Rather than being thanked by the Elders of Lagos Central Mosque for the modest role I played in handing over this property (14A Bashorun Street, South West Ikoyi, Lagos) to the mosque in accordance with the will of my late aunt, Alhaja Munirat Muhammed, I should be the one to thank our moslem brethren for giving me the opportunity to once again celebrate the life, steadfastness, humility, faithfulness and generosity of spirit of the Testator.
For several years, the matter dragged on through the courts until the Supreme Court delivered judgment in favour of the event we are witnessing today. Let us be clear that the handing over ceremony is only a symbolic testimonial to the deep love and mutual respect which Lagos Christians and Moslems have shared and cherished for several centuries. Just as Christians donated generously to the building of mosques, in similar fashion moslems contributed to the building of churches and cathedrals – (in cash and kind, mostly land).
This was the natural consequence of extensive friendship and inter-marriage whereby demography provides ample evidence that most families in Lagos are almost equally split between Christians and Moslems. My own family is no exception. Indeed, Alhaja Munirat was born a Christian and was baptised as Esther. When she of her own volition converted to Islam nobody in our family batted an eyelid. Neither was there any issue raised when she chose to marry a moslem, Alhaji Bakre who promptly wisked her off to Sapele where they resided for several years in peace and harmony. This was well before oil was discovered in that part of our country. Certainly, Niger-Delta militants did not exist then.
Nation at peace
The whole nation was at peace. It did not matter whether you were Christian or moslem, you could choose to live anywhere in Nigeria – and even in the Cameroon, which was then part of Nigeria. Perhaps, I should add that the first school I attended was a Koranic school at Agoro Lane, off Ricca Street, Lagos. It was located within Oseni Compound and my teacher (Alfa) died only a few years ago at well over the age of ninety. Late Justice Muri Okunola was also at the school. Thereafter, we both proceeded to Lagos Government School which had Christians and moslems in equal number as students and teachers.
The headmaster, Mr. Usman was a moslem, and he happily conducted both Christian and moslem prayers at the morning assembly. My father, Chief J.K. Randle was very fond of Aunty Esther (Sisi Sapele) and she in turn adopted him as her favourite uncle, mentor and role model. When my father died on 17th December 1956 at the age of only 47 years, our entire family was devastated. Aunty Esther (Alhaja Munirat) was a pillar of strength and consolation. As I was only twelve years old at the time, it was a time of utter bewilderment and profound shock.
She travelled all the way from Sapele and endeavoured to persuade me that in all matters, we should accept the supreme verdict of the Almighty with faith, steadfastness and equanimity. Besides that, she committed herself to following the footsteps of my father in philanthropy; and commitment to fostering harmonious relationship between christians and moslems. She kept her word. When she realised that death was imminent, she confided her intention to donate her house to the Lagos Central Mosque in me but wanted me to have the first option.
I politely declined the gift and urged her to follow her instinct – the house would be handed over to the mosque. She took a keen interest in the actualisation of the bequests which my father made to moslem schools especially Ahmadiyya College, Agege and Ansar-Ud-Deen College Isolo for education and sports facilities. Sadly, as we speak, we are totally in the dark regarding what has become of those gifts running to almost N100,000,000 (one hundred million naira) which were to be disbursed by the Public Trustee / Ministry of Justice of Lagos to the beneficiaries. In order to avoid a repetition of bequests disappearing, I am here to personally deliver this house as a gift from Alhaji Munirat to Lagos Central Mosque!! As for those who have expressed their anguish and concern over the demolition of J.K. Randle monuments and property by the government, I remain eternally grateful. I assure you that my family remains steadfast and passionate about Lagos.
The ideals of our ancestors will not be sacrificed at the altar of waywardness, mendacity, malice or timidity. We are entitled to ask why government should disposes any family of legacy property and sacred heritage. For the avoidance of doubt, anybody who is a true Lagosian cannot ever be arrogant. Neither would he or she ever soil the family name and reputation. Lagosians have every right to be proud of their pedigree which strictly forbids them to beg or be lazy. Regardless of the circumstances they find ourselves, Lagosians are ever ready to submit to the will of the Almighty – to love our neighbours unreservedly, whether or not they are christians or moslems. As evidence, I have brought with me a long list of Lagosian Christians who are married to Moslems and vice versa. I also have a supplementary list of those whose parenthood is shared between father (christian) and mother (moslem) – and vice versa. On my special list are those who were born christian but converted to Islam (and became fervent moslems). Similarly, it turns out that some of our well known Christian pastors (even Archbishops) were previously moslems.
Truly, no genuine Lagosian needs to be preached to about the sanctity of tolerance, integrity, honesty and trustworthiness which are already embedded in our DNA. Sadly, our children and grandchildren are now asking awkward questions – particularly, if indeed our ancestors accomplished so much and bequeathed so much to Lagos (our State) and Nigeria, (our beloved nation), how come their contributions are neither acknowledged nor celebrated? It is instructive that when our State celebrated 50 years, J.K. Randle was not the only name that was conspicuously missing!!
My grandfather (Dr. J.K. Randle; my father (Chief J.K. Randle) and my Aunty Esther were very much concerned about the plight of the “mekunu” (the poor and underprivileged) and that was the anchor sheet of their philanthropy and generous bequests to Lagos and the nation. Now, our nation is confronted with the ugly spectacle of rampaging bandits and terrorists who drunkenly boast that rape, kidnapping and armed robbery are the poor man’s nuclear weapon against oppression and injustice. That is a monumental tragedy for our State and our Nation. It is profoundly disturbing.
