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The tuneful weapons

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By Bisi Lawrence
Yes, we don’t have those songs any more in Lagos as we used to have them during elections. Nor from the other parts of the country either, although it might not have been part of the traditions of many other areas of the country.

But it was naturally grafted to the processes of hustings in what has continued to be a bubbling urban centre for more than a century of the good life.

Electioneering contests came to Lagos early. Whilst the colonial government appointed representatives from all the provinces of the country to the only legislative house which was in Lagos, the three representatives who represented Lagos itself were elected.

That was way back in the forties before the country became independent. So there was really no campaign as such in the hinterland, but Lagos, the Colony, reveled in healthy electioneering campaigns.

The status of a “colony” which differentiated Lagos from the other parts of the country, was established as a mark of colonial rule far more binding than what distinguished the other parts of the country as a “protectorate”. A colony was under total control, with scant dominion over its own local affairs, whereas a protectorate was permitted to have a measure of autonomy in the direction of its local administration.

This made the establishment of a second tier, known as “native authority”, practicable in the protectorate under a system of indirect rule. The natural rulers were the vassals of the colonial government and had jurisdiction over local courts.

They virtually ruled over all local administrative bodies each of which had its own police force, health centres, schools and other training institutions, along with those of the central government.. The traditional rulers who governed for, and at the discretion of, the colonial government held sway in splendour, glorified in the might of their masters the white men.

They held annual conferences according to their ethnic derivations in the East, in the North and in the West. At these conferences, where nothing of practical value was discussed, the natural rulers used the occasions to display their affluence with pomp and circumstances.

The Oba of Lagos, however, was not admitted into the Western Council of the traditional rulers like other “Obas”, because he belonged to the colony. He had no administrative territory. The only police force on his land was the official Nigeria Police. It was identified as “The Police of Lagos”, Olopa Eko”, although he had no control over it.

But that did not in any way faze the people of Lagos to consider themselves as second-class. Rather, the fact that theirs was the Capital city, the seat of government and headquarters of all the commercial houses, the most developed area of the country with the best secondary schools, hospitals, and other social amenities, combined with their innate exuberance to give them a sense of being ahead of all others.

And, indeed, Lagos was the central source of opportunities for development and progress in life. Lagos was where “it was at”.

So, to be a “Lagos Boy”, or a “Son of the Colony”, added a bit of swagger to one’s steps, and a touch of self-awareness that created some envy and resentment among a certain number of Yoruba people. They tried to bring the uppity Lagosians down a peg or two by coining the saying, “A bi ni l ‘Eko o d ‘ola”. (Merely to be born in Lagos does not amount to a great honour). But the citizens of Lagos could not have cared less.

They flaunted their urbaneness in the face of people from other parts of the country in somewhat deprecatory tones .. To them, the Hausas and Fulanis were “Gambari”, the Ibos were “Kobo kobo” – everybody apart from a Lagosian earned a name that came near to being pejorative or, at least, derisive. On the face of it, it was all done without any bite but from what one might call careless humour.

Even other Yoruba people who were not from Lagos did not escape the name-calling. They were described as “ara oke” – “people from the hinterland” or, in effect, bush men.

The political divide reflected even this snobbish attitude and led to the first instance of serious dissension within the body politic in Lagos. The two main political groupings were the Nigerian Youth Movement, NYM, and the Nigerian Democratic Party.

The Movement was made up of well-educated men among who were professionals. The leadership was steeped in a sophisticated culture imbibed from a sojourn, or even a mere visit abroad – usually Britain – which qualified you as an “Englander”, especially if there was a professional or academic qualification to show for it.

In the forties, when I was growing up, the NYM was led by Adeyemo Alakija who later earned a British knighthood, and was thus qualified to be addressed as “Sir”. He was the second Nigerian to be accorded that honor, the first being Sir Kitoyi Ajasa, who was also a Lagosian.

Sir Adeyemo was a renowned lawyer and notable social figure. He was the Leader of the Bar, Chairman of the Lagos Race Club and, beyond that, also Chairman of the Island Club. He presided over all the institutions in which he was involved, and he was involved in several. He was, you might say, virtually the “Chairman of Lagos”. And he knew it.

He was a frequent guest at the Government House, the residence of the Governor of Nigeria, from the time of Sir Bernard Bourdillon to that of Sir Arthur Richards. The other members were from the same street and all appeared to be jealous of their closeness to the colonialist government and its officials. They also held prominent positions in the social life of the community, and waved a lot of influence.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party consisted of ardent nationalists. Among them were citizens who understood the implication of the colony status of the territory, and resented it. They were mostly indigenes of Lagos who smarted under the degradation of their lot as Lagosians, even if it was denied by the gloss of appearances and undeniable advantages.

