The Shattered Dreams of The Egbas, And Answered Prayers – By Bashorun J.K. Randle - Paul Ukpabio's Blog

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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Shattered Dreams of The Egbas, And Answered Prayers – By Bashorun J.K. Randle

*IBB with his friend MKO Abiola 

Let me begin by thanking the President, Chief Adeniyi Lasaki and members of the Abeokuta Club for inviting me to deliver the 2017 Chief Sobo Sowemimo S.A.N Annual Lecture today 6th August, 2017. Many are no doubt entitled to wonder what entitles me to such a rare honour. Be that as it may, many more are entitled to ask: what is the point of the lecture? What else is there to be said that has not already been said about the late Chief Sowemimo and what difference would the lecture make to the teeming masses in Abeokuta and its environs – or beyond? Hence, we have already travelled the full circle and returned to where we started off – what is the point? I am afraid, if the truth must be told, our entire nation is at a turning point.
Indeed, some will argue that it is actually the tipping point – as we are confronted with monumental turbulence which has been brewing for several months. We have lived with poverty, ignorance and suffering for so long that we have become almost immune and indifferent. However, what is causing shock and panic are the combination of fear, attenuation of mutual suspicion and disaffection which have mutated into imminent danger of disintegration of our nation together with the prospect of another civil war that will be even more horrific and gruesome than the one we went through from 1967 to 1970.

Time and space will not permit us to dwell on the concomitant assault on our national psyche by screaming front page newspaper headlines and ‘’Breaking News’’ on radio and television as we are fed a daily diet of the latest atrocities by the dreaded Boko Haram, ruthless kidnappers, rampaging armed robbers, serial rapists, unrepentant fraudsters, International drug traffickers, rampaging floods, trailers arbitrarily off-loading their containers directly to crush unsuspecting cars/buses along with passengers who merely embarked on a survival mission in pursuit of their daily bread. I am here to remind you that it is precisely the likes of Chief Sobo Sowemimo S.A.N that we require at times such as these (or at this particular moment) to take the nation to task for adopting a strict regime of plenty for the few and scarcity for the many. 

That is the modus-operandum which we have adopted by default and consequently shattered the dreams of our founding fathers, especially the Egbas. You must forgive me if I misrepresent the thrust, essence and substance of what His Royal Highness, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, the Alake of Egba Kingdom (Egbaland), with Abeokuta as the epicentre, painstakingly sought to share with me and properly enlighten me regarding the history, culture and heritage of Egba Kingdom (and Abeokuta) before it was lured, seduced and coerced into becoming a surrogate of the British Empire in 1830? Much of what Kabiyesi told me while extending generous hospitality was a confirmation of what Chief Sowemimo had conveyed to me in his lifetime. If there was any difference it was only in matters pertaining to details. 

The Kabiyesi is indeed profoundly learned about his antecedents and the combination of his authoritative deposition with the rendition by Chief Sowemimo provided robust evidence that long before the advent of the British, the Egbas had established their own civilization. Their soldiers fought wars valiantly and nearly always triumphed on account of their nimble tactics, military strategy, and abundant courage – both in defence of their city (Abeokuta) from invaders or in the attack of troublesome/noisy neighbours. 

*Randle
The Egbas even had their own police force (Akodas) who enforced law and order as prescribed by the King supported by his hierarchy of chiefs and traditional priests. In trade and commerce, the Egbas were pre-eminent as merchants providing services and facilitating the movement of goods from the Lagos ports in exchange for the products from the hinterland. The issue of slaves and its gruesome dehumanisation is a subject for another day. It is sufficient to admit that the Egbas were not innocent bystanders. Let us also place a record that for several centuries, the Egbas cultivated their own artisans and craftsmen. Indeed, they are the undisputed masters of tie and dye (“Adire”) which has gained international recognition and deserves special support in order to maximise its export potentials. My first encounter with the shattered dreams of the Egbas was through the late Chief (Dr.) Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi, who was the Otun Balogun of the Christians of Egbaland. 

