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Lindsay Barret at 80 in West Africa

It was in Dakar in March 1966 that I made the definite decision to spend an extended portion of my life in West Africa. When…

It was in Dakar in March 1966 that I made the definite decision to spend an extended portion of my life in West Africa. When I had left Paris in February of that year to attend the first Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture, I had decided that I would visit and if possible work in Nkrumah’s Ghana, for a short while after the festival.  Unfortunately, by the time the festival ended, Nkrumah was no longer on the seat in Ghana. The gale of military usurpation of power had swept him aside and the dream of Pan African harmony and progress that I had entertained for years seemed to be threatened. Nevertheless, I was determined to spend some time exploring the communities from which our African ancestors had been abducted to the Caribbean. I was determined to search for and initiate the renewal of the historic identity of my people. Because I had a friend from Sierra Leone whom I had met in Paris, I decided that that was the first West African country in which I would spend some time. I spent about two or three months there and started to correspond for West Africa magazine reporting on the issues that I judged to be current and relevant.

One of my hosts, the then Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, Professor Davidson Abioseh Nicol, was the one who advised me that I would be more at home in Nigeria. When I decided to visit Nigeria in July of that year, I remembered that some years previously I had met both J.P. Clark and Wole Soyinka in Europe and that I had found them both very friendly and fraternal company. J.P. Clark in particular had suggested that I would find life in Nigeria very compatible. More than fifty-five years later, I can testify that he was right and that those who encouraged me to change from exile in Europe to residence in West Africa gave me the right spiritual advice.

In my columns and commentaries over the last 55 years, I have been critical of some of the political conduct that I have witnessed in the regional community but in seeking to identify and recommend positive values and strategies that could enhance the lives of the people, I have sought to contribute effectively to the improvement of life in Nigeria and throughout the West African region. My role as an independent journalist based in Nigeria was profoundly affected by the fact that while I have never been an advocate or supporter of military rule, I became closely associated with the policies of various Nigerian military regimes. In the case of the Gowon Administration, I helped to promote the restoration of national unity while in the case of that led by General Ibrahim Babangida and by Jerry Rawlins in Ghana, I supported their consolidation of regional peace enforcement in Liberia and Sierra Leone.  As a consequence, I developed an enduring connection with Dr Amos Sawyer, the former head of the Interim Government who gave me the opportunity to serve at the height of the civil war. Whatever I do in life I will always treasure my links to some Liberian families like the Williams and Gongloes of Nimba County and the Sambollahs, Grays and Fahnbullehs of Cape Mount. I especially value the work I did with Sando Moore, Tom Kamara, and Zack Greaves, colleagues who helped make my work relevant to the ordinary Liberian people.

In recent times, I have been positively inspired and moved by the rhetoric of Pan-African sentiment and opinion expressed by the president of Ghana Hon, Nana Akufo Ado, and the restorative vision of corrective anti-corruption policy strategies articulated by the young leader of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio.

As I attain genuine seniority and achieve the stature and status of an elder, I must also admit that if I had not chosen to live in West Africa when I was younger, I might not have lived this long. The close relationships that I developed with friends from Ghana in spite of the fact that I did not settle down there after the demise of the Nkrumah Government have convinced me that there is a spiritual connection between that country and my birthplace, Jamaica. In fact, my relationships with the late Kofi Awoonor and the one-time Executive Secretary of ECOWAS, Mohammed ibn Chambas, as well as the journalists Ben Yaw Asante, and Henry Yaw Mallet, the lawyer Monica Quayson and the special friendship that I have maintained for decades with Margaret Akuah Busby, the remarkable Ghanaian-born editor, publisher and writer based in London, are links that have helped me sustain moral values that I have held since childhood throughout the six decades that I have lived in exile.

However, my decision to become a naturalised Nigerian and to adopt the territorial community of the Niger Delta state of Bayelsa in Nigeria as my home community is a decision taken by me as a result of the circumstance of my long residence in the Nigerian nation. For me, Nigeria which I now regard as my homeland should be the sinecure and the symbol of regional unity, and if and when it achieves proper growth and equitable progress for all its people, I pray that it will provide an example that the entire continent will be able to emulate in achieving a harmonious and unified existence for the future. As I turn eighty years old now, that prayer will become the mantra of the remaining years of my life as a West African.


By Lindsay Barret, who lives in Abuja

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