By Bisi Lawrence
The mailbox of this page has been almost set ablaze by the passion conveyed in some of the messages that came to hand As usual, we can only deal with one or two because of space constraints.
It is really all about the move to put the raucous noise making of politics on the back burner of our attention from now on, to meet the reading pleasure of some old-timers who love to reminisce, and the ardent desire of some not-so-old people who yearn to have a feel of what Lagos was in the past. Opposed to that are some very generous (to me) people who consider it a “disservice to the nation” to look the other way from politics at this time. Please share some of the comments with me.
Echoes: Frankly, sir, you can’t be serious. I find any Saturday a dull day without your uncompromising comments about “The Passing Scene”. I’ve been reading you for a long time and you have indeed been at it for a long time, if I may say so. I have somehow felt the need to comment on some of your views, but I have had to concede that you are welcome to your opinion, and I don’t mind sharing them with you. But I don’t think I am ready to enjoy your Lagos memoirs. (Dele: 0802341239)
Your Saturdays may still be full of fun through the keeping of a steady relationship with this page.
Echoes:: I wonder how you could even think of abandoning the turf on which so many people appreciate you. And to even think of turning your back on politics is nothing short of a disservice to the nation, especially at a time like this, which calls for mature thinking. You have got to change your mind. (Jonathan J. O.)
I wasn’t saying I would abandon politics entirely. Nobody really could, even if you were a writer of children’s stories. But there are enough people handling that end of the stick, really. I believe that there was a touch of disillusionment to my decision to keep politics off this page.
It must be of the same character with part of Pat Utomi’s cry to “crash this democracy”, in one of the dailies recently. I could feel where he was coming from. Pat, of course, should not cash in his chips. He describes himself as someone in “the autumn of life”. What would I say about someone like me who finds himself deep in the winter of life – and one of discontent at that. It is so much more comforting to re-visit those climes to which we may no longer return.
Echoes: You woke up nostalgia in me on Saturday. I only recall from 1952. I was one of Chistmas/Fanti Sailor Carnivals. Also used to be an ardent fan of egungun, gelede, eyo, agree et aL Remember “Bobby ra moto ko ra’le”? Incidentally, I’ve read Vanguard from inception … (Emmanuel)
Of course, I remember that song in which some of Bobby Benson’s fans turned his own number
around to what he does best to others – disparage them.
“Bobby bought a car, but not a house, or plot of land.
He (instead) bought high shoes and a high hat”.
It was meant to draw attention to the loose life-style he presented to the public, whereas he was a shrewd businessman all along. As a matter of fact, I recall from way back in 1942, when life was mellower, and the sun did not seem to be in such a hurry. Every minute enjoyed its sixty seconds to the full, and so did those who lived through it. Don’t worry. We’ll soon be talking about all that.
Echoes: Uncle Bisi, thanks for the reprint Come 11th of April this year, Bobby would have been 90 years old. He’s been dead now for 28 years. For the records, did “Bombata” become “Onala”? On 2″d March 2011, a great “Ba”acker” and & national soccer administrator was unsung at eighty years old. – R.B. Johnston (RB Jay/Jack) … (Yinka Alakga)
Well, you know your Lagos well enough, even if you are somewhat floored by the difference between “Bombata” and “Onala”. The former is the name of a well-known Isale Eko family. The Bombata Grounds was named after them. It was a large field now overwhelmed by development behind where the public library is now situated.
Another name for it was “Koriko”, that is “field”, which is the proper name in Yoruba, on the other hand, Onala still exists, That is the local name for Isalegangan Square, where you will find the ancestral home of the Fasholas. It has been developed into a mini-stadium, like Campos Square, in its own right. As for Ralph Beresford (“R.B.Jay”) Johnston, we grew up together. I used to know him very well, I shall have a bit to say later in connection with him and football support in Lagos ..
Incidentally, the open spaces and squares in Lagos, used to be where political rallies were held.
Although the Glover Memorial Hall, Marina, was also a popular venue, it was less used for “mass rallies”, as the huge gatherings of political meetings were called.
We are right now in the season of such gatherings, and it is interesting to compare the hustings of some fifty years, and the spectacle that have become the central part of them these days.
The first political rally I ever attended was at the Glover Memorial Hall in 1944. I was no more than knee-high to a grasshopper then, and had no business there. But youngsters formed a part of the crowd and they contributed in no little measure to the din generated by the cheers of the crowd. Two sources provided the noise.
