such apparent “caricatures” when I frequented it as a child.

Having said all that, “The Mine” is a real page-turner. The reader will surely be anxious to find out how the various plot strands come together and who will survive the violent times in which the characters find themselves: times in which power seeking military bullies and corrupt officials covering their asses are only too willing to utilize people and then cast them aside.

Like Ryeland’s other books set in West Africa, “The Mine” is also a valuable document that records (from a largely European perspective) the reality of Africa at a vital time in its development. Historical records of the time might give readers a dry account of the facts and figures of the conflict that resulted from the first serious attempt to redraw the map of post-colonial Africa, but Ryeland’s novel gives us an insight into what it was actually like to be there among all the turmoil and chaos.

**** (4 stars)

Berni Armstrong

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The Story Behind the Story of The Last Bature

Posted in General, Tribalism, West Africa with tags , , , , on 19/02/2013 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

LastBatureReaders will have gathered that I spent some time in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, during the sixties, where I worked, initially as a service manager and later a branch manager, for a British company (BEWAC) dealing in Land-Rovers, Leyland trucks and buses and Massey Ferguson agricultural products. My position gave me access to all sorts of people and not least the senior officers of the police, who used Land-Rovers extensively throughout the region. The Last Bature is a policeman’s tale, but let me first explain the word “Bature” (pronounced Batuuree). It is a Hausa word and Hausa is the Lingua Franca of the northern sector of many of the countries along the West African coast and is therefore spoken widely in Northern Nigeria. It means white man, European or senior government officer. All three terms being mutually interchangeable and thus any Caucasian male official in the north of Nigeria was addressed and referred to as “Bature”. I was known as Moto Bature (Moto meaning of course Motor) and my bank manager friend was called Kudi Bature (Kudi meaning Money). Therefore, the title of the book indicates that the holder was the last white policeman in the territory. The main protagonist in my book is Senior District Police Officer, Mike Stevens who tries to avert a major catastrophe while the country, Nibana, a fictitious ex-British colony, lurches into yet another coup, which eventually leads to civil war. The character of Mike Stevens is based on a police officer that I actually knew well, and our hero in the book exhibits exactly the same attributes as the real officer. He is honest, treats everyone equally and trucks no nonsense from anyone, African or European. Indeed the first chapter of the book details a scene at the Club (A virtual oasis for Europeans in a country with a climate and culture so very different from our own) which I actually witnessed and clearly illustrates the integrity of the senior police officer I was pleased to call my friend. Like my character in the book, he was the last bature in the force and when he finally retired, it was a very sad day for the territory and for the police force too. When he left the country to return to England, the small airport building was packed with expatriates of all nationalities, together with many senior African police officers, to see him off in the traditional manner. Though he has now sadly passed away, I will never forgot my old police pal and so I used him as my hero in The Last Bature as a sign of respect and gratitude for him having been such a loyal friend.

Review of The Last Bature “A James Bond Style Thriller”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 22/06/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

LastBature

Kenneth Ryeland will not be straitjacketed into a single genre or style. His first book “The Up- Country Man” is an autobiography that read like a thriller. His second “Tribal Gathering” is a series of varied short stories outlining life in postcolonial West Africa which echoed the work of authors such as Orwell, Graham Greene, Chinua Achebi or Cyprian Ekwensi…. and Ryeland can certainly stand his own in the company of the above-mentioned.

In his full-length novel “The Last Bature” Ryeland starts us off in familiar Graham Greene territory. His police Inspector, Mike Stevens, is a very believable “last white man standing” in a force that has been rapidly Africanised after independence. Like Obi Okonkwo in “No Longer Ease” or Greene’s Scobie in “The Heart of the Matter” Mike Stevens is a decent man in a world dominated by corruption. But unlike the pair just mentioned, Stevens never falls into the trap of allowing himself to be open to bribery.

As the story develops, we are drawn into the intrigue that Stevens is investigating. The heart of the story is almost prophetic as it turns on the shady involvement of Asian powers in Africa. This was indeed happening in West Africa at the time the book is set, but such presence has since become massive, indeed it has almost converted Africa into the backdrop for a covert Cold War between Asian and Western interests today.

