A DAMP SQUIB

Did you know that Crispin Curtis Adeniyi-Jones (1876–1957), a medical doctor of Sierra Leonean heritage, former president of the defunct Nigeria Mercantile Bank and a major financier of the West African Cooperative Producers Limited, who became one of Nigeria's foremost nationalists as a member and later president of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), was the pioneer director of the Yaba asylum - the popular Yábàá-Apá-Òsì?

As a longtime member of the legislative council of Nigeria who served in the council from 1923-1938, Adeniyi-Jones also joined the Ghanaian nationalist Winifred Tete-Ansa of the National Congress of British West Africa (outside his political activities) to formulate economic policies geared towards alleviating some of the emerging economic problems more prevalent in Colonial West Africa.

Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Adeniyi-Jones attended Sierra Leone Grammar School for his secondary education and earned his university degrees at the University of Durham as well as the University of Dublin. He first gained employment at Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, and later apprenticed under a notable doctor from the Liverpool School of tropical Medicine, Sir Robert Boyce. In 1904, however, Adeniyi-Jones departed Britain for Nigeria, and served in the government medical services in Lagos, where his initial enthusiasm was curtailed, owing to inadequate funds in many departments as well as to a strategic policy that was meant to limit the advancement of African doctors within the medical services. He, nevertheless, emerged the first director of the Yaba Asylum, one of the two asylums in Colonial Nigeria, but later resigned his government appointment to commence a successful private clinic in Lagos.

The trio of Curtis Adeniyi-Jones, Eric Olaolu Moore and Joseph Egerton Shyngle would on 24th June, 1923 team up with Herbert Macaulay (1864-1946) and Thomas Jackson to found the Nigerian National Democratic Party, the first Nigerian political party. The NNDP contested and won all three seats that were allowed Africans in Lagos in 1923, 1928 and 1933, capitalizing on an initiative to allow elective representation into the legislative council. That was how Adeniyi-Jones became a member of the legislative council, and served there for the next fifteen years - up until 1938.

By engaging in numerous debates with other members on major policy initiatives such as the practice of indirect rule and asking a great many questions about official colonial policy and its benefit to Africans, Adeniyi-Jones consistently defended the interest of indigenous Africans throughout his tenure as a member of the legislative council. Apart from opposing official colonial policies which affected Nigerians in their diversity, he also pressed for the creation of more primary schools, reduction of regional inequality in cocoa grading and the abolition of many provincial courts. Not one to shy away from issues in the public domain, Adeniyi-Jones constantly brought to the fore NNDP's nationalistic initiatives; his arguments often and especially dwelt on the merits of traditional norms and customs as they concerned the selection of traditional chiefs. At other times, he was meticulous in promoting the cause of Africans in the civil service and demanded progress and advancement for them in the service, having himself experienced similar policies to limit the career of Africans while still serving in government service.

Adeniyi-Jones played an important role as a financier and president of a few companies formed in the late 1920s and 1930s. This was calculated to nurture and support an ambitious economic programme designed to cause the existence of an elevated standing for indigenous Africans within the British Empire. Before the advent of the twentieth century, prior commitments to the major economic activity of indigenous Nigerian groups were either non-existent or largely sheltered from the global economy. But problems militating against African producers started to surface once a new regime of colonial economic system in West Africa began to emerge. The lot of finding a major plan of action to control and remove the problems fell on a man well versed in the rudiments of the global economic institutions named Winifried Tete-Ansa, who came from a major political party in Ghana known as the National Congress of British West Africa. The plan consisted in forming African cooperatives, such as the West African Cooperative Producers, partly financed by Adeniyi-Jones and the Nigeria Mercantile Bank chaired by him, to emerge as commanding business institutions in colonial Africa. The said plan, however, turned out to be a damp squib at best as both ventures were unable to reach the founders' dream. They were successful only to the point of laying a strong foundation for other ventures. In 1933, three directors of the Nigeria Mercantile Bank - Akinola Maja, T.A. Doherty and H.A. Subair, left to establish the National Bank of Nigeria, which proved to be the first successful indigenous bank in British West Africa.

Curtis Adeniyi-Jones Close, Off Adeniran Ogunsanya Street, Surulere Lagos, and Adeniyi-Jones Street, Ikeja, Lagos, which were named after him, have survived till today.

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Articles by Ajiroba Yemi Kotun