Lindsay Barrett: An Amazing Story

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Ben Asante

Time races so fast… Exactly 25 years ago, I got a phone call one night to present myself the following morning, at Dodan Barracks. Someone had drawn the attention of the President then – General Ibrahim Babangida – to the fact that Lindsay Barrett – who arrived here from his native country, Jamaica, in the Diaspora, searching for the Mother Continent – had, as at that time, already clocked 25 years making Nigeria his home. During this period, he had practiced his trade – journalism; become quite well known in the media and within political as well as academic circles. In the arts and culture, he also made contributions. Lindsay even helped out the Federal side during the civil war, working with Chief Ukpabi Asika in the former East Central State.

The remarkable thing about Lindsay, especially the vast knowledge he exhibits on many subjects, is the fact that he is self taught.

General Babangida, with a keen eye on history, did not disappoint, realising the significance of Lindsay’s two and a half decade-stay in Nigeria at the time and the coincidence of the latter’s 50th birthday. I arrived in Benin City unannounced, bearing gifts from the charismatic soldier statesman for Lindsay, which included a presidential citation. Lindsay’s eyes got filled with tears, reading the letter. I met Lindsay entertaining several people including journalists alongside family members and friends.

Later, I left Lindsay to return to Lagos. Before I got to my destination, I was told he had distributed nearly all the gifts to other people. That is typical Lindsay. He loves to be in the company of others, especially professional colleagues and friends. Lindsay relates easily with the low and the mighty. He is free spirited, free-handed and at home wherever he finds himself within Nigeria, often asking questions and always learning. He is likeable, with a distinct gravelly baritone voice that is an asset considering his love for jazz. One can hardly miss him with his signature khaki fatigue, most times casting him in the mould of the legendary Ernest Hemingway – an image that came across when we got involved during the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) operation that was launched by a West African multilateral armed force established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

No one else can talk more accurately about Lindsay except the man himself.

One umbilical cord linking Lindsay Barrett and myself is the renowned author, journalist and publisher, Peter Enahoro, fondly known as Peter Pan. Peter and Lindsay had met on a journey in Germany but were unaware that they were both heading to the same destination – DEUTSCHE WELLE RADIO. Lindsay later discovered that Peter was the author of the satirical publication “How to be a Nigerian”. From that moment, their friendship grew in leaps and bounds.

I first worked for AFRICA MAGAZINE which Peter previously edited. I wrote under the byline Yaw Asante in my determination to be authentic. However, when I joined Peter at his new magazine in London in 1978, he urged me to drop Yaw and instead use my first name, Ben, saying old schoolmates and friends should not be confused as to my true identity.

I first met Lindsay in 1978 at the Kakawa Street, Lagos premises of the storied DAILY TIMES newspaper. He told me he was an avid reader of my writings in the magazine. He asked why I dropped the Yaw name in my by-lines. We hit it off as friends from that initial encounter and since then there was no separating us. Many times, people seeing me alone, would ask after “your brother”, referring to Lindsay.

Who can afford not to like an outgoing person like Lindsay, bubbling with so much energy and so knowledgeable about most things? Years back, Lindsay had said that the well-regarded Jamaican statesman Dudley Thompson, who once served as his country’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, spoke to his class about political events within Africa and the yearning for independence by leaders like the late Ghanaian legend – Kwame Nkrumah. What the diplomat said of Africa had whetted Lindsay’s appetite and set him off on a path that he has traversed in life. The one thing he never ceases talking about are the Ananse tales from Ghana.

Lindsay’s odyssey had taken him from early school and working life in Jamaica, through his travels as well as work in the United Kingdom with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), to his work and stay in Europe. At each point along the long road he traveled, he enriched himself, working with creative and progressive institutions and individuals before he finally arrived in Africa back in 1966. That particular year remains memorable to him because as he embarked on his eventful, lifetime journey came a sudden, unexpected earthquake. One of Africa’s most outstanding nationalist leaders whom Lindsay greatly admired – Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah – was ousted from power.

Very few people make it to the top or achieve much 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’.

Carlton Lindsay Barrett was born on Monday, September 15th 1941 in Lucea, Jamaica. He later acquired the Urhobo moniker, Eseoghene, in Nigeria. He was born into an agriculture-focused family with his father, great grand-uncle and grandfather being well-known farmers. He attended Clarendon College in Jamaica after graduating from high school in 1959. He worked as an apprentice journalist at the DAILY GLEANER newspaper and for its sister afternoon newspaper, THE STAR. After two short years in early 1961, he transferred to radio and became a news editor for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

It is instructive to note that secondary school education alone followed by two years of apprentice training is all that Lindsay had as foundation. Besides these, he has been a voracious reader and learner, continuously teaching himself and searching for knowledge. In less than one year after being made news editor for the radio station, Lindsay moved to England, where he worked as a freelancer for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s World Service in London and for the Transcription Centre.

In 1962, Lindsay left England for France. For the next four years, he traveled throughout Europe and North Africa as a journalist and feature writer, based in Paris. From his days with the BBC and moving on to Europe till today, Lindsay has never worked as a salary earner. A colleague, the popular journalist/publisher of Ovation International, Dele Momodu, refers to Lindsay as being perhaps one of the greatest freelancers of great professional repute any day. While working in Europe, Lindsay associated with many notable black poets and artists.

In 1966 Lindsay’s first book, The State of Black Desire, focusing on the theme of Afrocentric alienation, exile, and black art came out. A year later his first novel, Song for Mumu, written between April 1962 and October 1966 got published in 1967. He has many other books, novels, poems and literary works published including Lipskybound and the Veils of Vengeance Falling, which is a set book at the University of Port Harcourt.

