In this book Fr Hogan, now living in Cork after a life spent on the missions in Africa, continues his interesting investigations of the social, political and religious interactions in the early years of colonial Nigeria. The Ebira of his study maynot be so familiar a name as the Ibo or Yoruba are to many readers. They are a smaller tribe of Nigeria’s middle belt, between the largely Christian coast states and the overwhelmingly Muslim northern states.
Nigeria and its long standing conflicts are not of merely historical interest. The rivalries which Fr Hogan explores still have their influences, indeed their militant continuations, into the current state of Nigeria.
Here his focus is Berengario Cermenati, an Italian Catholic missionary, and his interactions with the local British administrator, and the tribe’s young ruler.
It has to be borne in mind that British colonial policy as developed by Lord Lugard was to govern through existing African rulers and political systems to main the peace and commercial development.
These rulers, being traditional in origin, have in today’s Africa come into conflict with ideas of the held by the independence generation who wished to impose modern theories of the state and governance, downscaling these traditional forms. But back in the first decades of the last century the chiefs were still potent.
The events described in this book largely in the five years after 1920 involved two Irish officers. A Captain Joseph Fitzpatrick (the administrator of his subtitle) and also a district officer named D.P.J O’Connor.
But of more central importance was a disciple of Lugard’s Frederick Byng-Hall, determined to uphold native rule and the peace at all costs. He suspected Cermenati of undermining it in opposing the local ruler. The story, a complicated one well told by the author, ends with the removal of Cermenati back to Italy by his superiors under pressure from the colonial authorities. Altogether a fascinating, if often disturbing history.
In the background to all this were the repercussion on Nigeria of the German colony of Togo, later a British mandate. Fitzpatrick had been the object of a rumour that he attempted to surrender to the Germans in the neighbouring colony of Togo in the Great War – a libel he over threw.
But the complicated interactions of the various parties illustrate the fact which was demonstrated in his early book that the development of modern Nigeria, with which Ireland has many connections, was no easy or uncomplicated matter. Fr Hogan adroitly throws light not only on the politic, but also on the development of the Catholic Church from quite small beginnings in the area.
Readers of Fr Hogan’s books will come away enlightened about what lies behind today’s headlines from that still disturbed country. Indeed he has some rewarding insights on the difficulties of even writing history in modern Africa, where one is so dependent on colonial and missionary sources where formal African sources hardly exist. He has thought long and hard not only about the peoples he writes about, but why and how he can as an historian write about them.
A book for the student of missionary history certainly, but one which can be highly recommended to anyone interested in modern Africa and its changing elites and eternal conflicts.