Before Our Very Eyes, Yaba is Dead
I used to love Yaba. I used to walk around the place admiring the very old structures. The buildings that reminded us of our historical and colonial past. Buildings that shouted with Portuguese and Brazilian influence. Borno Way, Queens Drive and Old Yaba Road used to host very beautiful houses with nice architecture.
When you enter the houses, you will see the damp wooden floors, the well-constructed but very old windows and the stone balcony. The high roofs which held secrets of the past and the beauty of the ‘out houses’ which usually housed toilets and baths.
When the colonials drove the owners of Ikoyi to Obalende, they established Yaba as a base for civil servants and other types of workers. They named the streets after themselves and that’s why you get to hear names like McNeal, Hughes Avenue, Queens Drive and the rest.
Today those historical monuments have been destroyed. Replaced by very ugly modern apparitions. Storey buildings that look like ghoulish apparitions. The land sold by families who have fallen by the wayside and have carried the blood money earned by selling our heritage to Ikorodu to hibernate.
The stretch, Herbert Macaulay Street no longer houses the home of the famous nationalist. His family now lives in far away Iyana Ipaja having sold the land to modern day pharaohs. The only thing reminding you of his legacy is an old ugly weather beaten Statue which stands at the Sabo roundabout.
Old Borno Way is being raped daily… the beautiful Colonial mansion that stood in its majesty has been put to sleep. As you drive around Yaba, you feel like crying. The old building that housed the West African Pilot that was the first Newspaper in Africa has been taken over by ‘mallams’ who sell dollars.
But opposite it still stands a very beautiful ancient building still owned by the family and passed on to generations. I fear they may no longer withstand the wave. They may sell eventually.
The old Post Office is begging to be left alone, but I give it two years, it too will soon go down. The old Brazilian Embassy who has the envious reputation of housing the Queen of England on a visit still stands. It is by the corner of Queens Street and Alagomeji. Covered by very beautiful shrubs, if you don’t look carefully, you may miss it.
I love it and go stare at it regularly. I wish I had money to buy it and preserve it.
My brother Segun McMedals, whose in-laws still live in a prototype Brazilian villa, retains my respect.
The Bruce family still retains their old Colonial mansion complete with a Grove of bushes which protects it from the stare of marauders.
That’s the only thing remaining on that side of Yaba showcasing our history.
Even they, the family, have led an invasion destroying our collective heritage in that part of town.
The old Niger Palace Hotel has been ‘renovated’ severally, losing its ancient ambience and left standing in an ugly state like a bride after being exposed to an amateur make-up artist. The Nigerian Army in its own savagery has brought down buildings to replace them with brothels and drinking bars.
Murtala Muhammed Way is gone. The huge railway complex turned its vintage persona to a concrete jungle. You will not see the famous Arts Place whose promoter the legendary Art Alade whose son Dare Art Alade carries his legacy on that road anymore.
The beautiful Post Office near Denton is gone. Replaced with a modern structure that looks like an Egyptian mummy.
If we take a census, I don’t think we will get up to 50 of those beautiful relics left.
Yaba has been destroyed and with it our history as told by the buildings and structures that reminded us of our heritage.
‘Shex’ Ladipo – The Yaba of His Time
You see how God works. During my last play, ‘Ogiame Erejuwa II’, the crowd was massive. It appeared like the whole of Lagos had come out and the hall could not take everybody. Confusion reigned and I thought about just running away. You see, me, I don’t like trouble. As I wondered, confused and helpless, I spotted a fine gentleman with his wife. He looked distinguished and handsome. He was not a young man, probably in his 70s but was aging well. I went to him and said, “Lord, come let me find a seat for you.”
Took him into the hall. It was bedlam. It was crazy, the whole of Lagos had squeezed in. It was mad. I begged a young man and young girl and said, “if you want to grow old, you will stand up for this fine gentleman and his wife.” That gesture opened a wonderful Godlike experience for both of us.
After the show, he came to me and said thank you. Pastor Ituah Ighodalo had sent the VIP tickets to him and he enjoyed the show massively. He asked to be informed about other shows and I said no problem, sir. I liked him. He had a gentle mien around him and he looked really distinguished.