Along the way, we meet some fascinating minor characters such as Stevens’ sidekick Bello or the slimy Major Etuk. Ryeland is good on minor characters and at his strongest in depicting events that carry the story along, as well as accompanying reflections in dialogue, or the little sketches which perfectly illustrate Stevens’ life as a policeman, or the conditions the locals have to put up with. The author is at his weakest, however, when the dialogue is merely explanatory with characters filling in plot details and political background in unlikely conversations (such as that involving the Soviet Ambassador).

There is a powerful sub-thread running through the book about plans for a coup d’etat and counter coups as tribal tensions among the army lead to powerful elements from each tribe planning to take over the government. The power crazy cynicism of such characters is perfectly evoked by Brigadier Nissi Offiong, a well-crafted super villain, who is willing to carry out annihilation of the capital city and the millions living there if it means he can take power from his brother, the current head of state.

At some point in the novel the writer starts to leave behind Graham Greene territory and opt for a more sensationalist “Hollywood” line. Ryeland handles this very well, but personally I find it hard to maintain my willing suspension of disbelief when characters are involved in incidents, which, in reality, they would surely have turned over to the relevant authorities. Ryeland does his best to justify Mike Stevens being involved at every stage of the denouement of the book, but as the story takes on the characteristics of an action movie, I found myself visualising the central protagonist as Claude Van Damme, rather than as a kind of tragic-heroic Peter Postlethwaite figure. This I felt was to the detriment of the book, but perhaps fans of Dan Brown and Hollywood action movies would disagree with me.

That said, the resulting thriller is a real page-turner that has you wanting to read just another few pages to see what happens next and the climax is generally satisfying. Though there is a final chapter postscript to the story which attempts to cram in too much information about what happened next to our protagonist and the country he had dedicated most of his life to serving.

Altogether, Ryeland has written another good book about life in post-colonial Africa, with the added attraction of a James Bond style thriller plot.

**** (4 stars)

Berni Armstrong

First Extract From The Last Bature

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , , , on 25/09/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

