Nigeria in Conflict by Robert Collis (Seeker and Warburg 55s)
PROFESSOR Robert Collis is an Irish Protestant who has practised pediatric medicine in Nigeria for over sixteen years. He is popular, sincere and hardworking.
Those who read his book for the insight it provides into the problems of establishing and running a modern pediatric unit in the political and economic uncertainties of West Africa will find it rewarding. Those who read it for an insight into the political realities of Nigeria will be less lucky. Any fourth former in Lagos or Lbadan could provide a more accurate and fairer account of the events which led to Nigeria's tragic and appalling civil war.
His account is coloured by what appears an almost insane hatred of the Ibos, who led the secession of the Eastern region, and of Colonel Ojukwu in par
ticular. He repeats an old story about Ibos beating a horse to death, with the comment: "I always feel that if this was true . . . such people would surely come to a bad end." His comment on the Northern mas sacres of lbos which started their great trek back to the East and ended in secession is this: "Nobody can condone the killings in the Northern settlements but the Ibos there were provocative."
Again and again he returns to this detestable Eastern habit of murdering horses. For him this plainly justifies the prosecution of the war to its successful conclusion, involving the death of two million citizens. On the only occasion he reports seeing Ojukwu—at the Lagos polo club—looked distracted, and this is attributed to the traditional Ibo hatred of horses. After that, no description is too violent—"the calculating magalomaniac of minor Hitler type ..."
"Jack" Gowon, by contrast, is "sans reproche". "Of all the men I have met in Africa, he seems the finest." "A peculiarly open charming young face and frank eyes . . . a candour rarely met with . . . a man of the people, but a gentleman." Finally, the most extravagant encomium of all: "It struck me, on driving home after this my first meeting with him, that I had completely forgotten that he was dark and I was white, but had been chatting to him, completely unconscious of this aspect of human physiognomy."
After sixteen years in Africa, to forget a thing like that! No doubt Professor Collis undertook this book as a counterbalance to what he felt was the excessive sympathy for the Biafran cause "in papers like the Observer" (as a matter of fact the Observer was singlemindedly pro-Federal throughout).
For the serious student of the period Professor Collis's book can only illustrate the muddled thinking and personal preference which emanated from the Lagos Polo Club and influenced so much of our Commonwealth Relations Office thinking at the time.