The next day, I wrote the article on Yaba dying. Someone sent it to him and he reached out. “Duke, someone sent this to me. Imagine that I had just met you yesterday and you mentioned my family house in your article.”
I screamed. I know the house. Many times, I had gone to the house to look for his daughter some five years ago. I said, “please sir, do you have a daughter that used to work in Skye Bank?” And he said yes. Oh my God. The house was historically elegant. I once entered and fell in love with its exterior. The magnificent colonial influence and the wide grounds.
Please I beg you people, let me drop his rejoinder and you will cry for this country.
“My late father, Mr. Josephus Kayode Ladipo (JK), was the founder of Lisabi Mills (Nigeria) Limited, Nigeria’s pioneer indigenous food processing company established in 1939. His first factory was located on Lagos Island before moving to Sabo,Yaba. The building “Lisabi House”, opposite the old West African Pilot building, referenced in your recent article “Yaba is Dead”, was his house. He lived in the building in front and operated his food processing factory at the rear of the premises. He moved the factory in the late 50s to its present site in Maryland but he continued to reside in that house at Sabo until his death in 1961. Though he was an industrialist, JK Ladipo was a nationalist and played an important role in securing Nigeria’s independence through his contact and influence with British parliamentarians. At that time, Lisabi Mills was already exporting Nigerian foodstuffs to the UK for the benefit of Nigerians resident in the UK, including diplomats and students, so JK had developed good rapport with the British establishment. JK was also very friendly with Zik who owned the property across the street from him, in situ as proprietor of both the West African Pilot and Lagos City College. Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu (the Ikemba’s father) was just a few premises down the road on the same Commercial Avenue. Sir Ojukwu, like JK, was an industrialist and neither one of them ever ventured into partisan politics. As a toddler, I knew these men and many others who were my father’s contemporaries. Some of them usually visited our house and would have refreshments on the balcony overlooking Commercial Avenue. It was a sane environment then.
I served as the CEO of Lisabi Mills, after some of my older siblings, until my retirement in 2019. It would have been nice to preserve the old building but I fear that you are quite right that it would soon give way to redevelopment, largely because of the environmental degradation aided by the corrupt governments of the day. You can see that the frontage of our property is literarily a jungle, due to the uncontrolled activities of street traders. We have been fighting a battle to dislodge them for over 30 years, without any success because they are protected by state and local government agencies that profit from their illegal street trading activities.
My dear Duke, I thought I should share this with you because of your obvious interest and passion for history, culture, the arts and the environment. Also because I recognise that you are highly gifted and perceptive. For how could you have seen, recognised and picked me out of that crowd at MUSON, that our paths may cross?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.
“Yaba is Dead”, which prompted the above submission, was just forwarded to me out of the blue on social media by someone who could never have imagined that I have just met the Duke of Shomolu!
Permit me to use this opportunity to congratulate you once again on the successful presentation of the stage play “Ogiamen”. It was a very captivating drama, rooted in history, and rich in cultural manifestations. I salute you for the quality of production.
“To God be the glory.”
No need to say more. Governor Sanwo-Olu over to you.
Dantata’s Life and Other Things
The headlines made it look like it was a life of regret. The comments that followed were vile and disrespectful. You know how poor people used to be using Heaven to justify their poverty. I saw things like, “what does it profit a man who has all the material things…” that kind of jargon.
But when I took the time to read the interview and comments from the great man, I saw wisdom. He was quoted as to say that he had built relationships all over the country, made friends and touched lives and at 91 he could only count about 10 people he knew. Mbok, this was a true testament to a life well lived. He concluded by saying he was tired and was waiting for his time. Please, is this not the kind of life I want? Is this not the kind of life we should all pray for?
A man who had accomplished so much in good health and with a long life. A man who had built a wealth of respect, touched lives with no scandal, nothing negative but had achieved legendary status through his activities, now peacefully awaiting the call of the Almighty Allah. This is what I want, this is what we should all strive for.
Last October, I had an indirectencounter. His grandson had come to see my play, ‘Sardauna’ and was quite impressed. He called me and said, “Edgar, I will tell my grandfather. I have taken pictures.”