Author’s Bungalow – Jos, Nigeria, 1969

Chapter XXI: Homeward Bound

[…]Mike Stevens and the others on the police launch watched in silence as the Israeli submarine slowly slipped below the waves leaving a trail of turbulence, bubbles and foam for dozens of yards. When the disturbance on the surface of the sea had subsided, it was as though the submarine had never been there.
“Well, sir, what do we do now?” said Bello, breaking the silence that had enveloped everyone on the launch.
“We go home, Bello, that’s what we do,” said Mike, resignedly.
“Am I imagining things or did Chief Superintendent Bouari steal that device from us, sir?” queried Bello.
“Yes, he did Bello. I can’t condone what he did, but at least it’s gone to a nation with some sense of morality, whose people understand the meaning of suffering and oppression. This, I hope, means they will use the technology to prevent war rather than encourage it. Perhaps Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons will stop the surrounding Arab nations from constantly attacking them. Who knows, it may actually lead to peace in the Middle East. Wouldn’t that be something, Bello?” replied Mike Stevens, hoping Bello would understand his stance on the matter.
“Yes sir, that would be a wonderful thing, but I do not think it will happen,” said Bello, quietly.
Mike realised that Bello, a Muslim, found it difficult to see the Israeli point of view and so he changed the subject entirely.
“OK, let’s make straight for the coast, turn left and follow it along until we reach Laguna. We must return this launch and explain what has happened,” said Mike, addressing everyone.
Mike worked out a course and the constable, now quite a proficient helmsman, volunteered to steer the launch.
Within twenty minutes, they could see a thin black line on the northern horizon, indicating that the coast of Nibana was about two and a half miles away.
Only when a klaxon sounded did the occupants of the launch realise there was a US guided missile frigate closing on them from behind. Five minutes later a loud whooping sound drew their eyes to the left side of the launch where a Royal Navy destroyer was running alongside at a distance of about two hundred yards.
“What the hell is going on here? I should have detailed someone to watch the damn radar screen,” said Mike, more to himself than to anyone else. “Bello, we had better stop and see what these chaps want. Though I suspect they are looking for the device.”
Bello instructed the constable to close the throttles and they waited for the frigate and the destroyer to stop and send crewmen in outboard-powered inflatables.
The American inflatable arrived first with an officer and four armed marines. Minutes later, the Royal Navy inflatable turned up with an officer and two armed sailors.
“I am Lieutenant Ford from the USS England and I demand to search this launch, stand aside while we board.”
“I am Lieutenant Jackson from HMS Cavalier; we would like to question you regarding a certain device. May we come aboard?”
The inflatables had approached the launch from either side and were now lying alongside bobbing on the waves with the two officers trying to assert themselves, but in very different ways.
“Now just hold on a moment, sailor-boys. This is a Nibana police launch and I am SDPO Mike Stevens, a senior Nibana police officer. We are heading back to Laguna in the course of our duty and, if I am not mistaken, we are now well within Nibanan territorial waters. You have no right to board or question us without my express permission. Now then, how do you want to play this one, gentlemen? Sensibly or strictly by the book?” said Mike, smiling at the two lieutenants in turn as he waved his warrant card at them.
The two naval officers looked at each other across the width of the launch and shrugged before nodding their heads in agreement.
“Welcome aboard, Lieutenants, how can I help you?” said Mike, smiling again.
After scrambling aboard the police launch, the naval officers told Mike they had already intercepted the Kruger, albeit individually, and found nothing. However, when Captain De Jager told each of them the device had been stolen by some ‘pirates’ in a large launch, adding that the pirates had also kidnapped the bulk of his African crew, the Americans and the British, consulting on their ship’s radios, decided to join forces in an attempt to search out the miscreants.
