The setting for this memoir is the West African state of Nigeria in the late nineteen-sixties. The former British Colony is wracked with political turmoil and tribal unrest that finally results in civil war following the secession of the former Eastern Region into the independent state of Biafra.
Ken Ryeland, a young British engineer, arrives at Ikeja Airport in April 1967, to take up the position of service manager with a large British company, just in time to witness the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War.
His first up-country posting is Enugu, soon to be the capital of the breakaway, oil-rich state of Biafra. During his short stay in the rebel capital, he is harassed and threatened by the military and the secret police, simply because he tried to prevent his driver from being beaten by Biafran soldiers at one of the many road checks. When war threatens the town, he is evacuated by road to the coast. During that chaotic journey, Ryeland faces several death threats from the Civil Defence Volunteers manning the hundreds of roadblocks before reaching the comparative safety of Port Harcourt.
The Italian freighter, MV Isonzo, is the only way out of the now besieged rebel enclave. Humiliated, threatened and robbed, he joins over 800 expatriates of all nationalities in the most harrowing of sea journeys. Having finally arrived tired and hungry at Lagos, young Ryeland is given the opportunity of a fresh start.
A further up-country assignment to Ibadan in the west of Nigeria should have been something of a respite from the war, but he arrives there just as Colonel Ojukwu’s rebels cross the Niger River, put the Federal Army to rout and capture the town of Ore, only 90 miles from Ibadan.
The Up-Country Man: A personal account of the events leading to secession and the conditions inside Biafra during the early days of the Nigerian Civil War.