Truly, the real and proper Lagos is irretrievably of the past. Eko in her original and delectable complexity, yet innocent simplicity is gone and lost and can no longer be regained. For Lagos was complex in its multiciplity of peoples, ingenious access by various individuals to its economic possibilities, unique cultural potentialities but its social expressions made these various communities that defined Eko to find it easy to live, to enjoy life and to attain fulfilment of living virtually like nowhere else on this planet. We can only recollect and reminisce. Whenever we try to recall the Lagos we have lost, we are talking of Lagos Island, Eko. Anything beyond is either Oke Odo i.e. Iddo, Otto, Ijora, Oyingbo, Ebute Meta, Yaba, Idi-Oro (all these beyond Idunmota, after the Carter Bridge), Agege and all the way to Ilu Oke. As children in the forties, we crossed the Carter Bridge only once in a year, on Easter Monday to celebrate with cousins who lived at Oyingbo and whom we would not set our eyes upon until the next Easter Monday. Beyond the Five Cowries Bridge is Ikoyi where the colonialists lived and Obalende contiguous to the part of Ikoyi where we buried our dead; and of course, there is also Apapa, a place we did not know if any people lived there.
Eko was socially unique and totally self-sufficient. Those places beyond the lagoons (ikoja osa) were the suburbs that Lagos could very well and indeed did without. They were truly subordinate to Lagos for their very existence whilst we lived in Lagos as if they never existed. We lost Lagos with the advent of the independence of Nigeria from British rule. Funny enough, we were the only colony whilst the rest of the country was a protectorate of the British Crown. The peoples of the protectorate who by sheer numbers and nothing else dominated the political terrain of Nigeria pursued a pre-independence political programme of conspiracy of denial on us and claimed effectively to their possession and political control Lagos and permanently deprived the people of the glorious Island of any political and economic self-identity. Thus was lost gradually the social character and self-identity that was peculiar to the Island.
Lagos Island was a truly metropolitan habitat for many and different peoples from the various continents of the world. The Lagosians were a cosmopolitan people, yet many Lagosians had never stepped beyond the island. It was a curious, unique and exciting mixture of opposites. Everybody, as it were, was there. And they all were comfortable to various degrees. No matter your economic plight in the course of living, you never came to Lagos and ever dream of returning home. Indeed, we have a saying, "Eko gb'ole, o gb'ole." It is very convenient to classify Lagosians into two groups:
- The Lagosians who do not have any other home or place to call their homes on this planet
- Contemporary migrants who earn their livelihood in Lagos but still go home to their places of origin annually at festival periods to their kith and kin.
The Lagosians in the first group are in four subgroups:
- The Aworis who live in Isale Eko; they are the majority population of Lagos.
- The Brazilian descendants who live in the Brazilian quarters
- The Saro descendants whose ancestors came from Freetown in Sierra Leone and live at Olowogbowo, Apongbon and Breadfruit area of the Island
- The children born in Lagos of migrants whether from the Nigerian hinterland (Ilu Oke) or the West African coastline countries of Dahomey, Gold Coast, Togoland, Liberia and Ivory Coast (Aganyins, Ajases and Kurumos). Their parents still went home periodically but these Lagos children did not have the opportunity to acquire any familiarity with the place of origin of their parents. Their first language is Yoruba Eko although they were also articulate in the mother tongue of their parents.
In the second group are peoples from various parts of the world, awon iru wa, ogiri wa. They live and work in Lagos, contribute immensely to the social life of the island, but they still go home at festival periods. They invariably return finally to their original homes at retirement.
A good percentage of this group is the parents of the children described above. They are:
┬Ě The Ara Oke people from the Nigerian hinterland, particularly Ilorin, Oyo, Ilesa and Ogbomoso. They live in areas of the island, Okepopo, Oko Awo and Oke Arin where they sell their merchandise, usually items of food, yam, plantain and vegetables from their home territories. Later, many of them switched to retail imported small building materials, which they buy from the European companies. There are also migrants from the lands of the Igbo people, Urhobo, Ijaw, and Nupe. They are mainly traders in food and other items of daily use that are invariably brought from their places of origin although the Igbos deal in imported European products.