Mike began to explain what had actually happened aboard the Kruger, asking the naval officers whether the crewmen from the freighter looked and behaved as though they had been the victims of a kidnapping. When the two officers conceded there had been no kidnap attempt, Mike went on to explain that Bouari had hijacked the weapon and boarded an Israeli submarine. As soon as they heard this piece of news, the naval officers became very agitated, demanding to know when and where this had occurred, and which direction the submarine had taken.
Mike gave them his best estimate of the time that had elapsed since Bouari took off and showed them the rendezvous position Bouari had marked on the chart, but he could not enlighten them regarding the direction the submarine had taken.

“It just submerged. It could have gone anywhere once it was under the water, but don’t you chaps have submarine detection devices on your ships?” said Mike, expecting a positive reply.
Both naval officers nodded, but confirmed that making contact could be difficult in a large area of ocean such as the Bight of Laguna.
“We could grid-search this area for weeks and never detect the sub, so I must get back to my ship and report to my captain,” said the American.

“I would put my money on the Israelis taking the short way home via Gibraltar,” began the Royal Navy officer. “They could go the long way around the Cape and then through the Suez Canal, of course. The canal has no lock gates and is forty-six feet deep, so an ex-British ‘S’ class sub, which is what the Israelis have, in theory, could pass through submerged, but it would be very difficult for them with all the surface traffic. Furthermore, the Egyptians manage the canal and so the Israelis would have no chance of getting through legitimately or by stealth in my view. The only thing I can do is report back to my captain and he may ask the Admiralty what they want us to do.”
“Sorry I can’t be more helpful, gentlemen,” said Mike, apologetically.
“That’s fine, sir, but I have one last request. Do you mind if we search the launch? We have to be sure, you understand,” said the American.
The Royal Navy officer nodded agreement with his American counterpart and Mike, realising they had their duties to perform, relented and said, “OK, but don’t break anything, it’s not my launch.”
When they came upon the gun-locker, the British officer asked Mike for the key to the padlock. Mike informed him that Bouari had taken it, and the officer indicated it would be necessary to force the lock. Mike shrugged his shoulders and the British officer called to one of his sailors in the inflatable. Seconds later the sailor produced a bayonet and handed it to the officer.
Five minutes later, with the lock duly prised open and the locker emptied of its contents, the naval officers thanked Mike and his colleagues, made absolutely no comment regarding the array of Sten guns, rifles and revolvers lying on the deck, saluted smartly and re-boarded their inflatables. Within minutes, the naval visitors had reached their respective ships and the police launch resumed its journey to Laguna.
It took quite a while to find the creek that would lead them to the first secretary’s house where they had originally collected the launch some twelve hours ago. It was beginning to get dark and Mike was relieved when he recognised the landing stage and, as they came closer, the outline of the large, white bungalow where the first secretary lived. Having to locate the landing stage in the pitch black of night would have required the use of one of the several spot lamps attached to the top of the cabin. Naturally, Mike would have been reluctant to do this because of the curfew, still in force until sun-up in twelve hours’ time.
The nightwatchman helped to secure the launch and Mike went up to the house to speak with the first secretary, whilst the rest of the group waited patiently on the landing stage.
The first secretary nearly had a seizure when Mike told him that Bouari had been a Mossad agent all along and had hijacked the device for Israel before making his getaway in an Israeli submarine.
The demoralised man simply sat at his kitchen table staring out of the window at the shadowy outline of the launch, now moored securely at the jetty, wondering what the high commissioner would have to say when he broke the news to him in the morning.

