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“Eyingbeti” [the promised land or sea]

By Bashoru J.K Randle

“Eyingbeti” refers to that stretch of waterside in Lagos where business and other commercial activities with the rest of the world commenced over two centuries ago. It was not contaminated or polluted by the unsavoury trade in slaves which was largely confined to the Badagry axis. However, scholars insist that Lagos actively participated and benefitted from the slave trade.

For several decades ships from England, France, Netherlands etc would anchor off-shore and unload their cargo of textiles (including wool for clothing regardless of the hot climate !!), utensils; shoes, drugs (neither fake nor otherwise dangerous), machinery, paints, cement and other items into barges and deliver them to what was then the quayside that was on the Marina where the Customs and Excise Department as well as Shipping agencies [e.g. Elder Dempster] were located.

Eyingbeti was evidently the epicentre of thriving trade and the prosperity that came with it. Progressively, it expanded all the way along the shoreline all the way to Elegbata, Iduoluwo, and the adjoining areas of Ofin, Apongbon and Olowogbowo. Over time, the expansion proceeded in the opposite direction – the rest of the Marina and eventually embraced Broad Street, Customs Street, Martins Street and Oil Mill Street.

Not all the dominant players of those days have survived intact or flourished to become enduring champions of industry and commerce. In order to give credit to whom it is due, the least we can do is to roll out the names of the lending “Mercantile Houses” (as they called themselves) of yester years – United Africa Company (UAC) (English); United Trading Company (UTC) (Swiss); Leventis (Greek); Chellarams (Indian); Chanrai (Indian); Bata Shoe Company (Polish); J. Allen (English); West African Shipping Line (English); Holland West Africa (Dutch); Witt and Bush (English); C.F.A.O (French); John Holt (English); Gottschalk (English); Paterson and Zochonis (Greek), GB Ollivant (English) etc.

The banks soon sprouted up along the Marina – the first was the Bank For British West Africa (1894) followed by Barclays Overseas Bank; British and French Bank etc.

At this juncture, we should pause to thank Ms. Olaitan Williams who has invited us to watch a most riveting documentary on “The Renaissance of Ehingbeti Maritime Heritage To/And The Establishement of The Blue Economy in Lagos State.” It is my special privilege and honour to recognise the presence in our midst His Royal Highness Oba Abdulwasiu Omogbolahan Lawal, Oniru of Iruland) as the Royal Father of the Day; and Dr. [Mrs.] Magdalene Ajani [Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation] who is the Special Guest of Honour. We are blessed with a truly distinguished line up of panellists (not panel beaters !!) – namely,

Dr. Bashir Jamoh – the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration And Safety Agency (NIMASA); Rt. Hon. Emanuel Jime, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Shippers’ Council Barrister Funmi Folorunsho, Vice President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Mrs. Benette Okonkwo, President Nigeria Trawlers Association.

We are entitled to savour in advance the introduction of the Book Project titled: “Renaissance Of Ehingbeti In The Lagos Blue Economy”, by an outstanding and erudite scholar, Professor Iyiola Oni whose formidable academic credentials have preceded him.

The presence of the Permanent Secretary of the all-powerful Federal Ministry of Transportation has reminded me that my first job ever was at that Ministry. It was then known as the “Ministry of Transport and Aviation” and was located at what was then known as “The Secretariat” in Lagos. The entrance was on the Marina while the rear exit was on Broad Street. That was almost sixty years ago !!

I wish Chief Ade Ojo the motor car magnate was here. He and I shared a table. My job was to record the number of planes which landed daily at what was then known as Ikeja Airport. It was a vacation job while I was in The Upper Sixth form at King’s College, Lagos, and the money I was paid was extra pocket money which I spent freely. Not so for Ade. He saved every penny as he was fiercely determined to do battle with poverty by sponsoring himself to the University of Nsukka, in the Eastern Region.

It had just been founded with considerable vigour and boldness by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Premier of the Eastern Region and later the first President of Nigeria. Some of you may have been overwhelmed a few weeks ago by the avalanche of congratulatory advertisements in newspapers when Chief Ade Ojo celebrated his 85th birthday. He followed it up with a video of him gyrating and vigorously doing the BUGA dance !!

What I am not at liberty to disclose is that he was nearly sacked at the Ministry of Transport and Aviation because the then Permanent Secretary suspected that Ade (a lowly clerk) was competing with him for the affection of a young lady who worked in the Registry !!

It is a source of immense joy that Chief Ade Ojo, an astute businessman has accomplished enormous success. However, his involvement with the Blue Economy is somewhat indirect. After graduating from university, he worked as a salesman (selling motor cars) at C.F.A.O. Limited which was a major player in Ehingbeti. Its office was at 1, Davies Street. It also owned warehouses all over Ehingbeti.