┬Ě The Aganyins, Ajases and Kurumos had travelled into Lagos along the great and ancient road skirting the West African coastline and migrated from Ivory Coast, Liberia, Togoland, Gold Coast and Dahomey. The Aganyins and Ajases live mainly at Araromi and Lafiaji areas with a few of them spilling across the lagoon to the adjacent fringe of Obalende. They are traders and artisans including washer men and home helps. They are easily identified with their shiny black and beautiful skin as well as the decorative hair plaiting styles of their beautiful women.
┬Ě The Koras are the Syrians and Lebanese who with some sprinkling of Indians dominate the textile trade business. They live along Ereko and Victoria Streets stretching from Tinubu Square through Ereko to Idunmota. Their shops are situated on the street level floor of their residences. Although, they live a segregated life from the Eko people, their children invariably grow up speaking the Yoruba Eko.
┬Ě There were the British colonialists who only worked in the colonial civil service with offices at Onikan, Broad Street and Race Course. Some of their kith were the managers of British shops and businesses that dotted the Marina and Broad Street. They merely worked in Lagos, but they lived at Ikoyi.
┬Ě There were some young professionals of West Indian origin, engineers, technicians and nurses who worked in the colonial service, particularly in the electricity, public works and health departments. They occupied the middle grade posts of those departments. They lived in government quarters built in the premises of the various operational units of the departments.
Although, these many peoples live in well-designated parts of the island the compactness and smallness of the geography of Lagos and the speed of local dissemination of popular information and news ensured regular social interactions. The only fully and socially segregated peoples were the British colonialists, their private sector countrymen who all lived at Ikoyi, and to a lesser extent, the Koras, Syrians, Lebanese and Indians who live at Ereko and Idunmota. Otherwise, the Lagos people enjoyed frequent opportunities and occasions to mix socially.
Taking A Walk Through Lagos.
The streets were few and we were able to walk from one end of the island to the other. We should very conveniently commence our walk through Lagos from Ita Tinubu, otherwise called Tinubu Square. The dominant feature in this historic centre of Lagos is the Supreme Court that was demolished in 1959 to give way for the Central Bank of Nigeria in anticipation of the birth of the new and independent country of Nigeria. I was very much pleased to view a well-framed photograph of the Supreme Court displayed in the lobby of the Nigerian High Commission at Northumberland Avenue, Westminster, London when I visited on Thursday 18 May 2006. As coincidence would have it, five days later on Tuesday 23 May 2006, I was approached by the author of this book Wale Akin and requested to write this document on "The Lagos We Lost."
There was no fountain at Tinubu Square. The fountain is a present from the Kora community, the Syrians and Lebanese shopkeepers of Ereko and Victoria Streets to Nigeria at Independence in 1960. Before independence, Ita Tinubu was a small circular space that served as an intersection of four Lagos major roads: Bamgbose Street that runs in a north easterly direction from beside the Ola-Iya family house which is today preserved as a National monument to the Brazilian Quarters, Broad Street that passed from the Secretariat, a one storey colonial icon, headquarters of the Colonial Service of Nigeria that was the tallest building in Lagos and ipso facto Nigeria and the African Hospital and making a right angled loop to run westward from Tinubu Square towards Breadfruit, Olowogbowo and Apongbon, Victoria Street running from the square northwards to Ereko, Idunmota and Carter Bridge, and Alli Street that angles very acutely from Bamgbose Street to Ita Faji where we have an old market, Oja Ita Faji and the Massey Hospital, the first maternity in Nigeria. Important architectural landmarks on the outer margin of Ita Tinubu are the Supreme Court, Kirsten Hall that was the residence of Herbert Heelas Macaulay, a great icon of the struggle for Nigerian independence and the Central Police Station. These three and other less significant buildings were demolished to provide space for the Central Bank.