I said thank you so much. Greet him for me and please what is the relationship between him and Aliko?
He laughed and walked away. Two days later, he called, “my grandfather said he wants to give you N2million for your efforts, please send your account number.” I said “ahhhh no oooo, please tell him, I don’t do this for money, it’s for Nigeria and humanity…”
Don’t tell me you believed that one ooo. Kai. Mumu. Humanity ko, Nigeria ni. With school fees, house rent and side chicks? I say mbok, where is he now, let me come and meet you and collect cash o.
He laughed and said, “we are in Kano.” I asked “please, can I enter motor and come before they go and do me Nasir El Rufai.”
That one promised sponsorship for Emir Sanusi since August till today, I no see Nasir talk less of Rufai.
But I should not have worried. They were good and for the first time in my life I was touched by Dantata. I took 10 per cent of the money and sent it to some widows.
This man is a national treasure and while he is still with us, we should try and document his life for posterity. Almighty Allah is with you, Sir. Do not worry, you will be ok.
Marie Abi Bassey: An Angel in Disguise
Marie is the super-hot brand manager of Amstel Malt and she is an angel in disguise. You see in this my matter; I use to wonder what I will do to crack the breweries giant – NB Plc. Everything I have done has fallen by the way. I even try juju but rain fall and scatter the thing. Then someone said, “you need Elohor.” I called Elohor and Elohor put Marie on my matter. We worked diligently for months without physically meeting and then I finally met her during ‘Emir Sanusi’.
She is young o. Almost too young for the job of managing such a huge brand in such a huge market with so much fierce competition. Ohhh my God, I was wrong. Her passion, her drive and her creativity took me aback. So, from being a bit player on ‘Emir Sanusi’, Amstel Malt moved to the lead beverage on ‘Encore’ – my huge theatre festival.
Marie was everywhere, very professional and engaging. I am hailing her because of the way she handled herself during the bedlam that was the hosting of the ever popular and influential Olu of Warri during the command performance of my play ‘Ogiame Erejuwa II’.
The crowd was huge. The kind you see at football matches and Davido concerts, certainly not in theatre. They pushed, they moved and they heaved. They overwhelmed security, Ogiame’s team had a herculean time protecting their King. Everybody wanted to take pictures and touch him. It was mad.
I sha noticed Marie was calm. She did not panic. She worked with me without missing a beat. “Edgar, I need Ogiame to take a pic with Dakore – their Brand Ambassador, Edgar, I need seats for my guests. Edgar, let me send in some more Malt and popcorn to the crowd outside. Edgar, move security to this side, Edgar run away, Edgar come back here.
I started taking instruction from a lady young enough to be my child. The famous Heineken training shining through. She was calm, confident and not afraid. As the crowd surged, I wanted to run o. She will hold my hand and say, stand firm. Be bold and don’t show fear.
Thank you so much adiagha Akwa Ibom and well-done.
Akinwunmi Ambode, Nice Seeing You Again
My brother, Yemi Odusanya, an Executive Director at Keystone Bank Plc was celebrating his wife’s 50th at the regal Oriental Hotel. I walked in, in slippers and a very expensive white linen shirt o. As I waltzed around the room greeting people and looking for food, I saw the head.
I screamed o. This head can only be that of my egbon and extremely popular ex- Governor of Lagos State – the venerable Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. Kai! I moved in o. Security were looking at me with one eye. All they were seeing was one man wey no comb hair, wear earring and wear slippers. Just as they were about to electric-shock me, Baba turned and screamed, “Dukeeeeee.”
He continued, “You guys don’t let this bobo go and yab me again in his column oo.” We laughed and I hugged him. I said, “ohhhh long time, I see your belle has come out and you look good.” He laughed and said, “don’t go and be yabbing me o. Don’t write anything o.”
I said “Baba, God forbid that I write anything about you. How are you sir?” We exchanged pleasantries and took pictures and left.
Such a wonderful being. A man’s man, I simply just love him to pieces for very obvious reasons. But as I reached the door, I suddenly remembered that I had wanted to ask him if he was voting Asiwaju Bulla Ballu but by the time I ran back, he had left the hall.
Nice meeting you again sir. Kai!