Friday, April 6, 2018 5:15 pm
By 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 described as “Frigidaires” (designed to render you frigid!!). Thankfully, there was ice cream.
I was an enthusiastic apprentice salesman of “Wall’s Ice Cream” of which there were two varieties – vanilla and chocolate. As for soft drinks, there was only one brand which was bottled exclusively in Lagos and Kano. Hence, it readily acquired the name “L and K” (which stood for Lagos and Kano). To the best of my knowledge it was an admixture of water and sugar which totally overwhelmed its nearest competitor known as “Ice pokey-pokey” (consisting of sweetened milk dipped in frozen ice cubes). “Krolla” with a tinge of cola nuts in its concentrate was a distant competitor.
At any rate, “L and K” reigned supreme, unchallenged as the darling and favourite drink of kids. If nothing else, the connection between Lagos and Kano was firmly implanted in young minds well before they became adults.
As the Lagos bottling plant was in our neighbourhood at Oke Popo area of Lagos, children(known as “Area Boys” before the appellation acquired notoriety as a genre of thugs or miscreants) did not need much persuasion to convince themselves that the location of such an exotic refreshment within easy reach was by the special grace of the Almighty. Something else that Lagos and Kano had in common was their very liberal attitude towards strangers or visitors. Very welcoming and most generous with their hospitality. Back then, the kidnapping of children was unheard of except when overstressed parents would occasionally threaten to go and search for kidnappers to relieve them of the burden of coping with particularly troublesome children. It worked like magic!! The kidnapper became the ultimate bogeyman.
Also, both Lagos and Kano were somewhat cosmopolitan with quite a significant number ofSyrian, Lebanese, Indian and Jewish communities. They were known as “Koras” for reasonswhich were totally inexplicable. “Kora” was probably derived from Coral beads in which they traded. It was obvious that each of those respective communities intermarried their counterparts in the Lagos and Kano axis. Consequently, there was only limited inter-mingling
or cross-overs. Each community strove to preserve its own distinct identity. It is also instructive that as far back as the fourteenth/fifteenth century Kano had established trade routes dealing in camels, ostrich and leatherware to far flung places in the Middle East, even as far as Yemen.
Similarly, Lagos at about the same time was already trading with Portugal and other parts of Europe. Indeed, it was the Portuguese who coined the name “Lago” which eventually became “Lagos” as a “twin” to the city of Lagos in Portugal. Prior to that, Lagos was known as “Eko” by its inhabitants. The name was changed without any consultation with the King of Lagos or the indigenes. On the contrary, Kano steadfastly rebutted all attempts by invaders to change its name. Even after all the politics of state creation, both Lagos and Kano managed (along with Katsina, Ondo, and Bauchi) to retain their name tags as cities as well as states. That is how come we have Lagos city and Lagos State. The same goes for Kano city and Kano State.
Julian Assange of WikiLeaks has provided us with some nuggets about Lagos. “Lagos before the beginning of the nineteenth century was one of the centres of transatlantic slave trade in West Africa. Some of the slaves re-captured by British naval ships, who were of Yoruba descent, decided to resettle in Lagos after the British bombarded Lagos in 1851. Lagos Island also received returnees from Brazil and Cuba during the same period. These returnees, apart from increasing the population of Lagos, also added value to the quality of life of the people because many of them had acquired one skill or the other. While some were artisans and craftsmen, others had tasted western education. Indeed, their contributions to the Lagos Island landscape, in terms of physical developments and
struggles against obnoxious ordinances of the British after imposition of colonial 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 such areas 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 was put under the Governor of the Gold Coast colony. It was almost at the end of the nineteenth century that Muslims also benefitted from government support with the establishment of Government Muslim School in June 1896. Nigeria was the creation of Lord Frederick Lugard who amalgamated Lagos as part of Southern Nigeria with Northern Nigeria in 1914.”
Similarly, Edward Snowden the former CIA consultant who is now a fugitive in Russia has posted the following vignette about Kano:
“At the beginning of the 19th century, Fulani Islamic leader Usman Dan Fodio led a Jihad affecting much of Northern Nigeria, leading to the emergence of the Sokoto Caliphate. Kano became the largest and most prosperous province of the empire. This was one of the last major slave societies, with high percentages of enslaved population long after the Atlantic slave trade had been cut off. Heinrich Barth, a classical scholar who spent several years in Northern Nigeria in the 1850’s estimated the percentage of slaves in Kano to be at least 50 per cent, most of whom lived in slave villages.
