History Through the Headlines (3), By Muni King-Keazor & Ed Emeka Keazor
…in 1964, he composed the track, ‘Ewu n’ebe akwa’. This song was performed at a club in Kano in 1966, shortly after the January 15 coup attempt, and it led to a near riot, as it was rather unwisely misapplied by a small number of individuals in tactless jest, referencing the late Sardauna of Sokoto, who had been killed in that coup attempt. Rex Lawson barely escaped with his life…
This is a rehash of stories that made the headlines through 160 years of Nigerian press history for the week of 15-22 June.
The Lagos Weekly Record, June 17, 1899: ‘The effect of the Railway upon Lagos’. The railway between Lagos and Abeokuta was commenced in 1897 and completed in 1899, with the intention of enhancing contact between Lagos and the hinterland, of which the movement of goods from the hinterland areas was prime in the focus of the planners. Hitherto, goods had largely been transported by the river. The Lagos Weekly Record, here, raised concerns about the location of the Railway Station at Iddo, which at that time was removed from the Island of Lagos. This was to be bridged, literally, two years after this, with the construction of the first Carter bridge in 1901.
The Lagos Weekly Record was founded in 1881 by Liberian/Lagosian, John Payne Jackson and taken over by his son, Thomas Horatio Jackson, upon the senior Jackson’s death in 1915. The paper’s style was bold, irreverent and it constantly challenged the colonial authorities, firmly representing the rights of Africans.
The Lagos Standard, June 17, 1913: ‘The Nigerian Civil Service Union’. This front page piece details the trajectory of Nigeria’s first Labour Union. Founded in August 1912 by Henry Liebert, it went on to become the seeding ground for an evolutionary series of workers’ unions, such as the Trade Union Congress and the Nigerian Labour Congress after it. The Lagos Standard was founded in 1895 by George Williams. The Lagos Weekly Record and the Lagos Standard were the two main papers at the time of the amalgamation in 1914, and they shared the same bold, activist editorial style, representing the interests of Africans against high-handed colonialism.
The Lagos Standard, June 19, 1918: ‘The Rising in Egbaland’. The Egba Uprising of June/July 1918 (or the ‘Adubi War’) was the revolt of the Egba people against colonial taxation, as aftermath of the 1914 amalgamation. This taxation policy being in-spite of the fact that Egba-land had been an autonomous government, from the treaty of 1893. The revolt resulted in widespread violent confrontations between Egba warriors and colonial forces. The Egba were, however, defeated and their Kingdom finally annexed as part of the new nation of Nigeria. One of the Egba war songs of the period, ‘Gbagada Gbogodo’, was recorded by the Egba musician, Fela-Anikulapo-Kuti, in 1972.
West African Pilot, June 21, 1944: ‘Earth Tremor Shakes Houses in Lagos’. In June 1944, a number of West African cities experienced serious earth tremors. These were initially – and erroneously – believed to have been bombs, as the Second World War was ongoing at the time. It was later found to be a natural phenomenon, and whilst Lagos suffered little by way of damage, Accra, Ghana, however experienced substantial impact.
Daily Times of Nigeria, June 21, 1944: ‘Kings College Incident: An Official Statement’. The Kings College incident, as so-called, occurred when a group of students of the College, wrote a letter protesting the sequestering of their dormitories for use as barracks for soldiers headed to battlefields during the Second World War. Unsatisfactory responses to their demands led the students to embark on a strike, and the end result was that the students were arrested and charged with public order offences number of them were conscripted into the Army. One student was known to have died in detention. This incident aroused considerable outrage across the country and was seized upon by the nationalist movement, as part of its grievances against the colonial authorities.
West African Pilot, June 19, 1953: ‘Esther Johnson is found guilty of murder of lover’. The Esther Johnson story was one of the most prominent scandals of the 1950s. The summary of this incident was that Esther Johnson (aka Ada Ocha Ntu) had murdered her British boyfriend, Mark Hall, a railway worker, by stabbing him to death with a pair of scissors (ironically one of her tools of trade as a seamstress). This was in response to his breaking the news to her that he had not just married an Englishwoman, while back in the U.K. on leave, but had also applied money lent to him by Johnson in purchasing a taxi for his new wife. She was sentenced to hanging at the Lagos Island prison. However, her story gained public sympathy, and progressive postponements of her sentence went in her favour, as she was granted a pardon by the government a year after independence in 1961. A bar commemorating the saga is located at the Freedom Park, Lagos (formerly the Lagos Prison), where Johnson was held for eight years.
The Nigerian Outlook, May 22, 1964: ‘The Day Cardinal Came To Town’. This article focuses on a performance by the great highlife bandleader at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1964. Erekosima (Rex) Lawson was one of Nigeria’s most popular artistes of the 1960s, with a string of hits starting with his first nationwide smasher, ‘Tamuno Gbo Iboro Ma’ (1963). Also in 1964, he composed the track, ‘Ewu n’ebe akwa’. This song was performed at a club in Kano in 1966, shortly after the January 15 coup attempt, and it led to a near riot, as it was rather unwisely misapplied by a small number of individuals in tactless jest, referencing the late Sardauna of Sokoto, who had been killed in that coup attempt. Rex Lawson barely escaped with his life from Kano, and was in fact only saved from lynching in Zaria by the fortuitous presence of playwright, Wole Soyinka, who pleaded for his release from the clutches of an angry mob. (Ref: interview with Tony Odili, band member; August 23, 2017). Lawson survived the Nigerian civil war, first by aligning with the Biafran side, and subsequently moving to the federal side. He passed away in a fatal motor accident in January 1971
The West African Pilot, June 22, 1966: ‘Treason: Isaac Boro, Two Others to Hang’. That was headline announcing the death sentence passed on Niger Delta activist, Isaac Boro and his colleagues of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, Samuel Owonaru and Nottingham Dick, based on a charge of treason. However, Boro, Owonaru and Dick were to obtain reprieve 15 months later, when they were released by by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon on August 4, 1967.
Daily Times of Nigeria, June 17, 1976: ‘Golden Jubilee 1926-1976: Where it all began from Broad Street’. This headline celebrated the golden jubilee of the Daily Times newspaper. Founded in 1926, with journalist Ernest Ikoli as its first editor, it rose at one stage to become Nigeria’s highest circulated newspaper.
The Sunday Concord, June 17, 1984: ‘Naira Trafficking Booms Abroad’. As part of its socio-economic reform agenda, the federal military government of Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, enforced a change of the colour of the Nigerian currency, the naira. This was intended to stem the international trafficking of the currency. The Sunday Concord, however, ran a series of reports in June of the same year, showing the widespread illegal trafficking of the naira in Europe, USA, Asia and parts of Africa
Muni King-Keazor, a journalist, photographer and writer, was former editor of Happy Home Magazine, while Ed Emeka Keazor is an historian, lawyer and film-maker.