Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)

The first revolution in Nigeria happened on a Friday night in the mid sixties. On the Saturday morning, my wife Heinke and I drove from Apapa to Lagos as usual. I was going to the office, she to shop at Kingsway Stores. We had no telephone working at home, and on that day the local radio was only playing highlife music. There was nothing unusual in this – services like radio, water electricity and telephone were often erratic. Crossing Carter Bridge on to Lagos Island, the traffic was light, not its usual chaos of mammy-wagons, battered buses and cars. There was still no sign of anything wrong.

That all changed when I reached the office. There was a lot of excitement and activity. Rumours swirled around – military movements the previous night, shots heard in Ikoyi, a military coup? However, real news was in short supply. The telephones in Lagos were working, but there was no communication with London, Kano or the provinces, even with the airport at Ikeja, a serious matter for an airline running daily services.

One young expatriate was dispatched by car to find out what was going on at the airport. The rest of us were set to phoning around and trying to get information. One of my jobs was to phone a senior Nigerian office in the police. I eventually got through to him and I still remember his very English-sounding voice telling me he did not know anything either.

We got similar responses from all the usual contacts; the High Commission, government offices, Nigerian businesses. By mid-afternoon we were none the wiser and I was allowed to take Heinke home.

That evening I decided to walk to the Apapa Club to see if I could pick up anything there. The club was open but without the usual Saturday night crowd. A few white clad stewards dozed under the slow-turning ceiling fans. A couple of regulars, old ‘Nigeria hands’, sat at the bar. I bought a beer for one of the regulars, and we swapped rumours.

“ Armoured cars in Ikoyi”
“Yes, I’d heard that”
“They’ve killed Tafawa Balewa”
“Yes, I’d heard that too”
“They’ve killed the Sardana”

This last snippet stopped me in my tracks. How could he possibly know that? Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardana of Sokoto, was spiritual and political leader of Northern Nigeria, and was not in Lagos. Kano, the administrative centre of Northern Nigeria, was hundreds of miles to the north; Sokoto was even further. There was a total communications blackout; the phones were out and there were no flights.

“Where did you get that from?”
“The stewards told me. It’s true. Just wait and see.”

I forgot about this conversation until the next evening, Sunday, when there was solemn music on local radio and television. Yes, there had been an attempted military coup. Yes, the Prime Minister and Finance Minister had been killed in Lagos. And yes, the Sardana of Sokoto had been killed in Kano!

This incident went a long way to convincing me of the existence of the ‘bush telegraph’. At the very least, it demonstrated the astonishing power and speed of rumour and fact in a country like Nigeria. And it was a lesson for the future: ‘when you really want to know what’s going on, go and ask the stewards at the Apapa Club’.

Other pages:

This is the text-only version of this page. Click here to see this page with graphics.
Edit this page | Manage website
Make Your Own Website: 2-Minute-Website.com