How Northern Nigeria’s Violent History Explains Boko Haram

In the northern Nigerian town of Gombe, I became a registered alcoholic at the age of 22.

The year was 1957, and I was starting out as a district officer (the last to be recruited by the British government for service in northern Nigeria) just three years before the country won its independence.

The only way I could enjoy a “drink” in Gombe—a sleepy mud-brick township, laid out by the British in the 1920s, where Islamic laws were in force—was to issue myself an “addict’s license.” That document allowed me to obtain liquor from the “pagan” city of Jos, 175 miles (280 kilometers) away.