Most of all, they deprecated the circumstances that deprived their king from taking his rightful place among his peers in the council of Yoruba paramount rulers. They were led by the man who is recognized by history today as the Father of Nigerian nationalism, Herbert Macaulay. His followers venerated him and ascribed various powers of the supernatural to him.

They composed songs to honour him, and gave him superlative cognomens, like “Ejo n ‘gboro”. That really means, “A serpent in the streets”, and connoted the personality of a very dangerous customer.

Ironically, Macaulay was of a high lineage. His grandfather was no less than the first black bishop, The Right Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther. His father was the First Principal and founder of the oldest secondary school in Nigeria, the Reverend Babington Macaulay.

He was the first qualified Nigerian civil engineer, and was also an accomplished musician, his first instrument being the violin. He would have found a very comfortable berth near the colonial powers-that-be, but he preferred to rescue his people from the bonds of servitude, and so he stayed among them.

The NYM usually bested the Demos when politics broke into the open in the thirties, because of their influence as holders of important positions in commerce and industry.

They had also managed to convict Macaulay on a trumped-up charge which precluded him from holding any important office, especially in politics. But a crack developed in the fortress of the Movement in the forties.

It came through the nomination for the primaries of elections to the legislative assembly – Legislative Council, to give it the proper title.

The man who seemed to be most qualified was one Samuel Akinsanya, a very colourful politician and socialite, fondly known as ‘General Saki”. He later became the Odemo of Ishara, a traditional ruler in Ijebuland. But he was denied the nomination. His only disqualification was that he was an Ijebu man, and the snobbish Lagos mentality of the hard-core hierarchy of the NYM could not accommodate the prospect of him representing them. General Saki went to war. Pandemonium!

Ironically, his most steadfast supporter was not a Yoruba, but an Ibo. His name was Nnamdi Azikiwe – I bet you were not expecting that. But yes, Zik was indeed a member of the NYM, and its General Secretary to boot.

And, if you were not a student of Lagos history, you would not have guessed who his Assistant Secretary was, but he was none other than Obafemi Awolowo. Zik resigned as the Secretary, but Awo did not although he was an Ijebu man himself. He had other matters on his mind at the time, mostly concerning his own studies.

He was not as engrossed with the development in politics as his future. But Zik quit and made a meal of it. He went on to found the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns to which the Democratic Party was affiliated. Henceforth, the political landscape of Lagos, nay of Nigeria, would never be the same.

The NYM faced an opposition that embarrassed them, being led by one of their own stock and
privy to the secrets of their maneuvers. He was also their intellectual match in every way and already had the reputation of a doughty fighter. But most of all, he found the colonial rule unbearable, and could now come into the open to condemn those he identified as its collaborators, especially in the NYM.

The field became open for a battle royal, not only for the soul of Lagos, but also for the future of the whole country.

And so Lagos began to witness a change in the tempo and temper of politicking in the city. But physical violence among was still an absent factor. The song was their main weapon.


The popular staple musical style in Lagos used to be the juju music. A great exponent of the style
was Akanbi Wright, an employee of the Electricity Company which became the ECN.

This was in the late fifties when we still had a constant supply of electricity supply in Lagos, and Akanbi “Ege” , as he was called, was indeed one of the leading lights in the musical life of Lagos.

It was at a time when the lines of stern opposition were firmly drawn between the two political parties, the NYM and the Demos. Lagos was elated by being conferred with the title and status of a city. The Lagos Town Council was thereafter to be headed by a Mayor, not just a chairman, and he was to have a deputy.

All the members of the Council were to be elected. This was bigger than even the election into the Legislative Council. It called for widespread hustings. The NYM contested the election under the banner of the Area Council, just as the NCNC came out with the Democratic Party, its affiliate, as its representative.

The NYM still had some sheen from its brilliant past, but it was clear the Demos had now taken over the support of the masses since their affiliation with the NCNC. When the election was over, the two most important posts, the Mayor and his Deputy, went to them by a landslide.

Akanbi “Ege” was in his element. He produced a song that celebrated the rout of the Area Council in a most disdainful manner. Its refrain poked fun at the name of the Area Council which, it claimed, belonged to the Agege (a sub-urban) area, while the Demos were the true owners of Lagos.

“Demo 1’o l’Eko o, Demo,
Area “Mosa” 1’o I’ona Agege o!”.

The streets were alive for months with the jeer in that song .. Akanbi Wright rose from a star to a hero. That refrain, repeated over and over again, day and night around the city, marked the decline and rapid collapse of the NYM. Akanbi Wright did not last much longer after that himself. He died after a short illness due to what his fans and sympathizers believed was poisoning. And the song died with him.

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