Kano was acknowledged as the most important commercial entity in West Africa during the 1820’s. The state’s cotton and leather products were extensively mobilized northward through camel caravans across the Sahara and they even reached the European 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 caused the downfall of Kano’s trans-Saharan trade.” The Lagos and Kano Economic summit is a laudable initiative. However, we must be forgiven for asking: why has it taken so long to acknowledge and recognise the profound linkages between “L” and “K” as well as the huge potentials for joint enterprise and mutual co operation within the matrix of social and economic development? The synergies are starring us in the face.
Up till the 1950’s and 1960’s, moslem women in Lagos adopted the purdah lifestyles of their Kano counterparts. They wore veils (as well as Hijabs) and were known as “Elehas”. They very rarely ventured into the public in daylight. As the custom is still largely intact in Kano, it poses a serious challenge for the enumerators who would handle the next census. Perhaps I should add that unlike their Kano counterparts, some women in Lagos defied their menfolk by forming a club called “Egbe Mesho”. They were ladies of substance in their own right. Their credo was that they would have 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 was in the 1950’s well before the advent of “Women Liberation”.
Lagos was 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, they suffered the anguish of previously flourishing industrial estates e.g. Apapa Industrial Estate; Sabo Industrial Estate and Ikeja Industrial Estate, all in Lagos; and Bompai; Sharada I; Sharada II; Challawa etc. in Kano which fell victim to the structural Adjustment Programme [SAP] in the late 1980’s.
Perhaps we should devote some time to the emergence of both Lagos and Kano as political power houses – pre and post Independent Nigeria regardless of their respective conflicting perspectives. Of course, the massive population of Lagos (estimated at 28.4 million) and that of Kano (which is estimated at 20 million), confer on them the status of Kingmakers having regard to the fact that democracy is the game of numbers.
Let us share another fascinating snippet from history:
“When Muhammad Askia conquered Kano in 1513, it became a tributary state under the Songhai Empire. Later in the same century, the state of Kano became a tributary of Zazzau, a Hausa Kingdom founded in the south. Katsina became the centre of commerce after Kano was defeated by Kwararafa in 1653 and in 1671.” Even as we speak, the Yoruba community in Kano is still formidable. Many of them trace their roots to Lagos. What is even more remarkable is that they have been living in Kano for several generations. For over two hundred and fifty years they have inhabited the Sabon Gari area of Kano where the streets bear familiar Lagos/Yoruba names such as Sanyaolu Road; Olude Road; Sanusi Street; Yoruba Road etc.
Indeed, in the 1950’s and 60’s Agbonmagbe Bank which was founded by Chief Matthew Adekoya Okupe, a Yoruba man was a very successful commercial enterprise which enjoyed huge patronage from both the Yoruba traders and the Hausa/Fulani community. Similarly, there are Hausa, mostly from Kano who have been living in the Ita Agarawu area, in Lagos for over two hundred years. I vividly recollect an occasion in the 1970’s when the gentleman seated next to me 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 we assumed that he could not speak Yoruba.
After the formal meeting, the conversation drifted into Yoruba and not all of it was complimentary to the “Director from Kano”. Alas, after a while, he burst out in excellent Yoruba that not only was he born and bred in Lagos where his family had lived for several generations, he had never set foot in Kano or any part of the North for that matter.”
For the better part of the 1950’s and the 1960’s, the Yoruba/Lagos community in Kano consisted mostly of employees of banks and “mercantile companies” such as United African Company [UAC]; John Holt; Leventis; UTC etc. and doctors/nurses plus those on transfer by the police/military. They formed a very formidable club – “Egbe Omo Eko” to protect their common interest and welfare. There was no obvious threat to their property or their lives. Some of them even adopted and spoke Hausa as their first language.
In Lagos, a major road in Ebute-Metta was named Kano Street and still retains the name. The original settlers were from Kano. Most of them were involved in petty trading, 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); and Action Group (AG) reflected predominantly regional/tribal interests. NPC led by Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto was the voice of the north while NCNC under the leadership of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was predominantly Igbo and AG led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the preferred choice of the Yorubas.
Lagos was an orphan and rapidly became the battleground for all the three combatants. The first sign of trouble emerged when Kano erupted in riots in 1953 as Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his lieutenants attempted to hold a political rally in Kano.
• 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.