We must give glory to the Almighty that this handing over ceremony is holding on the conclusion of the Holy Month of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid-el-Fitr festival. It behoves us to cherish and celebrate the ruggedness and resilience of the bond between christians and moslems in this part of our nation. Most of you are aware of the twin brothers who went to different schools – one was at Methodist Boys High School, Lagos (and was a Christian) while the other twin attended Ahmadiyya College, Agege (and was a devout moslem).
The late Alhaji L.B. Agusto was Chief Imam of Lagos but that did not preclude him from being the lawyer to the Catholic Diocese of Lagos under late Archbishop Leo Taylor. It was Alhaji Jubril Martins, another moslem who had attended St. Gregory’s College who succeeded Alhaji Agusto as the lawyer to the Catholic church.
When Alhaji Jubril Martins died in Mecca in 1958 he was deeply mourned by both Christians and moslems. It was to no avail that the Christians pleaded that his corpse should be brought back to Lagos for burial. The Saudi authorities would not yield. The Lagos moslems readily came to terms that it was the will of Allah. Back in 1954 when the “Mariam Congress” was hosted in Lagos by the Catholics to celebrate 100 years of the miracle of Lady Fatima, Cardinal John McIntyre, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, U.S.A. who presided at the ceremony was amazed when moslem children insisted on full participation along with their Christian brethren. Adults and children were decked out in Ankara uniform regardless of whether they were Christians or moslems.
For those who insist on concrete evidence, I suggest you visit 123 Bamgbose Street; 125 Bamgbose Street; and 127 Bamgbose Street, all in Lagos. They belong to Akerele; McGregor and Da Silva families respectively. All of them are staunch catholics. Directly across the street is the Salvador Mosque.
There is no record of friction between the catholic and the moslem community. On the contrary, there is hardly any of the children of those catholic families that was not given a moslem “Suna” in joyful celebration by the adherents of Islam from across the street. Occasionally, it was the Chief Imam who intervened in order to ensure amicable settlement of disputes within each of the Christian family or one Christian family against another. It was and remains a relationship cemented by love, trust and mutual respect. We have a duty to persuade the government (Local; State; and Federal) to acknowledge and even publicise the harmonious relationship between different faiths and ethnic groups in Lagos. The same goes for the Lagos/Yoruba community which has been living peacefully in Kano for over two hundred and fifty years. Additionally, we have at Ita Agarawu (close to Isale Eko) Hausa/Fulani families who insist that on account of having lived in Lagos for over a hundred years, they are truly Lagosians. These should provide salutary lessons for our nation. As we celebrate the Eid-el-Fitr Festival, it would be out of place for me to remind you of the song: “Agbiabiaka or ri eran pa, o fi omo eniyan pa Ileya.” Of course, you all know that late Chief Agbabiaka who was a staunch moslem and the most senior Nigerian in the Nigeria Police Force was my father’s bosom friend. They were classmates at King’s College, Lagos. What is remarkable is that late Akin Davies (son of late Chief H.O. Davies S.A.N.; Q.C.) along with late Dr. Popo Akinyanju and Chief Boyede Otudeko who is still alive – all of them Christians, lived under the roof of Chief Agbabiaka as students while attending Methodist Boys’ High School which was then only a short distance away on Broad Street, Lagos. Nobody interfered with their faith or sought to convert them to Islam.
When my father, a Christian was The Lisa (Prime Minister) of Lagos the King of Lagos, His Royal Highness Oba Musendiku Buraimoh Adeniji Adele who was a devout moslem had no qualms about entrusting the delicate duty of persuading market women not to increase the prices of their goods during Ramadan/Eid-el-Fitr to my dad. Nobody protested about involving a Christian in what was a moslem matter. Only a few days ago, the issue of “June 12 1993” when late Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s election as president was annulled, resurfaced. President Muhammadu Buhari has now declared “June 12” as Democracy Day. It should not be lost on us that Chief Abiola’s running mate was also a moslem, Alhaji (Ambassador) Babagana Kingibe.
Hence, it was a moslem/moslem ticket. There was no protest by Christians who regardless voted in large numbers regardless of religion. I am not privy to the number of Christians who join their Moslem brothers in observing the Ramadan fast. In Lagos, it is a sufficient number and I am one of them. Finally, let us acknowledge that the old Lagos Central Mosque itself was actually designed by and constructed under the supervision of Engineer George Debayo Agbebi, a Christian. Unfortunately, he died when he fell from the roof of the mosque while he was on inspection on a Sunday afternoon, shortly after he had attended church service. Even, the new Central Mosque was built by an Italian (catholic) company, G. Cappa & Co. whose Chairman was none other than late Alhaji (Dr.) Iyanda Folawiyo, the Baba Adinni of Nigeria. May his soul rest in peace. This is a glorious day for our State and our Nation. May the love between our Christian /Moslem brothers and sisters endure to the Glory of The Almighty. Also, may the soul of Alhaja Munirat Muhammed rest in perfect peace.
Address delivered at the official commissioning of the bequest of Alhaja Munirat Muhammed to the Lagos Central Mosque.
Bashorun J.K. Randle is a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the Chairman, J.K. Randle Professional Services. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.