Ibadan: The many firsts of an ancient city

If you plan to build your house like that of Adebisi, you might end up not building any house at all” is a recurring phrase in Ibadan. It is employed to sermonise people to avoid unaffordable show-off.

The owner of that first-of-its-kind, one-of-a-kind residential building being referred to in that expression is Sanusi Adebisi, one of the wealthiest men of his time, during the colonial era. He died 83 years ago – on 23 January, 1938.

A visit to the mansion in Idikan on Wednesday showed that modernity has done so little to prevent the building from still standing tall in that heart-of-the-city community. The architectural design still exuded class.

The visiting Saturday Tribune crew was greeted at the palace-like entrance of the house by a young man who turned out to be one of Adebisi’s great grandchildren. Ismail Adebisi promptly led the Saturday Tribune to his grandpa, one of Adebisi’s direct descendants, Pa Aransi Adebisi, who unhesitatingly obliged the visitors by asking Ismail to show them to as many parts of the house that they wished to see, including the big man’s mausoleum.

Yejide Girls Grammar School, named after the first female to go to school in Ibadan.

There was “Ogboja Hall” a hall downstairs that still contains chairs. According to Ismail, the hall was named after Sanusi Adebisi’s father.

“There are as many as 60 rooms in this building,” the man said upon an enquiry. He showed Saturday Tribune to one of the rooms upstairs. It was Adebisi’s bedroom, at a corner of which still sat the iron bed which Ismail said the rich man slept in. Next to that room was the merchant’s parlour. There is a block of rooms at the rear part of the building which Ismail referred to as the women’s quarters.

Beyond that block is a space that contains graves of some members of the Adebisi family. Within that space is also a mausoleum housing the remains of Sanusi himself and some of his siblings. Two of Sanusi’s favourite horses were also buried there, beside their owner’s grave. The animals’ graves were distinctly larger than those of their human owner.

A few kilometers away from Adebisi’s mansion is also the mansion of another successful Ibadan entrepreneur, Salami Agbaje, in Ayeye. Saturday Tribune observed that time has not robbed this equally historical building of its splendor.

There is also in that axis the palace of Balogun Ibikunle also defying the corrosion of age.

These structures tell the enduring story of Ibadan, a city that will be 200 years old in nine years’ time.

A separate visit to the first church in Ibadan, located at Kudeti, brought back memories. The sight of the first storey building in Ibadan that hosted the Hinderers, David and Anna, and the very first school established by the Germans, now named after David, evoked many questions. Abese Kukomi, called Baba Isale Onigbagbo, an Ibadan warrior who hosted the duo and gave them the land to build the school and church in 1853, could not have imagined he was making history.

Ibadan Grammar School, the first grammar school in Ibadan, founded by Bishop Alexander Akinyele.

The family head of Ikolaba, Ile Onirobo, at Agbeni, Mogaji Gboyega Adejumo. Incidentally, he is from the lineage of Kukomi, as his great grandfather was born by a daughter of the Ibadan warlord who hosted the Hinderers, Lapemo. The Mogaji is loaded with history and was happy to share Saturday Trbune. He said the present settlers in Ibadan migrated from different places to inhabit the town, as his own great grandfather, Bashorun Yamba, left Ode-Oyo with Iba Oluyole to settle down in the present Ibadan.  He also spoke of Balogun Ibikunle, who came from Ogbomoso as seen in his tribal mark; Bashorun Ogunmola from Seesu, near Iwo town; Aare Laatosa from Ilora and some other notable early settlers.

On what made some notable Ibadan men and women tick, Mogaji Adejumo said that though Ibadan is a cosmopolitan city, as the settlers migrated from different places, the adventurous, valiant and irrepressible spirit of any Ibadan indigene will make them stand out anywhere. He said records and many successes of the early settlers made the city the centre of administration of the old Western Region since the days of the British colonial rule.

