Greg Nwoko Historic Blog

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


Placido Adeyemo Assumpçao was born to Ribeiro and Maximiliana Assumpçao on 25th May 1884. He was a son of one of the “Brazilian” families of Lagos: black repatriates from Brazil, using Brazilian (Portuguese) names but usually remembering their African ancestry, which was often Yoruba. The groups were sometimes called Amaros or Aguda. The Alakija family for a while were the most prominent Amaros in Nigeria. His family was of Egba origin. He had a famous brother Olayinka and his sister Tejumade married Alake Ademola II of Abeokuta.

Placido Assumpçao’s family were Catholics like other “Brazilians”, but after going to the famous Catholic school in Lagos, St Gregory’s, he went on to the CMS Grammar School (Anglican). On leaving school he entered the government service as a clerical worker in 1900; he spent ten years in that service, mainly with the Posts. He married Christina Ayodele George in 1907.

In 1910 he began legal studies at the Middle Temple in London, where he was called to the Bar in 1913. In that year he abandoned his Portuguese name for a Yoruba one, Alakija. His brother Olayinka did the same and also qualified as a lawyer. He was heavily influenced by the tidal waves of cultural nationalism in Nigeria during the early twentieth century. It was this self-assertiveness that led his family to abandon their assimilated Portuguese name in favour of a native one.

Alakija studied at Oxford University in the early 1930s, and became an ardent proponent for the provision of tertiary education to Nigerians during the colonial period.

Adeyemo Alakija practiced successfully as a lawyer and also went into politics, but with less success. At first a close colleague of Herbert Macaulay, he broke with him over the issue of the British Government’s action against the Oba of Lagos (Eleko), a major issue in Lagos politics in the 1920s.

Mr (later Sir) Adeyemo Alakija described Eshugbayi Eleko as a pathetic figure who though he had no actual ruling function as a chief, occupied a position of fundamental influence in Lagos. This imposed responsibilities on him with which he was incapable of dealing, especially as the problems became progressively more complex with the growth of the metropolis of Lagos. He was not fit, either by temperaments or gifts, to be Oba. Worse still, he listened to evil counsellors, i.e. Herbert Macaulay, members of the Ilu Committee and the Jamat Muslims.

In 1923 and again in 1926 he stood for election to the Legislative Council (Legco) as an independent, without success. His brother was a prominent elected member of Legco later. Adeyemo also joined it, but only as an appointed member, representing Egba Division from 1933 to 1941. Some Egbas protesting to the government against the nomination of Adeyemo Alakija as legislative councillor for Egbaland, sent a copy of their petition to Falolu (Oba of Lagos), presumably to use Falolu’s influence in the furtherance of their cause.

In 1926 he made his most famous contribution to history by playing an active part in the foundation of the Daily Times, which, for many decades, was Nigeria’s leading newspaper. He planned it with Ernest Ikoli an already successful young editor and Richard Barrow, agent of Jurgen’s Colonial Products Limited and chairman of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce. A new daily newspaper was planned to take Reuters and radio reports among other news coverage. The idea was supported by Barrow’s expatriate business colleagues and approved by the government. Thus the Nigerian Printing and Publishing Company (NPPC) was formed, with a nominal share capital of £3,000, to start the Daily Times and take over Ikoli’s African Messenger. The new newspaper started on 1 June 1926 with Ikoli as editor.

Alakija was chairman of the Board of the NPPC. It succeeded in bringing out a popular newspaper using modern techniques, with the help of advertising by the European firms. Its success was in spite of a pro-government policy not unusual among Nigerian editors at that time apart from Alakija’s friend, Sir Kitoye Ajasa. In 1936 the NPPC was merged with West Africa Newspapers Limited of London and Liverpool, publishers of West Africa and the West African Review. Later, in 1948, the International Publishing Corporation of London took over the Daily Times enterprise.

Alakija won the traditional titles of Bariyun of AKE (Abeokuta) in 1932 and Woje Ileri of Ife in 1935. The British government also honoured one of its most steadfast Nigerian friends. He won the Jubilee Medal, the Coronation Medal and in 1939 the CBE. He attended King George VI’s coronation in 1937. In 1942, having ceased the previous year to be an appointed Legco member, he was appointed to the Executive Council. In 1945 he was Knighted, with the KBE. He went to Britain in 1949 to receive the knighthood from George VI. Oba Adele who, succeeded Falolu in 1949, made Sir Adeyemo Alakija, one of his most powerful supporters in the struggle for the succession, the Baba Eko (father of Lagos).

He was a prominent Freemason, first Nigerian to become Grand Master of the Nigerian Freemasons, who were influential among the Lagos elite. He embraced some traditional elements of Yoruba socio-political and religious history when he co-founded the reformed Ogboni society and became the Olori Oluwo, or Lord of the Lords, of the brotherhood. As a member of the Ogboni confraternity, he introduced the use of masonic symbols inside the organization, such as the unblinking eye on an inverted V and three vertical shapes.

He was the keenest enthusiast for horse racing all his life, owning horses and becoming well known for regular attendance, in his white panama hat, at Lagos race meetings. He had sent all his family to Britain by the 1930s, so that his children could receive education there. In 1938, his first wife having died, he married a second with exactly the same name, Ayodele George, but unrelated to the other. They moved, in 1951, to a new house, said to be the finest private house in Lagos, Ake House at Obalende.

Sir Adeyemo was not prominent in party politics but he contributed greatly to their start by organising, in 1945, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, of which he became the first president; this Yoruba Organisation (“League of the Sons of Oduduwa”) became the nucleus of the Action Group. He was also president of the Nigerian Youth Movement.

Sir Adeyemo Alakija died on 10 May 1952. His widow, Lady Alakija, was for years afterwards an active director of the Daily Times of Nigeria Limited and a living link with its early days under her husband


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