He was Minister of Health in the First Republic and was the Administrator of the entire Western Region of Nigeria following the declaration of Emergency over that area in 1962. Thereafter, he was mostly resident in Lagos and both Chief Sobo Sowemimo and I were beneficiaries of his friendly disposition. Another beneficiary was the late Chief Wole Adeosun who served as Secretary of Transport, Aviation and Communications during the Transitional Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan in 1993. Of course, you all know that they both held very high titles in Egba Kingdom (Osi of Egbaland and Ekerin Balogun of the Egba clan). Mine is still on the way!!! Perhaps, I should add that during the tenure of Chief Adeosun as the Chairman of the Indigenisation Committee of the Nigerian Stock Market he had ample opportunity to make his own kith and kin overnight millionaires/billionaires by selling hitherto foreign-owned companies to them at giveaway prices. 

If he had done so, he would have answered the prayers of his family and friends to the detriment of our nation’s economy. Anyway, towards the end of his life, Chief (Dr.) Majekodunmi was at his private residence (country home) at Ibara, GRA (Government Reservation Area) Abeokuta. He decided to visit his neighbour and brother-in-law Chief Simeon O. Adebo who was a very high ranking Egba Chief. If I were to attempt to recite the monumental contributions of Chief (Dr.) Majekodunmi and Chief S.O Adebo to our nation, it would take the whole day and a substantial part of the night. It is sufficient to record that they spent the entire evening in Chief (Dr.) Majekodunmi’s house entirely bewildered by what had become of our beloved nation which they had served meritoriously. 

The host escorted his guest to the fence that separated the two houses and the lamentation became even more earnest until it was the turn of Chief Adebo to now escort Chief (Dr.) Majekodunmi back to his house. While this back and forth was going on, the wife of Chief Adebo (Mrs. Regina Abimbola Adebo) was compelled to intervene with her appeal to the two elder statesmen: ‘’If you two old men are going to spend the whole night grieving over Nigeria, you should at least sit down in one place’’. As it was getting very late at night, Chief (Mrs) Adebo had to look very closely at her husband and brother-in-law before it hit her – both of them were shedding tears over the state of our nation (and the Egba Kingdom). Needless to add that she too joined in tearful mourning of the shattered dreams. Since then, a dark cloud has hung over our nation and we have been stumbling from one crisis to another. 

My second encounter with the shattered dreams of the Egba was by pure happenstance. In 1982, I was in Madrid to watch the Football World Cup. As I entered the stadium and proceeded to the seat allocated to me, I was somewhat delightfully surprised to find Chief M.K.O Abiola, the Bashorun of Egbaland already seated alongside Chief Olu Aboderin, Ashipa Parakoyi of Ibadan. Like me, both of them were chartered accountants. Rather than allow me to proceed to my seat which was right next to theirs, they created room for me and insisted that I should sit between them. Instead of allowing me to savour the dazzling display of wizardry of Paulo Rossi the Italian footballer, Chief Abiola and Chief Aboderin were vigorously debating how to topple the government of President Shehu Shagari under the aegis of the National Party of Nigeria [NPN]. 

That was the year twenty-six-year-old Rossi led Italy to the FIFA World Cup title, scoring six goals to win the Golden Ball for the player of the tournament. Before the match was over, Chief Abiola and Chief Aboderin had sealed their pact to deploy their respective newspapers “Concord” and “Punch” to undermine and rubbish the Shagari government which they accused of tribalism and ineptitude to the detriment of Yoruba’s (particularly the Egbas). Alas, when the military took over on 31st December 1983, the new Head of State was Major-General Muhammadu Buhari with Major- General Tunde Idiagbon as Chief of General Staff, Supreme Headquarters. Idiagbon was number two i.e Deputy Head of State but many would argue that he was the more dominant of the duo – hence the emergence of what was tagged as the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. 