Ibadan people are also proud of their town. Professor Bolanle Awe, in an interview she had with Ronke Olawale of the University of Michigan, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, in 2019, described Ibadan thus: “When I started doing my own postgraduate work, especially as I specialised in the history of Ibadan, and that was a very exciting thing for me because Ibadan has been one of the largest towns in Nigeria. It was a town which was able to be a defence station against other groups of people, like those in the north, who defeated part of the world we used to know as the Oyo Empire; and destroyed them; and some of the people came down south and some of them settled in Ibadan.

“And in fact when there was another attempt to drive them away, it was Ibadan people at Osogbo who came together and drove away the people from the north and that was a tremendous thing. I’ve always been very proud of the fact that Ibadan is such a large town. A town which has achieved so much in so many ways, and I think someone was talking to me yesterday or the day before, it’s one of the largest towns around here. And one is extremely proud of it, that one could live in a town like this. And that the town could develop as it has developed. Anytime I have visitors I take them to Mapo Hall and make them go to the very top and see the whole of the town.

The Adebisi mansion in Idikan.

“Sometimes I go to Bower’s Tower which is even higher up, to let people see just how big Ibadan is. Then we drive around, especially the old part of Ibadan. It’s impressive when you drive around the old part. If you come down from Mapo Hall and you’re doing down, on the right, you’ll be amazed about the size of the town. The houses, the villages, and so on. You’ll just be amazed that there’s so much. Then on the left, you will see all kinds of traditions and things. There’s a place when they make the asude; what do you call the people who make the asude? The people who help to, they do all sorts of things with… well I can’t remember, But the Asudes are very important for Ibadans. As warriors, they provided all of the war implements. There’s a place as you go towards Bower’s Tower, on the left, you see this place where the Asudes are. They make all the war implements that one could possibly want.”

Looking at the interesting history of Ibadan, the city has very rich cultural heritage. It is the site of the first television station in Africa, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA); the home of Nigeria’s first university, the University of Ibadan; and Nigeria’s first high-rise building, Cocoa House, which opened in 1965. It also has records of notable family compounds with distinct records of achievements and the many battles fought and won and names of its famed warriors. The city is famous for its military prowess as it was ruled by warriors at inception.

The first primary school in Ibadan was founded in 1853 by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) under the leadership of Reverend David Hinderer. Other schools came in its wake, especially with the advent of other missionary groups in Ibadan. In 1905, the Wesleyan Methodist Mission founded a Teachers’ College in Ibadan. Ibadan’s first secondary school, Ibadan Grammar School, was founded in 1913 by some members of the CMS congregation, and the first principal was Reverend Alexander B. Akinyele, with 12 students on the first roll. The Roman Catholic and Methodist missions also founded several secondary schools. The colonial government entered the race by establishing Government College Ibadan (GCI) in 1929.

The first Christian denomination to get to Ibadan was the CMS, with Reverend David Hinderer as the first missionary in 1853. He founded the first Anglican Church, which later became known as St. David’s at Kudeti. The Methodist came in 1888 and by 1891 they had achieved a firm footing. The Roman Catholic came in 1895, the Baptist in 1906, Salvation Army in 1921, and the Seventh Day Adventist in 1926.

Other historical building in the city include the magnificent Mapo Hall which foundation was laid in 1925 by Captain Ross and declared open in 1929 by His Excellency, Sir Graeme Thomson, during the traditional leadership of Oba Shiyanbola Ladigbolu, the Alaafin of Oyo and Baale Oyewole of Ibadan.

The first storey building in Ibadan inside St. David Church, Kudeti.

The first British resident in Ibadan was Captain Robert Lister Bower. In 1936, a monument was put up to honour him – the Bower Tower – which can be seen at the top of Oke-Are in Ibadan. An historic monument, the tower was designed by Taffy Jones, the engineer that designed Mapo Hall. It is 60 feet high and 11 feet square with two entrances and a spiral staircase that leads to the top of the tower. From the summit of the tower, one can see sprawling Ibadan roundabout and appreciate the pre-historicity of the town. Bower’s Tower is located on the summit of Oke-Are, the highest hill in Ibadan, from which one enjoys a commanding view of the city.

