The Metropolitan Club (I)




The Metropolitan Club on Victoria Island, Lagos can legitimately claim to be the most exclusive club in Nigeria (and perhaps West Africa). However, the story does not end there.

Thirty years ago (on the 30th Anniversary of the Club), I was selected to write a brief history of what had already become a national (possibly International) treasure and institution.

Shortly afterwards, Mr. Joe Brandler invited me to lunch at his private club in London – “The East India Club” at 16 St. James’s Square in London, London. Consul Brandler (or “Joe” as he preferred to be called) was an excellent host. The food was excellent; and the superlative champagne plus fine wine were provided in generous quantities by the ever so attentive uniformed waiters.

Among the other guests were several “old coasters” – an appellation reserved for those Britons who had served in Nigeria while it was a British colony and stayed after Nigeria gained Independence on 1st October 1960. A handful were in the civil service but the rest were in banking, insurance, accountancy, shipping, industry and commerce – mostly under the aegis of the British High Commission and British Council as well as the multinationals such as the United Africa Company Plc (now known as UAC of Nigeria Plc); Lever Brothers (now known as Unilever); BEWAC Ltd; Paterson & Zochonis Limited (now known as PZ Industries Plc); Nigerian Tobacco Company Limited; Nigerian Breweries Plc; Guinness Nigeria Plc; British Petroleum (BP); Shell Petroleum etc.

Anyway, when we retired to the members’ lounge for cigars and coffee as well as cognac the discussions became more animated. The major subject was The Metropolitan Club of which Joe as well as many of his guests were founding members or very early joiners.

What was most fascinating were the antecedents or more correctly the pre- amble to the founding of Metropolitan Club on 13th October 1959 as:

“A Club for gentlemen”
Membership would be shared equally between Nigerians and expatriates.
It was quite a revelation to learn that as far back as 1932, the Lagos Dining Club had been founded with the same ideal, ethos and dynamics in mind – monthly formal dinner rather than the weekly Tuesday lunch as is the case with the Metropolitan Club.

However, as a kid I was aware that in the 1950s the crème de la crème of Lagos would assemble for lunch daily/weekly at the residence of Mr. …….Santos (a Brazilian descendant) at 52 Odunlami Street, Lagos to savour his legendary culinary skills. At the top of the long dining table would be seated Sir Adetokunbo Ademola (an old boy of King’s College) and he would, be flanked by the likes of Dr. Flavious Akerele (an old boy of King’s College); Mr. V.O. Munis (an old boy of St. Gregory’s College) who lived in Ikeja (but his law office was just across the road on the corner of Campos square and Bamgbose Street); Chief Ebenezer O. Okunowo (businessman); Mr. Bamidele Oyediran, Principal of Methodist Boys High School (and an old boy of King’s College); Chief Ernest Ikoli, editor of The Daily Times (and an old boy of King’s College); Mr. Mobolaji Odunewu (journalist); Prince M.A. Ogun (businessman); Mr. Oladipo Odunsi (a lawyer); Chief Oladipo Moore, QC (lawyer); Dr. Ladipo Oluwole, Chief Medical
Officer of Lagos (an old boy of King’s College);etc. My father, Chief J.K. Randle (an old boy of King’s College) was a staunch member of what was clearly an informal club for men only.

However, I must add that late Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi (an old boy of St. Gregory’s College) was younger than the others that sat around the table. They all adored him immensely. He drove a Jaguar car and smoked a very elegantly carved pipe. He had swagger. According to Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon the United States based basketball legend (Star player in “The Dream Team” at the American 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games) his mother had lost eight pregnancies before coming under the care of Dr. Majekodunmi at Massey Street Clinic, Lagos.

It was the great doctor who safely delivered Hakeem, the miracle baby on January 1963.
Sadly, Mr. Santos lost his house to Dr. Majekodunmi from whom he had borrowed money in a private transaction and pledged his property as security. All the main characters departed long ago but the Santos house is firmly included in the Estate of Chief (Dr.) M.A. Majekodunmi.

The connecting thread between the Lago Dining Club and “Santos Luncheon Club” was that they shared similar aspirations. Besides, both had common membership who were the driving force, (Sir Adetokunbo Ademola in particular) in midwifing the Metropolitan Club.

Anyway, back at the East India Club when it was time to depart (carriages!!), it was Professor Alex Maxwell-Dunt who got a double first from Cambridge in physics that delivered the following verdict:
“I do not know much about the Metropolitan Club or Nigeria but going by the principles of quantum physics my summation is that while the Metropolitan Club has been bristling with massive intellectual capacity, it is surrounded by idiots – and that is why Nigeria is in big trouble. Hence, what the Metropolitan Club must do is bring Nigeria up to speed. The alternative is a short route to the “Black Hole” which my colleague Professor Stephen Hawking of Trinity College has correctly defined in his book: “A Brief History of Time.”

Before we went off to hail taxis to our various destinations it was Colonel Kevin Windham (Baliol College, Oxford University) who served under Major-General Sir Christopher Welby-Everard, the last British Commanding Officer of the Nigerian Army who disclosed that before Independence was granted to Nigeria, the British became somewhat apprehensive that considering the seething ethnic tensions and simmering rage a military take over could not be ruled out.

In order to forestall such a catastrophe, the British offered Nigeria a Defence Pact in addition to extending the tenure of the British head of the Nigerian Army. Nigeria refused both offers.