What is of relevance is that Idiagbon’s Principal Staff Officer was none other than an Egba prince, Colonel Dotun Gbadebo who is now His Royal Highness the Alake of Egbaland. I leave it to His Majesty who is here with us today to educate us regarding the restitution of the shattered dreams of the Egbas during the Buhari/Idiagbon regime which was abruptly terminated by Major-General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Chief of Army Staff on 27th August 1985 in a pre-emptive coup d’état while Major-General Tunde Idiagbon was away on pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. We are entitled to believe that the then Colonel Gbadebo was fully in the know – Idiagbon was planning to retire Babangida immediately he returned from Mecca. Again as fate would have it, both Chief Abiola and myself were guests of Babangida in Minna, at what he tagged “The Chief of Army Staff Conference” in 1985. Unknown to me, it was a clever smokescreen for the planning of the coup d’état. Had the coup failed, you could well imagine what my fate would have been. Nobody would have believed that I knew nothing about the coup. I was only invited to deliver an address on how to diversify and fortify the Nigerian economy. 

Incidentally, here we are thirty-two years afterwards and we are still dealing with exactly the same problem!! Perhaps we need to persuade those who expected Colonel Gbadebo to use his position to transform Abeokuta and Egbaland, and thereby answer their prayers, to be more realistic and objective in acknowledgment of the fact that within the military hierarchy the bosses hold sway. In any case, it would be more pertinent to direct attention to the period of 1976 to 1979 when General Olusegun Obasanjo (who is the Jagunmolu of Egbaland) was the military Head of State as well as the eight years (1999 to 2007) when Chief Obasanjo was our President and Commander- in- Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. We must also add the tenure of Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan who was the Head of State during the Interim Government which succeeded the stepping aside by General Ibrahim Babangida on 26 August 1993. 

The Interim Government lasted until 17 November 1993. I am tempted to remind you that even during the Presidency of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Chief M.K.O. Abiola made it known that he was waiting in the wings to succeed Shagari as the flagbearer of the National Party of Nigeria [NPN]. His candidacy was given short shrift by the powerful Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the Minister of Transport (and de facto President) who chastised Abiola with a public announcement to the effect that: ‘’The President of Nigeria is not for sale.’’ For Chief M.K.O Abiola it was a public humiliation for a proud Egba Chief, from Gbagura. He exited the party but held on tenaciously to the pursuit of his political ambition which was generously lubricated by his vast wealth. Many of you would no doubt recall that during the Buhari/Idiagbon regime, Abiola ran afoul of the military government and his Concord Press (publishers of Concord newspapers and magazines) was closed down over allegations related to importation of newsprint without paying duty. 

This was followed by the humiliation and embarrassment of Abiola by the ‘’mad dogs’’ episode. In response to Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s disparaging remarks about relatively junior military officers who had been made military governors (he referred to them as “Eaglet Governors”), an Airforce Officer, Nura Imam was alleged to have ordered the detention of Abiola following a collision by their vehicles. It was also alleged that Chief Abiola was subjected to corporal punishment. Ironically, Nura Imam was very close to Major-General Ibrahim Babangida who was a great friend of Abiola. Imam later rose to the rank of Air Vice-Marshall and his own version of events is entirely different. The point that needs to be made is that whatever dreams were being nurtured by Chief M.K.O. Abiola were thoroughly shattered during the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. 

His prayers were not answered until the emergence of General Ibrahim Babangida as President and Commander-In-Chief. Chief Abiola’s profile loomed large and intimidating. His business flourished exponentially while his generosity became legendary. During the regime of President Babangida he indicated that the military were ready to hand power back to civilians. Consequently, he set up two political parties – one to the left and the other to the right. They were respectively Social Democratic Party [SDP] and the Nigerian Republican Convention [NRC] Chief Abiola Opted to join the Social Democratic Party after Babangida had disqualified virtually all the main contenders. There were twenty-three of them- ranging from Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua and Alhaji Lateef Jakande to Chief Solomon Lar; Senator (Dr) Olusola Saraki; Chief Olu Falae; Chief Jimi Nwobodo; and one female- Mrs. Sarah Jibril. What was most intriguing was that Babangida actually prodded the politicians to suggest one of them as his successor. 