You can well imagine the tremendous opportunities that were available to enterprising youngmen and women at Ehingbeti. What was available (and remain so) are limitless possibilities for wealth creation. It offers the promise of a New Dawn for the bold and the brave.

Indeed, in the heat of battle, champions rise to the occasion. What are required are vision, commitment and energy – anchored on determination and tenacity of purpose. However, we cannot afford to ignore the challenges and obstacles manifested by mistrust combined with low self-esteem and compromised expectations by the inhabitants of Ehingbeti. They feel abandoned.

It is now time for the Government to redefine its relationship with the underclass that has emerged all over Lagos and Ehingbeti in particular. The palliatives recently announced by both the State and Federal Governments appear to be bereft of any spectacular succour or salvation regarding the subject matter of our deliberations.

Our hostess, Ms. Olaitan Williams is absolutely right to overwhelm us with her passion and knowledge about Ehingbeti. We do not need to remind ourselves that knowledge is power. She has shared some of it with us. There are many stories to tell – about the people; about their history; and the lost ground which we must now salvage.

The challenge is whether we are able and willing to correct our past mistakes and neglect. Ehingbeti has been beautifully preserved inspite of indifference. Once we craft and establish our mission first, the value chain as well as the supply chain will become crystal clear in the waters of the Blue Economy.

It is self-evident that poverty is the forgotten enemy. We have been chasing the wrong demons. The convener of this event has challenged us to join her to deliver a new road map to counter despair and disillusionment as well as resentment. She has the support and endorsement of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Antonio Guterres who has emphatically declared: “They are trends that can be reversed, Problems that can be solved …”

The stakes are high. We have to heal and bring hope to the long-suffering victims of our indifference and neglect. We appear to have consigned them to a lifetime of rage.

It was my late grandmother who used to lament the ruthless pursuit of wealth on earth by reminding whoever cared to listen:

“While you are busy grabbing everything on earth, just remember that there are hundred times more below – in the rivers, lakes, lagoons, seas and the mighty oceans.”

As for my late grandfather Dr. J.K. Randle whose house was at 31 Marina, Lagos, (now Royal Exchange House) bang in the middle of Eyingbeti, when he had to contend with a raging epidemic which ravaged Lagos about one hundred years ago as the medical officer for the colony he concluded that the virus was water-borne.

Alas, he was not correct. He nevertheless valiantly endeavoured to protect the lives of the inhabitants of Ehingbeti and its environs. According to available records, almost fifty-five percent of the population were wiped out.

In 1888, he graduated with Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees at Edinburgh and gained the Gold Medal in materia medica.

Randle practiced privately, treating most of the European traders of Lagos, particularly the Germans.

Perhaps we should pause and reflect on

(i) The front page of “Sunday Punch” newspaper of July 16, 2023.

Headline: “Lagos slum where traders wash, smoke fish with wastewater”

(ii) Front page of “Saturday Tribune” newspaper of July 15, 2023

“We rent space on lagos bridge yearly for N20,000, outright space purchase is N50,000 – Street Traders.”

(iii) Front page of “The Nation” newspaper July 15, 2023 “Lagos school where fees are paid with empty plastic bottles”

· Parents inability to pay N6,000 fees gave rise to the idea, says proprietor.

· Indigent kids: It has helped us to keep our dreams alive, stay away from crime.

“Many indigent children and potential recruits into deadly gangs in Ajegunle part of Lagos State notorious for criminal activities are finding meaning in life working as agents of environmental change. They are working against improper disposal of plastic bottles which is said to be affecting human populations, the ecosystems and invariably worsening global environmental crisis. The kids, aided by their parents, gather plastic bottles and hand them over to their school’s authorities which accept them as part or full payment for their school fees. The idea was mooted by the proprietor to give them access to education.”

That is harsh reality. Thankfully, some of them have not given up hope entirely:

(i) “There are many homeless kids in our neighbourhood. Some of the girls have been impregnated and are now loitering around the streets. It is an eyesore for me. I have promised my mother that I will not be like those girls.”

(ii) “I have seen people fighting in our neighbourhood. They don’t only fight, they also stab one and another using different kinds of weapon. Many of them are out of school and I don’t want to be like them or like the girls walking about aimlessly.”

We are in a quandary but we cannot escape the admonition and stricture of the African proverb: “He that beats the drum for the mad man to dance is no better than the mad man himself.”

Text of an address delivered at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos on 22nd July 2023

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