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Saturday, 10 March 2018



By Bashorun J.K. Randle
It may sound like fiction but seventy years ago, there was no Coca Cola; 7-Up;Fanta; Sprite; Soda Water; Vitamalt; Pepsi; Limca; Amstel Malta; Malta Guinness;Mirinda; Schweppes; etc. in Lagos or the rest of Nigeria for that matter.Air-conditioners were non-existent and only a few houses had what was describedas “Frigidaires” (designed to render you frigid!!). Thankfully,there was ice cream.

I wasan enthusiastic apprentice salesman of “Wall’s Ice Cream” of which there weretwo varieties – vanilla and chocolate. As for soft drinks, there was only onebrand which was bottled exclusively in Lagos and Kano. Hence, it readilyacquired the name “L and K” (which stood for Lagos and Kano). To the best of myknowledge it was an admixture of water and sugar which totally overwhelmed itsnearest competitor known as “Ice pokey-pokey” (consisting of sweetened milkdipped in frozen ice cubes). “Krolla” with a tinge of cola nuts in itsconcentrate was a distant competitor.

Atany rate, “L and K” reigned supreme, unchallenged as the darling and favouritedrink of kids. If nothing else, the connection between Lagos and Kano wasfirmly implanted in young minds well before they became adults.

Asthe Lagos bottling plant was in our neighbourhood at Oke Popo area of Lagos,children (known as “Area Boys” before the appellation acquired notoriety as agenre of thugs or miscreants) did not need much persuasion to convince themselvesthat the location of such an exotic refreshment within easy reach was by thespecial grace of the Almighty.

Somethingelse that Lagos and Kano had in common was their very liberal attitude towardsstrangers or visitors. Very welcoming and most generous with their hospitality.Back then, the kidnapping of children was unheard of except when overstressedparents would occasionally threaten to go and search for kidnappers to relievethem of the burden of coping with particularly troublesome children. It workedlike magic!! The kidnapper became the ultimate bogeyman.

Also,both Lagos and Kano were somewhat cosmopolitan with quite a significant numberof Syrian, Lebanese, Indian and Jewish communities. They were known as “Koras”for reasons which were totally inexplicable. “Kora” was probably derived fromCoral beads in which they traded. It was obvious that each of those respectivecommunities inter-married their counterparts in the Lagos and Kano axis.Consequently, there was only limited inter-mingling or cross-overs. Eachcommunity strove to preserve its own distinct identity.

It is also instructive that as far back as the fourteenth/fifteenth century Kanohad established trade routes dealing in camels, ostrich and leatherware to farflung places in the Middle East, even as far as Yemen.

Similarly,Lagos at about the same time was already trading with Portugal and other partsof Europe. Indeed, it was the Portuguese who coined the name “Lago” whicheventually became “Lagos” as a “twin” to the city of Lagos in Portugal. Priorto that, Lagos was known as “Eko” by its inhabitants. The name was changedwithout any consultation with the King of Lagos or the indigenes. On thecontrary, Kano steadfastly rebutted all attempts by invaders to change itsname.

Evenafter all the politics of state creation, both Lagos and Kano managed (alongwith Katsina, Ondo, and Bauchi) to retain their name tags as cities as well asstates. That is how come we have Lagos city and Lagos State. The same goes forKano city and Kano State.

JulianAssange of WikiLeaks has provided us with some nuggets about Lagos.

“Lagos before thebeginning of the nineteenth century was one of the centres of trans-atlanticslave trade in West Africa. Some of the slaves re-captured by British navalships, who were of Yoruba descent, decided to resettle in Lagos after theBritish bombarded Lagos in 1851. Lagos Island also received returnees fromBrazil and Cuba during the same period. These returnees, apart from increasingthe population of Lagos, also added value to the quality of life of the peoplebecause many of them had acquired one skill or the other.

While some wereartisans and craftsmen, others had tasted western education. Indeed, theircontributions to the Lagos Island landscape, in terms of physical developmentsand struggles against obnoxious ordinances of the British after imposition ofcolonial rule on the Island, were tremendous.

The King of Lagos,Oba Akinsemoyin was good at trading and fostering relationships with Europeans,most especially the Portuguese. Lagos traders were encouraged to travel to suchareas as Badagri, Awori and Egbado to buy goods such as cloth, palm kernels,palm oil and other materials for exchange with gunpowder.

In 1874, Lagos wasput under the Governor of the Gold Coast colony. It was almost at the end ofthe nineteenth century that Muslims also benefitted from government supportwith the establishment of Government Muslim School in June 1896.

Nigeria was thecreation of Lord Frederick Lugard who amalgamated Lagos as part of Southern Nigeriawith Northern Nigeria in 1914.”

Similarly,Edward Snowden the former CIA consultant who is now a fugitive in Russia hasposted the following vignette about Kano:

“At the beginning ofthe 19th century, Fulani Islamic leader Usman Dan Fodio led a Jihadaffecting much of Northern Nigeria, leading to the emergence of the SokotoCaliphate. 

Kano became thelargest and most prosperous province of the empire. This was one of the lastmajor slave societies, with high percentages of enslaved population long afterthe Atlantic slave trade had been cut off. Heinrich Barth, a classical scholarwho spent several years in Northern Nigeria in the 1850’s estimated thepercentage of slaves in Kano to be at least 50 per cent, most of whom lived inslave villages.