It was Dr. Patrick Dele-Cole and I who were nominated to preside over voting amongst them. The venue was the Roman Gardens residence of late Senator Mahmoud Waziri. It ended in shambles as the candidates preferred to vote against each other. There was only one option left – it was the prerogative of either Patrick or myself to put forward our name as the successor to General Ibrahim Babangida. Thankfully Ambassador Patrick Dele-Cole is still alive and he is in a position to clarify matters. If we had followed through, whatever dreams had been shattered would have been fully compensated with the emergence of a President from Lagos State, namely my humble self!! Anyway, the road had been cleared for Chief Abiola. As fate would have it, he and I were on the same British Caledonian (now British Airways) flight from Lagos to London. 

Throughout the six hours flight he talked non-stop about his political ambition. It was to no avail that I reminded him of his formidable foes- particularly the supporters of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo a southerner whose ambition to become president of Nigeria under the aegis of Unity Party Of Nigeria [UPN] had been severely savaged by Chief Abiola who had put his massive financial resources and his newspapers at the disposal of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a Northerner. On arrival in London, I proceeded to my hotel (the Sheraton Park Towers, Knightsbridge) in a taxi and Chief Abiola had a chauffeur waiting to rush him off to his house (Chester Terrace, Regent’s Park).

An hour later, he called to say he was heading back to the airport to catch a flight to Paris for a meeting with his business partners – ITT. Without any prompting from me, he was determined to continue our discussion regarding his political ambition. He insisted that he would contact me on his return from Paris on the same day. In the evening, I was at the bar of the hotel and guess who should walk in? It was none other than Chief Sobo Sowemimo S.A.N who we are celebrating today. He was wearing his signature Burberry cap (‘’facing cap’’) with a muffler wrapped around his neck. Drinks flowed and he proceeded to regale me with spellbinding tales of Egba Kingdom and Abeokuta (‘’ the city at the bottom of the rock’’) and the spiritual cadences of Olumo Rock which like a towering giant stands at attention to guard the city. 

Late into the night, I took my leave but Chief Sowemimo stayed on. His flat at Sloane Court, on Sloane Street, Knightsbridge was only a short distance away. As for the barman and waiters, they made it clear that he was welcome to stay for as long as he wanted. He was a generous tipper. Anyway, I was already fast asleep when my phone rang. It was Chief Abiola!! He said he had just returned from Paris and rather than go straight home, he was on his way to see me. I suggested that considering that it was well past midnight, we should arrange to see on the following day. It was then he announced that he was already in my hotel and had run into a fellow Egba – Chief Sobo Sowemimo, the Jaguna of Egbaland. Within a few minutes they were in my room. 

For several hours, the two Egba Chiefs bombarded me with riveting tales of the glorious past of the Egbas and their shattered dreams- leaving them no choice but to install an Egba man as our next President!! I must add that the two Chiefs were as passionate about Egbaland as they were about Nigeria. Incidentally, both of them were very close friends of late military Head of State of Nigeria, General Murtala Muhammed who had been assassinated on 13th February 1976. It was to no avail that I reminded Chief Abiola that even though he was a great friend of President Babangida, the military were not unanimous in adopting him as their candidate. Besides, I had considerable difficulty in fathoming how a man who had everything he could possibly want – money, influence, and plenty of wives too as well as children – would put everything at risk in pursuit of a very hazardous ambition. 

I was clearly in the minority. Regardless, I reminded Chief Abiola that in the course of our services to the Olympic Committee, we had visited some countries together and the respect accorded him was at par with what was extended to Presidents and Prime Ministers. He insisted that what he wanted was the real thing – President of Nigeria and he had the wherewithal. Well into the early hours of the morning the two Egba Chiefs were still going ding-dong over the past glory of Egba Kingdom and the entitlement of Egbas (especially the former slaves/returnees from United States of America and Brazil) to reparation. I drifted between sleep and wakefulness while all this was going on. 

