When We Were Lagosians - Before Oil Income
Many Nigerians, Ghanaians, Dahomeans, Sierra Leoneans, Liberians to South Africans were happy as one family; they would gladly tell you gleeful stories when we were Lagosians. But that was before the Oil Income which turned politicians into greedy, selfish and uncaring souls. Luckily we thought dreaming, we would get the old Lagos back once the bureaucrats and Federal politicians moved out to Abuja! For whia?
You get money o, you no get money o, na soso enjoyment. Lagos na soso enjoyment: released by Osita Osadebe in 1959. It was an obvious testimony that you could never be destitute, even as a beggar, within Yoruba generosity in Lagos. Before that song went viral to the later years, were Bobby Benson, Sam Akpabot, Victor Olaiya, Zeal Onyia, Roy Chicago, Eddie Okonta, Rex Lawson rocking our souls in Lagos. Then Uwaifo and Fela.
Ghanaians influence on the music scene in Lagos cannot be denied, if anything we were proud of it. E. T Mensa’s Bobobo Bonsue caught fire. Sammy Obote once led the professional Uhuru Dance Band of Ghana before he came to Lagos. But it was Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah that directed all members of Ghanaian music groups to undergo a six-month training in African music, at the Arts Council of Ghana in 1960. It certainly influence the appeal of highlife, not only to Lagos taste but in Africa.
Lagos area was mostly within walking distance unless you wanted to cross Carter Bridge. But why would you want to do that? The older Lagosians were so mad when University of Lagos was constructed all the way, in Akoka. They fumed: these folks could not find land anywhere inside Lagos, but had to go into the swamp outside to build a university. They prayed - God, please never should we see anything that would make us cross Carter O! Olohun maje ka ri ohun to ma gbe wa koja Cater Bridge O!
Many Lagosians even refused to move to Surulere, called New Lagos. A new development with indoor bathroom, flower garden in front, farm garden at the backyard and paved road with good distance to houses front entrance. LEDB (Lagos Executive Development Board) created special areas for recreation and club houses for youths. Government or mission schools were within walking distance. No need for scholly bus.
However, if there was heaven, it could not be better than Lagos for children. Our ingenuity spoke for itself. We manufactured and constructed our own toys. Something African countries are still trying to do with all the money wasted on technology, imports and “boskona” oyinbo used clothes killed local tailoring business. We made our little boats out of papers and used them to compete inside free-flowing clean gutter without obstructions. Of course, gutters were regularly cleaned by the “Town-Council” workers.
Kites were made out of newspapers and bamboo. But clothing threads for machines of our mothers disappeared into the sky. “Stations” were made from agbalumo seeds and ikoto, the dancing cones were used, which could spin smoothly or rotate on floors. The longest spin with the twist of two fingers won. We made our own Y shaped slingshot to trap or capture birds, fish slings and swings (janguava). City Council provided parks for recreation at Race Course, Ajasa playground and swimming pools by Onikan Stadium.
“Felele” as soccer balls were locally made cheaply from rubber and we practiced on some streets. When cars came, we gave them the right of the way and continued playing until the next one arrived. We had tournaments on soccer fields located in most neighborhoods from Campos, Towry, Onola, Elegbata and Evans Sq. to White Sand.
Oh, the girls created their lines on the floor to step on squares by certain rules; they skipped on ropes in acrobatic display of inventions. They also devised a way of clapping their hands while shuffling with some impressive feet moves, oya. The girls played netball while boys played handball. There were inter house-sports in primary schools and soccer matches. By the time we got into secondary schools, Onikan Stadium was where we played qualifying knockout matches.
Those of us that spent early years either in boarding schools outside Lagos, or Government Reserved Areas (GRA) in Ikoyi, Ikeja, Ibadan, Ondo to Warri (GRA) could not wait to get back once schools closed for holidays. We could not miss the taste of good life in Lagos Island. You have to understand that GRA were dry and not built with children in mind. It used to be called European Quarters since most white people left their wives and children in Europe. Those that had families with kids did not play like us. European kids were dull. Their fun was building toy houses on trees.
Lagos Island was also rich in food and cultural activities. Fanti, Kareta and some religious festivals like Catholic Corpus Christi, Muslim Weree; and our Eyo were too much to miss in Lagos. Some of us even started our own Fanti. This writer was the captain until one of our mothers warned us that if we were caught by police without a license, nobody would bail us out of police station. The fear was enough to cut it out!
The food were something else, made in heaven like tuwo, kenki, ewa Agonyi and abodo. There were two types of abodo: one made from corn by Yoruba and the other made by Ghanaians. Some food were also sold on the street but there were specialties like frejon made from black beans and coconut during Easter, special salted meat during Muslim festival and on special occasions. So were Jollof rice, pounded yam and amola. If you do not like amola, ewedu and gbegiri, what are you doing in Lagos?
Other food and snacks were tinko; meat pies and sausage rolls from Kingsway, De Facto and suya specials from Obalende; gurudi and kushkush from Tinubu Square. Race Course featured Atowotunra, (taste it and buy more) special buns. On Sunday mornings, there was a lady selling seke-shi, fried dough across Catholic Church Cathedral on Mission Street where we deposited some change on our way to Church. Note: nobody said it came out of the money given to us as offering during collection O!
Until we got older, we never knew some of our friends parents came from Calabar, Ghana, Benin, Onitsha, Togo etc. In those days, nobody dared stop Yoruba crossing from Benin Republic Cotonou to Badagry to Lagos. Our parents gave us first any name they liked, even names that were not from their ethnic base. How else could we reconcile first names like Kobina, Kwesi, Latee, Lati, Etim, Sule, Ajua, Sonji etc with Yoruba names in Yoruba land? They were better than Arab and English names!
Lagos architecture were imposing from Brazilian Quarters to Olowogbowo. The returned free men and women from Americas and Europe had different skills to build bridges, roads, electricity and Water Works. London tailors could make a complete suit with needle and thread! Unfortunately, the same skills that African countries are paying so called “expatriate engineers” with all our foreign incomes today. After all Yoruba gave the world Terracotta.
Da Rocha (1860-1959), the first Nigerian millionaire in British pounds started several businesses from banking to Water Works that were eventually sold to the City Council. Businesses under papa’s “Petesi” were flourishing. Every Lagosian knew one another and their kids dared not get out of line. We never disgraced our family names. Ma ba oruko je!
Adebayo Ojo Ogun Martins that died 8th Febuary 1857 had a street named after him in the center of Lagos by the then Governor Glover for his business enterprise at home and abroad. Aso-Matin so named because Adebayo Ojo Ogun Martins imported them, was popular among the rich and famous in Lagos. His tombstone, those of Taiwo Olowo and Maja were moved to Breadfruit Street. Other families, too many to mention here but for later article.
After all, Lagos was a small village comfortable and prosperous before the curse of oil.