Kano wasacknowledged as the most important commercial entity in West Africa during the1820’s. The state’s cotton and leather products were extensively mobilizednorthward through camel caravans across the Sahara and they even reached theEuropean continent, where its goatskin goods were labelled as Morocco leather.During the 1880’s, shifting political situation in the caravan’s passageway,entry of Europeans into West Africa and the cessation of the slave trade causedthe downfall of Kano’s trans-Saharan trade.”

TheLagos and Kano Economic summit is a laudable initiative. However, we must beforgiven for asking: why has it taken so long to acknowledge and recognise theprofound linkages between “L”and “K” as well as the huge potentials for jointenterprise and mutual co-operation within the matrix of social and economicdevelopment? The synergies are starring us in the face.

Uptill the 1950’s and 1960’s,moslem women in Lagos adopted the purdah lifestylesof their Kano counterparts.

Theywore veils (as well as Hijabs) and were known as “Elehas”. They very rarelyventured into the public in daylight. As the custom is still largely intact inKano, it poses a serious challenge for the enumerators who would handle thenext census. Perhaps I should add that unlike their Kano counterparts, somewomen in Lagos defied their menfolk by forming a club called “Egbe Mesho”. Theywere ladies of substance in their own right. Their credo was that they wouldhave no more than one child by any man before moving on to the next one. Hence,they would have four or five children each with a different father!! This wasin the 1950’s well before the advent of “Women Liberation”.

Lagoswas invaded by Benin which led to the installation of “Akarigbere” (white cap)chiefs.

Similarly,the Hausa who were the occupants of Kano were “conquered” by the Fulani. 

Eventually,both Lagos and Kano were subjugated by the British.

Regardless,Lagos and Kano have established their pre-eminence in commerce. However, theysuffered the anguish of previously flourishing industrial estates e.g. ApapaIndustrial Estate; Sabo Industrial Estate and Ikeja Industrial Estate, all inLagos; and Bompai; Sharada I; Sharada II; Challawa etc. in Kano which fellvictim to the structural Adjustment Programme [SAP] in the late 1980’s. 

Perhapswe should devote some time to the emergence of both Lagos and Kano as politicalpower houses – pre and post Independent Nigeria regardless of their respectiveconflicting perspectives.

Ofcourse, the massive population of Lagos (estimated at 28.4 million)and that ofKano (which is estimated at 20 million), confer on them the status ofKingmakers having regard to the fact that democracy is the game of numbers.

Letus share another fascinating snippet from history:

“When MuhammadAskia conquered Kano in 1513, it became a tributary state under the SonghaiEmpire. Later in the same century, the state of Kano became a tributary ofZazzau, a Hausa Kingdom founded in the south. Katsina became the centre ofcommerce after Kano was defeated by Kwararafa in 1653 and in 1671.”

Evenas we speak, the Yoruba community in Kano is still formidable. Many of themtrace their roots to Lagos. What is even more remarkable is that they have beenliving in Kano for several generations. For over two hundred and fifty yearsthey have inhabited the Sabon Gari area of Kano where the streets bear familiarLagos/Yoruba names such as Sanyaolu Road; Olude Road; Sanusi Street; YorubaRoad etc.

Indeed,in the 1950’s and 60’s Agbonmagbe Bank which was founded by Chief MatthewAdekoya Okupe, a Yoruba man was a very successful commercial enterprise whichenjoyed huge patronage from both the Yoruba traders and the Hausa/Fulanicommunity.

Similarly,there are Hausa, mostly from Kano who have been living in the Ita Agarawu area,in Lagos for over two hundred years.

Ivividly recollect an occasion in the 1970’s when the gentleman seated next tome at a Board Meeting of Nigerian Tobacco Company, was dressed as a Kano man(evidenced by the signature cap and babanriga). His name was Alhaji Yaro and weassumed that he could not speak Yoruba. After the formal meeting, theconversation drifted into Yoruba and not all of it was complimentary to the“Director from Kano”. Alas, after a while, he burst out in excellent Yorubathat not only was he born and bred in Lagos where his family had lived forseveral generations, he had never set foot in Kano or any part of the North forthat matter.

Forthe better part of the 1950’s and the 1960’s, the Yoruba/Lagos community inKano consisted mostly of employees of banks and “mercantile companies” such asUnited African Company [UAC]; John Holt; Leventis; UTC etc. and doctors/nursesplus those on transfer by the police/military. They formed a very formidableclub – “Egbe Omo Eko” to protect their common interest and welfare. There wasno obvious threat to their property or their lives. Some of them even adoptedand spoke Hausa as their first language.

InLagos, a major road in Ebute-Metta was named Kano Street and still retains thename. The original settlers were from Kano. Most of them were involved in pettytrading, trade by barter (“pasi paro”) and other menial jobs.

However,matters took a different direction when with the formation of political parties,Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC); National Council of Nigeria (NCNC); andAction Group (AG) reflected predominantly regional/tribal interests. NPC led bySir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto was the voice of the north while NCNCunder the leadership of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was predominantly Igbo and AG led byChief Obafemi Awolowo was the preferred choice of the Yorubas. 

Lagoswas an orphan and rapidly became the battle ground for all the three combatants.The first sign of trouble emerged when Kano erupted in riots in 1953 as ChiefObafemi Awolowo and his lieutenants attempted to hold a political rally inKano.

BashorunJ.K. Randle is a former Presidentof 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:

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