The Marina runs in a generally parallel alignment to Broad Street until we reach Olowogbowo where Broad Street impinges perpendicularly to end on the Marina. The Marina's main attraction to Eko people were the ships that come in from the sea to discharge and load at the Marina Quays situated at the Apongbon end of the Marina where there was also the Customs Department. There were no Apapa Quays then. The walkway of the Marina also provided the strolling venue in the breezy evenings for lovers. During the day, it was the home of the departmental stores. I recall the biggest of them all, Kingsway Stores that stretched all along Martins Street from the Marina to Broad Street. Kingsway boasted the first ever-mechanical escalator in Nigeria. It was a most fascinating attraction for children who accompanied the older ones to the shops on Saturdays. Later, UTC Stores at Apongbon and Leventis Stores on the Marina also installed their own escalators. This technology has disappeared from the Nigerian scene with the advent of Nigerianisation of commercial businesses in independent Nigeria. Other European owned commercial businesses in this commercial sector of Lagos included Gottshalck, Paterson Zochonis, G B Ollivant, specialised outfits such as Kingsway Chemists and of course the always mighty UAC, a creation of the Lever Brothers. Chellarams and J T Chanrai later joined these European outfits at the Marina. These are owned by Indian merchants and had their beginnings at Ereko Street and Victoria Street. At the point where the Marina changed name, Broad Street ended on it in a perpendicular fashion. And there, civilisation virtually stopped.
Contiguous northwards to this area of the major arteries of Lagos are Apongbon, Olowogbowo and Breadfruit, which serve as the residential area of the Saro descendants. They are mainly Christians of the Church of England denomination. Some of them are Methodists, some Baptists and a sprinkling are members of the Unitarian denomination. Many of them worked as clerks in the colonial service, shopkeepers and assistants in the departmental stores whilst the women were teachers. The Saro women were very strict disciplinarians. The fear of Mama Saro in her long gown was the beginning of wisdom for children who had them as neighbours.
We continue our walk along the Marina, which technically and nominally ends where Broad Street abuts perpendicularly on it. Still walking along the continuation of the street by the lagoon, we get into Ebute Ero, the market area for foodstuffs brought in from the hinterland, to Ebute Elefun the site of the traditional jetty for canoes that ply between Lagos and Ajase (Porto Novo), Agbadagiri (Badagry) and Ikorodu to arrive at Isale Eko, the home of the Aworis who are mainly fishermen. They go fishing on various sections of the lagoon. Lagosians prefer the lagoon fish (eja osa) for their soup to the fish from the sea (eja okun). Some of the Isale Eko people are of the Muslim faith but the majority belong to the faiths of indigenous religion such as Ifa, Awo Opa, and Egungun. Isale Eko is the most indigenous and least developed part of Lagos. It is the seat of the Eleko of Eko, his chiefs, and advisers constituting the sole traditional authority on Lagos Island. The British accessed Lagos from Kosoko 1861 in the course of a family struggle to the throne to create the Colony of Lagos as the only true colony in the area that became the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Isale Eko, an area of narrow winding streets, in some places with open drains (gutters) running through living areas, very indigenous in essence and character gradually fades demographically, socially and culturally through Okepopo and Oshodi into the Brazilian Quarters. The Brazilian descendants occupy a well laid out territory with the main streets being Tokunbo, Bamgbose, Igbosere, Campbell, Odunlami, Kakawa and Catholic Mission Streets. Regular cross streets to provide a well-laid territory interlock these long streets. Mainly of the Roman Catholic faith, there is also a substantial Muslim population, all of them being descendants of migrants from Salvador and other parts of the State of Bahia in Brazil. The original returnees were expert artisans: builders, masons, carpenters, iron welders, painters who built the very unique architectural masterpieces that remain a part of the pride of Lagos today. Such buildings include the Holy Cross Cathedral, Mosalasi Shitta Bey, Water House the first place in Lagos to have potable water delivered mechanically by a pumping machine, and that is the home of Candido da Rocha a fabulously rich Brazilian immigrant. Many people in the community used to go to the Water House to buy water. I recall that we the children because of the whip he would carry and apply to us whenever we passed in front of the door of Water House feared Baba da Rocha. One of his daughters became my grand aunt by marriage. The Roman Catholic faith, which was built on the foundation of the immigrant Brazilians provides a common base for the Brazilian descendants on one side and the Aganyins, Ajases and Kurumos on the other who are the immediate neighbours of the Agudas as the Brazilians are referred to in Lagos parlance at Lafiaji where many Brazilian families also have their home.
........To be continued
Excerpts from my yet to be published book titled "THE LAGOS WE LOST"ÔÇŽÔÇŽÔÇŽ..This Introduction is put together by "Uncle" Dr Abayomi Jorge Ferreira, a Presidential Aspirant on the platform of the Democratic Alternative during the 2003 presidential election and author of the book titled Savagery in Politics, the hindrance to national development