From its famous founder, Lagelu, to the great warrior Ibadan ever had, Balogun Ibikunle and other prominent indigenes, warriors and even some foreigners with famous feats in the city, monuments are named to keep their remembrance for successive generations. There are also records of its many firsts, including the first university graduate from Ibadan, Bishop A. B. Akinyele; the first lawyer, Mojeed Agbaje of the famous Agbaje family; the first Ibadan medical doctor, Saka Anthony Agbaje, a United Kingdom-trained doctor and the first western-trained doctor from Ibadan who later established Alafia Hospital in Ibadan. There is also Dr Victor Omololu Olunloyo, the first Ibadan man to obtain Ph.D. He later became the first Ibadan man to become governor of Oyo State, having earlier been appointed a commissioner of the Western Region at age of 27.

There are also famous Ibadan women with distinctive reputations. In 1944, Wuraola Esan (nee Ojo), an Ibadan woman of the Ojo Ibadan fame, established the Ibadan People’s Girls Grammar School in Molete. In the 1950s, she entered partisan politics and was a member of the women’s wing of the Action Group. Wuraola Esan was able to rise through the ranks to become the first female member of the Nigerian National Assembly, as a nominated senator from Ibadan West. In 1975, she took the title of Iyalode and thus acquired the rank of a high chief in Ibadan. Her daughter, Jadesola Olayinka Akande, a former vice chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU), became the first Nigerian female professor of Law. Professor Bolanle Awe (nee Fajembola), also from Ibadan, is the first Nigerian female professor of History.

Speaking on the feat he achieved, Dr Olunloyo said making a record was natural, from his primary school days to his university days, as he was personally motivated by his scholastic family background and influence of his father, Horatio and people around him who he called role models. His words: “My father was the first to pass London matric as seen in a letter written to me by Awolowo. I am also impressed by the record of an Ibadan man, Adegoke Adelabu (Penkelemesi), GCI admission number 96, who Saburi Biobaku, a renowned scholar and historian, GCI number 121, described as the best the GCI has ever produced or will ever produce.” Olunloyo said unlike now, students of his time enjoyed the service of first class teachers right from their primary schools, with a learning condition that was conducive for excellence. He said those foundation helped him a great deal in his academic adventure

In 1852, the Church Missionary Society (CMS), now the Anglican Church, sent David and Anna Hinderer to found a mission. They were the first Europeans to settle in Ibadan in 1853. They were hosted by a warrior in Ibadan at the time, Abese Kukomi and built a church on the piece of land given to them by the warrior. The first Sunday service was held in Ibadan on May 1, 1853 at the first church in Ibadan, St David’s Church, Kudeti. The couple built churches and Anna taught at the new school. They built the first one-storey building in Ibadan, which is still standing at Kudeti. The first pupils to attend an elementary school in Ibadan were from the famous Olunloyo family – Yejide (female) and Akinyele Olunloyo (male) – the two children of an Ibadan high chief and notable warrior.

The first church in Ibadan was named after David Hinderer, the German leader of the CMS and it stands till today at Kudeti as St. David’s Church. There is also St David School named after him inside the Kudeti church. St. Anne’s School (previously known as Kudeti Girls School) in Ibadan was later merged with the Girls’ School in Lagos and became known as St. Anne’s in 1950, named after Anna Hinderer. For the first female to ever attend school in Ibadan, Yejide Olunloyo, a school, Yejide Girls Grammar School, was named after her, with one of the houses in the school named after Akinyele, the first male to attend school in Ibadan.