Back and forth it went on and suddenly the discussion would revert to the political ambition of Chief Abiola which would crystallise into answered prayers not only for the Egbas but for our entire nation – both Christians and Muslims. What was most remarkable is that I was left in no doubt that this was not a case of shattered dreams versus fanciful/wishful thinking. Neither was it a case of “Egba meji kin jerawon ni yan” (you would never find one Egba contending against another. Ba wa!!) Both of them were bridge builders – between the northerners and southerners. Indeed, the two Egba chiefs had late General Murtala Mohammed as their common friend well before Murtala became the Military Head of State. Coincidentally, they were both in the bad books of the ardent supporters of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. 

Chief Abiola was considered an enemy for pitching his camp with Alhaji Shehu Shagari against Chief Awolowo. As for Chief Sobo Sowemimo, he was vicariously guilty because it was his older brother Justice George Sodeinde Sowemimo (who later became the Chief Justice of Nigeria) that jailed Chief Awolowo for treasonable felony in 1963 after declaring in open court: “My hands are tied.” That pronouncement was pregnant with meaning subject to interpretation depending on whether you were a loyal friend of Chief Awolowo or an unrepentant foe. I must confess that I was somewhat taken aback when Chief Abiola reminded me that back in 1982 as we exited the football stadium, a gypsy lady who was begging for alms looked into his eyes; x-rayed and read his right palm; and proceeded to declare: “One day you will become president of your country.” Chief Abiola promptly emptied his pockets and turned the gypsy lady into a very rich woman instantly. 

As I mentioned earlier, Chief Olu Aboderin was with Chief Abiola and I at the stadium. For Chief Aboderin, the gypsy correctly predicted: “you are already a great man and you will amass considerable wealth. However, there is a dark shadow over your health.” She was prophetic. Chief Olu Aboderin died in February 28, 1984. In my own case, the soothsayer predicted that I would become a global literary giant with numerous books to my credit. I have no recollection that an invitation to deliver “The Chief Sobo Sowemimo Memorial Lecture” in 2017 was part of her prediction. Neither did the gypsy predict that I shall have the honour and privilege of sharing the top table today with a very distinguished son of Egbaland, Judge (Prince) Bola Ajibola SAN who apart from being our former High Commissioner to the Court of St. James (United Kingdom) also served as a Judge at the International Court of Justice between 1991 and 1994. Prince Ajibola in addition to being a past President of the Nigerian Bar Association also served as Minister of Justice and Attorney- General of the Federation under General Ibrahim Babangida. We are at liberty to reflect on the extent to which he was able to restitute the shattered dreams of the Egbas or answer their prayers. Nevertheless, we must give him credit for his remarkable demonstration of courage based on conviction when General Babangida was dribbling the nation (like Maradona, the legendary Argentina footballer) over the elongated delay in handing over power to civilians. 

It was his Minister of Justice who boldly assured us that Babangida was sincerely committed to ensuring the exit of the military. Alas, it turned out that Prince Ajibola’s trust and confidence were misplaced. I am truly delighted to see him and this provides me with an excellent opportunity to congratulate him on the success of Crescent University, located at Lafenwa in Abeokuta, of which he is the founder and proprietor. Nevertheless, at the risk of telling you what you already know, perhaps we should remind ourselves that Chief Sowemimo was born in Kano on 22 January, 1928. Of course, he spoke Hausa fluently and that partly explains his close friendship with the Northerners (predominantly Hausa/Fulani) who held top positions in government – both the civil service and the military/security. Consequently, in the 1970’s and 1980’s his office at Abibu Oki Street, (off Broad Street) in Lagos was the rendezvous for the likes of then Colonel Murtala Mohammed; Colonel T.Y. Danjuma; Permanent Secretaries such as Alhaji Ibrahim Damada; Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, General Manager of Nigerian Ports Authority as well as the likes of Aliyu Dasuki and Chief Eddie Aleyidino of Ministry of Interior/Immigration Department and Alhaji M.D Yusuf who became the Inspector –General of Police and Head of Intelligence of Nigeria before the creation of National Security Organisation, which later became Department of State Security (DSS). 

