Last updated: 1 october, 2010 - 11:30 GMT

The Empire's Last Officers

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John Smith in Nigeria in the 1950s

John Smith says his 20 years in Nigeria were some of his best

On October 1, Nigeria celebrates 50 years of independence. Tim Whewell explores the legacy of British rule in the company of the archetypal figure of the colonial system – a District Officer.

He travels to Northern Nigeria in the company of John Smith, who began his career there as a young man back in the 1950s, representing the might of the British Empire and theoretically in charge of a vast district of the countryside.

Smith would travel around his district from village to village and wherever he stayed, he would hoist a Union Jack over his hut, to symbolise British rule.

He trained a generation of Nigerian civil servants, including a young man called Suleiman Baffa, who rose to become the head of the country's mint.

In the city of Kano, Smith meets his Baffa and the two men compare notes as they consider how deep British writ really ran and in which ways the country has advanced and retreated in its half century of independence.

First broadcast on the BBC World Service on 01 October 2010.

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