Third Extract From The Last Bature

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , , , , , on 24/08/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
 
The Author and Friends in the Bush:1971

The Author and Friends in the Bush:1971

Chapter VII: Blood and Guts

[…]The police Land-Rover approached the military checkpoint on the way out of Mokuba Township and Mike Stevens slowed the vehicle. Normally, the military would simply wave police vehicles through without them having to stop, but on this occasion, the soldier on duty held up his hand in a clear signal to stop.
“What the hell is wrong with this bloke?” said Mike, to no one in particular.
“He is just a boy, sir,” said Bello. “It is probably his first time on roadblock duty.”
Mike brought the Land-Rover to a halt and the soldier walked to the driver’s side with a smile plastered all over his face. However, when he saw that a white man was sitting in the driver’s seat, his lips fell apart and he emitted two sharp sounds from his mouth.
“Ah! Ah! You go be policeman, sa,” cried the young soldier, staring at Mike’s tunic top.
Mike, now quite used to such reactions from young Nibanans, unaccustomed to seeing white men in police uniform, simply said, “Why have you stopped us, Private? You can see we are police officers on official business.”
“Sorry, sa, I never sabby1 master him dey for motor. I tink say na Nibana man him dey for motor,” said the soldier, in his quaint pidgin English.
“Yes, I dare say you weren’t expecting to see a white man in a police uniform. You were expecting there to be only Nibanan policemen inside, weren’t you? But what plans had you in mind if I had not been here, I wonder?” said Mike, brusquely.
It is probable that the soldier only understood a quarter of what Mike said because he looked blankly at Inspector Akure sitting in the passenger seat and said, “I never sabby what dissy master him go talk me.”
Bello, well aware of what the soldier was up to, replied in the Usmar language, “Then you had better let us go pretty quickly before this bature calls your barracks on our radio and reports you for harassing the police.”
The soldier became quite agitated and said, “OK, sa, make you go now, now, sa. Bye-bye, tank you, sa.”
“Bye-bye,” said Mike, mimicking the soldier, as he let the clutch out and roared off as fast as he could.
“Bloody little bastard, he was after dash2 or cigarettes, wasn’t he?” said Mike as he slowed the vehicle to a more comfortable pace.
“Yes, something like that,” said Bello, resignedly. “Since the army took control of the country these soldiers have become bolder and bolder by the month. They would never have dared to stop us three months ago, sir. It was only because you were in the vehicle that he let us go without asking for something, despite me being an inspector.”
“Yes, and it’s going to get worse,” said Mike, with a sigh. “Though it’s a good job he didn’t realise that our radio is only tuned to police frequencies, eh, Bello.”
“Oh, yes, I had forgotten that you speak Usmar, sir, It is just as well I did not say anything derogatory about you, sir,” the smile on Bello’s face indicating the joke.
Mike Stevens laughed and said, “Yes, Bello you have to be careful what you say in that lingo of yours when I’m around. Though, as you know, my Usmar is of the kitchen variety. Good only for greetings, farewells and ordering beer and food.”
“Yes, sir,” said Bello, still smiling broadly.
They made good progress despite the terrible road conditions, and just as Mike Stevens was assuring himself they would arrive at Yula well before dark, he spotted a problem in the distance.
The long straight section of road enabled Mike to see quite a way ahead, but what he saw did not inspire him. It looked as though vehicles were blocking the carriageway, or rather the debris of vehicles, large trucks or mammy-wagons by the look of things. As they drew closer the three police officers realised they were going to face further delay.
There had been a head-on collision between two trucks, but there was also a mammy-wagon involved and the carnage was enormous. Apart from the distorted remains of the steel cabs and chassis, and the smashed remnants of the ubiquitous wooden bodies that were fitted to all indigenously operated trucks and buses in Nibana, the road was littered with market produce and personal belongings. There was something else littering the road too; human bodies, dozens of them, lying in grotesque forms, many covered in blood. Some of the bodies were so badly mutilated they were beyond recognition; others were simply lying there as though sleeping. There were other people who had escaped injury altogether and they occupied themselves in trying to comfort the more seriously injured, but with no medical knowledge or equipment they could do little to help.
Mike pulled to the side of the road and instructed Bello to get on the radio to the local police post and ask them to arrange for the nearest hospital to send ambulances, doctors and equipment. He and Constable Rufai then approached the scene with trepidation.
Almost immediately, the people who had escaped injury began wailing and screaming at the two policemen, imploring them to do something about the seriously injured people lying in the road. With no equipment other than the first-aid box carried by all police vehicles, Mike decided that the best he could do was to assure the hapless survivors that he had requested help from the nearest police post. This seemed to calm them somewhat and Mike began the grim task of determining how many of the victims were actually alive. He began to examine the bodies lying in the road and, after a few moments, instructed the constable to do the same.
The majority of the passengers in the mammy-wagon had been women and children, and it sickened Mike Stevens to see the extent of the slaughter around him. Some were lying still and some were moaning, others were screaming in pain. Clearly, when the medics turned up, these were the people needing attention first. As Mike tried to sort some kind of priority list by writing numbers on pages torn from his notebook and placing them on the victim’s bodies where the medics would see them, the uninjured passengers began protesting at some of Mike’s decisions. The constant panicky chatter from these people began to irritate him and Mike ordered them to sit at the side of the road and be quiet. He was more than aware that he may be making wrong decisions, but he felt he had to do something so not to waste the medics’ time.
Mike had counted fifty-four people at the scene. The two truck drivers were dead in their cabs along with six others who had obviously been passengers in both trucks, their mangled bodies hanging in grotesque poses amongst the distorted metal and therefore Mike wasted no further time on them.
From the way in which the vehicles had ended up in the road, it was clear the mammy-wagon had tried to overtake one of the trucks, but couldn’t make it before the other truck, approaching from the opposite direction, hit both the mammy-wagon and the truck it was overtaking. It was the old, old story, Mike had seen the result of reckless overtaking many times before, and he shook his head in sadness at the waste of life and the stupidity of it all[…]

1 Understand/know.
2A bribe, but it can also mean a gratuity.

The Last Bature: Synopsis

Posted in Synopses with tags , , , , , , , , , on 12/06/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Last Bature is a policeman’s story set in Nibana, an imaginary West African state, shortly after gaining its independence from the British in 1962.
What begins as a straightforward investigation by the last British policeman in the Northern Region and an African police inspector, quickly turns to intrigue when the intelligence services of the superpowers vie with each other to secure a breakthrough in weapons technology. Combine this with the machinations of an irrational regional military governor hell-bent on overthrowing his brother, the head of state, and the basis for an exciting story emerges. With the cold war as a backdrop and a second coup imminent, the action moves quickly from the heat of the Omdu Hills, through the stench of the Laguna slums to the waters of the Bight of Laguna, giving the reader an insight into the grubby world of espionage and life in West Africa during the turbulent sixties.