We should also add Alhaji Umaru Shinkaji who also became the National Security Adviser under Alhaji Shehu Shagari administration. The law firm was remarkably successful and flourished under the name of Fani-Kayode Sowemimo and Co. Chief Remi Fani-Kayode graduated from Cambridge University with flying colours and became a “Q.C.” [Queen’s Counsel] at the tender age of 39 before venturing into politics and he eventually became Deputy Premier of the Western Region. Rather than be sucked into the cauldron of the stormy Western Region and “Fani Power”, it is sufficient to record that Fani-Kayode & Sowemimo was deservedly in the first rank of law firms in Nigeria, Alhaji Femi Okunnu a bosom friend of Chief Sowewmimo and an old boy of King’s College, Lagos (and King’s College London) joined the firm. 

So also did Mr. Gbolahan Alatishe who graduated from Oxford University. I vividly recall how ecstatic Chief Sowemimo was when, at the Metropolitan Club (Victoria Island, Lagos) he joyfully informed me that his partner’s son had graduated in law from Cambridge University and had been called to the bar. He was elated over the prospects of a brilliant career at the bar for the young man. The future of the firm was secure with the prospects of fresh blood and the fourth generation of Fani-Kayode to graduate from Cambridge University. According to Chief Sowemimo, his prayers had been answered. Not long afterwards, it was the same Chief Sowemimo who called me aside pre-lunch to share his anguish – Chief Fani-Kayode’s son was exiting from law into full blown politics. 

Apparently, it was to no avail that Chief Sowemimo pleaded with both the father and son that the young man should first follow the footsteps of the father at the bar before venturing into the stormy seas and turbulent weather of Nigerian politics. Chief Sowemimo clearly loved the father and adored the son (or maybe it was the father he adored and loved the son like his own). What is beyond doubt is that Chief Sowemimo had a large heart. Even though Chief Sowemimo’s dream had been shattered, he took it rather well. It was to no avail that he recruited Chief Alex Oyekunle Duduyemi as a powerful ally in his endeavour to persuade Chief Fani- Kayode’s son to tarry awhile. 

Incidentally, on several occasions, the Asiwaju of Ife, Chief Alex Duduyemi has publicly declared his eternal gratitude to his mentor, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode. I am somewhat hesitant to delve into the relationship between Chief Sowemimo and Alhaji Okunnu but it is sufficient to place on record that their friendship stretched way back to their student days in London and student union politics. They were activist. Their circle of avowed socialists (left-wing bordering on communism) embraced the likes of late Chief Tayo Akpata and Justice Adenekan Ademola who insisted till his last breath that he was an unrepentant communist regardless of the fact that he was the eldest child of the Chief Justice of Nigeria - Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, who was the eldest son of His Royal Highness Oba Ladapo Ademola II, Alake of Egbaland, whose picture was recently displayed at the British Museum, London. 

There he was resplendent in his majestic regalia at the coronation of King George V in 1911. I understand that Chief Sowemimo played a gallant, thoughtful and generous role in ensuring that Chief Okunnu acquired the land next to his at Yaba. For several years, they were next-door neighbours and their respective families (one Christian and the other one Muslim) were inseparable. Why and how they fell out is a subject for another day. My information on the matter is restricted to Chief Sowemimo’s version of events. I believe that it had something to do with the retainership of the legal services provided for Julius Berger Plc. Perhaps we should reflect on those values which Chief Sowemimo cherished most. 

He made no apologies for placing his Abeokuta (and Egba) heritage at the very top of his priorities, followed perhaps by C.M.S. Grammar School which he attended. The law which he practised with commendable skill was a close competitor for primacy. He was a great admirer of Lord Alfred Thompson Denning, the Master of the Rolls Nothing can eclipse Chief Sowemimo’s love for his wife, Princess Lolade (nee Akintoye). She was a jewel. Together with her beloved husband they ensured that all their children were given the best education in a stable family environment - in Nigeria, United Kingdom and beyond. Most sadly, just over a year after Chief Sowemimo passed away, Auntie Lolade joined him, leaving their children and friends of the family utterly bewildered and distraught. It was clearly a case of shattered dreams. 

