As I have written before I live for most of the time on a compound in Port Harcourt. A compound is a large walled enclosure, topped with barbed wire and entered via heavy steel gates that are doubled up. In side the compound is like a small suburban village, without the shops, over a hundred almost identical bungalows nestle in amongst driveways and well mown lawns, recalling a heavily armed, male dominated version of the classic Monkeys' song "Pleasant Valley Sunday".
The compound has no shops but it does have a pleasant open air swimming pool, and most evenings I managed to swim about two kilometres in it and have the place to myself. However in their infinite wisdom the owners of the compound had used the same building for a small bar. Alcohol and swimming pools notoriously do not mix ( Remember Brian Jones?). HSE through in Nigeria is not a major concern.
Many of the residents of the compound work for a well known French maritime company. These "gentlemen" are notorious amount the residents for embodying all the worst attributes of those known as "off shore trash" or "les petits blancs" with virtually no redeeming features. The vessels that they operate a small transport craft and they tend to be recruited from Breton Trawler crews as they are accustomed to the small cramped conditions on the vessels.
On one particular evening one of the Bretons it appears (a captain) had returned from off-shore and met one of his colegues who had been ashore some time. They and a third Captain decided aginst all rhyme and reason to purchase cocaine from a local vendour of artifacts. Now as a former Police officer I have little faith in any one who sticks a substance of un-known origin and content up their nose. However those that do chose to indulge in Europe have a certain logical insurance; the requirement of the dealer for repeat business and the forensic abilities of the European Police services, limit somewhat the tendencies of selling bad gear. Though during my service I attended enough drug related deaths to know that this is a very fragile bond of trust.
However in West Africa, a transient seaman has no such assurances, which forces one to question how some one with such abject lack of common sense was entrusted with a vessel and crew. Anyway to be brief, the two Captains partook and the following morning were found dead by the side of our compound pool.
The Nigerian Police with their usual efficiency did not secure the scene, and even though they had in custody the person that sold the drugs, they did not check the route along which he had fled for abandoned evidence. ( he had indeed jettisoned his stash into some one’s garden and it was later recovered by a security guard). So even though they had two foreign male corpses in a female lavatory in a swimming pool with no immediately obvious cause of death no forensic examination of he scene was ever made. There is a woman who cleans the pool and surrounding complex and works some evenings as a bargirl. It was apparently she who found the bodies so the ever diligent Mo Pol arrested her and held her for seven days. Nigeria does have a “habeus corpus” law but it is seldom respected.
A third French captain was also hospitalized having taken these drugs, he survived and it is from him that the information about what had happened was eventually pieced together.
Anyone not resident in the compound has to be signed in as a guest, the dealer had regularly been signed in. No attempt to interview the signatories at the gate was made.
Nigeria has one of the largest Police forces in the world, one wonders why? Apart from receiving money from motorists what do they actually do? I have never met anyone (including Nigerian Police Officers who can actually explain this).
As one might imagine the communities on these compounds are closed, claustrophobic and breeding grounds for gossip intrigue and speculation, were Wisteria Lane to be populated by Oil workers as opposed to desperate housewives it would be a somewhat similar environment.
The above incident reminded me of something I witnessed a few years a go in Douala, a rather round and out of shape French oil worker, left a bar at three o’clock in the morning wearing a large gold chain and rather inebriated. He was accompanied by two young ladies of commercially negotiable virtue and decided to walk to a cash point, after making his withdrawal he was mugged of cash and chain. The following morning when he returned to the vessel complaining about the lawlessness of the place, I asked him if where he was from, “Marseilles”, he replied. I followed up by asking if he would have behaved in a similar manner at home? “Of course not he replied, it would be crazy”.
As might be imagined ancient alliances and enmities run strong in such communities, and despite Nigeria being part of the commonwealth and an English speaking country the British are in a minority amongst the expat community in Transamadi, Port Harcourt, but it must be remembered we are an island nation, we have a memorial to Lord Nelson in our capital city, we name our rubber boots after the general who led the greatest whole sale slaughter of the French, and we still revere Henry V as being one of our most patriotic kings; so it was with little surprise that over a beer a few days later I heard an elderly English expat suggest that we rename the bar by the pool “The Trafalgar Bar” on the grounds that it was “a body of water full of dead Frenchmen”. Tasteless? Perhaps, but graveyard humour has got the British though some tough times.
So we raised our glasses to Horatio Lord Nelson, (then again to Wellington, Cressi and Agincourt). Finaly a lone British voice cried out, “and to Winston Churchill”. An American at the table who had been following the proceedings to this point looked puzzled. The voice explained in crisp tones that resonated with the click of leather on willow, the massed voices of Twickenham, and the BBC world service, “He was the last Admiralty Lord to successfully order the sinking of the entire French Navy, old boy, not that I would expect a colonial to know that!”
History is an interesting subject, but surprisingly selective, depending on one's perspective.