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When Christmas carolers visited Ernest Ikoli’s Family

The Salvation Army team with Madam Elsie Ikoli (middle)

Though, there is a ban on any form of street parade in Lagos, this was not the case in time past when revelers often took over the entire landscape of the state.

These celebrations date back to the 19th century, when Brazilian returnees, ‘Agudas’, as they were called, and Sierra Leoneans (Creoles or Saros) established many traditions associated with their Christian faith.

The major ones being Christmas, Easter, Lenten season and feasts of patron saints in the Roman Catholic Church. These celebrations were marked with street processions, carnivals and revelries.

Then, as early as November, Christmas carolers and some other groups of singers, musicians, puppeteer and mask performers visited homes of elite in their communities to share the joy of Christmas.

Various quarters of cosmopolitan Lagos, such as Lafiaji, Campus and Okepopo, which Christians populated and other communities with large Diaspora presence saw these celebrations as moments to show love for one another.

These people, with multiple backgrounds, were bounded in unity and love, and when the British later came with their ‘annexation’ policy, which entailed creating the colony of Lagos as seat of power, they resisted as a people with a cultural identity.

Macaulay Street, Lagos, with it’s prominent resident, as Ernest Sissei Ikoli, was always busy during holidays and festival times such as, Christmas when all the churches came caroling at his door. Ikoli’s home was situated at the heart of Lagos.

Ikoli lived on 18, Macaulay Street, off Joseph Hayden Street, named after the Baptist missionary, Joseph Hayden. Other neighbouring streets were Alof and Ricca, which spilled into Okepopo Square of protestant Christian denominations and missionary churches, while Campus Square whose residents were predominantly Roman Catholic, was just a stone throw away.

One of the traditions that the Ernest Ikoli family has held on to from their Lagos Island heritage was Carol Night.

Every Christmas season, a day is set aside to host carolers of the Salvation Army Church and to make members of the family, especially the younger generations aware and celebrate the patriarch of the family, Ikoli.

However, this feast no longer holds in Macaulay Street, where the second generation of Ikolis were born, but at Madam Elsie Ikoli’s residence in Surulere.

This year, it was fun and excitement at the home of Madam Elsie, now in her 80s, as the family played host to the Salvation Army Church carolers.

Held on this hazy harmattan afternoon of December 14, the musical session was one that anybody around would not forget in a hurry.

There was sound of drumming and singing from the team of carolers made up of the staff and cadets (pastors –in- training) of the Salvation Army Officers’ Training College; Lagos led by Major Janet Howarth.

The carolers, who had Cadet Emeobong Ekwere as conductor, gave melodious musical renditions, while the praise team leader was Cadet Imobong Imo.

Both Patience Ayebanengiyefa Ikoli and Major Janet Howarth gave solo renditions that were supported by joyous singing, dancing and musical renditions from the brass band giving the atmosphere a carnivalesque frill.

There were equally holy exhortations and dedication of prayers to the host family. The Bible readings were taken by both members of the Ikoli family and the Salvation Army Church.

The Salvation Army Church and Charity Organisation was founded in 1865, in London, by the Methodist preacher William Booth and his wife, Catherine, to provide food and shelter to the poor of East London.

Today, its evangelical and humanitarian activities have spread to over 130 countries.

It was introduced into Nigeria in the 1920s when Lt. Colonel and Mrs. George H. Souter landed in Lagos followed by Staff Captain and Mrs. Charles Smith with 10 Indian officers.

According to Lt. Wisdom Chibueze Mgbebuihe, “Christmas is a season that provides great opportunities for fellowship, evangelism and charity. This informed our coming to fellowship with Mama Ikoli’s family today.”

The oldest surviving daughter and matriarch of this family, Madam Elsie, said, “when her late father was stricken with terminal illness, as priests of the Christian churches within his neighbourhood refused to administer holy communion, because he considered them to be hypocrites, ashe knew most of them personally to be “fornicators, adulterers and alcoholics.”

He was that blunt.

To Ikoli’s family, out of all these Christian groups, the Salvation Army Church remains special.