Fortunately, there was an alternative soft option – The Metropolitan Club where the merging elite in Nigeria – both expatriates and indigenes could as gentlemen set the moral tone for the nation; enthrone transparency and uphold the tenets of civilization as gentlemen – no histrionics or division along religious/ethnic lines. In the event of trouble, these gentlemen would be there to offer advice and counsel restraint.

Thirty years later, while the Metropolitan Club is celebrating its 60th Anniversary, the challenges are undiminished. Neither is the mission diluted. Even if we dispute the suggestion that the club is surrounded by idiots we cannot fail to recognise that the nation is under threat from serial political upheavals.

Whatever standards prevailed when the club was founded have been subverted and compromised. Everything around us has deteriorated. What has set in is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as we grapple with decay, decadence and infrastructural collapse – without boundaries.

Is it conceivable that even before the founding fathers exited in glory, the foundations were already fraying at the edges.

From the internet, Google has availed us of the outcome of case studies, carried out by “The Asian Aspiration”, of ten countries in East Asia – • China • Indonesia • Japan • Malaysia • Philippines • Singapore • South Korea • Taiwan • Thailand • Vietnam
There is not much evidence that The Metropolitan Club has directly intervened in the management of Nigeria’s economic or financial affairs. Hence, if guilt is to be ascribed to the Club as an institution or the members as individuals, it can only be by default!!

According to Dr. Kingsley Moghalu, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (non-member of the club) and a presidential aspirant at the last elections:

“Nigeria is a good example of development statis and retrogression. The country’s average nominal GDP per capita between Independence in 1960 and 2018 is U.S. $1736 according to the International Monetary Fund [IMF]. It is ranked 157 out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index of 2017. In 2018, The World Bank ranked Nigeria 152nd out of 157 countries in its Human Capital Index and Nigeria is now ranked the “poverty capital” of the world by the World Poverty Clock, with 92 million of its 200 million people living in extreme poverty. All of this is largely due to poor governance and weak, market unfriendly economic policy and business environment.”

The Metropolitan Club is not guilty. Not even plea bargain!!
I have been advised by my solicitors that since I did not join the Club until 9th May 1983, I cannot be held personally liable for whatever the club did (or failed to do) between the date (13 October 1959) when it was founded and the date I was accorded a membership number R24.

Over the last 36 years of being a member of the club and having had the privilege of interviewing and engaging the founding fathers, I must give them kudos for their foresight.

Ab initio, they appear to have limited their role in the affairs of our nation to being referees or umpires in the expectation that everyone would play by the rules. Within the premises of the club they accommodated different points of view without letting matters deteriorate into a vicious and toxic environment. It is to their credit that they appreciated that national institutions constitute the anchor of democracy and good governance. Hence, they must be protected and nurtured. As the founding President of the Club, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola wore a second cap – as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Hence, law and order were right at the top of the list. It was not by co-incidence or happenstance that amongst the other founding fathers were Sir Louis Mbanefo (Supreme Court) and Justice Charles Dadi Onyeama (Supreme Court) both of them were old boys of King’s College.

The Founding fathers, without exception were sufficiently alert to appreciate that Nigeria was in the cusp of history and that what the British handed over on 1st October 1960 was a fragile nation and the democracy that came with it was already labelled with “fragility” stamped all over it together with the health warning: “Fragile. Handle with care. Breakage is dangerous for the health of the nation.”
They also assessed the other risks accurately – Democracy may fail and the institutions may malfunction. Conflicts would arise – some would be trivial while others would be really serious. Rage may insist on hoodwinking and bamboozling outrage. it may rapidly deteriorate – no longer a case of two kids (or two generals) quarrelling.

It is tempting to believe that democracy is impregnable and sacrosanct. However, the Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates, Aristotle etc. were the first to beam their search-light on its frailties and its vulnerability especially when invaded and assaulted by a demagogue (or several demagogues operating across vast territories in various jurisdictions).

Incidentally, long before the upheaval on 15th January 1966 when the first military coup took place, the warning signals were already flashing. In choosing the first Nigerian to head the Army, Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, the most senior in rank and most professional among the contenders was the preferred choice of the British. The Sadauna of Sokoto, Sir (Alhaji) Ahmadu Bello, Premier of The North plumped for Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari (a fellow Northerner) or Brigadier-General Samuel Ademulegun while Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the President of Nigeria chose his kinsman, Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. Apparently, it was one of the founders of The Metropolitan Club who broke the deadlock – and Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi emerged as the winner. That was the outcome of the respective consultations by the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; Sir (Alhaji) Ahmadu Bello and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe with the one person each of them trusted absolutely.

It was the late Chinua Achebe who has succinctly captured the essence of the Tuesday Lunch at The Metropolitan Club, even though he was never a member. I have no recollection of his ever being a guest either.

“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to redeem them from starving. They had food in their own houses. When we gather together in the moonlight (or broad daylight) village ground, it is not because of the moon (or the sun). Every man can see it in his own compound.

We came together because it is good for kinsmen to do so. Therefore, let us continue with the team spirit and enjoy the power of togetherness. Let’s smile not because we don’t have problems but because we are stronger than the problems.”

However, the challenge is where do we draw the line? Dr. Kingsley Moghalu has thrown down the gauntlet by reminding us that:

“Asia achieved rapid poverty reduction and transformed hundreds of millions of lives within a generation. Africa has a population problem, with 1.3 billion people, projected to double by 2050 and with 70 per cent of its youth population unemployed. Without real development, the continent’s youth bulge could explode with extremely negative social and other consequences.”

•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.

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