Our prayers and the prayers of Chief and Mrs. Sowemimo are being answered as their children march on while preserving the values and heritage of their illustrious parents. It was as a University student that his passion for politics and his enduring commitment to law and order blossomed. He was in the Nigerian Student Union and as a member of the Union in the larger body of African students, he was a force to be reckoned with. On his return to Nigeria, he concentrated his energies on his law practice while maintaining a ringside seat in the evolving political cauldron. He never contested for political office in Lagos where he resided or Abeokuta where he was a regular visitor. He rapidly became a pillar of Lagos social society – Island Club, Metropolitan Club, and of course Yoruba Tennis Club where he served as the Chairman. 

He was without doubt a magnetic socialite. Perhaps we should pause in order to remind ourselves that the Egba Kingdom was sufficiently advanced in terms of civilization, political economy and heritage to conquer the world instead of falling prey so easily to conquest by Britain. Apart from Abeokuta under the Alake, there were satellite towns in Gbagura (under Agura); Oke-Ona (under the Osile); Owu (under the Olowu) and Ibara (under the Olubara). Subsequently, the Egbas have recorded a long list of superlative firsts – in the judiciary; law; medicine; military; police; engineering; architecture; diplomacy; academics; survey; education; religion (both Christianity and Islam) and of course politics where the list of former Heads of State and Ministers gets longer and longer. As we speak, the current Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun is from Egbaland and by all accounts, President Muhammadu Buhari’s favourite Governor is none other than the Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun who is an Egba man to the core. 

Both Governor Amosun and Mrs Adeosun are chartered accountants and we are entitled to believe that between the two of them, they can redeem the shattered dreams of the Egbas and confirm the reality of answered prayers. I understand that the Governor is on his way from Lagos to join us. In the meantime, Barrister Taiwo Adeoluwa the Secretary to the Government is here to represent him. Added to the list of Egba super-achievers are the Nobel Laurette, Professor Wole Soyinka and a very long catalogue of scholars, academics, writers, journalists etc. We cannot but recall that when General Olusegun Obasanjo, an Egba man was the military Head of State from 1976 to 1979 he did not appoint an Egba man as his Minister of Finance. It was not until 1984 that Dr. Onaolapo Soleye, an Egba man who became the Minister (Commissioner) of Finance and served under General Muhammadu Buhari until 1985. 

We seem to have forgotten that during the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo when Nigeria’s intervention in support of the anti-apartheid regime in South Africa and Namibia was not making huge progress, in despair he canvassed that we should report to the Egba “juju” in order to dislodge the white supremacists. This was probably a throwback to the rich tapestry of the history of the Egbas in both conventional and non-conventional warfare (otherwise known as “remote control”). In the end, we triumphed over both Botha and De Clerk and the great Dr. Nelson Mandella never forgot the role Nigeria played in his emergence as the first black president of South Africa. At the appropriate time, those who insist that the threat of the Egba “juju” was a contributory factor will be given ample opportunity to re-inforce and substantiate their claim – and give credit to the Egbas for answered prayers. Regardless of the antics and scepticism of the unrepentant cynics, there is plenty of evidence that would confirm that the supernatural powers of the Egbas and their native herbs as well as concoctions are not entirely fictional. 

A case in point, with which I am familiar, occurred about sixty years ago when the daughter of a leading politician had suffered a mental breakdown in Dublin, Ireland. She was the wife of a scion of an illustrious family in Abeokuta. The doctors in Ireland had tried everything to heal her to no avail and they finally gave up. They concluded it was a hopeless case. She was repatriated and ended up in Abeokuta where she was subjected to a harsh regime of “native treatment”. She was forever screaming and yelling in protest that she was perfectly sane. Alas, the more she screamed, the more her tormentors were convinced that she was possessed by demons. It was the then Osile (King) of Oke Ona who came to her rescue. She was hauled before his Royal Highness who proceeded to recite powerful incantations at the end of which he commanded her, “Se wo” (calm down) and ordered that her manacles should be removed. She became as quiet and calm as a lamb. Right there and then, she was healed. She regained her sanity and composure. 