Lindsay’s move to Africa began when he traveled down to Dakar, Senegal, in 1966 for the first World Festival of Black Arts. He had decided in Dakar that there was no going back and his dream of living in Africa started. He took up residence in Nigeria that year, saying that he was encouraged to do so by the accomplished Nigerian poet and playwright, Professor John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, whom he had met in London in 1961. He had said, “I came to Nigeria directly because I was influenced by the country’s literature”, adding “I came to Africa because I wanted to renew the spirit of ancestral hope”.

In Nigeria, Lindsay first served as the Secretary of the Mbari Artists Club which was “a hub of literary and cultural activities” in Ibadan. He was a founding member of the Nigerian Association of Patriotic Writers and Artistes. Interestingly, he has worked as a lecturer and has taught at many educational establishments in West Africa, including Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone; and at the University of Ibadan here, he lectured on the roots of African and Afro-American literature, at the invitation of several academic luminaries including the revered Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka.

Many people have come to know Lindsay as a journalist but he is much more than that. The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, while he was Governor of Rivers State told Lindsay in Port Harcourt during the International Books Exhibition that he knew the latter more as a literary giant even before reading his articles and commentaries in newspapers. Lindsay has regularly written on music, literature, film as well as other cultural and social issues. He has also written books on non-fiction and biographies. Among his works is the biography, “The Making of a General” on the former Chief of Army Staff and eminent philanthropist, General T. Y. Danjuma.

Lindsay is an all-rounder. He is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist and photographer. He is also a broadcaster, particularly in Nigerian radio and television; and has produced and presented critically acclaimed programmes on jazz, the arts and Caribbean-African issues.

Vintage Lindsay, just as he imbibed so much knowledge about the culture and history of the people living in the north and in the Niger Delta, so also did he deepen his knowledge of Nigeria’s Armed Forces given the long duration of the military rule. From the civil war till this very day, he boasts of knowing many of the contemporary actors – movers and shakers among the political and military elite. One family he was particularly close to is that of the late Inspector General of Police, Muhammadu Dikko (M. D.) Yusuf.

Lindsay’s close relationship with the military was of great assistance when we covered the ECOMOG Operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Dr. Abbas Bundu, the then ECOWAS Executive Secretary had requested Lindsay and myself to help rally the media as the crisis was deteriorating; with the rebels and the Samuel Doe government teetering on the brink of civil war. By the time we flew into Banjul, the Gambia for the annual summit, Liberia was already making global headlines with large massacres having taken place in Monrovia.

Yet, Liberia was conspicuously missing from the summit’s agenda. We immediately brought it to Dr. Bundu’s notice that unless the summit addressed the then burgeoning war in Liberia, any news emerging from the conference would be ignored by the world media. With the decision to send in ECOMOG troops and the killing of two Nigerian journalists, both of whom were known to him, Lindsay – who is never a quitter – decided we go in to report the war. Something more dramatic was to follow.

We arrived at Spriggs Payne Airport, only to be met by bullet-ridden buildings. Outside we met one of Liberia’s leading editors, Stanton Peabody, in a pathetic, emaciated state, holding pictures from the killing fields that Monrovia had become. Lindsay comforted him, assuring him that ECOWAS would intervene. Then, Lindsay approached a plump-looking policewoman who obviously had been more fortunate during the war. With both of his hands stretched forward, Lindsay challenged the woman to arrest him. When the policewoman asked why, Lindsay retorted, “so that you can tell us how you managed to survive the fighting”. It is remarkable to say that Lindsay later arranged for the children of the policewoman to travel down to Nigeria to live with his family in Benin City.

Lindsay was to convince me more what an adventurer he is. We checked into the downtown El Menson Hotel in the very tense city of Monrovia. Before I could drop my bag in my room and check back with Lindsay, he was nowhere to be found. I rushed downstairs and nobody saw him leave the hotel. Lindsay showed up 45 minutes later, telling me he had gone to check the ghettos to know where the rebels were. Lindsay saw his presence in Liberia, the peacekeeping efforts in the country in particular and bringing back peace to the region in general, as one of the core missions that brought him to Africa.

Typical Lindsay, one day he pretended he was drugged while talking to National Patriotic Front of Liberia rebel leaders. He secretly recorded the conversation and wrote a report of how they planned to poison the Monrovia city water system. When ECOMOG personnel eventually supervised the re-opening of the roads to rebel-held areas, one notorious rebel commander, Isaac Musa, told the ECOMOG staff that “no journalists would be allowed except these two” referring to Lindsay and myself. Lindsay replied him, “No thanks”!!!

It is hard to ignore Lindsay Barrett anywhere he is. In those days, in Monrovia, people frequently used to seek his attention by affectionately calling him “Papa-a-a-ah”!!! “Papa-a-a-ah”!!! He helped in the founding of the NEW DEMOCRAT newspaper with some financial support from his friends back in Nigeria.

Lindsay, in many ways, has paid his dues to his adopted home, Nigeria, and the rest of West Africa. His experience cannot be captured fully in one article. Readers can expect to encounter the very essence of Lindsay Barrett in his memoirs, due to be launched in mid-December 2016 alongside his articles and insightful commentaries written over the years.

In this, his 75th year on planet Earth and the 50th anniversary of his arrival in Nigeria, Lindsay Barrett remains fulfilled as a journalist, having worked in all fields where his natural gifts came to the fore. He may not be well-off materially given the nature of the profession but he has certainly given life his best shot. Lindsay Carlton Barrett, this is your life. HAPPY 75TH BIRTHDAY!!!

. Asante, a fellow warrior in many battles