Reasonably cautious tourists are unlikely to travel to Nigeria today, much less hitchhike or arrive unannounced at a stranger’s house expecting shelter. Yet that’s what some students did in 1965 while participating in a British academic program. This book is primarily about two students who studied at the University of Ibaden and their travels during a pocket of peace before assassinations, coups, civil unrest and terrorism soon consumed the country.
Under the auspices of London University’s School of Oriental and African studies, six students traveled by boat (the Apapa) to West Africa to study in three universities. John Berryman and Tony McWilliams were posted at Ibaden in Western Nigeria.
Berryman briefly outlines the housing, diet and routines at the university and then describes his and McWilliams’ travels, mostly in Nigeria. Both students relied on their respective church backgrounds (Catholic and Methodist) to cadge introductions, rides and accommodation. When necessary, they hitchhiked, or (rarely) took a cab or train.
For each place visited, Berryman describes the cultural and political history, emphasizing myths of origin, natural resources, historical slave trade, the division of lands and frontiers created by the Berlin Conference, and the British policy of indirect rule. Berryman contends that the “decisions brokered at the Berlin Conference 1884-85 bedeviled a systematically logical evolution of West African society,” which should have been “an orderly albeit gradual transition to independence.”
Berryman’s book is remarkable for its unique window on a brief period of peace during Nigeria’s modern history. It would be more accessible, however, and perhaps more powerful if it had explored more fully the lives of the people he and McWilliams encountered. As is, they are given little more than a mention as providers of locomotion or accommodation. There’s no chance for them to stand as exemplars for their time.
Nonetheless, the information provided is interesting, and historians may find The Apapa Six useful for a close-up look of Nigeria in the 60s.
Also available as an ebook.