Alexander Babatunde Akinyele, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), aside from being the first indigene of Ibadan to obtain a university degree, was also the first Anglican Diocesan Bishop of Ibadan. He was as well the founder of the first secondary school in Ibadan, Ibadan Grammar School. He had four siblings, but only one of them compared to him favourably in eminence and prominence; Isaac Babalola Akinyele, who later became the president of Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) and the first literate Olubadan of Ibadanland.  According to Mogaji Adejumo, the two Akinyeles were grandchildren of Abese Kukomi, the host of the Hinderers. They were born by Lapemo, his daughter.

Salami Agbaje’s mansion in Ayeye.

The elder Akinyele attended St. Peter’s School, Ibadan, around 1880 and later completed his primary school education at Abobade School, Aroloya, Lagos. He graduated first in his class and was admitted the following year to the famous CMS Grammar School in Lagos. The Bishop would recall later in life how he was jeered, taunted and ridiculed by his schoolmates in Lagos as “that boy with tribal marks.” He then left to attend St. Andrews College, Oyo, for teacher training. Subsequently, he became a teacher, and combined teaching with the duties of a catechist, organist and choirmaster. Bishop Tugwell, during his Episcopal visit to Abeokuta in 1903, was so impressed with Alexander Akinyele’s expertise as the organist at a church in Ake, particularly his flawless rendition of the visiting European Bishop’s favourite hymn, that he ordered Alexander to sit the entrance examination to Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone. He entered the college on January 25, 1904. In 1906, he was awarded Licentiate in Theology (LTh), and later he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in 1912, thus becoming the first Ibadan indigene to obtain a university degree.

On March 31, 1913, Ibadan Grammar School was established in a mud-built storey building owned by Mr Samson Oke and located at what was then Apampa Road in Alekuso, near Bere Square, Ibadan, with Akinyele as its first principal. The school later moved to Oke Are and thereafter established on its new site at Ehin Grammar in Molete, a 58-acre piece of land, on March 5, 1951 under the Archdeacon Alayande’s leadership as principal.

Alexander Akinyele became a Canon on May 17, 1931, and was consecrated as Assistant Bishop on July 25, 1933 at a solemn ceremony at Lambeth Palace Chapel, London. On March 24, 1952 at St. James Cathedral Church, Ibadan, at the age of 77, he was enthroned as the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Ibadan. He delivered a famous sermon on February 12, 1956, when Queen Elizabeth II, during a state visit to Nigeria, worshiped at St. James Cathedral, Oke Bola, Ibadan. In his honour, the Anglican Church, Ibadan Diocese, established Bishop Akinyele Grammar School, Oke-Are, Ibadan, on Monday, October 30, 2000.

Alexander Akinyele’s younger brother, Isaac Babalola Akinyele, a Knight of the British Empire (KBE), ascended to the throne of Ibadan, becoming the first educated Olubadan and the second Christian to ascend to the throne. He worked for a time as a civil servant and became a customs inspector for the Ibadan District Council in 1903. He rose through the ranks to become the chief judge of the native court. He was also a very successful entrepreneur. He established cocoa plantations throughout Ibadan and its environs. Prior to 1924, Isaac Akinyele was a devout Anglican layman. He broke away from the main orthodox brand to join the Faith Tabernacle; the precursor of the Christ Apostolic Church and became the first president of that church.

In 1933, Isaac Akinyele became a councillor of the Ibadan Native Authority. He became an Ibadan chief in 1935. When he was appointed the Balogun of Ibadan, Isaac Akinyele had a Christian staff made with a cross affixed on top, dedicated by church members with prayer and fasting. In 1948, he was honoured by the King of the United Kingdom and thus he became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. On February 17, 1955, he became the Olubadan. Although some objected to his ascension because of his total rejection of the pagan traditional beliefs, he was the choice of the overwhelming majority. He was subsequently knighted, taking the KBE from Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 1956 during her state visit to Nigeria. The king was honoured with the establishment of Oba Akinyele Memorial High School in Basorun.

Another famous Ibadan man, an educator par excellence, is T. L. Oyesina, the founding principal of Ibadan Boys High School and two other schools in Ibadanland. T. L. Oyesina Model Secondary School in Monatan, Ibadan, was named after him.

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