A certain politician who sees himself as personifying Lagos, was said to have made a comment years ago, when he was still directly running the state. After a hard day’s job attending to the affairs of Lagos, with its intrigues and power play, this man allegedly got up, stretched his arms and torso before announcing to those in his company that he was tired and wanted to go to bed. Nothing is wrong with that. However, his alleged choice of words did not escape the notice of those in the room and possibly the entire state in its import. ‘Ore Eko. Ekofelo’sun.’ (Lagos is tired. Lagos wants to sleep).
Two weeks ago almost to the day, the man who, on the other hand, is widely acknowledged and believed to truly personify Lagos also became tired and went to sleep. He didn’t wake up. He was 99 years and six months. He would have been a hundred years in September. He was the last of the Lagos titans. Alhaji, Senator, Dr Hassan Adisa Babatunde Fashiro popularly called HAB, was not only conversant with the history of Lagos as shown in the books he authored, he was widely acknowledged and respected as the historian of Lagos. And because he once held sway over the affairs of Lagos when it was not yet a state, and had remained an important component of the social, cultural and even political affairs of the state across generations, he can be said to personify Lagos.
HAB was one of the early indigenes of Lagos with a law degree. And like most educated men of his time, he got involved in politics. He cut his political tooth under Chief Obafemi Awolowo becoming the second Assistant General Secretary of Action Group in 1953. The people he rubbed shoulders with professionally and politically were the founding fathers of our country. He later became a Senator at the time when senators were well regarded. But despite his political success, what stood him out in his chequered life were his deep involvements in the religious and cultural affairs of his state and his administrative skills. In the area of religion, he was a deeply religious man. He wore Islam literally on his sleeves. He was a practitioner, a teacher, a chronicler and a reformer. He was once an executive member of the revered Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs representing Lagos. He was at a time, also appointed President of Nigeria Muslim Council among many notable appointments. In fact, his early pilgrimages to the Holy land were performed in one official capacity or the other including one that was at the invitation of the Royal Saudi Arabian Government itself. It is notable however, that in spite of his deep religious mien, he was, like most indigenous Lagosians, a very liberal and accommodating Muslim. Many of his children are married to people of other faith without any objection from him.
He was as deeply committed to the affairs of Lagos as he was to his faith. He showed a keen interest in policies and programmes that affected Lagos especially to people of Lagos extraction. He was a trustee of the Association of Indigenes of Lagos State for many years. He was also very close to royalty having been born into a White Cap Chieftaincy family. His longevity also made his association with royalty to span many Obas. He lived to witness the reigns of at least six Obas at very close quarters. This made him to be quite familiar with the circumstances and intrigues of the Lagos monarchy. It also made him to be an unofficial, but respected chronicler of monarchical successions.
Now to his administrative skills. He was not the only Town Clerk of the Lagos City Council. But he was the most visible and the most revered. Possibly because he had raised the bar during an almost ten year tenure which witnessed remarkable achievements. It was during his tenure that the famous Health Personnel Training Institute at Harvey Road, Yaba was established. This institute was to train nurses, sanitary inspectors and health workers for Nigeria and indeed, the West African sub-region. His tenure also witnessed the setting up of a Municipal Transport Service for Lagos.Another first credited to him was the setting up of public libraries in the municipality and an Amusement park at Apapa. But what people remember him for was the building of the three storied Lagos City Hall, an architectural delight of its time.
I first met HAB Fashinro roughly ten years ago at the celebration of his well-attended 90th birthday party. It is inexplicable that a man of his stature escaped me during my years of personality interviews at the Punch Newspapers. I tried to somewhat make up for the lapse by requesting to do an interview with him for ‘City Mail,’ a newspaper for the Lagos metropolis which I was publishing at the time. I found Pa HAB to be sprightly and articulate for his age. He was also very friendly and unassuming. He regaled me with unforgettable stories about the Lagos of his time. And about the rivalry between local football teams. He knew the story behind every building and every cultural event in Lagos. But what I won’t forget so easily were the songs—social, cultural and adversarial songs. He sang them so simply, but with relish. He also took time to explain the folk tales behind them. He was a great man deserving of all the honour he got during the one week of his passing when all the who’s who in Lagos dropped everything to pay him homage. Even the Obas who are traditionally bound not to visit the dead sent their staffs of office.
It would have been fitting to have hosted his 8th day reception at the Lagos City Hall which was built under his tenure and the rehabilitation of which he showed concerned interest in after it was razed by fire; especially in the Banquet Hall, which bears his name. But it would have been unrealistic and impractical given the sheer number of people that came to pay their last respects on the day. Even the Balmoral Hall, as big as it is, was choked at some point. Politicians—in coming and out going were represented; the different lineages of indigenous Lagosians were represented; the social elites were represented; the business community, including the richest man in Africa, was not left out. It is rare to see such a turn-out for a man who has not held any public office in decades. But it would not be surprising to those who knew him. HAB Fashinro lived a life of transparency, character and integrity. And of simplicity in spite of his vast connections.
It is only right that he would be so honoured.