By Femi Fani-Kayode
One of the most important foundations of any civilisation is history. If we do not know our own history, who we are, who and what our forefathers were and where we came from, then we are truly lost. In the film production of J. R. Tolkien’s famous book entitled, ‘’Lord Of The Rings’’, one of the most compelling yet tragic lines reads as follows: ‘’Thousands of years passed by….history became legend and legend became myth’’. Few words are as profound as this and the import of those words resonate nothing but the deepest wisdom.
The lesson that we can draw from this insightful truism is simple. If you do not learn and continue to remind yourself of your history as a person, as a family, as a people, as a nationality, as a tribe, and as a nation, the likelihood is that what is historical fact gradually pales into an intangible and unlikely legend and then it eventually turns into nothing but an ephemeral myth.
And once such sacred historical facts become nothing but myth, it destroys the soul and the foundation of your very existence as an individual, as a family, as a people and as a nation. When you do not know, care to know or care to learn and remember what your roots are, no matter how humble or seemingly inconsequential those roots may be, you become a nothing.
It is to avoid the possibility of history turning into legend and legend turning into myth that I have chosen to put on record the facts about one of the most distinguished and well-educated Nigerians that ever lived, Victor Adedapo Kayode.
Rev. Emmanuel Adelabi Kayode was an Anglican priest who studied theology at Fourah Bay College, in Sierra Leone and graduated with an M.A. (Durham) in 1892. He was of the Yoruba tribe and came from the ancient town of Ile-Ife in the old Osun Province of south-western Nigeria.
He was educated by the Anglican Church from a very young age and, after graduating from university and finishing at the seminary, he rose through the ranks of the church and served as a priest throughout his life until he died in 1932 at the age of 58. He built, planted, established and pastored some of the earliest Anglican churches in Ile-Ife and in Osun Province, Ondo Province and Ijebu Province as they then were.
Rev. Emmanuel Adelabi Kayode married Miss Sophia Cole who was from Abeokuta and who was the sister of the famous Rev. M.S. Cole. They had 13 children out of which only nine survived. The first of those children was Victor Adedapo Kayode who is the subject of this essay and who was born in 1899.Mrs. Sophia Kayode (nee Cole)
came from a very distinguished and illustrious lineage.
Her mother was from the famous Savage family of Lagos and her first cousins were Barrister William Akinlade Savage (who was called to the English Bar in 1906), and Dr. Richard Akinwade who, with Sir Kitoye Ajasa, Dr. J.K. Randle and Dr. Orisadipe Obasa, established the conservative People’s Union in 1909.
This was Nigeria’s first political party and they were opposed to Sir Herbert Macaulay’s more radical approach to political issues in the Lagos colony. Macaulay later established the NNDP and cultivated the support of the largely illiterate Lagos masses whilst the elites gravitated towards the Peoples Union.
The NNDP was to later metamorphosise into the NCNC which turned out to be one of the greatest and most powerful forces in the politics of south-western and southern Nigeria in the 40s, 50s and 60s. In 1945, whilst on his death-bed, Herbert Macaulay handed over the leadership of the NCNC to a rising young Igbo star that had been resident in Lagos for many years and that was educated at Methodist Boys High School (MBHS), Lagos before going to attend Howard University and the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. That star’s name was Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe who was to later become the Premier of Eastern Region and ceremonial President of Nigeria.
The first son of Rev. Emmanuel Adelabi Kayode and Mrs. Sophia Kayode, Victor Adedapo Kayode, was educated at the famous Kings College, Lagos which was established in 1909. After finishing at Kings College, he became a teacher and taught at Methodist Boys Grammar School (MBHS) where his students included Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe.
The bond between the teacher and the pupil endured and when Zik finally returned home from America after graduating from university in 1933, Victor Kayode was invited to be the special guest of honour at a ‘’welcome home’’ dinner that was hosted by the Igbo community in Lagos for him.
In 1917, Victor Adedapo Kayode left Nigeria and went to the United Kingdom where he matriculated at Selwyn College, Cambridge University. In 1920, he graduated and was awarded an M.A. Degree in law. He did his master’s at Cambridge as well and was awarded his LLM master’s degree in 1921. Victor Kayode enrolled at the Middle Temple and was called to the English Bar in 1922.
He came tops in his exams at Cambridge University (both the first and second year tripos) and at the Middle Temple.
This remarkable feat was repeated by his son Victor Babaremilekun Fani-Kayode over 25 years later when he followed in his illustrious father’s footsteps by doing very well at Cambridge University (Downing College), by graduating from there with honours in 1945, by completing his master’s in 1946, by enrolling at the Middle Temple Inns of Courts and coming tops during the English Bar exams for the whole of the British Commonwealth before he was called to the English Bar in 1947.
Remi Fani-Kayode (as he was commonly referred to) went on to become one of the most brilliant lawyers of his generation. In 1948, he, Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams (who graduated from Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1942 and who was called to the English Bar in 1943) and Bode Thomas, established the first fully indigenous Nigerian law firm which was known as ‘’Thomas, Williams and Kayode’’.