She continued, “so, when he passed away, those very priests and churches retaliated by refusing to conduct his funeral. This was when Salvation Army Church came into the picture as they stepped in to do just that.”

For this, Elsie said, “the family is eternally grateful.”

That singular act endeared to the church, which she adopted as place of worship.

At the end of the occasion, Mr. Edward Ayo Diete-Koki, a grandson, made the response of appreciation on behalf of the family while Major Comfort Igwebuike gave the vote of thanks on behalf of the Salvation Army Church.

Among the members of the family present were grandchildren, great grandchildren of Ikoli, and Anthony George-Ikoli SAN, grandson, the chief and patriarch of the family.

But who was Ernest Sissei Ikoli? He was first and foremost, a hero of Nigeria’s independence, nationalist, politician and pace setting journalist.

The first emergence of nationalism and political parties in the 1920s actually had its root in this Island Lagos.

Herbert Macaulay (1864-1946), who is considered the father of Nigerian’s nationalism and a great leader, founded the first political party, Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP).

But what changed everything was when a more radical movement and political action group known as the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) took over the scene.

Ikoli started this movement with other fiery radicals like, Chief Hezekiah Oladipo Davies, Sir J.C. Vaughan and Oba Samuel Akinsanya.

It started as a Lagos Youth Movement in 1930s to voice concerns about the shoddy colonial education policy, but as varied members such as, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Kofo Abayomi, Chief (Dr.) Nnamdi Azikwe and Samuel Ladoke Akintola and many others entered the organisation, it metamorphosed to become the Nigerian Youth Movement, a political action group with a nationalist outlook.

Macaulay’s party, NNDP, which had won all the seats in the elections of 1923, 1928 and 1933, in 1938 had to bow out from the scene. It lost all its seats in the Lagos Town Council and its representative seat for Lagos Colony in the Nigerian Legislative Council to the more radical Nigerian Youth Movement, which Ikoli, its president, won.

He was elected twice as a member for Lagos in the Nigeria’s legislative Council (1942 and re-elected in 1946).

In 1954, the British crown decorated him with an O.B.E (Officer of the British Empire) for his contributions to the Nigeria press as a pioneering journalist and to politics.

He was also given posthumous national award, that is, the Nigerian Centenary Award in 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

He was also differently awarded the National Media Merit Award in recognition of his role as father of Nigeria’s journalism, as well as Knight of the Order of the Peacock by the Island Club of Lagos, and more recently, by the Rivers State government.

Ikoli was born in Nembe, Bayelsa State, in 1893. He was educated at Bonny Government Primary School, Rivers State, where, at the age of 10, he won the John Miller’s Silver Cup as the most brilliant pupil in the Southern Protectorate. He moved to Lagos, where he was a foundation student of King’s College in 1909.

At the age of 19, he was already an assistant master of mathematics and science at his alma mater. An opponent of racism and colonialism, he was caught up with the growing nationalistic fervor of his time, thus, he resigned his tutorship at King’s College, because “a European master spoke to me in a manner I considered an insult to my race.”

He resigned his appointment and joined the staff of the Lagos Weekly Record, a nationalist paper edited by John Payne Jackson. From then on, he edited a range of newspapers.

Ikoli was a politician cum journalist, like most patriotic men of his time. His editorials of political evangelism centreed on the theme of Independence for Nigeria.

He is remembered today as hero of Nigeria’s independence and as the pacesetter of Nigerian journalism, and on all issues of independence struggle.

He never lost focus. He was the first editor of the Daily Times of Nigeria and publisher of the now defunct African Messenger.

He left the Daily Times and founded the weekly Daily Service in 1934, prior to which he started his own paper, The Daily Telegraph.

Between 1941 and 1946 he was a member for Lagos in the Nigerian Legislative Council.

Three weeks after Nigerian’s independence on October 21, 1960, Ikoli, the journalist, political evangelist and great patriot, aged 67 breathed his last.

He lived to see the fulfillment of Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule for which he devoted his life.

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