It was a magical moment. It remains for the rest of Nigeria to be convinced that the Egbas have not lost their magical powers nor the ability to re-calibrate their shattered dreams. For the eternally optimistic amongst the Egbas, there was a flicker of hope when Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan an Ijaw from Niger-Delta (Otueke, Bayelsa State) succeeded Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua as President of Nigeria and unexpectedly appointed the cerebral Dr. Reuben Abati an Egba man as his Senior Special Assistant. With his monumental and intimidating credentials as a highly respected, irreverent and fiercely independent columnist in “The Guardian” newspaper, he was considered the right man in the right place at the right time to ensure restitution of the shattered dreams of not only the Egbas but of our entire nation. 

According to him, he did his best but alas he had to contend with demons and wizards. His confessional statement is there for all to read in his quintessential: “The spiritual side of Aso Villa”. “People tend to be alarmed when the Nigerian Presidency takes certain decisions. They don’t think the decision makes sense. Sometimes, they wonder if something has not gone wrong with the thinking process at that highest level of the country. I have heard people insist that there is some form of witchcraft at work in the country’s seat of government. I am ordinarily not a superstitious person, but working in the Villa, I eventually became convinced that there must be something supernatural about power and closeness to it.” 

Regardless, we have a moral imperative to acknowledge the superlative contributions of the Egbas in constructing a formidable and robust public service with its ethos and ethics deeply anchored on the sanctity of the public good without any compromise with frivolity or corruption. At the vanguard was none other than the legendary Chief Simeon Adebo, the Okanlomo of Egbaland. He had no difficulty in proscribing foreign bank accounts for ministers and public office holders. It is to the eternal credit of his boss, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of the Western Region that he was the first to declare that he had no foreign bank accounts. It was an excellent demonstration of leadership by example as a counterpunch to the culture of grab, grab and grab some more. Chief Adebo insisted that the jungle is about the survival of the fittest but public service is about the protection of the weakest. It was a powerful lesson he learnt at Kings College, Lagos before proceeding to study law. Let us pause for a moment and reflect on the following extract from the preface of “Egba and Their Neighbours” by the late Professor S. Biobaku, the distinguished scholar and proud son of Egba Kingdom: 

“This book, which is based on a Ph.D. thesis submitted to the University of London in May 1951, deals with the external relations of the Egba State from 1842 to 1872, from the time when the first missionary arrived at Abeokuta to the departure of Commander Glover from Lagos, the coastal British Colony. In order to understand fully the forces at work, I have reconstructed the Egba state from the original homes of the Egba and have shown how it was transplanted to the composite town of Abeokuta in 1830. Then begins the main study which is essentially a study of the reaction of indigenous peoples to outside events: the impact of the transatlantic slave trade; the return of kinsmen once carried away into slavery; the advent of missionary enterprise; the installation of official British influence and, later, power at Lagos; and the gropings towards the expansion of trade into the interior. 

It explains why the Egba, who were proclaimed to the world by the missionaries as the spearhead of civilization in that part of Africa, came to be regarded by the Lagos authorities as the chief obstacle to peace in the neighbourhood. During the period covered by this book opinion in Britain was against ‘imperialism’. It was, nevertheless, a period of preparation for the eventual British penetration and warns against a facile analysis of the issues in terms of the revival of the slave trade and the quest for a free access to the coast. Power politics obtained in the Yoruba country and the British authorities at Lagos indulged in them in their efforts at once to promote peace in the interior and to enhanced the authority and prosperity of the Lagos settlement.”

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: jkrandleintuk@gmail.com

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