By Donu Kogbara
LINDSAY Barrett, the West Indian media man who has wholeheartedly embraced his African roots, has become a legend in his own lifetime. I first heard of him three-and-a-half decades ago, when I was a young journalist working in the UK, where I grew up. I was in my mid-20s at the time and, therefore, around the same age that Lindsay had been when he decided to settle in Nigeria.
When Lindsay first appeared on my radar screen, he was a forty something veteran whose articles and broadcasts had been lapped up by world-class broadcast and print outlets like the British Broadcasting Corporation. I would sit in various gatherings listening to elders talking about Lindsay in affectionate and reverent tones.
And I would hope that I would one day meet this exciting gentleman. I didn’t meet him for another 15 years. By then, I was middle-aged and he was a sexuagenarian. And we’ve been chums ever since. What is not to love about Lindsay the jazz afficionado and brainbox? His euphonious Caribbean lilt? His warmth, charisma and cleverness? His intellectual curiosity, integrity and fabulous sense of humour?
Lindsay was born into a respected farming family in Jamaica and graduated from high school in 1959, the year I was born.
As our mutual friend and Ghanaian journalist, Ben Asante, says: “Very few people make it to the top…without going through formal university education. Lindsay’s life experience remains an incredible story as he is one of the few who can actually attribute his success to learning in the ‘streets,’ namely the so-called ‘University of Life’.”
“It is instructive to note” Ben adds, “that secondary school education alone followed by two years of apprentice training (at a Jamaican publication) is all that Lindsay had as foundation…[But] he has been a voracious reader and learner, continuously teaching himself and searching for knowledge.”
Lindsay wound up working for the British Broadcasting Corporation in London and travelling extensively in Europe and Africa.
In 1966, his first book, The State of Black Desire, came out. He subsequently wrote several other books, including one that is now a set text at the University of Port Harcourt.
Lindsay is an all-rounder. He is an adventurous war correspondent (he covered ECOMOG campaigns in Liberia and Sierra Leone), poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, feature writer and photographer.
In Monrovia, where he helped to found the New Democrat newspaper, strangers hail him as “Papa-a-a-ah”!!! “Papa-a-a-ah”!!!
I should, on reflection, address him as “Uncle Lindsay” or “Sir”; but chilled, laid-back informality is his default setting; and he has always related to me agelessly, as if we are equals and contemporaries.
Generous, chatty, sociable, stylish but unsnobbish, adored, free-spirited and formidably well-informed, he is an icon within my industry and beyond. And I was proud to join other well-wishers when he celebrated his 80th birthday in Abuja last month.
Lindsay lost one of his legs a few months ago because he received inadequate medical advice and care in Nigerian hospitals. And I’m pretty sure that he would not have been so painfully disabled if he had chosen, many moons ago, to forget about his African Dream and grow old in Europe or Jamaica. Or if he had simply flown overseas to consult foreign doctors when his health started to fail.
And yet, he isn’t bitter. He does not allow setbacks to dim his loyalty to his adopted country. He remains a strong advocate of Nigeria…an optimistic gent who insists on regarding the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. He is much more patriotic than many born Naijas.
He is certainly more patriotic than I am! May God bless Lindsay and his sweet Bayelsan wife and jolly decent children (especially his son Erishode, who is my favourite!).
HAKEEM Baba Ahmed, a former senior civil servant who has a very distinguished curriculum vitae, is now the spokesperson for the Northern Elders Forum. And he recently upset several southerners (including this columnist) by making pompous and arrogant statements about his fellow northerners and the 2023 election.
In a nutshell, he disdained Southern Governors for saying that the next President of Nigeria must come from the South. According to him (I crudely paraphrase because of lack of time and space!), the North has enough votes to defeat anyone who tries to prevent the North from doing whatever it wants to do.
“We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before. Whether we are president or vice-president, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the votes and democracy says vote whom you want. Why should we accept a second class position when we know we can buy a form and contest for first class and we will win?,” he said on TV. “If they don’t like the fact that it is a northerner who may emerge as the next president, too bad…”
Hakeem’s remarks sparked off a series of disgruntled newspaper articles and social media posts in which he was ferociously reminded that his father was a Mauritanian cattle trader who settled in Zaria about a century ago. One Nigerian columnist even described Hakeem as a “Mauritanian guest” who basically has no right to express any opinion about Nigerian matters in the presence of indigenous offspring of the soil.
Hakeem has traumatised me in the past, so I have no reason to defend him. But I feel that we should always try to be fair!
Hakeem’s dad may not have been a native Nigerian, but Hakeem was born and bred here, so it’s extremely unreasonable – and ignoble! – to carry on as if he is a foreigner who is not entitled to speak his mind. When whites in Europe treat black immigrants shabbily, we complain loudly. So let’s not fall into the same trap of being blindly bigoted.
Jingoistic prejudice is not the basis on which one should confront Hakeem. He has talked rubbish. So focus on the rubbish, not on whether he still has relatives in Mauritania.
And if he still has relatives in Mauritania, why on earth shouldn’t he be on good terms with them?
Having said all of this, I have never heard anyone challenge Lindsay for commenting on controversial Nigerian matters, even though he is not from here originally. Hakeem must be doing something wrong to attract such hostility.