Guns and Society in Colonial Nigeria: Firearms, Culture, and Public Order

By Saheed Aderinto | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Firearms in Twentieth-Century Colonial Africa

On July 24, 1924, a police magistrate court in Calabar sentenced two Nigerian customs officers, Edet Mfon and Okon Ene, to twelve months in prison for trying to smuggle 143,000 rounds of ammunition (gun percussion caps) into Nigeria two weeks earlier. Their conviction also included “corruptly offering a gift” of £15 to William Prendegost, the chief officer of the SS Zaria, a vessel belonging to the Elder Dempster shipping company, in order to allow them to remove the ammunition ashore, even though they were not on duty on that day. The convicts’ appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed— the superior court was not convinced that they did not know that the two trunks contained contraband.1 The circumstances that led to the prosecution of Mfon and Ene, which according to the police caused “a great excitement” in Calabar, did not begin with their attempt to use their power as customs officers to clear prohibited ammunition.2 The foundation of their ordeal was laid thousands of miles away in the United Kingdom. On June 14, 1924, Henry Mitchell, a Liberian and fireman aboard the SS Zaria, met Ekpenyong Ita Hogan Bassey, a Nigerian World War I veteran and former customs officer studying in England, “in the street” of Liverpool through a friend. Bassey gave Mitchell two “very heavy” trunks containing the ammunition in question, keys to the trunks, and a letter addressed to his cousin (Ene). Mitchell claimed he did not know the contents of the trunks until they arrived in Calabar. In the letters, Bassey asked Ene to give Mitchell £3 in appreciation for helping to take the trunks on the ship and circumventing customs inspection and excise charges. The Nigerian government’s detailed investigation of this case involved intercepting local and international

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