By Emeka Obasi
Lagos State House of Assembly took a bold step recently with Noheem Adams moving a motion for the reconsideration of some place names and monuments. This is coming at a time of global condemnation of inhumanity to the black race. The death of George Floyd in the United States will definitely change racial perceptions and kick imperialism into infamy.
Europe has seen the pulling down of part of its ugly past as represented by slave merchants and brutal kings. The statue of King Leopold of Belgium, a man notorious for the greatest African genocide, was brought down in Belgium. African lives lost in the Congo did not matter to the imperialists as they even named Leopodville after him.
We had a bunch of rabid Brits who visited iniquity on what later became Nigeria. The officer who amalgamated the Northern and Southern parts of the country was an army deserter and a man who could not pass exams to Colonial service. In Europe he was a crash programme cadet and in Asia he either stayed in the sick bay while warriors fought in Afghanistan or did not see battle at all.
In Nigeria we had a couple of wonderful men and women who came with British imperialism. Some were administrators, missionaries were involved and humanitarians also came. Such names as Gilbert Thomas Carter, Bishop John Wills Weeks, Father Denis Joseph Slattery, Mary Mitchel Slessor, Dr. Andrew Buchanan MacDonald and his wife threw themselves into their job like they were home in the tropics.
Carter was governor of Lagos Colony from February 3, 1891 to 1897. Carter Bridge, opened in 1901, was named after him. There was something about the man and today’s South-West Nigeria. He invaded Ijebu and his reason was to deal with slave merchants. In 1896, Oni Adelekan of Ife presented him with Ife works of arts.
Carter lost his first wife, Susan Laura Hocker in Lagos on January 13, 1985. When he left for Barbados, love-struck again and the man met an American lady, Gertrude Codman Parker. They got married. She was an architect and designed a new Presidential Palace which was promptly named Ilaro Court. Carter served in Ilaro before going to Lagos and must have had a very pleasant time.
Governor Carter died at Ilaro Court, Barbados on January 18, 1927. That name has remained till date and served as the official home of the Prime Minister of Barbados. That Yoruba connection which Carter so much cherished is still visible in that country. When Obadele Thompson won a bronze medal in the sprints at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, many mistook him for a Nigerian. He is not. His father, a professor, gave the athlete the Yoruba name.
With the attachment displayed by Carter, I so move that Carter Bridge should not be part of the monuments that will be renamed. The Oronna of Ilaro cannot wait to have a Yewa man elected to govern Ogun State. While the wait continues, Ilaro has gone beyond the African continent. The history of Barbados will not be complete without devoting a portion to that Yoruba group.
Another name that deserves recognition in Lagos is Father Denis Joseph Slattery, the founding principal of St. Finbarr’s College, Lagos. I met this man at Akoka in 1989 and what struck me was that he loathed imperialism even more than Africans. I heard him say clearly that if he died, he would like to be buried in Nigeria. That showed how much he loved the country. I would not know why he was buried in the United States where he died.
Father Slattery played soccer in Lagos, was chairman of the Nigeria Football Association, a referee, and journalist. He spoke Yoruba and it was from him that I heard of Ilawe-Ekiti for the first time. The Irish Father served there when he arrived the country by sea in 1941 from Fermoy. The trip took so long because it was at the height of the Second World War. His ship was even bombed by German fighter jets.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu should also not rename anything concerning the Queen. Lagosian, James Pinson Labulo Davies, was married to Queen Victoria’s adopted daughter, Sarah Forbes Bonetta. The girl was originally Aina, an Egbado princess who was captured by King Ghezo of Dahomey after killing her parents. She was taken to England by a British naval officer and given to queen as present from Ghezo.. Queen Elizabeth also adopted two kid lepers in the 1950s.
Beyond Lagos, one must acknowledge the sacrifice of Slessor. She left Scotland and made herself comfortable in the Calabar area. The Scot spoke Efik, ate local delicacies and saved many children from death. Twins were abandoned in calabashes to die off. Slessor was crowned Obongawan Okoyong [Queen of Okoyong], held court as a colonial officer and died in Calabar, a year after the Amalgamation.
There is so much to be said about Dr and Mrs MacDonald who established a Leprosy Colony in Itu, near Calabar in 1926. It was from that settlement ,supported by the Church of Scotland that more colonies sprang up in Garkida, Uzuakoli and Oji River. The couple restored lives and even when they had a certain Douglas Coffin as one of their workers in 1939, less coffins were needed.
The names that must be dropped are Nigeria which was supposedly coined by Lord Frederick Lugard’s ultra imperialist mistress, Flora Shaw. Ghana threw away Gold Coast, Burma gave way to Myanmar. Zambia and Zimbabwe removed Rhodesia because Cecil Rhodes was a well known cult member and plunderer who also befriended Flora Shaw.
Lagos Assembly Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, should please tell his Rivers State counterpart that Port Harcourt is cursed. The town was known as Igweocha before Lugard renamed it after Lewis Vernon Harcourt, Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1913. Harcourt was bad luck from birth, as his mother died 24 hours after bringing him into the world. He grew to become a rapist, abusing boys and girls and died after gulping some bromidia, a sleeping tablet. His second daughter, Barbara, shot herself.
Sanwo-Olu should inform Imo governor, Hope Uzodinma, that Douglas House, was named after Harold Morday Douglas, the man who took part in the Aro Expedition of 1902. Called ‘Denglas’ by my people, he led troops to my town where he placed a steel helmet on the head of the god, Duruji, heaped all guns seized from the people and set everything ablaze.
Some of these names should be thrown off our streets. How does one honour a man like Kenneth Cochrane who told my grandfather and other Kings in 1929 that adultery was neither a civil nor criminal offence. That in England men could choose to sleep with married women in the bush. This same District Officer[D.O.] once kept Chiefs Obieke, Obiukwu and Madunagu, in the sun for five hours. After that the heavens opened up and drenched them.