Okello Oculi pays tribute to Lindsay Barrett, journalist and author, at age 80
On 18th September 2021 a collection of political memories assembled in Sun City Estate in Abuja to celebrate a Jamaican who left his island country at the age of 22 and is convinced that if he had not come to Nigeria he might not have lived long enough to touch 80.
Lindsay Barrett, an honoured novelist, worked as a Radio Journalist with the BBC. During being immersed in the intellectual cauldron of Paris, he met Mallam Aminu Abdullahi who had been out of his native Nigeria for over 20 years. Abdullahi must have been attracted by his Caribbean rejection of African military takeover of political power.
Editors of The Daily Gleaner, the Jamaican newspaper young Barrett had worked for, was owned by British owners of plantations and Black slaves. Its editors hated the prospects of military coups and loss of power to Black soldiers.
In a country 90 per cent of whose population is Afro-Jamaican, it was safer to use the power of an ideology of their racial inferiority than military orders disciplining guns in their hands. The virus of military coups in South America would be hard to keep out. It was difficult enough discrediting the 1801 Black African revolution in nearby Haiti.
Military coups in Togo, Mali, and Algeria were being discussed by African students, journalists and politicians resident in Paris. Barrett wrote opinion articles against military coups becoming a plague in Africa. Nigerian intelligence operatives under M.D. Yusuf encouraged him to come and see Nigeria. He told the celebrants in Sun City that he planned to stay in Nigeria “for only two weeks.” Those two weeks continue to roll.
In 2018, The Daily Telegraph carried a story of a Jamaican woman living in Britain combating her son’s loss of interest in schooling by sending the boy back to Jamaica. Seeing Black people as lawyers, engineers, top civil servants, and Prime Minister, fired the lad’s sense of self-worth and attending school. Barrett told celebrants that it was in West Africa that he first saw Black models on advertisement billboards.
In 1976 Cuban workers constructing housings were supervised by Black men. White workers were in subordinate positions. Prime Minister Michael Manley had obviously arranged with the Cubans to purge Jamaicans of the racist ideology of white supremacy. The psychological drama inside Barrett’s head in West Africa was being enacted on a larger scale back home in Jamaica.
Jamaica did have an older history of rebellion against oppression. A man called Akampong had led armed struggle against British slavery. He used Jamaica’s mountain range as a military base from which to launch raids against white farmers. His army repelled successive waves of British raids, and forced Britain to end slavery on the island.
Britain countered his nationalist movement by inventing a class of Mulatoes who identified themselves as ‘the Middle Class’’. Brazil later copied this model when in 1922 Sweden’s ambassador to Brazil warned European governments about ‘’Brazil becoming the biggest African Country in the Americas’’.
Barrett carried the gene of revolt and aspiration for the creation of a strong African nation. It is a dream once broadcast by Marcus Garvey, another Jamaican, who took his dream to America and aroused aspirations for Black African Power among African-Americans.
While Barrett was drawn into the heat of Nigeria’s civil war, apart from M.D. Yusuf, and Ahmed Joda, he became a strong friend of military officers who fought the civil war. Martin Adamu, T.Y. Danjuma, Yakubu Gowon were probably age mates who took an interest in his coverage of the Civil War for WEST AFRICA magazine, other publication outside Africa, and outlets he edited in Nigeria.
They became an intellectual family inside and outside government. That makes the demise of Ahmed Joda, M.D. Yusuf and others a matter of openly expressed regret. He exploited these contacts to supply information and analysis of dynamics of civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone to guide Nigeria’s intervention.
His status as a DISPORA is of urgent interest for Abike Dabiri, Chairperson of the federal government’s arm for manifesting filial attention over global Nigerians. She roused celebrants to sing for Barrett to remain perpetually young.
He whispered admiration for her work as a reporter for the Network Service of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), making her a member of a ‘Journalism Mafia’ with whom he shared deep mutual affection.
With descendants of Akwa Ibom found in Honduras and California; Yoruba in Brazil; Fulani in Puerto Rico; Igbo in Haiti; Bakongo in Bolivia, and others settled in a belt from Peru to Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia, Chief Abike Dabiri has a vast space from which to green and harvest more productive Lindsay Barretts; W.E.B. Dubois, George Padmore, C.L.R. James, Walter Rodney, and others.