Victor Adedapo Kayode got married to Miss Aurora Fanimokun in Chelsea, London in 1920. Aurora Fanimokun was the first daughter of the respected Rev. Suberu Fanimokun of the Lagos colony (as it then was) and he was the Principal of the famous CMS Grammer School, Lagos. Like his colleague in holy orders and future in-law, Rev. E.A. Kayode, Rev. Suberu Fanimokun also graduated in 1892 with an M.A. (Durham) from Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone. After graduating, Rev. Fanimokun married Miss Bucknor of the distinguished Bucknor family of Lagos.
Her brother was the famous lawyer, A.J.E. Bucknor, who was called to the English Bar in 1895 and who was also a friend of Sir Kitoye Ajasa. Apart from Aurora, Rev. Fanimokun and Mrs. Fanimokun (nee Bucknor) also had a son that graduated from Glasgow University as a medical practitioner in the early 1920s. All these families constituted the cream of Lagos high society in their day. It was by dint of fate and providence that the son and daughter of Rev. E.A. Kayode and Rev. S. Fanimokun, both of whom were contemporaries and illustrious Anglican priests, ended up getting married in 1920
The first child of that marriage was Babaremilekun Fani-Kayode who I referred to earlier in this essay and who was born in Chelsea, London in 1921. At that time, London was the most affluent city in the western world yet 30 per cent of Londoners were living below the poverty line.
This shows that even the most developed cities and nations in the world once went through very hard times as well. After being called to the British Bar in 1922, Victor Adedapo Kayode went back to Lagos, Nigeria where he set up one of the most successful legal practices of his day.
He specialised in criminal law. He occassionally intervened in the politics of the day in Lagos colony but his forte was law and, because he was acknowledged as one of the best lawyers of his day, he was appointed as a magistrate in 1940. In those days, there were no Nigerian magistrates and judges. They were all British.
Olumuyiwa Jibowu was the first Nigerian to become a magistrate in 1931 and then Adebiyi Desalu followed him in 1938. Adetokunboh Ademola was the third in 1939 and then came Victor Adedapo Kayode, F.E.O. Euba and George Frederick Dove-Edwin in 1940. F.O. Lucas was appointed in 1941.
These were the first Nigerians to become magistrates and virtually all of them went on to the higher bench and did exceedingly well. Unfortunately in 1941, just one year after being appointed as a magistrate,Victor Adedapo Kayode died at the relatively young age of 42 whilst he waspresiding over an important land case.
A few of years after his death, Madam Aurora Kayode remarried.Hersecond husband was Ernest Ikoli, a well-known and very prominent Ijaw man that had been resident in Lagos virtually all his life. Ikoli was a journalist by profession and he was the editor of two very powerful newspapers.
He was very active in the politics of Lagos, he was one of the founders of the Nigerian Youth Movement (which later metamorphosied into the Action Group) and he was the man that was credited as being Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo’s mentor and benefactor and that actually funded his education in the United Kingdom when he went there to study law.
Obafemi Awolowo was a journalist by profession, but after travelling to the UK to study law in London, he became a lawyer and was called to the English Bar in 1946. He went on to become one the greatest and most prominent politicians that Nigeria ever produced.
He was elected the Premier of the old Western Region from 1959 to 1963 and, on May 1st 1967, he was elected ‘’Leader of the Yoruba’’ at a joint meeting of the two major factions and political parties in Yorubaland (Action Group and NNDP).
Virtually every key Yoruba leader and elder of note attended and participated in that meeting and it was presided over by General Adeyinka Adebayo who, at the time, was military Governor of the old Western Region. It is an irony of fate and history that Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw man that was resident in the Lagos colony (as it then was) for most of his adult life, was the mentor and benefactor of the future Leader of the Yoruba and a future Premier of the old Western Region. It is also interesting that he was also the step-father of a future Deputy Premier of the old Western Region as well in the person of Babaremilekun Fani-Kayode.
Ikoli was part and parcel of Lagos high society and he was best of friends with Sir Adeyemo Alakija and many other prominent and powerful Lagos elites in his day. Madam Aurora had no children for him but she had four sons and three daughters for her first husband, Victor Adedapo Kayode.
The first of those children was Victor Babaremilekun Adetokunboh Fani-Kayode, the man who successfully moved Nigeria’s motion for independence in the Federal Parliament in 1958, the former Minister of Chieftaincy and Local Government Affairs and Deputy Premier of Nigeria’s old Western Region from 1963 to 1966. Victor Adedapo Kayode and Madam Aurora Kayode were also the grandparents of David Oluwafemi Adewunmi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria’s former Minister of Aviation and former Minister of Culture and Tourism.
It was as a symbol of the deep affection that Chief Babaremilekun Fani-Kayode had for his mother, Madam Aurora, that he added the prefix of her maiden name (which was ‘’Fani’’) to our surname (which was ‘’Kayode’’) and hence the name ‘’Fani-Kayode’’ was created. It is my intention to ensure that this legend does not become myth and that that name continues to go from strength to strength. God bless Nigeria.