First was the loud music of the gangan ensemble, led by the Yoruba Talking Drum which blared courage into the hearts of the crowd, and hurled insults into the ears of the other political units, wherever they might be. And they were never far away. Members of opposing political parties could be found jeering at one another at close quarters, without losing their good humour. The songs helped that along. We shall return to them presently.
The second source of noise came from the roar of the crowd, if you like, when they cheered the speakers at these political gatherings. The cheers were not mostly for the grandiose plans that featured in some of the fantastic promises delivered, but usually for the display of a mastery of the English language, a prowess equated at that time with estimable erudition. Nnamdi Azikiwe, politician, statesman, journalist, philosopher, sportsman and orator, here stood head and shoulders above his peers.
Everybody called him Zik. He was Tho by birth, but Yoruba by disposition, and he spoke the language somewhat provocatively – as if daring you to challenge his sense or style.
Zik was there when politics was foaled by nationalism in Nigeria. He took a hand in the delivery – as a Lagos boy. The action was in Lagos and he could not have made any sense of it, let alone stir it up the way he did, if he were not a part of it, and right in the midst of it. He understood Yoruba people like a native, much more than many of his own people understood him.
He even gave Yoruba names to some of his children. Some of his kinsmen hence felt he was a pacifist in the erroneous notion they nursed about Yoruba people. But the Yoruba are far from that characterization, and Zik was noting if not an Tho man, He was simply too much of an intellectual to ever subscribe to violence, and his pleasurable eloquence diverted the minds of his followers away from an unwholesome activity like the clashes between political rival camps, such as we have these days.
That was in keeping with the spirit of the times in a Lagos that was waking up to the good things of existence like western standards of higher education. Zik was a role model in that regard already, with a string of university degrees from the US. And he captivated his audience with a masterly show of gigantic words designed to bring the roof down.
Those were the days when Nigeria was stirring with the emotions of nascent nationalism, and words like emancipation, irredentism, Risorgimento, determinism, reverberated through the campaign and almost brought the roof down. After the boom of each of those words, the audience responded with their own resounding thunder of his name – Z-E-E-E-K!!! And you want to keep ten-year old lads away from such fun? No way! We were part of the audience in the hall, and part of the street parade that followed.
The near-parallel lines of Bamgbose Street and Igbosere Road cut across the western side of Lagos Island. The inclination was usually to assume that the entire island had been traversed with a passage through either of these streets. But the Olowogbowo/Isale Eko neighbourhood was thus cut off, as it happened, on several occasions, except when the occasion took place in the Oko Awo or Bombata enclaves.
The street parades were of two types. The Calabar Brass Band led the more popular ones. They were imported by the early immigrants from Calabar, and adopted by Lagosians. The Boys’ Brigade Bands, which are still around,’ are a replica of them. They were loud, had a steady beat which invited you to dance, but could not accommodate any elaborate vocals.
On the other hand, the music rendered by groups of women was made up of songs. It goes without saying, of course, that the songs did not in any way flatter or praise their rivals, and these stayed behind to prolong their sting when the noise of the campaign had died down.
Those songs continued to grate on the nerves of their target to prolong the discomfiture, and sometimes successfully dispelled the good humour, which had pervaded the campaign grounds. They were sometimes couched in scurrilous words, without any respect for age or position. An example was the one that flung such vicious mud at the late Oba Oyekan of Lagos, that popular opinion threw it on the scrap heap.
No decent person wanted it to be caught singing it .. The Oba had not yet been crowned then, but was identified with the National Democratic Party, and that made him fair game to his opponents. The wordings of the song were a mixture of imprecation and curses that it could only be sung outside the Isale Eko area, without resulting in a public commotion, especially after he became king.
Yet another was composed, around the same period, to vilify Prince Adeleke Adedoyn, the solicitor of the Oba, who had to go into hiding at one time to escape from his political adversaries He was one of the shining lights of the social scene, highly regarded in other affairs, but on the wrong side of the street in the politics of Lagos in the fifties.
But what really was the right side, you might ask? The earliest names were Herbert Macaulay, Adeyemo Alakija, Kofoworola Abayomi, H. O.Davies and a few others. There was only one issue, which should have united them all; but ironically, it caused a bitter dissention among them. The big concern of the day was how to become free of Britain’s yoke.
Not one of the leaders of the day favoured an indefinite subjugation to Britain, but it was clear that several of the so-called elites did not experience any discomfort with the presence of the white rulers.
So it was really only a matter of when and how Britain would be sent off. All the same, it took nearly a quarter of a century before Nigeria could raise her own flag. And she did it in the historic city of Lagos. Where else?